Productivity

ASMR Rooms and Immersive Single Tasking

29th November 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

Cal Newport, writing about ASMR and something called ASMR rooms:

The reason I know about ASMR is that as these “tingle videos” grew in popularity, they spawned a sub-genre called ASMR rooms. The goal in these videos was no longer to trigger the classical tingling response, but instead to invoke a sense of meditative calm and focus.

One such video, for example, is a mostly static shot of Charles Dickens’s victorian-style writing room, with animated flames crackling in the fireplace and a storm raging outside the windows. The scene runs for close to two hours. The only thing that changes is the intensity of the rain:

This is the first time I've ever heard about ASMR rooms, but I find them rather intriguing. ASMR isn't something I'm particularly interested in, but the idea of having a video used for background noise and visuals seems like it would be useful to me.

He writes about how one of his readers makes use of ASMR rooms to immerse themselves into a single task. They do this by playing one of the videos full screen, with the audio playing through noise-cancelling headphones, and then having a word processor in front of it. I'm sure the bigger the screen the better the effect this would have since it would allow you to immerse yourself even more in the environment.

When I'm home by myself, I find that when I try to try to focus on a single task, I get easily distracted. When my girlfriend is home, or even when I lived with my parents, the television is usually on in the background, and people are moving around me. But when I'm on my own, I have the lights turned down to a minimum, usually, the room I'm in has a very dim light, no other light is turned on, and I'm usually sat in silence.

Sometimes I find myself playing a podcast to keep my brain occupied, but if I'm reading or writing, a podcast can also be a distraction. I have the same issue with music.

One tool I have found to help calm the mind is ambient sounds. Not to aid focus, or remove distractions from an environment, but to help to fall asleep. I have one of the small Alexa devices in my bedroom so I use that for this purpose. As it has various skills where you can say "Alexa play something sounds", and it plays an audio track for one hour. I find that I enjoy rainforest sounds, and my girlfriend prefers rain sounds.

When I'm trying to focus on a task I think I need the background sound and also something visual. That's probably why I've found that background noise with apps like Dark Noise doesn't work that well with me. But the idea of an ASMR room certainly sounds like it could work.

The ones that seem most interesting to me are the ones that relate to Harry Potter. For some reason, the scenes seem rather relaxing. I'm not sure if it's solely because of the scenes that the creators have chosen, or the connection I have to the books/films, but they seem to be the ones that attract me the most.

As I'm writing this post, I've been playing various videos on an external monitor which is located behind and to the side of my laptop that I'm writing this from. I have the audio routed to a HomePod Mini which is also on my desk, and I became a bit extra and I changed the smart bulb in my office to a dim orange to set the mood. It does seem to have helped my focus, but obviously, I'll keep trying this idea and hopefully, it helps me stick to a single task and minimise distractions.

If you want to check these out for yourself, here are a few that I've found:

App

ConnectKit for Shortcuts

24th November 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Josh Holtz, has announced his new app ConnectKit for Shortcuts, which bridges the gap between Shortcuts and the App Store Connect API. Surprisingly, you can access quite a lot of the functionality from App Store Connect over the API, including managing users, TestFlight,  app metadata, reporting, and even more!

You can use the built-in token storage for free, along with the action to generate a JWT token that can be used to make authentication requests to the API. But for just a small tip, you can unlock four premium actions which is where the magic is.

There's an action to get your apps, and also your sales and finance reports, which both come with quite a lot of parameters. For the rest of the API functonality, you can use the Make Request action, which lets you interact with the API directly, but you get the added bonus of the JWT token being generated for you automatically.

When I saw this app on Twitter, I immediately thought about how you could combine it with something like Charty to view super custom charts for sales. Fortunately, Josh has gone one step further and provided a ton of examples in the app, and on his blog post. Some you may expect like viewing charts in Charty, and app data in WidgetPack. But also submitting an app for review via Siri.

It sounds great, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing how I can put it to use.

You can get ConnectKit on the App Store, and I'd highly recommend reading through Josh's blog post to see all the details.

UK Supermarkets as Football Shirts

23rd November 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

I came across a great thread on Twitter. Joe Parton, spent yesterday designing football shirts for 10 popular supermarkets. They've been designed so well, I think they'd work as a fun quiz, for people to try and match them to the supermarket.

Mac

A Hill to Die On →

22nd November 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Matt Birchler:

Today the hill some seem to be willing to die on is that the Mac will never get a touch screen.

“It sucks on Windows, Apple wouldn’t do that. They’ve said no for 10 years, why do you expect them to change?”

Optionally, bounce back to the top of this post if you’re not sure where I’m going here. 😋

This year Apple added a mouse cursor to the iPad, something a few years ago would have been brushed off as “a Mac thing that didn’t belong on a touch-based OS.” Yet here we are. If you can find a single person who thinks the iPad is worse off for adding a cursor, I’d be very impressed. Apple didn’t just glom the Mac cursor onto the iPad and call it a day, they updated iPadOS in ways that made it work wonderfully.

This is a great piece by Matt, and I think he's managed to convince me about touch screens eventually coming to Macs.

I think I was biased by the touch implementation in Windows, which I don't think is particularly impressive, and also the difference between macOS and iOS where Apple do support touch.

But Apple adding a touch screen wouldn't be just that. There would be a story behind it. And I for one, am intrigued to see what that story will be.

Design

Why Japanese Web Design Is So… Different →

21st November 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

David, at Randomwire:

In the mind’s eye of many people, Japan is a land of tranquil Zen gardens, serene temples, and exquisite tea ceremonies. Both traditional and contemporary Japanese architecture, books and magazines are the envy of designers worldwide. Yet for some reason practically none of this mastery has been translated into digital products, in particular websites, most of which look like they hail from around 1998.

