Virginia Roberts

ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ Unicode madness

*Disclaimer* Unicode is not well supported in some browsers, especially on mobile. This is tricky since this entire post is about Unicode. I’m sorry your eyes might have to see ugly unsupported squares or blank spaces instead of the proper pretty entities I intended. If you’re interested in reading, soldier on; the characters in the actual list at the end are better supported than the letters that spell out the Apple Watch in the first paragraph. You can do it! Harass your favorite web dev about this today; they’ll *love* it!

Hey nerds! The recent iPhone and ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ announcement has most people in my Twitter feed geeking out over how to write “ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ” all fancy like Apple did. (In fact, my live tweet during the event explaining how to make the  character is my most popular tweet yet. Crazy, eh?)

For years I’ve been rocking an increasingly lengthy Special Characters note, which syncs across all my ᴅᴇᴠɪᴄᴇs. A few of these can be accessed via native keyboards like the Japanese one, but with iOS 8’s new keyboard capabilities I find it much easier to just stick the useful characters (mainly just the empty and full stars for fake review snark) here and delete the Japanese keyboard I never use for actual kana anyway.

Note that these Unicode characters aren’t the same thing as Emoji (that’s a whole separate ranty post) so I find they’re usually more annoying to obtain via typical channels such as an emoji app or keyboard. Copying and pasting from the note has been a pretty good solution for me so far.

The second most recent (penultimecent?) Overtired episode  made reference to writing ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ out all fancy-like, so I thought Christina and Brett might appreciate my little list. (Heck, maybe Brett will decide to make a cool tool for it.) But then I was like, wait a minute… I send this list to tweeps and coworkers and clients about three times a year. I finally realized that maybe I should just blog it (duh).

Here are my favorites with my use case annotations, followed by my semi-exhaustive list and a Unicode smallcaps converter link I stumbled upon. I’ve added and removed things over the years to try to keep it mostly useful; I keep paring down different styles of arrows.

What characters am I missing? What would you add, or what do you constantly use and hate fiddling around to find? I’d love to know!

My frequently used Unicode characters

‽ = Interrobang
Marco Arment used this in a tweet at me once (I forget what about) and it inspired me to start up this doc. I also have a keyboard shortcut turning ?! and !? into ‽, so I don’t have to keep track of which one is valid, haha. (Nerds who are nerdy enough to know the difference but not nerdy enough to implement the Unicode shortcut surely exist and might set me straight.) This character is great for expressing baffled wonderment and the like, but I really wish Apple knew how to enforce an initial capital letter following it. Anyone know a hack for THAT?*

∞ = Infinity
I use this all the time as character-saving hyperbole. Like this tweet about my first babysitting experience in about a decade, to estimate the number of diapers changed. (Better than a smiling poo pile emoji, right?)

® ™ © = Legalese
I like using these for snarky fake product, company, and slogan jokes. Maybe you like using them to actually respect trademark guidelines, or ironically imply deferential respect to a brand you hate (or genuinely imply it to one you actually like but if that’s the case I’m not 100% clear as to why you enjoy reading my blog tbh).

∴ ≠ ≤ ≥ = Logic and Math Stuff
I like these (therefore, not equal to, less than or equal to, and greater than or equal to) for character-saving shorthand when making a point on Twitter. Remember, kids, don’t actually argue on the Internet if you enjoy your life. Jokey arguments only.

I just thought of this one

♯ = Sharp
I’ve never actually done this, but I just realized you might be able to use this instead of a hash character if you want to shorthand numbers or ironic hashtags or something without it converting to actual hashtag syntax in social media environments. So I’m adding that here in case it solves some weird problem you sort of had. I can’t believe I gave it a <h3> section either.

The list

Just copy from “Special Characters” through the URL, omitting the snarky footnote inelegantly implemented at the end of this post. I’m sorry/you’re welcome.

