Author Archive


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

After literally months of work, I’m finally ready to launch a project I’ve been working on: Discourse, an interview podcast about the story behind influential people.

I discovered podcasts three years ago, and have continued to be fascinated by the various formats and styles of podcasts that are possible within this medium, whether they’re interview podcasts like The Tim Ferriss Show, fascinating storytelling like Lore, game shows like Ciquizza, or the ubiquitous general discussion podcast, there is no shortage of shapes and sizes podcasts can take. It’s the former two formats I became interested in: interviews, and storytelling. While they tend to remain separate formats, what would a podcast look like if it tried to combine both? That’s what I’m trying to do in Discourse.

In late August, I recorded the first episode, in which I interviewed Jeremy Rossmann, MIT drop-out and the founder of Make School, a college alternative for software developers, but I finished editing in late September as I learned the ins and outs of podcast editing and marketing. Since then, I’ve stared at the finished .mp3 file sitting on my desktop, asking myself when I was going the take the next step and release it into the wild. Well, I guess the guilt got to me, so here we are.

You can listen to episode 1 of Discourse now on iTunes or Overcast. Discourse does not have any sponsors at the moment. If you’d like to support the show, you can sign up to be a patron on Patreon, where you can send in your own (approved) questions to pre-announced guests for as little as $5 per month.

I’d like to thank my family, Harshil Shah, Matt Birchler, Michael Rockwell, and Aniket Sharma for their feedback and support.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Mashable’s Katie Dupere wrote an invigorating profile about Jordyn Castor, a software engineer at Apple who happens to be blind. She currently works on enhancing VoiceOver for blind users.

At that job fair in 2015, Castor’s passion for accessibility and Apple was evident. She was soon hired as an intern focusing on VoiceOver accessibility.

As her internship came to a close, Castor’s skills as an engineer and advocate for tech accessibility were too commanding to let go. She was hired full-time as an engineer on the accessibility design and quality team — a group of people Castor describes as “passionate” and “dedicated.”

“I’m directly impacting the lives of the blind community,” she says of her work. “It’s incredible.”

For all Apple claims to be changing the world, it’s nice to see hard-hitting proof of the commitment of Apple employees to impact the lives of their customers. It’s long been evident that Apple has been influential in making their products accessible for others, to a degree much effective than any other large company in the valley.

It’s important to remember that diversity goes far, far beyond race, gender, and sexuality, and includes people with a variety of experiences. These people’s individuality (in this case Jordyn Castor) brings novel and newfound solutions to problems. Castor’s insight of what it’s like living as a blind person lends Apple’s a lifetime’s worth of unique experiences to be able to put forth into designing great software for some of their most ardent consumers.

The iPhone SE

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The iPhone SE
When the iPhone 5s launched in September of 2013, it was, for a lot of people, a less exciting launch than that of the iPhone 5 the year before. A tock product of Apple’s tick-tock iPhone release cycle, it was, by definition, an iteration of the phone the year before. Externally, the lauded design remained largely the same, with the exception of the “space gray” hue that replaced the “slate” of the iPhone 5, and the first in Apple’s obsessive fascination with the color gold. The new colors were, understandably, not spectacular enough for a lot of people. The Register’s headline, two days after launch read “Apple, you’re BORING us to death”. CNET, back then still relevant in the technology blogosphere, proclaimed “We live in boring times”.

As with any tock release, Apple focused more on the little things that make the device a better product from an experience viewpoint. Internally, the introduction of the 64-bit chip, while taken for granted today, was a huge deal: it literally brought forth a new era for the mobile phone industry, and made the iPhone more than just a smartphone: desktop-class hardware made the 5s more capable than ever, and kickstarted an app revolution that brought CPU-intensive applications and games, such as Pixelmator and Vainglory, to a mobile phone for the first time. I’m still amazed at how good the Pixelmator app is for image-editing and graphic design on-the-go.

