I’m happy to announce that my first solo app is available on the App Store!
Toucan is an app for 2-factor authentication focusing on speed and simplicity. I made Toucan because as the prevalence of 2-factor authentication increased across all the services that I use daily, I began to grow increasingly frustrated using the mediocre offerings available. I bought one of the best smartphones on the market, but for something that I used every day I was being forced to endure outdated apps.
I knew that I could make something better. I wanted to be in and out as fast as possible, so I focused on glanceability which meant keeping information density high enough that you can see a respectable number of entries, but not too high that you’re overwhelmed.
View Toucan on the App Store!
I recently decided to purchase the new 10.5 inch iPad Pro, along with an Apple Pencil. I’ve been using it every day now for the past few weeks so I thought I’d share some thoughts on it, coming from an iPad Air 2.
The device doesn’t particularly feel bigger than an iPad Air 2 (because it mostly isn’t), but content and the keyboard is allowed to breathe just enough more that it feels much more comfortable to read on, and also to type on. The 120Hz refresh rate of the display is sublime, everything glides effortlessly. Does it help you specifically achieve anything? Probably not, but it made the 60fps iPhone 7 feel slow and clunky in comparison. In short: it’s an incredible luxury. The true tone feature, where the white balance of the display adjusts to match the ambient light temperature of the room in an effort to make the display mimic paper is an odd one. Most of the time you don’t notice it, which I suspect is the idea, but every now and again you notice that it just feels more natural, particularly if you’re coming back from another display.
The cpu is crazy fast, everything runs flawlessly. I’ve restarted it a couple of times, and it boots insanely quickly, not that it’s particularly important. You can be watching a twitch stream, looking up something in an email and catching up on slack all at the same time and the performance is the same as running those apps individually. I picked up affinity photo in the launch sale, it seems to comfortably perform better than Pixelmator does on my i7 2013 MacBook Pro. Perhaps not a fair yardstick for comparison, but it’s telling of what can be achieved on this device.
iOS 10 is great, and I personally don’t feel particularly stifled by it. You still have split view and popover, you still have great tablet apps designed for the platform. Pixelmator, slack, affinity photo, safari, mail, notes, numbers. These apps are all still great and work in the same way they always have.
In iOS 11 everything gets subtly better. Notes let’s you write notes without making a sketch, a subtle distinction that makes it much nicer to write notes on the go during meetings or classes. Mail lets you drag attachments around with reckless abandon, and signing a received PDF and sending it back can be achieved in seconds. Split view let’s you have the primary app on the left or right side, and you can change them at will. You can interact with the background app during slide over, and the slide over app can now also be placed on the left. Drag and drop is faster and easier than using a share sheet, though I feel like it could still be better somehow. It makes sense that the most new feature would have the most teething issues.
Nothing in iOS 11 is particularly ground shattering, but everything is just that little bit easier to the point that I find myself wanting to do some tasks on my iPad, even though my Mac may already be open and in-front of me.
Can the iPad Pro replace your main computer? Maybe. It depends what you do. If it can’t then it’s almost certainly not a limitation of the iPad itself, and likely only struggles to replace your computer in the same way Firefox struggled to replace internet explorer when dealing with legacy enterprise web apps. One day someone will write great iPad apps for software development and content creation, and we may be drawn to those.
For me the question is less can the iPad replace a Mac, and more are there enough tasks that are easier on the iPad for it to be worth it. The answer is yes. Managing photos, minor editing, making notes, reading the web, catching up on Twitter, emailing, making calls, chatting on slack, online banking, watching twitch and signing documents are all less effort for me to do on my iPad.
Funding Circle is a peer to peer lending service. The concept is fairly simple, you invest your money and they help you loan it to small businesses. The idea is that you can use microscopic amounts (£20 minimum) to mitigate risk, and secure a greater return than savings accounts whilst being more stable than securities. Using funding circle is outrageously simple. You throw money at them, then you can use this money to bid on loan requests. Once the loan is funded, you start getting paid monthly. If you're feeling particularly lazy (which I was), you can turn on an auto investor bot, which will buy a scattering of loans across all risk bands whilst also limiting your exposure to any one company.
