About Windows laptops

May 31, 2017

For a while I’ve been pondering to buy a Windows based laptop.

Some of the user interface design work we do at Mono involves designing desktop applications on Windows. I dearly love macOS, but I also have to know “the other side” to do a good job.

So the major reason is UI design, but Microsoft is actually playing a pretty strong game lately. Paint3D looks like something interesting that I want to give a try soon; their SurfaceBook industrial design is great; and they wowed designers all over with the Studio.

Moreover some of my design work is done in Figma which is cross-platform. Combine that with Atom and Bash on Windows and basically I don’t see a reason why I can’t at least get some work done on Windows.

I already have a Windows desktop machine — a pretty powerful one built for VR — but I find that I don’t want to use it for work because it’s not portable. Well, it’s sort of portable. But not like laptop-portable.

Figure: O sweet sweet VR PC

So what are the options? I like watching Dave2D’s videos on Youtube about laptops. Basically he says it’s the Razer Blade or the Dell XPS. A recent video was also very positive about the Gigabyte Aero 15.

The Razer Blade and the Gigabyte Aero immediately fell of the options table for me because they are pretty ugly. I want a laptop that looks great. My golden standard is the Macbook Pro and since this is something I use day in day out I want it to have a great industrial design.

So that leaves the Dell. I thought about buying a Dell XPS 15 but really I don’t want to buy anything from Dell. The simple reason is that you can’t see Dell hardware on display anywhere, so there’s no way to test them. Within Belgium Dell machines are sold by an external IT firm that in my honest opinion are not very likely to give you any service at all.

They almost literally told me over the phone that my company is too small to get a test device, and there are no returns after ordering. What kind of service is this? On Coolblue.be I can return anything I want after 14 days without giving a reason. Apple has historically always been great with repairs and returns. I don’t want to depend on an IT firm that thinks we are “too small”.

But there’s another option. It’s Microsoft’s own devices.

The reason for starting to write was that I was excited when Microsoft announced a new Surface laptop. The industrial design looks great, it’s 999, Macbook Air like in weight, so here’s me thinking: this actually seems like the ideal laptop for travel, meetings etc.

The only joke is that Microsoft says it ships with a version of Windows called Windows S. Which only allows you to run apps that are in the Windows store. And I thought: um, is this some kind of joke? Apparently you can buy a $50 upgrade to turn it into a “pro” machine but seeing as even something simple like Google Chrome is considered pro it’s basically a must.

Figure: When you search from Chrome in the Windows Store PC

I understand Microsoft want to compete with Chromebooks in the educational market but which marketing genius decided to announce Windows S together with a premium laptop? There’s an emoji for that: 😂

Looking for a very specific flowchart/diagramming app with updateable image references

May 19, 2017

I am looking for an app that allows me to annotate PNG exports from design apps in another environment i.e. draw arrows, explain things, while keeping the original design as an external file reference.

I would prefer if the app has an “infinite” canvas feature, where you can resize the app to the size you want.

You should be able import files and have the option to update them if they change. You should be able to do this in batch e.g. import a bunch of PNG exports and all the references update.

You should be able to share the output as a PDF or even better online in a collaborative viewing environment. The awesomest would be an environment where multiple people can work in, live, on the internet, but I could deal with PDFs.

This would be used to compare software implementations with designs, but also to deliver flow documents about how to go from one screen to another.

I realize this is a very specific question but hopefully there is something out there. I tried OmniGraffle, Indesign, Figma, Mural, LucidCharts and Illustrator so far but these only do parts of what I need.

DHH/Basecamp

May 17, 2017

This weekend I took a walk and listened to a podcast episode of Nice To Meet You which featured DHH, the technical cofounder of Basecamp.

I know a lot about Basecamp and their company values from reading their blog Signal v. Noise for over 10 years so everything David was saying was basically something I already heard. But for those new to 37Signal’s/Basecamp’s thinking it is a great intro.

Full Circle on Remoteness

May 9, 2017

I think I’ve come full circle with my thoughts on working remotely.

I worked remotely for about a year from Japan for my own company around 2015.

I thought it was a brilliant idea: who doesn’t like the idea of working from anywhere?

But I’ve come to realize that, while I got a lot done that year, I mostly worked on completing a big project.

I was sustaining an existing client relationship, not building new ones. There were some new projects that started but they were mostly with people I already new.

You don’t build new relationships over Skype.

The growth in our company stalled that year. I learned a lot personally, but we didn’t evolve as a group. The team was kind of working like a few freelancers.