Special characters


®

©

ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ

°




·




¢


























α
β
Ξ
ξ
Γ
γ
Δ
δ
Π
π
ε
ζ
Σ
σ
ς
η
τ
Θ
θ
ι
Φ
φ
κ
χ
Λ
λ
Ψ
ψ
Μ
μ
Ω
ω
































http://fsymbols.com/generators/smallcaps/

 

*If the answer is 26 individual keyboard shortcut hacks for each instance of it plus a letter, or 52 for each instance of !? and ?! plus each letter if you can’t stack two shortcuts together, then congrats! You are officially nerdier/more patient than I am. Come type them in on my giant 6 Plus that I hope to obtain soon and I’ll give you some free online dating advice in exchange. Look, I don’t mean to profile, but it’s possible you need it if this is how you spend your time. Single 20s Me can totally relate.

Initial iPhone 6 Plus impressions

Make no mistake; I don’t actually have my 6 Plus yet. But I went out of my way to try and get one early in line Friday morning. When I found out for sure that the store wouldn’t have the stock to accommodate my order, it was only half an hour before they opened their doors. I decided to stick around and get my hands on the demo 6 Plus as a sanity check.

The manager was kind enough to take this pic of the phone (and my ass and my ill-conceived skinny jeans, but let’s stay focused). He also let me put the demo model in my purse so I could make sure it fit in the internal pockets. Even with the annoying security dongle thingy, it was very helpful to get to do this. And I decided there’s nothing to worry about, size-wise.

My use case

I have super severe tennis elbow in both arms. This means that I’ve gotten used to mostly typing two-handed since halfway through my usage of the very first iPhone, when my RSI injury occurred. It’s annoying, but I’m way faster and more accurate when I use two hands anyway. Yes, I do occasionally poke around one-handed, but that’s totally when I drop my phone or introduce typos or what have you. For me, “significant” one-handed use (like furious text entry) has long been a bad habit I needed to quit.

As for storing the device, I’m a lady who usually carries a purse. Even if the purse pockets that seem to be dedicated for cell phones are too small to accommodate a 6 Plus (not as problematic in recent purses), there’s usually this other larger zippered pocket opposite the “cell phone and pens” side. The 6 Plus fits (always in portrait, sometimes in landscape) in this zippered pocket in all my existing bags. My main concern is actually minor scratching/screen damage from touching said zipper, since I’m not sure any reputable screen protectors have shipped yet. In past years I’ve been inconsistent about screen protector usage, but I’d plan on using one specifically because the 6 Plus’s size means it’s more likely to knock into internal purse hardware.

I had no trouble fitting the 6 Plus poorly into my back pocket. I don’t tend to deliberately carry my iPhone in most pants pockets; front pockets are annoying for me (and often too small in lady pants, sigh) and back pockets have always looked weird and felt like a potential security risk (from pickpocketing to accidental toilet dropping). Back pocketing my iPhone has always felt like something ill advised, like a bad habit I wanted to quit. A larger form factor will force me to quit being lazy about securing my giant, expensive, blingy mini computer, you know?

The phone itself

The camera bulge is barely noticeable. I mean, sure, it’s more obvious than before, but it’s no big deal. Quit whining, tech Twitter. :) It’s NOTHING like the giant bulge on, say, a Nokia Lumia, and the pics do seem stellar. (Didn’t get to test the OIS in a low light setting, but it seemed even better than my 5s, as was expected.)

The screen is lovely. Didn’t notice anything janky with older apps, but everything on the phone appeared to be a special demo version so I doubt they had them loaded with shitty scaled-up apps. (Fun note; there was a copy of Threes on the demo phones! Nice plug, right? Pardon my terrible surreptitious pic.)

IMG_9299

The body style may be reminiscent of the original iPhone, but the 6 Plus’s external build quality feels nowhere near as nice as the first iPhone. The glass has a weird curved edge where it meets the body (can you kinda see its reflection in this awkwardly snapped shot?) and it actually seems to cheapen the whole look; it makes the screen seem like it’s made of plastic to me. The metal on the back isn’t as great as that first gen iPhone; again, it feels oddly plasticky, like when they try to trick you into thinking an appliance is stainless steel with a shitty layer of bullshit that inevitably peels within weeks. The buttons don’t have the same feel of incredibly sturdy and expensive materials. This phone feels great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m clearly super nostalgic for v1 of this thing, and the 6 Plus doesn’t really scratch that itch in person.

