Using the iPad Mini as a Kindle Replacement

I like reading and for years I have been happily doing so on a very old Amazon Kindle which was a hand-me-down from the wife. I never bothered to upgrade as the newer models always seemed bulkier than what I had.

That was until like everyone else on the planet when you reach a certain age you need glasses and things become difficult to see, particularly in low light. My existing Kindle had no light and so I was forced to start thinking about a replacement.

Initially I toyed with the idea of a new Kindle or more likely my wife getting a new Kindle and me getting her old backlit model. But I am all in on Apple and so I wondered if an iPad Mini might not be a suitable alternative. So I picked up a generation 1 16gb model off eBay in order to find out and this is what I thought.

The first shocker was that it could only run iOS9 which meant it felt slow and the latest Kindle app isn’t compatible! Fortunately as I had previously downloaded it I offered the chance to download a previous version which works just fine. Phew!

Next issue was that the glass screen is highly reflective and it was almost impossible to see anything due to the light. After a quick bit of research I found these anti-glare screen protectors which are brilliant. Not only have they completed eliminated the glare but it also give the screen a very similar feel to the Kindle.

With the hardware side of things out the way I was finally able to read a book! Unsurprisingly this is very similar experience to my previous Kindle with the bonuses of it being lit and colour which means you can change the paper type for example.

That it’s colour also means that it is great for graphical content such as comic books and it is here where the iPad scores highly over the Kindle. As it is running iOS you can download anything from the app store (albeit with the iOS9 compatible restriction). So I have installed Comic Zeal and Instapaper and, of course, Safari so you have the whole of the web too.

Another plus is the Audible integration. If you are not familiar with Audible it is Amazon’s audiobook arm, an area growing quicker than ebooks. What’s neat about this is that your progress is synchronised between the ebook and audiobook (assuming that you own both). You can download the audiobook in the Kindle app and listen or read.

Of course the battery life on the iPad is worse than the Kindle but nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be. Just using it as an ereader gives me days worth of use without worrying about recharging. Of course as it is charger from a lightning cable I have lots of those around so there is always one to hand.

All in all I am happy with the switch and would recommend it for anyone that wants a colour, multi-talented ereader.

Pros

  • Works well
  • Can read at night
  • Can be used for other things
  • Colour screen so better for graphic content
  • Better synchronisation between kindle apps and devices
  • Audible

Cons

  • Screen very bright and needs an anti glare cover
  • How long is the software going to continue to be supported? 
  • Very slow!
  • Battery life not as good. Charge more frequently.

Sending today’s PipeDrive activities to Remember the Milk

Until very recently Google used to allow you to forward an email based on a filter. So you could receive an email see that it was from x and then automatically forward it on to y. This was beneficial and I used it to send the today’s activity notifications from our CRM (PipeDrive) to my task manager (Remember the Milk). Now Google has ceased this functionality on privacy grounds.

With this feature gone I could no longer see my activities in Remember the Milk (RTM) which was a pain. So I wrote a little script that used the PipeDrive api to find all my activities for today and send them to RTM where a task is created. For this part I used the RTM email in facility that allows you to email a special address and get a task created.

I thought that it might be useful for others to see how this was done so the code is below. It needs PHPMailer to send the email in this example but you could swap that out for something else. I’ve broken it down into several chunks to aid readability.

You will need your PipeDrive user ID which you can get by going to your detail page and then look for the number at the end of the web address as shown below;

First off set some constants used later on. You will need to change these to your own details.

// Your PipeDrive details
define('PIPEDRIVE_API_URL', 'your PipeDrive api url here');
define('PIPEDRIVE_API_KEY', 'your PipeDrive api key here');
define('PIPEDRIVE_USER_ID', 'the unique number of your PipeDrive user');
// RTM details here: https://www.rememberthemilk.com/services/email/
define('RTM_EMAIL_ADDRESS', 'the email address to email in to RTM');
// SMTP details
define('SMTP_HOST', 'address of your SMTP server');
define('SMTP_PORT', 'port of your SMTP server');
define('SMTP_USERNAME', 'email account username');
define('SMTP_PASSWORD', 'email account password');
define('SMTP_EMAIL', 'your email address');
define('SMTP_NAME', 'your name');

Next request from the PipeDrive API all the activities that are due today.

