Preparing for Dopey Challenge 2017

Another year, another Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. If you are getting ready to head down, or are already on your way, here are some tips for navigating the week, especially if you are participating in the Dopey Challenge.

It will be crowded

Race weekend falls very close to New Year’s Day this year, so expect the crowds for the holiday to overlap with the marathon crowds for a few days. Even after the NYE crowds begin to tapper off later in the week, remember that Marathon Weekend is one of the largest events hosted there all year.

The Expo

If you are running the Dopey Challenge or the 5K you must go to the expo on Wednesday. In past years there have been stealth bib pickups the morning of the 5K for anyone who was late and could not make it to the expo, but I would not count on this being the case. As with last year, you must go yourself. You cannot have someone pick up your number for you.

Transportation is offered from all of the resorts. There should be signs in the lobby directing you where to find them.

As for the expo itself, it seems like every year they change up the process slightly of picking up your bib, shirts, and bag. Follow the signs or ask a volunteer if you need help. Remember that the vast majority of the people you encounter working the expo and races are volunteers. They are not getting paid to be there. Thank them profusely.

If you are going for merchandise, the earlier the better as it often sells out quickly. The half marathon will likely see its swag sell out fastest as it is an anniversary year.

Don’t Drive

Unless you are staying off property and you have no choice, don’t drive to the start. Disney runs transportation from all of their hotels. Take that. If you must drive, leave early as traffic can get heavy, particularly for the half and full marathons.

This is true for spectators too. Especially the morning of the half and full many roads will be closed and traffic will be bad. Choose your viewing places carefully. For the half and full marathon you can take the monorail between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, even at that hour of the morning. Also, the spectator viewing area for the half and full isn’t great. You end up not seeing much, and since the course is on the other side of the highway from you, you probably won’t see anyone anyway. You are better off going right to Magic Kingdom, or to one of the resorts along the course, which will be way less crowded.

Get there Early

These races are infamous for their extremely early start times, around 5:30am for most of the races. It will be very early mornings for you this week. While the 5K and 10K start areas are not too far from where transportation drops you off, you have to cross the course to get there, so if you are late, you won’t make it to the corrals at all. The half and full start area are considerably farther from the drop off area. If you think you will be walking off the bus 5 minutes before your start time, think again. Get there early and you will have time to use the facilities, grab some water, and mentally prepare.

Plan for All Weather

The weather in Florida at this time of year can be really unpredictable. I have personally experienced everything from the mid 20s all the way to the mid 80s on race day. If the forecast holds, 2017 looks to be a nice middle ground.

It may still be chilly at the start however, and there isn’t really anywhere to escape it. It might be a good idea to bring some sweatpants and long shirts that you don’t mind tossing. Any clothes left at the start line will be donated to local shelters.

Don’t Try to PR

Despite the courses being mostly flat, these are not good races to attempt to make a personal record. These are crowded races, and the course can get rather congested at points – most notoriously during the 2016 half marathon runners hit a full stop coming through the Castle. Unless you are in the first corral, these races tend to have a slower, more relaxed pace. Take the time to get some character photos, especially at the half marathon if you are running Goofy or Dopey. You need to conserve energy anyway.

Practice Good Running Etiquette

If you are running with others, limit your group to running no more than two wide, especially on narrower areas of the course. If you need to walk through the narrow sections, do it single file. Make sure others can get around you.

Use hand gestures if you are going to stop of cut across the course. Don’t be that person that causes someone else to trip and fall.

Be careful when discarding cups or goo packs that you don’t hit someone else with them.

Don’t Cheat

This should be obvious, and yet it has been a problem. To be clear, the Goofy and Dopey Challenges are not relay races. You must complete all of the courses on your own. It would be a pretty hollow victory if you knew you didn’t really run the whole thing. The medals aren’t that special.

Use Photopass

This is the first year at Marathon Weekend where the race photographers will be Disney Photopass photographers (previously they contracted out to MarathonFoto). This means that annual passholders from the gold level up will have their photos included at no additional cost. So be sure to stop for a few. Just remember that these are meant to be quick photos. The races are still timed after all. Again, don’t be that person.

