What is Microsoft Sway?

Microsoft Sway is a platform for online notetaking and outlining. On Sway itself, you should be able to research the web and collect snippets of text, links, video, and photos into your Sway project. When you are happy with the results, Sway’s design centered features should make your content look good for presentations of any kind.

I see PC notebooks, Surface tablets, iPads, and iPhones in this demo video. They call it an ‘app’ in the description.

It’s a creative idea. Good luck, Microsoft.

The Dizziness of Freedom

The Sweet Setup delivered a great review of the best collection of RSS readers for iOS: specifically for the iPad, though it is largely true what they say for the iPhone apps as well.

RSS might have lost some mainstream attention when Google Reader was shutdown, but that does not change the fact that RSS is still the most useful way to digest web content. It may be old-fashioned by social networking standards. And sure, site managers would rather you visit their site each and every time you read their content. But RSS best serves the readers. It ‘just works’ when implimented with the right interface. (Second to RSS might be Twitter lists, which I use as a backup mirror of my RSS feeds.)

In his review, Robert McGinley Myers (Hi, Rob) reviews Reeder, Mr. Reader, and Unread. Myers’ technology philosophy is similar to my own. It’s refreshing to see thoughtful iPad power users articulate their sensibilities.

In the end, the best RSS reader is the app that helps you take the best advantage of what RSS offers. Unread is designed for anyone who wants to take advantage of RSS to find and savor great writing. In his description for Unread, Jared Sinclair writes,

Let RSS be the place where great independent writing thrives. Choose your favorite writers and read them closely. If you’re also a writer, write as if you are writing directly to just such a reader, the way Kierkegaard always wrote for: “… that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader…”

It’s fitting that Sinclair ends this philosophy statement (how many app developers even have a philosophy statement, let alone one so well-articulated?) with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard. I often think of Kierkegaard when I think about the anxiety technology can produce, an anxiety brought on by the power to do so many different things that we’re never quite sure what to do at any given moment. Kierkegaard compared anxiety to dizziness, “the dizziness of freedom.”

Boy, have I been there. I think anyone that has used the App Store and lived to talk about it later has been there. It is difficult to exercise enough self control that we stop ourselves from looking for the ‘next big thing’ long enough to use a few things very well. Contentment is the trick. If you can find the tools that work well for your life, then stop looking for ever more minutia to fill your days, then you can actually get something done. Take the simple approach: find the one solution that really works, then stick with it.

Unread aims to be that solution for web readers. Until someone releases something that significantly outperforms RSS, it is by far the most enjoyable way to read sites. And although Robert’s review is addressing the iPad version, it is safe to say that the iPhone version is a user favorite as well. Unread is on my top ten for any iOS device.

If you are wondering what the next e-reader thing will be, stop. For the meantime, RSS is where it is at, and Unread reduces some of the anxiety. I’m very glad to know that the developer, Jared Sinclair, sold it to Supertop so it will stay in development.

The End of Man-made Design

In the not-too distant future, Dreamcatcher and other programs like it will design things all on their own. Give Dreamcatcher some criteria, and the design of a workable bike, app, or machine could be ready a few minutes later.

Obviously, if you’re a designer, this news might trouble you. Job security is non-existent if software like Dreamcatcher can really fly. Dan Saffer at Medium:

To many people this is a bleak, grim, oh-shit-there-goes-my-job, future. Which is understandable, because for many people this probably will be the end of their job unless they future-proof themselves. You future-proof yourself by ensuring that the kind of work you do cannot be easily replicated by an algorithm. In design, those skills are insights-gathering, problem framing, and crafting unconventional solutions.

I think that each person’s part to play in the future of design is in a gray area. It seems likely that Dreamcatcher promises more than it can deliver. It might work in some and eventually all applications, but not all for decades to come. It will probably be in beta for much longer than we can anticipate.

In the meantime, designers, keep working hard and smart. You shouldn’t be afraid of ghosts. Continue to learn new skills and satisfy your clients. You don’t need to turn your attention to the competition. You need to keep focused on the end user.