Two and a half years later, the 5s is a bit long in the tooth. Safari purges webpages from memory, apps crash randomly from time to time. As time wears on, I turn more settings off in the interest of saving both battery and CPU usage. As iOS became more advanced and demanding, even for a 64-bit chip and a gigabyte of RAM, the 5s became less capable. Most people annoyed by the sluggish performance of their phones moved on and upgraded to the newer series of iPhones, which had their own design quirks, such as the long-ridiculed camera bulge, and slippery design, not helped by the larger sizes the iPhones 6 and 6s came in. Sure enough, a lot of people missed the older design: the smaller size that fit perfectly in their hands, the square edges that didn’t invite accidents…

It seems like Apple hasn’t ignored this small minority of four-inch fanatics: last Monday, in line with recent rumors, Apple returned a four-inch handset to their iPhone line: this time not as a smaller iPhone 6s, as most people predicted, but rather as a special 2016 update to a three-year-old phone design: the iPhone SE.

And, if you disregard the critics, it’s a very appealing device for almost everyone, coupling an excellent design that never really should have changed with modern hardware components borrowed off last September’s iPhone 6s. It’s pretty damn close to perfection: equipped with a 12MP camera capable of 4K video recording and Live Photos, the 6s’ A9/M9 duo, LTE and Wi-Fi updates, and, yes, even 2 GB of RAM. The only thing it’s missing is 3D Touch—while understandable, given Apple’s firm stance that the SE is a great phone for people “new to iPhone”—it’s still sore for fans of smaller phones who want the best of both worlds.

The iPhone SE poses a dilemma for a lot of people: would you rather buy a 2016 edition of the iPhone 5s, or wait six months for the iPhone 7, potentially another generation where thin and light trumps function and usability?

Even if you do go for the SE, it’s an excellent choice—but what’s the catch? When Tim Cook introduced the iPhone 5c—the colorful, “unapologetically plastic” line of iPhones—alongside the 5s in 2013 as a low-cost competitor to cheap Android phones, it didn’t do very well, and, lo and behold, it was ultimately killed. The SE seems like the spiritual successor to the 5c in many ways: it’s less than two-thirds the price of the iPhone 6s, it’s clearly targeted to people who’re new to iPhones or phones in general: kids. And it’s clear, even if it’s going to stay around, that, judging from the measly 16 and 64 GB the SE retails at, it’s never going to be a serious competitor to the iPhone 7, whatever that may be.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

A fascinating open letter to Tim Cook by Zoe Olson, who saved up a year’s worth of babysitting money to buy an iPad Pro and Pencil to kickstart her illustrating career. At 15 (my own age), she bought an iPad Pro with her own money to start drawing and sharing her illustrations online. Soon enough, she got noticed by an author who asked her to illustrate for her children’s book.

To me, this is more than an apt description of the iPad Pro’s capabilities; it’s also about how young people can find exciting opportunities through the internet and modern technology not entirely possible just ten years ago. What’s more; Tim Cook replied to her email.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

My favorite new writing app, Ulysses, just launched their universal app to the world, adding an iPhone version of the professional writing app, after three months of beta-testing. Also check out their new site, which looks great, and expect a review on Yellow Signal soon.

Meanwhile, as The Soulmen co-founder Marcus puts it so eloquently in the blog post, write your fingers bloody.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Matt Birchler wrote a spot-on and comprehensive pieces about how Apple can take the Apple Watch further. While the whole article is accurate, I’m especially partial to his analysis of the Workout app, which seems very limited, and I’m sure leaves everyone wanting more:

Workouts has very basic functionality, but the functionality that is there works well. This is one part of the Watch where it seems like Apple was suitably conservative with what they were trying to do. It left us with an app that has us begging for more, not questioning its very existence.


One: Give me media playback controls in the app. People tend to work out with music or podcasts playing in their headphones, and they’re almost certainly going to want to skip forward or pause at some point. Right now you have to press the crown once to go to the app selector, again to bring up the watch face, and then swipe up to get the controls. Then you have to double press the crown to go back to the Workout app.

The fix seems simple, and would be to enable a swipe up from within the Workout app to bring up media controls. Swiping up does nothing right now, so it could be added without impacting anything in the existing app. Boom, done.

