When I travel, I try to bring as few plugs, cords, and other dinguses as possible. My typical mobile device loadout consists of an iPhone, Watch, and iPad. Occasionally I’ll bring my MacBook Pro but that travels with its own power cord, so I’ll exempt it from this discussion. My iPad is generally only used on planes and in airports so it’ll stay in a bag most of the trip. My iPhone and Watch are the only two devices I’d use on the regular and as such need to always keep charged.
Anyone that’s stayed in a hotel knows the power outlet situation is varied. best case scenario there are plugs a plenty, even on the end table(s). Worst case scenario, there’s one, maybe two near-ish, though nothing within reach while in said bed. This means using as few outlets as possible is a must.
Enter the Anker PowerPort Mini. A 2-port USB 2.4A wall plug with Power IQ support that’s about the size of a golf ball. The prongs fold in to make itself a bit more portable, which is nice when comparing it to the size of Apple’s single port 5W brick.
While it’s not the smallest charging brick in the world, the fact that it provides two ports will more than make up for it. The alternative in this comparison is to have two Apple bricks that would take up two outlets. In the image above the coin in a Canadian quarter. The height is about 75% greater, but it definitely doesn’t feel big in my hand. If anything, holding the Apple brick afterward makes the Apple brick feel very small and almost inadequate.
When it comes to weight, the Anker PowerPort Mini clocks in at 38 grams, a 41% increase in weight over the Apple brick (25 grams), but like its size, the increase doesn’t mean much. The packaging the PowerPort Mini travels in when you order reminds me of a bar of soap in size and weight (and that’s a two-pack).
Getting technical for a moment regarding the specs, the PowerPort Mini puts out a total of 12 watts at 2.4A. This means plugging one device into it gets a 12 watts 2.4A charge, and two devices gets 6 watts each. Not earth-shattering, but if you’re in need of charging several mobile-type devices overnight like I am, 6 watts will be perfect.
If the name MacPaw sounds familiar to you, it should. They’re the folks behind a host of great Mac applications like The Unarchiver (I use it daily), the killer duplicate file finder Gemini 2, and CleanMyMac 3, the app that seems to do it all when thinking about eliminating crap that collects on your Mac.
The latest in their software lineup just dropped–a new version of CleanMyMac, and it’s pretty dang good. I wanted to take a few minutes to go over it and share some of my thoughts.
Editorial Note: I was invited to beta test the latest version of CleanMyMac, so my review is based on that version of their software alone.
When I first received the email that a new version of CleanMyMac was on its way, I couldn’t help but wonder if the world needed something like this. After spending some time with it, I think I have an answer.
CleanMyMac X comes with an array of options for purging the cruft that’s collecting on your computer. I can hear people saying now that with disks as large as they are, there’s no need for any of this! You might be right, though not everyone has massive disks and you’d be surprised how much can collect in the back corners of your operating system after several years of botched removals of apps, all those Docker containers that collect dust, etc.
The first stop for most folks is Smart Scan. This is the easy mode. If you’d rather just click a thing and be done with it, Smart Scan fits the bill perfectly. It’ll work through the Cleanup, Protection, and Speed tasks automatically and behave as if you said yes to everything each task offers. For those that like a bit more control, I recommend staying away from this option and working your way down the list, instead. Hit the Run button and you’ll be done in a few moments.
Those that are curious will inevitably want to stop at each entry on the list, especially System Junk. This is the same task as the first 1/3 of Smart Scan. You can opt to go with the defaults or hit Review Details to get a clearer, more detailed picture of what’s on the chopping block and exempt items as needed. On my list I have a few options unchecked because of personal preferences, but you’re free to be as selective (or not) as you want. In my case, I don’t want to drop the only disk image it found that I haven’t touched in a long time. It’s a copy of a photo CD from a waterproof camera we brought with us on vacation to the Caribbean last year. I’d be better off moving that disk image off my machine altogether to save that space.
