The macOS apps I’ll miss the most

I have been considering switching back to GNOME full-time and finally pulled the trigger last week and did, installing Fedora 25 on both my iMac and MacBook Pro. I installed GNOME on my iMac a couple months ago, but didn’t do the installation correctly and screwed up my MBR, resulting in only GNOME being an option. I’ve fixed that this time and have kept dual boot (for just in case and for iTunes on my iPhone and iPad).

The more I’ve thought about this over the last couple months, the more I have wanted to go back to GNOME. The privacy concerns I have about the big tech companies continues to nag at me and there is something about the open source ethos that appeals to me. I may even switch back to Android from iOS if this works well.

I will still be tied to the Apple ecosystem with my work laptop. That’s both good and bad as I think about the few apps that have held me back from making the switch full time. The only alternative would be to switch to Windows, which is never going to happen. I haven’t used Windows since 2004 and considering what Microsoft has done with tracking in Windows 10…

There are a handful of apps on macOS that just don’t have a Linux equivalent, or if they do, aren’t close from a usability experience. The last three are the big ones for me. I also see the irony in that those three apps are some of most expensive applications I’ve purchased through the Mac App Store. You do get what you pay for and I really shouldn’t be comparing these, especially the last two which Apple has featured as apps of the year previously, to free and open source apps. I should be grateful that there are programmers out in the open source world making applications and offering them without charge rather than trying to compare them to Mac equivalents.

In no particular order, the apps I’ll most the most:

Messages

I love text messaging from my desktop (and the immediacy of the notifications). I’m old, shouting Get Off My Lawn and just don’t like tapping on virtual keyboards compared to a real keyboard hooked up to a computer. But I can live without this.
Status: Can live without this.

Pocket

The web client is pretty good and I’ll probably continue to use the iPad as the primary reading device for Pocket. I can live without this. Firefox has a save to Pocket add-on that works just fine.
Status: Can live without this.

Reeder

Reeder is my RSS reader of choice, and there are a number of RSS readers available on Linux. Feedbin, the replacement service for Google Reader that I pay for annually, also has a decent web interface. New links open in a tab in the browser instead of Reeder’s readability feature. I’ll miss Reeder.
Status: Can live without it.
Update: I’ve found FeedReader in the Fedora 25 repositories. Version 1.6 is in the repo, but the developer has also made a Flatpak available for version 2.0 that was released two days ago and I’m now running. A few thoughts:

  • This has fantastic usability. Almost to the level of Reeder. This is a slam dunk as far as RSS readers go.
  • I installed the Flatpak because version 2.0 adds support for both Feedbin and Pocket as a read it later service. Feedbin suport is working great and after upgrading from the 2.0 beta to 2.0 final, Pocket support is working flawlessly. FeedReader automatically added Pocket as a service since I had it configured in GNOME Online Accounts.
  • A big thank you and shout out to the developers for taking the time to release a Flatpak making it easy for users to upgrade to the latest version.

Updated Status: Found a replacement that is just as good as one of the best Mac apps.

1Password

Considering all the work I did over the Christmas holiday to change weak passwords to strong passwords and removing duplicates, and also the integration with iOS, this is a big loss as there is no Linux client for 1Password. There are a few password management alternatives on Linux, but I don’t know how good they are. Ryan C. Gordon aka icculus did write a 1Password script for Linux that may be worth checking out: https://icculus.org/1pass/
Status: More research needed and may just need to switch to Encryptr or Enpass.

Tweetbot

Ouch. This one hurts. I love Twitter, it’s the only social network I’m active on. I love syncing my Twitter reading experience between all my devices, which Tweetbot does better than any other application out there, regardless of platform or operating system. I’ve installed Corebird on Fedora and it’s ok, but it’s not Tweetbot.
Status: This one hurts. I can probably confine myself to Twitter on iOS and use Pocket to save and read links.

Ulysses

I love, love, love writing in Ulysses. It’s hands down the best writing app I’ve ever used after trying Scrivener, Hemingway and others. The iCloud integration is great, making it easy to jump to and from other devices, including iOS. I am using Ulysses to not only write for my blog and journal (then importing into Day One) but also as an Evernote replacement after Evernote screwed everyone over with their privacy settings (though they would later backtrack, I’ve lost all trust in them). Like most of the great Mac apps, they’re Apple only. If I’m writing anything, I’m always starting in Ulysses.

