Backing up iBooks, DRM and Region Switching.

There’s many readers on the App Store but iBooks was always my favourite. It was one of the first applications developed by Apple for iPad. It is the app which convinced me to purchase my first iPad 7 years ago, primarily for reading books and PDF documents.

There’s many things to admire about iBooks:

  • Beautiful shelf view with covers, colourful and crisp.
  • Stunning page turning animation.
  • Auto-Night Theme.
  • Bookmarks and Notes sync.
  • Built-in iBooks Store.
  • Beautiful typography and tasteful layout.

Obviously nothing is perfect and there’s several aspects of iBooks which needs to be improved.

Backups!

Other issue is lack of Activity Sheet. I prefer to keep an extra backup on top of iCloud for all my books. It is easier to import book but it is impossible to export it. Currently to backup files from iBooks Mac is necessary.

Sync was always a mystery for me. Generally it is very robust and fast. There’s very interesting aspects of it. For example, I can make a note then remove book from all devices and then add it one year laters and my note will be there waiting for me. Notes and Bookmarks sync is great and works everywhere. However, file sync only works for purchased books and PDF. And this leads me to DRM (digital rights management).

Because Mac is required to create a backup file for books purchased from iBooks Store, I don’t recommend to anyone to buy from iBooks Store if they don’t have access to Mac.

Problem of DRM.

Everything purchased from iBooks is protected by publishers which means I’m as copy owner don’t have control. Not every online book store is like this. You can get DRM free books from Humble Bundle, Oreilly and Image Comics which I wrote about. I applaud to their initiative. I don’t want my library to be forever locked inside of iBooks. It is important to have freedom to use any reader you like in case Apple goes out of books business or someone makes better reading app. As iPad user I appreciate that I can add any DRM free book into iBooks and read it there. I don’t appreciate the fact that non iBooks books not syncing (luckily reading position, notes and bookmarks do), especially when I can sync PDF files easily.

Moving Region.

One other thing I hate about DRM is region locking. For instance, if I purchase book from UK Store and than move to United States Store it is my responsibility to have an extra copy somewhere because Apple would not allow to re-download it again from US Store.1 That’s why I always have an external folder in iCloud Drive with my library.

I noticed very curious thing when adding books I purchased from US Store into iBooks where I logged in with UK account. Books can be added very easy and Apple does not prevent me to read them. Apple will even sync this books across all my devices. However when I “remove the download”, iBooks wouldn’t allow me to download it again.

General Stability.

Sometimes I get error message. I don’t remember details but it is obvious that ePub format needs to be improved, especially, error handling. There’s nothing worse than get your book corrupted when you don’t have an internet connection.

Update on Publishing.

Just about an hour ago Dimsumthinking wrote excellent blog post about iBooks Author and how Apple abandoned its development. I am mostly agree2 with the post and I hope Apple will continue investing into iBooks Author especially knowing how much worse Amazon tools are. This is missed opportunity for Apple to capture more creative publishers.

  1. The same is true for movies, TV shows and music. 

  2. Dimsumthinking mentioned that he is appreciating ability to email his customers who acquired book through Gum Road. I do understand benefits but as consumer I also value the fact that iBooks Store doesn’t disclose my email address. 

Text Selection on iPad.

Finding myself working from iPad more and more, including this blog, I wanted to share few tips on typing.

At first I would always connect my Applet Wireless Keyboard before working on long text however recently I found myself using on screen keyboard more. There’s many advantages when using software keyboard:

  1. I can start immediately.
  2. I can work on any surface at any place.
  3. Quick Type suggestions easier to reach.
  4. When I need to be quiet, I can disable sound.
  5. When sound is on it is superior experience to mechanical sound because different keys produce different sound.

Typing on glass is entirely different experience. However I don’t think it is lesser experience, moreover I think MacBook keyboard will be replaced with touch screen eventually. I am finding typing on glass easier and easier. You don’t need to press on keys and I like it. The same reason I prefer keyboards with less travel. I think it’s a direction we going to. It just a matter of practice and you can be as much productive as with hardware keyboard.

