Month: February 2014

Apple… Where are you?

Apple Computers. The renegades, the designers, the pirates, the company that “Thinks Different“, fighting big blue and bringing research projects to market. Fighting a world of desktop computer monopolies, leading the smart phone market and defining the tablet. And now struggling to differentiate themselves from all the other mass market software providers – really?

In my series on returning to Linux and the Enlightenment desktop I have mentioned a decreasing satisfaction with Apple Mac OSX but as Apple tries to discover who it is without Steve Jobs it’s got even bigger problems.

I didn’t want to jump on the “how will they cope without Steve Jobs” bandwagon – that seemed like propaganda designed to affect share prices, but something’s not the same. It’s been over two years since Steve passed away and the company is starting to show real signs of problems. Such a delay could be expected as he started many projects before he left the company that have only recently come to market. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that – quality started dropping before he left.

We live in a world where people expect software to have problems, to be difficult to understand and to require constant updating. Apple believed in better – systems that just work, a focus on usability and encouraged thorough testing. This was a significant portion of what drove adoption – people were so happy with Apple products that they bought more, they told their friends and they pushed to use their own devices for work as well as play. Sadly the quality is no longer as pervasive. OS updates badly break well running systems, firmware changes can disrupt hardware features, updated system applications can simply not work and hardware failure rates are increasing.

How can this be? Apple is a company with a clear vision and the reputation and infrastructure to deliver. Very little reliance is placed on third parties and the software remains tightly coupled to the hardware it runs on. Vision, it seems, is not enough. Jobs was a visionary, and one that has changed the modern world, but he was also driven and demanded that people delivered what he envisaged. The hard work he expected of people and the perfection he required in everything that Apple released is now legend, but in more ways than one. We should learn from this and make software better. Uncompromising in quality and user experience but without driving people so hard that it’s no longer what they want to do.

The social networking game

The office kitchen chat last week was about Charlie Brooker’s recent TV programme “How Video Games Changed the World“. The finale of the show (spoiler!) was to include twitter as the latest game to have had a significant impact on the world. In the fashion that I expect he intended people started debating the validity of this but it was only a couple of seconds after hearing it I realised he had a point:

All social networking is a game.

Constructing posts, getting likes, browsing feedback, better understanding the audience and what works to create the next post hoping for a higher ‘like’ or ‘+1’ count. It’s also incredibly addictive – how many times on average do you check facebook or twitter? And how many times more do you check on a day you’ve written a really interesting post? Be honest now – include checking your email for notifications too! It’s almost inescapable, a function of our socially networked world. What are the rules? You may not know them or even have considered their existence and yet it’s clear that people can cheat. As the networks evolve so does our understanding of what an online social connection means.

But wait – it’s older than that. Consider the early internet when websites were evolving. Think of hit counters – competitions about how many new visitors you got each week. Communities and link ‘rings’ indicated you had interesting content – and you could be a member of many. Next consider Google, their world changing algorithm was based in link-in counting as ‘votes’ for your site and later included context as a modifier to eliminate fakes and cheats. Essentially they were assigning your site a score based on it’s popularity and quality. And then there’s the whole business of Search Engine Optimisation – essentially the sports coaches of the web popularity competition, followed by social media consultants promising similar goals.

How can you think for a moment that the internet as a whole is not a game? The largest, most popular and probably highest financed game of all time…

Dinner was a train crash – literally!

Actually our Burns supper went very well. Michelle managed to feed 12 people and we fitted them into the dining room too. Unfortunately someone found the speed controls for the trains inside the dining table… A couple of fast corners later and see what happened… Thankfully everyone survived

“hope and inspiration appear from behind the clouds” – Helen MacLeod

Very impressed by the capabilities of the Writr theme for WordPress. I would like to specify my own colours but I’m not keen on paying $30 to to enable that feature…

Importing a blog to (or Blogger)

In trying to return to blogging I realised that the tools have moved on but my own blogging software had not – it was time to move away from another side project that would not be much missed. The blog portion of XSM (my CMS) did a good job of meeting the standards back in the day so I at least had an RSS feed from the archive. The aim was to move to an inexpensive (or free) hosted blogging platform that would have some easy to blog features such as an app or email-in-articles feature.

Having previously tried WordPress I decided to give Blogger a chance. The user interface is smooth and easy to understand but with plenty of options. The themes provided are comprehensive and I soon found one I liked. Importing was supposed to be easy – just upload the XML file you have exported and it would work… but no such luck – the importer just hung. It seems that Blogger is very particular about the XML formats it will work with and there is no documentation or feedback. It would, however, import from WordPress so, as there are many more plugins for RSS in WordPress I decided to try that. Unfortunately the Powered by hosted system did not provide this plugin so I spun up my own install to run the import. the RSS Multi Plugin for WordPress was able to load my blog but only 100 articles – not a problem as I only had 103. From there I exported the blog and ran it through the WordPress to Blogger site which worked smoothly. Blogger was then able to import the file. Yay.

I was almost done for the night but before I fell asleep I decided to download the Blogger app for iOS and write a quick post. Again the user interface was easy to understand, though rather limited. I wrote my post and saved it as a draft. CRASH. App gone. Not good. I loaded the app back up and my article was gone. I tried a shorter one and the same thing happened. Bad Google. Patience gone I decided to sleep on it.

In the morning I decided it was terminal and I should try WordPress instead. Amusingly I had deleted the instance I ran for the conversion process but was perfectly able to import my Blogger site and I was up and running again. I opened the WordPress app on my iPhone (having previously thought it was a little weak) and noticed it was actually pretty decent compared to the blogger app *and* it didn’t crash!

So now I am up and running on WordPress, it seems crazy I got here via my own WordPress install and Blogger but I’m confident now that I have made the right choice. With such great tools at my finger tips how can I fail to keep the blog up to date? Right?

Wish me luck, I’ll see you here again soon.