Mailbox vs Inbox

When Mailbox came out of IOS, I loved the simplicity of the app. It allowed me to do something with every email to get my inbox to zero. The biggest thing that I did with Mailbox was snooze messages and Mailbox made this very easy at it gave me nine simple options; Later Today, This Evening, Tomorrow, This Weekend, Next Week, In a Month, Someday, Desktop, and Pick Date. If I was not replying to an email right now, then my favourites were This Evening, or This Weekend.

Mailbox was later bought by Dropbox, which was concerning for me, but Mailbox has continued to improve and integrate into Dropbox. For example, now, if you connect Dropbox to Mailbox, when you set up a new client, the first thing you do it connect to Dropbox and then you Mailbox connections are populated.

What was Mailbox missing? For me, the biggest thing that Mailbox was missing was a web client that allowed me to process my messages like I would on my phone or tablet. They have come out with a desktop client for Mac and it is ok, but I would simply prefer a web based client.

And then, Google introduces Inbox. When Google introduced Inbox, it sounded like Mailbox, but with a web interface and on the surface, this was pretty much what Google built into Inbox. Inbox allowed me to process my email quickly and get to zero inbox, but it is not quite there.

First, Inbox on my phone is basically the same as Inbox in my web client. I love this feature, because when I am working at my desk, I do not want to have to answer email on my phone and you know, sometimes it is easier to answer emails on your computer versus answering them on your phone. This feature alone is almost the only reason that I use Inbox, but I am beginning to see too many issues and not enough innovation from Google to make Inbox better, so far.

Inbox does have Reminders, which seems like an early todo list manager, but again, not enough innovation here to get me to look at replacing Todoist as my task manager. Another interesting feature is something Google calls Highlights, which are tracking notifications for items in your email. Say, for example you order something on Amazon and you get a notification in your email with the tracking number of your shipment. Well, Google will then Highlight when the package will arrive. Another interesting feature that needs some work.

My biggest complaint is that it is not easy to delete messages in Inbox. You need to select them and then go into a menu to find the trash. In Mailbox, delete is always there in the main menu and a long swipe deletes a message. Clean and simple.

The next issue is when snoozing an email, you have a limited amount of choices from Inbox. You have; Later Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, Someday, Pick date & time, or Pick Place. Yes, I do like the “Pick Place” option as it works very well, but I am missing my favourite choices from Mailbox and the way the Mailbox formats the choices.

Finally, Inbox only work with accounts. I have several Google accounts and I can only use Inbox for It seems very limited. I keep looking to get to one email client and Inbox is not going to help me.

So, for now, I am going to switch back to Mailbox for all my Google accounts and see if Google puts some innovation into Inbox. I know that Inbox is early in its development and I am holding out for the promise of something better from Google.

Goodbye Remember The Milk, Hello Todoist

I have been using Remember The Milk (RTM) to track my tasks and reminders for several years. I even paid for it. I love how simple and flexible RTM is. I love the iPhone app. The app follows the simplicity of the web app. Everything that I can get in the web, I can get in the app. I define a search on the web, it shows up on the app. Beautiful!

With all the beauty in the RTM, RTM has one major flaw. It works horribly across timezones. I have never been able to use the RTM when I switch timezones. Tasks scheduled for today show up at a certain time during the day and when they repeat, it makes them even worse, and I start missing to do things because of the lousy support of timezones.

For the most part, I do not travel, but right now, I am traveling a lot across timezones and I am going to give up RTM, because it can not handle the timezones. So, I am trying a new task manager called Todoist. Todoist is the closest to RTM that I have found in a long time. The web interface is simple and the app matches the simplicity. I am currently struggling with how to set up repeating events, but getting the hand of the language that Todoist uses.

Todoist does support timezone shifting and does an okay job with it. It is not perfect, but 100% better than RTM. When I use the app, or web, in a new timezone, it asks if I have changed timezones and I can accept it. After accepting it, I sometimes have to sync my tasks once or twice before they show up for that timezone as if nothing happened, but it does get it right.

I am only a few weeks into Todoist, but with my travel across a few timezones, Todoist is clearly a winner over RTM.

