RunGap is the Perfect iOS 11 Fitness App

Last year when watchOS 3 launched, I wrote about it and iOS 10 in terms of fitness. The watch update especially was clearly designed to primarily push the device from a general purpose wrist computer to being a specialized fitness tracker, with some other functionality along for the ride.

This year’s releases of watchOS 4 and iOS 11 are not as fitness focused. But there is one change that made a dramatic difference for me, and I imagine for other Watch Series 2 owners. When the Series 2 watch with GPS was unveiled I thought that it would be the perfect run tracking device. And it was so close. But there was a major issue if you used the Apple workout app to track your runs. The maps were trapped inside the Activity app. There was no way to export that data to RunKeeper, Strava, or even a standard GPX file.

iOS 11 changes this. HealthKit now has the ability to store and export GPS data, and third party apps can take advantage of this. And one app to support this feature on day one was RunGap. I have previously used RunGap to sync up RunKeeper data to Strava and a few other running services. This is mainly due to the fact that RunKeeper has been an unreliable service as of late. Their watch app in particular would crash on my constantly. And as much as I previously recommended iSmoothRun, it has been very slow to update and the watch app leaves much to be desired.

An example of a run map stored inside the Health app.
An example of a run map stored inside the Health app.

The built in Workout app on the watch, however, is rock solid. It has become my preferred tool for tracking runs. And now with RunGap, I can still send that workout data to the other services I use. It is the best of both worlds. If you want to use the workout app on your Apple Watch but the previous limitation on data exporting prevented you from doing so, I highly recommend updating your operating systems, downloading RunGap, and giving it a try.

RunGap supports sharing workouts to many different services.
RunGap supports sharing workouts to many different services.

I have previously written about apps that respect you, and I have all the confidence that RunGap’s developers respect their users. I had an issue at one point and they replied to me within an hour. And that was on the weekend! Another sign of this respect for users is that while the app will read from Nike+, it won’t write to it. This is due to Nike’s lock in attempts. They have no easy way to export data. This kind of opinionated design in the app may stick some as restrictive, but it also shows that the developer has thought about user rights.

Aside from the iPad updates, this is my favorite new feature of iOS 11. Once again Apple has put out a solid update to their increasingly powerful fitness platform. RunGap is exactly the kind of app that every user of this platform should have in their arsenal.

Consumer Rage Won’t Kill Equifax, but Business Rage Might

Equifax leaked your personal data. It is now even more likely than before (and it was already trivial for it to happen) that you will be the victim of identity theft. We say with software that if you don’t pay for the product you are the product. But with the credit monitoring agencies, that is literally true. You are the product that is being sold. The customers are business, banks, and credit card companies.

So it is important to remember that Equifax, Experian, and Transunion do not care about you. Your social security number getting leaked is, to them, kind of like a whole row of milk spoiling is to a grocery store. They don’t care and they won’t.

There are really only two ways that these companies will ever pay for their crimes. The first is if people get mad enough to push our government to actually do something about them. But if you have been paying attention to our government, you are probably not holding your breath right now.

But there is another way to punish them, and it may very well happen. Businesses, and really the entire industry that relies on credit, are going to take a hit as a result of this. Credit freezes were always available, but this is the first time I can remember that people have been freezing their credit in massive numbers. So many people are doing it that the credit monitoring company websites are crashing, and their customer service lines are overwhelmed (more on that soon, because wow was it terrible).

The retail sector, already nearing the point of collapse, basically relies on easy, immediate credit. Car loans, store credit cards, zero percent cards, all of these have increasingly become the backbone of consumer purchasing. Even iPhones are now sold on lines of credit more often than outright. All of these require credit checks. If you froze your credit, this is much harder to do.

Expect this to become a major problem for stores, dealerships, and banks. Even if customers are able to easily unfreeze, that can take a few days. There will be lost sales, hours of additional overtime, and frustrated shoppers. This may well become a permanent state.

Am I saying you shouldn’t freeze your credit? Absolutely not. You definitely should do a credit freeze. You have no obligation to make things easy for an industry that would sell your identity to Satan to get a bump that quarter. Protect yourself, that is your priority, and a credit freeze is really the only good option (and it still isn’t enough so long as social security numbers are used as identification).

But to businesses, if you suffer because of this, remember that it was Equifax’s fault. And if you still do business with them, ask yourself why?

