Introducing Taledancer

I’m proud to announce Taledancer, my new business for providing author-publishers everything they need to get from manuscript to published ebook.

One of the common complaints I see from new author-publishers is that they don’t want to learn all the skills necessary to be a publisher. They just want to write. The problem is that as many happily traditionally published authors will tell you, a publisher provides a lot of services apart from the actual writing that are necessary to produce a book. They design an eye-catching cover. They work with the author to edit and shape the manuscript into a novel. They proofread and typeset that novel. These are professional skills that not every author wants to learn.

Taledancer aims to provide those services for authors that just want to write. Come to us with a manuscript, and we’ll work with you to edit it, design the cover, format the ebook and post it to various online stores. We offer individual services and discounted bundles, so we can do as much or as little as you need. And in the coming months, we’ll also be offering new services like covers with completely original commissioned artwork and print book layout for CreateSpace or Lulu.

So if you’re an indie writer who wants to sidestep the technical stuff, or a midlist traditional writer looking for an easy way to get some backlist novels posted now that you have the rights back, drop by and take a look at what we can do for you.

Just write. We’ll do the rest.

ZAGGkeys Cover for the iPad Mini

Originally posted on my WordPress blog on December 7, 2013.

I’m really digging the iPad Mini. Like I said before, I think this is the ultimate writing machine. All the power of a full size iPad, but more portable. So it’s perhaps not a surprise that it didn’t take me long to try to turn it into a laptop.

I swung by the Apple Store and took a look at their keyboard offerings for the iPad Mini. I’m still pretty happy with Kate — my Logitech K810 — overall, but I was looking for something even more portable. Something that wouldn’t require a bag to carry. The only thing Apple carries in their stores like this is the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard for the Mini, and it didn’t impress me. It’s plastic, requires disconnecting it from the magnetic Smartcover-like hinge before sticking it in a slot with only one viewing angle to type, and because they needed room for the slot, the keys were cramped. I shrugged and went home. On the up side, I got in and out of the Apple Store without spending any money, which is rare.

Then as I was catching up on Amplified on the mighty 5by5 podcast network, Jim Dalrymple mentioned the ZAGGkeys Cover for the Mini. It seemed to solve a lot of the issues I had with the Logitech keyboard, and he picked up his in FutureShop, the Canadian version of Best Buy. So I thought it might be worth swinging by my local Best Buy to take a look at one in person. Before I went, I downloaded the Best Buy app and verified that they had some in stock. Remember when you had to just get in the car and go look? #likeananimal

For the most part, I’m very impressed. The keyboard is a smaller, improved version of the ZAGGkeys cover I had for my iPad 4. The big difference in this version is that it holds the iPad Mini by the edge in a rotating hinge like a laptop screen. Especially on a keyboard the size of the iPad Mini, this allows the keyboard to be much closer to normal size. Basically, it’s no worse than a netbook keyboard, and thankfully doesn’t try to cram the up arrow inside the right shift key, a common size hack a lot of portable Bluetooth keyboards used to use which made touch typing impossible for me, as every time I tried to capitalize a letter on the left side of the keyboard, I’d find myself typing in the middle of a word on the previous line.

Which isn’t to say this keyboard is without compromises. The 1, ;, ‘, and [ keys are half-width, and the apostrophe key in particular is causing me some trouble as I tend to overreach and hit enter when I mean to type a contraction or possessive. Tab is also moved down to share a key with Caps Lock, and dash, underscore, equal and plus are all bunched on a single key requiring the Fn key to get to the latter two. But all in all, I’m not having too much trouble getting adjusted to it. The key action and travel are up to ZAGG’s usual high standards, and the keyboard is backlit with 3 brightness settings and a variety of colors. I tend to leave it on white considering it’s a white and silver keyboard mated with a white and silver iPad.

There’s a row of special keys across the top, since this keyboard has the vertical space for them. The usual media control keys, copy and paste — but oddly, not cut — and keys for home, lock, dictation/Siri and showing/dismissing the on screen keyboard for more esoteric characters. There’s also a “world” icon on the Command key that when paired with the Fn key, gives you access to other language on screen keyboards. I pretty much just use this for emoji, but it’s nice to have.

When closed, the keyboard matches the iPad perfectly and really does make it look like the world’s thinnest netbook. The keyboard is about a millimeter thinner than the original iPad Mini fits snugly. The extra weight is noticeable, but is definitely preferable to carrying a separate, detached device like the K810. As I tend to leave the full size iPad at home as a media device, this means when I leave the apartment I’m generally only carrying the iPhone, the iPad/keyboard and maybe my Anker battery pack for recharging them both if I expect to be really busy or away for the whole day.