Goodbye Evernote

I am quitting Evernote, and this time it will be permanent. I have have given then the benefit of so many doubts that I honestly can’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy with the product. The level of mismanagement at this company is simply astounding. This week’s change to the privacy policy broke the camel’s back. I said over a year ago I would leave. I have given them much more time to sort things out than I said I would. Despite being in a hole so deep that sunlight can’t reach the bottom, they just kept digging and digging.

Somehow, at a moment when a large portion of the world is in a total panic over their digital privacy, Evernote thought it would be a good idea to opt everyone into letting their staff see our notes without our knowledge. Of course the CEO tried to explain away the change using the Silicon Valley version of “I’m sorry you were offended”. Then, after that didn’t quell the storm, they backtracked entirely. But it doesn’t matter. I no longer have any trust in the leadership at this company to do the right thing.

I stuck around through the product getting bloated and slow.

I stuck around through “Would you like to try Work Chat?”

I stuck around when they started selling socks.

I stuck around when they started inserting links to useless articles.

I stuck around when the jacked up the price with no new features or fixes.

I stuck around when they lost some of my data.

I could excuse a lot if the product got better. But it is slower than ever, to the point that I rarely even open the app on anything other than my MacBook Pro, and even there is painful. They ruined Skitch, which was a great app once upon a time. They don’t need to improve their machine learning. They need to improve the core app. But it seems this won’t be happening.

It pains me to leave. I have been using Evernote since day one of the App Store. I have been a paying user nearly that entire time. I taught classes on Evernote at Tekserve. But at some point you have to admit that the relationship no longer works and it is time to move on.

I expect that one day students in business school will study Evernote as an example of how startups can go horribly wrong.

As I type these words, I am running the Microsoft OneNote Import Tool to move all my notes over. Then I will delete each and every one from Evernote’s servers. And then the elephant will go to the trash.

Super Mario Running Toward One Star Reviews

Super Mario Run launches tomorrow. It will be very successful. It will also get a lot of one star reviews. This is because it will require an internet connection to play. I know this. You probably know this if you have read any tech news recently.

But most people don’t read tech news. They won’t know. They will buy the app because it will be marketed heavily. Mario is a cultural phenomenon. Everyone knows Mario games. This despite being “expensive” by App Store standards at $10.

These users, unaware of the copy protection that will require a constant internet connection, will go into the subway, or on to a plane, or anywhere with no or limited connection, and the app will fail. Nintendo does not have enough experience with mobile gaming to realize the problem. Users will be angry.

And then be on the lookout for 1.1, which will feature a new “offline mode”.

My Year with Google Photos

About a year ago iCloud Photo Library failed me. It was not the first time, but it was the last. While Photo Library has generally gotten much better reviews than most of iCloud’s other services, for some reason I continually ran into issues. So as with nearly everything else in my life, I looked to Google to ease my iCloud woes. And I have been extremely happy. Google Photos was born out of the remains of both Picasa and Google+. The former was a well liked, but aging desktop/cloud hybrid app. The latter Google’s desperate, and ultimately failed attempt at competing with Facebook in the social network field. Photos is Google at it’s best; a fast, reliable, easy to use cloud app.

Getting Started

This proved to be the most difficult part of switching to Google Photos, or at least the most time consuming. At this point all of my photos were in Apple’s Photos app for the desktop. My goal was to transfer this directly into Google, keeping my existing albums. Unfortunately, there were no tools that made this automatic. Google does have an uploader tool, but all it does it point at the originals folder within the Photos library structure. There are two problems with this. The first is that any edits made in Photos will not be uploaded, only the original version. I wanted my edits, and the inability to revert to the originals once in Google was not a concern. The second issue was my albums. The uploader does not load albums at all.

The solution was to first export all the photos from my Albums, and upload each album one at a time to Google. Once those albums were all created there, I exported every single photo and video from my Photos library, using the current version, and uploaded them in batches of 500. Trying to upload more than 500 at a time slowed the process to a crawl. I uploaded everything by simply dragging into Chrome. It is impressive both on the server side and on the browser side that I never experienced a single problem with this upload process. The photos already loaded into albums were skipped. There were no duplicate photos when I was done.

I should also note that I have a G Suite unlimited account, so storage is not a concern and I used the full originals. But even if you don’t have a professional account, Google Drive has very reasonable pricing and in my opinion it is worth paying to be able to upload originals.

