Apple Silicone iPhone 7 Case

I’m on my third one, and if I bought a new iPhone today I would purchase another. I just can’t seem go without a case because I do drop my phone and I cannot stand to have scratches and dings on my devices. First world problems, yes, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. Apple likes to talk about how thoroughly drop tested these products are, and I can confirm that my phone has never suffered one bit of damage from the several times it has hit the ground.

Each silicone case that I’ve owned met its demise, however, with the bottom right corner of the case completely chipping off. Yes, each case has hit the group, but they’ve never been dropped even from full standing height. Maybe I get out of the car, and my phone slides off my lap, or maybe it slides off the arm of a camping chair and hits the concrete. These drops will leave the case with a nicked corner or two, but I seriously doubt these small drops are the reason two cases in a row have failed in exactly the same way. So while I sort of understand why someone might be displeased with the case “coming apart” (so dramatic), I completely disagree with the two-star rating you will find on the Apple website.

Apple replaced each case with no questions asked. The last guy I worked with said at this point the issue is well known. He walked to the back grabbed a new case, took mine away, and handed me a brand new one. He even offered me a different color if I wanted to switch things up. To me, that communicates, “Hey, exchanging this product is no problem at all. I’m happy to help you any way I can. Thanks for being our customer.” With both exchanges, I was in and out of the store in less than five minutes.

I’ll purchase an Apple silicone case for the next iPhone I have, too. In addition to Apples five star customer service, these cases are slim, grippy (much more so than Apple’s leather iPhone cases), and they brandish a nice, muted Apple logo on the back. It would be nice if the iPhone 8 cases held up a little better, but it is also nice to have a new case every six to eight months.

Tweaks for Better Twitter

This is another attempt to speak a little grace and hope into the way you think about social media, particularly Twitter. If you use Twitter instead of Facebook, you already have an advatage. Twitter doesn’t require a follow back or “friending,” and this means you can follow whoever you want. Conversely, people can follow you without you having to follow back and see everything they post.

If you are frustrated with Twitter itself, chances are some of your frustration could be allieviated by changing a couple settings: uncheck “show me the best Tweets first” and use the mute feature.

First, I don’t think many people realize that Twitter allows you to mute certain words or hashtags. This means you can filter out just about everything you dislike about social media. For example, I have #SCOTUS, #POTUS, and the word “Trump” muted. Chances are that my Twitter experience is much better than yours because of three simple mutes. Anytime there is an annoying flare up of tweets you don’t like, just add another mute word or hashtag. It takes about 10 seconds. To access the mute settings go to Settings and privacy > Privacy and safety > scroll to the bottom and you will see Blocked accounts, Muted accounts, and Muted words.

Second, the Twitter app tries to show you the tweets they think you will be most interested in based on those you interact with most. You can adjust this setting in the Twitter app, but I don’t think many people know (1) that their timeline isn’t in chronological order by default and (2) they can change it. In the Twitter app, go to Settings and privacy > Timeline and uncheck “Show me the best tweets first.” Now, if you are following a live event, your timeline won’t be interrupted with old tweets. More info on adjusting your timeline settings can be found here.

The only remaining hurdle is ads (“promoted tweets”), and to fix this problem you will have to turn to an app like Tweetbot. Tweetbot is a solid, great looking app that can do all of the above and more. Check out their website for more info.

Moving from Google Photos to Apple Photos

Why

I’ve used Google Photos as an automatic photo backup since 2011. I didn’t start using the iCloud/Apple Photos combo until late in 2015. I spent downtime during the past few days making sure copies of everything pre-2015 was moved over to Apple Photos because I’m think about taking all my pics and videos out of Google. Why? Because I am becoming convinced that Apple is more concerned about my privacy than Google is. Exhibit A. I’m also tired of giving Google ten dollars a month for storage.

Why haven’t I moved everything to Apple Photos before now? At first I was taken back by the fact that keeping everything in Apple Photos means you can’t delete pics off your devices and just store them in the cloud. You can in Google Photos. Google Photos also automatically does a bunch of cool stuff with your photos. Without damaging the originals, they will string together a loop of several similar pictures; they’ll create videos of related pics set to music or maybe apply special lighting to a picture they think is a particularly good one. I’ve enjoyed this over the years, but more and more I hear perspectives like the one linked above. It makes sense, and is a little unnerving.

How

Unfortunately, there is no way to move things directly from one cloud service to another. In the Google Drive sync preferences on my MacBook, I selected the folders I wanted to download, waited on the download to finish, and then import them to Apple Photos. I had about 30gb worth of room on my MacBook so I selected only a few months to downloaded at a time, and then after importing them to Apple Photos, I removed them from my MacBook and grabbed a few more months from Google Drive. I added over 15,000 pics to Apple Photos (bringing the total over 20,000) and several hundred videos. 24 hours later, a couple thousand of them are still uploading to iCloud. What’s left must be videos because the last thousand is taking forever. Granted, I’m working with horribly slow internet.

