Chris Hannah

Essay


Why Can't People Make Things Clear? #

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:

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.

I Don't Like It When Apps Change Their Tab Bar Items #

In the past few weeks, two apps I use a lot on my phone have changed the layout of their tab bars. It sounds like something that you couldn't get annoyed about, but here I am. I'm sure this annoyance happens to other people, and to other apps that I don't use, but the two that are bugging me today are Instagram and YouTube.

Instagram

Okay, so putting aside the fact that Instagram seems to change their interface weekly, with the option to create a new post or story being moved all around the interface. They clearly do this only for a few users, as a lot of people I know haven't seen any kind of change. But at least for me, every week there's at least one thing that's moved.

For now, I'll focus on the tab bar. Although, who knows, it might even change tomorrow.

So what I have now is five items, Home, Discover, Reels, Shop, and Profile. I get that they want to push Reels as a feature (even though I think it's terrible), and yes you can buy things on Instagram now (I also think this is bad). But why do these items need to fill up 40% of the tab bar?

I liked having the Activity item in the tab bar before, but you could argue that regularly checking your likes, comments, and follows isn't that healthy. So moving that away from the tab bar, and adding just a tiny bit of friction may be helpful for some people.

But what about the most important part of Instagram, posting photos? Surely that deserves to be the most prominent action in the UI. Rather, it's (currently) in the top left, at least for me, and only when you are on the Home screen. Weirdly, if you are on your profile you also have a button in the same place, but this is just to open a list allowing you to create a post, story, highlight, IGTV video, or Reel. Why there needs to be 5 content options is beyond me.

YouTube

This change isn't as drastic as what Instagram is doing, but it still messes with my muscle memory a lot.

The change here is the addition of the Create button in the centre. Although pressing this doesn't actually take you to the upload interface. Instead, you get a boring list interface like the Create option on Instagram. But here you only have two options, to upload a video, or to start a live stream.[1]

It's sort of the opposite of Instagram, where the changes there are to make you view Reels and use the shopping feature. But in the YouTube app, they seem to want you to create more.

I would argue that the opposite is how people use these platforms. Sure, a lot of people upload videos to YouTube, and maybe some people like to watch Reels and shop on Instagram. But at least in my mind, YouTube is the app where the majority of people would be consuming content, and Instagram is the place where you are more likely to be sharing content. Also seeing as the phone app is the only place where you can post images, since there is no iPad app (which I think is totally idiotic), and you can't upload anything on the web interface.

Most of the time when apps change their UI, the annoyance is purely down to muscle memory and having to readjust to a new layout. But these changes just seem to be stupid to me. They seem to be geared towards attracting desired behaviour like shopping or starting live streams, rather than showcasing features that users do more often.


  1. These two options are also totally pointless for me. Seeing as I don't upload videos, and if I try to start a live stream I get told I'm not actually eligible to stream from a mobile device. ↩︎

Why I "Force" Quit Apps #

Ever since you could open the multitasking interface on iOS, you’ve able to “force” quit apps. And not long after that, there’s always been people telling you that you shouldn’t, and that it was bad practice.

Most of the time these people will use the reasoning that having an app running in the background, doesn’t actually use up your memory or battery, and that that’s clearly why people are doing it. Others will say that resuming an app from the background is less CPU intensive than launching it from scratch. And there’s even the argument that it’s a waste of your time.

Even in Apple’s guide how to close an app has the prefix “How to force an app to close”, and in the guide, it tells you to do that “You should force an app to close only if it’s unresponsive”. So it’s not something they really endorse doing


So that’s why I’m going to explain the main reasons why I do quit apps on my iPhone and iPad.

Clutter

It’s the same as why I like to have a tidy desktop on my Mac and organised home screens on my iPhone and iPad. I don’t want clutter on my devices. And I find it irritating when I see apps that I’m not using when I open the app switcher.