Pebble Watches’ Updates and Price Cuts

The Pebble watches are getting health and fitness software updates, but is it too late for them? Brandon Chester at AnandTech:

To celebrate the Pebble's growth, the watch is also being reduced in price. The original Pebble is being dropped to just $99 / €129 / £99, while the Pebble Steel has been dropped to $199 / €229 / £179. At $250 the Pebble Steel was definitely pricey and had pressure from competing Android Wear devices that can sell for $199 or less. Even at $199 I think the Pebble Steel may be a hard sell due to its limitations compared to other smartwatches, but the superior battery life may be what sways users

I’ve been concerned for Pebble for awhile. I like their watches, even the earlier models that were less refined. But all along, I knew it was just a matter of time before they were obsoleted one way or the other. It might have been any other device to outperform the Pebble, but it turned out to be Apple’s Watch.

The only feature I can see that the Pebble has going for it is the looong battery life. Smart watches like Apple’s are expected to last a day at the most between charges, while the less-smart Pebble for convenience only needs a charge every seven days or so.

Selling the Pebbles for cheaper should help. Who knows if this bold move will be enough?

(Via Stephen Hackett)

What do iOS 8 3rd party keyboards stand for?

On the latest Clockwise podcast, Dan Moren made a great point about third party keyboards for iOS 8. As much as we know iOS for its simplicity and consumer friendliness, it is features like the new keyboards that suggest Apple is opening up to “pro” features that you would not expect the average person to take advantage of.

Third party keyboards are not especially easy to install on Android devices either. iOS and Android suffer a similar cumbersome process to install and setup keyboards. When I stop to consider this, I have to wonder why Apple introduced third party keyboards in the first place. The feature is helpful for the dedicated few who use their iPhones all day long and want to improve their typing performance, but these keyboards are not easy to add or utilize. There is a learning curve to them if you want to take advantage of their supposed benefits. This reminds me of… Hey, wait, this is a very familiar experience. Do you know what I’m referring to? Are you geeky enough that you know that familiar feeling you get every time you attempt to use some new feature and you hit a learning curve?

Why add third party keyboards to iOS in the first place? I think, as with all the features we see added to version 8 that Apple has exhausted most of the potential to satisfy the interests of everyday users. My Dad and sister have all the features they could ever ask for. Will they use new options like the improved Notification Center and Extensions? Do they know how to customize the Share sheet? Will they mess with the sliders for photo enhancement in the Camera app? Will they ever care to?

Now that your girlfriend and cousin John have anything and everything they want their phones to do, Apple has earned the loyalty of a large number of everyday people. The majority of consumers are now happy, so Apple doesn’t need to busy themselves to reach the average guy or girl that waltzes into an Apple Store. For instance, people in general are attracted to the marketing push for iOS Garageband and iMovie, but at the end of the day, they aren’t going to record music or edit together film shorts. But they want to know they could if they ever felt like doing it. Someday. On another note, they are going to use iOS’s Notes, rather than review and compare Evernote to Byword and Drafts to determine which produces the best workflow. Such use cases are for the advanced prosumers, such as the highly-motivated geeks that are some of Apple’s pets, like myself.

Now more so than before, Apple is more or less free to target the growing interests of these few professionals: the nerdy, the developer, and the Apple geek that can’t get enough features to slake their lust for more cool on/off toggles. We are the fringe that are eventually served — after all the simple features are checked off the iOS developers’ lists. Third party keyboards represent the beginning of a wide range of features that most people will not take seriously but will hone and improve our minority use cases. We should expect significantly more features over the next few years that involve significantly more learning curve.

It feels good to connect the dots, and realize that there is a future where Apple is taking care of our edge cases. Let’s just hope the third party keyboards implementation is improved upon, because how they work right now is less than exciting to me. Settings has grown to monolithic proportions, and that’s very bad when you stop to think about it. You know what I mean if you have ever bothered to learn your way around the advanced features of iOS, as the learning curve is ever growing.

We Need Art

Michael Hyatt:

In our pragmatic culture we usually see art as optional. We drill this into kids from an early age. We tell them to be practical and belittle their dreams because we can’t imagine how they’ll make any money pursuing them.

But the truth is, art is indispensable. Art gives us meaning. There are things that cannot be understood with pure reason—like love and beauty, to name two. Art helps us understand our world.

The Darnell clan is comprised of several creative types. We are instrumentalists, songwriters, filmmakers, cartoonists, florists… And because I grew up with art as a way of life, it is very easy to take creativity for granted.

Besides its ability to entertain, art educates, renews our minds, and often sparks creativity of our own in ways we couldn’t account for. Art has a way of making life more interesting and work more fulfilling.

