Apple has lost the functional high ground

Great post from Marco Arment on the quality of Apple software:

We don’t need major OS releases every year. We don’t need each OS release to have a huge list of new features. We need our computers, phones, and tablets to work well first so we can enjoy new features released at a healthy, gradual, sustainable pace.

Apple’s OS X and iOS releases have become quite unreliable over the last couple of years and the issues that I still have with iTunes, iTunes Match and iCloud give me no confidence that they will ever work without an issue at some point. For music it’s making me look seriously at Google Play and Spotify. Apple are lucky in that their major competitor on the desktop is Windows 8.

Apple’s hardware is hard to beat from a design and function perspective but their software has got disappointing. It wasn’t always the case and I hope they can get of the treadmill and focus on quality and reliability.

*Update* – it’s a year to the day since I posted about Apple’s poor software quality and hoped for a change in 2014. I didn’t realise when I read Marco’s post tonight and it was only when looking at today’s Timehop that I saw a link to the post. A year on and many of the issues are still present. Apple really needs to address this.

2015

One year on and this still stands. The only person that can change things is me.

onwards

I made no resolutions last year so 2014 was a great success! This year I’ve set some goals and also thought about the longer term. In five years what do I want to have accomplished? Where do I want to be? To do that, what do I need to do now? I’ve no intention of sharing them apart from one – get less stressed! I’ve had three weeks off from work which has allowed me to look back on the last year, particularly the last three months. Back to back illnesses and a root cause for many of them could be stress. It might not have been, but I’ve been illness free over the break so I’m putting 2 + 2 together. I fell back into the habit of working most weekends as well as the usual through the working week leaving not much me time or chance to relax and prepare for the week ahead. That will change this year.

The festive break was great as it allowed me to fix a lot around the house. I say fix, it was really organise and clear out a lot of junk. Both physically and digitally. Office, attic and garage all cleaned out with lots of trips to the local dump. Feel so much better with that all organised. Digitally it was chance to catch up on Pocket and podcasts that I’d fell behind on. Hopefully in 2015 podcasters with nothing to say in December will take a break like we do! The podcast site also got a new lick of paint with a new logo in the works too.

I’ve maintained the running and the weight is static too (81-83kg throughout the year) so no major fitness changes this year apart from maintain. Sunny mornings in Glasgow really make up for the rain the rest of the time!

Happy New Year and all the best for 2015.

Washington DC

At the start of December I was lucky enough to have a short trip out to Washington DC thanks to my companies annual awards scheme. A project I was working on was up for an award and hence our group, well half of it, was flown out to Washington DC to compete and celebrate with teams from around the globe. We didn’t take the top award but had a great time over the four days.

Day 1
An eight hour flight out to Washington was made easier as we were on premium economy (more legroom FTW) and it was an Airbus A380. It really is massive when you get up close to the plane and on take off seemed to trundle slowly along the runway before finally taking off. There is so much room on board, particularly headroom, that it made for a really smooth and easy flight. A coach from the airport and we were soon at our hotel in Washington and the biggest check in queue ever.

We were only a mile from The White House, Washington Monument etc so headed off on foot to take in the sights at night. It was colder than I expected and after a few hours a combination of tiredness, the cold and lack of food was taking effect. We eventually grabbed a pizza but not before seeing a lot of Washington. By the time I got to bed I’d been on the go for around 30 hours without sleep. Zzzzzzzzzzz.


Washington Day 1 on Flickr

Day 2
Out early and it was a gorgeous winters day in Washington. Plan was to visit a few museums and see the sights in daylight. We had around 8 hours as at night was the Awards ceremony. Managed to visit the Air and Space Museum, The Natural History Museum, The American History Museum plus a trip up the Washington Monument. All these are located around the National Mall and it was a great day. We also squeezed in a trip to Five Guys for a tasty burger.

Our awards ceremony was held in the National Portrait Gallery and it was a fantastic venue. A black tie event, we first had the longest 2 mile coach trip through rush hour traffic that took at least an hour – we really would have been quicker walking and given the number of us wearing kilts it would have been quite a sight. The whole night was fantastic with the only slight disappointment that we didn’t win being tempered by another group from Glasgow taking home a gold award. I was really pleased for them as I know a few of the team well and how much effort they’ve put in plus the impact their work has delivered. Another late night!


Washington Day 2 on Flickr

Day 3
Final day for most but not for me as I’d decided to stay an extra day to take in more of Washington. First half was really good – took in the US Capitol building including a tour, Chinatown, Union Station and then a mad dash back to the hotel marked half way point. Spotted a hawk as we walked around the city too casually tucking into some food.

One of the guys who stayed in Washington had an Airbnb in Arlington and as we wanted to see Arlington Cemetery we shared a taxi to his rental. The taxi was bizarre as the driver moaned about not knowing the street we wanted to go to, moaned about Arlington, moaned as he had to phone someone to find out the location, moaned that after the call he still didn’t know her he was going…basically moaned about everything. Even when I looked up location on Google and we guided him there he still moaned. A taxi driver with no sat nav and no map. What a cock. We then took the metro to Arlington Cemetery and arrived just as it closed – our first planning failure. We then decided to walk to the Pentagon down a cycle path next to the Potomac River and a major freeway. This wasn’t the best decision with hindsight as we got nowhere and ended up taking a very long walk to the Jefferson Memorial which was a nice reward as it was stunning at night. A trip to the White House again and then to a nice restaurant in Georgetown finished off the day.


