Off the Tracks (a Final Cut Pro X movie)

I learned to edit in iMovie and then upgraded to Final Cut Pro, Avid, and Premier. I love editing video, and my brain was trained for a good decade or so to use the now classic non-linear timeline. Final Cut Pro X broke my brain, and the brains of many others in 2011 when it changed everything.

I’ve since given FCPX another shot and I think it’s a brilliant piece of video editing software, and it makes the workflows of all other major players look archaic. by comparison. This movie looks like a Final Cut Pro X advertisement, but I’m pretty sure it’s just being made by people who love FCPX and want to the world to know it.

I don’t know how good this movie is going to be, but one line in this trailer stood out to me. Someone says everyone has a story in them and FCPX allows more people than ever to tell their stories. This carries a lot of water with me when I look at the YouTube community and see just how many of them are using Final Cut and are loving it. If you can break your habits just for a second and embrace this new way of edit on its own terms, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how great this tool has become since its 2011 launch.

The apps are too damn big

John Gruber wrote a quick post titled Bad App Citizens where he says:

It’s getting to the point where most apps can’t be updated over cellular because they’re all over 100 MB. This is madness.

I decided to test out exactly how much data is transferred on some of these larger apps. I’m not super clever at monitoring Wifi data use, but I was able to use iOS’s built in cellular data tracking to measure how much data was transferred for each update. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Total data displayed: 962 MB
  • Total data downloaded: 348 MB
  • Biggest difference: Google Home (99% smaller)
  • Smallest difference: Netflix (20% smaller)

As you can plainly see, there is quite a range between an app’s advertised size and how much data is actually transferred when you update said app. Twitter had the largest discrepancy, showing 122 MB as the app size, but downloading less than 1 MB to perform its update. Clearly the update Twitter rolled out had more impact from delta updates to thin out their update size, and the same is true of Target and Nokia Health Mate, both of which are around 100 MB total, but each downloaded just over 1 MB for their updates.

“App thinning” is not a magic bullet that erases this problem though, as Facebook Messenger, which shows as being 154 MB, still downloaded 99MB of data for its update.

Of note, Apple does not allow you to download apps or updates that are over 100 MB, and the only app update I was not able to perform was for Facebook. The Facebook app is advertised as being a whopping 251 MB app, and I don’t know what the update size is, but it was over 100 MB. Has Facebook changed so much in the past 3 days since an update that it needed to replace over 40% of its code?

The internet is full of people who are both upset about these app sizes and those who think delta updates make this complaint void. I think it’s important that people understand that the size you see on the Updates page in the App Store is not how much you are going to download but it’s certainly not fair to say delta updates have fixed everything. Yes, they’ve made some updates negligible, but I burned through 348 MB of of data in one day exclusively from updating my apps. That’s insane! Thankfully, I’m on an unlimited plan with T-Mobile and I’m a nerd who has turned auto-updates off so this won’t break my plan.

As mentioned by Carlos Ribas on Twitter, auto updates only happen when you are connected to Wifi, but iOS won’t stop you from updating on cellular if you tap the update button. The fact that someone could blow through 10% of their monthly data plan (2GB) just by updating Snapchat and Messenger once. This could be tough if you do it once, but Facebook updates Messenger all the time. They’ve updated the app 5 times in the past month, which could work out to upwards of 400-500 MB over just a month.

And of course, Facebook has such great release notes for each of these updates that really justify why these updates are so critical…

So are giant app sizes a problem? Yes. Do delta updates allow these updates to use less data? Yes. Do delta updates make these large apps a non-issue? Hell no!

Warning, do not install watchOS 4 beta 2

This is just a quick PSA, but I need to get the word out: watchOS 4 beta 2 is a complete mess on the Apple Watch.

All the features are still there, the Toy Story watch faces have been added, and some minor bugs have been squashed, but battery life is completely shot. I installed the beta Wednesday night and my watch went from 100% to 10% in about 6 hours on Thursday. Essentially, I put it on at 7AM and it was dead at lunch.

Then I charged the watch back up when I got home, and put it on at 100% when I went to sleep last night. I put it in theater mode so it wouldn’t turn the screen on while I slept, and switched to the Modular watch face to make sure it wasn’t one of the new watch faces, and the watch had put itself into power saver mode by the time I woke up (I slept for just under 7 hours).

