Not a Disaster, but Not Great, Either

I don’t think that Apple’s design for the app is completely wrong, I just think they need to modify it a bit. First, I’d move the Custom timer option to the top. Even if there are common timers you set, I would wager that most people want to set a custom one most of the time. I could be wrong, but if I’m not, this would make most people’s default interaction a little easier.

Next, I’d allow users to customize what their pre-set timers are. The idea of default timers is a good idea, but they should be less generic that what Apple is currently offering. By letting users set their own timers, they could ensure that this feature is as useful as possible for the most people.

(via Matt Birchler)

The title of Matt’s article is “The New Timer App in watchOS 3 is a Disaster.” Clearly, he wrote the title before he wrote the piece, as his conclusion is a bit less severe.

I faced a similar issue when I designed Fin, my own timer app. When I added presets, I tried to guess at what the most “common” needed timers would be. And I quickly figured out that everyone has different needs. So in the next version I added the ability to set your 12 presets to whatever you want.

I imagine Apple will do the same with the Timer app on the Watch. Maybe not in this version, but somewhere down the road. Still, Matt’s main point remains: Apple is trumpeting the “2-second” rule for the Watch, trying to minimize taps and scrolling everywhere throughout the system. But in this Timer app, they aren’t practicing what they are preaching.

They Gave Me a Few Ponies

Minutes before the WWDC keynote last week, I posted this on Twitter, in reaction to the already growing cynicism (the show hadn’t even started yet) in my timeline about what was to be announced.

Listening to the Apple community gripe about what they perceive to be too little excitement in keynote announcements drives me insane. People either perceive some announcements to be more exciting and important than they actually are (a slightly faster MacBook Pro – Whoop-de-doo!) or they dismiss actually groundbreaking breakthroughs (ResearchKit) as boring.

I get that hardware is more exciting for the Apple faithful than software (though I don’t know why), but I can also see that Apple has more important priorities than giving geeks new toys to buy every few months. But people judge everything Apple does based on how it effects their personal needs, rather than looking at what actually might help the company long term.

I figured reminding people that WWDC isn’t custom tailored to their personal whims might help slow down the rate of disappointed tweets I’d see later in the day. (Oh, who am I kidding? I just wanted to take a jab at them for my own amusement.)

But boy was I surprised when Apple actually did give me a couple of ponies during the show.

First up: Raise to wake/revised lock screen behavior in iOS 10. Readers will remember that I pontificated a while back for a few thousand words about the lock screen, which had become useless since the iPhone 6s gained faster Touch ID. I went as far as to call the immediate dismissal of the lock screen a bug in iOS 9. Clearly, Apple felt the same way. Not only can you now simply raise your phone up to activate the screen (eliminating the need to make an awkward stretch to the power button or use your thumbnail on the home button like a barbarian) but you must also now physically press home button down to unlock the phone, so you can’t lean your finger on the home button and accidentally dismiss the lock notifications. I can now read my lock screen again, and yet my phone can be unlocked just as fast as before. I couldn’t be more pleased about this.

Second: Apple Watch. I made a list of what I was hoping for in the next version of watchOS. And Apple delivered on a good deal of it. New watch faces, more configurability on the current watch faces, auto-unlocking my MacBook, changing the power button functionality. But the most important thing they gave us all was speed. Keeping your ten favorite apps in memory so they don’t have to launch as often was a brilliant way to eliminate everyone’s biggest pet peeve with the Watch—and without requiring new hardware. It’s safe to say there will be a lot of happy Apple Watch users come fall.

It’s also noteworthy that Apple didn’t eliminate the home screen of app icons from the Watch, as some had suggested. Because that doesn’t make any sense. Some called the new watchOS an “admission that Apple’s first attempt was all wrong.” I say they took a look at what worked and refined it, while eliminating a few things that weren’t working. Or in other words, they iterated, like they always do. I’m very excited about the future of the Watch. If it can be improved this much this quickly, there are bound to be a lot more innovations coming in the next few years.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg on what was announced last week. There are tons of little tweaks throughout all four operating systems and built-in apps that will make people happy come fall. (Check out Mail.app on iOS in particular for a few great examples.)