It Helps To Signify the End of a Task

Similar to my disgust about the clutter, it helps to signify when I’ve stopped using an app.

For example, if I’ve been writing on my iPad, I’ve probably got iA Writer open, maybe Safari for research, Agenda for my overall planner, and even Reeder where I’m reading articles I want to write about. When I then finish writing, I’ll close all of these apps at once, and I no longer have to think about writing, until I actually want to start writing again.

What Does the Opposite Look Like?

Fine, let’s look at the opposite. What’s going to happen if you never quit apps on your devices? Well, one thing’s for sure, you’re going to have a lot of apps open.

I have 97 apps installed on my phone. So if I was to never quit an app, then by the end of a week, I’d expect to have quite a large number of them open. And eventually, surely the expectation is that every single application will be running?

Maybe there’s not much difference in battery level of memory usage when you’ve got a few apps in standby. But surely there’s got to be a difference at some point?

Either way, there’s certainly one place where you’ll see a difference. The app switcher. Imagine having 50 apps open, and you’re trying to find an app that just happens to be at the beginning of the list. That’s bound to be irritating.

Maybe the answer to that, is that if you do have 50 apps open at once, then the app switcher isn’t the place where you’d actually launch them from. Since having every installed app running and visible in the app switcher is essentially a giant home screen. In which case the app switcher becomes pointless.

What’s the Alternative?

Finally, the last reason why I “force” quit my apps, is because there is no alternative.

No matter what the system does in the background to running apps, they are still open. They are not closed.

Therefore, seeing as there’s no “nice way” to quit apps, I force quit them.


I’m aware that this topic might be unpopular, and there’s a good chance that you might think that quitting apps is plain stupid.

I’ll just leave you with one question:

If it’s a task that shouldn’t be done frequently, then why is it so easy and accessible to do?

Working From Home During the Lockdown #

Because of the current situation with COVID-19, I’ve been working from home. It’s been quite some time as well, I think about 9 weeks so far. Which is probably slightly longer than most, but that’s because my company enforced remote working (where possible), around 2 weeks before the UK went into lockdown. As you can imagine, I’ve found some things about remote work enjoyable, and also quite a few things that I actually prefer about a physical workplace.

But just for a bit of background information: I work as a software engineer, mainly as a mobile developer, but I’ve also built various REST APIs, and worked on SSO while I’ve been at my current job. Right now, I’ve actually been going through a lot of training, as we’ve been bought by a much larger company, so we’re adapting a lot of our software to their tech stack. But essentially, everything I’m doing is possible from home.

However, I’ve noticed that while the main chunks of my work are possible from home, there’s a lot of extra things that I do that just aren’t as easy. Or sometimes they’re not more difficult to do remotely, they just take some getting used to. For example, our standup1 meetings are usually done in front of our whiteboard, which we use to track the progress of different pieces of work. This is quite good at helping the team visualise the overall progress, and keeps us aligned. It’s completely possible to do this meeting over a video call, but I don’t think it’s quite the same.

The small interactions that happen in a physical workplace are something that I miss as well. Because sometimes you just need to bounce ideas off someone, double check something, or just have a quick chat. Working remotely just makes this seem like more of a hassle.

What I’m discovering, is that my previous idea of remote work wasn’t necessary that accurate. In a normal situation, I would work from home occasionally, but only for one or two days at a time, so no real adjustment was needed. It was just a case of carrying on working on whatever you were previously, join a video call for standup, and possibly one for a meeting. But at least for me, it still felt like the “team” was operating out of a physical location, and I was temporarily separated. My expectations for this period of remote working was that it would be an extended version of my past experience, but now I realise I wasn’t truly “working remotely” before.

Obviously, my current experience of remote work is still not going to be a true representation either, as we are all dealing with the lockdown at the same time. Which I assume clouds my judgement about this quite a lot. So I can’t quite claim that my views now are absolute, and given a different scenario, I would probably have completely different opinions on it.