I think remote can be done for certain tasks. Support and some parts of application development come to mind. If there’s support requests to answer you can do that on your own time. If you’re doing “issue driven development” you can do that whenever you want.

But if you want to do something that is next level you’re going to have to sit together in a room and spend the time together.

This counts for development, this counts for design. You can try to do it in chatrooms and in issue trackers but I don’t think that’s where the best work gets done.

My best design ideas are conceptually heavy and are very hard to explain without the right combination of voice, images and gestures.

You can try to Skype your way out of the process but you are handicapping yourself.

Now, maybe Skyping is more efficient than travelling 2 hours a day to get to a central location.

Sometimes travel is impossible.

As a knowledge worker you need your focus time, and what is more efficient than hopping on and off Skype?

There’s a lot to be said for remote work. I think it can work and it’s not necessarily bad.

But I had this lightbulb moment a few weeks ago where I was at a client’s office, and we solved something that would normally have been a giant discussion in 5 minutes on a whiteboard.

That very evening I ordered a giant 240x120cm magnetic whiteboard that is now adorning my living room. I love it.

I’ve switched over to sketching more, to prototyping things on paper. And discussing these things in group.

I do all sorts of things that I felt were a waste of time before.

Time will tell if I made the right decisions… but I think you have to see the two sides of the coin to know what’s better.

We are opening an office in Ghent soon. For me this marks the end of a period that was mostly remote. I am curious what’s going to happen.

macOS programming (3)

April 28, 2017

Yay! I built a working calculator for the iPhone. I followed this Lynda tutorial.

In the process I learned about enum, guard, optionals, autolayout & constraints etc.

I figured there wouldn’t be any modern macOS programming resources so I’d have to sidestep to iOS to eventually get back to macOS, because the principles would be the same.

macOS programming (2)

April 26, 2017

I am going to use this blog as a bit of a reference point as I learn about macOS programming.

View Life Cycle

There is something called the view life cycle. It is basically the event chain of your application. I saved this helpful image:

Logging (akin to console.log on the web)

You can print messages to the console using print() in Swift 3.2. It used to be println() in earlier versions of Swift.

Actions and outlets aka event binding

To hook up parts of the UI you can create “outlets”. Outlets go from UI element to code. Then you can create “actions”. Actions go from code to the UI. The connection created is a bit like event binding in Javascript.

If you want to change something it’s important not to just delete the code without cleaning up the automated references. Xcode automatically generates some code in the background. (todo: figure out how to do that 😅).

I tried my best to capture this in a Youtube video, because I had to piece together various resources to get this:

Language reference

Apple provides a book on Swift. You can download it using iBooks.

I know I won’t keep an interest in learning a language theoretically but it’s good to be able to reference this.

That’s it for today. Over & out.

Resources for macOS programming

April 25, 2017

Yesterday evening I took a stab at understanding macOS programming. I got as far as making this with storyboards:

Now I want to learn more about actually coding something useful. The problem is that I can’t find good resources to start doing this. The main cause being the transition to Swift and the fact that seemingly everyone moved on to iOS programming

I am writing this post to hopefully gather some more resources, so if you have some, please let me know!

Here’s the “current” resources I have so far:

Then I found some outdated resources:

Streaming to Twitch from a PC/Mac: some tips

March 20, 2017

A few weeks ago I researched how to stream to Twitch.

I am not a heavy Twitch user by any means, but I think it is an interesting platform.

When I lived in Japan I met Hawken who worked on a Mario style platformer. Sometimes he would cast his dev work to Twitch.

I thought that was really interesting because you really saw the process coming together.

As a creator you have the option to ask feedback or help from the audience. And as the audience you can get some insights in the tools used. Who knew that to get a smooth 2D animation you would first make it in 3D?

And what about this old school looking animation tool that allows you to draw sprited in a really productive way… who’s going to come and tell you this exists?

An old school tool to make sprites.

Sometimes a relatively minor tool makes your work so much easier. I remember that Bramus once coded a Photoshop plugin to export text. This made my website design work so much more productive at the time.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Twitch. Basically what I tested last weekend is how to stream from a Mac, a PC or a PS4. And then how to save those streams for your own usage.

Let’s first talk about streaming from Windows or from a Mac. To do this I installed OBS. This is a really awesome piece of software that allows you to record your screen (e.g. to make screencasts); but it also allows you to stream to a service like Twitch.

