Geek & Mild by Sean Sperte

Hello. Welcome to Geek & Mild, the weblog of Sean Sperte. This is a collection of notes related to design, technology, and faith.  More info →

Jekyll

It turns out, hosting a blog on Tumblr doesn’t help motivate more writing or posting. That, plus the fact that I’ve been meaning to learn about new publishing systems, means it’s time to move things back “in-house”. So I’m back to hosting Geek & Mild myself. Well, not myself technically.

For this version I’ve chosen to revive a previous design and use Jekyll – hosted on Github Pages. I lost some Tumblr posts along the way, but I ain’t cryin’.

The process to port the site wasn’t too bad. I used a lot of Brian Warren’s tips from his post about porting ExpressionEngine to Kirby. Converting all my previous blog entries was a bit of a chore, but the hardest part was learning the Jekyll templating language. (I still haven’t really learned it, actually.)

What I like about this setup is it allows me to draft and publish new posts in a familiar way to which I work: write, save, commit (via git). Once I ‘commit’, git and Jekyll (and Github Pages) do the rest.

Incidentally, Geek & Mild is now open source, so if you’re interested in seeing how I’ve got things hooked up you can peruse the code – for now a least.


Jailbreaking for the rest of us

[Article originally posted to Medium]

I’ll keep this introduction short and sweet. The reason I’m writing this is I’ve discovered enough benefit from jailbreaking iOS that I risk whatever crazy repercussions might come, but have noticed many of my colleagues haven’t. And I think it’s just because they haven’t ever seen an example of how to do it right. So this is as much to show off as it is to inform.

Demystifying jailbreaking Before going any further, I want to make sure you have a basic understanding of what it means to jailbreak your iDevice. As with most things on the internet, there is a ton of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding jailbreaking, so here are some key facts to know:

  1. Jailbreaking is legal
    In contrast to what the name would imply, when you jailbreak your device you aren’t breaking any laws—at least in the U.S. (What’s not legal is pirating apps or cracking DRM.) There are many who say that if you jailbreak your device it voids the warranty, and that may be true, but if you ever get to the point where the warranty needs to be exercised, it’s easy to revert your device to a default state. (Disclaimer: I’m not a legal expert and cannot give legal counsel or advice.)

  2. Jailbreaking is safe
    If you jailbreak your device and find it to be too unstable or that you don’t like the result, it’s easy to revert to a previous state. Provided, of course, that you’ve performed a backup prior to jailbreaking and can restore the backup. But, in any case, you can always restore iOS to its default.

  3. Jailbreaking is easy
    The hacker/developers—or whatever they call themselves—who do these jailbreak ‘exploits’ (more on that next) have really done a good job making the process easy. The current, most popular jailbreak technique literally requires you (a) download a desktop app, (b) plug in your iPhone, and (c) click a button.

A custom icon for the Settings app on iPhone — one big reason to jailbreak: skin those ugly, default Apple icons

What is jailbreaking?

No two ways around it: when you jailbreak your device, you’re punching holes in an otherwise pretty structured system (“Designed by Apple in California”). Jailbreaking is exploiting weaknesses in iOS in order to gain root access and control the system. What that means is: you’re more likely to experience quirks, bugs, and crashes—and it’s at your own risk. Apple’s position on the matter could be classified as passive aggressive tolerance-to-a-point. Still, jailbreaking is pretty benign from a “breaking the rules” standpoint, and, in many ways, very important to Apple’s ecosystem. (Many jailbreak developers have been hired by Apple, for example.)

How to jailbreak

As of this writing, the easiest and best way to jailbreak your iDevice is using the evasi0n iOS 7 jailbreak. Aaaaand there it is. Before we’ve even begun, we’re introduced to one particularly strange element of the jailbreak community: naming convention. Why in the world a zero must be used in place of a perfectly good ‘O’, I have no idea. But get used to it. We’re now in the world of numbers instead of vowels, unconventional abbreviations, strange acronyms, and NoSpacesBetweenWords.

As I mentioned, jailbreaking using evasi0n (ugh) is as simple as:

  1. Download and launch the app
  2. Plug in your iPhone
  3. Hit the ‘Jailbreak’ button

If there does happen to be extra steps involved, they’re likely related to temporarily disabling your password lock or upgrading/downgrading versions of iOS, and evasi0n will walk you through them.