Now about that macOS vs. MacOS thing? Well, I can live with being wrong about that one. Though it still irks me every time I see it in print.

Breakpoint Studio

Sometimes, the timing of a thing just works. When I talked with Curtis Herbert a few weeks ago about wanting to expand my horizons with the client work I’ve been doing up until now, he immediately piped in that he was thinking along the same lines. We both wanted to do more than just design and build things for people. We wanted to share our business experience in mobile apps and services with others.

I’ve known Curtis for a long time. I know he’s a solid coder and designer with a good head for business. And I knew that we get along pretty well. But I had no idea that he wanted to expand his consulting work in addition to his apps business. It seemed like a logical move for me to help him with that effort.

The goal of Breakpoint Studio is not just to build some apps and services for customers, but to help them grow their businesses as well. We both have a considerable amount of experience and expertise to offer in this regard. I’m hoping Breakpoint can develop some true partnerships with companies looking to not just ship, but make sure what they ship makes it safely to its destination.

Check out the site at breakpointstudio.com. We’re offering a free 5-lesson course on avoiding some of software’s most costly mistakes. And if you or anyone you know is looking to build successful products or services, get in touch.

Some Thoughts on Coffee

Since professing my love for the Chemex on Release Notes a while back, I’ve been getting lots of questions about my coffee methodology. (Who knew a business tech podcast would have so many coffee drinkers in its audience?) So I figured I’d write up some thoughts here, so I have an easy place to reference for future inquiries.

First things first: This is not the path to the best coffee on earth. It’s the path to the best coffee for me. Once you get into any sort of food snobbery, be it wine, beer, whisky, coffee, or whatever, you realize that beyond a certain point, your preferences actually become very important. You can read the ramblings of experts for years, and they will never all agree on the one, canonical way to do anything. That’s because there are valid differences of opinion about these matters, especially at the expert level. And at any rate, you should never eat or drink anything a certain way only because someone else told you to. Food is for enjoying. Do what makes you happy.

There’s a great scene in For Your Eyes Only when Kristatos recommends a white Robolo wine to James Bond. Bond doesn’t say “No, that’s crap. Give me the Theotaki Aspero instead.” Instead, he says “Well, if you’ll forgive me, I find that a little too scented for my palate.” He’s not saying Kristatos is wrong. He’s saying he knows enough about his own taste to know that the recommendation is likely not going to suit him. Bond may be wrong about shaking his martini, but he knows how to pick a wine.

The point is, if you find this article informative, or if it inspires you to try something new with your coffee methodology, that’s great. I’m not trying to convert anyone. I’m just responding to the many people who are curious about how I go about my coffee ritual every day.

The Chemex

This is the model I use. Just the basic 6-cup. Not the expensive hand-blown version. I imagine that one is beautiful, but I can’t imagine it has any effect on the taste of the coffee.

I can’t put my finger on why I prefer the Chemex to the Aeropress; something about the openness of the flavor. There’s nothing wrong with the Aeropress; I use it in my travel rig, thanks to its more compact size and better durability for travel. But at home, I’m going to run to the Chemex just about every day.

I also own a French Press, which I will use from time to time for fun. But it’s messy compared to the Chemex, and the flavor, while a nice change up, doesn’t suit me as well on a day-to-day basis.

The Grinder

A burr grinder is very helpful for good coffee. The Baratza Virtuoso came on the recommendation of Marco Arment, who is seldom wrong about these things. I can add that I’ve had this unit for a few years now, and when the plastic piece that holds the burrs in place broke a few months back, I was able to get a replacement part in a few days for a few bucks. Baratza really stands behind its products, and this thing was designed to be repaired—not simply tossed away when things go wrong. I suspect I’ll be using this grinder for many years to come.