However, that doesn’t mean I’ve not noticed anything I like more about working in an office. A few probably apply to quite a lot of people: face-to-face conversations, small informal discussions, and an easier way to separate work from home.

One thing I miss that possibly is not that popular, is the commute to and from work. Mine is about an hour and a half in total, and involves walking to a train station, getting a train into London, two underground trains, and finally another walk to the office. To some that may seem tedious, but for me that’s time that can be spent listening to a podcast or music, watching a video, reading a book, etc. But I also enjoy walking, and my commute involves about 40 minutes of walking each way, and I find London to be a pretty good place to stroll around. Especially when I go in early at around 6/7.

There are, of course, quite a lot of things that I enjoy about working from home so much. There’s the time that I’ve gained by removing 3 hours of daily commute from my day, the money I’m disabling by not paying for the daily commute, and also the fact that I don’t have to wake up as early to start work. The extra time in the day means that I’ve got more time to do things like cooking dinner, having a proper lunch, and seeing my girlfriend more. We’ve gone from seeing each other in the evenings and the weekend, to practically every second of the day, apart from when she has to go to work (key worker).

All things considered, the hardest part of this situation is the lockdown, not working from home. And the fact that everything seems to have suddenly changed. We can’t just go outside anymore, see our family, or go out with our friends. One that’s especially difficult for us Brits, is the weather. We spend all of our life moaning about it, but right now we are having some pretty great weather. Lucky for us we have a garden, but I’m sure we’d all much prefer to enjoy it properly.
But for now that’s out of our control, and we’ll just have to get on with it.


  1. A quick daily meeting that happens in the morning to synchronise the team, e.g. what everyone worked on the previous day, what they’re doing currently, and if anything is impeding their progress. 

Focussing on the Wrong Things When Starting a Blog #

Whenever I read about blogging, whether it’s people asking how to get started, tips on how to be better, or just anything in general about writing online, I tend to disagree quite a lot on the feedback that is shared.

I think that, especially when you are starting to write a blog, nearly everything that I see being suggested is detrimental.

Everyone’s telling you to start worrying about SEO, prioritise getting your website linked to from popular websites, working out monetisation, creating a schedule, creating the perfect design, blah, blah, blah.

If you are trying to start a blog, then the best advice is to just start writing, and then press publish. Sure, it might not be the best content you’ll ever produce, but it’s something. Then with the experience of writing and publishing that post, the next one will be slightly better.

Maybe no-one will ever see your first blog post, but that’s not exactly important. The most important thing is that you wrote it. And with it being made available for the world to read, I’m sure you’ll immediately find something you could have done better. So you learn from these mistakes and fix them in the next. These aren’t necessarily mistakes, just a representation of experience, which of course, comes with time.

Just like experience, in time your audience will grow, and if they like your content, they’ll come back. And maybe they’ll even think about sharing it with other people. But the content needs to be there before they can do that, and it needs to provide them with some level of value. But even that isn’t majorly important when you start.

Your aim should be to produce the best content you can. And if people value that content, then even better. If your aim is to make the most money possible or to get high numbers on your analytics, then in my opinion, you’re focussing on the wrong thing.

Maybe I’m too much a fantasist in that I think every blogger should at least be attempting to produce great content. But isn’t that the most logical target? If not, then I think you’re blogging for the wrong reason.

After you’ve built up a body of work, and still regularly providing content, then it wouldn’t hurt to try and get that content to more people. But it’s not the most important thing. And I would argue that it’s especially not important for people that just want to start blogging.

All I’m saying is, if you want to start blogging, then the only thing that matters is getting words out of your head, and published somewhere. You don’t need to worry about the overall theme of your content, your writing style, the name of your blog, getting the perfect domain name, figuring out what tools you want to use, you’ll figure that out once you’ve actually started.

The most important thing is that you actually start.


If after all of this you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. Simply write it all down and publish it to your blog. Then write some more, and some more, and maybe send me a link.

