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My experiences and thoughts on apple’s MagSafe battery pack

Ever since Apple’s announcement of MagSafe in its iPhone 12 lineup, I thought the perfect application would be to connect an external battery pack. For those unfamiliar with MagSafe, it builds on existing wireless charging technologies, but because of what I call “Apple magic”, it can provide more power and hence can charge devices more quickly. MagSafe devices attach to compatible devices using very strong magnets, so strong in fact that I can lift my MagSafe charging cable off my desk just by hovering my iPhone over the end of it.

I have always struggled with having enough iPhone battery power to get me through the day. For the past few iPhone versions, my solution has been to use Apple smart cases. These cases contain their own battery from which the iPhone gets its power; once depleted, the iPhone switches to its own battery for power. The reason this solution has worked so well for me particularly is that there is no external battery pack for me to carry around or lose, and no cables to get knotted up or otherwise be in the way. Unfortunately, Apple did not make a case for the iPhone 12 mini and as that’s my current device, I’ve struggled to make sure my phone has enough power to get through the day.

I thought for sure that Apple would release a MagSafe battery pack, but it wasn’t until July 13, 2021 that they actually announced it. To be fair, other companies have released MagSafe compatible battery packs (more about that later), but only Apple’s is MagSafe certified. This might sound like a very small thing, but there is some functionality tied into that certification that does not exist on the non-Apple alternatives.

What I love about it

I love the design of the MagSafe battery pack, it’s sleek, it’s smooth, its corners are not sharp, it fits the back of my iPhone Mini perfectly, it’s everything I would expect in an Apple-designed product. Using the battery pack couldn’t be easier, I just attach it magnetically to the back of my iPhone and that’s it. I don’t have to push a button, don’t have to flip a switch, just let the magnets attach themselves and charging just happens. Because of the strong magnets, the battery pack does not come off easily, not even when removing it from a pocket or when getting jostled around in a backpack. The battery pack itself is charged with a standard lightning cable and if my phone is on it while charging, both my phone and battery pack will charge at the same time. This is fantastic for me as I can charge both overnight with the same cable and if I need to use my phone for something, it’s easy for me to just pull it off the magnetic pack, use it, then drop it back on the pack to continue charging. I’ve saved the coolest feature for last though: Apple’s battery widget shows the actual status of the battery pack in addition to the iPhone’s battery and other bluetooth devices. This means I can quickly look at the widget, or even the Lock Screen, to see how much charge my battery pack actually has and whether it’s charging or not. For me, this is way more accessible than the tiny lights on most battery packs which I can’t see — I always had to sort of guess how much charge my battery packs might or might not have. The MagSafe battery pack also has circuitry that adjust power levels to avoid overheating, I haven’t had a problem with this, so am just taking Apple’s word that this works like it’s supposed to.

What I don’t love about it

The first reason I almost didn’t get Apple’s MagSafe battery pack was its price. At $99, it’s more expensive than alternative battery packs — more than twice as expensive as some. For me personally, the ability to know the current status of the battery from Apple’s battery widget or from the Lock Screen makes this price difference worth it, but it’s still a drawback. In terms of specifications, Apple is not super transparent about how many MA the battery provides and so it’s hard to make a direct comparison with other battery packs. What Apple does tell us is this:

Up to 70% additional charge with iPhone 12 mini and MagSafe Battery Pack*

Up to 60% additional charge with iPhone 12 and MagSafe Battery Pack*

Up to 60% additional charge with iPhone 12 Pro and MagSafe Battery Pack*

Up to 40% additional charge with iPhone 12 Pro Max and MagSafe Battery Pack*

Info from Apple’s MagSafe online store page

This tells me that the battery pack does not have the ability to fully charge any of the iPhone 12 lineup, however that additional battery will likely be enough extra to get one through the day, it’s certainly enough for me. That said, alternatives exist with greater power capacities and so I’m listing it as a drawback. As mentioned above, the MagSafe battery pack charges with a lightning cable, this could be a drawback if you prefer battery packs that charge with USBC cables. Actually, to add to this a bit, the MagSafe doesn’t come with any charging cable at all: Most batteries have at least a cheap cable for charging, but with the MagSafe pack, you’re on your own.

