Categories
Apple Culture Google

Is iOS a Social Network?

When I left the iPhone ecosystem by switching to a Google Pixel 3.5 years ago people who knew me well were surprised. I had become an Apple guy. But iOS was boring. It felt stagnant. The Pixel felt like an innovative layer on top of an otherwise maybe-not-so-great Android ecosystem. I was quite happy with it and I was confident I wouldn’t switch back.

For reasons mainly related to availability, I decided to give iPhone another chance earlier this year. My opinion has flipped almost immediately.

This may sound silly but a lot has changed since 2018; iOS feels fresh again. For example, it’s implementation of widgets is really clever and useful; the cross-device focus mode is a great solution to the notification overload problem. Among other things. Apple is back on its game. I thought I would miss the pixel but I almost don’t at all.

A month in, I’m noticing some things that lead me to wonder if Apple might be building a social network, in reverse, without a newsfeed.

Messages as a Social Sharing Hub

One of the core features of any social network has always been the ability to message with other users privately or in groups. In the early days it wasn’t real time. It was more like limited email. All of my earliest social experience had private messaging features: forums and even prior to the internet BBSes.

In a world where we’ve all been avoiding physical contact and hiding in our homes as much as possible lest we get the plague, text-based messaging has become the definition of social for much of the world.

iOS’ Messages fills this need. Obviously.

But iMessage is doing something that goes above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen a social network implement.

“Shared With You”

Apple’s News app has a (somewhat buried) feature that lists news articles that have been shared with you in iMessage. Automatically.

Apple News > Following
News > Following > Shared with You

It’s almost like a newsfeed specifically limited to the app you’re looking at.

Similarly, Safari’s “start page” shows you everything shared with you from every conversation in iMessage (that isn’t a News link). Particularly handy when you’re trying to remember which shoes your wife wants.

Safari Start Page

Both of these are more useful and easier to manage than the crazy algorithmic newsfeed of a Facebook or LinkedIn. Both of these features are synced across devices (including MacOS).

Other Apps

“Shared with you” isn’t particularly well implemented in other apps.

Music has a concept of “friend” but they’re hard to find and I’m not convinced there’s much utility in seeing things like your friends’ playlists.

Photos has shared albums but they’re not integrated with iMessage or anything else – perhaps because this feature pre-dates Siri and perhaps also because it’s available outside of the Apple ecosystem.

Gamecenter has fallen by the wayside as a user-centric feature. It’s just a storage and leaderboard utility for game developers now.

Etc.

Contacts as Profiles

Another social-network-esque feature surfaces with the “Contacts” widget.

First, the widget presents you with a Siri-generted top 6 (or 3 in the smaller version) contacts reminiscent of MySpace’s “top 8”. Hilarious.

Secondly, it’s able to take advantage of iOS integration to securely display a couple of features that might make you nervous in any other context. That is, the contact’s focus status (note: the icon becomes a car when driving focus is enabled) and their current location (if location sharing is enabled).

When you tap on one of the icons, you get a version of the Contacts app that’s more condensed and useful than anywhere else in iOS. It removes all the settings options and editing features that you see in other contacts views, leaving only the contact’s details and shared items.

It’s a user profile.

To reiterate, the extra brilliant thing here is that all of this data has been collected, organized and analyzed on device. No need to grant a third party intermediary with ulterior motives access to your data.

Is this a social network?

The features I’ve described could be summed up as “link sharing” and “messaging.” In my opinion, these have always been core features of every social network. Perhaps the most important features of those social networks. What is Facebook’s core feature? A newsfeed of shared links (albeit perverted by a terrible algorithm).

Not to mention that a large amount of social networks are built around just one of those two features. Reddit was just a link feed for most of its history. Snapchat is just (picture/video focused) messaging. Etc.

At the very least iOS has some of the features of a social network.

However, iOS is missing two features fundamental to social networks. Posting and friend/group discovery.

iOS doesn’t have a mechanism to post a link or message to all of your contacts at once (aside from creating a giant group message comprising all of your contacts and I feel like that would be ridiculously chaotic). Nor does iOS give you a way to find new people, nor discover interest groups.

Without these features there is no “networking.”

No. It’s Messaging+.

What Apple has enabled with its cross-app-data-linking is more like “messaging+”. It adds functionality to iMessage.

It makes an already social experience more useful, in ways that none of the current social networks are actually able to accomplish.

Apple could go further and position itself to – maybe not replace but – obviate social networks as we know them today.