There’s disadvantages also - less screen space which we can’t do anything about and text selection problem. Classic iOS magnifier glass selection is accessible but not fast enough. New 3D Touch gesture is amazing on iPhone but doesn’t work on iPad. iOS 10 introduced trackpad mode for iPad but I always couldn’t understand how to select text with it. Here’s some things I’ve learned from iOS 10

  1. Pan with 2 fingers to move a cursor. That’s easy to do, reliable1 and faster than using magnifying glass.
  2. 2 fingers tap anywhere on the keyboard surface to select a word.
  3. 2 fingers double tap to select entire sentence.
  4. When text is selected, try to pan with 2 fingers to any direction to change selection.

The last 3 tips is amazing and makes typing on iPad much more enjoyable. They were not obvious for me.

You also can double tap on the text to select a word. It’s useful when keyboard is not present.

  1. I think something changed in the latest iOS update and my problem when I would select text accidentally while moving cursor with 2 fingers is fixed. It just doesn’t happen any more. This is great improvement. 

When Asking for Review, Alerts Are Good. ⚓️

With iOS 10.3 beta Apple introduced new ask for a review tool for developers. Currently it works as modal alert. Supertop’s Oisin Prendiville made an interesting post where he shows an alternative notification style design. This post is a good work. I don’t agree with it, as developer, I want alert, not notification.

Like John wrote, I am sure when Apple designers read this post they rolled their eyes, of course they had this mockups and decided to go with alert instead. Not because it’s the first idea they had, not because they didn’t consider other options but because it’s the best choice in this context.

Modal alert makes this as explicit request its appearance rare and important for developer. It makes it meaningful for user too. There’s a reason why majority of custom solutions use modal alerts instead of banners. Notification request going to be neglected. If you want to review, it is easier and faster to work your way through alert. Notification adds extra tap and it requires user to act immediately or come back to it later when the right momentum is lost.

Altershot 1.4

I keep working on Altershot, my personal product which I created when I had a need to publish iOS screenshot from my iPad and I wanted it too look professional. At that time I used a Mac app to do it, the app changed screenshot Status Bar to remove everything except full cell signal, full Wi-Fi signal, fixed “9:41 AM” time and full battery. The kind of Status Bar which allows viewer to focus on your app content. You can remove Status Bar completely but than you not presenting the app as it is. Viewer might think the app hides it which is a usability concern.

Apple website shows 3 iPhone devices with identical Status Bar.

Here’s how Apple presents iOS 10 on their US website. If you change its region, format of the time on screenshots also changes. For example, some countries have “9.41” instead of “9:41 AM”. The same true for watchOS screenshots.1 The latest Altershot update is released today and it allows editing watchOS screenshots.

Editing watchOS screenshot in Photos Extension.

With iOS 8 Apple introduced Photos Extensions but not many people know about it. iOS 10 includes Apple’s own Extension called Markup, I hope this will make it more discoverable. Latest Altershot update has Photos Extension.

Download Altershot from the App Store.

  1. watchOS always displays “9:41” without am/pm symbol. I am not sure about the colon. 

♻️ Recycling Kingdom. 🇬🇧

Coming to UK 🇬🇧 changed my live. I remember when I looked into a bus window riding to the Oxford. I saw green fields, forests birds and animals, lots of animals. On university campus I saw multi-colored bins, designated smoking area and generally tidy roads. When I saw how much effort is done to protect the nature how much care British people put in everything that’s surrounds them, I am thinking how can I contribute.

Back in Russia the only thing I cared is collecting batteries 🔋🗑 and modern lightbulbs. Before living, I made a trip to local IKEA shop to dispose batteries into a special bin. Battery throwed into a landfill poison soil and getting in the water. At that moment in 20141 there was no way to dispose energy saving light bulbs so I stored them in a box with a warning note. ⚠️

Mixed Recycling.

Black rectangular bin with a sticker that shows whats recyclable.

As I learned, recycling saves money — which means less taxes, less energy, which is good for preventing Climate Change and it helps to reduce amount of waste we throwing into oceans and land. Less people give a though about Recycling and Nature in Moscow but here in 🇬🇧 everyone contributes to a some degree, from a local council to every home. Mixed Recycling is simple, you don’t need to separate glass from metal.

Some answers.