Oh, and Gruber is totally right! It’s super, duper weird to have that sleep-wake button on the side. That’s seriously going to mess with me, haha. I’ll fail to silence calls speedily for at least a month after I get it. I’m annoyed I didn’t also test the stronger vibrate motor that Gruber mentioned, but I forgot in my hurry to not block other customers who were actually going to buy something that day.

The gold is surprisingly tacky looking. Specifically, the whitish plastic accents on the back of the 6 Plus look terrible with that champagney gold. I had no space gray (also known as “gray”) model against which to compare, but I feel like black plastic accents will be subtler. It was like the white ones were sort of transluscent, which felt like a mismatch with the design vibe the rest of the device was going for. And of course, with black I’ll get the better contrast to make the screen look even better. (I still wish that the gold and black model Siracusa once theorized about existed; I’d totes get that.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 2.57.38 PMEdited to add: this helpful view on Target’s website actually shows me that the back of the Space Gray model still has ugly whitish translucent plastic on the back. I still think I’m going with this model, though, which I definitely wouldn’t have decided sight unseen.

The ordering process

I was at an out of town wedding during the night preorders went live, so I wasn’t timely about it. When I got home later that night, I tried placing a pre-order (at maybe 12:30 PM) and it was a train wreck via every Apple channel.

After some dogged research, I determined that the issue seemed to be that AT&T had a rule that they would only let me preorder and have it shipped to the address associated with my wireless account. An AT&T rep later confirmed this; they don’t permit ANY in-store pickup preorders. This seems insane to me since their competition clearly does permit in-store pickup preordering—and their shipping estimates even half an hour after launch were several weeks out. Such a crappy customer experience, and that seemingly random rule    is so poorly communicated to both customers and AT&T/Apple employees. (It took three escalations to get a clear answer.)

Anyway, I decided to try my luck at waiting in line, partly because I thought it might be kind of entertaining. (I’ve been an iPhoner on alternating years since the first gen, and I’ve never once waited in line.) So I got up at 4 and drove to my local Apple Store… where some 300 folks were already camping out. A confusing awkward encounter with an ex Apple retail employee (he thought he knew me, I thought I knew him, we were both wrong) convinced me to try my luck waiting in the nearby AT&T line instead. I did, and it  wound up being much more friendly and low volume. (Didn’t actually get me a phone though; d’oh!)

As we waited, I wound up explaining a bunch of AT&T features and options to many people in line, as well as loaning out pens for these stupid survey checklist things the employees handed out. It was a little hilarious. Their “Next” gimmick to get you to pay buttloads was very poorly understood. I also hadn’t realized that they would let you pay full retail price to avoid a two-year contract lock-in; I think that option is new for them. Us old time iPhoners theorized that AT&T would eventually cut the unlimited data plan into which many of us were grandfathered; if/when they do, I will probably jump ship since I find them to be an unpleasant carrier in so many ways.

I had actually looked into switching our household to another carrier  last year for my 5s purchase. I was deterred from T-Mobile by many reports of lesser network coverage in rural areas where friends and family live; I was reluctant to consider Verizon because they didn’t used to allow voice and data usage at the same time. (I haaaate talking on the phone without being able to multitask in email or with navigation on.) Verizon now seems to have solved that, but I’m not sure it’s worth bothering since they’re another “expensive” carrier. Still, if I do get kicked out of AT&T’s remaining $30/person unlimited data tier, I fully expect to jump ship somewhere.

After all this kerfluffle, I think we plan to order my 6 Plus at the same time as a new MacBook for Grant sometime next week, so we can finance it interest free. By the way, if you’ve never considered Apple’s financing option via Barclay, I highly recommend taking a look at it—most laptop purchases by people with decent credit will yield either 12 or 18 months of no interest, which is ample time to pay it off via reasonable monthly payments with no extra expense (unless you’re buying the $10k Mac Pro. And actually, I kinda wonder how this will work with gold ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ models, ya know? Hm.)

Obviously, don’t be cavalier about opening up lines of credit, especially if you’re trying to qualify for something bigger like a home loan—but I love this option and I’m glad to use it every couple years or so. The Barclay reps will even help you figure out the exact payment amount necessary to perfectly zero out at the end of the term.

