Category Archives: reviews

Why I’m Moving Away from Dropbox

tl;dr; ditch Dropbox if you care about the security of your files and your privacy, get something else, I recommend Bittorent Sync

I’ve been in the process of moving from Dropbox for a while now, it started when they brought Condoleezza Rice on to the board. Nothing against her, exactly, but her stance on privacy wasn’t amazing to me. Not that she’d be in control, but still that choice said something to me about how Dropbox views user privacy.

Then Dropbox had some issues, hacks, breaches, etc. Then an outage or two.

Add to that, Dropbox download speeds are TERRIBLE. Customers have been complaining for years, and Dropbox does nothing. Few things are as aggravating as being held up doing your work, because Dropbox can’t deliver a file faster than 100-200kbps. When it’s a 30gb file, you start to question your life choices.

Enough was enough, especially when the result was usually “ooops, shit happens, so sorry” and complete silence on the speed issue. Dropbox clearly has the money, and has achieved “too big to give a shit about users” status.

So I started looking at alternatives. I found a few. I tried a few and the things for me were mostly: mobile client, reliability, and trustworthiness, all behind of course, security of my files.

SpiderOak, was my first choice, but their apps were terrible. The desktop app was confusing, the mobile apps only slightly less so. I struggled to use the apps for a few months and gave up.

Then I decided since the cloud is just someone else’s computer anyway, why not use one of mine? Enter Bittorrent sync (now resilio Sync), which uses the bittorrent protocol to find the fastest path between two devices to move files. No cloud.

bittorrent sync

Bittorrent sync on my media center

For me that was fine, my Media Center is connected to 16tb Drobo, and it’s set to sync all things (there’s selective, and all, as options per folder). So it’s essentially my “cloud” location for all files. Every other machine and mobile device just syncs/has access to the things I want it to.

The mobile client is straightforward and easy to use, the desktop app (Mac at least) is pretty straightforward as well. You can see which folders are synced, who’s got access and if things are moving around, all very easy to follow stuff if you’ve ever used bittorrent for anything else.

Pros

  • All files are on my machines, no one elses.
  • All files are on my machines, no one elses. (important enough to be said twice)
  • Faster than Dropbox, by margins that should embarrass Dropbox

Cons

  • Sharing. This doesn’t apply to me much, and is really why i keep dropbox around; sharing files with others. Dropbox is ubiquitous, so rather than explain bittorrent sync, help with install, go through the more secure invite system, etc. I simply share files via dropbox.

Not really a con, but a result.

  • I cancelled my Dropbox subscription so have only the basic amount of storage (saving me a ton of money), which sometimes causes issues when receiving big files, but oh well.

Set up is easy, install, get the pro (if you’re doing that) licensing set up, then set up each folder you’d like to sync. It’s a bit slow to start as you have to add each folder to each device, but once that’s done it’s pretty nice, and as you add devices they don’t all need the same folders.

 

Thoughts on the iPhone 7, so far

tl; dr; 

It’s nice, a great update to a great device, with a few things I’m not a fan of. Want more details go to the verge.

That said, yeah it’s a good phone so far. Mine came on iPhonemas day, and of course I rushed home from Denver Startup Week, grabbed the phone started the recovery process then went back to basecamp (amazing Wifi), to finish, because yeah, who can wait a few hours?!

Unboxing

Unboxing an iPhone is pretty much boring now, there’s plenty of youtube videos so I’m not adding to it, plus all the think pieces have been written already. The things that stuck out to me are these.

  • The EarPods don’t come in a plastic case now, I use that case all the time. I practiced re-wrapping mine so they fit just right. The case was a great way to transport EarPods. Now they come in a one time use cardboard thing, you’re on your own to carry them without tangling… WEAK. Come on Apple, really? Oh and no, the new ones don’t fit in the case, at least that I’ve found, and I’ve tried
  • The Lightning to headphone adapter is definitely one of those “buy a few to have everywhere” things if you’re like me and have lots of headphones all over the place (office, home, backpack, etc) It’s small, and I suspect we’ll see lots of “lost my fucking adapter” tweets in the coming weeks, but hey, only $9 so go give Apple more money :)

Beyond that, the packaging was very similar to every other iPhone in the last few years. I was impressed that now the outer clear wrap was like the stuff inside, a pull tab undoes the whole thing, no more cling wrap to cut through.

