Readmill is still useful as an eBook reader

When Readmill announced it was acquired by Dropbox and that it would cease operations on 1 July 2014, I was as sad and disappointed as when Sparrow was bought by Google. The Readmill app had quickly become my favourite reading app on the iPad, having a lovely, elegant interface with beautiful typography and just the perfect amount of surrounding controls. The Highlight feature, in particular, was very well implemented and I found myself using it a lot.

Thankfully, even the export tools have been well designed, and I could download all my reading history and preserve all the highlights I had made over time in various books. But I was curious to see what would happen to the iOS app after July 1. Somehow I’d missed this FAQ in the Epilogue post over at Readmill:

Can I continue using the Readmill app?

You can, but we do not recommend it. The app will not be updated or supported after July 1, 2014, and we’d like to help you transition to another service now.

Well, despite the lack of updates or support, I still think Readmill is a very useful and elegant eBook reader, and I’m still using it.

Readmill library

George Orwell’s collection of Essays successfully imported just a few days ago

Of course, since the underlying service doesn’t work anymore, you can’t sync your library, or make highlights, or connect to any of the social features of Readmill. The only thing that works is the book reading part — you can still import ebooks into the Readmill app locally via iOS’s “Open in…” feature. (All the books you imported in Readmill before the service closed retain your reading history and all the highlights you made.)

Perhaps for many people this is not enough, but if you only care about reading ebooks in your iPad or iPhone through an interface which, in my opinion, is better than Apple’s iBooks app, then you might want to keep the Readmill app installed on your device.

Category Software Tags , ,

Making iWork ’09 the default

A few days ago, Mac OS X Hints published this tip: Make iWork 09 the default and avoid update nagging Apps which is very simple yet very useful for those people who still prefer using the old versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

I’m one of those people. While I’m pretty indifferent to Numbers and Keynote, I use Pages a lot, and after trying the newest version I quickly went back to using iWork ’09 version 4.3. (Among other things, Pages 4.3 seems to be much faster than the latest version at opening certain documents — such as large Word and PDF files — at least on my system.)

The downside to sticking with the older iWork suite for me isn’t much the frequent nagging to update to the newer versions, but the fact that — as the author of the hint writes — it is impossible to make the older apps the default. “The old Get InfoChange All trick doesn’t work.”

The solution is simple. I tried this on my MacBook Pro and it worked:

First, make a backup. Then install the latest iWork apps. Your older versions get moved to a subfolder called iWork '09. That’s why you have the backup.

Next, move the NEW apps to an external disk or other partition. You can then restore the 09 apps to the /Applications folder. Or leave them in the subfolder if you prefer.

Having the apps on different volume from the system disk lowers their priority, so the 09 apps in your /Applications folder remain the defaults for your documents. What is more, any further updates will update the newer versions on your external drive, leaving your 09 apps untouched.

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The description at its website says it all: Breach is “a browser entirely written in JavaScript. Free. Modular. Hackable.” There’s really little to add: the Breach home page explains everything rather clearly. I don’t know anything about JavaScript, but since I love trying new browsers and love this kind of experiments, I just had to download Breach and try it out.

The process is straightforward, fortunately. You download the OS X application from the home page and follow the ‘onboarding’ instructions once launched, that will guide you through the installation of the first essential module (mod_strip) to start using Breach, plus a second module (mod_stats) that sends anonymised usage statistics to the developers to help them improve Breach. As specified by the developers, The stats only include generic event types (no URLs, no personal data) and they are sent to Google Analytics.

Using Breach is, as expected, a bare-bones experience, but the browser feels fast and is surprisingly stable considering its alpha status. One little touch I find especially nice is that each tab extracts the dominant colour of its website, for better differentiation if you, like me, usually keep a lot of tabs open.

I hope the project will expand and gather a community of enthusiasts building cool new modules for it. On this page you’ll find a few (some already working, others in progress), so that you can start having fun with Breach.

(Found via the excellent Brett Terpstra.)

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I am an iPhone+case convert

The Typist, in I Am the Cheat:

According to a recent Business Insider survey, 86% of iPhone owners use a case, with almost 60% of them citing damage protection. Of those who don’t, 50% say “cases are too bulky”. Nick Heer explains why he’s among the minority in a short post titled “I Am the 14%”:

Avoiding bulkiness isn’t an aesthetic decision, it’s a practical one. I don’t wear super skinny jeans by any means, but adding thickness and weight is unwelcome.