Birchler also suggests giving third-party apps more power, but I’d take that a step further: the Workout app is composed of different components: ‘Outdoor Run’, ‘Rower’, ‘Indoor Cycle’, but I don’t think it would be too hard to allow apps to build extensions for the Workout app itself. It doesn’t sound too crazy, given that the fitness features are some of the Apple Watch’s main selling points, and why wouldn’t Apple want to expand its non-exhaustive array of workout types? I’m sick of having to choose ‘Other’ every time I play a game of basketball, and if a third-party option gives me a wider breadth of workout styles, that’s win for everyone.

Friday, 4 March 2016

I had the great honor of having my Mac and iOS setup featured on The Sweet Setup, one of my favorite websites ever. If you’re (somehow) not familiar with them, I consider them to be The Wirecutter of Apple software.

While my setup has changed a bit since the interview, conducted in May 2015, you’ll still find that a lot of the things I use on the software side remains the same. If you’d like a more recent perspective on what I use every day, allow me to point you to my previous article on my favorite software of 2015.

Command-Z Favorites: 2015

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Cmd z favorites
2015 has been a spectacular year indeed. This year has been one of the busiest yet for Apple, who have expanded their product reach to a whole new level with the intimate companion the Apple Watch tries to be, as well as relaunching the Apple TV with a promising (yet underdeveloped) focus on apps as the next way of interacting with your TV. iOS 9 builds upon last year’s opportunities for developers to open up their apps to the system with Spotlight Search extensions, as well as adding advanced iPad multitasking, opening the doors for the iPad Pro to become the computer of the future for many of today’s students.

2015 has also been a big year for entertainment. Podcasts are growing in popularity as Serial returns for a second season, and Relay FM concludes its first year as an independent podcast network. Pixar released Inside Out, a film so great I may forgive them for Cars 2, and my all-time favorite sci-fi movie franchise (you can guess which) has returned with a movie so great, I watched it twice, making me forget the crapshoot that were the prequels.

So what did I feel were the most noteworthy in tech, apps, productivity, and entertainment this year?

Best Tech Product

This year was a mostly quiet one for the rest of the tech industry as Apple released new hardware one after the other: the MacBook, Apple Watch, the iPhones 6s, a new Apple TV, 4K iMacs, iPad Pro, and a lot of accessories. While I only purchased one of the above, this did mean a lot of going to the local Apple Store to try out the aforementioned hardware. There was very little I did purchase that wasn’t an Apple product (much less those which I liked).

  1. Apple Watch: This is one purchase I am really happy with. Having purchased the product rather late (in mid-October), I hadn’t had as long to use it as much as the others, but so far, it has become something I wear everyday, thanks to how much it has changed how I run the day. Third-party complications from my favorite apps help me check my next calendar event (Fantastical), which buses I need to get on to get there (Citymapper) and, when I’m on vacation, which gate my plane is at (App in the Air). Fitness features and health data help give me an overall view of my life right now, and allows me to look at all of this in the Health app on my iPhone. All these reasons make the Apple Watch the best tech product I’ve bought in 2015.
  2. AirPort Time Capsule: We received a Time Capsule over the holidays, and I’m really happy with it. I’m using it as a Wi-Fi base station, a wireless backup system, and kinda-sorta like a NAS. It’s a great product. Not cheap, but definitely something I recommend.
  3. Fitbit Charge HR. I’m kind of cheating here, but this was the year of wearables here in Hong Kong. While the Apple Watch did okay, Fitbit products really took off. Now, both my parents have the Charge HR, and it’s a pretty solid product. From what I’ve seen, it’s around or slightly more accurate than the Apple Watch in terms of fitness data, and has a great app that doesn’t play nice with Apple’s own, but displays information in a dashboard much better than the iOS Health app.

Best iOS App

I really went all-in on apps by independent developers this year, especially when it came to iOS. Apps by independent developers tend to be more personal and they respect their users more. Here are the top three iOS apps I’ve used of the year.