There was only one other issue I encountered. Videos I shot on my iPhone as either slow motion or time lapse did not retain these properties when uploaded through the browser. Only when loaded directly from my phone. The solution here was to send these videos back to my phone via AirDrop and use the iOS app to upload these videos. Google’s web app won’t show the slow motion videos the way the phone does, but they do work correctly when downloaded.

iOS Apps

Now that all my historical data was there, I set up the iPhone and iPad apps to upload all photos and videos in original form to Google as soon as they are taken. Unlike iCloud Photos, there was no long sync at the beginning to pull the existing library down. It was all there right away. Uploads are fast and I have yet to see a single photo or video fail. If you have an iPhone capable of taking Live Photos, these will be uploaded and can be displayed within the app. It isn’t quite as nice as in the default app, but it works well enough. The web app does not support Live Photos unfortunately.

Another advantage of Google Photos is that it supports multiple accounts, something you cannot do in iCloud Photo Library. Since my work account is also a Google Apps account, I can take photos on my phone that are work related and upload those, and only those, to my work account. Since only the primary account auto uploads I don’t have to worry about any unintended uploads to my work account. A single tap switches between the two.

Google has heavily marketed this app as a space saving feature. Google Photos will, if you choose to do so, remove any photos and videos from your local storage once they are safely stored in the cloud. Apple does a similar thing with iCloud Library, but it still maintains a smaller version of the photo on your local device. With Google Photos you can remove the photo completely, leaving it only in the cloud. If you have a phone with lower storage this can be a huge help. Even if you don’t (my iPhone 7 Plus is 256GB) it still can help reduce iCloud backup sizes. No need to keep the photos in two places.

Reliablity

I have never had an upload issue with Google Photos. Ever. Only once did I have a problem at all, with the iPad app not displaying new photos uploaded from other devices. The fix was simply to delete the app and reinstall. That was it. When I had to do this with iCloud Photo Library it took hours for the photos to clear from my device (you can’t delete Photos.app, only turn off iCloud).

I can load photos from anywhere. If I am on my work computer all I have to do is open Chrome and upload the photo. Then sign out if I don’t want to keep everything there. While iCloud has a web app for photos, it is extremely basic. Google gives me the whole experience.

Another selling point of Google Photos is its ability to search. Given that it is Google this is not a surprise. But still it is amazing just how accurate this feature is. Apple is trying the same thing, but Google does it faster, more reliably, and can sync everything across the web. Privacy concerns aside, and I will say that I do trust Google to do the right thing, it makes me feel like I can rely on Google much more than Apple when I want to actually find my photos.

Feature Requests

Great as Google Photos is, there are some features they are missing that I would like to see. While search is great on its own, I would like to see some sort of smart album capability. Apple does this well, and its absence in Google Photos makes it a little more difficult to drill down into my library the way I am used to. Another feature from Photos.app that I miss is the ability to create printed products such as books, calendars, and cards. I have used this service extensively over the years and would love to see it built into the places where my photos now live. Having said that, I still keep my old Photos library on an external drive, and will occasionally load photos from Google into it. This way I still have my local photo library and can use those missing features, but I consider Google my true library.

Conclusion

Google Photos is a stellar product. It is all the best parts of Google. Their ability to do a reliable and easy to use web app is unmatched in the industry. Their iOS app is amazingly good, especially considering it is on their main competitor’s platform. While there are certainly people who are wary of Google due to the sheer amount of information they collect, I think Google has proven that, a few lapses in judgement aside, they have been respectful of user’s privacy in relation to this service. Despite Apple’s improvements in iCloud, I see no reason to return. Google Photos gets large feature upgrades frequently, not once a year. Ultimately I trust Google more. I trust that when I sync data to their servers it will work. Apple has a way to go to reach this level of trust for me. And that is okay. The iPhone is the best camera you can get on a smartphone. The fact that someone else provides the best place to keep those photos does not take away from that fact for me.

Give the Gift of Digital Rights

This has been a rough year for technology and digital rights – among other things. Now more than ever we need organizations that will fight for our rights to privacy, security, and digital freedom. If you are looking for a meaningful gift for a tech person in your life, consider a donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. While not as high profile as many of the other charities that need support at a time like this, the EFF has one of the most important missions in our modern world. Digital rights, privacy rights, and encryption are under attack all across the world, even in highly developed nations that claim to value freedom and liberty. A membership in the EFF shows that you are aware of the importance of digital rights. And you can get an awesome shirt showing your support for encryption.

