Cool Emergency Response T-Shirts

Sometimes it’s fun to “fly the flag” and wear a cool T-shirt to let everyone know what you do, isn’t it? This company has some pretty good designs for firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics, nurses, etc. so I thought I would share the link:

Cool T-Shirts

m_FIREFIGHTER

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Don’t Sync Me, Bro

Are you a synchronous communicator? I’m not, I prefer asynchronous communication when it makes sense, because it is way more efficient. Let me explain what I mean by that. Synchronous communications requires both parties to be engaged simultaneously. The classic example is a phone call, or God forbid, a face to face conversation. Asynchronous communication does not require both sides to be engaged at the same time. A good example would be texting. While you CAN make texting synchronous if you go back and forth, it is not required. You might get a text message and read and/or respond to it hours later. Another example would be email.

The benefit of synchronous communication is that you get immediate confirmation that your message was received. If you have a time-critical message, or you really need to confirm your message has been received and understood, it may be best to pick up the phone. You COULD send a text message and see if you get a quick response; if you don’t, THEN pick up the phone. Another benefit: it’s way easier to communicate something complex by voice rather than try typing that in a message.

With asynchronous communication, you can send-and-move-on. You get the message out, it’s in writing so it’s hard to ignore/forget, and you spend very little time. If the receiver is tied up or unavailable, you figure they will get to it when they have the time. Perhaps the question is not easily answered, and the receiver needs to think about it or do some research. This is the most time efficient way to communicate. As we all know, terse written communication can be easily misunderstood, so you definitely need to consider that.

Chat software like Slack, HipChat, or Skype can fall in both categories, depending on how you use it. I do alot of remote work so I’ve used pretty much all the telecommunication software out there. Most can do video calling, or you can schedule a “meeting” in advance, both of which are clearly synchronous. You can also use them as pure chat and be asynchronous. You might be engaged in real-time (synchronous) with some folks, and later others may read the conversation and perhaps reply asynchronously.

OK, now to one of my pet peeves. I find it highly annoying when someone has a perfectly asynchronous message and use a perfectly asynchronous method to deliver it, and then they go make it synchronous! Here is what I mean: using Slack, a coworker texts you “Hey John”. And then nothing. Eventually you reply back “What’s up?”. Then, if they are still at their computer, they say “Did the package arrive today?”. Otherwise, if they are not at their computer anymore, you might not get that question for another hour or more, and they don’t get a quick answer.

What’s the big deal you ask? Oh boy, now you got me started! Well, in an ideal scenario, I’m at my computer with not much to do, maybe I’m surfing the web, and I get that message. Oh joy, something to do! I respond, I get the question, the coworker gets a yes or no, and all is well. Right, that NEVER happens to ME when I’m working. It’s more likely I am deeply concentrating on a programming issue and this interruption comes in. Then I think, is this going to be a long conversation? If so, I certainly don’t want to be disturbed right now. Even a short context switch can foul up a good programming zen. Maybe I’m in line at the coffee shop and away from my computer. I don’t really like to admit when I’m away from my desk : ) but if they ask me something that requires a computer look-up, I’ll be caught like a rat. This is someone trying to convert asynchronous to synchronous! Arrrrrggggh!

Now that I convinced you of this evil menace, how do you communicate properly you ask? It’s simple. Keep it async, bro. The proper way to send that message is “Hey John, did the package arrive today?”. If I see that, even while in a programming frenzy, I can quickly respond “yep” and keep on my merry way. (Yes, there are some people that once they know they have your attention, will follow up with something like “Great. How was your weekend?” and now you are trapped in synchronicity) If I’m at the coffee shop, I can quickly respond using my mobile app and it’s done.

If there is a more complicated message like “Hey John, do you think you can get me that estimate by the end of the day tomorrow?” then I can process that message, do a little research, determine the best response, and get back to them when I have a good answer like an hour later: “No problem, i just finished it”. So efficient, so asynchronous!