Anything that has multiple layers is not recyclable, for example, crisp bags, single tea bags wrap paper.

Rinse containers, jars and pods from food.

Tear off plastic windows from mail envelops.

Tear off non recyclable label from plastic bottles.

Sign up for paperless bills for the services you’re paying for.

Paper receipts are not recyclable because of the chemical ink.

Buy biodegradable water wipes and diapers for your baby.

Don’t throw away bread film,2 bring them to Waitrose. This kind of film have following logo. I also saw it on Coke cans multi-pack wrap.

Recycle with carrier bags at larger stores logo

Finally, bring your own cup to coffee shop, it’ll even cost you less in Starbucks. Mixed paper coffee cups are never recycleble but sometimes you can tear off paper wrap.

Every council has different recycling facilities, for example, only some kinds of plastic are recyclable. Use internet to get all the information you can from your local council. Unfortunately, almost no one gives a full information, each plastic box is marked with a number from 1 and up. Oxford council has information about what numbers are recyclable. Even if plastic don’t have a number you can try to stretch it or to squeeze it, if it keeps shape, it can be recycled. Look at this illustrations:

2 pictures with a hand squeezing plastic packages, one of them stays the same and other spreads out. First is recyclable.

**When in doubt ** always use general waste bin, the risk of contaminating perfectly recyclable materials is worst than not recycling one item.

Food Waste.

Here in 🇬🇧 almost every kitchen has green Food Waste bucket with biodegradable line-in bags. Food waste is used to produce energy or safely composted. When you throw food into a plastic bag it creates greenhouse gas, poisons water and contributes to Climate Change. Don’t use normal plastic bags for food waste.

Plastic Bags.

There’s a new law which prohibits giving away plastic bags in groceries shops. Now they cost 5p. This had huge positive effect 3, people now reusing their bags. I am always carrying a bag with me in my coat and I have one in my backpack. We have cotton bags for a weekly groceries shopping.

Unfortunately this law didn’t applied for a street food. They continue to give away plastic bags for each customer with a food in another plastic container.

When you buy take-away, don’t accept a bag, give it back, moreover bring your own reusable plastic container.

Home delivery food, which is very popular here, will give you food in a plastic bag. Yesterday we ordered Chinese and I tried to give it back to courier but he didn’t want it and walked away quickly. Next time I will try to be more persuasive.

Electronic waste.

The best place to bring your old iPhone, laptop or any other electronic device is Apple. they even have special robot to disassemble every iPhone component. If your iPhone still works you can get money for it.

I also found this black bins in the center of London.

Black metal box for throwing away small electric devices.

Donate your old electronics or sell it on eBay. Don’t throw it away.

Air Pollution.

Crossed truck sign. Please respect our residents and switch off your engine when stationary. Hackney.

Air in London is better than in Moscow, where government burns waste right in the center of the city in multiple places, there’s no cyclists, roads are very busy, electric cars are non existent and all the trucks going right through the city center because there’s no separate road for them. I see more green areas in London. 🌳

However, it is still bad even here and that’s why government introduces new tax for old cars.4 When I see parked car with running engine I am telling the driver to turn it off, if this is a company car, I take a picture and write email. I always getting a response with a promise to advise their drivers. You can do the same.

Conclusion.

You might think that’s I am overly optimistic and idealistic about this. Often people use wrong bin, don’t separate food at all. I believe we can be better with this and we can encourage our neighbors and coworkers to be more thoughtful. We can’t do everything right but at least some percent of the waste is properly disposed and this is already slowing down Climate Change. That’s why when I see that’s some people don’t care it doesn’t stops me from doing my part.

  1. Now it looks like the situation is better and there’s multiple locations for accepting 💡 in Russia. 

  2. Probably specific for UK. 

  3. England’s plastic bag usage drops 85% since 5p charge introduced. 

  4. Sadiq Khan unveils plans for extra charge on London’s most polluting cars. 

Safari VS Chrome.

Apple claims that Safari is “Faster than Chrome and Firefox.” I’ve decided to perform my own test to see is this true. My test uses newer browser versions than Apple.1

Apple results.