Depending on what’s most important to you, the amount fo space that’s recovered will vary greatly. Even if you only remove one thing, it’s good to know where some of your storage is being used.
CleanMyMac X offers up the ability to optimize your Photos library, as well. I couldn’t really test out this feature because I keep my photo library under control using a technique that involves putting it within a small .sparsebundle image. Photos.app manages the library based on how much disk space it has access to. Keeping the image small keeps my photo library small.
If you’re nerdy like I am in managing your photo library, this’ll wipe out all the cached full copies of photos and limit your library to small versions that are good for previewing. You’re always free to re-download full copies from iCloud later.
Note: Keep in mind that if your Mac is set to keep all the originals, don’t play around with this or you could end up losing photos.
If you have large email or iTunes archives, those options might be of use, though they weren’t entirely applicable to me, either (I use Spotify). The Trash Bin option is pretty straight forward but with a twist. Each drive on a mac has its own Trash. If the OS ever loses track of what’s in any of them, they can sit there collecting byte dust and take up space.
While they’re not as prone as Windows-based machines are, Macs can get viruses, too. If you find yourself in need of some viral remediation, you’ll find a process for that in CleanMyMac X.
Best case scenario, you see something like this:
The Privacy task is pretty self-explanatory. It clears your cookies and browser caches, autofills, etc. These are things you can do from within the browser so there’s nothing especially groundbreaking, here. It’ll also purge your chat logs, too.
These tasks are all things you can do elsewhere, though it might not be clear exactly how one would go about it so it’s nice there’re all in one place. I found myself needing to re-index spotlight a couple times because searching for an app brought up a document that referenced the app before the app itself. Re-indexing seemed to clear that up but as with just about everything computers, YMMV.
The Uninstaller is a nice feature to have. Sometimes, just dragging an app to the trash doesn’t clean up stuff in crazy alternative locations. CleanMyMac X touts a full purge of anything related to that app and even lets you see only the apps you’ve never used or are old and may soon be unsupported altogether.
From the Updater pane, you can work through applications and update them on the fly. This triggers the update process within the app. It’s not immediately clear how it knows or how it triggers–I’ll update this review when and if I learn. It’s pretty straight forward in how it works, though I couldn’t get it to update a couple apps. I suspect that’s an issue on my end rather than with the app itself given its hands-off approach to facilitating these updates.
Last, CleanMyMac X allows you peruse your drives for the fattiest of files and permanently delete ones you’re not going to miss. Ironically enough, the top entry on my list was my iMovie Library. You can filter the list down by kind, size, and how long it’s been since you touched them. All helpful options.
So the question that’s on your mind: do you need this app? On the surface and as my initial response, I say yes, though consider what you’d actually want out of it before diving in. Some of its features might not serve your needs, specifically. They definitely don’t apply to me but they still serve their place in the ecosystem nonetheless. If you need an app that’s great for dumping cruft, uninstalling apps for real, and having a good spot for sweeping through app updates, I’d say absolutely buy it. If that’s not on your wish list, you’ll find other tools available for less that can just as well meet your needs.
Let’s talk pricing. CleanMyMac X access is available in three forms: yearly and lifetime and something cool I will share in a moment. I’m in firmly in the “buy it once” camp if I can help it so I’m going to personally recommend snagging the lifetime access for $89.95. If that seems a bit steep, MacPaw offers it up on a yearly basis for $39.95, as well. It’s available in the Mac Paw store starting September 5th. If that’s not your style, CleanMyMac X is a part of the Setapp application bundle that gives you access to literally a hundred awesome Mac apps for $10/month. If lifetime access isn’t in the budget this month and $10 is much easier to handle, consider that option, instead. Plus, for that same $10, you’ll land a load of other great apps.
I am always on the hunt for new tools to aid in learning. As someone that didn’t excel very well in a traditional educational environment–I repeated my last year of high school and it took me a bit over eight years to manage to get my college degree–alternative environments are especially intriguing because fulfilling the consumption of knowledge requirement I keep for myself in a way that both makes the material interesting and easy to digest has been hard.