Device

I’m not super sold on the home button yet, but suspect it’ll grow on me. The fact it’s capacitive didn’t really occur to me, and I think now most of my gloves are “compatible” so short of touching it through my t-shirt it should work (and that’s not something I do).

Being waterproof is likely (based on all my previous iPhone ownership) something I’ll never test (knocking on wood now), but I’m sure it’s a nice feature.

My biggest complaint, is the camera. Well that’s actually two issues

  1. It moved from 6 to 7, so all my cases are useless. Not a major issue and I’ve had them since my 6 so they’ve served me well, but still a bummer.
  2. same as always, Apple opted to leave a camera bump. Drives me up the wall. I hate things that wobble, etc. so a case is a must. I just don’t don’t get (and never have) why we can’t have no bump and a few hours more battery, seems like a win for all, since I’ve still never met someone who says “You know I love that camera bump, and just don’t care how long my battery lasts” Oh well, like I said, not a biggie, but just one of those ongoing niggles.

Black Black. I didn’t go piano, jet, iPhone 3G black. I went matte black.. original black, I dunno, whatever Apple is calling it. I’ve always like the darker colors, space gray, etc. So was eager to get matte black, and since the glossy one seems to be popular, I’m sure that made waking up like normal to order my phone easy to get iPhonemas day delivery.

So that’s really it. I’ve not noticed much of a huge win on power or battery life but it’s only been a few days. It’s a nice upgrade from the 6(s), and all that. I’ve never been a bluetooth headphone person (or rather was, it sucked terribly and never tried again) so not sure what my thoughts are on the whole headphone jack other than the terrible DRM implications.

HomeKit with an Ecobee3 Thermostat

I’ve had a Nest for several years, it was great. It’s still great, but my confidence in Nest as a company is waning, as is my interest in non HomeKit… Kit. As much as I dislike Silo’s I’m very much in the Apple one, so things that can’t talk to my gear just aren’t useful.

I knew I’d eventually have to replace it, HomeKit requires a special chip so there’s no path forward for older tech. I hadn’t put much effort into finding a replacement yet, since HomeKit has been so poorly executed.

EcoBee3 menuNo longer. Well, soon to be ‘no longer’ iOS 10, which goes live in the fall, has vastly improved HomeKit. So… Time to start looking.
I’d had my eye on the ecobee3 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat for a while, it’s very nice to look at, the earlier model had great reviews, and since our thermostat is located in a part of the house we don’t frequent, the additional sensor unit was a great add. My biggest complaint about our Nest was that it was in a place that had very different temperature swings than the floor above it, where the home office is. The AC/Heat would cut out long before we in the office were comfortable.

The additional sensor (You can add several to one unit) allows the EcoBee to know that even if the downstairs is “just right” the office needs a few more minutes. It’s wonderful.

Siri and HomeKit

Siri and HomeKit integrationThe real killer feature isn’t the clean lines and nice UX of the device. It certainly isn’t the app, which while better than Nest’s has many failings. It’s HomeKit and Siri.

When I go to bed,  I can tell my phone, or my watch, “Good night” and HomeKit takes care of the rest, and I get a cute reply from Siri, as you do.

Apps

The ecobee3 app is actually pretty nice, especially the iPad version. The one thing I miss from the Nest app (which only went live in the last six months) was multi user. Why anyone making smart home devices defaults to a single user model is beyond me. While I’m sure plenty of single folks are buying smart home kit, I have to assume that number pales in comparison to families and couples, so why make things harder for them?

So for now, my wife is logged into the app on her phone in my account. I’m not sure how that will work long run, since the Ecobee has geofencing, and HomeKit, etc. which are all hung off my Ecobee iPhone AppiTunes account. We’ll see. I’d love to be able to tell my Phone “I’m leaving” but if my wife is home it’ll know that and not turn the AC off on her, etc.

Overall the apps are clean and pretty easy to use, you can quickly see the temp, and adjust it.

The iPad app makes for a nice kind of control center for managing the thermostat, as well as the HomeKit setup.EcoBee3 iPad app

In iOS 10 the HomeKit app (which never existed prior) is still a bit rudimentary, but it’s also the first Developer Preview, so there’s a lot of time and room to improve before it’s live in the wild.

Overall I’m really happy with our ecobee3, it’s been a great addition to the house, it looks nicer (to me) than the Nest, and it’s much easier to check on the house from afar, by simply asking Siri.