Chart. JetStream. Safari is 1.15x faster than Firefox and 1.07x faster than Chrome. Speedometer, Safari more than twice as fast as Firefox and 1.8x faster than Chrome. JSBench, Safari is 6 times faster than Firefox and Chrome altogether.

My results.

Speedometer chart. Safari 166, Chrome 157, Safari Preview 175, Chrome Canary 162. Higher is better.

JetStream chart. Safari 91, Chrome 83, Safari Preview 102, Chrome Canary 94, iOS Safari 83 Higher is better.

Conclusions.

I can confirm, Safari is faster. I’ve tested the latest stable and preview versions. I’ve also tested iOS Safari which surprised me.

I was able to get 46 scores from mobile Safari on the Speedometer and 83 scores on the JetStream which is the same as Chrome on Mac. Amazing.
As you probably know, Google Chrome on iOS uses Safari engine, so there’s no reason to test it.

Safari is an excellent browser and it is undervalued, ignored because of huge Chrome popularity. I blame a lot of developers for using Chrome as their primary development browser, I know that Chrome forgives many errors and can swallow bad code. This leads to the issues in other browsers, people notice and tend to blame the browser.

Safari team prioritise performance and efficiency, while Google has bigger amount of HTML 5 features. Not all of this features are good for users. Yes, they make development easier but they also introduce security risks and make websites more complex.

Read this interesting article about how Chrome negatively affects web development.

Also during the test I accidentally closed Chrome, when I opened it again it displayed not my last page but the page I had before. I tried to do the same in Safari and everything was as I left. This means Safari has better state preservation.

Specs.

I’ve used 2 JavaScript benchmarks on browserbench.org.

I’ve tested 5 browsers: Safari 9.1.2, Safari Technology Preview Release 11 (Safari 9.1.2, WebKit 11603.1.2), Google Chrome 52.0.2743.116 (64-bit), Google Chrome 54.0.2832.0 (64-bit) and finally iOS 9.3.4 Safari.

Test was performed on August 18, 2016 on my Mid 2014 Retina MacBook Pro 13` with 10.11.6, 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM and on my iPad Air 2. You can download screenshots.

  1. Apple tested Safari 9.0 and Chrome 44. 

New site.

For long time I wasn’t satisfied with Tumblr. My concerns were inability to have a backup, the fact that everything I publish do not belong to me, incredible heaviness of Tumblr, bad markdown support, problems posting multiple images and luck of control in general.

I am in full control of this new site which is good for the web as an independent platform, looking on you, Facebook. I am committed to do a better job with it, including editing old material, using better style and grammar of course.

New site is smaller.

You reading this from my new site which front page with the same 10 posts is about 900 KB against old 2.4 MB.

Safari window which shows old Tumblr blog with web inspector. It has borders, looks grey, has Tumblr customise buttons and looks very heavy in general. Screenshot that show Safari window with this blog on it and web inspector. It has light yellow background.

New features.

My blog is also supports syntax highlighter and trendy link posts. You can distinguish them by little anchor icon.

Screenshot that shows one red coloured title on a yellow background with anchor icon on the left.

This means I can post code snippets:

print("Hello World")

Don’t worry, I am not getting into too much technical details, I know that some or most of my readers are not programmers. And when I do, I will make sure you can understand everything without any programming knowledge.

Accessibility.

I do care about accessibility, I am adding alt and title tags to all images, so even if you can’t see, you know what pictures showing.

Privacy and feedback.

In terms of privacy, I am not using any cookies or any analytics on this site. It’s true, look into the source by pressing command + option + i 1. This means I have no idea how many people reading this and where are you from. I don’t need to know, if something turns out extremely popular, I will know.
Your feedback is welcome on Twitter.

RSS subscribers.

You can read full articles from your favourite RSS client. Subscribe with this feed link.

Technical details.

I am using Jekyll static site generator and GitHub Pages for hosting. Jekyll allows me to run a local instance of this site to preview changes before I publish with Git. Jekyll is written on Ruby.

  1. Assuming you using Safari with Developer mode enabled. Open Safari > Preferences > Advanced > Show developer menu in menu bar. 

One button is better than two.

Here and then I meet people who don’t understand Apple choice to have single mouse button by default and a phone and tablet with a single physical Home button.