I don’t know yet if everyone with an Apple Watch is seeing this on the new beta, but it’s pretty terrible for me. Even if you have already installed the first beta for watchOS 4, I’d strongly suggest sticking with that beta for a couple weeks and hope that the third beta addresses this terrible battery life.

This is why they call it a beta, folks.

The Lofree Keyboard Review

The Lofree keyboard wastes no time making a first impression. From the first moment I laid eyes on it, it’s clear this is the most distinct and unique keyboard I had ever seen.

This is seriously a one of a kind keyboard, and is a rejection of just about every assumption you have about computer keyboards in 2017. This is a mechanical keyboard, but it is incredibly compact. It’s a mechanical keyboard that frankly, while we’re at it, doesn’t look either horribly ugly or like it was built for “gamers.” This keyboard is truly something to behold.

I think those deviations from the norm of modern keyboards is going to turn a lot of people off, and I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone for trying this keyboard for 5 minutes and deciding they can’t make it work for them. The keyboard layout is really a matter of style over substance, as there are some quirks that make you think about your typing more than the average keyboard.

You can see this in the left shift and return keys, which are double the width of a normal key, but they have an odd peanut shape that actually spans 2 key switches, which makes these keys feel different than everything else on the keyboard. Similarly, the arrow keys have an unfortunate layout where the up arrow is not directly above the down arrow, again because the offset grid layout doesn’t allow keys to be directly on top of each other.

But I’ve found myself getting used to these quirks in just a couple days, and I no longer feel hampered by this keyboard. Whether you can legitimize the time to get used to this keyboard really depends on how much you like this design, so let’s hop back to that.

This keyboard looks absolutely stunning! It looks really good in the promo shots you can see on Lofree’s website, and I’m happy to report it looks just as good in person. The curved plastic feels solid, and looks great on my desk. The body is heavier than I expected, and weighs in at about 800 grams. For comparison, that’s almost 4x Apple’s Magic Keyboard which weighs in at 231 grams. Even crazier, the 12.9 inch iPad Pro weighs 677 grams, and is only 100 grams lighter than the MacBook. But don’t take that as a reason not to buy this, the wight makes it feel substantial in a very good way. With the help for 4 rubber feet on the bottom, this keyboard feels locked down to the desk and isn’t going anywhere.

Now I’m not an expert in judging key switches, so as far as typing goes, I’ll just say that these use Gateron Blue switches that sound and feel great.

There are a few different color combinations you can get, and I went with the black-on-mint combination, and I think it looks stunning. It looks really nice on its own, but the keyboard really comes to life when you turn on the adjustable backlight. Every key is lit up in a crisp white light and I’ve found this light top be essential for learning this keyboard layout. All keys are labeled but they are in a faint gray font that’s almost impossible to read except in the brightest light.

The lights under the keys are great, and give the whole keyboard a kind of sci-fi look that I’m completely in love with. My only problem with the lights is that some keys are mysteriously half lit. The brackets and braces buttons are the most egregious example of this. It’s not a big deal, and you don’t notice this unless you’re looking closely at the keys, but it’s a slight imperfection in an otherwise brilliant build.

On a more practical level, the Lofree’s ability to work with multiple devices over many different operating systems is fantastic. This was definitely designed for Apple platforms first, as all of the keys have Apple-style gliphs on them. You can toggle the keyboard into a Windows/Android mode which will change the button layout a little bit and the keyboard will work just fine with those systems too. Windows users even get their option and Windows keys on the front of the Command and Alt keys. It’s a little bit of a compromise for Windows users, but hey, Mac users have been doing the same thing with many other mechanical keyboards for years, so I think it’s only fair. When you do need to switch between modes, there is a simple little switch here on the side to flip back and forth.

You can also sync the keyboard to up to 3 devices at once. You hold fn + 1, 2, or 3 fora ferw seconds to make the keyboard discoverable, and then connect like you would any other Bluetooth device. Then when you want to switch devices later on, just tapping fn + # works instantly. Alternatively, you can plug the keyboard directly into a computer with the included micro-USB wire and it will operate as a wired keyboard.

