A Girl and The “Apple Demon” – My First MacBook Pro

The Apple Demon. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
The Apple Demon. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

This is a story about a girl name Dakster and her adventure into Apple Land.

Dakster loved Windows computers more than anything. They’re shiny. They’re easy to use. And if they break, her degree in Computer Engineering and day job as a Network Administrator gave her the skills to either fix it or turn it into a toaster.

She can take a computer apart, put it back together, and get it working again quicker than most people can take apart a pen and put it back in working condition. She’s tamed servers, copiers, laptops, and desktop PCs with her mad computer skills that she’s obtained over her 15 years of working with Windows computers. Continue reading A Girl and The “Apple Demon” – My First MacBook Pro

Two Months With an Apple Watch

Glimpses of the Apple Watch life. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.
Glimpses of the Apple Watch life. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

I’ve had my Apple Watch for almost two months now and I’ve got to say that, overall, it’s been a really positive experience. Interested in getting one? Itching to read a post about an Apple product just so you can write a long-winded response about how Apple fans are idiots because Android had better products months before Apple’s new iThing for a fraction of the price?

Then this is the post for you!

Why I Wanted It
1 – Notifications. The Apple Watch doesn’t work without an iPhone, but they can communicate via Bluetooth (range of about 32 feet) or via a wireless network. At home, instead of having my phone on me at all times to keep up with the world, the idea is that I could leave my phone in a central location and have the Watch warn me of only the important stuff. I felt that could allow me to be more reachable in case of emergencies (work, health, or “I’m at the store, do you want me to get wine?” texts from my husband) while still spending overall less time on my gadgets in front of my kids.

Yes, I’m aware of how ironic it is—getting more gadgets to spend less time on gadgets.

2 – Health tracking. I had a Fitbit Zip (basically just a pedometer) that I was very happy with, in terms of counting steps and letting me compete with my friends as motivation. I found the idea of the Fitbit Charge very attractive (step counting, sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring) but I couldn’t get behind the limited style options. The Apple Watch is, well, shinier.

3 – Map directions. I had heard that the Watch could give you directions: It would tap one way to tell you to turn left, a different way to tell you to turn right. This seemed like a really cool idea to me.

4 – Yes, because it’s the latest iThing. I’m a sucker.

Why I Didn’t Not Get It
I hesitated a while before getting a Watch. My reasons for getting a Watch were good, but not oh-my-gosh-I-so-totally-need-this good. Meanwhile, I was really scared of getting stuck with a product I didn’t like. In the end, I realized two things:

1 – I don’t need it to be perfect. Reading the Apple Watch review from The Oatmeal helped me understand that a smartwatch won’t turn our lives around the way the smartphone did. The Apple Watch is, ultimately, more of an iPhone accessory than a new gadget of its own right. Somehow making it sound less useful removed some of the pressure in my needing it to be perfect. Weird, huh?

2 – I’m not committed to it. Unlike the iPhone, I have no contract forcing me to use this thing if I don’t like it. When I buy an iPhone under contract, I know I will need to use that phone whether I end up liking it or not. I need a phone and not using it isn’t really an option. But the Watch? I don’t need a Watch. Or a watch, for that matter. I can wear it all the time, some of the time, none of the time, sell it off to the highest bidder on Craigslist, etc… who cares!

So, with my fear of commitment appeased, I clicked the purchase button on the Apple Store online. It told me delivery would take 2-3 weeks, but to my surprise Apple delivered the package two days later with overnight delivery. I had my Watch three days from the date of purchase.

Life With My Apple Watch

Let’s see how it lived up to the reasons why I wanted it.

Your typical email notification on the Apple Watch. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.
Your typical email notification on the Apple Watch. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

1 – Notifications really did help me disconnect. I love my phone and it helps me stay sane. It has helped me stay connected to friends and family during the mind-numbing hours of rocking a baby to sleep, breastfeeding, or just when the kids are busy playing on their own and I can finally catch a five second break for myself.

On the other hand, I know I check my phone too often. I know that when I check my work emails, which I need to do, I will almost always mindlessly gravitate toward social networks apps shortly thereafter.

With the Watch, I receive notifications for emails, text messages, and phone calls. That’s it. You could set it up to do much more, or much less, but those are the only notifications I wanted. The Watch will vibrate when I get a notification and if I raise my hand to glance at the screen right away, the notification will display on the screen without touching a single button. If it’s an urgent email, I go find my phone or get on a computer to read the whole email body and respond. In the case of a text message, it prompts me with options to reply or dismiss the notification. If I click reply, I can dictate my response to Siri or use one of the default responses.

This process has helped me streamline everything I get during the day, and I love it. Love it.

Apple Watch tracking the number I've stood up at least once. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.
Apple Watch tracking the number I’ve stood up at least once. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

2 – Health tracking is “meh.” I have to admit, this one has been disappointing to me.