Apple is most misunderstood and under valued tech company, to understand it you need to know its history. We can’t just compare our own vision with Apple vision without considering what Apple went through over many years.

Apple made graphical interface and mouse wildly popular. To make it happen they had to focus on people who never tried to use computer before. I’m sure they tried different mouses and they stopped with one button mouse. When user never tried mouse before, learning single button mouse is much simpler and faster than learning how to use 2 or even 3 buttons. I had problems using computer when I was a kid, many times I accidentally clicked on a wrong button. My mom uses Mac for years and she never had a need to use secondary mouse. One button is a perfect interface. It symbolise primary action. Mouse and pointer becomes extension of user hand. Moving hand makes pointer move without any delay. Did you ever had a moment when using Windows and pointer stopped moving? This breaks the illusion and it is very annoying. In this case pointer has to animate to indicate that’s computer is busy. To make this illusion work it has to be simple.

Because my Mom uses PC mouse (my bad) sometimes she accidentally clicks on a wrong button and she always confused with result she gets. She past this so if you look how she holds a mouse you notice that she’s afraid to trigger secondary click and always holds her hand up on the right side, this is very uncomfortable.

Yes using 2 button mouse for experienced users is more comfortable and fast, that’s why Apple added secondary click later but only after everyone was on board with graphical UI and mouse. However single button interface guidelines is not lost. For those people who still more comfortable with one button, and this is default option, Apple made sure macOS can be fully operational with a single button. Everything you can do with 2 buttons you can do with 1. Thanks to the menu on top. This is true even today.

Apple had similar goal to make smartphone with multi touch interface accessible for people who never used smartphone or computer before. That’s why iPhone has only one button. It has single primary purpose. It’s not Android like touch button - it is button with physical feedback - familiar interface for every human. Because this is just a single button you can’t confuse it with others. For most users, like my mom for example, primary one click function is all she needs. My mom almost never uses multitasking, Reachability, Accessibility or Siri, for her and many other beginners single button is very simple, no need to memorise a lot.

Pro users can argue that multiple buttons is better. I don’t think it is faster, just a matter of taste. I think a lot of people even professionals can appreciate minimalistic look. Pro feature are still there but they are not exposed for everyone.

How to prepare your Mac for the newest OS X update.

I was reading through first El Captain reviews from the Mac App Store. There’s many one star reviews with people who lost some or all of their data, having performance issues and lags after upgrade. I upgraded three Macs and I don’t have any issues with. Here’s how to take care of your Mac before the upgrade and in general. Next 3 steps, except the last one, is not required for those lucky people who use iOS exclusively.

Use Disk Utility.

Because current Mac file system is outdated it doesn’t have any data integrity validation, it always corrupt itself over time. First time I did Disk Utility trick, I even acquired lost disk space.

I learned this from John Siracusa.

I am trying to use Disk Utility every month to repair my disk. The best way to do it is too boot from external disk. I have USB stick with OS X for this purpose. Use Terminal command createinstallmedia to make your own bootable flash stick.

Do two backups.

Don’t just use Time Machine. Use Time Machine and some other backup solution. I use Backblaze. Backblaze is not ideal, it is not expensive, the app is native and good but restoring process is cumbersome. Remember, that you can use Time Machine with multiple drives.

Don’t forget regularly test your backups and run Disk Utility to check your external hard drives as well.

Don’t use crappy software.

Use good software from trusted companies. Don’t use free poor quality alternatives. Check developers website on the latest OS X compatibility. If app is not ready on day one of the release, this is a warning sign, consider to use alternative software. Update all your software before the upgrade to have the best experience. Also, install all Apple updates before upgrading OS X. Delete apps that you don’t use. I also recommend to delete Adobe Flash.

Don’t upgrade on day one.

Newest OS will always have major issues with a first release. Be patient and wait for .1 release. This applies to iOS too.

Caffeine++ evolution.

Caffeine++ is my latest app for caffeine tracking. I shipped version 1.1 with new design. Look how much better new UI is. I decided to use just one unit system dependign on user’s region. I also grouped elemetns that’s relate to each other into table view so you can read the app left to right insted of top to bottom. The size picker is now hidden by default. Bonus, San Francisco font looks gorgeous.

Download Caffeine++.

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