If Apple finally released iMessage for Android (like it’s been promising) so that everybody on any device had access. And if they opened up iMessage’s “shared with you” API to other apps (in a responsible manner) then I think things could get really interesting.


Props to @levisan for pointing my train of thought down this track.

Categories
Random

So I bought a PHEV…

Two weeks ago I picked up a 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV.

I am no Doug Demuro and this is not meant to be a review of the car in general (it’s great!). Rather, I want to talk about the quirks and features of PHEV driving specifically.

The PHEV Experience

The very first thing I noticed test driving this car is just how smooth the electric drive is. The lack of gears combined with the instant power immediately reminded me gliding out of a station on a train. It’s just so pleasant!

My thoughts below are based on the 500km highway and 500km city – in temperatures between -10 to +15 – that I’ve driven so far.

Why not an EV?

In short, “we’re not quite there yet.” The charging network in and around Winnipeg and battery tech is such that most of our favourite camping spots are out of range; and longer road trips (especially west on the Trans Canada Highway) would be anxiety inducing.

Sure these trips are rare and I considered the possibility of renting a car as needed. But given that there’s a significant premium for EVs, buying a $40,000 – $60,000 car only to have it sit in the garage when you really need it most… at the end of the day that just seemed silly.

Fuel Economics

The PHEV Hyundai Santa Fe has a 13.8kWh battery which has an advertised range of 45km in full EV mode. I’ve found this range to be fairly accurate within a few kilometres. Granted, my driving style is generally pretty modest and I’ve been intentionally making an effort to keep the power level low.

At present electric rates, fully charging this battery costs $1.24.

However, the system actually reserves ~25% of the battery for hybrid-mode. I believe this is because the 1.6L engine is not powerful enough to motivate the 1900kg vehicle on its own.

So this means that the vehicle only uses around 10.35kWh to travel 45km on batteries. That’s about $0.93 electricity in Manitoba. For comparison, a standard ICE Santa Fe would burn 4.77L (or $6.82 at today’s gas price) for 45km of city driving; and 3.15L (or $4.50) with the hybrid version.

From a fuel cost perspective, switching to electricity is a nobrainer. Especially with the relative stability of electrical rates compared to the constant fluctuation of oil prices.

Cold Weather

We’ve been having a strange November, with temperatures ranging from -10C to +16C. So I’ve had the opportunity to drive the car in a range of cooler temperatures.

The salesman mentioned that the systems will “prime” the batteries in cold weather but he didn’t go into detail and TBH I was to excited to drive away to ask him for more information.

As it turns out, when the battery is cold the ICE runs for quite a long time (4 – 9 minutes) after initially “starting” the car and even well into the drive. It will also engage at seemingly randomly times throughout the drive.

Li-ion batteries have an optimal operating temperature range of 15 to 20C, so I assume the system is diverting engine heat to batteries directly (via that heat pump system) and/or imparting heat by acting as a generator, recharging the batteries.

When the ICE is in this operating mode it is not being used to drive the vehicle, so you are still benefiting form the efficiency gains of an electric motor.

Unfortunately, this behaviour makes it impossible make a full trip without burning at least some gasoline (albeit maybe only a few teaspoons) in temperatures colder than +15. Very short trips end up using relatively huge amounts of fuel. A 7 minute drive might run the ICE the entire time even though the car has enough battery to make it the full distance.

Luckily, with an unseasonably warm +16 yesterday I was able to test the battery’s behaviour in a warm state. I took the opportunity to make 45km round trip and I was relieved to make the entire drive without burning a drop of gas! The systems did not heat the battery at all.

However, I a very took a similar drive today and once again the engine engaged for a short time to warm the battery, even though it is only a few degress colder today.

I am fairly disappointed with this behaviour. I would much prefer a driving mode that exclusively used the batteries even if I meant a decreased range in cold weather. Even if it meant charging more often the economics would still make sense.

Additionally, I had factored the fuel savings from driving pure EV most of the time into the budget when upgrading to this more expensive car and now feel like I am coming in on the losing end of that calculation.

Charging

Hyundai provides a Level 1 charger which manual refers to it as a very appropriately named “trickle charger.”

A full recharge takes approximately 11hrs. On the one hand, that’s a very long time for 45km of juice. On the other hand, my car sits around for at least 8 – 10hrs every night, so it’s not really an issue. I think it would be fine even if I had a regular commute.