I’m using Dropbox Paper right now to try it out as a replacement for Ulysses, and while Paper is close, it’s lack of true Markdown support while writing bugs me. It’s not too bad if I open it in its own browser window and then use it in its own workspace – this makes it feel like more of a writing app and not a browser. I’ve spent significant time learning Markdown for both Ulysses and Day One, so Dropbox Paper missing real keyboard shortcuts for Markdown kind of sucks (some work, like strong and italics, but others, like headings, don’t). I’ve installed the Markdown plugin in WordPress, making it easy to copy and paste drafts from Ulysses to my blog or to Day One. It is possible to export Dropbox Paper as Markdown and after a cursory glance there are some decent looking Markdown editors available on Linux, so there may be hope.
Status: Can probably live without it. But I’m not happy about it.

Day One

This is probably the biggest one for me. If I love Ulysses, I love Day One more. And like Ulysses, Day One is exclusively in the Apple ecosystem. Ironically, I don’t write in my journal nearly as much as I should. But I love the integration with IFTTT and use it to track all of my exercise entries from Endomondo. I spent an hour looking at journaling options on Linux last week, and there are a couple, but I don’t see a way to sync the entries between computers, which is a must have feature. One option is to continue to use Day One on my work laptop or use a Markdown editor on Linux, save in Dropbox, and then import. I’ve also come across jrnl, a command line journaling app that says it works with Day One, but I really love the user experience of Day One’s app. This one hurts the most – Day One was one of the first apps I ever bought in the Mac App Store and I have years of journal entries in there.
Status: Ouch. I really don’t want to miss this. I’m not ready to start journaling in another app, so I’ll probably just write drafts in Dropbox Paper and then use my work laptop for journal entries.

Why I’m going back to Linux after five years of using macOS

I’ve been a supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation since 2004. Their work on privacy, free expression and technology are all things I am passionate about. For the last year or so, I have become more concerned with privacy issues in technology. The rise in big data and how everything is tracking everything we do has given me significant concerns. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to which ecosystems I want to stay in. I’m not going to say I trust any of these technology companies, but I can control (or minimize) my footprint with some of these companies.

Last year I took a number of steps in this direction:

  • I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. I don’t think I need to go into detail here, but Facebook isn’t something you would ever equate with the word “privacy”.
  • After Evernote said they would access your notes and data (only to backtrack later) I quickly stopped using Evernote.
  • I’m paying cash for most of my personal purchases and now shopping local and not online – even if I have to pay a bit more for things such as records, books or cycling gear.
  • I went through and deleted over a hundred online accounts over the Christmas break and used a password manager to make sure I wasn’t using duplicate passwords online and also that I was using secure passwords.
  • I’m no longer using Flickr (and Yahoo services in general) for my photos and I have a tough decision to make about whether I delete that account and remove access to the photos there. (Wikipedia using a number of my Green Bay Packer photos under a Creative Commons license).
  • I switched to DuckDuckGo instead of Google as my default search engine.
  • As much as I’m intrigued by Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, I won’t buy a voice activated device. Just think about what data it knows about you – what smart devices in your house, what your saying around it – and the recent story in the news how a police department wants the data scares the shit out of me.
  • I’m not using TouchID on my iOS devices. Courts have ruled multiple times that your fingerprint is not protected under the Fifth Amendment – but a passcode is.

Yes, I sound paranoid. But at the end of the day, this is my decision and my choice. I may not have anything to hide, but I don’t believe just because we have the technology means that it always needs to be used to collect everything about you. While I will never be able to erase everything about me online or with these technology companies – nor would I necessarily want to – I can control with whom I do business and make conscious choices about it. This way I can be eyes wide open that yes, I’ve been using Gmail since it first launched and that Google knows almost everything about me. But that’s my choice to stay within Google’s ecosystem (for now). even if I start to use less of their services, such as switching to DuckDuckGo for internet searches.

I stopped using Microsoft Windows in 2003 when I switched to using Linux full time until about 2012 when I started using macOS after buying my first MacBook. I love Apple’s hardware and I like macOS – the same Unix internals underneath, lots of polish, and excellent apps. Everything just works – you don’t have to fiddle with video card drivers or wireless. But you will have to do things the way Apple wants you to (see: iTunes). Integreation with iOS is great – answer phone calls on your Mac, reply to text messages. But who knows what Apple is tracking as well as the apps you’re using (I’m looking at you Evernote). And don’t get me started on the Touch Bar on the new MacBooks. (No Escape key? Really?)