Conclusion

I really love the Apple MagSafe battery pack and am glad I purchased it. For me, it provides enough power to ensure I can get through my day while being a slim and convenient solution that I can use at home, or on the go. The strong magnets provide a very solid-feeling connection and I absolutely love being able to check my battery status from the iPhone Lock Screen or battery widget. I realize though that at the $99 price point alone, many might choose to go with alternatives to Apple’s solution. Ultimately, the thing that keeps drawing me to Apple solutions is the same thing that makes me happy with the MagSafe battery pack; it’s elegant and it simply just works.

Alternative solutions

I have not tried any of the following solutions, but have seen them mentioned in various articles and other places so thought I would list them here for anyone who might want to make their own comparisons. If you do try any of the following solutions, or if you’re happy with one I haven’t listed, let me know in the comments as I’d love to share it with others.

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Hourly chimes on the Apple Watch, a little known feature, but one I absolutely love and which many people don’t even know exists

Ever since I stayed up way too late, refreshing my browser in a frantic attempt to pre-order my first Apple Watch, there is one feature that I always wanted to have: the ability for my watch to chime on the hour, every hour. Growing up, I remember everyone seemed to have a watch that could do this, even inexpensive Casio watches had the ability to beep on the hour. To be fair, the talking watches of my youth sometimes had this ability, but the hourly time announcement generally consisted of this loud bong followed by the readout of the time by an extremely loud and tinny-sounding female speech synthesizer. I’m talking seriously tinny, often I had the impression that the synthesizer was coming out of a giant can, or pipe, or from the bottom of a very deep well. I used to think that if a genie were stuck in a lamp, surely she would sound like the synthesizers in those old watches. Anyway, the point is that while the feature sometimes existed, it was anything but inconspicuous and in a room in which many watches were chiming or beeping at the top of the hour, I often found myself the object of unwanted attention. I remember one professor saying, “Well, Steve’s watch is telling us that our class time is up for today.”, as if 25 other beeping watches, and students putting their things away, didn’t tell him the same thing.

I received my first Apple Watch and was absolutely surprised not to find this feature. I mean this feature had been a staple of watches, even inexpensive watches, for so long, how could it not be on a device that seemingly costs more than the Gross Domestic Product of a small nation? Alas, no hourly chime was to be found. I thought for sure people would rise up in protest and the feature would be added in a software update, but watchOS 2, 3, and 4 came and went, all with no hourly chime. And, by the time three more generations of Apple Watch came out, not to mention numerous software updates, I had all but given up. And so imagine my surprise when I read an article talking about the hourly Taptic Chimes which were finally introduced in watchOs 6.

There were many cool features introduced in watchOS 6, but the hourly chime thing was by far my favorite. I don’t even really know why except, for me, there is something significant about marking the passing of an hour, there is something grounding in knowing that a new hour has begun — maybe a microsecond of mindfulness? Apple’s implementation of an hourly chime feature is very unobtrusive. Users can choose from a bird or bell sound and both sounds are played quietly and discretely. Even better, since this is a standard feature that can be enabled in all Apple watches running watchOS 6 or newer, I don’t stand out like a sore thumb at the top of every hour. Apple’s feature also provides “Taptic” feedback making the feature useful even when the watch sounds are muted.

How to use the Apple Watch hourly chime feature

Enabling the hourly chime feature on the Apple Watch is very simple, although maybe not intuitive especially if you’ve upgraded to watchOS 6 and beyond. Like many things Apple, there is more than one way to enable and configure this feature, this way is probably the easiest and yields more configuration options.