Please, don’t be that guy who sends me a “Hey John” chat message. You likely won’t get a quick response, just sayin.

Swift Optionals

The more I get to know the Swift language, the more I like it. Any time the compiler finds my bugs before I ever run my app, that’s a good thing. And protecting me against my own mistakes is also a good thing.

Optionals is a thing in Swift that protects you against nil pointers. It’s a language feature that strongly encourages you to check your variables for validity before you run off and assume everything is fine. It’s also a very tricky par too the language to fully understand. Thank goodness for Xcode and all its helpful suggestions, but knowing what you are doing will guarantee you have clean code — not just code that compiles.

This is a good article on Optionals that I found easy to read and very helpful:

Swift Optionals

Swift Tips

This is just a link to an article on Swift that I found useful. “guard” is a new Swift thingy that replaces a design pattern I have been using already. The more I use Swift, the more i like it!

Using Guard Properly

Oh, one more little thing I learned today. The C method of writing for-loops is going away, so you should start writing them in the new Swift way:

for x in 0..n { … }

(works if you never write to x, which normally you don’t)

Carry on!

So They Updated the Apple TV

Should you care? In a nutshell, yes, you should.

Does it contain every home entertainment feature you could ever want? No. Nothing will do that. Like most Apple products, it goes after the mainstream consumer without providing bells and whistles that the majority of customers will never need. However, the fact that you can add third party apps makes it infinitely extensible. More on apps later…

The thing about Apple TV that makes it unique in the Apple ecosystem is the low cost of entry. With a very low price tag ($150) and no monthly fee, there is nothing like it. Even a tiny Apple watch costs double that. And the thing about Apple TV, it’s a shared household expense. Whereas you might balk at spending $300 on yourself for an Apple watch or an upgrade to the latest smart phone model, spending $150 “for the family” is much easier to swallow.

Today, the Apple TV is quite entertaining and easy to use. The remote control with its touch pad makes scrolling around very easy and fast. While Siri is often the subject of ridicule, if you simply learn what Siri is good at and stick to that, it’s quite accurate and saves loads of time. How many times have you wondered if a show was on Netflix or Hulu or iTunes? Now you can find out in a few seconds and see all your viewing options in one screen. How many times have you wanted to skip ahead or behind a minute or some arbitrary amount? It’s easy. I could go on and on about the main features but you can ready about that yourself — I want to focus on what makes it special.

By the way, if all the networks can agree to do what’s best for the consumer (ala carte channels and freedom from cable companies) and stop being so greedy, we can have live TV on the new Apple TV, and that would absolutely make it a must-have product. Hopefully that is coming very soon…

UPDATE 10/19/18: Today there are many third party options for “light bundles” of TV channels, including both on-demand and live TV, but so far nothing from Apple. Apple has opted to use their “TV” app to tie together the third party options.

So the first time I was testing my trivia app on my Apple TV, I realized how it was different. At that early stage of development, it was loaded with EMT questions because that was readily available. Like most kids, my daughter was walking by and her eyes went right to the big screen in the living room. She was instantly engaged and wanted to “play”. Even though she didn’t know a thing about emergency medicine, the fact that this “game” was on the TV made it interesting and a group activity. The unique essence of the Apple TV, as compared to a watch, tablet, computer, or your phone, is that it’s a shared device that resides in a comfortable, entertaining location in the house. Since it’s on TV, users expect beautiful graphics and don’t mind some noise (sound effects).

And there are apps for it! A skeptical friend of mine said “I can’t even think of any apps I would want on my TV”. That made me think back to the pre-smartphone days when people were happily texting each other on little number keypads. It was common to hear “I just want my phone to make phone calls”, and that was usually precipitated by crappy attempts by cell phone companies to add “smart features” in a way that made the phone difficult to use and harder to make phone calls. Then the iPhone was introduced in 2008 and the world changed. Yes, there are still some people out there who just want their phone to make phone calls and that’s it, but in my opinion they are missing out on some great things. (And if you feel that way, I’m sorry you read this far — you can stop now.)