I’m also finding myself keeping the keyboard attached when holding the iPad in portrait orientation for reading, using the keyboard as the left half a hardcover book. The whole kit is surprisingly comfortable to hold this way.

I really only have one quibble. The hinge holds the iPad by friction, not magnets, and I noticed a hairline fracture in the plastic on the outside edge. I was going to exchange it at Best Buy, but when I got there I took a look at two of the other devices on the shelf. Each had a similar fracture in the same place, and one had two. So it looks like it’s a very minor design flaw that I’m just going to have to live with. So far it hasn’t been a problem, but it’s something I’m going to watch out for.

I’ll also note that because the keyboard holds on to the iPad by friction and has a pretty tight grip, I’ve heard it doesn’t work so well with the just fractionally thicker retina Mini. But if you have a first generation iPad Mini and you’re looking for a quick and portable way to get some real writing done with it, I heartily recommend the ZAGGkeys Cover.

The Prompt and why I can’t use OmniFocus

On this week’s “The Prompt” on the mighty 5by5 podcast network, Federico Viticci and Mike Hurley discussed using URL schemes to make and use advanced workflows in iOS. It’s a great discussion, but what really got me thinking was Ticci pointing out that while Apple talks a big game about this being the “post-PC” era, they don’t really give a lot of visibility to people who really use an iOS device as their primary, even sole, computer.

I’ve been running into the same mindset with OmniGroup, a developer who has been making OS/X apps since OS/X was NeXTstep. They make a GTD-oriented task management app, OmniFocus, that’s widely considered to be the bee’s knees by all the productivity gurus.

The problem, though, is that while the iOS versions of OmniFocus are priced as premium iOS apps (I’ve paid $20 for the 1.x verison for iPhone, another $20 for the 2.x version for iPhone and $40 for the iPad version), they are missing crucial features (namely, the ability to create saved searches, or “perspectives”, something the iOS version of Evernote has done perfectly well for years) that you only get if you also have the Mac version (which I believe costs $80).

This isn’t about money, or at least not directly. I don’t have a problem paying for a tool I get a lot of use out of. But it seems to me that, like Apple, OmniGroup talks a big game about iOS but doesn’t really mean it. They’ve been coding for OS/X so long, they just assume you use a Mac. And their iOS apps are crippled because of that assumption.

As it turns out, I don’t use a Mac. And I have no intention of buying one just to run OmniFocus. I’ve already spent $80 on OmniFocus and I’m staring down another $40 when the iOS 7 redesign for iPad comes out. And for my $120, I get a watered down solution that doesn’t really work as advertised. Hell, you have to have the iPad version just to do a proper GTD weekly review; the iPhone version lacks that feature. And neither allow you to create perspectives, meaning switching “head spaces” is an arduous process where you have to set your view settings all over again every time you move on to something else.

I’ve asked OmniGroup about this and generally gotten the brush-off. They have no intention of fixing this feature gap between the same product on different platforms, and they tend to seem baffled as to why I don’t just use the Mac version.

And for as much as OmniFocus does well, so much better than the competition, I think I have to accept that they don’t write software for me, or others like me. They make iOS software, but they don’t really understand post-PC computing. I don’t want a Mac. I want to use my iPhone, or iPad, whichever seems better for the job at hand, without compromises if I choose the smaller, more portable screen.

Are developers out there listening?

No Outlet Required

For years— and years— my life has been plagued by power outlets. Or, more specifically, the lack of them. Even for my AAA battery-based Hanspring Visor I carried a spare pair of NiMH batteries in my pocket, but once I transitioned to color Pocket PCs that had to be recharged over USB, I’ve spent the first second or two in every new room I entered looking for the power outlets just in case I needed to recharge. My laptop-toting friends have specific places they have to sit so that they’re in range of an outlet. We even tend towards places with crappy WiFi (talking to you, Panera) because outlets are easily accessible.

Well, no more. Not for me. Aside from overnight charging at home while I sleep, I’m cutting the cord.

In my pockets, I have:

  • iPhone 5S, silver, in a…
  • Mophie Juice Pack Helium, silver
  • Plantronics M55 Bluetooth earpiece

This is my bare minimum gear. As you’ll see below, the Helium augments the 5S just enough to get me through most days without plugging in.