Speaking of micro-USB, the keyboard will also charge itself when you plug it into a computer. It has a 4,000mah battery that will last 6 months without the backlight, and anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending on the brightness level you use for the lights. There is no way to see the keyboard’s battery at a particular moment in time, but the USB plug on the side will start to pulse when you get below 20%.

I was able to plug it into my MacBook Prop and it charged up just fine, but you can also use basically any micro-USB charger that’s come with any smartphone in the past few years.

Finally, you can choose to turn the switch to the off position every time you stop using the keyboard, but it will automatically put itself to sleep after 5 minutes of down time, so you really don’t have to.

As a side note, you’ve probably noticed I have accent keys on the Escape, Delete, and Return keys on my model. I backed this project on Indiegogo and one of the stretch goals was to have a selection of alternate key caps. They shipped with the keys I’m using, as well as for all function keys, the space bar, and for F and J keys. They’re nice to have, but totally not necessary.

The Lofree keyboard is a hard product to give a definitive “buy” or “don’t buy” review. If you are looking for a keyboard that is optimized for efficiency or has the most features, then this keyboard isn’t for you. But if you are looking for a keyboard that looks amazing, is satisfying to type on, and works well with multiple devices, then this is a really special keyboard. I like this thing more the more time I spend with it. The learning curve is real, and you may have some doubts at first, but if you are smitten by the looks of this thing, it’s definitly worth considering. I know I’m personally very happy I got one.

Tough impressions of the Amazon Echo from regular people

I really like my Amazon Echo, and I think that voice assistants are a big part of the next wave of computing, but that does not seem to be as universal a feeling as one might gather just by reading tech blogs. I like my Echo because it can answer some simple questions and give me some basic information whenever I want it. As the Echo (and Google Home like it) is still pretty new, niche tech at the moment, I’m always interested to hear what non tech-nerds think about this.

Last week it was announced that Amazon was buying Whole Foods, and I was wondering to myself how many retail locations Whole Foods, and now Amazon, has. I asked Alexa, and before it could even get an answer out, my wife commented:

Why do you even bother? It doesn’t know anything.

Now we have own an Echo since November 2016, so we have some experience with this device, but the fact that her default expectation when asking Alexa a question is that she will not know the answer is not a great look for the Echo. Again, this is something we’ve had for months, and we both use everyday.

When I pushed my wife for clarification she said that Alexa is good for really basic things like “turn on the lights” and “set a 45 minute timer”, but she’s not “smart” by any means. She’d rather ask Siri the question or type the question into Google because both will at least have a chance of getting the right answer.

Next up was my dad. He’s a techy guy, and tends to be an early adopter of new tech and has talked to me about getting some smart lights and switches for the house so he can better set up timers for when he and my mom are out of town. His birthday is coming up and I was considering the idea of getting him an Echo or Home as a gift. We visited him for Father’s Day this weekend and I innocently asked him what he thought about the Echo.

He told me there was no way in hell he was going to put one of those in his house. “A speaker that’s recoding me all the time??? I don’t think so!”

I asked if Amazon’s promise that they were only recording you when you say the trigger word and he said that doesn’t really fill him with confidence. He doesn’t trust Amazon, and he doesn’t trust Google to keep his privacy. He brought up the case when law enforcement was trying to get audio logs from someone’s Echo, and the recent instance of tons of NSA hacking tools leaking online. Even if Amazon isn’t using the Echo to spy on me, how can I know that someone can’t use one of these hacking tools to start recording everyone’s Echo.”

I couldn’t argue with him too much, as the Echo probably is one of the least secure computers in my house, but I was still surprised by his response to even the idea of an Echo in his house.

Out of curiosity I asked him if he was more interested in Apple’s upcoming HomePod that also has a microphone in it. He said he was, in large part because it was made by Apple, and Apple at least cares a little about his privacy.

I don’t know how illustrative of the wider impression of these voice assistant cylinders in the world, but it was interesting to hear 2 people who are very much into tech say the Echo:

  1. Is too stupid to be trusted to do much more than set timers and give the weather
  2. Is an insecure device that could be used to spy on anyone with the flip of a switch.