Trying to write a blog post every day was an interesting challenge, but in the end it just felt like a chore more often than anything else. I think a more appropriate challenge would have been one really good post every week or every two weeks. After all, I have a rather long list at this point of in-depth topics I wanted to cover but rarely had the effort to sit down and write them, edit them, reorganize them, proofread them, and then post them within a day. So for now I'm abandoning my blogging challenge. Certainly I'll still be writing here as regularly as I can, but if I'm gonna force myself to spend time on something I'd rather it be developing my apps. That's right, "apps" in the plural. I constantly have new ideas for Meters, but on top of that I've got another, totally unrelated project I'm working on that should be ready for submission to the App Store within the month. It's not really a huge secret if you follow me on Twitter but you'll see it soon enough. Then I've got another rowing-related app that I'm exploring, this time geared toward coaches specifically. It's still in the very early stages but if I can make a prototype that seems useful then the next step will of course be another full-blown app.

I just invested a not-insignificant amount of money in a used 23" Apple Cinema Display with the hope that it'll be a lot easier to convince myself to work on apps when (1) I have a little more screen real estate than my Macbook Air offers and (2) I don't have the option of coding while sitting in bed, which invariably leads to just watching Netflix.

Plan on seeing less of me here but more of me on the App Store.

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AuthorConnor Graham

Social networks have two main uses: sharing content for your friends to consume and consuming content that your friends have shared. When it comes to social networks, my main choices have long been Twitter and Facebook. I also use Foursquare, but I don't really think of that as a "social" tool as much as just a good way to find interesting places to go or eat at nearby and to see tips that other people have left at those places (ie, menu item recommendations at a restaurant). But this past week I've been using Path, which has made me think more about how I use social networks. Before using Path, I posted content primarily to Twitter, and then it was automatically posted to Facebook. Other than the occasional photo album, I almost never posted directly to Facebook. I consumed content separately through Twitter and Facebook. In my mind, however, Facebook has always had a bit of a stigma where someone who posts a lot is seen as being annoying, or as crowding their friends' news feeds. Twitter doesn't have that same trait, probably due to the fact that you sometimes can't say what you need to say in just one tweet and have to spread it across multiple tweets in a row. This is a little bit ironic, actually, because on Facebook today if someone posts a lot you're likely to only see one or a few of those posts thanks to the news feed algorithms, whereas on Twitter your followers have to scroll past every one of your tweets.

Because of this discrepancy, I sometimes wished that I could more easily post content selectively to just Twitter instead of both Facebook and Twitter. This is part of why I started using Path: each time you post, you can select to also send that post to any combination of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Foursquare. This is convenient because Path is designed to be just for your close friends and family, so you can put all your posts there and then a subset of them can be sent to Twitter and Facebook.

At least, that's what I thought when I started using Path. What I realized by the end of the week is that I've really never shared anything on a social network that I actually expected any degree of privacy for. My Twitter feed is entirely public, which is how I want it--I like having a version of my stream of consciousness that anyone can see if they want to know more about me. On Facebook I have more than 500 friends, all of whom I at least know but a large percentage of whom I wouldn't really consider "friends" and who I don't expect to afford any degree of privacy to anything I post there. So I effectively consider my Facebook to be public as well. Probably for the best, since it means I've never had to deal with their terrible privacy settings.

Path is for a different type of content, content that is really designed to be just among your close friends. And certainly Path would work great if you could post a lot of content, of which some small amount you also wanted to make public through Twitter and Facebook. But since I've never shared anything online that I expected to be private, I really didn't know how. Pretty much everything I posted to Path I also posted to at least one of Twitter and Facebook. If I were to make Path a more regular part of my typical social sharing, I would need to justify it by actually sharing content that I would only want my close friends to see. The more I think about it, though, the more I question the value of such an app. Generally, when I want to share something with close friends, I just text or IM them.