Tech Blog or Press Release Machine

One of my biggest internet pet peeves is news sites and blogs who do little more than regurgitate press releases for companies without any attempt to provide context or additional useful information. Verizon launched their Up program today. Up allows you to earn points that you can use toward things such as Apple Music subscriptions. Unfortunately it also comes with a requirement that you surrender a pretty substantial amount of privacy to them and their advertisers.

But you would not know this from reading tech blogs. Both 9to5Mac and MacRumors ran with the stores with no mention of the privacy implications. MacRumors as since updated the post to point this out. But not 9to5 as of this writing.

Far be it from me to tell people that they should not be allowed to trade their privacy for a few discounts. If they decide it is worth the tradeoff, go right ahead. But come on tech blogs, this is not a minor point with this service. It does a huge disservice to your readers to not mention it. I can get press releases direct from Verizon’s PR channels.

At least some sites such as The Verge and ArsTechnica were very clear about how this program works.

So yeah, I won’t be signing up for Verizon Up. I would not recommend you do either. Up to you, but know what you are signing up for first.

iPhone at 10

Ten years ago today I woke up before the sun rose, grabbed a folding chair, and went out to what was still the “new” Apple Store in midtown Manhattan. When I got there, I had to walk around the block to the now shuttered FAO Schwartz toy store (ironically currently inhabited by a temporary Apple Store) and got in line. According to someone who was keeping count, I was number 163. It would grow into the thousands as the day went on. I and a fellow Tekserve employee took off work to sit outside until 6pm. When the store opened and we were led inside, it felt as close to walking the red carpet at the Oscars I will likely ever get. An entire wall of reporters and photographers greeted us at the entrance of the store. We even got featured on Gizmodo.

 

It is almost hard to believe the iPhone is 10 years old.

We take it for granted now, but the iPhone, and smartphones in general were not a sure bet at the time. The smartphone market of 2007 was focused almost entirely on business customers, with the sole exception of the T-Mobile Sidekick. Those of us who were in tech knew it would be a big deal, but the public at large had to be convinced. I remember earlier that year being outside on the boardwalk at Atlantic City on my Palm Treo. People were impressed that I could access the internet out there. At Walt Disney World the year after the iPhone’s release there were only a small number of us with them. By my visit the next year, everyone had one.

The line for the original phone was a lot of fun. This was before the lines were overrun by resellers, and Apple started to downplay these kind of launches for that very reason. It felt like a big block party at times. Walking down into the store, with the employees applauding, and boxes of brand new iPhones everywhere, it really was magical.

I don’t think anything else in personal tech will compare to what the iPhone did. We often talk of Apple “Sherlocking” other tech; taking existing products and making them obsolete. Just think of what the iPhone sherlocked: cell phones, GPS, cameras, music players, plane tickets, maps, 411, address books, day planners, and for many people even their computers and televisions.

The original iPhone did not need to be set up in the store, you took it home and did it yourself in iTunes. I ran home, plugged it in, and got to be one of the first people outside Cupertino to actually use it. You could tell this was special. In retrospect, it is kind of quaint now. The original iPhone had 16 apps, no more, no less. Compared to the iPhone I hold in my hands now, that first device was tiny, and had an almost laughably low resolution. The cellular network was dial up speed. But compared to its contemporaries, there was no contest. My Treo instantly felt ancient. The existing smartphone makers, who dismissed Apple, never recovered. None of the platforms that were common 10 years ago have survived to present day.

Back in 2007 it still wasn’t clear to me that I would make technology a full time career. I liked it, but I still wasn’t totally sure. I feel like getting that first iPhone and being the iPhone “expert” in the early months finally pushed me over that line. It remains my favorite technology purchase of all time. Even though the first iPhone has been far surpassed by the ones that came after it, that first one was special. A lot of technologies get too much credit for the change they brought. But with this device, the credit is entirely justified.

Happy 10th birthday iPhone.

No, Blogs, MP3 Isn’t Dead

Thank you Jason Snell for not simply regurgitating a press release and calling it “news”. Come on tech blogs. Think for yourself. MP3 isn’t dead, in fact it might be more relevant than ever now that it is no longer being held hostage by software patents. It’s dead to the patent holders, not for anyone else.