I’ve only owned two iPhone models so far: the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 4, plus an iPhone 3GS that was kindly donated by a good friend. I’ve always agreed with the ‘case-less iPhone’ school of thought. My white iPhone 3G was just too nice to be wrapped in any case, no matter how stylish or well-made it was. The form factor of the original iPhone, and of the 3G and 3GS, in my opinion, didn’t really warrant the use of a case. Their back doesn’t easily scratch as the classic iPods, and those iPhone models also have a very pleasant grip that — at least for me — makes it rather hard to mishandle or drop the device. I never dropped my iPhone 3G once, and after three years of regular use, the back is in almost-new condition (only the silver Apple logo betrays the use).

Therefore, when I purchased the iPhone 4 in 2011, I found the new design so pleasant and so much nicer than the previous iPhone models that I, like Nick Heer, didn’t want to even consider covering that beauty with a case, any case. But I soon realised one thing: while being an order of magnitude nicer than the 3G/3GS, the iPhone 4 felt more slippery in my hand when holding and handling it. At first I thought I just needed to get used to the new, sleek form factor. But time passed and, even with my smallish hands, I simply didn’t feel the same nice grip the iPhone 3G had. And I dropped it twice in the first month of use. Nothing major, and I was relieved to see the iPhone come out unscathed in both cases.

Then, a few months later, I dropped it outside, on concrete. Luckily the fall, although bad, didn’t affect the hardware on the inside, but the iPhone gained two visible dents on one side and a few hairline scratches on the display (fortunately unnoticeable when the screen is on). That very evening I was online shopping for an iPhone case.

I still didn’t want anything too bulky. I wanted something that added a minimum layer of protection without burying the beautiful industrial design of the device. The Incipio Feather case was the solution. I chose the glossy clear shell, so that it could feel even lighter visually, and I’ve been a happy user of this kind of case ever since. It adds very little bulk, and what little it adds actually helps to handle the device more securely — it has given my iPhone 4 just enough grip to avoid further drops.

I hope to upgrade at least to an iPhone 5 when iOS 8 comes out, and when I do, I’ll look for a similar kind of case to protect it with. Ideally, I’d still prefer to use the iPhone without a case, but if I have to buy one, a clear polycarbonate shell is the only type of case I consider for an iPhone.

Category Tech Life Tags , ,

Website renovations

Almost three years ago, on July 18, 2011, I was finally launching this website after two months spent meticulously editing and customising the CSS of a very old WordPress theme — “Futurosity Magazine” — of which I was very fond nonetheless. Two months is a long time but: a) I wasn’t working on this 24/7, and b) I knew very little CSS, so there was a lot of learning by trial and error.

From July 2011 up to now, the visuals of the site have changed little. There have been many refinements over time (I updated my logo, changed the contents of a few sections on the main page, slightly altered the column width in the site’s grid system, changed webfonts and improved the overall legibility, and many other little things) but nothing really drastic.

A few days ago I was trying to make yet another small refinement without immediate success. So, after taking a long, critical look at what had become the website’s stylesheet after three years of tweaking, I just got annoyed and expressed my frustration to my wife. She suggested what I was already thinking about: start anew with a better, more up-to-date theme, something that already integrates features I’d like to add presently or in the future.

The search wasn’t long, as I had already bookmarked a possible list of alternatives. The final choice has been the High Art theme by Allan Cole at Theme Supply Co. I have made a few customisations, but very small, very light ones (mainly I retained the previous typography based on Charter and Clear Sans Screen). The simple truth is that this theme, for me, works pretty well out of the box.

I generally despise website redesigns for redesign’s sake. I must say this change doesn’t come because I got tired of the old visuals, but because I was tired of having to open an editor and alter the CSS for every little detail I wanted to change, add, hide, move. The stylesheet was becoming a mess and I was starting to waste too much time on it.

What I’ve tried to achieve with this new look is a general visual simplicity, focussing on the readability of single posts (now the article body area is at least 100px wider), and trying to reduce the visual clutter a bit.

I apologise for taking the site down for 48 hours or so. There were elements I needed to place differently, and experiments with features and content organisation I wanted to carry out privately before bringing the site back online. Now things should work, but I’m still checking old articles to see if the old formatting plays nice with the new theme, especially for things like numbered and bulleted lists, footnotes, and image sizes. So if you see the RSS feed of updating in a seemingly random way, it’s because I’m refreshing past articles. Thanks for your patience and I hope you like the new look.

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