Today I joined Allison Sheridan on her podcast Chit Chat Across the Pond. On this epsiode, we discuss our many and varied home automations. Many of which — particularly for me — are utterly bananas. Most especially, my oft-derided-but-darnit-it-works-for-me garage door opener notification system.

I really really enjoy using Shortcuts, but I feel like I’m a complete novice. Discussing Shortcuts — and automations in general — gives me tons of inspiration for myself. Allison provided plenty of those examples.

This episode comes in well under an hour, but it packs a lot into not a lot of time.


 

Every podcast is, to some degree, a pet project. I’ve hosted some, and guested on many. This guest appearance was something else entirely.

Martin Feld is a PhD student at the University of Wollongong, and is doing his thesis on podcasting, RSS, and more. As part of his thesis, he’s hosting a podcast, which he cleverly named Really Specific Stories.

Really Specific Stories is an interview show, where Martin deftly asks his guests about their origin stories, how they got into podcasting, their relationship with the open internet, and more.

On this episode, Martin and I walked through my path into podcasting, starting all the way — and I’m not kidding — from when I was a toddler. It was a fun discussion, and I’m honored that Martin asked me to be a part of the project.

I’m also in the company of a ton of amazing guests; do check out the other episodes as well.


Custom Date Formats in Ventura

Despite being willing to go to my grave defending °F for the use of ambient air temperatures, America gets basically all other units wrong. Inches/miles, pounds, miles per hour, etc. All silly. We should be all-in on metric… except °C. I don’t care how air feels outside; I care how I feel outside.

Anyway.

Americans will generally write dates in MM/dd/yy format; as I write this, today is 11/14/22. This is dumb. We go broad measure → specific measure → vague measure. The way Europeans do it — dd/MM/yy makes far more sense. You go on a journey from the most-specific to the most-vague: day → month → year.

For general-purpose use, I prefer the European way; today is 14/11/22.

Yes, I know that 8601 is a thing, and if I’m using dates as part of a filename, I’ll switch to 2022-11-14. Same with database tables, etc. But in most day-to-day use cases, the year is contextually obvious, and it’s the current year. So, for the purposes of macOS’s user interface, I set it to dd/MM/yy.

Prior to Ventura, you could go into System Preferences, move little bubbles around, and make completely custom date/time formats. With the switch from System Preferences to System Settings, that screen was cut. So, there’s no user interface for making custom formats anymore.

I asked about this on Twitter, and got a couple of pretty good answers. One, from Alex Griffiths, pointed me to a useful and helpful thread at Apple. The other, from Andreas Hartl, pointed me to another useful and helpful thread at Reddit. Between the two of them, I was able to accomplish what I wanted, via the command line.

Apple has four “uses” that roughly correspond to the length of the date string when it’s presented. As expected, they use ICU format characters to define the strings and store them. They’re stored in a dictionary in a plist that’s buried in ~/Library, but using the command line it’s easy to modify it; we’ll get to that in a moment.

Here’s where I landed so far:

Use Key Format Example
Short 1 dd/MM/yy 14/11/22
Medium 2 dd/MM/y 14/11/2022
Long 3 dd MMM y 14 Nov 2022
Full 4 EEEE, dd MMMM y Monday, 14 November 2022

In order to store these in the appropriate plist, you need to issue four commands. Each has the same format:

defaults write -g AppleICUDateFormatStrings -dict-add {Key} "{Format}"

For example:

 defaults write -g AppleICUDateFormatStrings -dict-add 1 "dd/MM/yy"

Once you complete this, you can go into System SettingsGeneralLanguage & Region. In there, you’ll note the Date Format drop-down appears to be blank, but the non-interactive sample should show what you’d expect:

System Settings

I hope Apple brings back the user interface for this, but at least there’s a way to hack around it.