There's another side to Funding Circle, there's also the loan market. The loan market is like eBay for loan parts, you can buy and sell pre-existing loans from other lenders. The potential for skimming is enormous, and people openly exploit it. Within hours of a new loan being funded there are often hundreds of loan parts available at a premium. The rationale for doing this is obvious. Traditionally you would hold the loan (and hence the risk) and after bad debt you might expect to make 7%. If you skim 0.1% from 5 year loans (the smallest premium you can charge) per day, you could see returns of 15% (Funding Circle charge their own 0.25% on the principal amount for a loan sale). For now though, they have no public API so personally skimming is impractical.
Finally, they seem to have a rolling offer where they give you and a friend £50 each if you loan £1000 within the first couple of months of registering after being referred (easy 5%!). If you'd like a referral, let me know 😉
I recently accepted a new job as a mobile developer at Multipie. I'm currently serving my (8 week!) notice period with my old company, but in the meantime they invited me out to join them at HACK²⁴!
HACK²⁴ is a hackathon local to Nottingham hosted by Tech Nottingham. The idea is to throw a bunch of people into a room, divide them in to teams, give them 24 hours and various challenges to see what they can come up with. There were 7 challenges and 1 bonus challenge available, and whilst teams can enter as many challenges as they want, we ended up entering just the one.
We were relatively unprepared and didn't have a solid idea of what we wanted to do whe we started, so we spent the first few minutes floating ideas around. Coming up with something to do is quite difficult, you want to do something that's fun, satisfies at least one challenge, and could perhaps be useful if developed fully.
Ultimately we decided to create a digital notice board. We had the idea of using iBeacons to have local notice boards that could be used by the likes of doctors offices, restaurants or museums to give patrons immediate access to digital versions of their documents. Surprisingly a quick google seemed to suggest that nobody has used iBeacons to do this before (at least generically). Inspired by Tim Cook recently tweeting this video about a nearly blind guy using his phone to zoom in on his physical school text books, we realised that this could have real world significant benefits for the disadvantaged.
This idea satisfied the requirements for the Esendex challenge which had a cool prize of a Sphero BB-8 droid for each team member! Motivated by the lure of a sweet robot, we got to work.
Adam started work on the iPhone app that would detect iBeacons, query the API and display the notice boards. Annie started designing the same app, and later the admin interface, coming up with a cool watermelon motif (Tech Nottingham loves watermelons = bonus points). I got to work building the API and the website to set up notice boards and post content.
I decided to write the API with Python/Django, mostly for 2 reasons. 1) As a swan song, since I'll soon cease working with Python or Django in a major capacity. 2) Efficiency, we only had 24 hours and I wanted to get as much done as we possibly could.
18 billion cups of coffee later, we posted our submission video which you can watch below.
Finally, it was time to reveal the winners. The room was tense, wave after wave of winners with awesome projects entered into other challenges were announced. Eventually it came to the Esendex challenge. We won! And for our prize, the room was subjected to Samuel L Ipsum passed through text to speech (also the sweet BB-8s too!).
If you're interested you can check out our code on GitHub
A few months ago, I decided to subscribe to Candy Japan. Candy Japan is a subscription service which provides a random collection of candy from Japan twice a month. It costs $25USD/month, which is about £15GBP in the Queen's money.
Most recently, I got 4 things.
- CalorieMate (カロリーメイト). Appears to be some sort of chocolate flavoured energy snack / meal supplement. “Naturally suited for people on-the-go who need an easy source of energy and nutirtion-at breakfast, work, sports, study, or any other busy time”.
- Wakuwaku zukan gummies (わくわくずかんグミ). The name means something like exciting picture book gummies. The gummies are apple and grape flavoured, and are in the shape of various stages of a frogs life cycle! On the back there's the name of each frog stage. とまご(Egg) > オタマジャクシ(Tadpole) > カエル(Frog).
- Yakisoba mayonaise sauce flavour? snacks (焼そば). They look like a pretzel flavoured snack, or maybe something similar to something in a balti mix. There also appears to be some mention of squid flavouring too. I think it says イカ粉練りこみ, but it's quite hard to read such small kanji to my untrained eyes.
- Finally I got Soft Ramune Balls (ソフトラムネボール). They're kinda weird fizzy sweets, with a taffy like part too. I really like the packaging on this, it looks really funky.
All this from half of a £15/month subscription. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me!