Own Your Face →

15th December 2020

On todays episode of lunchtime YouTube, I discovered a fascinating TEDx Talk by Robert Hoge on owning your face. Not in the sense of physically owning it, but accepting yourself.

It's relatively short, only 16 minutes. But he talks quite deeply about beauty, perceived imperfections, and accepting what you look like.

I think there's a much bigger problem in society nowadays, where we tend to crave the opinions of others, and desire outside validation. In my head, social media is a major factor in this, and young people today are suffering from anxiety more than ever. So it may be difficult, but I think the first step is to accept who you are.


Write-only Twitter

10th December 2020

I've come across this idea before, where you would use Twitter as a write-only service. The aim is usually to minimise the time spent on the platform, either to avoid distraction, or to keep away from the content, when all you want to do is publish a tweet.

I understand the reasoning. Sometimes you just want to write a quick tweet, share a link, etc., but you don't always want to be trapped on the social network itself. A few examples for myself would be sharing a link to a new blog post or a photo that I've taken.

As for the reasons to stay away from the content on Twitter, I guess that will be different for everyone, and every situation. I have thought about trying this myself, where I would avoid reading Twitter entirely, and treating it as a one-way street. But this always felt hypocritical, since it's like you're putting your content above everyone else's, expecting your followers to read what you tweet, but you have no intention to do the same.

Nevertheless, there certainly is the market for solutions where you do treat Twitter as a write-only service. And it just happens that I've come across a blog post by Josh Ginter on using Twitter without reading the timeline, and also a product called Typefully by the creators of Mailbrew. Which allows you to create write and publish tweets without any form of timeline distraction.

Josh Ginter's solution was to only tweet via a dedicated Shortcut:

First, I created a simple “Tweet” shortcut that provides a simple text input box. Once I’ve inputted my tweet, tapping Done shoots me through to Tweetbot (or you could tweet through the Twitter app — whichever you prefer), pastes the tweet I previously typed, and a final tap of the “Tweet” button sends the tweet and shoots me back to Shortcuts.

Nowhere in this shortcut is there an ability to see who has tweeted in your timeline. There’s also no way to cancel the tweet and read tweets in the timeline mid-way through the shortcut — if you hit “Close” in Tweetbot, the shortcut will shoot you back to Shortcuts.

Twitter, But Without the Timeline

I think this solution would start to get on my nerves after a while. Because the Shortcuts app opens when you launch the shortcut, and it navigates back to the Shortcuts app afterwards. However, it still has the desired effect.

One app I use when sharing content to Twitter is Linky. It has a very good share extension, and lets me share content without ever opening the Twitter app.

As for Typefully, it is essentially a Twitter composer. There is no feed, or any content from Twitter at all. The only things you can do is to compose tweets, and either publish them, or schedule them to be published later. It works great in a web browser, and also if you add it to an iOS Home Screen.

This tool is what I would probably opt for, if I wanted a write-only experience for Twitter. But I think it's also a great tool if you simply want to compose a thread of multiple tweets, or want create a batch of tweets to cue published at different times. Matt Birchler made a useful video on Typefully over on his A Better Computer channel.

I'm interested to see if this idea of a write-only Twitter is appealing to others. And if this does become a trend, I wonder what other products will be created.


Put Your Pasteboard in Your Menu Bar With ClipBar

9th December 2020

ClipBar, an app made by my friend Cesare, is a recently released app that puts your pasteboard in your menu bar. It's such a simple idea, but it's already helped me a ton.

I haven't got a great memory, so I regularly forget what I've copied. Previously, I would hit CMD + SPACE, paste the contents into Spotlight and get a preview. But with ClipBar, I've always got a snippet in the menu bar that makes it much faster.

There's no need to worry about the size of the pasteboard either, since you can set a maximum character limit that will appear. You can also fine-tune the truncation, by having it clip the start, middle, or end of the content.

If you've simply copied text, then that's what will appear. However, if you've copied a file, then you'll see the path, and if you've copied an image, you will see an icon to show it is an image, and it's file size.

In a recent update, ClipBar gained a preview feature, so you can view the whole contents of your clipboard. For images, it switches from the file size to an actual preview of the image.

From the preview, you can share the contents using any built-in or third-party share extensions.

Having your pasteboard contents permanently in your menu bar can sound potentially dangerous, especially if you regularly copy sensitive information. Unfortunately, if you are worried about such problems, then this app may not be for you.

But ClipBar does work with an existing agreement between developers to help identify when passwords and other secure information has been copied, and it will then attempt to conceal the data. You can read more details on this in the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

While I may copy sensitive information on my machine, I'm happy with the fact that ClipBar is sandboxed, it doesn't store your data anywhere, and the precautions regarding sensitive information.

With all that said, I think ClipBar is a great app, and one that will undoubtedly make your life easier.

You can download ClipBar on the Mac App Store.


The Effect COVID Has Had on Japanese Country Towns

6th December 2020

VICE Asia has produced a great documentary regarding the effect that COVID has had on Japan’s country towns.