Managing HomeKit scenes from the Ecobee app

Managing HomeKit scenes from the Ecobee app

Managing additional Sensors is easy in the EcoBee3 app

Managing additional Sensors is easy in the EcoBee3 app

Bushel to the Rescue!

So I heard about Bushel on a podcast i was interviewed for. I fell in love.

I’ve had a long standing family rule, use the devices I tell you to, and you get support, use something else, and you’re on your own. My mom until recently was a PC user, she was hella on her own!

Then she got a macbook air. I have lots… and I mean LOTS of macs. The conferences have 4 for session recording, i have mine. I have 2 mac mini’s, various iOS devices, my wife has a Macbook Pro and iOs devices, etc.

Work and family devices, managedI can now manage them all. No more “Gah, you have 3,542 updates waiting” or “Why don’t you do X?”

Between bushel and Screens (i just the other day remotely helped my mom, not by trying to understand what she was seeing on the screen, but by seeing the screen directly.) I can make sure everyone uses strong passwords, disk encryption, and more.

What’s nice, I can establish different schemes (called blueprints in Bushel), so i have work computers managed one way, family machines managed another. This is especially awesome since work machines can all have the same settings, and this let’s me manage that much easier than touching each one.

Setup is easy, you toggle on “open enrollment” go to a website on the device, install the certs, done. (Well done on the client, you have to do some Apple stuff as far as management certs, approval, etc. But just once)

What’s nice, you can use it for free for the first few devices. See if you like it. If you do sign up, use this link.

 

I might finally not need a moleskine

So, I’m a huge fan of keeping a notebook around all times. I carry a field notes notebook and pen with me almost all the time and there’s usually a medium size moleskine in my bag.

That might change.

GoodNotes, an iPad Pro 9.7″ and the Apple Pencil, might turn out to be the perfect replacement for my trusty moleskine.

I love writing, and love taking notes. It helps me remember things, and helps me sort my thoughts. The problem is, (for me at least) is going back to find notes. It’s doable and I do it, but it’s not easy, or fast.

I color code my notes now, using an index system, and that helps, but only a little.

On top of that, when I finally finish a notebook it goes on a shelf. They look cool, covered in stickers, full of notes on old sponsorship deals, old meetings, etc. But I never go back through them.

GoodNotes, is truly great. I was very skeptical about the Apple Pencil, but must admit, writing with it, is just like writing with my pen. I can scribble notes, highlight things, etc while holding my iPad in one hand. I can sit in a meeting and write notes like I would with a notebook, but their digital and always available.
Goodnotes is great at handwriting

As I got used to the app, at first I was worried that trying to find past notes would be tedious, swiping past each note one at a time, then I realized, duh, there’s a feature for that. Tapping the “4 boxes” icon allows you to quickly scroll through all your notes, and the thumbnails are just big enough to actually read the notes and see the headings.

Easy to see all notes in a bookAdd that to my color coding, and BOOM, easily searchable notebooks.

It’s also nice that I can separate my notebooks. Work, personal, etc . I’m still working on finding the right balance between one big notebook, and too many very specialized notebooks, but am sure I’ll get it.

my color coding scheme can still work.

my color coding scheme can still work.

 

One feature I wish existed was being able to take an entire page, cut if from one notebook, and pasting into a another notebook. Hopefully that shows up.

Over all I’m really pleased with this setup.

My only other sorta complaint is the types of pages. the lined page for example is portrait, while the grid paper comes in both portrait and landscape. You can create your own page templates, but sadly my illustrator skills aren’t quite there.

My most recent trip to San Francisco for WWDC ’16, i didn’t cary my moleskine. I had my iPad Pro, it’s keyboard, and the Apple Pencil, and that was more than enough to replace my trusty paper notebook.

Won’t lie, kinda sad to think about not having a paper notebook in my bag anymore but also kinda excited to go further paperless. Now to find a home for some unused notebooks…

 

Zoomed in writing box

Carplay Thoughts, Siri

So Siri in the car is actually my biggest use case, for Siri. Ever since the launch of “Hey Siri” I’ve been an avid user when driving.

I enjoyed it prior to Carplay. I just had to shout a little to be heard over the radio, which wasn’t bad, she was surprisingly good at identifying my voice.