Level 2 charging is much faster at 3h30m. According to a recent Reddit thread, having a level 2 charger installed at home costs in the neighbourhood of $1000 – $1500; and this just does not seem worth it at the moment.

I haven’t had the opportunity to use one yet but the going rate for Level 2 charging stations seems to be $1.50/hr. At that rate the economics don’t really make sense vs the cost of gas. If you think of it as paying a small amount to keep some carbon out of the atmosphere though I guess that’s OK. There are also a few (literally 3) free chargers around town and I’m looking forward to having an excuse to use one of those in the next couple of months.

Long Term Reliability

When I mentioned PHEVs on Twitter a while back a couple people raised concerns about readability.

They have a point, PHEVs are a Frankenstein’s monster of new tech operating alongside ancient tech. Marrying the two drive and the two breaking systems must be complicated AF. I suspect this is a large part of the reason Hyundai has opted for a fully drive-by-wire vehicle (a topic for another blog post perhaps).

Hyundai has acknowledged this and is demonstrating strong confidence in their engineering by providing an 8yr/160,000km warranty on the H/EV systems. Which is reassuring.

Final Thoughts

The Hyundai Santa Fe as a car is by far my favourite car I have owned to date (largely unrelated to the fact that it’s a PHEV though)!

Sitting in traffic with the little green “EV” light illuminated makes me smile. And doing 110km/h on the highway on batteries feels like the future! (But also the past, I can’t help but wonder where we’d be if the oil and gas industry hadn’t killed battery cars in early 1900s)

Unfortunately, I am not very optimistic about the EV performance once winter sets in and we’re regularly seeing -20 (or colder). I expect average fuel economy to in-line with the standard HEV version of the Santa Fe.

I can’t say I understand Hyundai’s choice to optimize for range over gasoline usage.

That said, at the moment, my average fuel economy is 3.3L/100km, which is quite good and nothing to cry about.

Winnipeg has a lot of days from spring through autumn that fall within the battery’s optimal operating temperature. On balance of a year the average combined fuel economy should hit the advertised 2.1L/100km, with city driving at 1L or lower.

I’ll keep you posted…

Categories
From The Archives Site News

From the archives

When I originally launched this blog back in 2005 I published it using custom blogging software of my own design. I intended this domain to be a little more “professional” or at the very least, less personal than my previous experiments in blogging.

In a time before github (or even git itself for that matter), stackoverflow, composer, etc it was very common for any dev worth their salt to build every component of their website from the ground up as a means to demonstrate their skills.

In July 2007, I decided to relaunch the site on WordPress 2.6. At the time, I considered my previous posts too cringe to archive. After reading through them all, I believe they actually belong here. So I’ve gone through can copy & pasted roughly 30 blog posts from 2005/06. I’ve left them largely unedited, save for some spelling corrections (turns out in-browser spell check has done wonders for my ability to spell correctly).

If you’d like, you can read all the posts in the “from the archives” category. The cool thing about copy&pasting out of archive.org is that all the old links still work.

Here are a few highlights that give a glimpse into the state of the web and geek culture 16 years ago:

  • Internet Security – March 2005
    I talk about two-factor auth (without using the word) as a mythical technology that only the military uses.
  • Episode III: RotS (litterally?) – May 2005
    My Star Wars: Episode III review.
  • phpMyMP3s – May 2005
    phpMyMP3s is one of the coolest things I’ve ever built and I wish the code download still worked. Essentially it was streaming MP3 server written in PHP. I ran this on my home computer in conjunction with dyndns to listen to my home MP3 collection at work.
  • better bandwidth protection: revisited – August 2005
    “Bandwidth theft” is a problem that has largely gone away due to lowering bandwidth costs. But in a time before the likes of imgur random users would link other random users’ content (usually proto-memes) hosted on bandwidth limited servers/services.

    In this post I present a way to essentially timeout links to limit the impact of bandwidth theft.
  • Winnipeg Web Firms – August 2005
    A list of local web shops that existed at the time.
  • Podcasts: what’s on my iPod – October 2005
    The podcasts I was listening to at the time. Some of these even still exist.
  • Parachute Beta is live! – February 2006
    An interesting idea I had for some of an inverse social network for links and only links. TBH I still think this is a decent idea.