If I’m expecting to be out longer than a quick errand or two, I’ve got my tiny backback (a CamelBak MULE with the water bladder pocket used for iPad storage) packed with:

  • iPad 2 (WiFi only, hence the need for the MiFi below)
  • Logitech K810 “Kate” keyboard (yes, I named my keyboard)
  • Kindle Paperwhite (also WiFi only)
  • Verizon Jetpack MiFi 5510L
  • Reserve Mophie Juice Pack Air for my iPhone 5S
  • Reserve Apple blue leather case for my iPhone 5S
  • Apple EarPods
  • Apple Dock Connector cable for charging the iPad
  • Amazon Kindle microUSB cable for charging literally everything else
  • Anker 18W 2-port Turbo USB AC adapter
  • Anker Astro3 12,000 mAh external battery charger

The iPhone 5S is my primary device, and it sits in the Mophie Helium by default. I let the battery run down, and then when I get the 20% warning I turn on the Helium and that charges it back up to somewhere in the 70s. Most days, it never gets back to 20%. If it does, I can switch to the Juice Pack Air in my bag, or just charge it from the Astro3. I’m taking the whole kit with me to MileHiCon here in Denver next weekend, where I expect to have the extra drain of really crappy cellular signal, keeping the radio searching constantly.

The real key to this is the massive 12 Amp/hour battery on the Astro3. That’s nearly eight times the capacity of my iPhone. I can charge every piece of gear I have at least twice over from the Astro3, and when/if I need to charge it, I can charge it and the iPad (or anything else) simultaneously from the Anker AC adapter in an emergency. So there’s really no need for me to even look around for AC outlets when I walk into somewhere new. It doesn’t matter. It’s effectively impossible for me to use more power than I’m carrying with me in a 24 hour period. No more plugging in gear just in case I find myself without power later. All battery, all the time. At least until the Astro3 gets down to about a quarter charge, at which point I’ll plug it in and let it charge back up while I sleep.

And ironically, since I no longer have any incentive to keep my devices “topped off” all the time, spending most of their time between 80% and 100% charged, their batteries should have longer lifetimes. Lithium batteries get their best overall longevity from being between 20 and 80 percent charged most of the time. This way they’ll wear down naturally over time rather than the quick burn of trying to stay constantly ready to be used but not actually used.

Torn Between Two iPhones

And feeling like a fool.

I had it all planned out. I was going to buy the Verizon 32GB iPhone 5s on the morning of the 21st (a Saturday, and I have to work Friday so I’m not standing in line). I mean, why wouldn’t I? I have a black iPhone 5 now that I own outright, and I’m eligible for a Verizon upgrade. With Apple’s new trade in program, I’m looking at getting over $300 on an Apple Store gift card for my 5, which I can then turn around and upgrade to my new Precious.

And the 5s has a lot going for it. It fits the Mophie Juice Pack Air that I already have for my 5. Touch ID would finally allow me to use a 1Password-generated password for iTunes. The camera’s good enough in low light that I actually might start taking pictures in my dimly-lit man cave. And the A7 processor is future-proof, at least for the 2 years I’ll own the phone.

And I’m serious about the 2 years. I’m too good at math to fall for Verizon’s rapid upgrade scam, and they don’t offer 18 month upgrades anymore. I know common geek wisdom is to always buy your phones off contract anyway, but that makes no sense on Verizon, where you’re paying the same monthly rate whether they’re subsidizing your phone or not. May as well make them eat that cost.

Then I actually watched the launch videos for the 5c and 5s, and I noticed something.

Apple wants people to buy the 5c.

Previously, Apple phone pricing has followed a cascade pattern. This year’s new hotness starting at $199, last year’s model $100 less, and 2 years ago’s model free on contract. Objectively, last year’s model has always given you the best bang for the buck, since it’s proven and there are lots of accessories available for it, but it’s not yet out of date and sluggish on the latest version of iOS. But most people don’t look at it objectively. They see last year’s model as last year’s model, dated and out of style.

This year Apple has turned that on its head. The 5c really is last year’s model, under the hood. Other than a 5% larger battery and better selfie camera, it’s identical hardware to the now-discontinued 5. All Apple has really done here is kept the previous cascade pattern while giving the year-old hardware a facelift to make it look new.

But for the mainstream market, that’s enough. Apple’s usual sales numbers look something like this in terms of units sold:

  • New 60%
  • Last year 30%
  • 2 year old, free on contract 10%

With the introduction of the 5s and 5c, I think we’ll see something more like:

  • 5s 20%
  • 5c 70%
  • 4s 10%

The c is the mainstream choice, the s is for premium buyers and geeks. Which means despite the c sporting only a 32-bit A6 processor, I think Apple will be careful to keep it well-supported for at least 2 years. They’re going to have a lot of them in circulation. I expect the 5c to be the best-selling iPhone ever.

When I walk into the Apple Store on 21 September, I’m going to have a bit over $300 to play with from trading in my 5. I could spend that on a 32GB 5s and hold off on AppleCare+, or I could get a 32GB 5c with AppleCare+.