One of my gripes with after market tech in cars is that you end up duplicating so much. Case in point my car has a nice microphone in the roof, by the sun roof controls. Because Audi is Audi, the installer couldn’t tap into that microphone, so i have a cute little boom mic, poking out the bottom of my instrument cluster. It’s not terrible but it’s not very clean looking, which is almost always my biggest complaint with non OEM kit. Thankfully it’s dark, small and only the driver really sees it, but still.

Messages sucks

IMG_1610I’m sure the goal was to keep me from crashing but the messages app in CarPlay, even with Siri’s help, the messages app frankly sucks. For one, you can’t see messages. Maybe I’ve pulled over, maybe I’m at a light, too bad. You can see a list of most recents by name, but you can’t just quickly read a message.

IMG_1606The moment you go into Messages, you’re interacting with the car, voice only. It’s futuristic (i guess) but slow and janky, and not at all enjoyable.

 

 

Maps/Navigation

Siri does a reasonable job here. I’ve had 90% or so success telling Siri where I’d like to go and she finds it. Which is honestly more than I’d hope to get, so I’m happy. It’s not perfect, and when it’s not it’s frustrating, it’s nice to use.

My two big gripes are:

  1. IMG_1620Keyboard. I could swear I’ve seen one show up, but I’ll be damned if I can rely on that happening. Obviously typing on the dash isn’t what Apple wants, but as a “Well Siri is fucking crazy” back up i think you should be able to. (Update before i even hit publish, it appears it’s an option when the car isn’t running?)
  2. IMG_1612under destinations, would it be so hard to look at my calendar? Waze figured out how to do it, so I have to assume Apple could. I’m fairly diligent (because of Waze) about adding addresses to my appointments, and it’s frustrating to go into Maps on CarPlay, and seeing my history of destinations, a row of useless pre set up searches, and such, but no “You’ve got a meeting in 20 minutes, at X, wanna go there?” Really Apple? Are more CarPlay users wondering aimlessly looking for parking and grocery stores, than are heading to appointments?IMG_1614

My thoughts on Apple CarPlay, part one

IMG_1552So for part one, I wanted to just cover some initial impressions.

So CarPlay as it’s own thing is fine, but since Apple has no control over the head unit manufacturers (I actually think an “Apple Car” is more likely to be an Apple head unit) there’s a load of crap that makes everything janky.

Pioneer, being just like every other OEM, has their own thing, AppRadio. I’ve no idea what AppRadio is, because it doesn’t seem to work.

Despite it’s taking up a valuable icon space on the first screen of the CarPlay home screen, every time i tap it, it crashes the CarPlayIMG_1553 interface. Why Pioneer made their own thing, I can’t guess. Why it can’t be deleted or removed, I can totally guess. Why it seems like it should work, but doesn’t, who knows, this is why OEMs shouldn’t bundle their crap into things.

I found a setting in Waze (My Navigation app of choice) that said something like “let app be controlled by car unit”, weird but ok let’s see.

Turn on the car, connect the phone, launch Waze, and …. nothing. Both of these images are the screen shot of what I was seeing on both screens. Waze on my phone seemed to know it was connected and talking to something, but the head unit had no idea. Tapping that nice little AppRadio icon, crashed the interface. Assuming it’s an AppRadio thing, since Waze was like “Oh hi there Pioneer”

Apple Maps is ok, and I use it because it’s what’s there, but I’d kill to have Waze back. Knowing where cops are (or were) is of immense value. Knowing where there’s a road closure… Uh yeah!! Technically Apple Maps has that but it’s crap. “There’s a hazard ahead” that’s it. No details, no icon to tell me, just a hazard, good luck.

I could run Waze by running it in the background, and might resort to that since it’s voice announcements still seem to go through the car speakers. The reason it’d be in the background is that CarPlay is just a special type of mirroring your phone screen. Hit that cute little home icon, if your phone screen is on, the phone (and head unit) return to the home screen. Launch Maps, it launches on your phone. Launch Pandora, same thing, you see where I’m going.

If i pick up my phone, hit the home button and launch an app that isn’t CarPlay friendly, the head unit stays on the home screen. The moment i launch something from the head unit, whatever the phone was doing is replaced by what the head unit is doing. I think i get why, mostly, but it’s also annoying in many ways.

I started to write a single post about CarPlay but figured I’d break it down since there’s so much to talk about. Enjoy this one, I’ll post more in a bit.