Washington Day 3 on Flickr

Day 4
Final day and I wanted to do some shopping and also see the Space Shuttle over at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre. For shopping it was a quick hop on the metro to Pentagon City mall – it stops in the basement of the mall making for a really easy shopping trip. Amazingly I bought no gadgets, just some clothes at around half the UK price. It was a two hour trip out to the Udvar-Hazy Center which was close to the airport anyway. This was a lot better than the city centre air and space museum and had some great displays, topped by Discovery.

I was smiling like a fool when I saw Discovery. For many it will be Apollo or for the current generation it’s probably the Mars Landers but for me the Space Shuttle is what I fondly remember from school, watching the first launch and seeing it soar into space time and again and then the two disasters which took so many lives. There was lots to see at the Udvar-Hazy center and I enjoyed it far more than the Air and Space museum in the city centre which looked a bit tired. It was then back to the airport, a club class flight back to Heathrow and then finally a hop back to Glasgow and some pretty major jet lag.

Washington Day 4 on Flickr

Wrap Up
Washington is well worth a visit. Stay around Georgetown as there’s a great selection of shops and restaurants to suit all tastes and you are not too far from the metro which is a really easy way to get around. The museums are all good although a couple were showing their age. There’s lots to do and a lot of ground to cover so use the metro or one of the hop on/hop off tourist busses. The alternative is to walk a fair bit (which we did through choice) but you will quickly rack up the miles.

50 miles covered over four days
50 miles covered over four days

Our tours around the city meant over 50 miles were walked and blisters were gained but we did see a lot more than we would have done on a bus or especially the metro. I loved the four days and was really pleased to pack so much in, especially seeing the Space Shuttle. Achievement unlocked.

Podcasting

Podcasting has been getting some press recently, more so than normal. I first noticed it back in September when The Washington Post declared that podcasts are back and making money. I never knew they had left and the making money part wasn’t much of a surprise either. Roll forward a few months and we seem to be in the middle of a popular podcast storm.

Top Shelf from The Verge did a great video on why podcasts are so popular just now. Serial Podcast is one of the biggest podcasts in years and has succeeded in reaching new audiences. It’s also set the record for fastest podcast to 5 million downloads. It seems more and more people are not only listening to podcasts but actually producing their own. That’s not much of a surprise either as it’s fairly easy to record and publish your own podcast. I know as I’ve been podcasting since 2009.

What was more surprising was the posts recently from a few of the more notable tech podcasters and also the heat it generated on twitter. Firstly Jason Snell posted on not being intimidated to do a podcast. A lot of what Jason wrote resonated with me but unfortunately there was some heat on twitter from a few sources on technology and what gear you should be using. A sort of follow up from Marco Arment tried to move the debate on so that it focussed on the listener. I agreed with some of his points but felt it strayed into gadget snobbery again.

So after 230 episodes of DigitalOutbox what have I learned:

  • To get started you don’t need much, especially if you aren’t sure if podcasting is for you and you want to give it a go.
  • Me and Shak started with a headset with mic built in. Quality wasn’t great but it got us off and running. Use an iPhone headset as it’s good enough to get you going.
  • If you are enjoying podcasting and want to keep going after a few episodes then invest in a better mic. I use a Rode Podcaster, Chris uses a Blue Yeti and I think our audio quality is good. You can go a lot higher quality if you want but I do think it’s diminishing returns. To keep it easier, both of these are USB mic’s.
  • Get a decent set of headphones that don’t leak audio – if they do then your mic, especially the better quality ones, will pick up on the audio from your headphones.
  • Each podcaster should record audio at their end. Recording Skype and using that for the audio source causes more issues than the hardware in my opinion. Share the audio with the editor over Dropbox. Nice and easy.
  • If you’ve got a Mac then use Garageband for editing, at least to get started. Audacity is another option.
  • Editing should focus on getting everyone’s levels even and also cutting out mistakes, drop outs, phone calls – whatever gets in the way of the listener enjoying your Podcast.
  • You can also edit to remove silence, mmmm’s, eh’s and all the other little annoyances. I’ve done this a few times but must admit that I find it a bit of a chore to do so don’t often bother. It’s not a show stopper but it will be for the better if you remove them.
  • Put chapters into your podcasts. I wish more podcasters would do this so you can skip a topic that isn’t interesting you but very few do. A shame.
  • You don’t need to spend loads on hosting your podcasts if you are doing audio only. I use Dreamhost and the speeds are good enough for our podcast and there are no limits on bandwidth.
  • A 30-40 minute audio podcast will take around 2-4 hours each week to record, edit and publish not including any research time you need. A video podcast will require a lot more. Do not underestimate the step up in bandwidth, production and hosting a video podcast requires.
  • Something I’ve not done too much off is room treatment but you do want a quiet room and ideally with not too many hard surfaces around. The better the audio quality the less you need to to edit so try and make sure you don’t pick up phones, clocks and other voices while you are recording.
  • Enjoy it.

Dan Benjamin, founder of the 5by5 network has put together a great site on podcast hardware and software recommendations at The Podcast Method. Well worth a read. He also has published a really useful video on mic technique which features some great tips.

The main thing to remember is not to let the gear or the software become a barrier to entry. Give it a go and if you enjoy it you can invest at a later date once you know if it’s for you.

Now…about podcasts making money. Any tips?