Johnathan.org

August 2017 Archives

JPEGmini

Going back-to-back on softball blog posts about apps I use, JPEGmini has been in my arsenal for a few years, now. It’s one of those tools that I don’t think about much, anymore, but I’d be remiss of I didn’t say it’s damn valuable.

Images are huge. Today’s Web is teaching us that we need massive images everywhere, as heros, backgrounds, and whatever other hipster nonsense the frontend developer interns think.

That’s all fine, but bandwidth is still not aplenty. The longer a page takes to load, the less liekly your site visitor will stick around. Seems like a simple problem to fix, yeah?

This isn’t just about web designers. Photographers can benefit from this, too. Say you’re publishing a fat stach of JPEGs to a gallery for a client. These aren’t what you print with, so do they have to be stupid large?

JPEGmini shines in both of these areas and instead of trying to explain all of it, let me just show you.

The totally free stock photography website Bossfight is one of my go-to sources for awesome, high quality images. Every week, they email a .zip of all the new photos from that previous week. The most recent compressed set will make a good sample size.

JPEGmini’s claims are that its compression is nearly undetectable. Over the years I’ve used it, I’d say that’s mostly true. Annecdotal, sure, but here’s a comparison of bossfight_sample_set/bossfight-free-high-stock-photos-fire-sparks-hot.jpg at 100% crop:

jpegmini_comparo

If you can guess where the divide between the processed (left) and non-processed (right) is, I’ll give you a cookie.

And that’s the point. It’s meant to be non-invasive. The same folder of photos that was 218MB earlier is now 135MB. The JPEGmini Web site also features some comparisons as well as lets you try your own photos, to see how they turn out.

If you’re a serious application developer that seriously wants to cut down on the serious amount of bytes your users upload by way of their serious images, JPEGmini Server takes care of that.

For the rest of us, JPEGmini (free trial, $20) or JPEGmini Pro, (free trial, $99) (my favorite) will do just fine. If you’re unsure the difference, the two big deals are a packaged lightroom/photoshop plugin and larger max photo resolution with Pro. On the mac, Pro and Server support 128MP images and 60MP on the PC. The base JPEGmini app supports images up to 28MP.

Still seems like too much? The Web Service will do fine for the one-offs. It has the same 128MP limit. Sign up and you’ll gain access to albums which can hold up to 1000 photos. More information about the Web Service is here.

Do you use JPEGmini? How many GB has it saved you? Send me a tweet @_johlym.

Drop

I struggled to come up with a title for this post. I pondered some long thing that involved describing the app and what the post is about and I pondered using some marketing lingo. In the end, I chose neither.

So instead I used a single word. This post is merely about Drop, the mobile app that lets you earn points by using your debit and credit cards and in exchange, those points turn into rewards.

I discovered Drop through r/passiveincome. It works by linking with your banks of choice and offering you a selection of businesses. Pick the ones you shop at/spend money with the most and you’ll be rewarded. Once you pick your five businesses, the points will start trickling in. The return rate isn’t as lucrative as cash back from the majority of credit card companies, but it’ll open access to a reward system for debit cards, something that’s super rare in today’s market.

From time to time, Drop presents you with a one-time offer from a particular merchant. In my case, I received offers from Amazon, Nordstrom, Wealthsimple, and others, all for varying amounts of points in exchange for spending a certain number of dollars. Sometimes these payouts were wonderous. Sometimes not. Your mileage will vary.

dropapp_points

As you accumulate points, reward tiers open up to you. Points convert at a rate of 1,000 per dollar or $0.001 per point. Spend your points on things like Starbucks, Amazon.com gift cards, the Apple store, and more. At the time I wrote this, I had accumulated 122,415 points, the equivalent of $120 worth of rewards. (Update December 7, 2017: I’ve earned an additional 73,334 points since this post was first published for a grand total of 195,749, or roughly $195 worth of redeemable rewards) Consider this an outlying circumstance. A particular offer netted me a large amount of points but required a significant outlay on my part. I wouldn’t have gone for it, normally, but it was in an area and from a merchant I was already considering so the bonus was enough to push me over the top and commit.