So I won’t actually *get* my 6 Plus for several weeks, unless I manage to snag one at a store and decide to just pony up for it. Which I might. We’ll see. I’ll be in NYC soon; maybe I’ll buy one at the 5th Ave flagship store and then immediately get mugged before I’ve set up Touch ID.

Oh, and that reminds me: when I was chatting with a guy at Target after failing to buy one there, he said the 6 Plus is even bigger than [insert name of giant Android phone whose name I forget] and that that Android thing was his most commonly returned item because “it’s just way too big.” To him and his whiny customers, I say this: suck it up and get a purse! <3

Jackal Interview

Hey y’all! Fans of the podcasting network 5by5 have been mostly lovingly coined “Jackals” for their sometimes helpful and sometimes heckling input in the network’s live IRC chatroom. One motivated jackal, Mike Beasterfeld, has been conducting a series of interviews with other jackals.

My episode aired today, should you care to listen! And you can subscribe to the show if you want to get to know the rest of the geeks who form Jackal Nation. :)

Apparently, I care a lot about swag

Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka SwissMiss) recently asked her readership about swag, on Twitter and her blog.

I was surprised by the strength and length of my opinions on the subject in the comments. I think it’s due to the fact that, while I’m a hippie about our earth and a minimalist design snob in theory about possessions, I’m a complete sucker for free stuff. So rather than rail against swag as wasteful, I think companies can strive to make it awesome in all the right ways:

Useful or solves a problem.

The only swag I’ve ever enjoyed is stuff that’s well made and useful even if you wouldn’t think to buy it. I’ve seen several customized Field Notes notebooks; those are amazing. Expos like Penny Arcade often have people giving away enormous sturdy reusable bags for people to cart around their swag in—I like that model of being helpful and solving a problem. I’ve also received custom etched pint glasses that bore the logo of a fictional pub in the game I was working on; that was cool. I much prefer a glass I can pour beer into over a poster or a stuffed animal.

Be careful, though—most of us have an excess of cheap free water bottles and mugs and commuter coffee cups and such. I feel like you’ve got to make sure your useful product is actually better made than the industry average if you want people to appreciate it and use it—which of course you should, because why else are you creating it? So no cheap BPA-laden leaky water bottles. Make it count with quality materials and an attractive base design.

Fancy pens never lose.

Everyone needs a pen, right? I mean, at some point in life. Pharmaceutical companies make the BEST free pens, with gimmicky weird tricks when you click them or twist them, etc. They always have playful design even if the playful element is pointless—and they’re usually well-made pens, sometimes in metal and usually refillable. I had a student in Mexico City who was a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD; he used to save up pens for me from ADHD drug makers because they so delighted me. Little tricks like if you clicked them the colored dots exposed under the brushed aluminum would change from gray (sad?) to yellow and orange (happy?) and such. It was delightful to have a toy embedded in a pen. (Doesn’t hurt that it was a really nice well-made pen with good heft, a metal body, and smooth ink flow.)

Legal services/conferences follow closely behind in Pen Swag Awards—my favorite pens to this date are ones from ten years ago when my law student roommate snagged me Lexis Nexus pens with integrated tape flags, and even this one pen that has a light in the nib for taking notes in a darkened room during a presentation. (Annoying to your neighbors, perhaps, but I’m still a sucker for a gimmicky pen.) They’re again well crafted, ergonomic, and they usually pack some kind of extra-useful feature beyond that of a standard pen. Can’t lose being useful.

Quality materials that show good taste.

I also love swag made from lovely materials—a Korean video game conference yielded a pen made of bent wood veneer. So cool. I’ve gotten swag made of glass or wood or even concrete once or twice; interesting high-quality materials set you apart.

And of course, a decent sense of aesthetics matters. This is more subjective to define, but I usually see decent overlap between people who choose natural materials and people who have an excellent product design aesthetic. And natural materials can sometimes even elevate mundane items, IMO.

Make it a true gift with minimal branding.

I also think it’s thoughtful and respectful when your swag’s branding is minimal. It’s more “generous” and less “transparent and borderline desperate marketing attempt.” I think more kindly of a company if they just made me something cool but didn’t force their company name down my throat in the process, you know? It also allows for a longer tail.

