SoundForest: Patterns and Beats

SoundForest – Free on the App Store

Years ago, when I first got an iPad, I remember playing around with GarageBand. Sure, it was fun to strum on the on-screen guitar, but I actually play the guitar, so that got old pretty quickly. What was fun, however, was the drum machine. There was a grid on the screen, with two axis labeled “Loud/Quiet” and “Complex/Simple.” You would drag each element of the drum kit somewhere onto the grid, and it would play a beat for you. It was honestly really fun.

SoundForest immediately brought me back the enjoyment I used to get from GarageBand. It’s a similar idea, drag icons onto the screen to create music, but even better. In SoundForest, your song moves left to right, playing each “note” that you’ve placed in order. You can stack different icons to play two sounds at once, or play two of the same sound, which changes it slightly. I’d talk more about it, but it’s honestly better to just watch it yourself. Here’s a tune I made:

Best of all, SoundForest does this with really neat, minimalistic artwork of trees and flowers and animals that you might find in, well in the forest. It’s a gorgeous app. Simple, fun, and beautiful. What more could you want?


Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!

Enlight Photofox: Jaw-Dropping iOS Photo Edits

Enlight Photofox – Free on the App Store

There are dozens of great image editors for iOS. However, most of them seem to lean towards the Instagram-filter type of edits that have become so popular over the past few years. That’s fine. I love Instagram filters are much as the next person. But today I discovered an app that does the kind of edits I used to think I could only do on the computer. Enlight Photofox is a full-blown image editor with support for transparency and layers.

When I was in middle school, I started to play around with GIMP, a free, open-source alternative to Photoshop. GIMP is hard to work with, but I remember the huge “aha” moment I had when I finally figured out how layers work. See those two little thumbnails in the upper right corner of the screenshot above? Those are my two layers. I’ve imported two images right on top of each other – two of my favorite pictures from my trip to San Francisco last summer – and I can use transparency to let one photo bleed through the other. Layer-based editing is the gateway that opens the power of professional-grade software like Photoshop.

If you’re looking for a free photo editor that goes beyond filters, look no further. Enlight Photofox is the app that will do the job. ••

Bibliography: I found this app from this App Store article, a great tutorial on how to create a double exposure. Go check it out!


Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!

Mini Metro: Sim City for the Stressed Out

 

Mini Metro – $4.99 on the App Store

There are a lot of apps on my iPad that stress me out sometimes. Managing email, keeping up with todo lists, organizing homework – life is busy! That’s why I really appreciate a good, calming iOS game. Gentle music, soft colors, and a moderate pace all make for an enjoyable experience when I’m feeling tense. Mini Metro has all of this. I’m even going to put it in the same category as Monument Valley and Alto’s Adventure. Yeah, it’s good.

Mini Metro is a real time strategy game in which you create subway lines to move passengers around a city. The map starts small, but more stations pop up quickly as time goes on. You can connect the stations any way you want, but you’re limited by the number of lines, trains, and tunnels at your disposal. You earn more of these resources as the game progresses, allowing you to create a larger network.

What really makes the game challenging for me is the different types of stations. At first, there are three: the triangle, the square, and the circle. Each “passenger” is represented by the shape of the station they’re trying to reach. As the game progresses, more obscure shapes start popping up. There might be only one star-shaped station on the entire map, which means a passenger will have to transfer lines. Uh-oh.

I love this game because the objective is simple, but the execution is difficult! One minute my subway is operating like a well oiled machine, and the next minute I’ve got three stations nearing capacity. I’m still learning what strategies work best, and I’m enjoying experimenting with different techniques. Mini Metro is a great game because there are a myriad of ways to approach it. When my mind feels cramped, letting it out of the box like this is a great way to relax. ••


Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!

Blogging with Bob Lee

When I started writing again this year, the biggest goal I had for my blog was to build a community. I’ve been trying to connect with both readers and other bloggers with similar interests. Through this search, I met Bob Lee. Bob is an iOS Developer, and he’s sharing his journey learning Swift on the iOS Geek Community on Medium and the training course he’s working to release, The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. Bob has really worked hard to create a community around his blog, and he was kind enough to let me interview him and ask him a few questions:


Me: Who are you and what do you do?

Bob: First of all I am from Korea. I went to middle school in Malaysia, and high school in Vietnam. I studied chemical engineering in the States. In high school, I had no idea what coding was. My first year in college, I took a course in C. C is hard! I didn’t learn a whole lot in that class. After spending some time in school, I decided to come back to Korea, not sure what I wanted to do. I dabbled in web development and iOS development. Web development is very broad and competitive, but I realized iOS is more stable. All iOS developers are on the same path.

