January 8, 2021
Starting 2021 with a New Home Screen
No, I do not normally show a photo of myself on my home screen
I was inspired by MG Siegler to share my homescreen at the start of this new year. According to Screen Time I look at my home screen around 80 times each day. It should be carefully curated and arranged to ensure I can quickly access the apps and content I’m seeking.
I’ve always strived to minimize the number of apps on my devices. If I stop using an app I delete it. This leads to a strictly simple home screen with just a few apps and folders. Also iOS 14 introduced a couple new features that can help reduce the number of visible app icons:
- You can now remove apps from your home screen(s) and access them either by search or the App Library.
- Widgets can launch their corresponding apps so you do not need their app icons on the home screen.
I love experimenting with widgets, and I can’t wait to see what developers build in 2021. Yes, I am aware that Android has had widgets for several years. Android is ugly and buggy. Move on.
Widgets force me to be even pickier about which apps are placed on the home screen. Now I’m down to just 12 (8 if you do not include the dock).
Seeing random photos from my collection that begins in 2002 when I purchased my first digital camera, a Canon S200, brings me so much joy. Occasionally there will be a photo with a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while, and I’ll immediately send it to them.
Things is my to do list app on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. I’ve used it on and off for several years with the occasional break to try something new. The widget provides a glimpse of what I need to accomplish soon. I often switch to my work list when I know work-related tasks are piling up.
Fantastical is my calendar app on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. It provides much more functionality and customization compared to the built-in Calendars app. Seeing what meetings are coming up helps me subconsciously prepare throughout the day.
I use the built-in Camera app for taking casual photos of objects and people. When I want to take a serious photo in RAW that I will curate, edit, and share later I launch Halide.
I use Photos to organize photos as part of a four step process: shot, approved, edited, shared on Instagram, and shared on Unsplash. Photos move from album to album throughout this process.
Clock isn’t the most exciting app, but I oscillate between a few different alarm times during the week.
1Password is my password manager on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. Passwords and online security will be its own post someday. The summary is my passwords are usually 20 characters of letters, numbers, and symbols. Any service that offers two-factor authentication is also configured using 1Password. It is crucial to have quick access to this app to copy and paste passwords and one time codes.
Sadly I have an important friend group that includes a few Android phones. They are not interested in Signal, Telegram, etc. Hopefully I can remove this someday and be free of Facebook. Oh wait I still use Instagram. Uh oh.
Slack is crucial for informal communication. I don’t even check work email on my phone (mostly because of security restrictions).
Overcast is my podcast player on iOS (and on macOS using the web app). Someday when I have an M1-powered Mac I’ll be able to run the iOS app on my desk. I prefer Overcast over Apple’s built-in Podcasts app because of its simple design, and features like Smart Speed and Voice Boost which save time and enhance voices. According to Overcast Smart Speed has saved me 391 hours of listening time.
One of my goals for 2021 is to get my thoughts, concerns, ideas, etc. out of my head. Day One is feature-rich journaling app on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS, and for me it’s perfect for quickly launching and typing whatever is on my mind.
Tweetbot is my favorite third party Twitter client, and, most importantly, it has a feature I can’t live without: timeline sync. I’m a Twitter completionist, so it’s important to not lose track of where I am in my timeline. If I read a few Tweets on my iPhone and then open my Mac, I want to keep reading from where I left off. You cannot do this with Twitter’s own apps.
Superhuman is an email app that sits on top of Gmail. It’s available on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. I like it because it’s extremely fast, and it has a minimalist aesthetic. I don’t want to see all the cruft and buttons and features and flags and whatever else Google decides to launch. Just text.
For personal web browsing I use Safari on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS. I like how tab syncing is built in to iCloud, and, anecdotally, Safari is faster and more stable than Chrome.
Obviously Messages is used on iOS, macOS, and iPadOS all day everyday. iMessage is awesome and I’m delighted to see Apple building new functionality for it like replies.
What’s on your home screen?
January 7, 2021
I’m a fan of Minimalissimo as a publication, email newsletter, Instagram account, and store. Imagery of minimalist architecture, books, furniture, environments, and products brings me joy.
