Round and Round…

I love American Science and Surplus,  the Chicago retailer of magnets, science gear, and just plain weird stuff.  If you ever get a chance to visit their showroom, do it — it’s a treat, and the brick and mortar location has all the charm of their print catalog, with its witty copy and hand-drawn product photos.

I bring this up because today’s new product announcement is a reissue of one of my favorite toys as a kid,  the Spirograph.  Originally marketed in the 60s and 70s by Kenner, Spirograph was a set of gears with holes in them that let you draw elaborate geometric patterns.

AmSci is offering a die-cast set, with metal gear pieces instead of the original plastic parts.   Now, if they also have good pens to use, that will be even better — the cheap pens that came with the original set dried out quickly, but you needed a pen with a certain length to the ballpoint nib to fit into the gear holes — a Bic wouldn’t work.   I had good luck with the 4-in-1 ballpoint pens, though.

I doubt this offer will last long, so don’t dally.

 

The Upgrade Game

Well, that was fun. After getting notified by my Web Hosting Provider that my WordPress installation was so old that it constituted a security risk and therefore they must disable my page to save me from myself, I’ve been trying to get things back up.

First order of business was to remind said Web Hosting Provider that updating WordPress goes much faster when you actually have access to the page. Yes, you can do the migration over FTP. Yes, you can follow the recommended step of disabling your plug-ins by simply removing the plug-in folders over FTP. Yes, you could download the site in its entirety, make a copy of your WordPress database, install the whole thing on your home machine, and do the upgrade there, uploading when you are done. None of these things seemed like Plan A, so I asked for access. Support promptly provided me with a password to get into the affected directories.

So, how far behind was I? I’d been running my particular version of WordPress since 2009. It was WordPress 2.8.3. I’d probably updated it a few times, but once 3.0 and then 4.0 came out, it was clearly going to be an involved process.

This time around, once I’d gotten my passwords sorted and gotten into the site, I asked myself ‘why don’t I try the ‘Upgrade Now’ button? It hadn’t worked in the past due to provider permissions on some of the files, but it was worth checking out.

Strangely enough, it worked. Rather than the recommended procedure of incrementally installing every other minor version of WordPress until you got caught up, it just did what it’s supposed to do, and migrated the database as well with no issues. I don’t recommend this for people who actually use their blog a lot and have a big database and complicated installations, but within an hour of getting serious about this, I was back to a good state.

After that, it was updating plug-ins. Most important plug-in is Akismet, the comment spam filter. And of course, it upgraded flawlessly, and then told me I needed a new API key. One credit card transaction later (technically, it’s donation-ware for individual users), I had that back. Other plug-ins seemed to update just fine.

Most of my themes also had updates, given that 4.3.1, the new version of WordPress, is quite different. Those went well, except of course for the one I actually use. Constructor is a nice theme with powerful customization, but that gets wiped out when you update. Unfortunately, the developer has been pretty busy and redesigned the theming system, which meant my backed up theme files didn’t really work. Looking at the site in this state, I realized that the developer had also really improved the CSS for the theme and that many of my overrides were no longer needed. So, I decided to do a minimal edit to get the basic skin going.

This would no doubt go better if I knew more CSS, and understood the theme better. After a lot of trial and error and a maiden run of actually learning how my Safari debug tools work, I got something that looks like the old theme, but better. I changed the paragraph spacing for better readability, and got rid of some changes that just looked dumb now.

The thing about configuring widgets and plug-ins and CSS in WordPress is that because you can tweak a lot of things, you end up tweaking a lot of things. Doing this tweaking can be error-prone, as you have to remember to commit your changes; this is not modern Javascript, it’s PHP. I’ve been at this for what would be a pretty intense work day’s worth of coding and testing. But now I definitely want to explore newer themes and plug-ins.

Of course, I’m still waiting for my Web Service Provider to remove the boot from my site. If you can read this, it’s happened, and I can see just how well this theme works on mobile browsers.

My big takeaway, though is that WordPress has really matured in the last few years. I would have never expected this upgrade to just work out of the box, and indeed upgrading in older versions required permissions I didn’t have. They’ve obviously re-thought that, and now just ask for my FTP password on the upgrade operations. That made a big difference.

Turning off Apple Music auto renewal

Now that most people who enrolled in Apple Music are near the end of their 3 month trial period, it’s time to decide whether to pay up or not.

http://9to5mac.com/2015/06/30/how-to-cancel-apple-music-subscription-auto-renewal/ will explain how.

Personally, I’m still on the fence. I like the selection of music on the service and the curation, but am not crazy about the ease-of-use. It’s still very confusing how to get content onto one’s iPod for offline use without having to just go and buy the tracks, and my experience has been that the streams don’t always launch promptly on my home network.

I’m not a big fan of Spotify, the only thing I like about it is that it’s free. It’s a nice service for looking up and listening to bands somebody mentions, but the ads are obnoxious, and the user interface is slow and dumb.

Digesting the new Apple Announcements

Was on my way back from Burning Man when the latest Apple announcements came out. The iPad Pro plus Apple Pencil combination looks like it will give Wacom some heartburn. The larger form factor of the iPad Pro combined with the 3D touch should enable some new forms of interaction; it will be interesting to see what developers do with this, but it’s going to take a while before the ecosystem gets comfortable.

Same goes with WatchOS 2.0 and the new tvOS. That’s a lot of stuff for devs to embrace, especially when they are scrambling to prepare for the iOS 9 release. I know I have a lot of woodshedding to do, including an update to iBuddha for iOS 8 compatibility, and perhaps an iBuddha for Apple Watch.

I don’t think the expansion of the ecosystem is a bad thing at all, and it’s likely to weed out a lot of casual hobbyist developers. The companies most able to take advantage of this explosion of alternatives will be bigger companies, but that also creates an opportunity for someone to provide smaller developers with tools for building apps that can run appropriately across all the platforms. Games are going to go crazy on the new Apple TV, especially if you can handoff from your iPhone or iPod. These announcements are the fruit of the Handoff work that was done in Yosemite; Apple is playing a long game, and it’s not obvious how any one move is supposed to stack up.

More when I’ve had a chance to digest the announcements further and look at docs on the new OS offerings.

Apple Watch: Seeing for oneself.

(Tried to upload this yesterday before my appointment, but WordPress Mobile doesn’t like my ancient installation of WordPress. It’s definitely time to upgrade…)

I managed to snag a try-on appointment for the Apple Watch tonight.

After all this hype and speculation, really the only way to know if this product makes sense is to see it in action and feel it on your own wrist. I don’t care what it does if it’s uncomfortable or heavy or something unexpected like ‘the band smells like burning feathers.’

For me as a user, it’s not as expensive or frivolous as it may be for some. I use a fitness band that makes a terrible watch and lacks heart rate monitoring.

Withings makes a watch that costs nearly as much, but fails to understand the compulsive measurement aspect of health monitoring, with its analog activity dial. It also lacks the heart rate monitor. I have a Timex heart rate monitoring watch that sits in my drawer because it requires putting a huge rubber band across your chest. (Actually the rubber band isn’t huge enough for a big guy, which is even worse.) The Apple Watch solves these problems and throws in much more functionality, so it’s not an expensive item relative to the universe of health gadgets.

The proof will be in the wearing, though. I don’t care that much about the looks — I’ve owned clunkier and nerdier watches. But if it smells like burning feathers, or checking the time isn’t at least as seamless as TouchID, it’s a non-starter. Your mileage may vary, but that’s kind of the point with wearables.