Google Chromebook

Recently, I purchased a Google Chromebook. I was looking for a light, portable system to write a book on. I purchased the Samsung Chromebook. The Samsung Chromebook is a decent product, my main complaint is that in Canada, I can only purchase the “international version”, which has a very funky return key. In fact, I end up hitting “\” instead of the return key on many occasions.

Google Chrome OS is ok. Chrome OS is very limited, but for people that live in the browser, it is a perfect environment. Since I am using it to write a book, I use Google Docs, which provides an very nice word processor for writing in. Is it good enough to produce a book? I do not know, but it is good enough for what I need to write the book.

So far, all my writing has been where I have been able to get network connectivity. I have not tried to work offline with the Chromebook at this point. I am finding that the system works best if I log in and out of the system versus just suspending the system. I am not sure what happens when I do this, but I have a hard time opening documents when I have suspended the system for a day or so, but after logging out and in again, the documents open quickly.

What did I look at before I bought a Chromebook? I did a quick look at the low end Windows laptops in the same price range as the Chromebook, but I am not a Windows fan and was looking for something more light weight and Chrome OS fit that spot.

At the other end of the scale, I look at the MacBook Air. Yes, I have a MacBook Pro 15″, but felt that was too heavy to carry around to write on. As much as I would have loved to get a MacBook Air, at $999 Cdn versus $299 Cdn for a Chromebook, it was bit steep for a system I was only going to use to write on.

What about a tablet? I have an iPad and use it every day. I gave it a try for a bit and got a Logitech Ultrathin keyboard for the iPad. I love the format of the keyboard as the keyboard becomes a case for the iPad, but my fingers felt cramped on the keyboard. There is just not enough spacing between the keys for my comfort. I could have bought a normal keyboard and used it with the iPad, then I could not fit the keyboard in the small 11″ laptop bag that I am using today.

Would I recommend a Chromebook? It depends on what you are looking for. If you live in a browser for all you activities, then yes, especially if you want something light weight from a system and OS perspective. If you need applications more than your browser can support, then you need to look somewhere else.

Finally, if you are interested in the book I am writing, you can check out my personal blog. I post excerpts from the book there.

iOS 7 Beta 5

iOS 7 Beta 4 was here later than expected and then iOS 7 Beta 5 was here before I could even fully experience iOS 7 Beta 4. Either way, both Betas are improving the stability of iOS 7. I am enjoying the clean look and the nice icon changes in iOS 7 Beta 5 to make it even cleaner.

Please remember, this is a beta and stuff may not work as you expect. I am just letting you know what I have found for your information only.

So, what has improved for me, well, here is my list.

  • In iOS 7 Beta 4, I was able to start answering phone calls! Yea! I am glad that was fixed. It was just annoying.
  • In iOS 7 Beta 4,¬†Fantastical stopped crashing when I wanted to view items on my calendar.
  • In iOS 7 Beta 5, Skype is back and working. I could always use it for calls, but now I can get my messages on my phone.

Things that are still a problem.

  • Line2 has a problem with I make my initial call. I do not get my options to mute, hold, enter digits, but this problem is only with the first call. My second and third calls are fine. Strange bug.

New issues for me.

  • theScore, which I use to track my favourite sports teams, will not even start in iOS 7 Beta 5. I even deleted it and re-installed it and no luck.

Somewhat related issues.

  • When iOS 7 Beta 4 came out, Apple released a beta for iTunes and I lost my ability to use AirPlay within iTunes, except from an Apple Remote on my iPhone, where I can select my AirPlay device and then I get the ability to select AirPlay devices in iTunes until I set it to my computer and it is gone again.

I am so happy with iOS 7 Beta 5, I have taken the daring step of installing it on my iPad. I use my iPad more for business, so this is a big step for me. I am appreciating the look and feel more on my iPad after installing iOS 7 Beta 5. So far, it is going well.

Remember, this is a beta, use at your own risk!

iOS 7 Beta 3

iOS 7 Beta 3 came out two weeks after Beta 2. It was a welcome upgrade to Beta 2. Apple has continued to improve on iOS 7 and I again I warn people, this is a Beta and is expected to have issues. From Beta 2, the following has improved, or fixed:

  • Contact searches are working! You can search for a contact, edit it, and then search for another contact! Yea!
  • You can not access the first item on your lists! This is helpful on your phone favorites list – now I can call my wife on her cell phone.
  • iMessage is working between beta devices. I could iMessage my wife, but not my daughter, who was running beta 2.
  • Travel time to your next meeting has shown up on the notification screen. I have always seen how long it will take me to get home, but now I am seeing travel time to my next meeting.