Me: What made you want to start blogging?

Bob: When I came back to Korea, I thought about freelancing. But I’ve always wanted to teach people. So I started making YouTube tutorials and blogging about iOS development.

Me: Through what channels do you interact with your readers?

Bob: Medium is where everything really starts. This is where people find my other social media. I engage with people a lot on my personal email list. Right now I’m making a course called The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. I started reaching out to people, just telling them that I was making the course and asking, “If you are interested, please contact me.” It started as slow progress, but I got to interact with those people who responded one by one. Lots of people just want a huge email list. I wanted to build a great relationship with each person. Every two weeks I send an email sharing updates on making the course. Taking the community slow helped me build relationships. I never try to sell anything; I’ve sold my authenticity over selling products.

Me: How do you pick topics that your readers find interesting?

Bob: I only talk about iOS; I want people to come back and see the same content. Not stuff about me personally, not other tech stuff. I knew I had to pick one thing. Swift is my first language. I write on the programming topics I struggle the most with. That’s how I’m confident that I’m providing value to people. I’m not a genius, I’m going through the same process as everyone else. This thing will be hard for other people, because I struggle with it.

Me: What’s your advice to build community in blogging?

Bob: Here’s what I want people to know: Sharing your story is the most important part. Many of the things I write about are really technical; I have to convince people why they should be interested in this. I always use “I,” not “you.” People are actually interested in other people’s stories. Why did I have this problem, how did I solve it? The story comes first.


I’m going to take a page out of Bob’s book here and reach out to all of you reading this. If you ever have any feedback about the blog, an app you’re interested in me writing about, or just want to say Hello, drop me a line! You can email me directly at staringatphones@icloud.com or tweet to me @NickFoster56. I’m looking forward to meeting you! ••

Airmail: Stop Fighting Email

In addition to Notability and 2Do, another app that really changed the way I work last year is Airmail.  Just like iOS Reminders, I had used iOS Mail for years and years, and never had much of a problem with it.  However, as time went on, my use of email outgrew the app.  As I started getting more mail, I began using the “Unread” inbox filter to keep track of emails that required action.  However, I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally mark one of those emails as read, because then it would get lost in the shuffle of all my other mail.  Basically, I realized I needed to move to an inbox zero-based approach, moving all mail I was done with out of my inbox, leaving only the important stuff.  I wanted a more powerful email app to do this, so I turned to Airmail.  Shoutout to my girlfriend’s dad for this recommendation!


The bottom line is that Airmail allows me to be faster and more organized with my email.  The goal is to get everything that isn’t important right now out of my inbox, so I can focus on what is important.  After reading an email, if I don’t have to take any action on it, I archive it right away.  If it’s something I need to deal with later that day, like when I get home, I usually just leave it in the inbox.  If I’m going to deal with it another day, I snooze it.  Snoozing is one of the most powerful features of Airmail.  Snooze a message, and Airmail moves it to a special folder.  Then, at the snooze time, I get a fresh push notification and the message reappears in my inbox.  This has totally streamlined the way I work with email.  No more fiddling around with read/unread to make sure I can see the important stuff.  The important stuff is all that’s there.

Archiving and snoozing messages is super quick and easy thanks to Airmail’s customizable swipe actions.  I have right swipe set to Archive and left swipe set to Snooze and Trash – you can select up to four actions for each direction!  Need even more?  A full list can be pulled up for an individual message (see image 3).  There’s even more actions available, but I’ve set the app to only show the ones I use.

Customization is a big theme throughout Airmail.  The main menu in the left pane of the app is fully customizable on both iOS and Mac, and there’s tons of options.  Airmail also has support for smart folders (created via searches, just like 2Do).  I haven’t set any up yet, but I’m going to soon, to organize emails that I refer to often.  All this customization is what makes Airmail a great app: it can be as powerful as you need it to be.  There are still a few bugs and things that need to be worked out (threads on the Mac are kinda wonky), but it’s a relatively new app, and I’m sure these things will be fixed in time.  If you’re tired of fighting your email and want to work with it instead, you should definitely give Airmail a try.  ••

Link

Link: The iPod-Phone Prototype

iphone_prototypes-0

Image Credit: The Verge

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/6/14188624/apple-prototype-iphone-ipod-click-wheel

