About Labelling (Kids’ Soccer Teams During a Tournament)

My son is refereeing a few games during a kids’ soccer tournament this weekend. He reffed his first two games last night.

When he went to the scorekeeper’s table after the games to report the scores, he reported the teams based on the colour of their shirts, the only quality he had to go with. The woman managing the scorekeeping table asked what “team number” each team was. Another young woman entered the conversation and referred to the teams by their sponsors. All of a sudden there were three labelling methodologies in play for these kids’ soccer teams:

  1. Shirt colour
  2. Team number
  3. Sponsor name

That’s pretty complicated for a soccer tournament for 7- to 9-year olds. It all got sorted out, but the conversation to communicate the final scores was like something out of an Abbot and Costello routine.

About Telus’ Base Voice Plans

If you want to get a phone from Telus (or any Canadian provider for that matter, I’m just talking about Telus because that’s the company I use) you have to start with a “voice plan”.

Voice plans start at $35 for a paltry 150 local minutes, and go as high as $60 for unlimited Canada-wide calling.

You add data plans on top of that. The thing is, to get a phone account with Telus you have to commit to paying at least $70 a month, and that has to include a voice plan.

That is crazy. It’s so expensive.

I had a look at my last bill and found I only made 11 voice calls. I’m at that $60 voice plan level, so each call cost me just shy of $6. Those are really expensive phone calls.

Most of the communicating I did, of course, was over data. Facetime, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, etc. That sort of stuff. Hangouts and Messenger both let you make outbound phone calls to landlines.

I could have made those voice calls over data, too, but I didn’t for whatever reason. But I could have.

In other words, I don’t need a voice plan. But Telus makes the voice plan aspect of my service the foundational element.

So here’s what I’m thinking of doing. Getting a SIM card from Virgin (because Virgin is cheaper than Telus and a trusted friend of mind in Vancouver swears by their service) and putting a Tablet Data Plan on it. I’ll pay a minimum of $5 for data service per month. The data fees go up as you use more. If you get as high as 5 GB, you pay $40 for that month. Like this:


Then I’ll subscribe to Line2. They provide data-based voice and texting services. For about $9 a month I can get a local number (yep, 867 area code) that includes unlimited Canada and US calling.

In other words, I’ll cut my mobile communications bill by about 60%. That’s huge.

I’m just testing Line2 now on a spare phone with a Tablet Data SIM in it. I’ll try to remember to report back as things progress. After a few days, though, it’s working well.

About Apple’s Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro

This thing is a unique typing experience.

  
And I kind of like it.

The folding nature of the device is initially awkward, but easy to master. Out of the box it was slightly disorienting, but you quickly find that the keyboard is somehow engineered to fold itself into one of its two positions — one for typing, the other for “viewing” — with very little coaxing. Getting it to fold back on top of the screen for protection and carrying also comes easily after a few first awkward tries. My 8-year-old nephew figured it out pretty quickly. He even thought it was fun.

I think there’s a third position to the keyboard — sketching — where you just flip the entire keyboard behind the iPad so it’s flat and easy to hold like a regular sketchbook.

Unfortunately, the keyboard offers no capacity for storing the rare, extremely expensive Apple Pencil. Huge shortcoming.

The feel of the keys when you’re typing is unusual. The entire typing surface is like a fabric that’s been drenched in some kind of plastic. It’s totally sealed up. There’s no spaces around the keys or anything for crumbs to collect in or water to spill in. But that surface is not just about protecting the device’s guts, it’s also part of the key mechanism. 

You can feel that there’s nothing under the keys pushing them back up. Instead, after each press, they pop themselves back up with the surface tension of that plasticy fabric. A regular keyboard is designed to push the keys back up after you press on them. These ones are pulled. The feeling reminds me of that big bubble in the middle of the old Trouble game. It’s very quick.

It’s flimsy. If you don’t have a solid surface under it, the keyboard will flex slightly as you type. It’s doing that now as I type with it on my lap. It’s not a huge flex, just a movement. It doesn’t impact typing performance, really.

The device is way lighter than the Logitech keyboard. Once you have it attached to the iPad Pro you barely even notice its added weight.

The Smart Keyboard is going to appeal to a different user than the Logitech CREATE keyboard. The CREATE will work best for someone who is ditching their notebook computer in favour of the iPad. Apple’s Smart Keyboard will win favour among native iPad users who want to enhance the functinality of a device they’re already familiar with.