So while this may look pricey to some, there’s no question this grinder is worth the money ten times over. Anything you use every day for several years has to be worth more than a couple hundred bucks, doesn’t it?

If you’re not convinced, find yourself a much cheaper burr grinder. I started out with a simple blade spice grinder, and while it got the job done, I immediately noticed a difference when I switched to the burr. There are inexpensive burr grinders in the $30 range. And I’m sure they work perfectly well. Don’t let the cost of a grinder stop you from making good coffee. Most reputable bean sellers will also grind coffee for you if you ask. It’s not as ideal to grind the coffee all at once, rather than one day at a time, but it’s still better than not using fresh beans at all.

The Kettle

This is one area where I disagree with many coffee aficionados. A long time ago, a Japanese tea snob convinced me that hot water and metal are a terrible combination. There’s a reason the more expensive loose leaf tea pots are all ceramic, without a metal cage for catching the tea leaves. Metal is great for music, not so much for liquids. At least for me. Maybe you like coffee that has that metallic aftertaste. I use glass whenever possible for heating up my water.

For a while, I was using the Chemex glass kettle. This thing looks amazing; it’s in the MoMA for it’s beautiful design, in fact. But it’s a bit unwieldy and hard to keep clean in practice. Plus, heating up water on hot summer days via the stovetop makes the kitchen hotter. So I’ve moved to a glass electric kettle.

This one from Bella is reasonably priced and works great.

The Beans

As I mentioned on Release Notes, I subscribe to Blue Bottle for my beans. This started as a Tonx subscription, but Tonx was later bought by Blue Bottle. This scared me at first, as I feared there would be a loss in quality going from two guys in their LA garage to a bigger company like Blue Bottle[1] but they haven’t let me down so far. Every two weeks, I get a new bag of beans from various regions all around the world.

The thing I like about the bean subscription is that I get to try all sorts of varieties I probably wouldn’t try on my own. I’m very open-minded about the various places that produce good coffee around the world. I’m certainly not a “Kenya or bust” sort of person, by any means. If the beans are good, they are good. And the change in flavor every few weeks is welcome, given that I’m drinking this stuff every single day.

If I had to choose a favorite region, though, I’d have to say that the farms in Guatemala tend to produce my favorite beans. Other parts of Central and South America are also favorites. I’m not nearly as big a fan of African coffees, in general, as most coffee snobs are.[2] But again, I’m not going to say no to any good quality beans roasted properly. Your palette is yours. Drink coffees from everywhere and decide for yourself what suits you.

A note about “flavored” beans. French Vanilla. Honey hazelnut, etc. These are generally attempts to cover up lower-quality beans, or to sweeten-up the flavor of coffee, thus making coffee more appealing to a wider audience. It’s very similar to adding milk and sugar. Good coffee should never require any of these things. Coffee is not a sweet beverage, but neither is it particularly bitter.

I will repeat that. Coffee is not particularly bitter.

Burnt, poorly roasted coffee is bitter. Low-quality beans are bitter. Coffee that’s been sitting in a percolator all day getting reheated several times is bitter. If your coffee is coming out bitter tasting, there’s something wrong in the process.

I’m not saying no one should put milk in their coffee. But it’s sort of like putting ice in Scotch. Something you might do to make it more palatable early on, but something from which you eventually want to wean yourself as you develop a taste for the beverage.

I started my coffee drinking life with cheap Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with tons of cream and sugar. If I tasted that now, I’d probably reel from the sweetness bomb. Open your palette when trying high-quality coffee. At least try it without sugar or milk occasionally. Then work yourself down to drinking it black every day, if you can.

Black coffee has 0 calories. A Starbucks Caffe Mocha with whipped cream has 400 calories. Go with non-fat milk, or skip the whipped cream all you want. You’re never going to beat 0 calories in black coffee.

