Some Photos Taken With an iPhone 7

I only received my iPhone 7 yesterday so I’ve not been able to put the camera through its paces, though the few shots I’ve managed to take so far have been magnificent. The quality certainly isn’t close to my DxO One, but the iPhone 7 is far superior to my previous 6s Plus—especially in low-light conditions.

The first two photos, hosted at 500px, were edited using a combination of Photoshop Express, Pixelmator, and Snapseed1. While these have been edited, no attempts at noise reduction were made with the night shot of Manhattan. I’m very impressed with how well the iPhone 7 performs in low-light conditions.

The last photo, posted on Instagram, is unedited and unfiltered.

Manhattan Nights by Jordan Merrick on 500px.com

It's a dog's life! by Jordan Merrick on 500px.com

  1. I’ve been editing photos entirely within iOS, using apps like these, ever since iCloud Photo Library was first made available. I can’t even remember the last time I opened Photos on my Mac, let alone edited a photo with it.

Upgrading an AirPort Extreme's USB Hard Drive Used for Time Machine

There are two Macs in our home using Time Machine to back up to a 1TB USB hard drive connected an AirPort Extreme 802.11ac. After the painful process of changing the country of my iTunes Store account when I moved to the US, I was forced to keep a local copy of all the movies and TV shows I had purchased. This is backed up as well, so the 1TB drive began to run out of space.

The drive would soon need to be replaced with something bigger, so I purchased a 2TB Seagate Expansion portable hard drive. However, I didn’t want to just swap the drive connected to the AirPort Extreme and start backing up the Macs from scratch–I wanted to retain the existing backup history1. The AirPort Extreme’s Time Machine support has had a spotty history so I was a little wary about whether it was even possible to even do.

After a search online didn’t yield any meaningful results, I decided to wing it and see if I could just plug both drives into my Mac. Turns out, this works perfectly. Here’s what I did:

  1. Make sure both the USB disk attached to the AirPort Extreme was not mounted on either Mac
  2. Disconnect the USB drive from the AirPort Extreme
  3. Connected the new USB drive to the Mac and created a single HFS+ volume named Time Machine (this is the same name as the existing USB drive)
  4. Connected the old USB drive to the Mac, then copied the disk images to the new drive

Both drives, along with my MacBook Pro, are equipped with USB 3.0, so I left the Mac for a few hours to copy 800GB between the drives while I ran some errands. Once this was finished, I then connected the new USB drive to the AirPort Extreme and restarted the base station2.

After the AirPort Extreme powered back up, I started a Time Machine backup on my Mac. The backup worked flawlessly, creating an incremental backup and not, as Time Machine does when it thinks something is amiss, start an entirely new one. I could also view, and restore from, any part of the Time Machine backup history.

  1. I also had plans to use the outgoing 1TB drive for something else.

  2. I don’t think restarting the base station was necessary but it was worth doing, just to be on the safe side.

The DxO One

I’ve owned a variery of cameras over the last ten years, from bulky DSLRs like the Nikon D50 to the much more pocketable Sony NEX-3N, but I’ve never enjoyed carrying a separate camera around. It was always another device to carry, something else to remember to bring. For the last couple of years, the only camera I’ve been using is an iPhone.

After moving to the U.S. earlier this year, I’ve been tempted by the thought of a dedicated camera to take better shots than the iPhone is capable of, especially in low light. However, I still didn’t want something else to carry. With that in mind, I decided to purchase the $479 DxO One after reading some favorable reviews.

DxO One

DxO One

The DxO One isn’t like any other digital camera–it has a built-in Lightning connector and is designed as a a companion for the iPhone or iPad. Since most of the typical camera functions are offloaded to the iOS device and companion app, the unit itself is extremely small and feels more like a tiny battery pack than a fully-fledged camera.

When the camera is connected to an iPhone using the Lightning connector, the appearance of the two is reminiscent of one of the first digital cameras from Casio. It can also pivot around 60 degrees in either direction. The DxO One has a 1-Inch 20.2MP sensor, the same one found in the popular Sony RX100 III, and a 32mm equivalent fixed lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8. There’s full support for PASM modes, and the camera even shoots RAW. There’s even microSD card slot to save these to, though JPEGs are automatically synced to the iPhone1.