Michael’s recommendations would be very appropriate for someone like my wife: someone who indirectly benefits from intentionally engaging art. Michael’s suggestions:

  1. Cultivate a taste for beauty.
  2. Set art-related goals.
  3. Revisit your childhood hobbies or interests.
  4. Cook, garden, and build stuff.
  5. Make some of your own.

Art fuels our imagination. If you can exercise it like a muscle, you will find susprisingly rich ways to see the world and your work from a fresh perspective.

Retina Display iMacs are Coming Soon

All signs suggest an iMac with a very high resolution display will be released soon. It is thought that these desktops will have what Apple deems ‘Retina Display.’

I have been looking forward to these computers since the first announcement of the Retina display for the iPhone 4, though I would rather have a Thunderbolt Retina Display (what a clunky name) to use with my MacBook Pro before I get another desktop computer.

You can get more details from Jack March and 9 to 5 Mac.

(Via Marco Arment)

Internet Archive of ‘Millions of Historical Images’

Kalev Leetaru interviewed for BBC:

"Stretching half a millennium, it's amazing to see the total range of images and how the portrayals of things have changed over time.

"Most of the images that are in the books are not in any of the art galleries of the world - the original copies have long ago been lost."

The pictures range from 1500 to 1922, when copyright restrictions kick in.

The images are actually quite good. I could easily get lost in the archive on Flickr for hours.

"Type in the telephone, for example, and you can see that all the initial pictures are of businesspeople, and mostly men.

"Then you see it morph into more of a tool to connect families.

"You see another progression with the railroad where in the first images it was all about innovation and progress that was going to change the world, then you see its evolution as it becomes part of everyday life."

It is great to see this resource has come together. For the love of content creation, the world needs more curators like Kalev.

The Bulldog Dart, Harrier, and Hammer

Do you know how to fold together The Bulldog Dart, the Harrier, or the Hammer? If not, you’re in luck, because the picture-by-picture instructions are available in at Art of Manliness (link is the title of this post). They are impressive displays of what you can craft with an 8.5x11.

Since LEGO has been on my mind lately, I started to compare the wonder and pleasure of the two toys. Building paper airplanes and LEGO have a lot in common. They are creative toys that, to play with them, you build something useful along the way. And there’s countless ways to make them. Both are incredibly enjoyable toys made of seemingly everyday materials.

But the one thing that is great about paper is that you can fold together thousands of planes for what one cheap LEGO set costs. So we make a lot of paper airplanes at our house till the little ones learn the value of branded plastic bricks.

How Often Should Writers Read?

Since I was eleven I knew that my dream job would involve writing in some capacity. As of yet, I have only found time to write as a hobby, and as such I like to ask the tough questions while I mull over the writing craft (like the nerd that I am). The one on my mind at the moment: How much time should writers spend reading if they want to be good writers?

It doesn’t matter whether you want to write novels, textbooks, or sites. You will have to read some of the time to research, but do you read for pleasure also? And do you read to hone your own approach to your professional work? For every 30 minutes you write, how many minutes would it help you to read? I would be interested to know if Steven King reads as much as he writes. I would like to think so, but what if he reads more than he writes?

If you write then you most certainly read, or you’re probably a bad writer. Seems obvious enough, but I didn’t figure this out early on. As a youngster, I assumed that I would someday like to be a good writer, yet I thought reading others’ works was boring and tedious. Then, the more I read, the more I understood how complex good writing is. Just to learn the subtleties of the English language, for example:

i before e
except when you
run a feisty heist
on a weird beige
foreign neighbor

I got that from a meme. That’s really good writing though, isn’t it? While making you smile, it clearly states a peculiarity within the English language that we writers wrestle with. The meme is well-written. Someone was able to craft it after cultivating familiarity with English conventions, growing a healthy vocabulary, and understanding how to entertain others through words. Well-rounded amounts of frequent reading often improve these skills.

The written word is, after all, the medium writers are attempting to perform. But to what end? Writers want other people to read. It’s so much easier if the writer has recent personal experience reading because it is a good percentage of what they will do as they write. As you think up the words and type them out, how do you judge them? By reading them, of course. You either read them in your head before they make it into your text editor, or you read what you have typed. And the more you read, the more likely you can identify the good drafts from the bad ones.