This is a fascinating article.  Obviously, it took Apple some time to land on the design of the first iPhone, but I’d never seen any of their other attempts.  This design basically took the old iPod interface (remember the click wheel?) and added the ability to make phone calls.  The result is… unpolished, maybe even unusable.  The most mind-boggling part is that the click wheel isn’t hardware, it’s on screen (although the article does say that might just be because it’s a prototype).  It’s clear why Apple didn’t go with this design, but it’s really neat to see an idea they attempted.  It was natural to think of the iPhone as an extension of the iPod, so it probably seemed natural to attempt this with the UI.  Fortunately, however, this idea didn’t win out, and we got iOS instead.  ••

New Workflows from 2016: 2Do

Hi everyone!  I’m finally on Christmas break for the year, so I’ve got some more free time, and I wanted to get back to the blog and do some writing.  A lot has changed in the way I use my tech in the past year.  I’ve discovered several new apps that have really changed the way I use my devices to get things done.  That being said, I wanted to share a few of them over the next couple of weeks.

One app I’ve just started using is 2Do.  I’d been using the stock iOS reminders app for almost 4 years now, and it’s never worked away I wanted.  2Do, on the other hand, meshes with the way I use reminders perfectly, and I really enjoy using it.  This post isn’t meant to be an app review, it’s more just a commentary on the way I use 2Do to get things done.


The way I used the reminders app was weird.  I had all notifications except the app badge turned off, and all reminders set for the morning (the default time of 9am).  That way, everything was technically “overdue,” and the app badge just showed my total number of tasks for the day (side note: I know some people hate app badges but I love them and think they’re incredibly helpful and useful).  That worked OK, because most of my tasks aren’t time specific.  But that meant I couldn’t make a reminder that went off at a certain time (or location) if I wanted to, since notifications were off.  This system had once worked for me, but more and more now it felt like I was fighting it (and don’t get me started on fighting the Reminders app itself).

I know there’s lots of great to do list apps out there, but I refuse to use one that doesn’t at least sync with iOS reminders: I simply can’t give up setting reminders with Siri.  I had initially overlooked 2Do because I didn’t think it supported iOS reminders – it doesn’t ask to access your reminders the way it would photos or contacts.  However, 2Do supports syncing with iCloud reminders as a CalDAV server.  This seems odd to me, but it does work, so no complaints I guess (and I’m sure there’s a good reason for this that I don’t understand).

One of the most important features 2Do has is separate due dates and alarm times.  This means I can have most of my reminders due on a certain day, without that 9am alarm, and yet still have notifications on for other alerts.  I ended up turning off notifications for 2Do and letting the stock reminders app handle them, just in case I add a reminder with Siri that goes off before 2Do gets a chance to sync.  More on the way I implemented Siri later.

Before that I want to talk about the app itself.  It runs so much better than the stock reminders app, which is always crashing for me.  And it has so many more features, like due dates and tags and projects with subtasks.  Some of these advanced items are a little wonky when they sync over to the reminders app, which I still use on the Mac (because 2Do for Mac is $50), but it’s not a big deal.  I realized that I’d really outgrown the Reminders app; I really need the extra power of 2Do.

Speaking of power, the last thing I want to talk about in 2Do is smart lists.  2Do has unbelievable search and filter tools, with lots of keywords and AND/OR/! logic operator support.  My first smart list is my “Today and Location” smart list, which uses the search: !hide type: nodue OR overdue OR duetoday.  This list shows everything due today (or that I missed prior), and the “nodue” keyword includes location-based reminders (which don’t have a due date).  This list also excludes anything with the “hide” tag.

My other smart list is my “Inbox” for tasks I’ve set with Siri.  Trying to implement Siri was a conundrum.  I wanted alerts if I told Siri to “remind me in two hours” or “remind me when I get home,” but I didn’t want that default 9am reminder for something I set for next week.  So first I went to the reminders app and created a new default list named “Siri.”  Any new reminders created with Siri go on this list, but 2Do’s default list is still my standard “Reminders” list.  All this mess brings me to my smart list: !hide Siri type: alarms AND !duetoday OR nodue AND nolocation.  This shows all reminders: #1 On my Siri list, #2 That still have an alarm, and #3 That aren’t set “in two hours” or “when I get home.”  I then just keep an eye on this list and remove the alarms on any task that show up here (and then they disappear from the Inbox because they no longer match #2).

Is this a little convoluted and maybe even absurd?  Sure.  Does it fit the way my brain gets things done and help me accomplish more?  Oh yes.  ••