  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Choose Accessibility. Note, you can also choose Clock, but you will have fewer options. Also, this is a great opportunity to check out accessibility settings, especially if you’ve never looked at them.
  3. Choose chimes.
  4. Toggle Chimes to on.
  5. Schedule is set to hourly, but you can change it to chime on the quarter and half hour if you want more microseconds of mindfulness.
  6. Sounds, birds is the default, but you can change the sound to a very quiet-sounding bell if that’s more you thing. I recommend trying out both options and deciding what works best for you, birds is my favorite setting though.
  7. Press back until you’re out of chimes > accessibility and then close the Watch app. You probably don’t have to do this last step, but I always do just to make sure things save and sync as they’re supposed to — I’m old fashioned like that.
Screen shot showing the chimes settings screen under accessibility
Screen shot of chimes settings screen

I absolutely love the hourly chime feature of the Apple Watch and am surprised more people aren’t aware of it. I also like that Apple has allowed notification sounds that are specific to this feature to be chosen rather than the default notification sound that applies to all third party app notifications. For me, this little feature is a wonderful addition to my Apple Watch, it’s a very small thing, but it helps to keep me grounded as I go through my day. Also, Do Not Disturb and Sleep settings are respected, so it doesn’t interrupt me when sleeping, or if I have Do Not Disturb on for any other reason. I find this feature to be incredibly useful and hope others will as well.

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Gabby’s all moved in, and I’m all tired out.

Today’s post will be a short post because I’m just getting home after what has been a long and emotional day. As I’ve already blogged about, my daughter, Gabby, is starting at North Dakota State University and today was move-in day. In preparation for an early move-in this morning, we traveled to Fargo yesterday and, along with what seemed like half the population of North Dakota, arrived at the university just after 8:00.

Despite all the chaos of everyone trying to figure out where to go and how to get there, the move was incredibly smooth. I was impressed that student volunteers were on-hand to help confused people like us get stuff to where it needed to go. Of course there were last minute things she absolutely needed and so again, along with what seemed to be half the population of North Dakota, we swarmed the near-by stores trying to find everything. I kind of want to apologize to the good people of Fargo, with everyone totally confused and frantically running around, they must really hate the chaos of move-in day.

And so now I’m back home, just starting to notice that the house is a little quieter and a lot emptier. I hope she’s having fun settling in, meeting new people, and beginning her own journey. I know this was a very exciting time of academic and personal growth in my own life, and I hope it will be so for her. Good luck, Gabby, I’ll miss you, but am very proud of all you have done and am excited to see all you have yet to do.

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Hello from Fargo!

We just arrived in Fargo a little wile ago in preparation for moving our daughter, Gabby, into college. This is Gabby’s first year at North Dakota State and she is very excited. Of course we hadn’t been in Fargo for more than ten minutes before we just had to go shopping for some stuff she absolutely can’t live without. So, while she’s shopping, I thought I would write a quick blog entry.

I’m surprised at just how many things there seem to be to do in Fargo. For example, next week is the Sister Cities Smokeout 2021.

Baked into the heart of Moorhead and its sister city, Fargo, are the common bonds of beer-safe cooking (safely grilling food with a beer in one hand) and giving your ears equal love with great tunes. Even better is having someone else wrestle up some good meat, pour a tall one and crank up the summer’s hottest playlist. You’re invited to Sister Cities Smokeout three full days of – Hot BBQ, Live Tunes and Cold Beer.

From Fargo current events page

A parade more your thing? Fargo has you covered there too with The Greater Moorhead Days Parade.

The Greater Moorhead Days Parade is back and will be better than ever! In an effort to continue to activate downtown Moorhead the Parade will be shifted to Center Ave this year. Join us as our community steps out to shine with floats and fleets from area businesses and organizations to this year’s theme: “Our Hometown- Celebrate Moorhead!”

Events page

And what better way to discover a city than through live music?

Events pageH2M is proud to announce the inaugural “Live & Local” concert series taking place throughout the summer of 2021. Produced by the Downtown Community Partnership (DCP) and Jade Presents, the primary goal of this free, family-friendly series aims to encourage attendees to explore new and exciting locations around Downtown Fargo and showcase the talent we have right here in our community and region. Each live music event will feature food and beverages as well as auxiliary activities for the whole family.