It takes a few days for points to show up from transactions. I find most perpetually-offered… eh… offers show up within 5 days.

Rewards are digital, so be ready for that. It shouldn’t be much of an issue for most merchants but if you were planning on gifting something you earned from drop, keep that in mind when you consider your delivery method.

Once you’re signed up for Drop, referring friends nets you both 1,000 points a piece. This is where I tell you that at the time I wrote this, Drop isn’t open to the public, yet, but if you go here you’ll gain access, anyway Drop is now open to the general public. Head here to sign up.

I’m always looking for easy, low-/zero-resistance ways to snag a few extra dollars on the side. This app seems to be helping me out quite a bit thus far. As long as it continues to be useful, I’ll continue using it.

Would I like to see a wider variety of offers? Sure. Offers for place I already shop or have heard of extensively is nice from a familiarity/trust perspective but there has to be a few brands/merchants out there that would interest me that I’ve never heard of. Perhaps once Drop is open to the general public there’ll be more of that.

Updates:

Update 3: Drop is available to the general public.

Update 2: after I wrote this post, I realized it sounded pretty much like a puff piece, selling Drop. It wasn’t meant that way. This post came about in the middle of the night after failing to fall asleep and tossing some words into the blog often helps [[1]][10]. So it seemed only fitting to talk about something I like.

Update 1: Canadian? If you haven’t heard of Carrot Rewards, they’ve partnered with Drop to help you earn rewards, too. There’s also a partnership with Borrowell, also.


  1. Seriously. Look at the time on the screenshot. [↩︎][14]

John.ly Version 2

Last week I hacked together a new version of my blog (this site) in hopes that I could actually create what I had envisioned in my head all along. So far, I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I look forward to hacking on it some more, but this is a great start.

There were a few things I had to have in this version.

Easier to read type. I spent a few hours poking around the various font circles on the Interwebs and came across ITC Charter. I really like the way it renders on a page and from what I can tell, Medium.com also uses Charter. I guess I’m in good company?

Wider single-column layout. It didn’t have to be large, but something larger than before in order to accommodate flexibly-sized images. The CSS allows for image URLs to contain #med and #big and the content will eventually accommodate that.

A touch of color. The minimal design in the previous version was nice, but it felt bland. The light-blue links weren’t cutting it.

Navigation that’s always available. Scrolling to the top is no longer a thing.

Be small-ish. I wanted to keep the theme zip under a meg. The uncompressed them folder is around 760KB on my machine. The largest assets are the font files for each format (woff, woff2, eot, otf) at around 200-ish KB. The homepage, when loaded, sans tracking scripts is roughly 250KB with jQuery. A blog post will vary depending on images.

I’ve also shared the code on [GitHub for those interested. I can’t say the repo will always be updated but I’ll do the best I can to remember.

The Mac Mini: A Versatile Hub Forgotten By Its Maker

As we start this story–or is it a technical post–we’re already facing the grim realities of the situation. Apple has updated most of its computer-based product line fairly regularly.

It’s an unfortunate state of things, though. I’ve always found the Mac Mini to be sitting in a great spot that not many other manufacturers have cared to address: a small, powerful, near-silent workhorse that can sit just about anywhere and fill an anasuming role.

That statement used to be blanketly approved of by those in exist in any kind of Apple circle. Nowadays, the Mini is only talked about in passing.

I’ve heard stories about folks who use their Mac Minis for tasks that can be relegated to closets: Time Machine backups, Plex, etc. What once was a staple on the desks of those who couldn’t or didn’t want to buy a Mac Pro now sits in a home equivalent of the basement with its red stapler…

Sometimes, not even that.

Anker Roav Dash Cam Review

Over the last few months, I’ve pondered adding a dash cam to my car. This idea didn’t come out of nowhere, though. After seeing enough individual cases of a dash cam being useful either in daily life or in the course of fighting traffic accident cases or violations, I started doing some research. Luckily for me, one such dash cam essentially landed on my doorstep1.