So what kind of app would be a good fit for Apple TV? How about some workout apps? Yoga, boot camp, fitness routines. How about some nice ambience apps that show a nice relaxing mountain stream or a fireplace, complete with video and sound? How about some games that work well at parties or with couples and families? Trivia games, name that tune, etc. Karaoke is a good one. The list goes on and on, but for sure, there are games that work well on a large screen and there are some that do not. You can also connect a real game controller to the Apple TV and it begins to compete with consoles. You know, those things that cost more than an Apple TV and every good game costs over $50? You won’t quite get console-quality game play on your Apple TV, but it begins to approach that market and take a bite out of it.

UPDATE: The most popular apps are individual TV channel apps, like ESPN or FOX. These offer live TV streams as well as on-demand video content (30 seasons of The Simpsons at your fingertips!). There is usually a mix of totally free content and some shows that can only be accessed if you have a cable TV subscription (how ironic) or alternative streaming TV package like YouTube TV.

Peakview Software is working on some apps for the Apple TV right now. We have already released “Awesome Trivia” as a starter. It’s a multiplayer app that is great for couples, parties, families, or something you can just play by yourself. If you are in the emergency services, especially if you teach, imagine if you will having an Apple TV connected to your TV at work (or video projector), and a database of training material that you can pull up in an instant and present to your department. Yes, I bet you can see how useful that would be! Stay tuned…

My Experience With The Apple Watch

I have had the opportunity to try out an Apple Watch (Sport model) for the last couple months, and I wanted to share my thoughts. This isn’t a comprehensive review with all the specifications and options — you can find those type of reviews everywhere — just my personal opinions and feelings about the product. I will also discus three different watch bands which I have tried out in another blog post (sport band, leather loop and milanese loop).

The Apple Watch is very nice. It’s a great piece of technology. It feels good and looks good, like you would expect from an Apple product. In a nutshell, it is something you can live without, but after a while you don’t want to be without. It’s a luxury and a convenience, but not a necessity. Conversely, I feel like my phone is a necessity. Want vs Need.

There are lots of times when your phone is stashed away somewhere, like your pocket or purse, and you get a message. With the watch, you can just glance at your watch and see who sent the message and what it is about. It’s easy to tap and send a one-word reply like “OK”, “yes” or “thanks”. Very convenient. With a little more effort, you can speak your response and it will be transcribed very accurately, or you can just send the audio. I do this many times each day without pulling out my phone.

Every push notification that comes to your phone will come to your watch automatically, with no set up. If the notification or message requires more attention, then you can pull out your phone (or iPad or computer) and deal with it that way.

When I am at home, I like to stash my phone somewhere and forget about it. My watch will let me know if something important requires my attention. I happen to play alot of softball and I stash my phone in my bag. While I am in the dugout, my watch will let me know if someone is trying to contact me. I’ve even responded to a text message while playing first base, as we had the first base dugout. When I exercise outdoors, I keep my phone stashed in a waist band and use my watch to monitor my progress (heart rate, pace, mileage, speed, whatever). When I exercise at the gym, my phone stays in a locker and my watch lets me know if something important comes up. (As long as your phone and watch are connected to the same wifi network, or are within bluetooth range, this works great)

You will be surprised how many times it’s just not that convenient to pull out your phone, or it’s not nearby. The watch is a great “notifier”.

I’m a geek, so I use the completely non artistic “modular” watch face. Yes, it’s fun to change your watch face to Mickey Mouse when you go out or something, but I rarely change it. I’ve customized the watch face to show me the date, the current temperature outside, the moon phase, my battery level (which has never gone below 50% so I dono’t need this anymore), and the next item on my calendar. Oh yeah, it tells the time too. In particular, I find myself checking the temperature all the time now that it is so convenient.