So I’m going back to using Linux on the desktop after five+ years away. There is no question that the macOS user experience is significantly better. But using the GNOME desktop on Fedora is pretty close and gets better every release. I’ll know my computing experience is secure and private. I’ll probably share some thoughts on what key applications I’ll miss most in a separate blog post. I’ll still need to use macOS at my day job, but I can control what I use at home and have the peace of mind that nothing is tracking me (outside of what’s in my web browser) when using my own computers.

Dwayne Crooks on learning Python efficiently

Dwayne Crooks wrote a fabulous blog post this week with his advice on learning Python efficiently.

Being a year into my journey, I couldn’t agree with him more. He lists five mistakes that hamper our ability to learn efficiently. Below I’ve listed his five mistakes with where I am in my journey in italics.

  1. Reading a book cover to cover. I strongly agree with this one. This was the first mistake I made a year ago when I decided I wanted to learn Python. I bought Think Python and Learning Python and quickly realized I am not the type of learner who can learn from reading and trying to follow along.
  2. Diving in without a plan. Check! Yes, I have a plan. I know what I want to build. Whew.
  3. Failing to narrow your scope. I think I’m ok on this one? Let’s just quote this one in full from Mr. Crooks:

    Having clear boundaries makes it easy to decide whether or not a new resource is worth your time. That’s why learning Python by trying to build something in it is a great way to go. You’d realize how much of Python you don’t need to know in order to accomplish any one task. You’ll find that the more you narrow your scope at the beginning, the more you’ll learn and the faster you’ll progress.

    The challenge for me in understanding this one, is if you’re new to Python, how do you know where to draw the boundaries? When I get stuck, I revisit some of the classes I’ve taken or search Stack Overflow. I quickly realize how much I don’t know when I find a new way to do something or come across something related but that I don’t need. But knowing what I want to build probably expands my scope instead of narrowing it.

  4. Trying to learn 2 (or more) things at the same time. I’m being very careful with this one. I want to have a prototype of my application working before I move on to my next class, Python for Entrepreneurs, which will teach me how to build my application using Pyramid. The course will also cover CSS, Bootstrap and more web technologies. Where I’m struggling though is on my prototype – do I just build the prototype or do I try and learn some basic SQL, which is what the web app version will need? My head has been in the right spot on this one as I’ve tried to avoid learning SQL up until now.
  5. Spending too much time studying before you have experience doing. Mr. Crooks hits this one on the head and is basically describing me: Because we’re afraid to fail, we want to know what we’re doing before we ever try. So we spend a lot of time learning before ever trying to apply any of it. I’m wired to be a “learner” and do a deep dive into anything before I pull the trigger. Whether it’s a ton of research before buying a new TV or learning a new skill, this describes me well. But I think I’m ok on this one. If you were to look through my Github repo for nflpool (please don’t), you would see a mishmash of Python. There’s probably 25 files in my repo that is basically just a scratchpad for me trying to figure out how to parse JSON or trying to write a for loop to get the results I need. There’s nothing Pythonic in there (yet). For example, I’m not using functions like I should. But once I get the different pieces working, I’ll refactor it the right way. You can argue whether I should be starting it right or not, but I’m diving in and trying to figure it out piece by piece. You have to start somewhere…

Mr. Crooks then goes on and shares his five steps to get started. I’m happy to see I’m on the right track.

One Year of Python

It was Black Friday of 2015. O’Reilly put on a sale of their programming ebooks and I was finally ready to take the plunge and learn Python. I bought three books:

I then signed up for a Coursera class, Python for Everybody, taught by Dr. Charles Severance and started the class. I was ready to do this. I needed a hobby. I had a problem to solve.

Then real life got in the way. A few months earlier, we started building a new house. In January it was time to sell our house, which meant hours of work. Then in February, we moved.

I put learning Python on the back burner. Before I knew it, it was July, and another six months had gone by. It was now fantasy football season and that was the problem I had to solve. I needed a program that would keep track of all football statistics and standings and automatically calculate each player’s points. It was time.

I re-started the Coursera course and spent the time. I was easily spending twenty hours a week reading the course materials, watching the videos and doing the homework.

I confirmed what I knew about myself: I learn best by doing, not just reading or watching videos. The books I had bought were helpful, but just sitting down and reading them, trying to follow along and do the exercises was difficult. Python for Everybody on Coursera was great.