 

By happenstance, I feel like I’ve been on a new-dad tour lately. Last month, I spoke with Max shortly before he became a Dad. Today, I was the guest on, believe it or not, iPad Pros podcast. We spoke about iPads a tiny bit, but instead, mostly discussed what it’s like to be a new Dad. Tim, the host of the show, became a Dad just a short time before we recorded; this was a surprise to both of us, as the thought was to have this conversation before baby showed up. Sometimes life has other plans. 😊

I am far from a perfect Dad; I can name a thousand ways in which I need to do better. However, I like to think I am honest with what I get right, and also what I get wrong. Particularly on Analog(ue), but also in other avenues like this website, I try to truthful and not sugar-coat.

To have both Tim and Max ask me to join them on their bespoke “Dad” episodes is a tremendous honor. It’s also funny that this coming Saturday is the eight-year anniversary of me being a Dad in the first place. 😄


 

This week is, it seems, iPad week. Certainly, that’s all we discussed on this week’s episode of Clockwise. I joined my friends Kathy Campbell, Dan Moren, and Jason Snell to discuss all things iPad.

After wondering about how squishy the middle of the iPad lineup is, we grumbled a bit about the lack of fun colors for pros, compared notes about Apple Pencil, and discussed our preferences for or against cellular iPads.

It’s always a blast to hang out with those three. 🥰 Whether or not you’re an iPad superfan, I think our mutual admiration comes through.


 

Generally speaking, I don’t care for doing podcasts with video. Often, I don’t feel like video adds too much. Worse, for audio-only listeners, video allows me to make reference to things that only those watching can understand. More than anything else, though, my home office is usually a wreck, and embarrassing to have on camera. 🙃

A month or two back, David Lewis asked me to join him for an episode of his podcast, and do so on video. Initially, I told him “No video! No way!”. However, in a fortuitious turn of events, I had just cleaned my office for Relay FM’s Feuding Families, so I told David “let’s do it”.

Available both as a podcast, and on YouTube, David and I spoke about my history as both a developer and podcaster. We discussed what it’s like to build an app from idea to launch, how and why some apps are successful and some aren’t, and more.

As David said to me privately when we were done recording, whenever you do an interview with someone — irrespective of what side of the table you’re on — it’s always a bit of an unknown. Perhaps you’ll get along great with the other person, or perhaps it’ll be like pulling teeth. Chatting with David was, for me anyway, really fun. I think you’ll hear (or see!) that in the conversation. 😊


 

Most podcasters joke that there are two primary rules of podcasting:

  • Don’t discuss politics
  • Don’t discuss parenting

Today, I broke the second rule, and spent 90 minutes talking parenting with my friend Max Roberts on his Max Frequency Podcast.

Max is just a few short weeks away from becoming a dad for the first time, and naturally, had some questions. Though my advice is probably surely garbage, it was fun to be compelled to relive the time when Declan was brand-new.

On the episode, we couldn’t help but discuss Apple’s new announcements a little bit. However, this episode is predominantly me trying to do the impossible: help someone about to have their first child understand what they’re in for. Hopefully my advice was more useful and actionable than “sleep now, while you still can”.


When one is “in the trenches” parenting, it can occasionally be difficult to remember why you’re here. To remember all the work you put in to have a child. This conversation with Max was a really great reminder that even though kids can drive you nuts, they’re an incredible gift. No matter how challenging they can be, every single child is a miracle.

Some of my friends just sent their first-born off to college; others are soon-to-be empty-nesters. To relive the infant stage with Max was a fun way to remind myself that not only can it be worse 😆, but that every stage is a gift.

 

Accessibility, on the surface, seems like it’s affordances for people that don’t have " normal " bodies. That’s a very immature and ignorant view, and one that’s patently wrong. It’s also the opinion I’m ashamed to admit I held as a younger man. As with many things, it took a clarifying, first-hand, experience to help me realize how wrong I was. It only takes one experience trying to read things on your phone with your eyes dilated to realize accessibility is for everyone. If not today, then tomorrow.

With that in mind, I was really excited when my pal Shelly Brisbin asked me to join her and Robin Christopherson on her accessibility-focused podcast, Parallel. On the epidose, we discussed this month’s Apple announcements, with a bent toward accessibility. Speaking with someone who is low-vision, and someone who is blind, is absolutely fascinating. In this one-hour conversation, I learned a ton about how those with true vision challenges navigate not only their world, but their devices, too.