I’m going to break this review down into a few different parts:

  1. Unboxing
  2. Setup
  3. Usage
  4. Companion App2

Unboxing

This wasn’t my first Anker product unboxing experience so I was already familiar with what to expect. As a SoundCore owner, I knew the experience would be good but not mind-blowing3.

The open Roav box

Cutting through the shrink-wrap plastic and lifting the lid, I was immediately greeted with the star of the show.

Under the tray

Underneath the black camera tray lay two divided sections and an Anker 2-port USB car charger. The long, narrow section held a spudger that would become more than useful once I got to the installation. The other the charging/power cable and mounting plate. The addition of the USB car charger was a nice touch. I wasn’t expecting to find one in the box. I ended up tossing this aside4 since I had one in my car, already, for iPhone charging.

Box contents

The box, in total, held the camera, two mounting plates5, USB charger, USB-A to micro-USB charging cable, and spudger tool. In addition, there were three document books: a quick start guide, the user manual, and a quick-quick start guide (a welcome card). I found the quick-quick card to be good enough to get everything up and running, but know the extra info is there, should you need it. The only thing I wish it came with is an SD card. I see quite a few competing options for sale online that offer SD cards included. It’s a cheap addition and an oversight by Anker, in my opinion.

Setup

Upon first start, you’re prompted with a couple questions including setting the date and time. It’s definitely worth nothing that the time is 24-hour so if it’s 6:49PM, set it to 20:49. Don’t do what I did and set it to 06:49. I found this out after the fact via a screenshot I’ll share later. At the time, I didn’t know there wouldn’t be an SD card included so my setup process was put on hold until I could acquire one. Anker recommends a Class 10 card of 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB in size. I recommend getting the largest you can afford that Anker supports. I don’t know if it’ll take cards larger than 32GB. I didn’t have any to test. I recommend the SanDisk 32GB microSD card. The one I used is the SanDisk Pixtor 16GB, found at BestBuy for $20 on sale but $32 at the time I wrote this review.6. Once the card was in, the device is off and running.

It automatically records while on so its first video was me staring at it staring at my kitchen counter. Since it wasn’t plugged into power, it also started counting down from 60. At zero it automatically turns off to save power. Moving to the car, it was relatively easy to get this thing installed. Where I wanted to put it–behind the rear-view mirror on the driver’s side–I have a toll tag blocking the dismount from the adhesive-backed mounting plate, so I put it on the other side. A hidden plus of this is that I don’t see it while I’m driving. My front passenger will, but that’s not really a problem.

During the relocation, I had to use the spudger to pry off the mounting plate. Let me be the first to say that adhesive is serious. It’ll eventually come off but watch your leverage. I’m not responsible if you break your rear-view mirror trying to pop the plate off your window… though when I got mine off, it flew out the open door with conviction. Now that it’s on and plugged in, I need to route the cables. I opted to take the headliner-to-A-pillar route since a quick evaluation revealed the B-pillar wasn’t going to work for my car. This meant I might not have enough slack to make it all the way to my center-console-mounted car charger 7.

When it was all said and done, I was short by about 3 feet. I ended up using a USB-A male to USB-A female extension to reach the rest of the way. It’s hard to know how long is long enough because everyone’s car is different so I can’t fault Anker for that.

Usage

Recording videos is dead simple. The device is designed to automatically turn on and start recording when power is applied so turning the key (or pressing a button in some newer cars) is all that’s required. By default, audio recording is turned on so if you don’t want any evidence of your terrible in-car radio sing-a-longs, I suggest you flip that off in the settings.

Video Quality

The Roav has three quality settings:

  • 720p @ 30 frames/second
  • 720p @ 60 frames/second
  • 1080p @ 30 frames/second

The default is 1080p and that’s where I left it. Examining a 5 minute clip, the video file came in at roughly 500MB. If you bought a small card, you’ll be overwriting footage after every 70-80 minutes of driving. For most, that’s totally fine, too. With my 32 GB card installed, I shooting for 2.5 hours of footage available at any given time.