Stuff that is still not working:

  • I still can not look at Skype messages. Like before, it crashes when you try to look at messages.

Other issues:

  • I use Line2 to make VoIP calls on my iPhone. When I make a call within Line2, I have lost all my options to mute, hold, keypad, etc., but when I receive a call, I have those options. Very strange. Update: if I place a call, hang up, and call back, I get my phone options. Stranger.
  • Instead of the standard calendar, I use Fantastical. I love the way it lays out my day, and the easy to adding events. In beta 3, I can not open an event. Anytime I click on an event, the app crashes.
  • Answering phone calls is a challenge. When a call comes in and I answer it, I get two calls; one answered and one on hold, though I can not talk to anyone, nor switch the calls. So, for now, I end up calling the person back.

Overall, a much better experience!

Remember, this is a beta, use at your own risk!

Perl versus Python

I love to program and have switched programming languages many times over the years. I mainly program in scripting languages these days as most of the programs that I want to do start out simply processing some data and then grow. I am always in amazement how long my programs are still running.

Anyway. I have done a lot of Perl programming, but for the past few years, I switched to Python. I find Python a much cleaner language with a better integrated object oriented space over Perl.

And, until recently, I was very happy with Python. I was recently running a multi-threaded program and wondering why it would not take advantage of all my cores on my i7 Macbook Pro. After doing some research, I found out that the issue was with Python’s Global Interpreter Lock (GIL). There are a lot of discussions on the GIL, but the bottom line is that Python is not able to take advantage of all your cores if you are doing a multi-threaded program.

So, what did I do? I wrote two similar programs; one in Python and one in Perl. These programs just spawned multiple threads and did some multiplication in a very large loop and it was very interesting what I found out. With one thread, Perl was about 8 seconds and Python was about 9 seconds. With two threads, Perl was still about 8 seconds and Python was about 30 seconds. For seven threads (one less than the number of cores on my system), Perl was about 11 seconds. It took about 20 threads in Perl to get to 30 seconds.

I am not sure what I will be writing my next program in, but it will clearly depend upon what I need the program to do.

iOS 7 Beta 2

I have been using the latest software from Apple for my iPhone – iOS 7. I started using it with beta 1 and beta 2 has been out for a few weeks now. Yes, it is early to use, it crashes, but I do love the changes that Apple is making in the software. The look and feel is fresh. There are a lot of little things that I love, like:

  • The new control screen. I can easily turn on and off things like Bluetooth, Wifi, and Airplane mode with one swipe up and click.
  • The updates to the notifications screen. The new main screen shows the weather, your next appointment, and the traffic to get to the next appointment and the rest of your calendar for the day.
  • The app switcher. I love the full view of the running app and swipe to kill and that you can get to the app switcher in landscape mode! Very cool.
  • The look and feel of the Apple apps are much cleaner. I like the new calendar, but still like Fantastical better.
  • The 3D look. When you tilt the phone, the icons appear to be floating over the wall paper.

Does everything work? Of course not. Here are some of the things that do not work for me and I only list them as a warning to people upgrading. I am sure they will be fixed in later versions, or updates to the apps.

  • Contact searches. Yes, they work, but after you search for a contact, you can not do anything else until you kill the contacts and go back in. This happens when you use the phone and search for a contact as well.
  • Problems with the first item on the list. Sometimes, there is no way to select the first item on a list, like in your phone favorites. The first item is below the title. This is fun when I am trying to call home from my phone (my first favorite).
  • Skype messages. Skype calls work, but do not look at your chat messages because the app crashes every time.
  • LastPass with Google Authenticator. There is no way to enter your Google Authenticator value when you log into LastPass. This is painful right now, because when I need to enter a password for an app, I need to go to another computer and then type in my complex passwords.

I am sure there are other problems, but nothing that I can pin down right now. Yes, it does randomly crash, like yesterday while on the phone, it crashed, I missed a bit of my call, but everything came back after a few seconds – even the call!

I am looking forward to the improvements that Apple will continue to make with the software!