About Storing the Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil costs $130. It’s incredibly hard to get. Right now there’s a 5 week wait to get one. It’s value is nearly incalculable since, for now, it’s effectively irreplacable. (Though on eBay you can currently buy one for about $500.)

Yet the Apple Pencil is really easy to lose. It’s slim and slippery. It fell out of my pocket yesterday when I sat down. It just slipped right out onto the floor, just like that.

I’m absolutely terriffied of losing this thing.

So, to try and alleviate my fears, I ordered an iPad Pro Dodocase yesterday.

  
I ordered this particular case for just one reason. It was the only case I’ve found on the market that provides a simple, effective solution for storing your Pencil.

  
Dodocases are usually pretty good anyway, but I’m desparate for a way to keep this ultra-losable device unlost. Of course, there’s no solution for integrating a keyboard into Dodocase, but I’m just so terrified of losing the Pencil that I ordered one anyway (Dodcase currently has a 35% off everything sale, and that was really the straw thay broke my wallet’s back). I’m hopeful that some third party will soon release an iPad Pro keyboard that doesn’t include an integrated case and can be used with existing cases. Fingers crossed.

Aesthetically, though, I prefer this similar leather folio case from Pad and Quill.

  
I would have ordered this one. But I was disappointed that they hadn’t included integrated storage for the Pencil as Dodocase had. Just a simple elastic loop is all it takes. It’s the more handsome option, I feel, but without the utility to store a Pencil I simply couldn’t consider it. I really do prefer its appearance, though.

Okay, now to go find that Pencil…

About the Logitech CREATE Keyboard for iPad Pro

This thing is an absolute beast.

  
It adds considerable mass to the iPad Pro, effectively turning it into a notebook computer. In fact, once you have the iPad Pro jammed into the case (and that’s the only way to describe how you install the iPad Pro, you jam it in there — and good luck getting it out again) you’ve pretty much doubled the weight of the device as a whole. And then the whole package literally becomes enormous. And, despite this mass, there’s nowhere to store a Pencil. Granted, not every iPad Pro owner will have a Pencil, but I expect most will. A case of this enormity should have a solution for stashing a Pencil.

And it’s not pretty. The fabric-y feel of the outside of the case feels more sort of kevlar-y, so it’s like you’re carrying around a bullet proof slab of metal. It’s not pleasant. And the seams, where the top and bottom of the case come together when you close it, are not nice, all sort of uneven. It looks especially ugly when it’s closed, sort of like a decrepit old clamshell.

Then opening that clamshell is about as hard as opening a real clam. It’s a struggle that requires two hands and a surprising amount of force. That’s mostly because of the weight of the iPad itself, but also because there’s some kind of magnet at work and the top portion of the case itself adds weight that you have to lift against.

The keyboard itself – the whole reason for buying this thing, I suppose – is great from a usability perspective. Logitech, not surprisingly, has nailed the size and feel of the keys. It’s one of the very best keyboards I’ve ever typed on.

But it’s noisy. Like, crazy noisy. Each keystroke makes a cruel pounding sound. It’s not a light clickety-clack, it’s more a dull, echoey whack-whack. The volume is such that I’m typing this beside my snoozing 12-year-old son and it’s waking him up.

I think of this case as a tank. It’s big, ugly, tough, and noisy. Clearly there’s some great technology here, but it demands refinement. You get the feeling Logitech rushed this thing out the door, and you can almost hear the designers in their organization weeping over how much better a device it could have been if they’d just had more time with it.

Oh well, next year we’ll see version 2, probably –hopefully, and it should be slighter, lighter, and quieter.

About the Apple Pencil

It’s not the best stylus experience ever. Just the best on an Apple device.

I had a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 for a while. That was the last Surface model that had a Wacom stylus digitizer. It was awesome. The default Surface stylus was alright, in the same way that the Apple Pencil is alright. But then I picked up this Bamboo stylus from Wacom.

  
I don’t think they sell it any more. 

Writing and drawing on the Surface Pro 2 with that stylus is the best stylus experience ever. In fact, writing on any Wacom-based digitizing surface with that stylus is great, even something like that Asus VivoTab Note 8, which is a great little Windows tablet that punches well above its weight.

 
I don’t think you can buy it any more, though. Too bad. It’s one of those devices that never got the attention it deserved, especially considering it cost under $300.

Anyway, the Apple Pencil.

It needs one of these things.