After using the DxO One for a week, I’ve been completely blown away with the quality of the shots it produces, especially in low light. It even works with a Bluetooth remote camera button I bought for less than $20 to use with my iPhone, so long exposures are super-easy to perform. Here are a few examples from my 500px gallery, edited using Adobe Photoshop Express (click through to view more detailed information about the camera settings for each photo):

Lower Manhattan by Jordan Merrick on 500px.com

Lazy dog! by Jordan Merrick on 500px.com

Jersey City streets at night by Jordan Merrick on 500px.com

Happy dog! by Jordan Merrick on 500px.com

The DxO One certainly isn’t cheap and there are many point and shoot cameras that offer more functionality for less money. There’s no optical zoom and it’s video recording capabilities are overshadowed by the 4K support the iPhone offers. But there’s no other camera that works as seamlessly with the iPhone as this. The DxO One’s portability, ease of use, and regular feature updates makes it one of the best cameras I’ve ever had2, and it’s perfect for my needs. It’s so small and light that there’s never a question about whether I want take it somewhere–it just comes with me.

DxO have recently announced a range of new accessories for the DxO One, such as a waterproof casing and optical adapter, further expanding its functionality. If you use an iPhone and want to take higher quality photos but, like me, don’t want to carry a whole other camera around, I urge you to check out the DxO One.

  1. Now that iOS 10 supports RAW photo editing, I’m hoping that a future update to the DxO app will allow for syncing of RAW photos as well.

  2. The DxO One will gain full Wi-Fi connectivity in a few weeks so it can be used with its companion app without needing to be physically connected.

Castro 2 →

A superb podcast app from the fine folks at Supertop. I loved the original version of Castro, and the new version’s Inbox / Queue / Archive feature sounds fantastic. I often find myself swamped with too many new episodes that I know I’ll just never listen to, so being able to cherry pick the ones I want to catch up on is perfect for me.

Hyper →

An app that describes itself as HyperCard for the modern age, Hyper is an organizational tool for iOS, macOS, and Apple TV. It just launched and is in public beta, and I’ve been very impressed with what it can do so far.

“Stacks” can be shared with other users within the app, or on the web in a read-only fashion. The developer has even created an API to export data in a variety of formats (which I’m already considering building some workflows for). Users can also post comments and ratings (if you use these) so it’s shaping up to be a decent collaborative tool for small groups.

The demo Foodr stack is a good example of what this app can do, but I encourage you to play around and see what you can create.

Hyper is brand new so it’s a little rough around the edges and doesn’t support a wide range of block formats. Considering it’s an app that only just launched, there’s a lot of promise. This is one app I’ll be keeping my eye on.

(Via Hacker News).

Watermarking Images With Workflow

Although Workflow doesn’t currently have a built-in action specifically for watermarking, there are a couple of ways to accomplish this with just a little preparation.

Using the Edit Image action

Workflow has a capable image editor built-in already, powered by Aviary, which is invoked using the Edit Image action. There’s a text tool within Aviary that provides control over the placement and style of text in an image. The only drawback is that the text cannot be automatically specified–it has to be entered each time.

A workaround is to include a Text action with the text to use, then have Workflow copy it to the clipboard before the rest of the workflow Is run, as shown in this example workflow. All you then need to do is paste it into the editor’s text input field.

This method works great if you just need to occasionally watermark an image. If you want to fully automate the process and/or work with multiple images, there is a better solution.

Using the Overlay Image action

It’s possible to create a workflow that can automate the entire process of adding a watermark to images using the Overlay Image action, a more recent addition to Workflow’s collection1. This particular action is very customizable, providing options for the dimensions, location and angle of the overlaid image2.

Although Workflow cannot generate an image file from text, we can just create one in advance and use it within the workflow. I created a watermark in Pixelmator and saved it as a transparent PNG (delete the background layer before exporting). I recommend making the canvas size (and text) suitably large, around 2000-3000px wide, so that it can be used in images of all different sizes (Workflow will resize the image down accordingly).

With a watermark already created, it’s simply a matter of overlaying the watermark onto the target image. At this point, we could use the Overlay Image action’s option of Show Image Editor and manually drag and resize the watermark, but we can do better than this. Instead, Workflow can get the height of the target image, then set the size of the watermark to a proportional height.

In this example workflow, I’ve specified that the watermark be placed on the lower-left, at a height of 10% of the target image. The width is automatically scaled, and the opacity is set to 90%. The watermark is stored in the /Workflow directory on iCloud Drive, as workflow.png.

The entire process is fully autonomous and works with multiple images. You could take this workflow even further and include options for selecting whether a black or white text overlay should be used, as well as varying the angle and location of the text (if you prefer a full-size diagonally-placed watermark, for example).