Converting a Verizon Wireless SIM → eSIM

Yesterday, Apple announced the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro. While they added a lot, like satellite connectivity for emergencies, a much improved camera sensor on the 14 Pro, and crash detection.

However, they also took away. From the iPhone 14 Pro specs page:

iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are not compatible with physical SIM cards.

Hm.

My iPhone 13 Pro currently has a physical SIM in it, and though I’d assume Apple would have a plan for upgrades like this, you never really know. This is also complicated because I buy phones unlocked; I wonder if the upgrade path is a little squishier when you’re not replacing an existing device with one locked to your same carrier.

So, in order to hopefully get ahead of the game for next week, I decided to try to convert my physical SIM to an eSIM. As it turns out, this process wasn’t particularly difficult, but I figured it’d be worth documenting for others.

The instructions below will only be useful for my carrier, Verizon Wireless.


First, make sure you’re on both the cellular and Wi-Fi networks, as there is a chance you’ll need to fall back to Wi-Fi at some point during the process.

Next, log into your account. I did all of this on my Mac; I can’t speak for how it’d work on either mobile web or the app.

Once you’re logged in, find your phone, and click Manage device.

On your device page, scroll down and find this section:

Activate or Switch Device

Click Activate a SIM.

At this point, Verizon knew that I had a 13 Pro, and offered for me to use one of the onboard eSIMs:

Use my iPhone 13 Pro's eSIM

Naturally, I clicked Use my IPHONE 13 PRO's eSIM [sic].

At this point, I was punted to an instructions page, which I didn’t really need to bother with. The rest of the process happened on the phone. I didn’t think to take screenshots of this, unfortunately.

On my phone:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Right at the top, I noticed a line that said something like Finish Setting up Cellular, which I tapped.
  3. At that point I basically followed a wizard that completed the setup

A couple things worth noting:

It took a few minutes for the activation to complete, on a random Thursday morning, before everyone in the world is trying to upgrade their iPhones. I’d estimate maybe 3 minutes?

🚨 BE CAREFUL 🚨

After I did my transfer, I noticed that iMessages were suddenly being sent and received as text messages. This may have been user error on my part, but it seems that my iMessage settings were altered such that my phone number was no longer a valid iMessage address for me.

If you do the above, it’s probably worth verifying your settings. To do so:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Scroll down and tap Messages.
  3. Tap Send & Receive.
  4. Verify your phone number is checked. In my case, my email address was checked, but my phone number was not.
  5. If it isn’t checked, tap your phone number to check it.

It’ll take a minute or so, and then iMessages should start coming back in.


After posting, Leon Cowle reached out via Twitter to provide instructions that seem to have worked for him on AT&T.


Travel Setup, 2022 Edition

Just yesterday, Mikaela received her second shot of the Moderna vaccine, and as such, the Liss family is, for now, as protected as we can possibly be against COVID-19. As such, it’s time to start thinking about travel again.

I’ve preached the gospel of the “Go Pack” before — in 2018, 2015, and 2014. However, in today’s world, there’s a lot more to traveling than just charging your devices. For a nerd like me, there’s a software component as well.

Now is a great time to revisit not only my Go Pack, but also the software I use to power my travels, and the “everyday carry” pieces that I keep in my laptop bag.

Note that for some of these links, I’ll get a small kickback if you end up purchasing the item using the link. However, I’m linking to this stuff because it is legitimately the stuff I use and carry.

Laptop Bag

Seven years on, I’m still using a Tom Bihn Cadet. The laptop that gets stuffed in there has changed probably five times, but the bag has not. Further, it still looks brand-new. Everything I said in my review of the Cadet, from seven years ago (!), still stands.