Minimalissimo recently announced a new backpack:
The most comfortable backpack you’ll ever own. For daily grind and passions. For years to come. This is a collaborative project between Minimalissimo and ODA. This waterproof backpack offers extreme versatility. For work or play, in the city or the countryside, dressed up or dressed down. The minimalist design suits every situation. The approach is simple, the result is utilitarian with a minimalist aesthetic.
This backpack caught my eye as a potential future work bag. It’s simple and thin which is ideal for someone who only carries a laptop to and from work (although I tried a few times to leave my laptop at work in 2019 and it backfired once).
January 6, 2021
Budi Tanrim’s Portfolio Advice
Budi is a designer I’ve admired for a few years now. His advice for building an effective product design portfolio is something I have also told many young designers.
A poor portfolio for product designers is when it only shows the artifacts (e.g. the screen). I’d consider it as a weak portfolio. Because it doesn’t help me to know whether a designer can make a good decision or at least have a good line of thinking. I don’t even know if the outcome help the team achieve the goal or learn something.
It does not matter how beautiful your mockups or screenshots are. I just wonder where they come from, why they exist, what problems they solved, etc.
An okay portfolio describes the problem and the result. I generally encourage people who don’t have enough time to go with this format. I will mostly be interested in this portfolio when I hire a junior-mid level.
This is crucial. Beautiful mockups are a start, but what problem do they solve? Your portfolio and presentation should be a series of problem/solution pairs.
A great portfolio provides context on why this project started. What are the customer problems and business challenges? Then the result of their solution. The approach is a bonus tho, I’m still okay when it doesn’t show a detailed process. Because at this point, I’ll be interested if I see they solve a complex problem before and can articulate it clearly.
Context, context, context. Do not simply give a real estate tour of an interface you designed. Focus on the story. What was the problem, why did you and your team work on this, what did you learn, etc.
November 24, 2020
After reading reviews of the new M1-based MacBook Air, Mac mini, and 13″ MacBook Pro computers, one line stuck out at the very end of John Gruber’s article.
Steve Jobs would have fucking loved these M1 Macs.
I think Gruber is absolutely right.
I recommend listening to 20 Macs for 2020 podcast. There are several audio clips from Apple keynotes with Jobs talking about new products and features on stage. His confidence and enthusiasm are something I think Apple lacks to this day. It’s nice to reminisce about the period when keynotes felt like magic tricks: pulling an iPod nano out of a pocket, sliding a MacBook Air out of a manila envelope, etc.
It’s important to note that the beginning of this years-long process of transitioning from Intel to Apple silicon began with the debut of the Apple-designed A4 processor in the original iPad in 2010. One could argue that bringing the M1 to the Mac is the final Jobs-inspired magic trick.
I need to sell my 2016 MacBook Pro and pick up a new MacBook Air. Immediately.
November 16, 2020
Photo credit: Twelve South
For work I recently swapped my 2015 MacBook Pro for a 2019 Mac mini. As a result of transitioning into management I no longer need to worry about graphics cards and Sketch performance. The Mac mini is small and quiet (just like my new iPhone 12 mini).
Naturally I placed the Mac mini next to my LG 5K monitor. However, I recently observed that my monitor is far too low. A computer user’s eyes should point at the center of a monitor. After attaching my digital camera for proper video conferencing, the monitor was pushed to its lowest height setting. Every time I push it up it slides right back down again. Time for a new desk accessory.
I purchased a Twelve South Curve Riser which provides several benefits:
- My monitor is now at the correct height
- There is a compartment for the Mac mini as one can see in the photo
- There is another compartment for tablets, notebooks, pencils, and smart pencils
Now my monitor is in a good position, the Mac mini is hidden, and I have more desk space.
November 11, 2020
Dad, Galoob, and the Game Genie
When I reminisce about my Dad I focus on this one story when he was Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Chief Administrative Officer at Lewis Galoob Toys Inc.
In 1990 Galoob announced a product called Game Genie and Nintendo wasn’t thrilled. The product allowed you to hack games with codes that dramatically altered the rules of the game. For example, in Super Mario Brothers you could enter a code that gave you the ability to fly instead of run. Or you could play the entire game with the Raccoon Suit.