  1. This action was added to Workflow 1.4.4.

  2. It basically made my Screenshot Builder workflow obsolete.

SCK 0.3 Now Available →

I’ve released a minor update to the Stripe Checkout for Kirby plugin that adds an option to specify a default charge amount and description that can be used to place SCK anywhere on your site, and have the same amount be used to create a charge. This is something I originally created for Workflow Directory to add a “Tip Jar” button site-wide, without having to specify an amount on every single page it would appear on.

The plugin is available from GitHub, either by cloning the repository or downloading a ZIP of the latest release.

Some Workflows for Working Copy

Back in March, I wrote about how I manage updates to this website with Git and iOS, thanks to the app Working Copy. I only touched upon the URL scheme that the app provides, as I began writing blog posts directly within the app.

Since then, I’ve created a few workflows based upon the apps’s URL scheme to better serve my needs (I now use Ulysses to write blog posts), and demonstrate how powerful an app Working Copy is.

Basic workflows

  • Initialize a new repository: Initializes a new repository containing an empty README
  • Pull all repositories: Performs a pull command to fetch and merge changes (from origin) on all repositories within Working Copy
  • Pull repository: Performs a pull command to fetch and merge changes (from origin remote) for a specific repository within Working Copy

Ulysses blogging workflow

If you’re wanting to replicate some of my process of writing in Ulysses and then sending that content into Working Copy, you can download a copy of my current workflow. The workflow is an Action Extension that is run from within Ulysses (making sure that the exported text is being viewed in Markdown format). A few things to consider:

  • This has been specifically tailored to my blogging setup, so you’ll very likely need to make some fundamental changes, and much of this workflow may not be necessary. However, this workflow can still serve as a good starting point for a Ulysses & Working Copy combination.
  • The title of the blog post should be in a Markdown H1 tag, as this is sets the name of the blog post when exported but is stripped from the text as its processed by the workflow1.
  • Speicfy whether the blog post is a linked post or a normal one. If it’s a linked post, all the links are displayed in a list. The one selected is used as the post’s link.
  • Images used within a blog post aren’t currently supported. I haven’t got around to this just yet as my existing image workflow that operates outside of Ulysses is still something I use, and I rarely use images within blog posts. This is something I’ll be working on, eventually.

With that, you can still test this workflow and see exactly what it does by creating an empty repository within Working Copy and updating the repository name within the workflow.

  1. This is only necessary if the title of your blog post is handled by your blogging platform in a specific way. If you want to retain the title, or you don’t use one within the body of your post, you can remove this entire section. Credit for the Regular Expression syntax goes to Federico Viticci.

Apple Discontinues the Thunderbolt Display →

Jim Dalrymple:

Apple on Thursday told The Loop that it is discontinuing the Thunderbolt Display.

“We’re discontinuing the Apple Thunderbolt Display, said an Apple spokesperson. “It will be available through Apple.com, Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last. There are a number of great third-party options available for Mac users.”

Judging from the last part of the statement, it doesn’t seem likely that Apple will replace the display in the near future.

Apple doesn’t usually announce the discontinuation of products, so this very public statement is a deliberate move to extinguish any hope of a new display. This is a company that prefers to EOL a product as quietly as possible. Apple didn’t reach out to news sites when they killed off the 17” MacBook Pro or the iPod classic, but this time it’s different.

The Thunderbolt Display wasn’t exactly cutting edge, as Stephen Hackett points out:

The display never saw a hardware update, even after MagSafe 2 replaced the old charging standard, not to mention when Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 started showing up on Macs of all sizes.

Despite this, it’s still a product that enjoys some popularity. Look around any office space that has a heavy Mac user base and you’ll find a Thunderbolt Display attached to most of them. I’ve no doubt that the Thunderbolt Display’s biggest customer type is the IT department. As such, IT departments need to know they have a procurement process and stock availability that can be relied upon. Apple couldn’t just silently axe their display and leave people wondering what was going to happen next–it had to be loud and clear.

You Don't Know (Headphone) Jack

There’s been a resurgence of the rumor that Apple is going to drop the headphone jack in the next iPhone. The significance of this change, whether there is truth to the rumor or not, has resulted in a few opinion pieces on the subject.