For example, a business card holder is nice conference swag, but it’s more likely to be used at OTHER conferences if it doesn’t say ADOBE in huge letters on the back. A small mark in the corner is more in keeping with the theoretically generous gesture of giving someone a free little gift, if you ask me.

One exception is when the overall look is custom, even though the branding is minimal—XOXOFest gave out awesome hot pink Field Notes notebooks; when I see someone else writing in one of those I basically know we share the Secret Code of XOXO. (Full disclosure; I was not an official attendee but I was in town visiting with folks who attended. They gave me pity notebooks, I suppose, haha.) Recognizable traits like that are OK if you pulled off good taste and subtlety in the actual brand name being stamped somewhere.

Everyone hates pointless cheap tchochkes.

Stuff like buttons, patches, glasses, keychains, and cheap plastic cups or tchotchkes are what I think it’s best to avoid. Those are all ugly and disposable feeling; they just seem like an utter waste. You’re better off doing nothing than spending money on crap.

No paper products.

Any paper products (fliers, brochures etc.) are an even graver utter no-no. It’s like you missed the memo about what swag is supposed to be, and it’s purely harmful to the environment without the redeeming “fun” factor of swag as a gift-like object.

My only exception to this was in Tokyo, advertisers often gave out packs of toilet paper with ads printed on the outside, because many public toilets there don’t have paper available. I never actually wound up using it, but I respected that idea and count this as more “useful/problem-solving” than “paper product” in my mind.

Don’t overspend

I’ve never actually been to the kind of event that gives away crazy spendy swag like free iPads or headphones or battery cases, but I see a bunch of mixed/disappointed reactions from people on the receiving end of higher-end swag. It feels wasteful; the gesture of having spent $200 per person on bulk Microsoft Surface pricing is crazy. People start thinking, “Couldn’t they have just lowered the ticket price, or let me at least pick my specs, or donated this to charity, or ___?” It’s such a personal thing, choosing what tech we spend hundreds of dollars on. When someone else makes that call for you (and engraves it to diminish potential resale value, heh) it just feels, I don’t know, like that generosity is misplaced and telegraphs poor judgment.

Maybe I just know a bunch of ingrates, but I think everyone would agree that it seems like the money could have been put to better use. So if you offer something pricey, make it also a problem-solver—like Tina’s commenter Daniel who said his company gives out mobile battery packs because people are always stressing about battery life at conferences. THAT is the right idea!

Internet’s Prayer

Get on that, Internet.

Design getting in the way of content

I’ve had a recent epiphany about website design. I’m blown away by how much I’ve fought usability in order to shoehorn in certain design quirks or trends or ideas that were utterly out of sync with the goal of delivering a useful and easy to navigate website. I’m hanging my head in CSS shame here.

Anyway, don’t freak out. New site coming soon, which will involve a new look. It might go through a few new looks. It’s still me, though! <3

Sometimes puns are irresistible.

My husband’s pal Ian started a fun game on Twitter. I joined in. Hilarity ensued, at least as far as the three of us were concerned. I thought you might also find it amusing.

And then we all went to bed, I guess.

My second piece for Medium

Wow, I haven’t written anything here since my last Medium post. I sense a new trend!

Not really. I almost wrote a thing about One Star App Review Gate (kill me for saying that; I mean the stupid -gate suffix ironically, in case it wasn’t clear). But then I didn’t. So here’s my latest Medium post, about New Year’s Resolutions! A phrase which I’m not sure should be title case like that! Oh well! Happy new year! Or, if you prefer, Happy New Year!

When I empty the Roomba, I will finally remember to disassemble it over the counter instead of the trash can, even though I know that will make an annoying mess on the counter, because that one tiny fucking piece always falls out and then I have to root through the trash with my bare fucking hands like an animal. Or maybe I’ll just by a new Roomba, because WHO DESIGNED THAT PIECE.

A Roomba.

My other resolution is to start using unironic header images for my Medium posts.

My first piece for Medium

Check it out; I finally wrote my first piece for Medium! It’s about how I hate default text and crappy auto-tweets and generally bad non-human-like behavior on social media.

What should the next one be?

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