I discovered Brilliant a couple weeks ago and yesterday, and jumping to the end for just a moment, I committed to a year of their premium service. I wanted to briefly discuss why I found Brilliant so appealing and why I think it can be the next great learning platform.
Brilliant’s missing is simple:
Finding and developing the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.
They believe that accessibility is paramount. Those who are well off or have more access to resources generally find themselves excelling. For those who may not have access to the same resources, while they’re entirely driven and have great potential, excelling in a field can be hard.
The list of recommended courses by type.
When you first sign up for Brilliant, you can pick any number of topics. The easiest place to start is my skimming the Recommended section and see what catches your eye. You’ll find a whole host of different categories to choose from in math, science, and computer science. If your goal is to bolster your knowledge that could most likely help in your career (and that career is at least partially technology or math-based), the Recommended > Professionals section is the place to start.
After skimming the list I came to realize that I ultimately want to learn all of it and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that idea. But you have to start somewhere. Personally, I started with the Logic topic. It contains a few critical thinking questions that were actually exciting to solve and know the correct answer to, as well!
Each course breaks down the material is easy to digest sections.
With your course selected, it makes the most sense to start at the beginning. Every course opens the intro topic to you for free so you can get a sense if the platform is going to work out for you and even if there are enough topics of interest to make the price worth it. You can skim through the list to see if it’s something you’d like to give into and if so, start with the first entry always! Each topic is broken down very logically and contain easy to digest questions and solutions that do a great job of explaining.
The questions are simple and clutter-free.
Each question is presented on its own. Most questions are multiple choice with some requiring you to fill in the answer (though they often give you several chances in case you have a typo). If you’re not sure, guess!
If you find yourself stumped, you can view the solution and it’ll go into great detail about the question, the underlying topic, and provide examples. After reading the solution, if you understand it, make sure to hit the thumbs up button at the bottom. If not, hit the thumbs down button and explain why. Once you’re ready you can proceed to the next question.
As someone that has always been a visual learner, there were a few that I found difficult and definitely got wrong because I’m trying to convert words into something I can visualize which can be hard. It took a couple re-reads of the solution to fully get it, but there wasn’t a time when I didn’t understand the material. (In other words, the solutions often have visual aids to help explain the material).
Beyond all the knowledge you can learn, Brilliant takes things one step further and acts as a platform for students to be discovered. They cite a couple particularly interesting examples. Mursalin Habib is 16 years old and explained induction in great detail and in a way that make sense. Anastasiya Romanova started a calculus contest for fun.
Don’t think for a moment, though, that Brilliant is just for high school and college-aged people. There’s no age limit and whether you’re 16 or 60, you’ll find something to learn.
I strongly recommend this service to everyone. Brilliant does a great job of taking complex categories if knowledge and breaking them down into super bite sized chunks that build on each other and make learning them an actually satisfying experience. At $24.99/month, it’s a bit steep, but if you find yourself thinking that you’d see yourself using it for at least a few months, definitely go for the annual plan instead. At $119.88/year ($9.99/month), paying monthly would end up costing more at month 5 and beyond, though you definitely lose a bit of the flexibility. Given the amount of content, spend a couple hours a week and you’ll have enough to keep you busy for quite a while.
You can check out Brilliant here and get started with an absolutely free trial. If you stick around, you’ll also likely be presented with a 20% off discount on the annual plan that’s only good for 2 days. This makes the break even point occur during month 3, instead. For me that was a no-brainer. I can see myself sticking around for at least 4 months and I’m sure you will, too, with all sorts of awesome new knowledge gained in the process.
I have been a fan of the Affinity product line from Serif since they first released Affinity Photo. As someone who has spent a decent amount of time working with desktop publishing tools some years ago, I got excited when I received the announcement that Affinity Publisher was now in beta and ready to be poked at by the general public.