  
 Yeah, that’s one of those cheap rubber pencil holder things that kids use in grade school. It needs one because the shaft is altogether too smooth and narrow. Apple may have done that on purpose to open up new third-party accessory opportunities. Or maybe it’s just because I live in the most arid and cold city in Canada and holding on to an Apple Pencil with cold, dry hands is damn near impossible. I wish the shaft had some texture and was slightly wider; and perhaps not round but hexagonal like a real pencil.

But these rubber things are a cheap solution to the design shortcomings of the device.

Performance-wise, the Pencil performs about as well as the old Surface Pro 2. It’s better than the newer Surface Pro models, because the newer N-Trig digitizers that are in the Surface Pro 3 and 4 aren’t as good as the Wacom digitizer in earlier models.

But the Apple Pencil’s performance depends a lot on how developers have enabled support for the Pencil in their apps. Like, in the notebook app Outline, the Pencil is nearly useless. But in another notebook app, Good Notes, it’s impeccable; the Pencil is glorious.

So it seems that the Pencil is a great device, but app developers really have to work to correctly implement support for it.

It’s early days though for the Pencil. Overall, it’s a tremendously positive start. I just hope Apple improves on the physical design or lets third parties develop pencil devices. And I really look forward to how app developers will improve on what’s already a really good experience.

About Steve Jobs

(The movie.)

It’s remarkably good.

And it’s not the fact that it’s about Steve Jobs that makes it good. It’s just a really good movie.

There’s not a story, per se. There’s not really a beginning, middle and end. It’s more like a three-part symphony played out in pictures and words, that explores the themes of parentage, parenthood and being human.

You could literally pull Steve Jobs and Apple out of the movie and it would still be a riveting exploration of one man’s struggle to discover himself in light of his familial history, even as he alienates and rejects his own child, amongst the scenery and colour of the people around him.

The characters play more as muses and demons and angels in an almost Shakespearean way. This is Hamlet for our modern day, featuring a man seized with self-hatred and angst that he desparately tried to weave into something good and pure, all the while battling away the light that shines all around him.

This is not about Steve Jobs and his trials and tribulations as a corporate executive. Jobs is just the vehicle for a larger thematic framework. It’s about the struggle we all face to be human under extenuating circumstances.

How does one balance the motivation to succeed professionally with a child’s need to be loved by its parents? Do we stay at work for that meeting to advance the project, or do we attend the Remembrance Day ceremony that our child is performing in? Steve Jobs just happens to be the perfect case study for just such a question.

How do we reconcile friendship with the use of people? Are we hanging out with someone we know as an act of friendship, or are we simply managing a relationship to coerce support for some other interest? Jobs’ life story is the perfect extreme-example foil for this sort of conflict that many of us struggle with every day. 

I didn’t go to Steve Jobs expecting much. But it was one of the best cinematic experiences of my life. The writing was so tight, the direction tense and supple, the acting directly authentic and affective. More to the point, it was thematic to the point of allegory. This film wasn’t about Steve Jobs, it was about me. And you.

The story of Steve Jobs is tiresome now. Apple is such a big, ugly company now that none of us want to hear any more about it.

But this film deserves our attention. It’s a deeply moving story of what it is to be human in our age.

About the iPad Pro

I received my iPad Pro about a day ago and have a few early thoughts.

First, the obvious: it’s big. Part of that is due to the screen ratio. But it’s just really big.

The audio system in this thing is amazing. The highs are crisp and clear, the bass literally vibrates up your arms through your fingertips. You don’t need an external speaker system with the iPad Pro. The audio system is the best I’ve ever heard in a mobile device. Better than any notebook computer I’ve ever used, actually.

There have been complaints that the iPad Pro uses the old Touch ID. I prefer it. I find the Touch ID in my iPhone 6S Plus too fast. I prefer the response rate on this iPad Pro.

After a day of use, though, it’s clear that this iPad is not meant to be used solo. Smaller iPads suit just fingers well. The iPad Pro is something you can hold, easily, but its scale more than its weight make it something that works better propped up.

I like it, though. I’ve played around working with the split screen mode and enjoyed it.

But I guess that’s the main thing about the iPad Pro: it needs app support. The apps that have been updated with full iPad Pro support are phenomenal and highlight the incredible potential of this device. The apps that just scale up for the screen, though, emphasize the fact that the iPad Pro can’t be used that way. It needs to have apps updated specifically for its screen size or it simply won’t reach its full potential.

I’m sure that’s just a matter of time, though.