Nintendo sued Galoob to try to prevent Game Genie from being released. My Dad represented Galoob in the lawsuit. He successfully argued that Game Genie’s changes were temporary, and did not create a new version of the game which would be copyright infringement.
Judge Smith has now ruled that Game Genie does not create a derivative work and that consumers would not be infringing Nintendo’s copyrights if they used it. And since the consumer is not infringing, Galoob is not contributing to infringement, Mr. Klein said. The judge also lifted the injunction against sales.
After the lawsuit my Dad came home with a box of Game Genies that I could take to school to pass out. I was a hero.
If you ever come to my house I’ll show you my mint Game Genie that is still in the original box. (It’s important to note that this is separate from my Apple museum.) My wife does not understand why I need the box. This might be the most contentious and entertaining part of our marriage.
November 9, 2020
Halide Mark II
Halide Mark II was released as a follow-up to the best iOS camera app in the App Store: Halide.
Usually a v2 of an app or product comes with some new features and a surprise or two. The Halide team, however, created a 10-part newsletter to demonstrate how to use the app. I love when a team dedicates resources to education and fun. Most teams would settle for in-app screens or perhaps a video. A newsletter that finishes with a shareable artifact is clever and innovative.
I recommend reading the Halide team’s incredibly thorough blog post about Halide Mark II as well.
October 14, 2020
iPhone 12 Thoughts
Before the event I was skeptical that I would be excited by the announcements. My iPhone 11 Pro is perfect. It’s just as fast as it was the day it arrived. The camera is amazing. The battery life doesn’t seem to be degrading. In the days of the iPhone 4 and 4S you saw significant speed jumps year over year. Those days are gone.
iPhone 12 mini right? Or Pro? No definitely mini. I think…
I was skeptical about 5G. It’s not rolling out nationwide yet (although one could’ve made the same arguments about LTE). Apple is usually late to these transitions too. The original iPhone didn’t have 3G when most phones did. Apple also waited an extra year to add LTE to the iPhone. I recall this being the right decision because coworkers’ LTE-capable Android phones were dead by 2pm.
I rarely leave the house these days. Who cares about 5G? We’ll be stuck at home for another year thanks to COVID. WiFi is what matters. That’s why I need to figure out which WiFi 6 router to purchase. Yes, Eero has one now, but I’d rather throw away all of my Eero products since Amazon owns them. Time to get on the Ubiquity train.
The big surprise for me was the iPhone 12 mini (it looks like it’s supposed to be a lowercase “m” based on Apple’s copy). I suppose it wasn’t a surprise but I don’t trust the rumors (I’m still waiting for that Apple pager rumored in 2001). I’ve wanted a smaller phone for years. I even picked up an iPod touch last year to run with. Typing on a smaller screen is certainly more difficult, but it’s so much lighter in your pocket. In the old days you could actually reach the upper left corner without maneuvering the phone through your hand. Hopefully those days have returned. The question is 12 Pro or 12 mini?
MagSafe, like the breathing sleep light and the hardware battery meter on the old PowerBooks, was a welcome innovation. I’m glad to see its return. However, in typical Cook era fashion, it’s not included! You must purchase a $39 cable in order to take advantage of this new charging feature. Fine. I’ll give in and also purchase the new Watch and Phone charging mat. I suppose this is what the AirPower team was able to come up with.
I’m also excited about the ecosystem of stick-on products that will result from MagSafe coming to the iPhone. I can imagine lots of wallets being retired.
The Pro vs. mini debate requires a hard look at the camera. Yes, the mini’s wide (read: normal) camera lens has a larger aperture, but you lose the telephoto lens which I use often. I suppose I’ll just need to zoom with my feet.
The mini also misses out on Apple’s no ProRAW functionality. I’ll need to wait and see what this means for Halide which I use whenever I want to take a serious photo.
It’s great to see the Pro’s screen slightly increase in size. The 11 Pro has a 5.8″ inch screen while the 12 Pro has a 6.1″ screen. I honestly can’t imagine going back to a Max. It’s a behemoth now at 6.7“. Transitioning from an 11 Pro to a 12 mini will see a drop from 5.8” to 5.4” in addition to being thinner and lighter.