Right away it’s clear that Affinity Publisher carries the same design language and ease of use that Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer present to users immediately upon opening the app for the first time. I would expect this app to go head-to-head with Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress and handily beat them out in the most common use cases.
If you’re not a fan of Adobe’s monthly, never-own-your-license methodology, that alone might be enough to switch. Adobe InDesign requires at least $30/month to access and QXP is $849 (or $399 if coming from InDesign). I’d imagine Affinity Publisher debuts at $49.99 given that both Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are $49.99 each.
With the third product on the way, I can also see the three titles being released as a bundle for something like $129. At either price point, it’s a killer deal.
Ashley Hewson is the Managing Director at Serif and when asked about the overall goal Serif had for their product line, she said:
From the earliest days of visualising the Affinity range, we planned an unrivalled trio of sleek, super-modern apps created to work with the latest technology – ultra-fast, with stunning power and completely stripped of bloat.
The final step towards realising that initial ambition will come with the launch of Affinity Publisher.
It’s an all-new app which we believe will revolutionise desktop publishing in the same way Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer have shaken up professional photo editing and vector graphic design.
I absolutely believe her. Affinity Publisher brings with it tier 1 publishing features like master pages, page spreads, linked resources, full CMYK support, and advanced typography management.
While in beta, there’s bound to be some rough edges. Serif set up a specific forum to discuss beta issues, so if you run into any, head there first.
The free beta is open to everyone and is available to download here for Windows and macOS. an iPad version is coming later.
A few days ago, Digital Ocean announced new pricing tiers for their VPSes (affectionately called Droplets). I’ve been a fan of Digital Ocean’s offerings for a long time. Compared to other popular VPS provider Linode, there seemed like there was only one choice as Digital Ocean’s pricing ran 2x for almost everything.
Now that they’re the same price, I think it’s about time they faceoff in a set of sysbench benchmark tests.
As a devoted consumer of things Apple for six years, now, it goes without saying when the iPhone X launched, I was up at midnight ordering it. There was chatter that it’d be severely delayed (plot twist: the chatter was dead wrong) and I was able to score my $1,200 (after sales tax) Apple iSlab on November 3rd, launch day.
With the iPhone X (and iPhone 8/8+, we can’t forget about them since this article applies to those phones, too) come a couple new ways to recharge. One is familiar to those with other USB-C devices or the newer iPad Pros. The other might be foreign to everyone–that is unless you’re an operator of a handful of newer Android devices.
Before we dive in, I feel it’s worth briefly discussing what the new-to-Apple charging methods are and how they work.
(feel free to skip to here if you don’t care or already know what we’re talking about and just want some product links)
USB Power Delivery
The first–and hands down the fastest–method involves pure wattage and amperage increases at the hands of USB Power Delivery or USB-PD (also known as Fast Charging; technical reference). The Power Delivery specification for USB devices is optional (but becoming more common in USB Type C-configured peripherals), so you won’t see this everywhere. The gist is that by implementing Fast Charging, a device can charge exponentially faster. In the case of the iPhone X, taking advantage of the max 29-watt acceptance of power via the Lightning port, the device can be charged from dead to 50% in roughly 30 minutes. Unfortunately, not all cables or power bricks support Fast Charging but fear not; I’ve got a list of what’s good at the end.
Qi Wireless Charging
The second power consumption method added to the iPhone X (and 8/8+) is Qi wireless charging. Qi (pronounced chi) is a standard for devices to quite literally receive electrical current without the need for connection via traditional wires. Qi-enabled devices still need to be incredibly close to their source (hence the reason for Qi charging devices all looking like mats or discs on which to place a phone) so don’t expect anything magical like across-the-room power transfer.
However, Qi is slower than Fast Charging. In the iPhone X and 8/8+, expect 5w (7.5w coming soon via a future iOS update), the same current as the small power adapter you’ll find in the iPhone box. Qi isn’t an instant-recharge solution but it’s a great option for overnight charging. It’s not crazy to imagine replacing all the Lightning-cables-plugged-into-walls around your house with a Qi charger. If we place our phones down on tables, desks, etc., why not just place them on a charger, too?