I keep a handful of items in my laptop bag, particulary when traveling:

Some items I keep in my laptop bag
  • AApple MagSafe Battery Pack — $100
    As with all things Apple, this is absurdly priced, but it is so convenient to be able to just slap it on the back of a dying iPhone and go about your day. Plus, since it’s MagSafe, it should work with future phones for years to come.
  • BRavPower 90W GaN Wall Charger — $55
    I bought this on Amazon before RavPower was evicted. Regardless, this is a two-port USB-C charger that supports up to 90W. I can power my 14" MacBook Pro, as well as my iPad, or other USB-C devices, no sweat. There is nothing unique about the RavPower charger; any GaN charger with 2+ ports would be fine.
  • CZMI PowerPack 20K — $50
    A portable battery pack that can charge my computer, iPad, or phone. What’s unique about this one is that it can also operate as a USB hub, so if I’m off working at a park, I can plug both my phone and computer into the battery, and then put the battery in hub mode. That way, the PowerPak is directly powering both the phone and the computer, and I can tether without needing Wi-Fi. The battery comes with a pouch, a short USB-A → [Micro-USB or USB-C] cable, as well as a short USB-C ↔ C cable.

Go Pack

The Go Pack is a package of cables, chargers, dongles, and other doodads that is used only when traveling. I never take something out of the Go Pack for use around the house; instead, I buy a duplicate of that item. The sanctity of the Go Pack cannot be infringed.

The pack itself is still a Harry’s Toiletry Bag, which costs $20. I’ve been using this bag as my pack for years, and you can barely tell. That said, any bag would do, and if I weren’t using this one, I’d start by scouring the Tom Bihn website.

Inside, the Go Pack recently got considerably simpler:

Some HDMI cables and some chargers
  • D — 2× Slim HDMI cables — $12 each
    Pictured here are two different slim HDMI cables, as well as a HDMI coupler. The particulars on these cables and coupler don’t really matter. However, whenever I’m in a hotel or AirBnb, I tend to plug in either my iPad, computer, Switch, or some combination thereof. As such, it’s nice to have at least one — and often two — HDMI cables available. The coupler is in case I want to extend an existing cable, rather than adding my own.

  • E — 2× mophie 3-in-1 travel charger with MagSafe — $150 each
    Okay, so, hear me out. These things are incredibly expensive, but they dramatically simplified my Go Pack. Previously I needed a multi-port USB charger, some USB extension cables, lightning cables, Apple Watch chargers, etc. These stupidly expensive travel mats made all of that go away. With space for a phone, AirPods, and an Apple Watch, these things are magical. I am cheap frugal as they come, but this was worth the price.

    Apple claims they’re only available at Apple, but I’ve been told that they can also be found at Zagg, sometimes at a discount, especially if you are willing to briefly sign up for their newsletter. Your mileage may vary.

    I will also say that once or twice I’ve noticed my phone wouldn’t charge when placed on the charger; if that happens, it seems disconnecting the charger from the wall and plugging it back in solves the issue. Technology. 🙄 Still, these things simplify my setup so much that disconnecting them once daily and the absurd price are worth it to me.

    As a final note, they do come with very nice carrying cases. However, I prefer to have everything freeballing it in the Go Pack, as the two chargers, cords, and wall warts take up far less space that way.

A television remote control, and some dongles.
  • FInteset 4-in-1 Universal Learning Remote — $26
    I stole this idea from my pal Merlin Mann. It’s often been said that TV remotes are cespools of filth and germs, and given how gross people are, I believe it. Recently, I started carrying this remote in the Go Pack, which you can reasonably quickly and easily get to work with nearly any TV. I keep a copy of the instruction manual in Apple Notes; in it are the codes you use to program the remote.

    However, since most hotels and AirBnbs tend to buy from only two or three TV manufacturers, I’ve often found that a setup I programmed for an entirely different location will work at a new place.

  • GGE Grounded 3-Outlet Tap — $8 for 3
    Often times, the wall outlet around a TV is completely full, but I wish to plug my laptop or iPad in there. This small “tap” allows me to easily add a couple more outlets, without having to bring a full-on surge suppressor.

    Note that the ones I have don’t seem to be available anymore, but I’ve linked the equivalents above.

