Swift Optionals

I understood the concept of optionals right away, but since the debugger doesn’t work with Swift in the third beta of Xcode 6, I’m given no clue what I’m actually doing wrong when my app explodes. This article did a pretty good job clearing things up for me.

Matt Bridges:

Objects that may or may not be nil (and the nil-checking code that accompanies them) are the cause of many common programming errors. Swift’s optionals offer compile-time cues to developers about when it’s necessary to nil-check and when it’s not, and makes it harder to write code that misbehaves in the presence of nil.

WWDC 2014

I will be at WWDC this year. I’ll also be in SF before and after. If you’re going to be in town and want to get together, get in touch.

The Revival of the Manual Typewriter

I enjoyed this article on Medium about one mans infatuation with manual typewriters.

Using a typewriter has challenged me to think, and write, in an entirely new way. Over time, I’ve learned that the defining trait of a typewriter lies in its sole use as a writing tool and that its most valuable qualities are what it lacks.

Since I grew up in the nineties I’ve never had to use a typewriter as a serious tool. As long as I ever had to turn in a type written report, it was done on a computer. Logically, a typewriter seems antiquated, inefficient, and the idea of only having one copy of something is terrifying.

Something is kind of indefinably cool about them though that makes me maybe want to give it a shot. I sort of feel the same way about record players. There’s got to be a German word for nostalgia over something you never really experienced first hand.

Three Good Books About Writing

Writing is hard. It’s also true that the only way to get better is to do it a lot. No amount of time I’ve spent thinking or reading what others say would count for anything if I didn’t put it into practice. The thing about practice though is that practice doesn’t make perfect: practicing the right way does. You can do the wrong things over and over again and ever get as good as you could have been. To get better you have to learn from others, and then also use what you learn.

However much I improve — however more clearly I can organize and express my thoughts — I don’t think that I’ll ever be completely satisfied with how I write, but I don’t want to stop trying. These are a few books about writing that have helped me maybe get a little better. They’re probably three of the most well read books on writing, but if you haven’t, I recommend them all.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White

Short and pretty terse, Elements of Style is full of practical rules and guidelines. It won’t tell you how to be a good writer, but it might keep you from embarrassing yourself too much. It’s kind of like K&R of writing books. I keep meaning to re-read it.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

The first part goes over the basics and general writing topics, and there’s lots of good stuff in there. Later on it talks about specific kinds of writing: travel, sports, business, memoirs etc. The title gives it away — On Writing Well is about learning to write non-fiction well.

On Writing, Stephen King

Sort of half about writing and half about Stephen King’s life. Both parts are great. It’s worth reading for anyone because it’s entertaining and funny, but it’s also got lots of tips about how to suck less at writing interspersed.

Which RSS Readers Subscribers to My Blog Are Using

I was looking at the page in Feedpress1 today which breaks down subscribers by which RSS reader they use, and it seemed worth sharing. I don’t know if my results are normal or not, but my stats looked like this:

The readers which were only a couple of percentage points that I grouped into other were: Fever, The Old Reader, Bloglovin, SimplePie, Apple-PubSub, Shrook, NewsGatorOnline, Tiny Tiny RSS, Stringer, Reeder, feedzirra, rss2email, UniversalFeedParser, Downcast, and throttle.2

A few things jumped out at me:

  1. NewsBlur is more than double the next closest with 34%, but the top few seem pretty competitive.
  2. I thought Fever (what I’m using right now) and The Old Reader (because I’d heard of it) would be higher, but both had just a few people using them.
  3. I have no idea why Google Reader still shows up, but it’s a pretty high percentage. I guess that means the number of subscribers is 13% lower than what’s reported since Google Reader is shut down.
  4. For an app that’s still in public beta and doesn’t have any syncing, NetNewsWire did surprisingly well.
  5. A small group of people are still reading RSS in Safari/Apple Mail, which was removed in Mountain Lion.
  6. I’d never heard of a bunch of the readers in the “other” category.

I’d be interested to see other peoples stats to figure out how typical my results are. My entirely unfounded guess is that these numbers are not typical for some reason due to who my subscribers are or where they came from. I see people talking about all of the top three or four in roughly equal balance, so it’s hard for me to imagine that NewsBlur isn’t just a little more popular, but more than twice anything else.3 I suspect that if I had a Daring Fireball sized audience the numbers might be distributed a lot more evenly, but I could be wrong.


  1. Feedpress is an alternative to Feedburner that you pay for, has better reporting, is easier to move away from, and probably won’t go away for no reason. 
  2. It probably says a lot about who reads my blog that at least three of these are open source projects you need to compile yourself. 
  3. Although it’s a great service and might deserve to be. Of the ones I’ve tried it’d be the easiest to recommend to non-hardcore tech people. 