I’m a bit disappointed to not see 120hz come to the iPhone yet considering its been available on the iPad Pro for a few years now. Next year?
YES. Hard edges. We’re back to the iPhone 4/5 era also known as the “ice cream sandwich” shape. The curved edges are just a bit too slippery. If you read enough books about Apple you’ll learn that the iPhone 4 shape was the goal when the iPhone was first being developed. It just took a few years to get there. As a product designer it’s important to learn that v1 may not be your dream interface. It may take a couple years to get to the vision. Learn to live with this reality.
In the box
Good on Apple for removing the wall plug. Bad on Apple for not including a USB-C plug one time to help the world with the transition to USB-C.
At this point I’m leaning towards a 12 mini with 256gb of storage. If the camera really is comparable to the 11 Pro I should be fine. Right?
October 6, 2020
How to Look Great on Zoom
With a few products you can create a professional, lifelike appearance by connecting your fancy digital camera to your Mac and using it as a webcam.
My WFH setup. It might be time to retire the LG UltraFine 5K Display.
Due to COVID-19 we are all working from home this year, and, in the future, we will probably rely more and more on video calls to be safe and healthy. I’ve seen many articles with quick ways to improve your video quality: mount a tiny selfie light, connect a tiny external webcam, etc. This is like slapping a spoiler on your trunk and expecting to drive faster.
Recently I began exploring how to construct a setup similar to what executives use at home. The goal is to achieve a crisp image with an elegant bokeh effect behind my head. To achieve this you need a real camera, and a substantial light source if your room does not smother you with daylight.
Below is the list of products I used to build my setup. Do not fret upon looking at it. The goal for this post is for you to understand why each item is necessary.
- Digital camera
- Wide angle lens
- Micro HDMI to HDMI cable
- Camera AC power adapter
- Neewer Metal 360 Degree Rotating Panoramic Ball Head
- CAMVATE Upgraded 11″ Magic Articulating Arm
- CAMVATE Super Clamp
- Elgato Cam Link 4K
- Elgato Key Light Air
- Optional: Blue Yeti Microphone
Put it all together and you can look like me (stunning).
First, you need a digital camera and a wide angle lens to capture that gorgeous punim. I’m not going into detail about which camera to purchase because buying a camera is such a holy decision. Canon, Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm… there are many options and it’s something one should carefully consider. I’ve read a few articles that recommend the affordable Sony Alpha a6000, but hopefully you have a camera already so we can skip this part.
I use the Fujifilm X-T2 (latest model is the X-T4) with a 23mm lens (35mm equivalent with crop factor). You want a somewhat wide angle lens to ensure that the camera captures more than just your eyes and mouth. A wider lens will capture your surroundings similar to your computer’s built-in camera.
To avoid charging and swapping batteries every day, many cameras can use a trick battery that connects to a power outlet. One side looks like a battery, and the other side plugs in to the wall.
Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Camera
24 megapixels · APS-C CMOS sensor
Camera AC Power Adapter Kit/Charger
For Fujifilm X-T2, X-E1, X-Pro1, etc.
Double check your camera manufacturer’s website to see if your model can output video over an HDMI connection. Otherwise it may be time to purchase a new camera (again, not getting involved, but I’m very excited for you if that’s the case).
Take a breath. This is where things get mechanical.
You’re holding your camera now and thinking, “Dave, how can I get this thing to sit still and point at me?” My goal when I began this project was to mount my camera above and behind my LG UltraFine 5K display. Sure, you can use a tripod and place your camera next to your monitor. The problem is your teammates will see the side of your face instead of looking your eyes.
There are 3 components to this setup: a clamp, an articulating arm, and a ball head. The clamp grabs on to your big monitor, the articulating arm allows you to raise and lower the camera, and the ball head can help you angle your camera so it’s pointing precisely where you want.
Fortunately, you can mix and match products from various companies because the method for connecting cameras to accessories is standardized. I went with a combination of Neewer and Camvate.