So for now I'm gonna go back to primarily using Twitter and Facebook. Path makes sharing everything fun, but just not practical. While I love the idea of trying to model a social network based on strong real-life friendships, I'm not convinced it's possible. If I had to pick 5 of my best friends I would say that those five relationships are each so different that there's no way to come up with a model that's even nearly as good as simply talking to each friend individually. Maybe there's some sweet spot--your best 25 friends? 40? 15?--where content can be very personal but still appropriate for all of those friends and easier than talking to all of them separately. I have no way of knowing until Path has a larger user base. Until then, see you all on Twitter.

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AuthorConnor Graham

Waze Lets You Report Traffic With A Wave Of Your Hand Waze, for anyone who doesn't know, is a GPS app which tracks your speed while you're using it and uses that data to help other drivers avoid traffic. You can also report incidents on your route, like hazards, accidents, or even hidden police cars, and Waze will warn other drivers nearby. Before today, reporting that meant pressing a few buttons on the screen, which wasn't too bad since they were large, obvious buttons, but certainly wasn't as safe as keeping 100% of your attention on the road. Now you can activate voice controls just by waving your hand near the screen (using the iPhone's proximity sensor) and then just say things like "Navigate to work" or "Report an accident".

Waze is free on the App Store and Android Marketplace (though only the iPhone version has voice controls so far) so I definitely recommend everyone check it out. The more people that use it the better it gets. I use it every day on my way to and from work. Obviously I know the route but using Waze lets me know if there's traffic along my usual route, and gives me a good estimate of how long it'll take on any given day. Plus, using it helps everyone else that uses it.

Check it out.

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AuthorConnor Graham

If last week was the week of reviews, this is the week of off-topic posts, apparently. A couple years ago when Stride gum came out, they advertised that the flavor lasted way longer than any other chewing gum. Sure enough, it typically lasted me long enough that my jaw got tired of chewing it before the flavor started to dissipate. I don't always chew gum, but when I do, I make it Stride. Their TV ads poked fun at the idea that if their flavor lasts so long, won't they sell less gum?

Well apparently they should have taken themselves more seriously, because a few months ago they came out with "Stride 2.0". There's no explanation of what's different about it, but of course their new TV ads implied that it was somehow better than the original and you should chew 2.0 now. And of course, original Stride stopped appearing in stores, replaced only with the new Stride 2.0. Conspicuously enough, the flavor doesn't last nearly as long as in the original Stride.

I can't imagine that they actually lost sales because of how long their gum lasted, but it's the only reason I can think of that they felt the need to replace it with an inferior version. For a time stores still had stock of the original variety and I would always get it when I could but now I'm stuck with 2.0. I still prefer it over other brands of gum, but it was a disappointing change.

So that's my rant about chewing gum.

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AuthorConnor Graham

Rick Santorum, via Twitter:

7M Californians had their rights stripped away today by activist 9th Circuit judges. As president I will work to protect marriage.  

The government is denying your rights? That must be so frustrating for you.

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AuthorConnor Graham

Path is an iPhone (and Android) app that lets you "share life with the ones you love." It's a beautifully designed app which makes it super easy and intuitive and even fun to post content. "Content", of course, can be some text, a photo or video, your location, who you're with, what music you're listening to, or more (or almost any combination of those). Unlike Twitter and Facebook, which are made for sharing with lots of friends and followers, Path is intended to be for sharing with only your closest friends or family. There's even a specific option on each post you make to make it entirely private, so that no one but you can see it. In this sense, the app is as much designed for keeping a personal journal of your life as it is for sharing.

I started writing this post earlier today and realized I was spending more time discussing my views on the practices and etiquette of social sharing than I was actually talking about Path, so I'm saving that post for tomorrow. The short version is that Path makes it easy and enjoyable to share information, and when you want, you can also post that information to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare, or you can restrict it to just your Path friends or just yourself. Don't consider this a formal review, because there is certainly room for improvement, but after one day of heavy use I really enjoy Path and I recommend that anyone with an iPhone at least try it.