Yes, it’s tracking my steps just like the Fitbit Zip. Unfortunately, there’s really no social aspect to the Health app. I also don’t like the Health user interface; it looks pretty but it’s hard to filter the data if you’re looking for specific information. How many steps did I do yesterday? *Squints at the graph, between 6,000 and 8,000, maybe?* And seriously, what’s with the circles, Apple?

Yes, it tracks my heart rate, but as it turns out, I really have no use for this information. It was fun for about a minute (hey look, my heart rate is 68 right now!), but it quickly lost its novelty factor. Maybe this information is important to you if you’re training or have a heart condition, but it’s not for me.

In addition to the Health app on your iPhone, which gathers data from both your phone and your watch, there’s also the watch’s activity tracker native app that will show you three things: Move, Exercise, and Stand. Move tracks the number of calories I’ve spent moving, Exercise the number of minutes spent exercising (although I still don’t understand how it determines what counts as exercise), and Stand the number of hours during which you’ve stood. Don’t get that last one wrong, it’s not the cumulative number of minutes you’ve spent displayed in hour units. It’s the number of hours during which you’ve stood at all. That means you can sit from sunrise to sunset, but as long as you’ve stood up for a moment every hour, it’ll say you’ve stood up 12 hours. It’s kind of ridiculous. Health has pretty low expectations.

Overall, for my needs, the step counting works well, but all the other “health” tools have been mostly useless.

Apple Watch giving me directions. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.
Apple Watch giving me directions. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

3 – Directions surprised me with some awesome features. I’ve used the Watch to give me directions while driving a number of times now, and I’ve got some mixed feelings about it. The Watch will vibrate to tell me to turn left or right. Tap-tap-space-tap-tap-space-tap-tap for left and twelve consecutive taps for right, also known as “Why am I feeling a second heartbeat?” for left and “Why won’t this thing stop vibrating?” for right. Because it only vibrates when it’s time to turn without warning, and because the taps can be hard to distinguish while driving on a bumpy road, traveling by vibration is not as exciting and practical as I thought it would be. Unless you’re hearing-impaired, you’re better off using the Siri’s voice commands from your iPhone instead.

That being said, there is one unexpected feature I absolutely love: Your watch will display information about your next turn and how far ahead it is. This means if I miss what Siri said, I don’t have to wait for her to repeat it again later. I can just glance at my watch. Plus, if the instructions are to drive three miles on Sepulveda and I want to know how far along I’ve gotten so far, I can glance at my watch and it will show me. This is immensely practical when you’re in slow traffic and lose perspective of how far you’ve gotten.

I took a couple of day trips to L.A. with the Watch and I loved having that feature while I drove. I enjoyed it much better than trying to see the maps on my phone or the navigation system.

Yes, I do customize the face of the Watch every day to match my outfit. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.
Yes, I do customize the face of the Watch every day to match my outfit. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

4 – It’s a shiny new gadget and people are very curious about it. I’ve only bumped into a very small number people who own a Watch, but I’ve received many, many questions. What does it do? (Hum…) How much did it cost? (It costs less than most people think it does.) Does the band come in black? (I don’t know, check the Apple Store.) How’s the battery life? (I wear it all day—from 5 am to 11 pm—and I’ve rarely gotten below 50% battery life. I charge it every night while I sleep.) Is the band comfortable? (It won’t make your skin sweat as much as the plastic bands from the 80s, but it’s not as comfortable as wearing nothing.) Do you like it? (It’s been worth it so far.)

I’ve had so many people asking me questions about my Apple Watch that now I’m answering every question assuming they’re asking about the Watch. It’s been the source of a few embarrassing moments. I’ve had people at work ask me vague questions like, “How do you get notifications?” and then I start blabbering about my Watch just to realize they were asking with respect to something else entirely, like my code or Outlook. Oops.

So in the end, people have said the Watch is just a notification center like it’s a bad thing. As far as I’m concerned, yes, that’s mostly how I use it, but I love it for that. Some features, like health tracking, have left me ambivalent at best. Meanwhile, I find new and unexpected features every once in a while that make me glad I got the Watch. I’ll be interested to see where Apple goes from here.

Practical Fun: Spelling Apps For New Spellers

Spelling Apps © Artgig Apps/KeyStageFun (Fair Use)
Spelling apps © Artgig Apps/KeyStageFun.

In the last few months, my 5-year-old son is now being taught spelling at school. As a result, I have been on the lookout for anything that will help him. One of the solutions I settled on quickly was using iPad apps.

Since we began using the iPad for spelling practice, his spelling has improved greatly, but much more importantly, his eagerness and enthusiasm about practicing spelling has improved too. Rather than battling to get a single practice in each night, not to mention the constant battle to find a scrap of paper and a single working pen despite the fact I had 50 of the darned things overflowing from a drawer last week, now I find him practicing spelling without even being asked—or choosing to go back over a few previous tests after completing his current one.

I wanted to share two great spelling apps with other parents who are in the same boat.

Continue reading Practical Fun: Spelling Apps For New Spellers