The videos are decent. The quality isn’t super great, but the dynamic range (differences between light and dark) are pretty good. The morning of my writing this review, I took a drive. The timestamp is off, but it was at 9:33 AM. Depending on the angle, license plates weren’t always legible, which was unfortunate. I suspect legibility will be limited to those directly in front of the camera or when the sky isn’t so bright.

Settings

There’s a whole host of settings that can be flipped around (check out the Companion App section for a visual aid) but the ones you’ll find most important are the crash sensitivity mode and the Parking Monitor.

Crash Sensitivity If you’re in an accident, you’ll want to make sure the video is saved off. The Roav will lock the video file so it can’t be overwritten at a later date.

Parking Monitor If you’re leaving your car unattended, the Roav will keep an eye on things for you while you’re gone, for a set amount of time, up to 24 hours. This’ll rely on the battery being charged so if you’re taking infrequent short trips and leaving the car for more than 24 hours, you might want to consider either shortening the duration or… well… driving longer. The battery might not make it to the end of the 24-hour window. Overall, I found the usage of the Roav to be fine. I kept getting confused by the fact that it’s not a touch screen–so much in our lives is, these days–and that tapping the capacitive buttons below the screen was how I needed to navigate. I suspect it’ll eventually sink in.

Companion App

The Roav has built-in Wi-Fi. When it’s turned on, you can connect to it as you would any other Wi-Fi hotspot8. Once you’re in, fire up the Roav app. The app itself is relatively self-explanitory so I won’t go into a ton of detail about it.

Like I mentioned earlier, all the settings are available from within the app. I’d argue this is the best way to set up the device. The screenshot above is what I’ve configured for my Roav.

Video Navigation

Being able to browse the Roav’s stash of videos on my phone is quite nice. Tapping on a video will allow me to start watching it, download it to the app for offline viewing or–and this is the odd part–download it to the app so I can copy it to my phone. Yes, it’s a two-step process.

Downloading a clip is relatively painless. The speed is decent (around 3MB/second) which let me fetch that 550MB video I told you about earlier in just a couple minutes. The app doesn’t do a very good job of estimating how long it’ll take, though. The above screenshot had a valid and reasonably accurate estimate but the long video download did not (below).

Wrap Up

Overall, I like The Anker Roav. It’ll probably stay in my car for some time as it serves the purpose I need it to. I’d recommend this camera to anyone that is looking for one on a budget or doesn’t need a load of fancy features. There were a few areas I’d love to see the next version improve upon:

  1. I feel Anker could have stepped up the screen quality a bit as well as provide a better-compressed video file (15mbps is a bit much for a dash cam, in my opinion)
  2. Optional connection for a rear/internal camera. So much nonsense can happen behind a driver that a forward-facing camera won’t catch. The same goes for inside the car.
  3. Provide a micro SD card in the box. They’re cheap…
  4. …or have internal storage.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY. You can pick up the Anker Roav on Amazon for under a hundred dollars right now. That’s a steal, in my book.


  1. Anker contacted me and asked if I wanted an opportunity to review the Roav, free of charge. I obliged. Affiliate links may be used based on my final conclusion. Consider this the disclaimer. 
  2. This is its own section because the Roav app is entirely optional. Everything you can do by poking at the camera screen or popping out the SD card can be done in the app and vice versa. 
  3. I think Apple takes the cake, there. 
  4. A drawer 
  5. The second was underneath the camera in the black tray. 
  6. I wouldn’t normally go to a retail store for something like this but I didn’t want to wait and the difference was just a few dollars– a deal’s a deal! 
  7. My car provides two cigarette lighters: one underneath the center stack and one in the center console underneath the arm rest. 
  8. You might notice your phone not show a Wi-Fi symbol. I deduced this is probably because the phone can’t actually get to the Internet via Wi-Fi so it’ll prefer LTE. Here’s a screenshot of my Wi-Fi settings to show it still connected, regardless. 
Johnathan Lyman
Kenmore, WA,
United States
 
blogging, design, technology, software, development, gaming, photography