Off to Ottawa

I’m off to Ottawa until Monday to attend WordCamp Ottawa. While I’m there, I’m hoping to get at least two, or maybe three runs in.

Running in Ottawa is always nice, and getting a chance to put in some miles without the pressure of the Race Weekend. I’ve got WordCamp during the day on Saturday and Sunday, so morning runs won’t be possible. But if everything goes to plan, I’ll run tonight (long) and then Saturday night and perhaps Monday morning.

Last year I ran along the Ottawa River mostly, including making it across to the Gatineau side. There are great views to be had along the river from the Quebec side. On the Ottawa side, you can run below the Parliament Buildings and behind the Supreme Court.

Perhaps this time I’ll run the Rideau Canal as well. With more time for a longer run, I might be able to get out to some areas that I haven’t run before.

Running while travelling is a great perk of my job. I used to travel a bit more than I do these days, but so far this year I’ve been out to San Francisco and now to Ottawa. I suspect a west coast trip to Kirkland, Washington (near Seattle) will also happen in the late summer or early fall.

This post was cross-posted to my running blog.

Back to the Mac(Book Pro)

I finally got my (work) MacBook Pro back from the repair shop after the keyboard started failing. I only had it for a month or two before the n and o keys began acting up. I would get either double typing, or no typing randomly.

This is apparently a fairly frequent occurrence on these late 2016 MacBook Pro’s with Touchbar. It has the new short-throw butterfly keys keyboard and some users (including me) have been seeing issues with higher than normal failure rates.

The repair was handled through work, since they are the ones who paid for and own it. If it were mine, I suspect a trip to the Apple Store would have ended with a swap for a new one rather than a three week wait to change the entire top case.

Suffice to say, while I wasn’t happy it failed so quickly, I am pleased to have it back now and the few weeks on an older MacBook made me appreciate the power and performance of the new one even more.

To MacBook or not to MacBook

Now that I have the MacBook Pro back, I’m faced with the decision on which device to use for things like blogging, web-surfing, etc. The loaner MacBook Pro that work provided me with while mine was getting repaired was a few years old.

Because of the weight of it, I had gotten into the habit of leaving my loaner MacBook Pro (older version) at the office. I also bought the iPad Pro 10.5” just after my new MacBook failed so that became my computer of choice in the evenings and on the weekends.

The new MacBook Pro is so thin and light that I don’t really feel it when it’s in my computer bag for the commute. So I brought it home last night, partly to make sure the migration of data back from the loaner was all good, and partly to make sure the keyboard was really fixed.

I’m writing this post on the MacBook, using Bear. I could have done it on the iPad as well. I guess time will tell which device I reach for when I want to use a computer. I’m guessing that for couch, mobile and bedroom usage, it’ll be the iPad. But maybe when it’s more for writing a post, or doing some Photoshop, that it’ll be the MacBook.

Curiously, while I was transferring the data from the loaner over to the MacBook yesterday afternoon at work, I used the iPad as my work machine and it performed well in that capacity. With the Cisco VPN app, Microsoft Office 365 apps and Slack, it replicated my MacBook Pro workflows and tools decently enough that I think a 12.9” iPad Pro would be fine as a laptop replacement for me.

I’ll follow up this post in about a month when I have more time with both devices in my possession. Oh, and I’m writing this part on my iPad Pro in Bear as I wait for the macOS 10.12.6 update to complete on my MacBook Pro.

Using the WordPress Twenty Seventeen Theme

I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect theme for my blog. I’ve used a few over the years, but settled on Period Pro for a year or so. But I wanted something with a bit more of a clean, modern feel so I started digging through the “Popular” section on WordPress.org.

After trying about a dozen different options, I ended up settling on…Twenty Seventeen. That’s right. I went with the default WordPress theme that comes with WordPress and is set by default on all new installations.

Here’s what I like about 2017:

  • It’s got a nice full-size image posts page that really pops. I’ve put one of my own photos in there of the neighbourhood where I live. It visually elevates the homepage of my site but still gets out of the way on post pages as the header shrinks down perfectly.
  • It’s fast. Because it’s a stock, first-party theme written by WordPress core developers, it’s fast and performs quite well.
  • It’s free. Again, first-party means it’s a high-quality theme with all the bells and whistles of a premium theme but it’s completely free.
  • It’s mobile-ready. I know from my stats that lots of people hit my blog on their phones or tablets, so 2017’s mobile-responsive design is important to me.

Any downsides?

The only downside for me is that the posts column is a bit narrow at just 525px. That constrains things a bit with inline images when using the “alignright” or “alignleft” options, but it won’t take me long to clean up a few older posts and it actually makes things easier going forward since it forces me to use smaller images if I wrap text. Bigger images can be centred which looks nice too.

Other than that, I do wonder if having a very common template hurts readership. I used to roll my own templates and prided myself on having a unique, one-of-a-kind blog. Obviously using 2017 means that my blog looks like more than a million other blogs out there (literally…there are more than 1 million installs of 2017 according to the WordPress theme gallery).

What do you think? Would you stick with the default template, or do you prefer to have something that’s different from all the other blogs out there?

Protecting Users From Themselves

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my four plus years as a product manager, it’s that you can’t count on the user to do anything right.