We the Writers Must Do Better

Whenever a tech company gets caught doing something sketchy, the response is almost always something along the lines of “We need to do better”. This week it was unroll.me issuing the “Sorry not sorry you are upset / we need to do better” statement after it came to light that they were straight up selling your data out to the highest bidder.1

It is common wisdom in tech circles that if the product is free, then you are the product. And yet, these business keep popping up, offing free services with not a hint of a business model in sight. And they keep growing. Why?

While running a search for more about unroll.me I got the following result in Google, which brilliantly demonstrates the problem.

And it is not just CNET. Searching for results from 2013 (when it became prominent) brings up dozens of articles glowingly covering the service, including LifeHacker, PCWorld, and mainstream news such as ABC and Newsweek.

People use these services because they hear about them. And they are free. So what do you have to lose? Turns out what you have to lose is your every thought, every business transaction, and any hint of privacy you may still have. Because we keep telling people to go ahead and try it out.

So we need to do better. I need to do better, and everyone else who writes about technology needs to do better.

Those of us who write about tech need to start taking this into account. From now on I won’t review any app or service unless I have a reasonable understanding of its business model. If it doesn’t have one, that is a huge red flag. And yes, I will even start reading terms of service and privacy policies. This does not mean I won’t ever recommend an app that allows advertising or tracking. But it needs to be reasonable, and I will be sure to highlight it.

I can’t promise to never lead a reader down there wrong path2, but I will at least make sure they are properly informed. And the Slices of the world can find someone else to push their invasive services. I want no part of it.

  1. Uber in this case. Because there is no rake on this earth that they cannot resist stomping on.
  2. Companies can lie, or at best tell partial truths.

The Internet is Optional for Some

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin voted to eliminate the new ISP privacy law that was set to go into effect. This has been an unpopular decision across the board, regardless of political leanings. But Sensenbrenner isn’t backing down. According to him, “Nobody’s got to use the Internet.”

Of course, anyone who has tried to get a job anytime in the last decade knows that this really isn’t true. Sure, they may be some way to live entirely offline, but it would put you at massive disadvantage compared to your online peers.

It would be easy to blame his age for these comments, but I think it comes more from his profession. He has been in congress since 1979. He has not had any need to experience the hiring market since then. While it is true that he has had to run for reelection every two years, the incumbency rate for the US Congress is around 90%. Sensenbrenner has, in some years, run unopposed. He is someone who has the unusual benefit of being able to avoid such modern necessities.

This is a bipartisian problem. Our representatives live in their own alternate reality. And their decisions, often flying in the face of all logic, reflect this. This is DC syndrome, and it is highly infectious.

Thing is though, while he may not use the internet, I’ll bet you his staff does. And I will bet they use it a lot. This is another thing congressional members have that the public at large lacks, a personal staff at their disposal 24/7.

So here is my challenge to Rep. Sensenbrenner. If this internet is truly optional, prove it. For your 2018 reelection, run it as you did your first election 40 years ago. No internet, no cell phones, no social media, no email. This includes you and everyone on your staff. Break out the corded phones and typewriters. Get a taste of what it would be like for one of your constituents to try to succeed in the modern world without using modern tools to do it.

Decoding Top 10 Lists

10 – Ooh, I didn’t expect you to start with that. How exciting. You must be super smart.

9 – Meh.

8 – Meh.

7 – I think you are just listing Google search results now.

6 – Click next to see more.

5 – Something actually on point to remind you what this list is for in the first place.

4 – Totally not a paid advertisement, sorry I mean native content.

3 – Pure stupidity to see if anyone else is still reading.

2 – The actual number one item, but that would be too obvious. So here it is at number two because OMG OMG you are like totes never going to believe what number one actually is.

1 – This makes absolutely no sense. It makes the author feel all smug and smart because no one else thought of it. And that’s true, no one else thought of it, because it is BS.

Quiver: Code and Commands

In Part 1 of my series on leaving Evernote I took a look at Google Keep. Part 2 is an app that most people will have no need for, but it ended up being a very useful tool in my day to day work. It is Quiver, a note taking app designed specifically for code.

I actually started using Quiver while I was still using Evernote. While Evernote was an okay place to store code snippets, it wasn’t ideal. Notes are rich text by default, and if you wanted any sort of syntax highlighting, you had to do it by hand. Evernote was not designed with this task in mind.

