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.

Thanks Steve

The internet is buzzing with thank you’s, tributes and more about the passing of Steve Jobs yesterday.

I was 11 or 12 when we got our second computer – the brand new Apple //c.  A portable version of the Apple IIe, for the first time in the Apple II line it included a built in 5.25 disk drive and ports for a mouse / joystick, external disc drive, modem and more.

It was on this computer that my formative years were spent – learning BASIC, LOGO, messing with Apple Paint, and playing Choplifter, Bards Tale and Lode Runner (among others) for hours (and days) at time.  Lode Runner was the first game I played where I could create my own levels and I would spend days devising clever ways to trap that little guy.

Most importantly, this was the computer that got me online.  We had a 300 baud modem, and later purchased a 1200 and then 2400 baud modem which seemed liked the fastest thing ever.  I remember begging my dad to let me spend more time on CompuServe, back when it cost $6 / hour to be on the service, just so I could play text adventure games.

Later I would discover the wonderful world of BBSes, and play games online, download software and interact with online communities, all while tying up the one phone line we had in the house.

Almost 10 years ago I bought an Apple //c on Ebay, which has sat in my closet since.  Ironically, two weeks ago I decided to pull it out and hook it up, only to realize I didn’t buy any software.

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It wouldn’t be until years later that I would buy an Apple product again.  This past January, frustrated with my PC for not playing MP3s out of the blue, I grabbed my wife in the middle of a snowstorm and we drove to the Apple store.  User her education discount, I bought an iMac and was blown away by the experience – both the shopping experience at an Apple store and OS X.  It just worked.  I can’t say I’m a fan of iTunes, but thankfully Banshee is available on OS X.  Using iMovie, I was able to quickly jump in and edit my home movie footage from Christmas.  I imported my photos into iPhoto and quickly and intuitively created a photo book for my wife for our 15th wedding anniversary.  Apple’s focus on making products easy to use is phenomenal.

In April, I bought an iPad, and over the summer bought the new MacBook Air.  Apple’s combination of software and amazing hardware is a combination that no one can match.  Having worked with Apple when the original iMac was first launched, their business practices can leave something to be desired – but they do everything for one reason – their focus on the customer experience trumps everything, and it shows in the products they bring to market.

And the focus started with Steve Jobs, and for that I’m thankful.

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Cutting the Cable, Part 2

A few weeks ago I blogged about buying the hardware to set up a MythTV PC to record off air high def TV and integrate it with Boxee.

The hardware arrived and I’ve been working on on the setup off and on over the last few weeks. Some random thoughts:

  • The HD Homerun tuner is pretty cool. Fedora has the HD Homerun configuration tool in their repos. Installing that through PackageKit and yum made it easy to test out that it was working and had a good signal.
  • I had to install MyTV 3 times before I could get it to work. On a vanilla Fedora 12 install and then adding MythTV from the repos, only one tuner of the HD Homerun would work. Trying Mythdora, my MythTV front ends on my desktop PC and my laptop wouldn’t connect. Also there was a nasty bug in Mythdora’s kernel that wouldn’t let me mount a NFS share. Using Mythbuntu everything just worked.
  • Schedules Direct is a pretty cool service. I remember hearing about the story a couple years ago when it all went down, but when Zap2It started charging users for the scheduling data, a group of MythTV users started Schedules Direct and licensed the data. $20 / year is more than reasonable to pay to get all the scheduling data.
  • I love the fact that I can browse to the IP address of the MythTV PC from any computer and see the scheduling data and record a show. It took a few minutes to find the setting to only record new episodes, but it’s there!

    Obligatory screenshot:
    mythtv-schedule

  • The first recordings I made were the second night of the 24 season premiere and an episode of How I Met Your Mother. A one hour recording is about 6 GB.
  • I only have a 100GB hard drive in the MythTV backend, so I mounted my NAS via NFS . I would then in Boxee use the File Browser and surf to my tv recording directory. One downside to this method is that MythTV records the file, such as last week’s 24 as 1091_2010011819000mpg. The File Browser also displays a PNG file so it’s easy to tell what show is what, but it’s not intuitive at all.
  • There are plugins for XBMC, such as MythSExx and MythicalLibrarian that will rename your TV recordings into a S01E01 format and create a symlink for you to make it easier to browse your recordings. I couldn’t get the former script to run, but I didn’t spend a lot of time troubleshooting either.

And then yesterday while idling in #boxee on Freenode IRC, user SpaceBass mentioned that MythTV support was working for him in the Boxee Beta. There are a number of threads in the Boxee forums that the “mythtv://” protocol doesn’t work – but it appears to be working now.

In the Boxee settings, add a manual souce, and make it: myth://IPADDRESS where IPADDRESS is the IP address of your Myth backend and give the source a name – I used “DVR”.

Now use the File Browser in Boxee and when you first choose it you’ll have a list of your sources:

IMG_4870.JPG

Select DVR and you’ll be presented with “All Recordings”, “Guide”, “Live Channels”, “Movies” and “TV Shows”:

IMG_4871.JPG

Note: Guide doesn’t work for me.

If you choose “All Recordings” you’ll see everything that MythTV has recorded:

IMG_4872.JPG

(TV Shows and Movies will just show the MythTV recordings based on those filters). I haven’t looked into using MythTV’s built-in commercial skip as Boxee has a 30 second skip that just works too. I also like that Boxee remembers to resume where I left off watching if I stop playback.

To watch Live TV streaming from your Myth backend to Boxee, choose Live TV from the menu I mentioned above. You’ll be presented with a list of TV channels by station ID, not number:

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And here’s a screenshot of the NHL game on NBC in HD earlier this afternoon:

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There are two bugs I’m experiencing that I need to spend some time with:

  • When playing back a recording or starting a live TV stream, it will sometimes start as if it’s being fast-forwarded, including the audio. Hitting pause and then unpausing fixes it.
  • I think this may be related to signal strength as I’m seeing it on NBC and CBS, but not Fox, but I’m seeing jagged edges around an object, such as a person, when it’s moving quickly. If it’s a fairly static image, there are no jagged edges. But even someone quickly sitting down will have the distortion. But I don’t see this problem when accessing the recording from a Myth frontend on another computer, so it needs more investigating.
  • My other theory is it could have something to do with saving the content on the NAS and not on a hard drive in the Myth backend, so I bought a larger hard drive to throw in there too. I’d also rather have it on a hard drive than the NAS just to save wear and tear.

I’m almost done – if I had to guess, I’m about a week away from telling DirecTV to pound sand. I’ll poke at the distortion issue some more and install that hard drive when it arrives but this has been a pretty cool project to work on so far.

The iPhone Moral Quandary

Gizmodo covers what’s been on my mind since it was announced Apple’s iPhone partner was AT&T: the moral quandary of doing business with AT&T.:

So what we have is a company that doesn’t have privacy at the top of its priority list, not to mention the anti-trust laws of this country. It’s setting terrible precedents left and right, and its vast power that comes from its huge size makes it all the more unlikely to change for the better. We, as contentious, tech-savvy individuals, should go out of our way to deprive this company of money, power, and influence.

And for more information about AT&T, visit the EFF’s page.

The above paragraph sums up exactly why I won’t buy, or even consider, an iPhone.