CAMVATE Upgraded 11″ Magic Articulating Arm
¼ inch male threads
CAMVATE Super Clamp
¼ inch-20 to ¼ inch-20 screw converter
It’s important to put this little metal concoction together before worrying about your camera or display. Connect the ball head to the articulating arm. I’m aware that I awkwardly put this together.
Connect the arm to the clamp. Again, I am not smooth with this.
Twist all the levers to get an understanding of what they adjust. Loosening the arm’s lever allows the arm to expand and contract. Loosening the ball head’s lever allows you to spin the ball where the camera will eventually attach. Am I a hand model now?
Once all 3 pieces are screwed together, attach the clamp to the back of your display. Make sure it’s tight to ensure it doesn’t lean over when your camera is attached. Next, we’ll connect your camera to your computer.
The Fujifilm X-T2, like many other digital cameras, has a micro HDMI port. Use the micro HDMI to HDMI cable to connect your camera to the Elgato Cam Link 4K. Then, connect the Elgato Cam Link 4K to your computer. I’m using a 2015 MacBook Pro which has USB-A ports. If you have a newer MacBook you will need a USB-C to USB-A adapter to connect the Cam Link to your computer.
AmazonBasics Micro HDMI to HDMI Cable
6 feet · Black
Elgato Cam Link 4K
Convert HDMI to USB
Light is what truly sets you apart from your coworkers. Even with great daylight, a strong, standalone light close to your face is crucial to improve video quality. Due to a desire to somewhat control the budget of this project, I went with the Elgato Key Light Air over the larger and brighter Key Light.
The one significant downside to the Key Light Air is its stand. Your desk must be larger enough to fit the light. The more expensive Key Light uses a clamp to connect to the back of your desk which is more convenient.
The Key Light Air also has a great little menu bar app for turning on and off, controlling brightness, and controlling temperature (a warm yellow glow vs. a cool blue glow).
Elgato Key Light Air
1400 lumens · 2900-7000k color range
When setting up your light, you want it to face you at a 45 degree angle and a bit higher than your head for a cinematic look. To accomplish this place the light at the corner of your desk or next to your monitor. To go deep on lightning I recommend watching a thorough YouTube video: Cinematic Lighting Techniques.
The Key Light Air requires AC power. There is no USB power option.
Surprisingly, configuring all of this only requires a couple clicks. There are two applications needed from Elgato’s website:
- Elgato Control Center. This app sits in your menu bar and allows you to control the light.
- Elgato Game Center HD. There’s one setting I recommend changing and then you can forget about this app.
Elgato Control Center
You’ll need to experiment with the Cam Link Air’s brightness and temperature settings to see what works in your environment. The example below demonstrates the light leaning a bit towards the cool side and full brightness.
Moments before I join a meeting I click the power icon next to the words “Key Light Air.” When the meeting ends I turn the light off since it’s a bit distracting while trying to think.
Elgato Game Capture HD
Game Center provides access to a few settings for the Cam Link. First, ensure the Cam Link is connected to your computer and then launch the app. Click on the small hammer/wrench icon in the Device area.
In the resulting popup menu, change the Profile dropdown from HD 720 to HD 1080. Click OK. You’re done. Quit Game Center. Forget it exists.
To change the camera source in Google Meet after joining a meeting:
- Click on the ⋮ button in the lower right corner of the window.
- Click on Settings.
- Click on the Video tab.
- Click on the current camera in the Camera area. For me the current camera was “LG UltraFine Display Camera” since I normally use its camera.
- Click on “Cam Link 4K” in the menu.
It’s OK if don’t see image in the preview area. You probably forgot to turn on your camera. I do this often.
Click Done and say “hi!” to everyone.
To change the camera source in Zoom after joining a meeting:
- Click on the little triangle inside the Start/Stop Video button.
- Select “Cam Link 4K” in the menu.
- Click on the little triangle again to close the menu.
Done. Now lead that meeting! Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out.
There are a few settings I changed on the Fujifilm X-T2 to make this work. I also had to experiment a bit because one tutorial I read included incorrect information. I recommend searching for your camera plus the word “webcam” to see what settings you need to adjust.
- Set the camera to video mode as if you were going to record a video.