Ideas and Speculation on the Future of iPad Connectivity #

I was reading another great piece by Matt Birchler this morning, about the things he (an Apple fan) loves about the Microsoft Surface Go.

But when I read this little section, something about the iPad clicked in my head:

Connecting to an External Display

I keep asking for Apple to allow this on the iPad, because the ability to plug this into my 27″ screen and use it at that higher size and resolution is wonderful. This wouldn’t work on the iPad of course unless you had a larger touch screen, but it would totally work if you had one of those (not that this is impossible, of course).

There was this rumour recently, about how the Smart Connector on the iPad is going to be moved to the bottom. But there’s no real solid proof that it’s true, and there are tons of differing opinions, including one that it isn’t a smart connector, but instead, a moved Touch ID sensor.

Mac Rumors have a great page about the related Smart Connector rumours, and you can find the source CAD image below:

But what if it had something to do with extra connectivity, rather than simply moving an already existing port.

The original idea of a Smart Connector on the bottom (in portrait) was met with jokes about how the keyboard would look, and how unusable it would make it. But the image showing the Surface Go in landscape mode, with the USB C connector visible, made me think that it is, in fact, the perfect position for a connector that is designed to add more functionality while working.

I think the reason why people were originally mocking the idea of this new position for the connector, was because the majority agree that the time these ports are needed are when the device is in landscape mode, connected to a keyboard and while they’re doing real work.

So what if this allowed them to do more?

Maybe connecting to another display, accessories like cases that come with batteries, or things like an SD card reader.

However, just like the rest of these posts, this is pure speculation. And my attempt at creating a different perspective, that I don’t think has been made that much. What if, instead of simply moving a port, they were adding one, and making the experience better, rather than worse.

Further Speculation

While I’m speculating on this rumour, I’ll go a step further for a second.

What would happen if Apple added a USB C port to the iPad?

It would, of course, have to be alongside the Lightning port in my opinion. But that would open up a whole new bunch of possibilities:

Anyway, this has probably gone on longer than it should have done. But I hope I’ve got a different perspective across, and maybe spawned some more speculation.

Making a Device Your Home #

This article comes from my newsletter, which I have stopped after just 3 issues. It was just an idea that didn’t work out for me personally, as it required a more focussed piece every week. And I realised I prefer the shorter and quicker form of writing, that I do here on Radical Thinker.

So here is the last issue, which is about personalising your devices.


I’m sure you’ll understand that a house is not always a home, as you have to do some level of customisation to make sure it fits with your desires and needs. You add a sense of personality to transform it into a home.

Well I believe that you can apply the same idea into technology, and the devices you use everyday, because they are your “virtual home”.

So why shouldn’t it be comfortable?

The first place everyone starts off with is the wallpaper, it’s a pretty big part of a device, especially when it’s the lock screen and the home screen. But this isn’t true personality, as you’ve still got the same device as everyone else.

The little things that make a difference are cool cases, different coloured covers, putting stickers on your devices, and then there’s even the way you set up and layout your devices.

I’m a big sticker fan myself, and you can see below what it looks like:

It’s not much, but the stickers are things that I like, and it feels mine when I’m holding it. I find it really interesting to see what other people do to their devices as well, I’ve seen some cool creations in the past.

So for the software side of things, using iOS as an example, your app layout and selection of apps can really change the feel of a device as well. I’ve previously been a person who likes to keep things standard, that’s fine I guess, but it’s not fun.

Don’t be afraid to move SnapChat into your Dock, delete Mail from your iPhone, or even set cat noises as your ringtone.

I think if you have a laptop, tablet, and sometimes even a phone, don’t hesitate to personalise it. It is yours after all.

I’d love to hear other peoples thoughts on this, and also see any of your customised devices!


P.S. Just because I don’t write for the newsletter, it doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing these types of articles. I’ll just post them here instead!