Most of what I read I do intentionally to find application to my own writing. Writing and reading are important to make the practice enjoyable, challenging, and routine. If I expect others to enjoy what I have to share, I need to additionally form the practice of digesting their words. After all, it’s so easy to find great reads that others have to offer, why wouldn’t I want to read? It can’t hurt, and it is very likely that what I like to read will rub off on me so my writing style will improve. We writers communicate through a ‘voice’ that’s reminiscent of other writers we enjoy reading. So, if we don’t read, we lack the communicative power of personality-driven communication.

With the more reading you have under your belt, the better you see past the words to their rich meaning. From reading, you begin to see what works for you and what doesn’t. You consciously and subconsciously critique and compare — form opinions on the words you have absorbed. You identify writing styles you wish to avoid and assimilate the feel of the reads you love.

The inexperienced reader sits down to write and the ideas won’t flow through him. He gets writer’s block, so he thinks up misguided treatments for his inability to write. See, the assumption is that writer’s block is formed because a writer lacks inspiration. For this reason, some writers prefer to read to get their head and their heart in the game, but I’ve heard several writers say they do other things: wash dishes, go running, or even watch some television just to name a few of the diversions that are toyed with to boost inspiration.

These are all activities where you might incidentally discover some undigested inspiration, but they don’t directly assist your skill set as a writer. Which is harder for you to find: inspiration or expertise? The latter, I’m sure. Does the coffee roaster get better at his job if he takes time at work to go for a jog or watch TV? Of course not. And the writer will not hone his expertise either if he’s folding laundry or baking a cake.

I think what’s often the case is the writer lacks a meaningful relationship with the art of the written word. They don’t need inspiration from elsewhere. He simply lacks fresh experience with the craft of words on a page. A fresh take on the medium is helpful every day for the professional.

So, if it were up to me to make the call, I would say the writer ought to read almost as much as he writes at the very least. It serves two end goals very well. Primarily, reading fosters your understanding of language and verbal communication. It keeps the garden of your mind well-tended.

And additionally, as a byproduct of reading more than you perhaps consider beneficial, you will find a wide variety of inspiration for your own writing. Go figure, but it comes with added resources fed into your thought life. While you’re absorbing others’ ideas, you will discover opinions, facts, and truths that you haven’t considered before, or haven’t considered recently. Inspiration will bubble up to the top — to the forefront of your consciousness — while the craftsmanship of good writing will linger more heavily in your subconscious.

For these reasons, I try to strike a balance in my own life that I still need to hone and make routine. It should sound crazy to a lot of writers on the web, but I make it my practice to read for as long as I write. This way, I cultivate an ideal: toning my ability to put thoughts into meaningful words, and I find all the inspiration we writers desparately chase.

Thanks for reading.

New iPhone 6 and iOS 8 Camera Controls

The iPhone 6 and Plus have significant upgrades to the forward-facing camera, not to mention the added benefits of iOS 8’s Camera app. I took one look in the app and was surprised by the number of design changes — so many that in part it felt like using a different camera app altogether from iOS 7’s.

Wistia’s article (linked to with the title of this post) has everything you want to know to quickly learn the new controls for professional level photo shoots and video recording sessions. Chris gives steps through exposure control, image stabilization, enhanced autofocus, time-lapse mode, and super slow motion. The short videos and animated GIFs help break it all down, like a good how-to should.

Quick To-do Organization

Moo.do is another online to-do list editor that has a unique approach to make it attractive. Writers should be interested, because Moo.do is all about writing out your project plans like they are a simple outline in a text file. Only, Moo.do features highlighting, date/time organization, and other simple methods to contextualize your actions.

It’s online, it has apps on Apple and Android devices, it is free, and Moo.do’s interface is primarily blue and white. Look into it if your are already shopping around for a task management system.

(Via Josh Johnson)

iPhone Thumb Zones

This simple illustration highlights the areas iPhone users (A) naturally reach across their screens, (B) stretch to reach across their screens, and (C) stretch so far as to cause discomfort in their thumbs to tap or swipe. All things considered, your accuracy tapping in the orange or red is lesser than in the range of green.

Good thing the iPhones 6 feature Reachability. It seems like a half-baked solution at a glance, but in practice I have heard that it works for some. I think the verdict is still out on whether users will adopt Reachability on a wide scale, because we have not had this problem before. And who knows what a better solution looks like? Designers haven’t encountered this problem until now, so revealed solutions are few at the moment.

They that like elegant solutions think it’s about the most unpleasant solution Apple has created in recent memory, but what would an “elegant” solution look like?