What OBS looks like.

It is open source, free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

My favorite way to record screencasts using macOS is with an app called Screenflow.

But this OBS software is really different. Basically it allows you to put multiple things on your broadcast at once. So for example you could put a logo on your videos. There is even an option to load websites inside the stream. So you could code a news ticker, host it somewhere and load that URL into your cast.

The first time I saw this I was like “Holy sh*******!”. The possibilities are endless. You can basically run a TV channel with this thing. How did I not know about this application?

Now, the way to connect OBS to Twitch is relatively straightforward. There are online guides about it about which settings you need to set.

The thing that was unclear to me was how to actually save those streams. By default Twitch doesn’t save videos do people can watch them later. But there is an option called “Archive videos” in the settings somewhere that you can use to automatically save videos for later.

Then you can connect your videos to a Youtube account and download them.

So you could maybe stream a few hours of content, then download those vids and cut them into a “best of” vid for Youtube. Awesome – just what I needed.

Where are the players?

March 14, 2017

The scene: a panel discussion about VR in Ghent.

The challenger: a researcher at IMEC who obviously isn’t convinced about VR.

The question: whether VR isn’t a gimmick.

None of the panellists can give a strong answer.

There is some vague bla bla about that in 2-3 years it will be in consumer’s hands.

And there is some stupid idea that Apple is going to release something that’s going to change the game this year.

What the fuck guys…

VR is going to revolutionize a ton of industries.

From the top of my head I can give 3 examples of why it’s going to be great.

First you can give someone a virtual tour of a place they haven’t been. This has obvious real estate purposes.

When I bought a house I visited over 15 places. With 10 of the places I already knew I didn’t like them within the first minute. How much realtor working hours can VR save? A lot I presume.

But also think about company training. How do you learn about the layout of a power plant safely? By familiarizing yourself with the environment in VR of course.

The next example is medical. I broke my arm when I was 14 and I didn’t do the required “exercises” as well as I could. Thus my left arm is a bit weaker than it should be.

If we can make the exercise into a game using VR, we can motivate kids (and adults :)) to do the necessary exercises. I “met” a kid in Climbey who claimed he had osteoporosis (? a bit weird) and something clicked that really VR could be used for medical purposes.

There is a European Union funded project going on to use VR to help people conquer their fears (e.g. arachnophobia). When I first heard about this project the idea seemed a bit far fetched; but now that I’m convinced about VR as a technology, not so much.

The guy that lost 50lbs through VR? That is not a joke, some of the games really feel like sports. I bought Table Tennis VR and it is really awesome. If I think about some games I feel like I want to change into gym clothes because I know it will be a bit like a workout.

The next example is in education. When I was 12-13 we had this course called “T.O.” (technological education). Basically we had to make electrical schemes and learn how to wire things together. We didn’t do a lot of wiring and mostly spent time staring at schematic representations of electrical circuits.

This could be so much better with a simulator where you build electrical circuits by attaching various pieces together in VR.

Zelda

March 10, 2017

I’ve been a fan of video games for as long as I remember. But I think I am a bit of a weird gamer. I read a lot about games and I like to try games, but I don’t actually play a lot of games.

When people tell me they logged 200 hours in some game on Steam I’m just wondering how that game kept them interested. I think the only game that I have ever played for more than 200 hours is World of Warcraft.

If I look at my favorite games there’s only a handful of games that really gripped me and made me spent a lot of time on them, and this was mostly in my teens when I had plenty of spare time on my hands. I think I still have plenty of spare time, I just have to be a bit more careful how to spend it than when I was let’s say 17.

I have access to a ton of games on Origin but I just don’t care. I bought the last two Deus Ex games in the hopes to have that spark that I had with the first Deus Ex and I quit playing both after 2 hours with the feeling that I had better things to do.

Last weekend I picked up a Switch and started playing Zelda, and I just couldn’t put it down. It’s been a while since I had that experience.

The past few years my “gaming” fix has mostly been the PS4. I played titles like Drive Club, Dark Souls 3, Uncharted 4, Fallout 4, The Witcher 3 etc.

While I enjoyed these titles I didn’t love them. The Witcher 3 came close but it still had too many flaws. The others were enjoyable but nothing that I felt very strongly about.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild is different.

It draws me towards playing it. The game design is just exquisite. It is a breath of fresh air in a sea of monotonous games that are just more of the same.

If you have a chance to spend some time with this game, do it. Play it from the beginning and take your time. It’s really good.