The Scale

I have the metal-top version of this scale, not the glass, but it’s the same basic model. I use it not only to measure the beans before grinding, but also while pouring the water into the Chemex. Water to bean ratio is extremely important for good coffee consistency. But again, this is a matter of preference. Don’t be afraid to experiment with more or less water to get the coffee to a place where it makes you happy. The “rules” are guidelines. As with any good recipe, you measure for consistency, not because a particular number that someone put in a book is magical.

The Timer

Shameless plug time: I actually use my own timer app, Fin, when making coffee every morning, though the app isn’t made expressly for that purpose. The reason is that I can set Fin to change the color of the entire screen at 30-seconds into a four-minute countdown. In the morning, before I’ve had my coffee, seeing a screen change to bright yellow is a bit more attention-grabbing than a number going from 3:31 to 3:30.

Why 30 seconds? The theory goes that freshly ground beans need to “open up” when they are first exposed to water. So you pour just a bit of water over the grounds and wait that 30 seconds before going all-in with the water. I have no idea if this actually has any real effect on the taste of my coffee, but I do it every day more as part of the ritual than anything else.

Once the 30 seconds are up, I pour in more water and let the timer count down the rest of the way to 0, so I know when the water should be completely dripped through the filter. Because I’m measuring the amount of water I’m putting in carefully, and because I’ve been doing this for years, I can count on the water being through the filter by 4 minutes every time. This is important, as coffee beans will start to go bitter if they are exposed to water too long.

The Mug

I use my trusty Apple mug from the Apple Campus Store in Cupertino, of course. Some days, I’ll opt for my blue Heath Ceramics mug, just for a change of pace. As long as it’s not metal, pretty much any reasonably-priced receptacle will do.

I don’t move around with my coffee often, so I don’t have a travel mug. If I’m leaving the apartment, I’ve already finished my coffee, or I’m heading to a cafe for my second cup and a change of atmosphere. Maybe because most travel mugs tend to be metal, I’ve never had any real motivation to find one that I like. I had a small glass thermos in my travel rig (until I accidentally broke it recently). But glass is difficult for travel. So I usually use whatever cups or coffee mugs are available to me at the hotels in which I stay.

My method

I start by measuring out my beans. One ounce is all I use. A lot of people will say that I don’t use enough beans, or I use too much water, etc. I don’t like my coffee super strong. I want to taste it; I don’t want it to punch me in the face. Like I keep saying, find a ratio that works for you.

The Baratza is set to the middle coarseness for Chemex, roughly somewhere around 21 clicks into the 40 available. Very slightly to the coarse side of the scale, in other words. If I’m doing Aeropress, I’ll move this to a 6 or 7—almost as fine as it gets. If I’m using the French Press, I’ll go in the other direction, out to 30 or 35. The Chemex uses a paper filter, so technically, you can go as fine as you like. But since you are not pressuring the water down, but rather letting it drip, it can take too long to drip through very fine grounds. That leads to the beans getting overexposed to the water, which means bitter coffee. Experiment until you find a coarseness that works for you.

I always grind my beans at the last possible moment. After measuring, I don’t grind right away. I just pop them into the hopper, and move on to filling my kettle with water. I filter my water at the tap, as my New York City apartment doesn’t have the cleanest pipes in the world. I just fill the kettle to the recommended max line, and heat it up.

Next, I get a filter ready. Once the water is just about boiling, I stop it, activate the grinder, then saturate my filter with a bit of the hot water. This helps get the filter into proper position, as it will move around too easily when it’s dry. Just a bit of water to wet it down, then pour out the excess water.

Then, the ground beans go into the filter, and the Chemex gets placed on the scale. I reset the scale to zero at this point, so I can measure exactly how much water is going into the Chemex. I start the timer, pour in just enough water to make the beans wet, then wait the 30 seconds for the blooming of the beans. Once the 30-seconds are up, I pour in water in a circular motion, slowly, until I fill up the upper reservoir. Then I wait for the water to drip down, and repeat, until I’ve poured about 35 ounces of water in. At that point, I know that any more water will likely overflow the Chemex. I move on to whatever else I need to do in the kitchen at this point, to wait out the remaining two minutes or so on my timer. Get some eggs started, read some articles on my iPhone. Whatever.