Speaking of iOS versions, a brief (and important) word of warning: make sure to check jailbreaking news sources before updating to new versions of iOS. It’s a constant game of cat and mouse Apple and the jailbreaking community play, and many times it takes a couple months before jailbreakers find ways around iOS patches.

The process usually takes a good 5-10 minutes, and afterwards leaves your device in pretty much the exact same condition—save for one new app, the soul of the jailbreak universe: Cydia.

The [not-so] wonderful world of Cydia

Now that we’re jailbroken and have Cydia, we can begin installing apps and tweaks. Yes, tweaks. As in, “I love this phone, mostly, but just wish I could tweak this one feature.”

Cydia’s main screen—we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto

This is where the fun starts. Actually, no. This is where it gets really hairy.

Before I show you what jailbreak apps and tweaks I use, I need to share the most important rule for downloading stuff with Cydia.

Right now if you download an app from the App Store, it’s like you’re walking in to a Best Buy. There’s a selection of stuff from various sources, but it’s all been curated and vetted. Conversely, when you launch Cydia, it’s more like visiting a flea market, where anyone who wants to can come, set up shop, and sell their wares. Because of this, you can’t always trust the original source. There’s no app approval process or gatekeeper making sure what’s available is safe, working, or relevant.

What this means is there is just a ton of crap out there, and no real good way of finding the good stuff. With that in mind, can you guess what the most important rule for jailbreaking is? Don’t trust the label.

Instead find trusted sources (outside Cydia’s interface) to vet apps, tweaks, repos, and developers, before you try them. (This article is a trusted source, just FYI.)

One source I turn to for jailbreak news is iDownloadBlog. They have good coverage of the latest tweaks, and provide a layer of quality control that helps me know what’s worth looking at. Additionally, both 9to5Mac and Lifehacker cover jailbreak news occasionally, when something of note pops up.

Okay, now we can get to the fun stuff…

How I jailbreak

I believe the iPhone is the best mobile device in the world. I simply love it. But it’s not perfect, which is why I like to jailbreak. However, I’m very cautious about it. I apply one of my professional idioms to my jailbreaking habits: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

At first, installing apps and tweaks from Cydia feels foreign. The process begins with a full-screen window that resembles a terminal that outputs the downloading, unpackaging, and installing of the app or tweak—verbosely. Afterward, if required, Cydia will require you to ‘respring’ your device, which basically just restarts iOS (without a full device reboot).

With that in mind, here are the apps or tweaks I have currently installed:

MultiIconMover+

This tweak allows you to move multiple app icons between SpringBoard (that’s your homescreen, where all your apps live) at once. It’s a huge time saver for those who obsessively organize and re-organize their apps, like me.

NoSlowAnimations

A demonstration of the NoSlowAnimations jailbreak tweak—just look how much faster my iPhone feels!

As the name implies—which is the case with many of these tweaks—NoSlowAnimations speeds up the animation speeds in iOS. The end effect is drastic: a huge perceptual performance increase.

Open In App for Photos

One huge omission in the stock Photos app is the ability to open a photo in another app straight from your library. It’s so bizarre that friends I’ve told haven’t believed me, and have to see it for themselves. This simple tweak fixes that by adding a simple “Open In…” button.

ShowCase and SwipeSelectionPro

A demonstration of the ShowCase and SwipeSelectionPro jailbreak tweaks

ShowCase is a great solution to ShiftGate, where, on the iOS 7 keyboard, the shift button has never looked right. It makes the letter characters on the keys show their case (a la Android phones).

Meanwhile, SwipeSelectionPro gives you the ability to quickly change the cursor position while typing by swiping left or right on the keyboard. It’s tricky to get used to, but sublime to use once you do.

Activator

Keep Uncle Ben’s advice in mind when using this one—with great power comes great responsibility. Activator allows you to map just about any kind of action, gesture, or activity to any function. For instance, I was able to swap the double-press of Home and swipe-up-from-bottom; so now I can get to the app switcher by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, and activate Control Center by double-pressing Home.