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AuthorConnor Graham

So writing five blog posts a week has been a bit more challenging that I anticipated. Most of my posts so far (I'm writing this on a plane so I can't actually go through and count) have been short. Just a link and a few paragraphs of my own opinion on whatever particular matter I've deemed interesting. Unfortunately traveling this week also made it more difficult to spend time writing. Hopefully I can make up for it with more long posts soon. I've also noticed that on short posts which are based around a link to a story, I often find it hard to come up with an opinion that's markedly different from that given by the bloggers I heard the story from. That, of course, makes me wonder what the point is in even sharing that opinion again.

I know I have yet to successfully accomplish actually posting every weekday: I've had to use the weekends to play catchup both weeks so far. Maybe eventually I'll get in the rhythm where I can manage a post each weekday. Once that happens I can start thinking about (*gasp*!) more than five posts a week.

I keep a note on my iPhone with a list of potential blog post ideas but they're each topics that deserve a long post which I don't often feel like writing, but maybe soon I can start writing posts faster than I come up with ideas. I'd also like to come up with ideas that aren't as strictly Apple- or gadget-focused as most of my posts so far. On the other hand, a blog which focuses on a single topic seems like it would have more appeal to the people who are interested in that topic.

So those are my thoughts on this experiment so far. I know blogging-about-blogging is one of the least interesting things I could possibly do, but it's late and I'm on an airplane, and nothing else particularly inspired me to write. I also need to get better at writing conclusions.

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AuthorConnor Graham

Apple is pretty famous for using its patent library to cause trouble for their competitors. So when I heard yesterday that Motorola had gotten an injunction against iCloud, forcing Apple to pull most of its current iOS devices from sale in Germany, I wasn't sure exactly how to react. On one hand, obviously companies have to protect their own intelectual property. On the other hand, taking it to the extent that Apple often does can be seen as anti-competitive. I understand both positions so it's hard to really take sides.

Of course, Motorola's claim that iCloud infringes on their patent for a "multiple pager status synchronization system and method" seems a little bit questionable compared to some of Apple's complaints against Samsung.

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AuthorConnor Graham

Short post today. Again, travelling. If you're reading this blog right now, you probably know at least three ways to get in contact with me. Take your pick from Twitter, Facebook, email, text message/phone call, etc. If you came here from Reddit you can comment there or send me a PM.

As many people have said, comments are a relic of the days when it was hard for anyone to get their opinion read on the internet. Making your own blog was a difficult, expensive project that wasn't worthwhile for most people, and getting people to visit it was even more arduous. Now it takes 10 minutes and less than $20 per year to get your own hosted blog and domain name, and next to nothing to start sharing your opinions on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc. So I'm killing comments here.

So far my readership is small enough that I really don't get comments on my articles. In fact I think I've gotten around 3 comments total since starting my blog, so turning them off isn't a big sacrifice. But I do love getting feedback, so if you have something to share, you know how to do it.

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AuthorConnor Graham

Apparently this is going to be the week of reviews. Today I'll be sharing my opinions on the 4th generation Kindle. If you're looking for a detailed comparison of different e-reader models, I can't recommend Marco Arment's post on the topic highly enough. The model he refers to as the Kindle 4 is the only e-reader I've ever owned (unless you count the iPad 2) so it'll be the only topic of this post. Before getting a Kindle I honestly did very little reading. I haven't kept track, but you could probably count the number of books I read beginning to end during all of high school and college on your fingers. Yes, that includes books assigned to me. Sorry, high school English teachers. The main reason? I really just hate books. Physical books. Dead trees strapped together and covered in ink. As far as I'm concerned, they're an entirely outdated, uncomfortable, inefficient method of holding and acquiring information, and I can't believe it's taken us this long to even start replacing them.