You might design the most intuitive interface around. You might have perfect prompts and highly visible buttons and calls-to-action. But users will still get it wrong and it’s your fault because you didn’t stop them.

Those pesky users…

The solution for users like that is what makes the job of a product manager both infuriating and fun. How can you design a system or workflow that accounts for users who don’t know what they are doing? Can you save them from themselves if they do something dumb?

We spend a lot of time thinking about when to show warnings or information to users. Sometimes we deliberately leave information out because we’re fearful that the user will act on the information in the wrong way.

For example, at Hover, if you have your nameservers set to a third-party DNS system, you can still create and edit DNS records on our DNS system even though that literally does nothing. We do warn users that the DNS records won’t have any effect, but we don’t suggest to them what to do.

Some users in that situation should change their nameservers to Hover. Others should go to their DNS provider and add or edit the records there. But we don’t know which are which and if we make a suggestion (even if we suggest both options), there’s a good chance the user will do the wrong thing and break everything. Guess who gets the blame?

Just call us…

Instead, we suggest they call us or start a chat so that a smart human can talk it through with them and find out what really needs to be done. Yes, it costs us a support interaction, and it takes some time and maybe adds some frustration for the user. But when you can’t count on your users to know what to do and to do it, sometimes protecting them from themselves is the best option.

The end result is that the user gets their problem fixed and we don’t hold there hand and walk them off a cliff.

Battle of the Podcast Clients: Overcast vs. Castro

I’m a big podcast listener and because of that, I like to have a podcast app on my devices that helps me manage my listening effectively.

For the last few years, I’ve switched back and forth between two different podcasts apps on my iPhone. I was a Castro user for a bit, then Overcast came out and I tried that for a while. Finally, Castro was updated to version 2 and that really became my podcast client of choice.

Castro’s triage and queue features were about pretty perfect for me, but when I added the iPad to my pile of computing devices, Castro’s lack of an iPad app and syncing led me back to Overcast.

Overcast offers a nice iPad version and syncing between devices, including Handoff support to seamlessly switch between listening on the go on the iPhone and then listening at home on the better speakers of the iPad Pro.

Features Compared

It’s really a very close battle between these two podcast apps. Along with a a beautifully designed interface that uses gestures in a really intuitive way, Castro really shines with its method of triaging podcasts and episodes into a queue. I really like how the inbox and queue work together with Castro.

Overcast has some little things that I find confusing (I occasionally delete what I think is a podcast, but what is really the subscription to that podcast) and its queue management is a bit less intuitive for me but vastly improved in Overcast 3.

Castro’s Inbox, along with it’s queue features make managing your listening really easy.
On Castro, podcasts come into the Inbox and you can either set them to automatically add to either the next, or bottom of the queue, or you can manually manage them into the queue.

Overcast’s Smart Playlists seem to be what I’m after in terms of getting episodes into a playlist. They allow you to pick one or more podcasts, have the new episodes put into a queue and also to select one or more as “priority podcasts” that hit move up to the next to play spot.

Smart Playlists on Overcast and the automatic next up on Castro are similar enough that I think Overcast will work for me. An “All Podcasts” playlist can do something similar if you want to manually manage a queue and episode playback order.

Similarities and Differences

Here’s a few other similarities and differences between the apps:

  • Castro lets you double-click and hold the Earpods remote and scan through audio. Overcast doesn’t do that, but the double and triple-clicks are configurable to give you good skip forward and back times.
    Chapter support in Overcast is stellar, especially when the podcast is from a network that takes advantage of it (like Relay.fm).
  • Overcast has extensive chapter support for podcasts with chapter markers including chapter artwork. Castro has none of that and I miss it when I try to use Castro.
  • Castro is ad-free, while Overcast has some ads (mostly for podcasts) in the directory and on the now-playing screen. I paid for the app originally, so the now-playing screen is ad-free even without the premium subscription). The ones in the directory don’t really bother me, but if I had to see them on the now playing screen, I think I’d be singing a different tune.
  • Castro has voice enhance and Overcast has vocal boost. Both will play at either a slower or faster speed and Overcast has a feature called Smart Speed that drops pauses. I don’t use either of those features in either app, but for users looking to get through podcasts faster, I think Overcast’s Smart Speed is the better sounding speed up feature.
  • Both apps have streaming support over cellular or wifi.

Subscription vs. One Time Purchase

The way these apps are monetized is also different. Overcast was originally a paid app like Castro, but when Overcast went free with in-app upgrades, Castro switched to a patronage model for a time. They went back to the one time purchase model since then and the app is $3.99USD.

Overcast has a subscription to a premium tier that makes the ads go away entirely, supports further development and also allows you to change the icon colour from the awful orange to a nicer blue/grey combo. And you can upload your own files and play them in the app. At $9.99USD per year, it seems steep, but even at $12.99CDN for us Canadian people, that’s just over a dollar per month for an app I use for hours a day when commuting.

Which One is the Winner?

I could be happy with either app as my player if need be, but because I have two iOS devices, Overcast is my pick at the moment. Another tick on the Overcast side is the chapter support which many of the podcasts I listen to (but not all) support.

If your are a single device user and if you like the triage model of Castro, then it’s a great pick. And with a one-time purchase model, it’s less expensive in the long term than Overcast if you want all the features unlocked.