Couria

A demonstration of Couria, a quick-reply tweak for Messages

Couria adds quick reply and compose mechanisms to messaging apps—mostly notably, Messages. Previously I used a separate app called BiteSMS for this, but Couria is a new and promising alternative that feels more focused and polished.

NCAllOnly and NCSingleTapClear

A hilariously worthless element of the iOS 7 experience is the “Missed” tab in Notification Center. And, for me, the “Today” tab is similarly superfluous. NCAllOnly allows you to hide one or both of those tabs.

NCSingleTapClear addresses another irritation I have with Notification Center: those tiny dismiss buttons in the notification group headers. It makes it so you only have to tap the ‘X’ once to dismiss notifications.

CCClockOpenToAlarm

The introduction of quick-launch functions in iOS 7’s Control Center is awesome. Not as awesome is the fact that every time you launch the Clock app, it opens in the Timer tab—regardless of whether or not you ever use the timer and only ever launch the clock app for one reason and that is to set your alarm. Anyway, CCClockOpenToAlarm fixes that issue.

SwitchSpring

Quitting all background apps with SwitchSpring

SwitchSpring is a handy little tweak that makes it easy to quit all active, background apps with a single swipe-and-tap. (It also makes it easy to ‘respring’ your device.)

Bonus: ayeris theme

The Photos icon from the ayeris theme—photo credit: iDownloadBlog

I’m not usually big on theming the interface of iOS. For the most part I prefer to keep things pretty stock—funny, I know, considering I’m writing about jailbreaking. But I’ve made a very special exception in the case of ayeris, a beautifully designed theme from known designer Thientam Bach (Apple, if you’re listening, hire this guy).

Where most themers overdesign their themes, Bach shows restraint. His design reveals an understanding of iOS, but still introduces new (and, I think, more appropriate) aesthetics. In his words:

Design is not always about changing things just to say it’s different, that’s easy. The hardest part is to take something that is already good, and make it better, with a different approach.

If you decide to download ayeris, it’ll also install Winterboard as part of its list of dependencies. Don’t worry: that’s the theming engine that most themes run on top of; making it possible for themers to easily apply their designs to various elements of the UI.

The cost of jailbreaking Speaking of ayeris, one thing I haven’t yet mentioned is that not every app/tweak (or theme) available through Cydia is free. In fact, many of the ones I listed above aren’t.

To pay for jailbreak apps you’ll need to use either a Google or Facebook account to verify your identity, and either an Amazon or PayPal account to process the payment. (I use Facebook and PayPal.) The process is simple enough, but does take quite a bit more—in terms of taps—than with the App Store.

If you decide to try jailbreaking your iDevice, I can offer you no better advice than this: don’t go overboard. iOS is already awesome, and while certain jailbreak apps/tweaks can make it awesomer, don’t allow the near-limitless options to steal from the simple and pure experience Apple designed for you.


Fairweather

I grew up watching John Elway lead the likes of Bobby Humphrey, Steve Atwater, Karl Mecklenburg, and others to three Super Bowls in the 80’s. They lost all three – devastatingly.

The Denver Broncos were as good as you can get without being the best. So I became conditioned, even at a young age, to cheer for a team – to believe – with thick skin and strong resolve. Whether winning or losing, my team was my team.

To me, the Seahawks were always a non-issue. Back then they were in the same division as the Broncos, in the AFC West. But unlike the Raiders or Chargers, I actually liked the team from Seattle. I had family there, and liked the team colors. I also always found myself rooting for the Seahawks whenever there was another divisional game televised.

In 1998, after moving to Seattle, I watched from a distance as Elway – now with Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffery, etc. – finally brought the Lombardi Trophy home to Denver. Apparently it took me leaving the state for the Broncos to find their way. If it wasn’t salt in the wound it was fly in the ointment.

Elway went on to retire a year later, after repeating a Championship season with another win in Super Bowl 33. Fly, ointment; normal. Go Broncos.

Then, in 2002, everything changed. The Seahawks switched conferences, and became an NFC team. That was the year I officially became a Seahawks fan. It was an easy fit, to put my learned and practiced win-or-lose support behind the local team. They hadn’t been contenders for years – if ever.