The company I work for is owned by Alibaba Group, so therefore I'm exposed to some Chinese-first websites and tools, and I've always pondered the reasons behind the difference to what the western-world is used to.

While this article is focussed on Japanese web design, I think there are a lot of similarities. It makes me wonder if  any other cultural differences have an effect on design.

Plant Evolves to Become Less Visible to Humans →
Nature

Plant Evolves to Become Less Visible to Humans →

20th November 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Research has shown that a plant commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine has been evolving in order to evade humans.

Phys.org:

Scientists found that Fritillaria delavayi plants, which live on rocky slopes of China's Hengduan mountains, match their backgrounds most closely in areas where they are heavily harvested.

This suggests humans are "driving" evolution of this species into new colour forms because better-camouflaged plants have a higher chance of survival.
In the new study, the researchers measured how closely plants from different populations matched their mountain environment and how easy they were to collect, and spoke to local people to estimate how much harvesting took place in each location.

They found that the level of camouflage in the plants was correlated with harvesting levels.

In a computer experiment, more-camouflaged plants also took longer to be detected by people.

At first glance, this research seemed novel. Humans being the cause of a plants evolution. But it's not novel at all. We are animals, and like every other animal, we shape and are shaped by our environment.

It's interesting because we don't usually think of ourselves as being part of nature. But discoveries like this will only change that.


(Photo credit: Yang Niu)

iOS

Custom App Icons on Home Screen No Longer Route Through Shortcuts App in iOS 14.3 Beta 2 →

20th November 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Julie Clover, writing at MacRumors:

Apple in iOS 14.3 is streamlining the Home Screen customization process by simplifying the way that app shortcuts work. With the launch of iOS 14, users quickly discovered that Shortcuts could be used to replace traditional app icons to create an entirely customized ‌Home Screen‌ look.

Unfortunately, while these Home Screens created with Shortcuts looked fantastic, the experience was less than ideal because launching an app through shortcuts required the Shortcuts app to open briefly, slowing the app opening process. In iOS 14.3 beta 2, that's no longer the case because shortcuts no longer have to route through the Shortcuts app.

Such a small change, but yet this is going to make a massive difference. Custom home screens are the thing now, and major component of that is using Shortcuts to create custom app launchers. And until 14.3, they require Shortcuts to open before running the shortcut. But with this change, they’ll start to look and feel like real apps.

I like how Apple have been slowly integrating Shortcuts into the system. Bit by bit, iOS is becoming more customisable, allowing users to really make their devices their own.

Tip

Quick Tip: Enable Touch ID for sudo →

19th November 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors:

My new MacBook Air is proving to be all that I’d hoped, and it’s not just because of the fancy new M1 processors. Since I’m coming from a 2014 MacBook, I’m reaping the benefits of all the other advancements Apple has made to its laptop line in the intervening years, and prime among those is the incorporation of Touch ID: I’ve already enabled it for 1Password (what a lifesaver) and, thanks to a tip from Twitter follower Josef, I can bring it to one of my other favorite places: the command line.

Such a great tip. I wonder why it's not more easily available?

Opinion

Why Can't People Make Things Clear?

19th November 2020 PERMALINK • 2 min read

Sorry for the rant, but I just had to get something off my chest.

One of my strongly held opinions is that if you are trying to share information, then it is your duty to make it as easy to understand as possible. Especially in a professional sense.

It still baffles me that all through school and in every job I've worked, there's always been a problem with communication and sharing clear information. I'm talking about emails, documents, and even simple chat messages.

Here are the main problems I've encountered, and I bet quite a lot of other people have:

  • More than one font in a simple document.
  • Random line breaks throughout the document.
  • Assortment of bold, underlined, and italicised text. Sometimes used in combinations.
  • Text colour seemingly decided per sentence based on the current mood of the author.
  • No structure.
  • Worse than no structure. Bad structure. Sections in the wrong order, the visual hierarchy doesn't match the content, etc.
  • Different headings used to style text based on a whim not based on the content structure.
  • Many more that I'm forgetting.

I used to put it down to people just not being able to use computers properly. Because maybe it was my interest in computers that lead me to learn how to use them better? But while that may have passed 15-20 years ago, I don't think it does anymore. Especially in the technology-dominated roles that I've worked.

At one of my old jobs, emails would regularly come with more than three text colours, multiple fonts, sometimes font sizes, no clear headers, and probably only two or three paragraphs of text. What's worse, is that it was usually important information that people needed to understand in order to do their job.

When I read badly written/formatted documents or emails I always think to myself, why has this person not just put a bit more effort into making sure people can understand it? Or sometimes it feels like less effort would make it easier to understand.

If you want people to value the information you are sharing, make it easy for them to understand.

Sure, even if something is a real mess, most people will probably be able to understand it. But it may lead to misunderstandings, or questions later on when people want to clarify something. So by keeping things simple and to the point, you save yourself a lot of time.

There's also the fact that you could look unprofessional if you are incapable of making things clear. Because to be honest, if I read something that has no structure, no clear message, and the formatting is all over the place, my opinion would be that the author didn't understand the topic they're writing about.

Maybe when I try to explain things at work, I spend too much time making everything easy to understand, but I definitely think some people don't find it important at all. And maybe this is unimportant to most, but it really irritates me.

Mac

Mac Mini Teardown Provides Real-World Look at M1 Chip on Smaller Logic Board →

18th November 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

A teardown of the new Mac mini has surfaced on the forum eGPU.io (via Reddit), providing us with a real-world look at Apple's new M1 chip, which is soldered onto a much smaller logic board than the one found in the 2018 model of the computer.

There sure looks like there's a lot of empty space in there, which bodes well for the future. You can take it as more room for future even more powerful models, or that this power could be put into an even smaller chassis. Either way it's positive.

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