  1. Tweetbot 4. Tapbots have caught some flak for making Tweetbot 4 a new app, which is completely unwarranted for the work Tapbots have put in to version 4 of their now universal iOS app. Tweetbot is something I use everyday, and the changes they’ve made in version 4 most definitely warrant the $10.
  2. 1Password. I dived into 1Password at the start of the year, and now it’s become and irreplaceable facet of my digital life. The iOS app is not as good as the OS X app, but it’s still worthy of making this list.
  3. Spark. Spark is the newest email client to come out this year, and is in many ways the spiritual successor of the Mailbox, which was ‘sunsetted’ late last year by Dropbox. It’s a solid email client, but is yet to have an iPad and Mac app.

Best Apple Watch App

I’ve worn my Apple Watch for about three months now, and I only use a handful of third-party apps. These are:

  1. Citymapper. The hands-down best Apple Watch app yet, Citymapper’s excellent integration with the watch face thanks to third-party complications are a joy to use. I get notifications when I’m approaching my bus stop, an ETA, and what bus to take, where based on my current journey. I wholeheartedly recommend Citymapper if it’s available in your area.
  2. Fantastical. I mainly use Fantastical through the complication, and it’s so great that Apple ripped off them in watchOS 2 with an update to the Calendar app.
  3. Overcast. It’s the only podcast app with an Apple Watch extension, but it’s not great, either. It’s only on the list because a) I actually use it, and b) I use it a lot.

Best OS X App

  1. Fantastical 2. This year, Flexibits released Fantastical 2 for OS X, which I use every day. Read the Yellow Signal review here.
  2. Reeder. Reeder 3 launched this year, and had a fresh new UI to complement the new look OS X Yosemite introduced to Apple’s desktop operating system. It’s a solid update to the best RSS reader for OS X today, and even supports read-it-later services as a provider.
  3. 2Do. After Federico Viticci wrote about his newfound love for 2Do in his manifest to the app on MacStories, I new I had to try it. I used OmniFocus prior, but 2Do clicked with me in a way that OmniFocus never had, to my surprise. After migrating all my lists and tasks over, I use it every day.

Best Film

In 2015, I saw fewer films than ever before, on account of a busier academic year. I did manage to catch up on some of the better films of the year, and even saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens before all of America had (even while having purchased tickets just day before). Having seen fewer films, I probably did well not to waste my time with some of the downright crap that I had watched in theaters last year.

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, of course. This movie did almost everything right. It captured the nostalgia of the original series perfectly, the cast had great chemistry and had two great lead characters — I had no qualms whatsoever about the casting, and the only flaw was the slightly similar storyline to that of Star Wars (1977).
  2. The Martian. I was in the midst of the book when the movie came out. I wasn’t too bothered about which one I enjoyed first — the book was pretty great, but from what I could tell, the movie was good too. Matt Damon’s character was perfect for the character he plays in the book, and the movie was a pretty good adaptation of Weir’s novel. It’s my second-favorite film of the year.
  3. Inside Out. It’s a Pixar movie, and pretty much obligatory viewing for anyone. Initially, I wasn’t as sure how Pixar would pull off such an abstract concept, but I was thrilled when I watched it — it truly wins a place amongst the other Pixar movies I loved (with the exception of Cars 2 and perhaps Brave).

Best Podcast

2015 was the year of podcasts for me, as I delved into the diverse and now even more mature world of oral storytelling and discussion. 2015 also brought new podcasts. Here are my favorite:

  1. Hello Internet. Hands-down the best podcast I’ve ever heard, I’m shocked I’ve only started listening this year. I know I’m cheating since this podcast has been out since 2014, but it’s still too good not to include. Brady Haran and CGP Grey discuss professional (educational) YouTubing, productivity, and by now, everything under the sun, too. Grey has interesting opinions (sorry, language teachers), and Brady asks him tough questions about these opinions. I’m still making my way through it, but this show is awesome.
  2. Cortex. A podcast with Myke Hurley and CGP Grey? What’s next, gun control?! Cortex discusses Grey’s productivity and work as a professional YouTuber, and has just the right balance of the technology discussion we’re familiar with Relay FM shows, and the invigorating discussions from Hello Internet
  3. Ctrl-Walt-Delete. A new show by The Verge, Nilay Patel and the Walt Mossberg team up and discuss technology. Come for the discussions, stay for the throwbacks. Walt has some great experiences he discusses on the show. A great episode is the discussion on Steve Jobs, and the many movies he’s inspired.