A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch was released as a beta product. Then again it is fair to say that pretty much every first generation product is a beta product. When you think about it, all technology exists in a state of perpetual beta. Technology, to borrow from Walt Disney’s famous quote about his theme park, will never be completed.

Still, the Apple Watch felt different. Apple is normally great at telling you why a product exists. Think of the iPad, which was introduced by Steve Jobs sitting at a couch leaning back and consuming content.1 But the watch felt confused. Was it a fitness tracker, a wrist computer, a communication device? The first watchOS had no answer to this question. Nor did the follow up watchOS 2. It tried, but largely failed, to fix the performance problems that ended up dwarfing the confused messaging.

This time though, with watchOS 3, not only has the performance problem been addressed much more successfully, if imperfectly, but we now have an answer to why the Apple Watch. For everything else it can do, it is first and foremost a fitness device.

This is great news for me because that is the main reason I have used it ever since launch day. I have never missed a single day of closing all three activity rings. I have tried numerous run tracking apps, some more successful than others, and I even started using it while sleeping thanks to watchOS 2’s ability for sleep trackers to function.2

It is true that iOS 10 will touch far more people than watchOS 3. Smartphones, and to a much lesser extent tablets, dwarf the sales of smartwatches, which remain a niche, if growing category. But iOS has had the fitness bug too for a few years now. And when paired with watchOS 3, a very advanced health and wellness platform emerges.

This will be the focus of my review. I am not going to try to be exhaustive and cover every aspect of these updates. MacStories will do a far better job than I. This is about how I use the Apple Watch, and how that works with the iPhone. I will cover some of the more notable non-fitness features of iOS and watchOS later on, but first and foremost this is a fitness centric review.

I also should point out that this review is being posted a few days before the new Apple Watch Series 2 is available. I have preordered one and it should arrive Friday. The built in GPS function may well be a game changer. For now this review will not take this into consideration as it is too soon to know how this will actually play out. I’ll certainly have an update once I am able to use it for a while. Continue reading A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

The iPhone Is No More “Walled Off” Than Before

Engadget posted a piece this week that has been bothering me. Titled The iPhone 7 is the walled-off computer Apple has always wanted, this article makes several assumptions to support its premise that removing the headphone jack has moved the iPhone 7 closer to being a fully locked down, controlled experience. In reality, outside of most wired headphones needing an adapter, little has changed.

The first assumption is that physical IO (Input / Output) is even all that important on iOS these days. It has been years since any kind of physical connection to a computer was required for iPhones to function. I would guess that a majority of iPhone sold today go through life without ever connecting to a computer, with the exception of charging them. Users who are still syncing with iTunes on a regular basis are likely in the single digits percentage-wise. Everything has moved into software, and into cloud services. We completed this transition years ago, and the experience is better for it. I was selling iOS devices at Tekserve back when they were still tethered to physical IO. Customers hated it. iOS 5 was a game changer by eliminating this.

The second assumption is that because the headphone jack didn’t require a license to use, it allowed accessories to access the phone without Apple’s approval. Yes it is true that they could connect, but that is only half the battle. You needed software on the other end to make the accessory useful, and that software had to pass through app review.

Let’s take Square as an example since Engadget themselves use it. Square switched to a wireless accessory because of the shift to chip cards and mobile payments. So they either anticipated this problem or independently decided that wireless was the future for them as well. But even on devices with a headphone jack and their “classic” reader that uses it, they still had to submit an app to the store and have Apple approve it for sale. If Apple wanted to stop Square for whatever reason, they could have denied the app. The headphone jack would not have saved them.

Incidentally, it turns out having devices that physically connect to a computer be able to arbitrarily execute code is a really bad idea.

The idea that removing the headphone jack will cause innovation around the iPhone to slow is laughable. Yes, it is going to be an inconvenience for some users for a while. But I suspect the number of iPhone owners who either just use what is included or switch to Bluetooth will be fairly high, and the remainder will likely come to terms with the adapter.