Quiver is different. Code is its purpose. Yes, it can be made to function as a very nice plaintext note app, but that isn’t the primary purpose. Like Evernote you can create various notebooks, each storing a collection of individual notes. The notes can contain a mix of “cells” that are either rich text, code, markdown, latex, and diagram.

The code cells are the big one for me. Quiver isn’t an IDE, nor is it meant to be. I don’t use it to write any complex scripts or programs. But my job does require me to use a lot of commands, whether it be managing Macs, configuring switches, or setting up servers. I can’t keep it all in my head. Quiver has been extremely valuable for recording and finding these commands. In particular those ones that are used infrequently. I can’t commit them to memory, but I can easily find them in my Quiver library. It provides the answer to those “how did I solve that last time” questions. I also created a few notebooks for my “standard setups”. If I need to quickly spin up a web server, I can open that notebook, follow the commands in order, and end up with a system configured exactly how I want, with all the security settings that are important to not overlook. Yes, I know how to do this in my head, for the most part, but being able to follow a checklist pretty much guarantees I am not accidentally skipping a step.

The only real downside to Quiver right now is that it does not have an iOS component. A beta was announced a while ago, but nothing has come of that yet. Quiver does support sync via Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive, so I am able to keep a copy on both my home and work MacBook Pro. I use Dropbox for sync and has been completely reliable. The library can be stored anywhere, so in theory you could set up your own server and sync through it in the event you were syncing sensitive data and would rather not trust a public cloud service.

Given that I rarely do this kind of work on iOS, it isn’t a big deal right now that the iOS version has yet to materialize. It is something to keep in mind if you are regularly using an iPad for this kind of work.

Most people don’t need Quiver, and you could easily use another tool to store code notes. But I like having a tool dedicated to this task. I can very quickly find the commands I am looking for without returning a whole bunch of other unrelated results. If you are a programer, sysadmin, or any job that requires regular use of the command line and / or programming languages, this is a great tool to have in your arsenal.

Google Keep – Modern Stickies

Stickies is that Mac app that you either ignore completely or use for everything. It has been on the Mac for a very long time, one of the few apps from the classic OS days that still ships with macOS today. It is one of those apps that is just there, rarely getting an update and never getting mentioned. And yet people love it because it serves a very specific need; they are quick notes that are easily glanceable.

Among the many downsides of Stickies.app is the inability to access them anywhere than one local Mac.1 It is a pure, old school, local only app. That may work, but it is far from ideal in today’s multi device world.

Enter Google Keep. Keep has been around for a while. It is one of those Google apps that gets a big announcement, and then you rarely hear from again. When it was announced a lot of people compared it to Evernote and listed it as a competitor. It isn’t. But it does make a very compelling modern replacement for Stickies.

Keep gives you a canvas of card-like notes. You can even color them in the colors commonly seen with physical sticky notes. It is on the web as well as iOS and Android, along with a curious ChromeOS app that breaks out of the browser for some reason.2

When I first tried Google Keep I threw a ton of data at it, and it quickly got overwhelming. There is a web clipper similar to most other note taking apps, but all it does is save a URL, unlike Evernote’s clipper that will attempt to grab the whole page.

Where Keep came in handy was for taking down a quick note that either needed to be referred to often, or that was a task that needed to be completed. For example, at work I will take down order numbers or repair invoices while I work on them. This makes it much easier to find when I need to. When I complete them, I archive the note. Like Gmail, Keep has a one button archive that removes the note from view, but keeps it around in case you ever need it again. If the text grows into more of a document, there is a one click option to make a Google Doc.

Another nice thing about Keep is that if you set a reminder on a note, it will also appear in Google Inbox and Google Calendar. This makes Keep a great choice for task related notes if you are invested in Google’s ecosystem.

My biggest complaint about Keep is that is lacks an API. This a bit of a disturbing trend I have noticed with Google, who used to be very good about allowing programmers to augment their products in interesting ways. It makes it impossible to use Keep with any of the automation apps on iOS, somewhat blunting the impact it could otherwise have.

Keep is useful for what it does. If you find yourself scribbling down notes on actual stickies, Keep may well serve a useful function for you. For the things I need quick, glanceable access too, it is much faster than Evernote. I never have more than 10 to 20 notes outside of the archive, and that seems to be the key to how it works best for me.

  1. They are stored in a database file in ~/Library that many people miss when backing up or transferring their data.
  2. ChromeOS does this sometimes. Why one app is a webpage and another is standalone is anyone’s guess.