For three consecutive months, the number of people that left Tokyo was greater than the number of people moving in. Which is something that hasn’t happened since 2013.

It’s interesting to see the effect COVID has had on peoples lives, with most people being able to work remotely, and in general people being stuck inside their homes.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to what the long-lasting effects of this pandemic will be, but I’m hoping that at least something positive can come out of 2020.

My current idea is that this pandemic will be a key factor in the worlds population becoming more sparse than it is right now. Since, if you can work from home, then that removes one major reason of living in a densely populated city.

I think we’re going to see a lot of people reevaluating their priorities, and making some major changes in the next few years. Directly or indirectly, this pandemic will certainly change the way people live their lives going forward.


Automate Rotating Wallpapers on iOS

29th November 2020

In iOS/iPadOS 14.3, a long awaited Shortcut action will return. The 'Set Wallpaper' action. Couple this with the automation feature of Shortcuts, and you can build something simple, but very fun. It's still in beta right now, so if you're running the public release you will unfortuantely have to wait just a bit longer.

But for people that are running 14.3, you can make use of these two shortcuts I've created that rotate your wallpaper.

The Shortcuts

The first one simply looks in an album for photos, gets a random one, and sets it as the wallpaper. So you can just add/remove photos from the selected album, and let the shortcut pick it up.

The other is a bit smarter, as it has the option to choose a seperate for light and dark backgrounds. so depending on the current appearance that is set, it will choose from a seperate group of photos.

I was stuck for a while with this one, since there is no built-in action to check whether dark mode is currently enabled. Luckily, Alex Hay (developer of Toolbox Pro) shared with me a way to determine this inside a shortcut using JavaScript. Turns out there is an action from Toolbox Pro that can do this, but I thought I’d keep this shortcut from requiring any third-party apps.

To use the shortcuts, you will need to specify the albums before you run them, but apart from that they're ready to go.



While these shortcuts will change your wallpaper, the magic comes in the automation. Using the Shortcuts app, you can use various triggers to run a shortcut. I haven't found a way to pick a time interval to have it automatically repeat, but you can just pick certain times of the day and have them each trigger the sa me shortcut.

I've just gone with a simple trigger of sunset every day, because I don't personally want it changing all the time. But having a new wallpaper every day seems good.

What I would like in the future, is if you could trigger an automation based on dark/light mode being toggled. Or if you could somehow create one of the adaptive wallpapers that switch between light/dark mode automatically.

When making an automation, make sure to disable ‘Ask Before Running’, otherwise you will need to okay it every time it runs.

Writing in the Ghost Editor

Writing in the Ghost Editor

29th November 2020

I can't quite figure out what caused this transition, but recently I've been writing my blog posts on the web directly in the Ghost editor, and I'm rather enjoying it. A while ago, I would have only thought about using a native app, whether I was writing on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad.

But writing in the editor feels to me more like I'm actively writing on my blog. Not just writing something that may be shared later on to my blog. Maybe that makes sense, I'm not so sure. But there definitely feels like a distinction in my head.

I've seen some comments in the past about writing in online editors being bad, with them being slow, not having a good UI compared to native apps, and even having the possibility to lose your progress. But I don't think the web is that bad anymore. Or at least the Ghost editor isn't. If you want to check it out, Matt Birchler made a great video about the Ghost admin interface.

I wonder what the current consensus is on writing directly in a web interface. Is this behaviour still weird? Or am I simply joining everyone else on this one?


Thoughts on Adaptive Background Environments

29th November 2020

I wrote previously about something called ASMR rooms. Which I found to be a rather interesting idea, and possible solution to help keep me focussed on a task, by providing my brain some background sounds and visuals to keep any distractions away.

Since writing that post and experimenting with various videos, I'm starting to think of these videos as background environments. In that the idea is to immerse yourself in these scenes, in order to remove distractions from the physical environment in which you are actually located. But I've become fascinated in how the experience could be improved.

My current thinking is that the videos should match the real-world environment and to an extent, local time. Because, I don't think a warm room with a crackling fireplace would be as effective on a sunny afternoon, or icy morning, as it would be later in the day when the sun has set. Because in that case, the video changes from being separate to your physical environment, to an extension of your real-world surroundings. But with some added visuals and background noise.

I can't see it being feasable for a product to be created to automate this, but it would be pretty cool to have something where you'd have a constant stream of ASMR room videos, but they'd also adapt to the time of day, seasons, and possibly local weather. For example, a winters day could feature a snowy courtyard in the morning, followed by a library in the early afternoon, then you could watch the sun set over a vista, and relax by a fire in the evening.

One idea that may work is a livestream to rotate through videos, but maybe localised to a timezone/country to align itself with sunrise/sunset times and seasons. I don't know how interested other people would be with that, but I'd certainly watch it.

This may all seem a bit weird, or just me taking something simple, way too far. But this is the kind of stuff that goes through my head.


ASMR Rooms and Immersive Single Tasking

29th November 2020

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:


ConnectKit for Shortcuts

24th November 2020

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

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.

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