 
// get all activities for selected user
// Details here: https://developers.pipedrive.com/docs/api/v1/#!/Activities/get_activities
$ch = curl_init();
$request = PIPEDRIVE_API_URL."/activities?user_id=".PIPEDRIVE_USER_ID"&start=0&done=0&api_token=".PIPEDRIVE_API_KEY;
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, $request);
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);
$curl_response = curl_exec($ch);
$response = json_decode($curl_response, true);
curl_close($ch);

Then cycle through any that have been returned extracting the details you need. I have chosen the name and their organisation but you can check the api reference here for what else is returned.

 $activities = '';
 for ($i = 0; $i < count($response['data']); $i++){
   if ($response['data'][$i]['due_date'] == date('Y-m-d')) {
    $activities .= ucfirst($response['data'][$i]['type']).' '.$response['data'][$i]['person_name'].' ('.$response['data'][$i]['org_name'].')'.PHP_EOL.PHP_EOL;
  }
}

We now have a formatted string containing a list of people and their organisations, one per line, that have activities due today. The final step is to send the email.

The most important bit here is the subject line which uses RTM’s Smart Add syntax so you will need to change this to reflect the list you want the task to go to and anything else. At present it will create a task called “Pipedrive activities” with a priority of 1 for today. The activities details appear as a note appended to the task itself.

if ($activities != '') {
  $mail = new PHPMailer();
  $mail->IsSMTP(true); // SMTP
  $mail->SMTPAuth   = true;  // SMTP authentication
  $mail->Mailer = "smtp";
  $mail->isHTML(true);
  $mail->Host= SMTP_HOST; 
  $mail->Port = SMTP_PORT;
  $mail->Username = SMTP_USERNAME;
  $mail->Password = SMTP_PASSWORD;
  $mail->SetFrom(SMTP_EMAIL, "SMTP_NAME");
  $mail->AddReplyTo(SMTP_EMAIL, "SMTP_NAME");
  $mail->Subject = "Pipedrive activities !1 tod #list";
  $mail->MsgHTML($activities);
  $mail->AddAddress("RTM_EMAIL_ADDRESS");
  // send the email
  $mail->Send();
 } 

You’ll probably want to also schedule the task to run nightly so that they automatically appear in your task list each morning. I find it’s a good way to remind me of what’s needed for the day ahead.

Is this the world’s most expensive charger?

One of the disappointments of the new iPad Pro was that all those lightning charge cables and accessories that I’d accumulated over the years immediately became useless. However, the move to USB-C meant that the iPad had a bit of a trick up its sleeve – charging. As you can see from the image above here it is charging my Apple Watch.

The iPad Pro can charge accessories such as your watch, iPhone etc. at a 7.5W charge rate – providing that you have the right cables. To do so requires a potentially expensive outlay in new USB-C to lightning and watch charge cables – currently £50 if you buy the official Apple variants.

But does it work? Well, yes it does and the charge speed isn’t too shabby either for on-the-go charging. In the time it has taken me to type this post my watch has added another 25%.

It is a useful tool in the charging kitbag but I don’t think that it is going to completely replace the need for a mobile battery as I certainly can’t get my iPad Pro into my pocket, something I frequently do when needing to charge my iPhone on the go. That said it is a useful stop-gap and the huge battery in the iPad does mean that you can afford to sacrifice some charge from it in order to keep your other kit topped up.

Recording who clicks which link when on Sendy eMailer

For many, Mailchimp is a reliable mailer for sending newsletters and other automated email campaigns. And for some it might even be cost effective but unless you are sending very few emails I’d suggest not. Whatever your views on costs it is very easy. However, if you’re already using Amazon’s AWS then there are other services that, with a little effort, might well be cheaper. These take advantage of the fact that you get a generous free sending limit with your account.

Sendy is one such service which does much of what Mailchimp does. It can send nicely formatted emails in html and plain text, run multiple lists, help you to be GDPR compliant, manage unsubscribes and much more. If you are willing to go through the setup and, perhaps, host it yourself it is a good option.

While Sendy is feature packed it has always surprised me that it is missing something that I consider to be important – the ability to see when someone clicked a link. To be clear you can get a list of who clicks on a link in a campaign but you have no idea when. This makes any follow up actions, such as creating an activity record in your CRM for that time (which is what I needed to do) impossible. So I decided to try and fix this deficiency.