Since getting my Kindle about a month ago, I've read as many books as I think I read in the year prior. I won't dwell on the details of the e-ink screen, as everyone understands by now it's very clear, reads like print, and uses almost no energy. If anything, my only gripe is that in the newer models of the Kindle the screen only does a full refresh about every five page turns. What this means is that for four page turns in a row, the clarity of the page gets a little bit worse each time. It's not terrible, but every once in a while I do notice that the letters are not as crisp and the background sometimes has "ghosting" of the letters from the previous page. On the other hand, using this method means that page turns are faster 80% of the time. It would be nice if there was an option for force a full refresh on every page turn, but without comparing both options it's hard to know how much of a benefit it would really be.

The main differentiating factor of this Kindle model that's worth talking about is the lack of a keyboard. The first three generations of Kindles had physical keyboards below the screen, and the Kindle Touch has an on-screen touch keyboard, but on the Kindle 4 typing requires navigating an onscreen keyboard using the 4-way directional buttons. Obviously, this is slower and less ideal than using a physical or touchscreen keyboard, but as any Kindle owner can probably attest to, there's very little typing to be done. I put in my wifi password and my Amazon.com login information the day I got the Kindle, and since then I don't think I've had to type anything at all. I make my purchases on Amazon's website from my computer or even my iPhone and the new books show up almost instantly on my device.

One of the most important features on any e-reader, of course, are the page turning controls, considering that they make up such a huge percentage of the interactions you'll have with the device. Unfortunately, the buttons on the Kindle are a bit disappointing. I tend to do a lot of reading while lying on my side in bed, holding the Kindle in one hand (side note: trying to do this with a physical book is probably the most awkward and uncomfortable experience you can have in a bed alone). Because of the way the buttons wrap around the edge of the Kindle, you can't simply press them down, you sort of have to press them inwards at an angle. It's a bit tough to describe without trying it yourself, but suffice to say it's not the easiest thing, and I find myself having to adjust my grip simply so that I can press the next page button reliably. It's not a huge pain, but it definitely could have been improved.

As we approach nitpicking territory, I have to point out that the power button and charging port are located on the bottom edge of the Kindle. This means that if you're reading while charging, the power cable sticks out of the bottom and can get in your way (although this positioning is actually helpful in the case of reading on your side as I described earlier). Similarly, if you rest the Kindle on it's bottom edge, you run the risk of pressing the power button. It hasn't happened to me yet, but it still seems like a strange place to put these items. Lastly, I have only two criticisms of the Kindle's menus and interface. The first is that when scrolling up and down through a tall menu, you can't skip directly from the top item to the bottom item by pressing up. To me, it's very normal to expect that pressing up while you're at the top will move to the bottom and vice versa, but for some reason this is not possible on the Kindle. Similarly, on a menu which spans more than one screen (specifically the Settings screen), you have to press the Next Page/Previous Page buttons to see more options. Because I'm in the habit of navigating menus using the 4-way directional buttons, I was briefly stumped as to why pressing down or right didn't take me to the next settings screen after I reached the bottom of the first. Again, these are very minor criticisms, but hopefully things Amazon can rectify in a software update.

Of course, you can't discuss the Kindle without discussing Amazon's ecosystem supporting it. There are other articles out there which compare the size and selection of ebooks available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and others, but the simple way of putting it is that if a book is availble digitally, it's almost definitely at least available on Kindle. In addition, the Kindle Owner Lending Library is a very nice option, available for free to Amazon Prime members. It allows you to borrow one book per month, with no "due" date. The selection is tiny compared to the number of books available for sale, but Amazon seems committed to growing it as a benefit for Prime members.

All in all, the Kindle is a great device. It's the size of a paperback but a fraction of the thickness and weight. Starting at only $79, it's easy even for someone like me who doens't typically do much reading to decide it's worth getting. The Kindle doesn't replace any other computing device I own, and no other device I reasonably expect to buy in the next year will replace it. I wholeheartedy recommend it as either an upgrade to an older e-reader or as a new gadget to add to your collection.

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AuthorConnor Graham