I finished that and moved on to Python Jumpstart by Building 10 Apps by Michael Kennedy, which I had purchased in early 2016 via a Kickstarter campaign. I’m almost done with that a year after I started this journey.

Learning to code in Python is hard. I don’t have a background in computer science and with some of the concepts that the books and courses teach I just don’t have the base knowledge necessary. This sometimes makes it harder and takes longer to understand the concepts. I’m lucky that my wife has worked professionally as a programmer in multiple languages, including Java and SQL. But I drive her crazy when I ask her questions about concepts I clearly don’t understand. I use the wrong terminology or fail to grasp what I’ve been taught.

I don’t know how much I’ve retained from the classes and books. I’m trying to build my application in parallel with my learning. I’m convinced the only way I’m going to learn is to build something, which is a piece of advice most often found online for people aspiring to learn programming. I’m constantly hitting up Google and Stack Overflow when I get stuck. I’ll copy bits and pieces of code from these search results and I’m always doubting whether I understand what I’m copying. I’ve signed up for multiple newsletters and bookmarked dozens of websites with articles on how to learn, code snippets, programming challenges and more. I’m overwhelmed with the concepts I’m learning and I know I don’t understand, let alone use, these concepts.

But I’m going to keep trying. The only way I’ll learn is by building something. The code will be ugly. It will break. And I’ll keep updating it until it works and as I learn more, I’ll make it more elegant.

Here’s to another year.

Importing Team Data into NFLPool

Last weekend I discovered how to pretty print the five JSON files I get from MySportsFeeds. This was helpful to understand just how much data is nested within each file. I also spent a good chunk of the weekend writing in a notebook. I mostly did some data modeling on what each table in the database should store and what their primary keys would be. I also captured things I need to research and started breaking the project into chunks. As I tweeted out over the weekend:

Monday was a holiday so I did the first four courses of Python Jumpstart. I took a break and went back to the JSON files I had worked with. My goal was to build with what should be the easiest table and pull the team data out. This is a dictionary that includes the team name (Texans), city (Houston), abbreviation (HOU) and id (64). The ID number is supplied in the JSON feed and is unique, so I will use that as the primary key. There will be two more columns in the table for conference and division, but I wanted to deal with that later.

I wrote a for loop to try and pull out each team’s information. I quickly got stuck and nothing was working. At one point, the loop I had written worked, but only pulled out the data for the first ranked team. I showed my wife my code and she pointed out that it wasn’t iterating in a loop.

I was stuck for two nights working on this after dinner. I finally stepped back and modified my pretty print Python program and started breaking down all of the information in the JSON file again. I figured out what was a list and what was a dictionary and what was nested where. (It looks like I didn’t commit this to the git repo, oops! Will have to fix that.)

After doing this last night, I found the list I needed to work with. I then re-wrote my for loop and I was able to iterate through all 16 teams in the AFC:

for afc_team_list in teamlist:

afc_team_name = data["conferenceteamstandings"]["conference"][0]["teamentry"][x]["team"]["Name"]

afc_team_city = data["conferenceteamstandings"]["conference"][0]["teamentry"][x]["team"]["City"]

afc_team_id = data["conferenceteamstandings"]["conference"][0]["teamentry"][x]["team"]["ID"]

afc_team_abbr = data["conferenceteamstandings"]["conference"][0]["teamentry"][x]["team"]["Abbreviation"]

print((afc_team_name),",",(afc_team_city),",",(afc_team_id),",",(afc_team_abbr))

x = x + 1

I then copied and pasted and did it again for the NFC. I did try, unsuccessfully, to modify the conference list – “conference”0 – so I could just write one for loop instead of one for each of the two conferences. But it was working, so I’ll leave it for now. (I’m sure my code is ugly, but hey, I’m just starting).

After that it was all about writing the SQL insert statements to put this into a SQLite3 database. (For now, later it will go into MySQL). That took me a an hour, but at the end, I got it working and was even able to add the conference name to each row.

Next up, I need to take the data in the Division standings JSON file. In it is stored the division name for each division in a conference: AFC/AFC-East. I’ll need to write a for loop to grab it, slice it to remove the “AFC/“ and then stick that in the Division field for each team in the Teams table. I’ll also need to stop dropping and re-creating the table each time I insert data, but it’s working.

Progress!