But I am not even trying to defend the decision when related to headphones here. I think there is still at least a reasonable argument to be made there. But I can’t agree in any way with the idea that this is about further locking down the platform when the casualties are so minor that almost no users will even notice them (and those product casualties have multiple ways of working in this new era, most not involving the lightening port at all). iOS has always been a locked down platform, and that is part of why it is so popular with the masses. We who are tech savvy often forget that most people have only a very basic understanding of how computers work. Even the Mac, as simple as it tries to be, can be utterly confounding to a large percentage of people. There is a sense of security that people feel on their iPhones that they do not feel with their computers. This is due to Apple’s control, whether or not the user even realizes it. The new IO situation on the iPhone 7 does not change this status quo in any meaningful way.

Google Inbox for Education

Inbox by Gmail is finally available to Google Apps for Education domains.1 This means I can finally use Inbox as my primary email client across the board. When it launched, it was mostly a clone of the now defunct Mailbox, but it has really grown over time. There are two main reasons I prefer it to the other mailbox-like email apps.

One, it is available basically everywhere. There are apps for both iOS and Android, and the web client works great on basically everything else.

Two, it is made by Google. You do not need to rely on a third party server and all the potential security issues that brings. It is also not going to break because of some server side change that Google implements.

It’s a great productivity apps that can help keep your inbox sane, and I highly recommend Google Apps both enable it for their users and actively encourage its use.

  1. It was supposed to be enabled automatically, but I had to check a box in the admin console.

A Goodbye to Tekserve

I walked into Tekserve on my 23rd birthday and filled out a job application. Two weeks later I was sitting in the service area1 a few seats away from Harrison Ford, with his PowerBook, as I waited for my first day of training. It was clear this place would be special.

Today is Tekserve’s final day as a retail and service location, after 29 years serving the Apple community. Having not grown up in NYC I didn’t have memories of its early days. I remember it from Apple discussion boards online, back when those were new, and of course from the immortal Sex and the City episode. But then I got to work there. It was my first real adult job. I went in thinking I would spend a few months there. It ended up being over eight years.

I was already a huge Mac nerd, but this job pushed that up to 11. It was an eye opening experience where I really got to know all the things I didn’t know. And this was when Apple really had only two products, Macs and iPods. There was no iPhone, no iPad, no Apple TV.2 My phone was a Treo 650. In fact, for the first year I was the “Palm Guy”. There was a need for that back then.

I don’t think anyone who worked there left without feeling an amazing sense of community. Tekserve was not perfect, goodness knows it was not perfect, and there were a lot of missteps along the way. But the people who worked there were, and remain, among my closest friends. These were smart, interesting, driven people. I learned so much from them, and they learned from me in turn. It was a community. For all the complaints you may have seen of Tek employees as snobbish, aloof hipsters3, the place was, at its best, unapologetically New York. Hard, rough around the edges, but honest and real.

Unfortunately this is really what is being lost. Anyone who follows Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York knows what is happening. The combination of mega-corporate retail, the internet, and the shockingly high rent in New York City is erasing these kind of places. In their place are bland, stale, faceless machines. Whatever your opinion of Tekserve, it was not this.

So even though I have not worked there in nearly two years, it will never forget my time there. Tekserve was the start of a career, the start of friendships, and the start of an entire chapter of my life. It was a special place that existed at a special time. And the Apple community is a little bit less of a community now that Tekserve, and so many of the small Apple Specialists like it are disappearing.

So goodbye Tekserve. We will miss you, but we will never forget you.

  1. “Intake” as it was known internally.
  2. Although it was coming soon.
  3. Thanks Yelp.

The Ads that Work

I generally don’t see advertising these days. For all the tracking that websites do, they don’t offer much in the way of relevant ads beyond just showing me the last thing I saw on Amazon. TV ads are more often than not loud, annoying interruptions that send me diving for the remote to either skip past them or at least mute.

The only products and services I can think of that I purchased as the result of an ad recently would be:

  • Linode
  • Hover
  • Lynda.com
  • ITPro.tv
  • Fracture

My next mattress will most likely be from Casper.

Guess what all these things have in common. They were podcast ads. For all the talk of podcasts needing more data and analytics, the shows I listen to seem to be doing fine without it. It’s almost as if they know their audience. Hm…