And there are lots of apps that run on the phone. It’s a bit awkward to find the tiny little “dot” icon and tap on it, then wait for the app to load as data is transferred over from the phone. (In watch OS 2.0, this will be much more speedy as then native apps will be possible that don’t need to transfer data to/from the phone all the time) Usually when I need more than just a quick glance of information, I’d rather pull out my phone with the larger screen than try to do the same thing on a tiny little watch screen. Once in a while though, if I can’t readily get to my phone, I’ll use an app. By the way, it’s ridiculous what some developers try to cram on to a watch app. Do you really want to watch videos or browse photos on a 42 mm screen?!?

OK, I hit the highlights of what I use my watch for. Back in the “olden times” when watches just told time, I didn’t find it worthwhile to burden my wrist. Now that I can do so much more, I gladly wear one. And by the way, the watch bands are just as revolutionary and cool as the watch itself, so it really feels good to wear. More on the bands soon…

Computer Programming is an Art

Programming is an art, not a science. Sure, you can say it is both, but the real value and the real separator between a good programmer and a bad programmer is not about the science. A good computer programmer is an artist, and takes pride in their work because it is well crafted code, not because it is clever or technically advanced or complex.

So what are the characteristics of good code? Well, being bug-free is ideal but is rarely achieved. Reducing bugs is not the main goal of your code, but it is really a side effect of good programming habits. You don’t write code with the express purpose of not introducing bugs, you write code with a goal of solving a problem. After all, what good is a 100% bug-free program that does nothing useful?

If you write code properly, it will be easy to find those pesky bugs. Don’t use the most esoteric and advanced language features, don’t condense your code into as few lines as possible, do use long and meaningful names, and do start with the simple approach. Readability is key here. Nicely crafted code should be easy to read with enough whitespace and comments that even a junior level programmer can follow it. Simple code equates to fewer bugs, and readable code makes bugs easier to find.

If you successfully wrote good code and solved a useful problem, then guess what happens next? You will want to change that code! Yes, the biggest compliment you can receive about an app is “I like that, but I wish it could do this…”. Some people get offended when they receive constructive criticism but that means people are interested enough to care. When you get the polite “that’s nice” comment, that is the kiss of death — that person is not interested, or thinks you are so far away from where you need to be, it’s hopeless.

OK, so you should plan for success, right? Success means changing your code to add new features or improve the app in some way. Now someone will have to read through your code and figure out the best way to make those changes. That someone may very well be yourself, several months into the future, when you may have forgotten the finer details. You will thank yourself for writing clear, readable code, and you will thank yourself for those comments!

What is the main enemy of well written code? You might say ignorance, that some people don’t care about readability, and that is certainly true. However, most of us know deep down inside what we should be doing. The main enemy is time. Deadlines. Being rushed. When we have limited time, readability (comments, for sure) can go out the window. We just try to get the darn thing working and move on to the next rushed project. I have been guilty of this many times, we probably all have once we get to the front lines of shipping products to customers. Customers and managers want everything done yesterday, right?

Do your best to balance the need to finish on time with the need to write clean, readable code. An extra hour today will probably save you three hours in the future. If the definition of success means you will change that code in the future, then try to do it right the first time and make your code readable. Sometimes, if you know there will be a version 1.1 update, you can get 1.0 out the door quickly and then spend part of the 1.1 schedule cleaning up the 1.0 code. There is usually a little more padding in the schedule after the first release. (That’s when the people who were demanding you work overtime to get them the product will tell you “Thanks. Oh by the way, I won’t get a chance to look at that until I get back from my European vacation in three weeks” : )

When you stop trying to be clever with your code, and stop worrying about bytes and milliseconds until you actually have to, that’s when you have turned the corner and are well on your way to becoming a computer programming artist.

Update: After I wrote this post, I read another blog post which says much of what I am saying here about not trying to be too clever. I think it is spot on.