    Also, it looks like my original name for this project was “dropbox” – a year before dropbox launched.
  • Summer Styles ’06 – May 2006
    You actually have to look at the archive.org backup of this post to fully appreciate this. If you click the links in the sidebar under “style” (summer ’06, blue, red) you’ll see the the style of the page completely changes, even in the archive itself!
Categories
Site News

ohryan.ca is now surveillance & tracker free

Inspired by Cory Doctorow I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to make this WordPress blog surveillance and tracker free. Internet privacy is something I’ve always cared about, I’m not really sure why it never occurred to me to bring my blog in line.

Here are the steps that I took:

  1. Disabled Cloudflare:
    Cloudflare has a good reputation and I trust that they’re taking the right steps to protect users’ privacy. But after refreshing the backend of the site with the help of SpinupWP I no longer feel like I need Cloudflare’s caching services.
    [my DNS is still hosted with CF, however I am bypassing them for this CNAME]
  2. Disabled Jetpack:
    Jetpack has become a bloated beast of a plugin suite. I noodled around with the settings for about 3 minutes to try to figure out how to disable the tracking – I couldn’t so I just decided to nuke the whole thing.
  3. Disabled Google Fonts
    It almost certainly tracks your IP and possibly other information. So I’ve disabled it. System fonts only.
  4. Installed Embed Privacy Plugin:
    I’ve installed Embed Privacy to block all spotify, youtube, twitter, etc external embeds on page load. Users have to explicitly click the content to see it.
  5. Disabled Comments:
    Not really a privacy reason to disable these per se, I just haven’t really found much comment engagement since approximately as long as Twitter has existed.

The main side effect of these changes seems to be a blazing fast site! Sure I’ll miss out on some stats but I’ve long stopped caring about those.

Categories
Culture Tips & How To's

How To: Work From Home, Be Productive and Stay Sane

I just spent a few minutes looking through my draft posts for inspiration to restart blogging.

I came across the oldest draft in my queue, dated November 11, 2009.

I missed 11/11 1:11 by 6 minutes!

The post read as follows:


I’ve worked from home for 6 of the past 8 years in a variety of workspaces. Initially I worked in my parents basement, I briefly worked in my mother-in-law’s dinning room and for the past 2 years I’ve worked in the common space of a 2 bedroom apartment, with a toddler. Over this period I’ve maintained a 35 – 50 hour work week and managed to stay sane (and reasonably productive). Now that I’ve had my own dedicated works space for a couple of weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on a few of the ways I’ve been able to make it work.

  1. Good Employer
  2. Keep A ToDo List
  3. Don’t Answer The Phone
  4. Set “Business Hours”
  5. Don’t Follow Them
  6. Be Distracted

Reflecting on this now that we’ve all been covidworkingfromhome for the past 18 months (or is it 32?) and have just started a permanent remote positions, I’d say that list of advice still rings true.

1. Good Employer

Simply put: you need an employer who trusts you to work from home. One who understand that things might come up throughout the day and doesn’t have a problem with that.

If you’re having trouble finding an employer like this in 2021, imagine how rare it was 12 years ago.

During COVID, even bad employers didn’t have a choice but to begrudgingly let their employees work from home. Good employers will differentiate themselves from by ones by allowing their employees to continue working from home into 2022 and beyond.

2. Keep a To Do List

What I really meant by this was “be organized and focused.”

I still prefer physical to do lists. I like crossing things off with a pen and crumpling up the list at the end of the day.

Organizational tools and apps have really matured and keeping a physical to do list is not really necessary.

Don’t forget to include personal/home things on your to do list. Writing everything down is a great way to keep yourself from getting distracted.

3. Don’t Answer the Phone

“The phone” is much less of a thing in 2021.

Better advice would be “don’t read text messages, or non-work DMs”.

4. Set “Business Hours”

Over my years working from home this has come to be the main key to success.

Setting business hours adds the structure that I need to stay focused. It also sets expectations with my family. They’ll know not to interrupt or distract me between 8 – 5 unless it’s urgent.

Having an office door that you can closes helps, but it’s really not as crucial in my experience.

5. Don’t Follow Them & 6. Be Distracted

These two rules are really the same thing “allow yourself to be distracted.”

I’ve found that giving myself permission to break the rules has been the key to staying “sane.”

Take a long lunch, grab a coffee, go to the store.

Just don’t stray too far, too often.


In 2021, I would only add two additional pieces of advice to this list.

7. Wear Pants

Get dressed for work.

I’ve found that it really puts me in the mindset to get to work.

This has been a rule I’ve always followed, I don’t know why I didn’t add it to my original list.

8. Have an Amazing Partner (or I guess, live alone?)

I couldn’t have made it this far without an understanding wife.