Now that we have the overview out of the way, here’s a few products I recommend (and the ones I currently use in bold).
USB-C/Fast Charge Devices
While I’m about to recommend any number of power bricks, I can only recommend one cable. The Apple USB-C to Lightning cable (1m: $25; 2m: $35) is the only mFi-certified cable out there and really the only one I’d trust with these higher-current usages. A cheap cable from Whoknowswhere, China, could end up getting you in trouble down the road in the form of just not working, fire, or an electrical short that silently destroys your thousand-dollar SnapChattery thing.
There’s a host of different options, here. The biggest requirement is the device has to have a USB-C port and explicitly support Fast Charging or have at least 29 watts of output and the amperage to back it up. If you’re not 100% sure, volts x amps = watts. The 29w iPad power brick outputs 14.5v at 2 amps which maths out to 29. Anything lower and it’ll definitely still work, but charging will be slower. I recommend one of these:
With both of these charging options, I definitely cannot stress enough that it’s not really worth the few dollars in savings to go for a no-name/cheap brand no one’s ever heard of–or if the brand sounds like it was made up by grabbing a handful of letters from a bag and scattering them. The good quality products are cheap enough that they’re worth it in the long run. Since I use both methods of charging, I can firmly state each has their place and you’ll find those places on your own, too.
Writing about phone cases is always an interesting task. Everyone’s positions are usually subjective. Some buy them for the looks, some for the protection, some for both. Some go without cases most of or all the time. When Anker asked if I wanted a copy of one of their new Karapax cases for the iPhone 7 and 8+, I said yes.
The Karapax line of cases from Anker are meant to blend good protection without the stupid price tags that come from some other brands like Otterbox. The unit I received was the Karapax Touch, the slim and translucent mobile device enclosure.
In recent weeks, I’ve operated caseless, but if I was looking for a slim case that “did the job” without looking fancy or trying to act as a fashion statement, I’d have this case on my short list. For less than $10, there’s literally no reason why anyone shouldn’t give it a shot. The material might not be for everyone and I can imagine the translucency of the black color would be a turn off for anyone not rocking a black phone. Such is life, though; no case will appeal to every individual.
Nevertheless, give it a shot. If you’re not a fan, that’s ok. I’m sure you’ll know someone who would be.
There is a newer version of this product available here that uses the air vent, instead. The reviewed version has been discontinued.
There’s one problem I haven’t been able to solve 100% effectively thus far and that’s finding a way to hold my phone in my car without 1) using my hands and 2) placing it somewhere loosely. As I was pondering how I could solve this a couple weeks ago, I got word Anker wanted to ship me something that could potentially solve the problem.
Enter the Anker Universal Magnetic Car Mount.
Billed as a simple and sturdy solution to the dilemma I face, I was eager to give it a try.
The premise is simple. The mount aheres to your dashboard and attaches to your phone magnetically. In the box comes a couple adhesive magnet plates to attach to your devices.
Really, that’s it. It seems pretty simple.
Except it didn’t quite turn out that way.
As much as I wanted to really like this product, I just couldn’t. The ahesive on the mount was poor and thus wouldn’t stick to any useful surface in my car. There were a few places it did stick, but they weren’t easily accessible and seemed just as unhelpful as not having the mount at all.
Attaching the magnetic plate was easy but getting it off was a challenge. Anker suggests using floss(!) or fishing wire(!!) to remove it. I don’t know about you but I don’t fish. The floss was useless as it was just too weak. I ended up getting it off with tweezers. I also have a new scratch on the back of my phone. (Good thing the next iPhone is coming soon.)
It’s a great idea in concept and perhaps if you’re lucky enough to have better in-vehicle surfaces to attach the mount to, you’ll have a better time than I did. As it stands right now, I’m not sure it’ll ever be useful for me. If I still have it when the time comes one day that I replace my car, I might end up using it.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 []. So it seemed only fitting to talk about something I like.