A Worthwhile Degree

Part of the current right-wing sneering about the student loan relief program that the President is setting up has to do with hard-working tax-payers being forced to finance “worthless” things like philosophy degrees. As one who worked toward two such “worthless degrees”, I am a living example of how short-sighted that view is.

My undergraduate degree was in motion-picture and television studies, which might indeed sound to the faux-utilitarians on the right as nothing more than the pop-culture version of an art history degree (a degree often ridiculed as among the most worthless).

My graduate work was in English literature, another degree often excoriated as an effete indulgence by those who think a college degree should prepare you for a real job, dammit.

Except that my college work in two worthless fields did just that. As part of my literary studies I took a course in computerized textual analysis. That led me to a good paying job programming software for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Deep Space Network. Where, by the way, my literary studies also came in handy for helping me craft solidly written and persuasive memos and reports—I became my team’s go-to guy for responding to problematic directives from the higher-ups.

And my film degree? That helped me in my next job, developing instructional videos and software for university composition courses at UCLA.

All my worthless academic work, film and literary studies, came in handy for my next job, when I went to work at the Voyager Company, developing interactive media and helping to create the first widely distributed ebooks, the Voyager Expanded Books.

In short, my worthless film degree and graduate literary studies resulted in well-paying jobs and allowed me to contribute to new economic enterprises: instructional technology and interactive media. I hear there’s lots of money to be made in both those fields.

I managed to pay off my student loans myself, but even if the government had paid them all off for me it would have gotten much more than its money’s worth from its investment in my “worthless” degrees.

So stop the sneering: you never know where even the most useless or obscure college studies might lead.

Amusements for Insomniacs

I happened to be awake just before 2AM this morning, so I put on my Apple Watch and watched to see what happened when 2AM rolled around and Daylight Saving Time ended. At exactly 2, as the second hand passed 12 on the watch face, nothing. Then, at 4 seconds past 2, the hour hand jumped back one hour.

How exciting!

(As for why California did the Daylight Saving Time Tango this year, blame politics.)

A Glimpse of Rivendell on My Wrist

I recently replaced my original model Apple Watch (sometimes referred to as a “Series 0” model) with a Series 4. I really liked my old watch, but Apple stopped issuing system updates for that model so I knew its days on my wrist were numbered. When I finished a couple of particularly big projects recently, I decided that my reward would be a new Apple Watch.

The new Series 4 is a worthy replacement. Everything (except, of course, the time) runs much faster on it. It has a much better speaker. It does ECGs. It has great battery life. It can spit water!

But my favorite feature is its slightly larger display, and its ability to run the Kaleidoscope watch face full-screen on it.

On my old watch I had created a Kaleidoscope watch face based on a photo I had taken of some jacaranda tree blossoms. The result was a watch face I nicknamed “Rivendell.”

Rivendell looked lovely on my old watch, and it continues to look lovely on my new one. But when I made a full-screen version of it for my new Apple Watch, it became mesmerizing. In fact, it’s so mesmerizing that I consume much of my new Apple Watch’s extra battery power by keeping my portal into Rivendell running on my wrist for minutes at a time while I gaze at it. It’s very calming—much more so than the Breathe app.

Rivendell Face Full-Screen
A still image cannot convey the stately Elvish grace of this slowly animating watch face.

Now, I don’t know for a fact that jacarandas grew in Rivendell, but Elrond, who ran the place, knew Gandalf, and he knew the Valar queen Yavanna Kementári (the Giver of Fruits)  back in the old country, and she is the one who basically planted all the original foliage on Middle-Earth, so if Elrond had wanted one of those purple-blossomed lovelies in his valley estate, he could probably pull a few strings.…

Great Moments in Discoverability: Away in Slack

My colleagues at TidBITS and I use the Slack app so we can discuss article ideas and production. Ordinarily, I have Slack open on my Mac when I’m working and, ordinarily, I have my state set to “Active” (the default when Slack is running) so people know they can reach me.

However, sometimes I want to set my state to “Away” while still keeping the app open on my Mac. I do that so rarely, though, that I can never remember how to change my state, and it takes me a minute or so of poking around until I can find the command again. Slack doesn’t make finding it easy.

For starters, there’s no menu command to set the state. In fact, the menus on the Slack menubar don’t offer much at all.

Second, there are a bunch of unlabeled icons atop the Slack window’s content area, each of which might issue the state-setting command, but to find out what each icon does, I have to bring the Slack window to the front and then mouse over each icon, only to find out that none of them offer what I want.

Third, what Slack itself means by Status is not whether you are online or not. In Slack, your Status is a message associated with your username in the current workspace. Slack has no name for your state of being active or away.

Fourth, how Slack indicates your current state doesn’t leap out at you: it’s merely a tiny circle preceding your name at the top of the left sidebar—if it’s green, your state is Active.