Moving forward

Though not fast, the process was pretty simple. My only lingering concern is that some really important picture didn’t get downloaded. I’ve deleted Google Photos from my mobile devices so I’ll no longer be uploading photos there, but I don’t think I’ll be deleting my stuff from Google Photos for a while — not until I’m absolutely sure every thing has made its way over. I really don’t like the prospect of losing any part of the first few years of my kiddos’ lives.

I’m looking forward to the improved file compression promised in iOS 11, but for the time being I still have enough room on all my devices. It’s nice to know that basically every digital picture I’ve taken in my life is on all of my devices and in the native Apple Photos app. For the first time the data isn’t scattered across two platforms.

One thing I’m still not clear on, however. Apple lets you save space by keeping “optimized” versions of your pics on your devices, while the originals live in iCloud. But what happens when I share a pic or video from one of my mobile devices? Am I sharing the optimized version or the full sized version?

Posts on Writing & Notes Apps

Here are a few posts I’ve written on the four writing and notes apps I use: Apple Notes, GoodNotes, Word, and Ulysses.

I’m pretty happy with this workflow, and each apps seems to be getting better and better. The iOS 11 previews promise a substantial update to Apple notes; GoodNotes has told me about a pretty significant upcoming feature; and Ulysses is king of the hill. Word? It gets a lot of updates, but meh. I hope the iOS app becomes more full features in the future, but it’s fine.

Ulysses is 🔥

Ulysses is the best writing app for Mac and iOS. It is a gorgeous, minimal, markdown writing environment that does just about everything perfectly. I write everything in Ulysses except academic papers and classroom assessments.

First, the app is beautiful. I’m not, however, going to post a bunch of pictures because their website does a fine job showing off the app’s aesthetics.

If you appreciate distraction-free writing environments, in Ulysses command + 3 is your keyboard shortcut. Other files within the same folder can be seen along side your current writing space with command + 2, and command + 1 shows a full view of your folders, files, and current writing space. These easy to remember keyboard shortcuts make navigation a breeze.

If you don’t yet use markdown, check out Renshaw’s post. Markdown is a simple way to write in lightweight text files and still quickly and easily format your text with headings, bold, italic, hyperlinks, and all the rest.

Finally, the Ulysses folks kill it with iCloud sync. Not every app has a dependable iCloud sync in place (ahem, GoodNotes. Still love ya. – Brian), but Ulysses does. I’ve never had a file show up on one of my devices with conflicts. I write on my iPad and MacBook, edit or occasionally write on my iPhone, and everything just stays in sync. If you open Ulysses and your files still need to sync, there is a little down arrow that shows right beside the file name. You wait about 5 seconds or less, the arrow disappears, and you are good to go.

My only complaint with Ulysses is that they do not support inline images. You can add images to files, but the images show up as a hyperlink and look like this: (img). That’s because the idea is that you are going to use Ulysses to write things and then export those things to PDFs or HTML or rich text or something else. Adding support for inline images would make the app so much better for journaling. I have a folder for each month of the year, and each day is an h2. I usually want to drop in a picture each day, and it would be nice to be able to scroll through my month and see each day’s picture without exporting or previewing the files in another format. I’ve expressed this wish to Ulysses, and they’ve heard me so my fingers are crossed.

I love Ulysses because it is a writing app that ideally blends beauty, function, and simplicity — 5 stars and highly recommended. It is worth every penny.

Word for Mac & iOS

For writing anything more than a note, I use two apps: Ulysses and Word. I like one of them and tolerate the other. I’m just going to tell you about Word today, the one I tolerate.

If I weren’t a student and a teacher, I would never touch Word because Ulysses is absolutely sublime. If your document has footnotes, however, you should be using Zotero, and this means using Word on a Mac or Windows computer. So for the dissertation and any conference papers, I turn to Word. Word also gives you more control for precise, quick formatting, which I need for writing assessments.

For about the past year, Word for Mac has worked well with right-to-left scripts like Hebrew and Aramaic. For a couple decades, Word and Mac didn’t play well together. I you were doing anything with Hebrew you had to use something like LibreOffice or Mellel. Many people don’t realize that this era is over. The only remaining Hebrew/Aramaic hang up is the fact that the vowel points in SBL fonts do not align correctly. As I understand the situation, this is SBL’s problem and not Word’s. My school allows the use of Times New Roman font throughout the entire document, and I actually like the look of TNR for Hebrew, Greek, and English. It’s not my preferred font, but for technical writing it’s easy and everyone has it on their devices. The only situation where you will run into a problem with TNR is if you want to put diacritical marks above a Hebrew letter to mark the letter as “partially visible” or something like that. If you are working with DSS transcriptions, you will probably still have to use SBL Hebrew and Mellel at this point. Hopefully SBL will update their fonts soon.