Nilay Patel, “Taking the headphone jack off phones is user-hostile and stupid”:

Look, I know you’re going to tell me that the traditional TRS headphone jack is a billion years old and prone to failure and that life is about progress and whatever else you need to repeat deliriously into your bed of old HTC extUSB dongles and insane magnetic Palm adapters to sleep at night. But just face facts: ditching the headphone jack on phones makes them worse, in extremely obvious ways.

John Gruber, “Headphone Jacks Are the New Floppy Drives”:

Should the analog headphone jack remain on our devices forever?If you think so, you can stop reading. If not, when? Maybe now is the wrong time, and Apple is making a mistake. I don’t know. None of us outside the company seem to know, because all that has leaked is that the new iPhone won’t have the port, with no explanation why. But I say at some point it will go away, and now seems like it might be the right time. […] “No one” asked for the iMac to remove the floppy drive or switch from ADB ports to USB (at a time when PCs weren’t shipping with USB either, which meant few — I mean really few — existing USB peripherals on the market). There was a huge outcry when the iPhone 5 dumped the proprietary-but-ubiquitous 30-pin port for the proprietary-and-all-new Lightning port. MacBook Air fans are still complaining about the new MacBook’s solitary USB-C port.

Vlad Savov, “Five reasons you’ll want Lightning headphones for your iPhone 7”:

Love it or loathe it, the trend in advanced personal tech is to become more digital and less analog. Wireless protocols and the above benefits of Lightning make the classic 3.5mm jack redundant. I can get more convenient audio if I drop the wires, or I can get better audio if I go digital via Lightning. With upgradeable firmware and new sensors being built in, headphones are changing in function just as they’re changing in connectivity. If you want to buy the headphones of the future, don’t cling on to the connector of the past. Sure, there’ll be an adaptation period where adapters will be necessary, but over time Apple’s Lightning and the more universal USB-C standard will take over from the 3.5mm connector.

Graham Spencer, back in December 2015 with “Thoughts on the Inevitable Demise of the 3.5mm Audio Jack on the iPhone”:

In essence, I think Apple should do three things. Firstly, acknowledge the trade-off Apple have made and the frustration some customers may feel. Secondly, clearly enunciate the benefits of switching away from the 3.5mm audio jack to the Lightning connector and Bluetooth audio. And thirdly, make the customer’s transition away from the 3.5mm audio jack as painless as possible. I’ll leave the first two up to Apple’s marketing team, but I do have some thoughts on the third.

Nilay makes some interesting arguments that, though I’m not convinced by any of them. The photo of the MacBook with the USB-C adapter is humorous, but that sort of usage is definitely edge case. Most people I know with the MacBook use the USB-C port for one thing: charging.

While I agree with John that Apple is no stranger to this sort of action, I don’t think the comparison to the floppy drive is a good one. The iMac was certainly a factor in the decline of the floppy disk, but its contribution is often overstated.

There were 113.5 million PCs sold worldwide in 1999. Of those, only 1.8 million were iMacs: 1.6% of the total market1. The removal of the floppy disk from the rest of the Mac family would have also contributed in later years, though this just takes Apple’s market share to around 3%.

The PC world didn’t ditch the floppy disk because of the actions of a 3% company. It was really the availability, and reduction in cost, of writeable and rewritable CDs that killed the floppy. Apple saw the benefits of USB, and perhaps the future of optical storage, and took the plunge. They were, knowingly, in the right place at the right time.

In comparison, Apple’s share of the smartphone market is almost 15% so the ramifications of ditching the headphone jack are far more wider reaching. Comparing a couple of million Mac customers to hundreds of millions of iPhone customers every year doesn’t quite fit.

Personally, I do think the headphone jack’s time is at an end, at least on the smartphone, but there’s no question that its removal is going to be hugely disruptive. Unlike the floppy, there isn’t anything on the horizon that is a quantum leap beyond the headphone jack’s current capabilities. Benefits, sure, but nothing revolutionary that would ease the discomfort of the transition.

I am one of the many people who mostly use the bundled earphones with my iPhone. If the next iPhone includes a set of Lightning-equipped earphones, I’ll simply use them. However, if Apple is going to do this, they need to be damn sure that it’s in the best interest of their users and have a transition plan that is as painless as possible. This should include discounts for manufacturers that would need to license their headphones under the MFi Program.

If Apple try and capitalize on the change by offering overpriced adapters, or require unencessarily high royalties through the sale of MFi accessories, they could severely damage their reputation as a user-focused company and the accessories ecosystem they’ve built.

  1. After the introduction of the iMac in 1998, it would take Apple 17 years to become a top five PC manufacturer again.