And I’m leaning towards the 5c.

The polycarbonate-over-steel construction of the 5c is much more durable than the 5s, and that matters when I’m looking at spending the next 24 months with it. I’ve managed not to crack or badly scratch my 5, but I’ve only had it about 6 months. And adding the peace of mind of AppleCare+ and having 2 replacements (each carrying a $80 deductible, but that’s doable) if I crack the screen or dunk it accidentally just extends that durability. The 5s, on the other hand, would not only be more fragile and uncovered, but also has the new Touch ID sensor in the home button and a larger camera lens to break. The home button is the most problematic piece of an iPhone as it is. Who knows how adding a fingerprint scanner is going to affect that from a reliability standpoint?

The camera on the 5s is much better, but I don’t take a lot of pictures. Realistically, I doubt having a better camera would really change that habit. It would be a different story if I had kids, but I don’t.

The M7 “motion coprocessor” in the 5s is cool, but I bet the iWatch that debuts next year will have an M7 chip of its own. Not sure it’s necessary in the phone itself.

And the A7 is great, but the 64-bit processor is really only useful for games and photo editing at this point, with the phone itself still under 4GB of RAM. And I don’t play a lot of games or take a lot of pictures. In 2015, when it comes time to upgrade again, 64-bit will be a much bigger deal. But for now, and especially with the mass volumes of 32-bit 5c iPhones out there, I don’t see many developers optimizing for 64-bit or going 64-bit only. That would be as silly as releasing an app only for the iPad instead of universal, and snubbing all iPhone users. I mean, who does that?

And while I do love technology and the new shiny, I’m not sure I need all that in my phone. I think the advantages of having a effectively indestructible phone as my daily driver (factoring in the replacements if anything really bad happens to it), and next month buying a new retina iPad mini with an A7 chip for the heavy lifting, far outweighs betting on spending 2 years with delicate, untested technology.

The 5c is everything my iPhone 5 is, but more durable, better for selfies and with a 1 year fresher battery than my 5 (li-ion batteries lose capacity as they age). Worth a “free” upgrade, especially with AppleCare+ thrown in as well.

Now I just have to decide which color to get.

Elop won’t run Microsoft, or at least not for very long

It’s hard to run a company the size of Microsoft from a jail cell, and the more I think about the Nokia deal, the more I think that’s where Elop is inevitably headed. His entire tenure at Nokia is starting to look like a massive, multi-billion dollar scam.

A high ranking VP of a corporate giant becomes the new CEO of a company in a different business, in a different country. He doesn’t sell his home in Seattle, nor does his family move with him, even though he’s ostensibly going to be there permanently. Over the next three years, he makes counterintuitive decisions that abandon his new company’s core strengths, and their value plummets to a tiny fraction of what it was. Meanwhile, he maintains close ties to his former company and many of his decisions benefit them, arguably at the expense of the company he’s supposed to be leading. Then, with the market cap on his new company as low as it can get before bankruptcy, his old company swoops in and buys them, allowing the executive to “return” to his original company with resources they couldn’t have afforded before his tenure.

How does Elop not get sued into oblivion by Nokia shareholders, even if he manages to avoid criminal charges?

During his tenure at Nokia, Elop had an option. Symbian obviously wasn’t going to be a contender in the modern smartphone market. He could go with Windows Phone, from his buddies at Microsoft, or Android, which was free. He went with Windows Phone, “differentiating” Nokia damn near into bankruptcy.

But here’s the thing. An honest and competent CEO would have gone with Android. Why? Because of what Nokia was good at. Nokia’s strengths, historically, were build quality, distribution and design. If those are your strengths it’s to your advantage that everyone (except Apple) run the same OS. Then everyone has a level software playing field, and you have the better hardware. You win.

Elop threw those advantages away by locking the Lumia line to Windows Phone, a sad mess of a platform even after the botched transition from Windows Phone 7 to the completely incompatible Windows Phone 8. How many times do you see an ad or billboard with little App Store and Play Store logos near the bottom to download the app for whatever they’re pushing? Do you ever see a third logo for the Windows App Store? No, you don’t. There’s a reason for that.

Simply put, Elop did not fulfill his fiduciary responsibility to Nokia shareholders. He prioritized the needs of Microsoft over Nokia, and I think that’s because he never really stopped working for Microsoft. I think he was a Trojan horse, and the plan going in was to soften Nokia up for acquisition. There should at least be an investigation before the conquering hero returns to Microsoft.

So if Elop isn’t going to be the new Microsoft CEO (and he shouldn’t; if my supposition above is wrong then he was at best grossly incompetent), who should be? I have three suggestions that I’ll get to in another post.