How I Chose a New TV

Aside from occasionally becoming obsessed and bingeing on entire seasons of a TV show, I wouldn’t say that I watch a lot of TV. I’ve never had a cable subscription as an adult — or even seriously considered buying one — and didn’t even own a TV until the Apple TV 2 came out. I think I mostly bought one the 32″ Panasonic (for about $400-500 in 2010) that I bought at that time so I’d have something to hook the Apple TV up to. The living room in my old apartment was a bit smaller, so at the time 32″ was fine. In my new place though it was small enough to be hard to find a position for it where it wasn’t hard to read, so I recently upgraded to a 50″ Samsung Plasma (which seems huge).

Requirements

I knew what size I wanted, and that I wanted it to look good. Since I didn’t really want to spend more than about $500 though, I needed to prioritize what was important to me. To get the size and quality I wanted, I came up with a few guidelines:

No apps or similar bullshit

I wanted the closest thing to a dumb screen I could get. It’s going to be hooked up to an Apple TV all the time, so there’s no value there for me.

Plasma

Plasma is supposed to have better picture quality for the money. The only serious issue I could hear about people ever having with was screen burn in, and everything I found said that it’s not an issue with newer models.

720p

I’ve never owned a 1080p TV, but everything I read said that you have to sit really close to a 50″ TV to tell any difference between 720 and 1080. Since I knew I wouldn’t be, there didn’t seem to be a value for me.

What I Chose

The model I landed on which fit was the Samsung PN51F4500, which The Wirecutter also picked as their choice for a $500 TV a few weeks after I bought mine. The speakers aren’t great, but it hasn’t really bothered me. I figured that if I really wanted good sound I’d have to buy speakers eventually no-matter how much I spent on the TV. The 5.1 sound bar system that Vizio makes looks pretty sweet and isn’t too expensive if it really starts to bother me.

The TV definitely looked better than my old one as soon as I hooked it up, but I knew the out of box settings are not what you’re supposed to use at home and that I should change something. The problem was that I had no idea what to change. Last week I heard about the THX app for calibrating your TV from John Siracusa on the Accidental Tech Podcast and bought it. It took about ten minutes to go through all of their calibration steps, and the difference was immediately obvious. If you’ve never calibrated your TV, you should get the app and use it. I also turned off every setting I could find that sounded suspicious like automatic brightness and some things that had to do with audio delay.

I don’t know if my specific case is useful to anyone else, but I’m happy with my choice, so maybe the little bit of research I did can save someone some time.

What if Apple Got Rid of Star Ratings?

I may be overlooking something that would make this a terrible idea, but it’s something I haven’t heard anywhere else: what if Apple got rid of star ratings for in app reviews? The reason those “rate this app” dialogs are so popular isn’t because app developers hate their users, it’s because the way apps are rated is flawed and many developers feel it’s the only way for them to level the playing field. Without solving the reason developers use them in the first place, there’s no way they’re going away. I agree with Marco’s statement that those dialogs are annoying spam, but that app reviews should not be eliminated completely. Without a way to try an app before purchasing, getting rid of app reviews entirely doesn’t make any sense. The 1-5 star rating part of reviews though? Kill it and leave these options for reviews:

  • The ability to leave a written review with a title and subject.
  • The ability to mark other reviews useful or not.

You could still leave a useless review, but it’s possible to make those have less impact than they do now. Apple could display reviews in the order of most useful, weighted towards the recency of the review, and the dates users marked it useful. If a review was marked useful many times for something that was fixed in an update, that review would get pushed down over time. Useless reviews would still exist, but hopefully thoughtful and concise concise ones would bubble to the top and bury them.

Deformed Freak Born Without Penis

The Onion reports on a truly sad story:

Sources said the abnormal, visibly blemished creature has been repeatedly passed over for employment opportunities, frequently gawked at and harassed on the street by total strangers, and has faced near constant discrimination for over two decades, all due to the horrific and debilitating birth defect.

Sources confirmed that, unfortunately, such cases are actually quite common, with roughly one in every two babies afflicted with the lifelong disfigurement.

The Salon Product Grey Market and Diversion

I saw this article from something my hairdresser (of course) posted, and I learned a few couple of things:

  • Hair products have an expiration date.
  • The salon products that get sold at the grocery store, drug store, Target, etc are not licensed to be sold there, are likely expired, and therefore might not be any good.

It’s pretty much explained in the first couple of paragraphs:

What happens is that the world’s least threatening black market underlords (actually, they call it the “gray market”) will buy salon products from a legitimate distributor, then set them aside in a warehouse for years until the barcode expires so they can’t be tracked. During this time, not only does the barcode expire but so does the product inside, warping from heat or just the cruel sands of time into something that is an ineffective shadow of its former self.