The real draw towards using Word is that your documents are easily shareable. The chances are that whomever you want to share your work with uses Word. But there is another significant benefit: the iOS app works pretty well, especially if all you need to do is edit documents on the fly. During the past school year, I would take only my iPad to class, and when we found a typo in a quiz, I would fix it right away in the Word iOS app. Occasionally, I would print handouts from Word using Readdle’s Printer Pro, and maybe once or twice I actually wrote a quiz in Word for iOS. This became problematic for the vocab sections of the quiz because for some reason with a multi-column layout combined with Greek polytonic characters, Word began acting crazy. The cursor would jump around all over the place when I would start typing.

I don’t think you can create new character and paragraph styles in Word for iOS, but if you open a document that already has styles applied, you can use those styles with the same document. I think you can also save a blank document as a template with the style you want, and just start there.

One other thing the Word iOS app does really well is work with cloud storage. You can log into your Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox accounts and open files within the Word iOS app. Word downloads the latest version and opens it pretty quickly. While you are working in the document, everything automatically saves, and when you leave the document, Word uploads your changes to your cloud service. Everything stays in sync.

I really prefer to write in Markdown, and that’s where Ulysses comes in. But good old rich text word processing is still necessary for the time being, and Word isn’t bad.

PDF Expert Rocks

First of all, Readdle rocks. Everything the company makes is quality. If you need to print from your iPad at work, Printer Pro works really well. Spark is a really nice iPad and Mac email client, and Documents is a sweet little file manager. But if you only check out one of their apps, it should be PDF Expert, which is available on iOS and Mac.

I’ve been using PDF Expert nearly every day for a couple years, and it is simply the best PDF tool out there. Whatever you want to do with a PDF, this app has you covered. I’m sure there is something it cannot do, but whatever that thing is, I don’t know and don’t care.

I primarily use PDF Expert as a way to read and annotate PDFs, while keeping all my highlights and marginal notes in sync with other devices.
I open a book and make highlights on my iPad, and whenever I access that file on my Mac, everything is in sync. I keep all my PDFs nested within one Google Drive folder, and I tell PDF Expert to keep that folder in sync. That’s all there is to it.

PDF Expert works fantastically with the Apple Pencil so this means you can easily take notes in the margin or sign a document and send it off. You can save a signature and easily insert and resize it on your phone or iPad.

I really appreciate the tab system, which allows you to open two or more PDFs and switch between them easily. You can also set two PDFs side-by-side by simply dragging one tab to the side of the screen. Think of this as a sort of in-app split view.

Readdle released PDF Expert 6 last month, and if you’re interested in what is new, check out Josh Voorhees post on MacStories.

Greek Polytonic on iOS

If you have an external keyboard attached, you can actually type polytonic Greek on an iOS device. It used to be more hassle than it was worth to use an iOS device and an external keyboard, but the release of the iPad Pros and the Smart Keyboard changed the game.

You add Greek and Hebrew keyboards just like always:

Settings > General > Keyboards > KeyboardsBut when you have an external keyboard attached, there is an extra Hardware Keyboard menu that allows you to choose which Greek or Hebrew or English keyboard layout you would like to use. It’s curious that they call it Hardware Keyboard because what we are really talking about are software keyboards for use with a hardware keyboard.

The Greek Polytonic keyboard layout is the same as what you find on Mac and Windows computers. I’ve been using it for years because, though there are plenty of others out there that might be in one way or another more user friendly, this one is always preinstalled and ready to roll.

μακάρια γραφή, ἑταῖροι.

Typing on the 9.7″ Smart Keyboard

For the past several months, my 9.7″ iPad Pro has functioned as my laptop and my 15″ MacBook Pro as my desktop. Right from the start, I was blown away at how easy it is to type on 9.7″ Smart Keyboard. Most of the posts on this site since the beginning of May have been typed this way.

On June 2, just before WWDC, I sent this to a friend with whom I discuss tech stuff every day:

Today, I’m really happy with the 9.7. Little table full of papers, big coffee, and plenty of room for the 9.7 w/keyboard. Can sit back and easily navigate with one hand. Ideal portable computer. I think I want the bigger one only when I want to sit down and do nothing but write. This is at least once a day. I’m not even sure, however, if the 12.9 would be better for this purpose because I have absolutely zero difficulty with this small keyboard. I would just like more space, more screen real estate.

I’m hoping the 10.5″ will be a perfect balance of portability and productivity, but we’ll see. I just opened Tap Typing to do a speed test, and this was the result of my typing test on the 9.7″:

I’m looking to make a move to the 10.5, but I wanted to post a note about what a pleasure my 9.7″ has been. The keyboard and pencil capabilities changed the game for me. On June 4, Forbes posted a “very long-term review” of the 9.7″ iPad Pro and called it the world’s best tablet. I would link to that article, but Forbes is one of those sites that has automatic popups and makes you click three times to get all the distracting nonsense out of your face and actually see what it is you are trying to read.

If you are considering an iPad purchase, you can check out my 9.7″ here.