These are my top picks for 2015, a great year for tech, apps, entertainment, and podcasts. 2016 looks set to be a bigger year with the advent of VR, perhaps the year podcasts become mainstream (again?), and iOS 10.

The Facebook Conundrum

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

I read all kinds of technology articles in my spare time, ranging from those produced by independent writers to large technology columns by journalists with years of experience behind them. I love reading about technology, but there’s one area in which many writers, no matter their experience or education can write truly accurately, and that’s when they discuss technology usage by today’s teenagers.

In this piece, I’d like to shed some (more?) light on how we teenagers use Facebook today. I don’t mean to paint all teenagers with a single brush, but I can base this article on my own experiences and that of my peers.

First of all, let me make this clear: I hate Facebook. As I outlined last month in this tweetstorm, I detest their platform, but I can’t help but deny that it’s become so central to the Internet and to our online relationships. Like many, I use Twitter for news and as a way to read the opinions of strangers I respect, and to share my own. I use Facebook to connect to people I actually know; and that’s my friends and family.

Let’s start with what we still use Facebook for. The main reason most of use Facebook is Messenger; that’s the reason I joined and the reason I still hang on. For many of us involved in projects, small businesses, and other small teams, Facebook Messenger is an essential communication tool. The school newspaper head team comprises of five people, including myself. The utility of Slack isn’t beneficial to a small team like ours, but the larger event-planning committees I’m part of use Slack 1.

Facebook Messenger is also (of course) used for personal reasons. Everyone knows that Snapchat has become more prevalent, but their chat functionality is lackluster, whereas Facebook’s is well-established. If you want to connect to someone — anyone in your network of friends — you use Facebook’s Messenger.

Now for the platform itself: Many of my non-Twitter friends use News Feed as an equivalent to Twitter’s timeline. It’s an algorithmically-curated feed, a mish-mash of content from your friends to pages you like. That includes status updates, ‘news’, freebooted videos, and clickbait articles. And Facebook wants to be the content aggregator of the web…

While this feed generated by robots sounds like a disaster to timeline completionists like myself, no one really minds. While I don’t use News Feed, many of my peers do, and for the same reason I peruse Twitter: it’s still a way to find content from the web when you’re bored, and it’s curated from your friends, pages you’ve liked, and ads, just like Twitter. Let’s just say a lot of people scroll through their News Feeds in class.

The social aspect of Facebook is becoming less and less relevant to much of us these days. When Facebook used to be a way of seeing what your friends are doing, it’s now become less interesting, what with all the grandmas posting recipes and BuzzFeed listicles popping up.

Snapchat is popular because it’s content you actually enjoy. Snapchat doesn’t push unwanted content to you with a News Feed, but by letting you choose what you want to see at all through Stories categorized by your friends, and people you choose to follow. Ultimately, there’s no sense that your feed is becoming too broad and uninteresting. While other reasons are cited (the self-destructing messages, the constrained medium), it’s ultimately that Snapchat is a new platform where monetization, ads2, and the general crumminess of other platforms hasn’t come yet3.

  1. Everyone loves Slack, but it can become a hassle for a smaller team to check Slack. In a team of five, nearly every message is relevant enough to not be applicable to Slack’s “channels” ideology, but in a large team with various divisions (like our school TEDx event), using Slack makes so much more sense. 
  2. Yes, I know all about sponsored stories and all that. Still not as annoying as Facebook. 
  3. Ironically, I don’t use Snapchat anymore. Everyone else loves it, but I don’t find it very useful. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Recent events have made me very disappointed in the actions of ‘Samantha Bielefeld’, someone who you may have heard of. While I don’t understand the whole situation, I understand that ‘Bielefeld’ is actually a man pretending to be a woman in order to write from a ‘unique’ perspective.

I feel betrayed by this, but more so that I’ve duped my own readers. I’ve updated all posts concerning this issue, including my ‘Thoughts on the Patronage Model Debate’ post.

More to come.