The thing I’m looking forward to the most though is Frostival, #ColdIsCool, six weeks of winter-themed events held during the coldest part of winter. While the 2022 Frostival schedule hasn’t been posted yet, check out the 2021 schedule and tell me some of these events don’t seem like a lot of fun.

And I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the many things that seem to be going on in Fargo. The neat thing is that, at least judging by all the events, there definitely seems to be a sense of community in Fargo and being able to find and connect to community is such an important thing in my opinion. I’m really excited for Gabby because not only will she have the opportunity to have a fantastic college experience, but she’ll have the opportunity to find her own sense of community and that’s something that can benefit her throughout her life..

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This Day in History, a really cool site I just discovered

I wanted to share a site which I’ve always assumed must exist, but have never actually seen prior to today. This Day in History is a site which allows you to choose a date and see significant events that happened on that particular day. I confess I’ve been a bit mesmerized by this site over the past few hours, just picking various days and reading. It’s really kind of fascinating to choose a significant date and read what comes up.

For anyone who may want to use This Day in History with a screen reader, its quite doable. The currently selected date is a button, choosing that will allow the month to be changed by activating either the ‘previous’ or ‘next’ links. Once you’ve chosen the correct month, simply continue scrolling with the screen reader to activate the specific day. Events are structured with level 2 headings making it relatively easy to jump from event to event.

So, if you’re curious what event historical events may have happened on a particular day, This Day in History, might be worth checking out. Wish you could have a summary of the current day’s historical events Emailed to you every morning? You actually can! Subscribe here to have the current day’s historical events delivered directly to your inbox every morning.

I hope others enjoy This Day in History as much as I’m enjoying it. Now that I’ve learned that I can get the summaries Emailed to me, I may start adding them as entries to my Day One journal just to provide some additional context for the day.

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It’s an AMA, Ask Me Anything, kind of day.

One of the really cool things about participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge is that I receive daily ideas about topics on which I might want to blog. The challenge doesn’t require that I follow these suggestions at all, they’re just ideas.

Day 15’s suggestion was a particularly interesting one: Create an AMA, Ask Me Anything kind of post. The idea is simple: invite readers to use the comments area to ask questions and then I answer those questions as replies to the comments.

And so, in the interest of being brave and being open/curious to see where this might lead, you are invited to ask me anything. Have a question, but don’t want to ask it publicly? That’s perfectly fine, just ask your question via my contact form.

Remembering Formspring

This Ask Me Anything concept reminds me of a service that used to exist called Formspring. Formspring was a service that would allow people to ask questions anonymously. Answers to those questions would be posted, but would also be sent back to whomever asked the question. I had signed up with Formspring simply because I was curious about the service, not because I actually thought anyone would ask me anything. To my surprise, people did ask questions and the questions were not weird at all, OK some were, but most of them weren’t. The anonymity of the service made it possible for people to ask questions they might not otherwise feel comfortable asking: questions about blindness, questions about how I do certain things in daily life, questions about things I had been blogging about at the time. Unfortunately, the very anonymity that was so empowering, eventually helped lead to Formspring’s downfall. I found a great article answering the question of ‘What happened to Formspring?’ if anyone is curious. I’m sad that Formspring is gone because I never found a substitute quite as good.

So, if there’s anything you’d like to ask me, please feel free to do so either in the comments or via the contact form. I have no idea if this AMA concept will lead anywhere at all, but I’m definitely excited to see what happens and always willing to share.

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The very unfortunate discontinuation of FlickType and some reflections on accessibility and innovation

One of the things that most excites me about accessibility is that it has proven Time and time again to be a springboard for innovation. Speech to text, text to speech, curb cuts and ramps, the Segway, and even the typewriter keyboard are examples of how thinking about a problem from an accessibility perspective has lead to incredible innovations that we all benefit from every day. In the digital space, we see numerous accessibility-driven innovations: image/object recognition, and speech to text devices (Hey Siri!) being examples that immediately come to mind. I love innovation and love that I get to work in a field that can be a springboard for that innovation because innovation is something that can improve the world for everyone, not just for those with disabilities.