The issue, to my mind, is how Sendy stores the clicks. This is done as a comma separated list of subscriber IDs in a longtext column in the links table. The latest click of a link just sees the latest subscriber ID added to the end of the list. What I really needed was a table that held the individual clicks along with WHEN the person actually clicked. So I created a table for this:

 CREATE TABLE campaign_click (
    id INT NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,
    subscriber_id INT NOT NULL,
    clicked_at TIMESTAMP NOT NULL DEFAULT CURRENT_TIMESTAMP,
    link_id INT,
    primary key (id) ) ENGINE=InnoDB DEFAULT CHARSET=latin1;

Then I created a trigger that fires every time the links table is updated and the clicks column has changed:

DELIMITER #
CREATE TRIGGER tr_links AFTER UPDATE ON links
FOR EACH ROW
BEGIN
IF (old.clicks != new.clicks) THEN
INSERT INTO campaign_click(subscriber_id, link_id)
VALUES (SUBSTRING_INDEX(new.clicks, ',', -1), new.id);
END IF;
END#
DELIMITER ;

What this does is whenever the links table is updated and the click column has changed details of the click will be inserted into the campaign_click table. Bingo! We finally have a record of who click which link when.

Now you can do things such as list all subscribers that clicked a link in the last hour:

SELECT c.`clicked_at`, l.`link`, a.`title`, s.`email`
FROM `campaign_click` c, `links` l, .`ares_emails` a, `subscribers` s
WHERE c.`clicked_at` >= DATE_SUB(NOW(),INTERVAL 1 HOUR)
AND c.`link_id` = l.`id`
AND l.`ares_emails_id` = a.`id`
AND c.`subscriber_id` = s.`id`

You can make this more sophisticated should you require but you get the idea.

I should say that Ben, the author of Sendy, may well not approve of this hack and any update that is released in future may way overwrite this but I suspect that it will be ok. Use with caution, you have been warned!

Kablecard – The Swiss Army Utility Card for Charging on the go!

Kickstarter has been a bit hit and miss for me but occasionally it does turn up a real gem and Kablecard is one of those.

I have to say that when I saw the video and spec list (multi-head charging! sim tool! kick stand! back light! memory storage! credit card sized!) it did seem a bit unbelievable and I wondered if it was a scam. But no, I did end up with one and it really can do all the things that it claimed.

Inside the Kablecard

Included inside a quite thin case is a main cable which is USB-C at both ends. You can then change the tips of the cable with the included micro-USB, lightning and USB-A heads. As you will see from the video below this allows you to do things such as connect the USB-A and lightning heads and attach it to a battery to charge your iPhone. 

Tucked away to the side is also a microSD card slot which means you can whack a card in there and then connect it to you laptop for a bit of external storage. This might save you having to carry both the card and a USB stick but then who does that these days?

As you can see in the video it all works well but is a bit fiddly. My only gripe is the back plate is pretty thin and the hinge at the top only opens to the angle to allow it to work as a stand. This isn’t immediately obvious and would be possible to snap it off if you didn’t know.

However, all in all, it is a good addition to the kit bag and easy enough to slip into the pocket along with the AirPods ensuring you always have the right cable with you.

Why I Dropped Edit for Notes on iOS

So, this is me…

I wrote recently about dropping Drafts for the Edit app on iOS. In this post I said, and I quote:

Edit is a universal app (do we still use that phrase?) and the only feature I would like is sharing of text between the iPhone and the iPad otherwise I am set.

Of course there is already an app that does just that and what’s more it also syncs to the Mac as well. So what is this app? It’s Apple’s own Notes app of course!

I’m not sure why I missed this but, in my defence, when I first started on iOS/OSX Notes wasn’t what it is today and so I had hidden it away. In fact on my iPad it wasn’t even installed.

However, it is now reinstalled and I am now effectively using it as a scratchpad for simple text notes, just as I did with Drafts (and Edit).

Oh, and did I mention that Notes is free?

Here’s a Question that Pains me… Is Evernote Dying?

It really pains me to say this but I am worried about the longevity of Evernote, a tool that I have been using for many, many years. So long in fact that I now have well over 30,000 notes stored in it.

Evernote co-founder Phil Libin always said that his aim was to create a “100-year startup” meaning that it’s “a company that’s around in 100 years, which means Evernote’s product needs to be durable.” Right now I cannot see them achieving that aim. Of course that aim could have been ditched when Libin left in 2016.

Why have I reached this conclusion? Well over the last year there have been increasing issues with Evernote’s products. For me this started when Skitch started playing up after the last OSX upgrade and after months of waiting for an update I got fed up of waiting and moved to Monosnap.

At around the same time the performance on my Evernote desktop client on my Mac got bad. Simple operations such as creating a new note took forever. Six months later I am still discussing with support what the underlying issue is. I’m told that they are working on a fix.

In the meantime I switched to the Evernote web client which has improved considerably since the last time I used it and it is almost , *almost*, comparable to the desktop app but not quite. Then a few days ago it stopped load. All I get is a white screen. If I open Chrome’s developer tools I can see an error being thrown which is the likely culprit so I have raised that too with support.