  • HTP-Link USB-C to Ethernet Adapter — $20
    Though I find I almost never have the opportunity to use Ethernet anymore, I still like to carry an Ethernet adapter with me, just in case. This one is super-slim, and supports gigabit. I also often carry a slim Ethernet cable with me, though I did not picture one.

  • IApple Lightning to Digital AV Adapter — $50
    Also filed in the extremely-rare-but-would-hate-to-need-it-and-not-have-it department, the annoyingly expensive Lightning → HDMI adapter. It’s very, very rare that I wish to play my phone to a TV, but you can’t do it without this adapter.

  • JApple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter — $70
    Thanks to my new MacBook Pro, I don’t need this stupid dongle nearly as much as I used to. However, I do semi-often want to plug my iPad Pro into a TV, so, I have to come crawling back to this annoyingly expensive dongle.

Software

Most normal humans can skip this entire section. This is for the nerds.

For me, I like to have access to my at-home network and devices no matter where I am. Generally speaking, to do so, that means a VPN, which in turn means that my traffic is encrypted. Having an extra layer of encryption around my internet traffic makes me feel far better about using foreign Wi-Fi, like at a coffee shop, or grocery store café, and so on.

In my personal opinion, there are two solid options for running your own VPN.

Tailscale

Tailscale is a new-ish entry that is like a VPN, except it isn’t… usually. As the saying goes, it’s complicated.

The advantage to Tailscale is that it’s very easy to set up, mostly works like magic, and is mostly bulletproof. There are some caveats though.

First of all, any device you want to be able to access via Tailscale needs to have the Tailscale client installed… usually. This is not particularly hard nor egregious, but it means more software to be maintained in more places. Furthermore, instead of using your devices’ native IP address — say, 192.168.1.17 — instead, you use a Tailscale-assigned IP (or hostname), such as 100.113.1.2.

What makes Tailscale great is that you can access 100.113.1.2 always, irrespective if you’re at home or not.

Tailscale runs on top of the we’ll-get-to-it-just-hold-on WireGuard protocol. However, you should not think of it as a traditional VPN. Rather, you should think of it as a way to connect to your devices remotely. Out of the box, Tailscale does not encrypt all traffic. It only does so between your devices. So, if you go access anything on the internet, Tailscale is not involved. Tailscale only steps in when you try to access your own devices.

Except.

Tailscale nodes can optionally elect to offer to run as an “exit node”. Other nodes can then optionally elect to use one of those exit nodes. If a client device — say, your laptop — elects to use an exit node, then Tailscale operates more as a traditional VPN, where all traffic is encrypted, and runs through that node.

However.

Even despite routing all your traffic, you still can’t access other devices on your in-home network without also setting up a “subnet router” as well. The subnet router will let you access devices on your network that aren’t running Tailscale.

If you have the wherewithal to remember to engage the exit node functionality as needed, Tailscale is pretty great. Depending on your needs, it may be fiddly, but it’s great nevertheless. Furthermore, their free plan is pretty generous.

For me, however, I want something a bit more seamLiss.

WireGuard

WireGuard is an open-source VPN that you can run on nearly any device. What’s great about WireGuard is that you can optionally set up the WireGuard client to automatically connect whenver you’re not on your home Wi-Fi. This works on macOS, iOS, and iPadOS.

It’s this auto-connection magic that makes me prefer WireGuard over Tailscale. There’s a feature request on Tailscale’s Github to add this functionality, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

WireGuard can be a nightmare to set up, but I used the extremely-easy PiVPN script to set it up on a Raspberry Pi 4 that I use for this and for pi-hole. Using PiVPN made setup a breeze, and it even gives you a QR code you can scan with your devices to add the VPN into the WireGuard client software.

Thanks to WireGuard, whenever I connect to Wi-Fi that isn’t my home network, WireGuard automatically connects, and sends all of my traffic through my home. This gives me access to my in-home devices, and helps me feel protected from prying “eyes”. As an added bonus, I get a [mostly] ad-free browsing experience, since I now have access to my pi-hole as well.