It wasn’t until the 2005 season when the Hawks made a valiant Super Bowl run that my fandom reached any sort of passionate level. They lost. Of course. And it would be a couple of years until Seattle made any impact beyond early December. But that didn’t matter. I was a die-hard; a fan-no-matter. Content, and even happy, with cheering on a losing team.

Then, slowly, things changed. John Elway returned… Then Pete Carroll was hired… Then Tim Tebow… Then Peyton Manning… Then Russell Wilson… Then this year.

Before the season started this year I told my dad that the Seahawks were going to go all the way – that they had something special. We debated whether or not Peyton could lead Denver the whole way, too. “Wouldn’t it be crazy? Could you imagine a Broncos/Seahawks Super Bowl?”

I’ve been called “conflicted”, “confused”, and “split-brained”. I love two NFL teams. But how is that possible? Don’t you have to choose one or the other? Maybe.

Or maybe I just have the capacity to be passionate about more than one. Maybe, like a parent with more than one child, it’s impossible for me to love one more than the other.

Tonight as I watched the Seahawks trounce the Broncos in Super Bowl 48, I wasn’t choosing to love one team over another. I was watching as a crazed and committed member of the 12th Man, and a dyed-in-the-wool Broncos fan. Don’t ask me to explain it.

Before the game, I sent this text to a buddy of mine: “Love my Broncos, but they’re about to run into the Hawks and get it handed to them. Just like preseason”

And that’s what happened. I watched the whole game standing up in my living room – mostly alone. I clapped, cheered, jumped, and screamed … By myself. Alone.

Whatever feeling of loss, disappointment, or frustration I may have had with the Broncos getting their butts kicked was completely overshadowed by the Seahawks finally, and definitively, earning their place in history.

So call me confused, or conflicted, or whatever. Just, whatever you do, don’t you dare call me a fair-weather fan.

I’m a 12. And I’m United in Orange. If I have a problem it’s not that I love two teams, it’s that I have no idea how to be a fan of a winning team.


Well begun

There are probably dozens of scientific studies that show … dang, what am I even talking about? I have no idea how to write. I’m not a journalism or English major. I’m probably breaking rules already, just with this opening paragraph.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I assume most of the science of being productive has to do with just getting started. The whole “get off the couch” thing, or “well begun is half done”, as Mary Poppins would say. Like a train leaving the station, in order for us to get anywhere, we’ve got to put a lot of effort towards that first step: from Stop to Go.

This is one of the reasons that, as a designer/developer, I need to pay close attention into the amount of friction I put into the products I build. People already have a hard enough time learning new things. I should aim to make it as effortless as possible to “engage”.

It’s also the reason I’m clumsily trudging back into the world of blogging – or whatever you call this; publishing random thoughts to the web. I have no clear objective, haven’t written or sketched out a game plan, don’t know who I’m writing for, and obviously am not qualified. I’ve just … begun. Again.

It’s the first day of the New Year – well, it’s the evening of the first day. Whatever endeavor awaits your (whoever you are) involvement, my challenge to you is just do it.


People of the Internet

The internet is awesome. Actually, no. The people of the internet are awesome. The reason I know this is because last week I attended two conferences where I got to be with a lot of them. Some I’d just met, but some I’d been following for years – even a decade or more. That term: following. I used it a lot over the last six days. “I’ve been following you for a long time.”

I said it to Shaun Inman, Dave Shea, Cameron Moll, Tom Watson (well, his wife, actually), Drew Warkentin, Jeff Sheldon, Sean Ferrell, Paul Armstrong, and many others. What I realized is that I’d been “following” these people long before Twitter, so the statement sounded trite and didn’t communicate the level of respect I have them. What I wanted to tell them, actually, was that their work had inspired and mentored me from afar.

Circles Conference was held in Dallas and organized by Ismael Burciaga. Its emphasis was on creativity, design, and art – and, ultimately, the inspiration of all those things. The talks themselves were great, and I enjoyed hearing from every speaker. But I was more inspired by meeting and speaking with the people who made up the conference. For instance:

Just click through some of those profiles, Dribbble accounts, blogs, etc. You can’t help but be inspired.

The same was true of XOXO – which I sort of see as a gathering of artists and inventors (a gross over generalization, I know). The “d-word” (disruption) was used sparingly, but the idea permeated almost every talk and discussion. To what end? Not surprisingly, almost every talk touched on the idea of community – people coming together.