And so it was with much sadness that I came across the following tweet earlier today:

Tweet from FlickType

FlickType, and its predecessor, sought to solve a very particular problem: how to type more accurately, and with more speed on a tiny screen-based keyboard such as that on iOS devices or even the Apple Watch. Their solution is both elegant and ingenious: essentially map out where the user’s fingers make contact with the screen and determine what that user is trying to type regardless of whether the correct keys are actually pressed or not. Typing on a phone screen, accurately and with speed, is challenging for many people, myself included. In my case, I often attempt to type with my phone in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other and typing one-handed like this is even more challenging. Of course typing one-handed is a particular user preference of mine — I could very theoretically put down my coffee — but for people with the use of only one hand, that option is not available. FlickType didn’t totally eliminate all challenges with on-screen typing, but the accuracy with which it predicts what the user is trying to type significantly reduced those barriers. In my mind, FlickType didn’t think about what is possible, but rethought what possibility could be.

Today’s tweet from FlickType is very sad for me because it is a very modern, and for me very real, example of how accessibility can be a springboard for innovation that can improve experiences for everyone. I’m not sure what will come next for the FlickType team, but whatever they do, I hope they approach their next endeavor with the same passion, drive, and innovation with which they reinvented the experience of on-screen typing. Thank you, FlickType, for all you have done to reduce barriers, and thank you for bravely innovating to get it done.

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Are you familiar with Penny Forward – financial guidance for people who are blind?

Today I would like to talk about a really cool resource that I think everyone should know about, Penny Forward. I am passionate about finance and financial literacy and find it unfortunate that so many people who are blind struggle to understand and navigate this complex landscape. Penny Forward is a group devoted to trying to bridge that gap by providing accessible resources, and a community where people can connect with each other to discuss all things relating to finance. From the Penny Forward mission statement:

Penny Forward’s mission is to help blind people build the knowledge to confidently navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support.

Mission statement found on Penny Forward’s About page

Penny Forward envisions a world where blind people have the financial knowledge and resources to confidently whether hard times, take advantage of rare opportunities, and more powerfully support causes they deeply care about. 

Penny Forward’s vision statement

I’ve really enjoyed participating in and interacting with the Penny Forward community. I’ve found that a variety of financial aspects are discussed: Accessibility of financial resources, information about understanding and establishing credit, information about Able accounts and how to take advantage of them, discussions around budgeting and budgeting apps, discussions for people who are new to investing, and much much more. I’ve found the community to be one built on respect and comprised of people with a desire to help one another.

In addition to the Penny Forward FaceBook group, Penny Forward has a vibrant podcast which covers an incredible amount of topics in a very easy-to-understand way. I also love that many of the podcasts focus on people with their own stories of success, success as defined by them whether that be purchasing a home, retiring, or anything else related in some way to finances. These stories help me to remember that success is really an individualized thing and that helps me better refine what success means to me personally.

If you would like to learn more about Penny Forward, the podcast, the community, or what it’s all about, check out the Penny Forward home page. I have found Penny Forward to be a fantastic community and resource and hope you will too.

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What is your favorite season?

I thought I’d ask a question in this blog post because I find it interesting to learn what peoples’ favorite seasons are and why. My favorite season happens to be fall. No, not because pumpkin spice everything makes an appearance — I actually don’t like pumpkin spice — but because everything feels somehow sharper, fresher, as if there’s an energy as nature prepares for winter. Fall is filled with so many characteristics that I love: The sound of leaves crunching beneath my feet as I walk outside, the crisp air that doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind about whether to be cold or warm, the birds as they frantically seem to migrate south. Winters are cold here in Minnesota and it’s almost as if everything around me, the trees, the birds, even the people are united in a common desire to get ready for whatever’s coming.