Once the four minutes are up, the filter can be removed, and the coffee is ready to pour. I get about three and a half cups out of the Chemex every day, which is good, since I’m not the only coffee drinker in the household. If you live alone, or you’re the only coffee drinker, you can make less, of course.

I usually wait for the coffee to cool a bit before drinking. One of these days, I’ll get a kettle that allows me to regulate the temperature of the water to be exact, but in the meantime, I don’t mind making it a bit too hot then waiting a minute or two to drink.

I use this cool glass topper to keep the coffee hot inside the Chemex between cups. Since I’m generally up earlier than others, this will guarantee that the coffee is still hot for the last person to pour.[3]

I generally only drink one cup a day at home. The older I get, the more sensitive I seem to get to caffeine. Not that it keeps me awake; I can still sleep fine right after having coffee. But it does make me anxious if I have more than two coffees in a single day. So I do one at home, and then another at a cafe, if I happen to be going out to work, which is quite often.

Cleaning

Cleaning a Chemex is even easier than an Aeropress. Just throw out the filter with the beans in it and give the Chemex a nice rinse after all the coffee is gone. It’s all glass, and there are no ground beans anywhere but in the filter. Once in a while, I’ll give it a more thorough cleaning with a brush, for good measure, but in general, a Chemex is about as low-maintenance as anyone could ask of a kitchen appliance.

I wish I could say the same of the grinder, which is a bit more challenging to clean.

All told, it takes me about 6 or 7 minutes of my morning to make coffee that rivals anything I can get in the best coffee shops in New York or San Francisco. And it’s significantly cheaper on a daily basis than a K-cup machine or going to a Starbucks every morning. Of all the things to get hard-core geeky about, coffee is one of the least expensive.

So that’s basically how I do coffee.

Traveling is another matter, and I will address my travel rig in a follow-up piece soon. Different equipment is required for packing into a small suitcase. But there’s no reason to suffer through hotel coffee when you are on the go. So we’ll have a look at what I use on the road soon.


  1. Unlike many Mac tech geeks, I never bought into the Blue Bottle craze when it became popular thanks to the shop near Moscone West. It’s good, and all, but hardly the best coffee in San Franciso. When I lived in the City, my favorite roaster and bean source was always Four Barrel in the Mission. I still make it a point to visit Four Barrel every time I get to San Francisco. They only do pour over during limited hours in the late morning/early afternoon, but it’s well worth the trip. Many non-coffee drinkers I’ve taken to Four Barrel over the years have told me they finally understood the coffee craze after trying a cup there.  ↩

  2. I consider myself a whisky snob, and I don’t like the peaty Islay malts nearly as much as most do, either. I think my palette is just different. Or maybe I’m just a contrarian at heart.  ↩

  3. This is critical. Do not reheat coffee. At least, not if you want it to taste good. If your coffee gets cool before you finish it, drink it cool. Or put some ice in it and try it as iced. Reheating will introduce bitterness into the flavor. You’re better off making a fresh batch if you really need it hot.  ↩

Double Drawing

The approach involved creating the icon twice: once as a textured 3D model, and again as a stack of Photoshop shape layers. This seemed nuts — doing twice the work for the same result. Yet there are benefits. The freedom to scale up an icon indefinitely without rerendering is among them. But, more importantly, the Russian “double-drawn” method affords a much higher degree of control.

(via John Marstall on Medium. Linked via The Loop)

This is very similar to the method I used on the Teleprompt+ 3 icon. I created a teleprompter in Cheetah 3D, lit it, rendered it out very large, then recreated the exact angles and shapes using vectors in Photoshop so that it could scale to any size. Then I could tweak the color and shading as needed.

Even with vectors for the final product, I needed to tweak every single icon size manually, of course.

 

Teleprompt+ icon