Some of the wonderful people I met at XOXO:

So, for me, if I had any takeaways from the two conferences, they almost certainly all collide in the intersection between community, creativity, disruption, and people – particularly the people who make the internet.

People are awesome. That’s my big revelation from this past week. No duh, right?


On #hashtags

Every time I read a geek opine about social trends it reminds me of Maciej Ceglowski’s post from a few years ago entitled The Social Graph is Neither. His main assertion was that we are a bunch of admittedly non-social engineers designing and building software – social networks – for a system that is so wildly complex that it cannot be graphed. What’s so entertaining to me, is not only do we attempt to design, build, and graph it, we also love to criticize it.

A couple of years ago, when hashtags first started appearing in my Twitter timeline, I just sort of shrugged them off. I couldn’t see their value through the visual damage they imposed. Even today, I have a hard time #taking #anyone #seriously when they use more than one or two #hashtags for a #single #tweet – mostly because they just look bad.

Daniel Victor recently wrote about this, saying he believes “a tweet free of hashtags is more pleasing to the eye, more easily consumed, and thus more likely to be retweeted (which is a proven way of growing your audience)”.

Now here’s where I have to admit I have come to realize three important facts about hashtags:

  1. Hashtags are used by both users and marketers. Like it or not, you cannot deny usage of hashtags is on the rise. The most compelling thing about this is that hashtags weren’t created as a marketing tactic, yet their use has demanded marketer adoption.

  2. Hashtags do have great potential. Even in their most basic form – for taxonomy – hashtags can trump inferral through machines. No one knows better what they’re saying than the person saying it.

  3. Hashtags actually do increase engagement. It may be tough to recognize through subjectivity, but the reality is, hashtags provide a mechanism for easier discovery, encourage brevity, promote a single key binding for disparate data, and even help inject tone/personality.

Those three factors are so strong, in fact, that I co-founded a company that basically attempts to reconcile them with my inherent distain for the way hashtags look. At Tagboard, we’re building tools that help both users and marketers use hashtags in a way that benefits both parties.

My opinion of hashtags is admitted bias, and equally manic. The thrust of my argument against hashtags is rooted in my design sense, while the engineer in me sees the yet-unrealized potential they have. Meanwhile, Sensible Sean sees hashtags as just harmless and fun.


Marketers are liars, not makers

When Seth Godin talks, I usually listen. I’ve read his books and follow (albeit loosely) his blog. So when a bunch of my peers began linking to a post of his yesterday, along with negative commentary, I was immediately interested.

His post is titled “How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers”, and if ever there was a list of bad starts of blogs posts, that one has to rank up there. I’ll explain why in a bit.

The post outlines various techniques Godin uses to make a website – including copy/pasting elements from other sites in Keynote. Obviously, this isn’t a website, so the last step in Godin’s tactical guide is “Hand the Keynote doc to your developers and go away…”

His expertise in marketing notwithstanding, this advice for how to ‘make a website’ is terrible. I appreciate Godin’s attempt at demystifying the process, and I recognize that giving practical advice for how marketers can work with their teams has great potential benefit. However, he would have done better to avoid the use of the words ‘make’ or ‘build’ altogether, and instead outlined how marketers can learn to make purposeful, high-level design decisions.

Godin argues that most of the web is built by amateurs. And in what could be considered a followup post, goes on to say the “best professionals love it when a passionate amateur shows up” – and, of course, uses a couple of comparisons, like farmers and automotive mechanics.

The problem with Godin’s perspective (and comparisons) is he thinks marketers are builders. He says “professional farmers don’t begrudge the backyard gardener his tomato harvest. That’s silly.” And, he’s right, because the backyard gardener is just that: a gardener. If, however, that gardener was a marketer who didn’t know anything about the science of growing vegetables, but who was growing them (in spite of himself) and selling them on the open market, and competing for market- and mind-share with reputable farmers…

Well, let’s just say I disagree that marketers ‘make websites’. They may be part of the process, but to suggest they can just throw together a slide deck and hand it off to a developer, and say they’re ‘building the web’ … that is silly. Marketers are liars, not makers.