- Set aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to Auto.
- Menu ›
Connection Setting. Depending on your camera’s firmware you will either see
PC Connection Mode,
Connection Mode, or
PC Shoot Mode. On the next screen select either
USB Tether Shooting Auto or
- Menu ›
AF/MF Setting ›
Pre-AF set to
- Menu ›
AF/MF Setting ›
Face/Eye Detection Setting ›
Face Detection On
- Menu ›
Connection Setting ›
USB Power Supply Setting set to
On if available.
- Focus mode set to AF-S.
I definitely did not have all of this memorized. I had to search for my camera’s manual and look up a bunch of these options.
The focus of this post is clearly video, but high quality audio can also make a difference during conference calls. Please do not overreact. I will not lead you into a cave of audiophilia. The Wirecutter recommends a Blue Yeti microphone, and, coincidentally, that is the microphone I have owned for years to record a podcast that I have yet to record. However, if I were to purchase a microphone today, I would look to the Yeti Nano since the Blue Yeti is a bit large. Perhaps avoid the AmazonBasics Microphone.
Blue Yeti Microhpone
USB connection · Adjustable stand
One can experiment with microphones, stands, and articulating arms similar to what is discussed above. I will save you time and just recommend a USB microphone to avoid relying on your computer’s built-in microphone. An external microphone is not only more sensitive, but it can be placed closer to your mouth.
After purchasing and connecting your microphone, select it using the Google Meet and Zoom instructions above. The difference obviously is to select audio options instead of video options.
I recommend reviewing your microphones manual to ensure it is configured to focus on sources that are directly in front of the microphone. For the Blue Yeti this is named “Cardioid” mode, and the knob’s icon looks like a heart.
Did this help? Share on Twitter and send me your setup.
September 24, 2020
How to Watch a Movie and Listen to a Podcast Simultaneously
If you are a particularly nerdy individuals who enjoys watching movies while listening to director and cast commentary, you will love this. There are now podcasts that do the same! They start off with a few minutes of chit chat and you inevitably hear “OK here we go 3… 2… 1… play.” You click play on the movie at the same time and you’re good to go.
Blank Check: Special Features is one of these podcasts (also on my faves list). For $5 per month you can watch a movie and learn a bunch of random facts while being thoroughly entertained. The problem is I want to watch the movie on my iPad and listen to the podcast on my Mac. This requires software. Don’t worry; I did the research and figured out a setup for you. Three applications made by Rogue Amoeba are required:
- Airfoil — $29
- Airfoil Satellite — Free
- SoundSource — $39
Airfoil is an amazing tool for sending and receiving audio between devices. It is not actively used in this setup, but its license unlocks the companion app. Airfoil Satellite allows you to receive audio from another device using AirPlay. SoundSource gives you granular controls over audio output on your Mac.
Again, I enjoy watching movies on my iPad, and listening to podcasts on my Mac. The goal is to hear both the movie and podcast audio in one set of headphones. First, launch Airfoil Satellite on your Mac. Then hop over to your iPad.
- Start playing a movie.
- Tap the AirPlay button to launch its menu, and, if Airfoil Satellite is open on your Mac, you will see your Mac in the “Speakers & TVs” list.
- Tap on your Mac’s name. Mine is “DKMBP.”
Now the movie’s audio on your iPad should be playing through your Mac.
Neat, right? You can stop here, but the extra bit of control over each source’s volume significantly improves the experience.
Open SoundSource on your Mac. SoundSource appears as an icon in the menu bar that unfortunately looks virtually identical to the macOS Sound menu bar item. Click on the SoundSource icon to open its panel and view a list of applications that are currently producing sound. I use Flotato to create a dedicated Overcast app for playing podcasts. If Overcast and Airfoil Satellite both used the same volume control, it is difficult to clearly hear both the podcast and movie. I need to slightly adjust the volume of one source to ensure I hear everything. Trust me: the commentary is worth it.
Play with the various volumes until you achieve a balance that works for you. Maybe you want to barely hear the movie and focus on the podcast. With SoundSource that is possible.
Let me know if you have any questions. Yes, I really do this.