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. 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.

How one Apple blogger lost 40 pounds with the Apple Watch

Jim Dalrymple from The Loop, an excellent Apple blog site, recently made a couple of posts about his experience with the Apple Watch as a fitness device. Unlike most of us, Dalrymple had early access to the device, and has been using it for 10 months.

His first posting explaining how the watch helped him lose 40 pounds spawned a second post with more details.

Health monitoring, diet, and fitness are very personal, so his experiences may or may not apply to you, but it’s clear that the health features of the Watch are very promising.

I’ve had mine now for about 10 days, and I am finding it much more useful than the Nike Fuelband and software. For one thing, it doesn’t look like some sort of house arrest bracelet. Plus the heart rate monitoring makes a huge difference in my awareness about how much ‘exercise’ I’m getting from my walks. The ‘stand up once an hour’ reminder is also very helpful. The gamification of this device is deeper in a lot of ways than that on the FuelBand, though the FuelBand achievements are more fun.

Apple Watch: after the try-on

Well, it doesn’t smell like burning feathers.

A lot has been written about how the Apple Store has set up their try-on appointments. They have a nice case showing all the models with non-working samples. They have very nice stations with a watch you can touch, and an iPad showing explanations of the different programs and modes, it was possible to figure out about 90% of how the watch works in a few minutes. Your actual try-on appointment is done at a special table, where they have drawers full of actual watches (though they are not free-range, they are running a demo loop) next to one of the stations you can use to interact. A sales person pulls out the models you are interested in and puts them on you, adjusting the bands if necessary.

Though some have complained that the UI breaks in some strange ways from iOS 8, the UI wasn’t particularly alien, and for anyone who has owned a few digital watches, it’s comparatively easy to set and configure compared to some.

As a watch, it’s not as heavy or clunky looking as some digital watches I’ve owned. The difference in size and weight between the 38mm and 42mm is fairly subtle in person. The fit and finish of the watch are excellent, and the elastomer band on the Sport Watch is very comfortable. The Stainless Steel watch is a bit heavier, but again very comparable to other watches, and has a look and feel of great precision. The link bracelet is very impressive, the Apple salesman was able to size the bracelet to my wrist in seconds due to the removable links. I think it’s unlikely you’d be disappointed with the watch as a piece of jewelry.

The software looks pretty good, it runs pretty quickly, though I suspect your mileage will vary outside of wifi. Maps can take a few seconds to load, but you know, you’re waiting for them to come down from space and all. The display looks great, and there are so many watch face variations to choose from. The fitness monitoring functions are attractive and look like they will add to my already exhausting bag of personal monitoring tricks.

The only thing this very choreographed sales presentation didn’t communicate to me was how the watch works for one particular function, which is wearing it on your wrist and seeing what time it is. Nobody at the Apple store has an actual working watch yet, though that should change when they are released next week. I’m hoping I can replace my Nike FuelBand with this device, so this is no small matter for me. So, I’ll wait a bit longer and research whether there will be a Nike app for the watch as well.

Since the watch now has shipping dates into June or July, there’s no hurry to act. Also, the sales force at the Apple Store are fairly new at this, the experience was quite good, but the sales folks don’t have as much information as they could, they really couldn’t answer some of my more specific questions about the fitness features (for example, does the Watch have an M8 chip, so it can count stairs climbed? I live in a ti-level, and would like to get that information before my next iPhone upgrade…), and none of them have actually used the real watch themselves. Might as well wait until they actually ship and someone can actually show you the real watch in action.

The demo watches, though, had smooth animations, the Digital Crown response is instantaneous and smooth, and most of the apps or Glances on the watch launched instantly, with the exception of Maps. The final released Watch OS software is supposed to have improved performance, so I’m not concerned about that. I’m more concerned about whether I will get the opportunity to see how the watch works when you want to check the time.

This is my biggest concern, the timepiece use case. Right now, it takes up to 3 button presses of the Nike FuelBand to see the time, depending on the mode it was in last, and that can take a few seconds of attention. I often grab my phone from my pocket instead to check the time rather than go through that. So, if the ‘raise your wrist to check the time, and it just turns on’ function really works as advertised, I’m probably in. The other functionality of the watch is mostly an add-on for me.

Seeing and holding the models in person, I have to say that the Apple Watch Sport is much less of a compromise than the cost would suggest. It looks great, the build quality is just as good as the other models, and the lower price takes the edge off of any ‘version 1.0’ jitters you might have.

So, the likelihood that I’ll end up getting one is fairly high, but I can wait another week for the real watch to come out before ordering. Anyway you slice it, it’s more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need’ purchase.