Ichiro

After watching Ichiro play against the Mariners for the first time last night, I sat on my couch reading the reaction of Seattle sports fans on the web. I came across this piece on Tumblr: There Was No Joy In The Emerald City. The author says:

I feel shorted as a baseball fan today. The game was better when Ichiro was ominously roaming the right field region at Safeco Field. It was a welcome dose of predictability in an unpredictable game.

I think this expresses well the overall sentiment in Seattle. We’re all just sort of reeling. Happy for Ichiro? Sure. He has a much better shot at getting a championship ring now. But he was a part of Seattle culture – as much as an athlete can up here. We had Ichiro bobble-head nights at Safeco Field, local commercials with every day workers mimicking his at-bat stance, and the “ICH-EE-RO” chant. Not to mention his face and name plastered all over the city – especially at the stadium.

Ichiro bowing as a Yankee

It was by Ichiro’s request, I understand. That the Mariners received a couple of minor leaguer pitchers in trade underscores this: the Mariners made the decision in order to honor Ichiro. That part of the story is great, and I wish Ichiro well. I really do. I’ll be rooting for him and his new team – hopefully all the way through the World Series.

There were also business and internal culture reasons the Mariners made the trade. Ichiro’s salary and veteran overhead are now cleared, making way for the youngsters to step up. That part I can understand, too. That’s baseball. That’s the game.

The part that stings, and the part I’m so frustrated by, is that Seattle continues to be burned by our sports organizations, who, in their attempt at trying to produce winning teams, keep messing with established culture; always looking to the future. They fail to understand the external, brand impact. They’re trying to make Yankee-like decisions in a non-Yankee city.

Here’s a news flash for Northwest sports teams: your fans aren’t really fans. We’re more like casual spectators, at best. If you want to win us over – have our money – you have to appeal to our emotions.

This is why, when we’re winning, Seattle gets really into it. Winning feels good. But after the winning season(s) ends, what’s left to get emotional about? I’ll tell you what: the brand – which is best represented by the players.

There might be a small segment of true fans, season ticket holders, and die-hards who were born here and have no choice but to take pride in their local professional teams. But those segments only make up an average attendance – for the Mariners – that equals the fifth-worst in the league. Not enough.

Seattle sports culture extends beyond the small amount of actual fans. It goes to the living room, coffee house, and neighborhood community, where the majority of people now can’t name a Mariners player on the roster.


Obvious isn't easy

A lot of talk about designing for obviousness in the design community lately. I just have one observation beyond agreement. Designing for obviousness is hard because you have to account for existing user conventions despite their weaknesses. That means good, obvious design has to take into account all three tenses: past, present, and future.


How to unsubscribe from LinkedIn email

In what I consider a necessary evil, I’ve re-joined LinkedIn to, you know, network. It’s not really my choice, but I have to live with it.

Part of living with it is figuring out how to lessen the pain of dealing with all the email they send. They’re notorious for it. I’ve done what I can in my profile settings, but unfortunately LinkedIn doesn’t provide a toggle for receiving notifications of new connections. That means I’m getting a new email for every single new connection that is made.

There are three ways to deal with this:

  1. Delete your LinkedIn account. I’ve already taken this approach once, but it comes with the cost of not being able to, you know, network.

  2. Set up some sort of client-side filter system. This doesn’t work for me since the iPhone Mail app doesn’t have filters. (Neither does Sparrow at this point, by the way.)

  3. Use another email address as your primary email. This is actually so smart, I’m not sure why I hadn’t already used it across all my various profiles.

The idea that you use a custom email alias (e.g. “linkedin@domain.com”) and a single email account/inbox that’s not your primary address. Think of it like an email junk drawer. The requirements, obviously, are that you have control of your own domain, and that you can easily create email aliases.

The way I have mine set up is similar to my spam-free email setup. I have an email account called ‘spam’, and I’m pointing linkedin@* to that account. That way I can still access the account when/if I need (for confirmations, password resets, etc.), but don’t get the obnoxious notifications or newsletters.

The only caveat is that friends and family won’t be able to find my profile using my email address when they sign up or look for contacts. And, obviously, I’m not really unsubscribed. But now I won’t have my inbox flooded with LinkedIn Connection notifications either.


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