That tiny indicator is the key to changing your state: click it and you get a popover with all sorts of settings. Slack, perversely, makes you read down to the fifth item in the list of settings to get to the one that actually displays and allows you to set your state; e.g., “Away Set yourself to active.”

Note that all the users shown in the Direct Messages list in the Slack window’s sidebar have such state indicators, but clicking those indicators does nothing, so one can be excused for assuming wrongly that clicking the indicator by your own name might be fruitless as well.

Sure, one can claim that Slack’s state toggle is discoverable. But such a commonly used toggle should not require three ships and a royal charter to be discovered.

I need a flux capacitor to fix this…

I recently wrote an article for TidBITS about the app’s resurrected text-box-linking feature. A reader responded with complaints about Pages 7:

Whatever, it is still the most ignorant word processing software. I can open a document in Word I made in 2007 with office 2016- with Pages no way. I have to update to a more recent version. That’s not just cloudy it’s ridiculous and nobody I know who uses a Mac uses Pages. If they would have made it backwards compatible then it would be a viable software. But as we know Apple only does things (basic word) to their convenience on many levels.

I responded to the “backwards compatible” complaint:

I just dug up an old Word .doc file of mine that was last modified in 2004 and had no problem opening it with Pages 7. I can also open files made with Pages 4 in Pages 7. The rumors of Pages’ lack of backward compatibility may be exaggerated.

Turns out, this reader had a…unique…interpretation of what backward compatibility entailed:

Pages 3.0.3 will not open documents created with later Pages. That’s a problem.

Pages 3.0.3 was released 10 years ago. I suppose I could climb into my Delorean, travel to Apple in 2007, and deliver the Pages 7 file format specs to the Pages 3 development team, but that almost certainly would split the timeline and cause serious instability in the multiverse. So I probably won’t.

I guess the disgruntled reader wins this round.

Time Lapse Synchronicity

I have one of those novelty cat clocks that has moving eyes and a wagging tail. I thought it might be fun to shoot about 20 minutes of time-lapse video of it so it would look like the cat was manic, with rapidly twitching eyes and tail.

Turned out that the frame-rate of my iPhone’s time-lapse feature is an even multiple of the eye-moving, tail-wagging period. As a result, the clock seems to look quite normal in the video if you don’t notice that its hands are moving rather rapidly (expand the video below to full-screen to see the hands more clearly).

“I Do Not Know”

Lauren Goode, at writer at The Verge, says that Apple’s forthcoming watchOS 3 is “an admission that Apple had it all wrong when it came to interactions on the first-generation Apple Watch.” It is no such thing, although the headline makes for great clickbait!

With the first release of the Apple Watch’s OS, Apple got some things wrong and some things right, just as most developers do when they release a brand new product. Designing a user experience is an inexact science. Sure, there are protocols and methodologies for doing it that have a deep grounding in psychological and behavioral research, but all employing them does is get your product closer to delivering a good user experience the first time out of the box.

It’s only when a product has been in use for a while in a large and diverse user population can the developers see more of the pain points their initial design had, and then devise ways to mitigate them. Apple addressed some of them in watchOS 2, and has addressed more of them in watchOS 3.

Goode says that watchOS 3 “requires fewer swipes and taps and less wait time just to get an app going. Why wasn’t it like this before? I do not know.”

I do know. Anyone with actual consumer software development experience does.

Why doesn’t Goode know this? I do not know.

I’m loopy!

I found a $16 knock-off of the space black Milanese loop band for Apple Watch on [Amazon][1], and, having a little gift certificate money left, ordered it. I like it so far. It’s obvious to the wearer that it ain’t an Apple band (the bare face of the magnet on the clasp’s underside, for example), but, once on the wrist, it looks and feels good. The [Apple band][2], btw, costs $199.

knockoff band clasp, detail

[1]: http://www.amazon.com/Marge-Plus-Magnetic-Stainless-Replacement/dp/B01ABRN0DA
[2]: http://www.apple.com/shop/product/MLJH2AM/A/42mm-space-black-milanese-loop

El Capitan and Fullscreen Spaces

In the bad old days (i.e., the day before yesterday), when you made an app fullscreen on your Mac, the fullscreen app got added to a space in Mission Control at the far right. That was fine for users who never had more than one desktop space in Mission Control (that is, just about everyone). However, I usually have six or seven desktop spaces in play at any time, so if I were working on something on, say, my first desktop, and had to get to the fullscreen space, I would have to navigate through all the other spaces via the keyboard (Control + ← or Control + →), or show the Mission Control bar and mouse over to it. Like a savage.

El Capitan, however, allows you to make and position a fullscreen app beside whichever Mission Control desktop you like: just grab the app’s window and slam it against the top of the screen, then drag its thumbnail beside the desktop space you want it to neighbor.

Here’s a video that shows how it works.