As I sit outside composing this blog post, I can feel, somewhere deep within me, that fall is fast approaching. It’s not a chill in the air — it’s actually a balmy 72 degrees (f), 22 (C). I hear the crickets and other insects around me chirping, not a fast chirp as they do when the temperature starts to drop, but a louder chirp, as if they’re asking each other, “are you ready yet?” There’s a gentle breeze blowing, very gentle, but strong enough to stir the very first leaves that have begun falling from the trees in my yard. As I sense the fast approach of fall, I am filled both with excitement and sadness. Excitement because there are so many aspects of fall that I love, but sadness because it means that summer is slowly coming to an end. I think I feel it especially this year since this has been a summer of connection, connection with people and with a slowly normalizing world and I don’t want those things to end.

So, what is your favorite season? What about it makes it your favorite?

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Why is accessibility often referred to as A11y?

I remember the first time I came across the term ‘A11y’. I had just discovered Twitter and I noticed that very often, the word accessibility was being replaced with this a11y thing. I was very confused, I mean what the heck does A11y mean and how did it come to represent accessibility?

numeronyms

Numeronyms are something you may not have ever heard of, but you’ve probably come across them without realizing it. I found some great examples on the A11Y Project of numeronyms we frequently use, such as Y2K, 24/7, or even 911. These all contain numbers, but are synonymous with other phrases. We generally know that Y2K refers to the year 2000, that 24/7 means 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 911, at least in the US, means help! But how does accessibility fit into this? Accessibility is a long word and this can be problematic, especially in the old days of Twitter when tweets were limited to a maximum of 140 characters. When we look at the word ‘accessibility’, we find that there are eleven letters between the ‘a’ and the ‘y’. If we remove all those letters and substitute them with the number 11, we magically have A11y, clear as mud, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always clear and for many people, including yours truly, it’s confusing when first encountered. But, where space is at a premium, changing accessibility to A11y can be very useful. On Twitter — yeah I’m kind of addicted to Twitter — A11y is often used as a hashtag, a method for quickly finding Tweets related to a particular subject.

It’s A11y, NOT Ally!

I remember the first time I heard the term ‘ally’ in reference to accessibility, it was my first day at Deque Systems. I was super excited and honored to be part of Deque’s awesome team and even better for me, I joined just before Deque’s annual meeting and so I got to meet my co-workers in person. At that meeting, my boss at the time was distributing these ‘Ally’ stickers that we could proudly display on our laptops. I had no idea what ‘ally’ meant, but being the new guy, I didn’t want to ask what seemed like a really stupid question. Besides, I really wanted the sticker, I mean who doesn’t want a really cool shiny laptop sticker? And so I got my sticker, I put it on my laptop, and six months later, I finally figured out the mystery. Apparently, the number 1 looks like a lower case ‘l’. Having never read print though, this was totally not obvious to me. Once I understood that the number 1 and lower case ‘l’ look similar, this made total sense, but only because someone explained to this non-print reader that the number 1 and lower case ‘l’ look similar. Making this even more confusing, screen readers don’t pronounce the word ‘ally’ the same way. They probably should, but sometimes, they pronounce ‘ally’ as ‘alley’ as in a path between two buildings, and those are two very different words indeed. The point is, while A11y may be confusing, using the word ‘ally’ could exacerbate that confusion, especially for non-print readers. As an aside, I still have that sticker and think fondly of my wonderful time at Deque whenever I come across it. 🙂

So, that’s the big mystery of how A11y came to represent accessibility. A11y is just one of many numeronyms, it’s just not one that people use every day and so it’s not readily apparent what it means. If you use ‘A11y, especially in presentations, try whenever possible to also use the word accessibility, so that others make the association. And if you use the word ‘ally’ for ‘A11y’, just know that this may be confusing for people who rely on screen readers, or who do not read print. Oh, and of course, if you use ‘ally’, be sure to follow it up with a shiny sticker, because laptop stickers are just awesome.