To add insult to injury the web clipper has stopped working too although I guess that could be related to the web app issue, maybe, maybe not.

So right now I am only able to access Evernote on my iPad which is ok but far from ideal.

The people on support have been great but that does not make the product work reliably, or hasn’t so far. I’d move to something else but I really don’t fancy trying to migrate 30,000 notes. And who’s to say I wouldn’t encounter the same issues? Who’s behind Bear and what’s their longevity likely to be? I could move to Microsoft’s OneNote but how likely is it that they get bored of it and drop support for it (although to be fair they have stuck with it for quite a long time!)

So I feel stuck and left with my fingers crossed that things pick up with Evernote and that they get back on track for the sake of my 37,775 notes if nothing else!

Why I Dropped Drafts for Edit on iOS

I have been a happy Drafts user on both my iPhone and iPad for many years. When version 5 of Drafts was launch it moved from being a one-off payment to a subscription model which made me stop and think about whether I wanted to signing up to yet another app subscription. I knew I didn’t.

For me there wasn’t a real reason to upgrade as Greg, the developer behind the app, had said that he would continue to support the old version, but it did make me stop and think whether I was getting the most out of Drafts. I decided I wasn’t. I was literally using it as a scratch pad to enter text notes which I would then use in WordPress to start a blog post or maybe send to Evernote. Hardly making the most of a powerful app.

So I had two choices: make better use of Drafts or find an alternative. As it happened as I was considering this I happened upon an article on a new app called Edit. This looks just like Drafts but without all the bells and whistles. All you can do is enter text and when you are done either copy it to the clipboard or share it – the only two actions I ever do in Drafts.

Turns out that simplicity is the key here for me and so I was happy to swap Drafts for Edit and to date I haven’t missed it at all. It might be that you make use of the additional features in Drafts, such as TextExpander support, Markdown and the like but I never did so it was an easy choice.

Edit is a universal app (do we still use that phrase?) and the only feature I would like is sharing of text between the iPhone and the iPad otherwise I am set.

Oh, and did I mention that Edit is free?

Edit

Edit

Drafts

Drafts

Custom HTML Widget Changes in WordPress

Last week I was asked by a client if I could help them put the Mailchimp newsletter signup form on their site. They had been trying for a while and they couldn’t get the form to appear at all. “No problem” I said, think that this would be a doddle. A couple of hours later I was pulling my hair out as I tried everything I could to get it to work.

Finally I did the inevitable Google search and discovered the at some point recently the custom HTML widget had been changed and that “some HTML tags like script, iframe, form, input, and style are not available.” This referred to WordPress.com installations but I am guessing that it applies to WordPress.org installs too as that was my situation.

Another search didn’t yield any quick solution for me and so I rolled up my sleeves and wrote a custom plugin to get round it. This was incredibly simple to do and the code is below – this needs to go into the wp-content/plugins folder. Remember to change the ‘Your raw HTML here’ bit!

<?php
/*
Plugin Name: Output Raw HTML
Plugin URI: https://www.spokenlikeageek.com
Description: Spits out raw HTML 
Version: 1.0
Author: Neil Thompson
Author URI: http://nei.lt
*/


add_shortcode( 'slagrh', 'slag_raw_html' );

function slag_raw_html( $atts ) {

  $output = 'Your raw HTML here';
  return $output;

}

To use use put [slagrh] wherever you want the raw HTML to appear and WordPress will oblige.

Quite why this should be necessary I do not know but there you go. Hopefully it will save someone else a load of time or, if you have a more elegant solution, please let me know in the comments.

iOS (finally) supports QR codes!

QR codes are a more modern equivalent of the ubiquitous bar code but hold both more data and more intelligent information – if you can read them. Until this week, if you had an iPhone and wanted to “read” a QR code you needed a third party app but with the introduction of iOS11 the camera now, finally, supports them natively.

The animated gif below shows this in action and how easy it is to use:

Of course you might wonder why this is important given that you don’t see QR codes that often. Well I would counter that you don’t see QR codes very often precisely because the iPhone doesn’t support them and this support may very well open the flood gates.

Create your own QR codes

So what happens if you want to create a QR code of your own? Well it is incredibly easy if you use Google Charts. All you need do is copy the link below and replace the Spoken Like a Geek address with whatever address you want and bingo! Google will create you a QR code you can save and use.

https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=300×300&cht=qr&chl=https://www.spokenlikeageek.com/

Got iOS11 already? Give it a go using the QR code at the header!