Welcome to After Hours.

This is a personal and professional blog by me, Brad Bice. I've combined all of my opinions, reviews, technical learnings and other writings and ramblings into one stream of consciousness. Thanks for stopping by!

iPhone 7 iOS home button

At first I went in and changed the setting for the iPhone 7 home button to unlock my phone by testing my finger on the Touch ID sensor. It more closely resembled how I used my iPhone 6s with the mechanical home button.

Now, after a few weeks of use, I have reverted that setting, requiring a “push” of the button to unlock the phone. This is because I use Notification Center much more now. I pick up my phone, it lights up thanks to “raise to wake”, and I swipe right to see my widgets. Weather, appointments, sports, etc are all there.

Resting my finger on the button bypassed the lock screen to quickly for me to access Notification Center. This way I can decide on the fly which direction I want to go.

It was perceived by me and many others as a strange decision by Apple at first to make this behavioral change to the home button, but now I understand why, and agree with the reasoning.

New Job: Visual Designer at Cars.com

After eight months of contracting/freelancing, I have accepted a position with Cars.com as a Visual Designer.

I’ll be working with the Visual Design and Interactive Design teams to create working prototypes of new functionality and website layouts. These may be used in user testing and other facets.

So far the company is very large and intricate but everyone has been very welcoming. It will be a struggle for a while to catch up with the inner workings and the approximately 1500 people across two floors of the downtown-Chicago office, but it keeps things fresh.

I’ll also have a new area to explore in the Loop, having never really spent much time down there apart from being a tourist.

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive over the past eight months while I struggled to pay my share of the bills, answer questions about my job and live up to expectations. Thanks especially to my wife Natalie, who has had nothing but patience with me (with a few “we’re going to be ok, right?” moments here and there) as I was picky over finding a new job and at times deciding that I should continue to make very little money by working for myself.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes us!

Work Update

After a great year working with Medtelligent and Panopta, I’ve moved away to begin working on projects on my own.

This summer I’ve worked mainly with Agency EA, an experiential and event marketing agency. With them I’ve worked on digital brochures for both GE/Synchrony and Hilton, as well as a new website for Agency EA themselves.

In between projects I have been exploring full-time and contract opportunities. I am looking for a great fit with a growing company and a good team. I’ve also updated my resume page, which can be printed directly from a browser.

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Chicago Divvy Bikes Problems

I was a huge fan of the Chicago Divvy Bike system (http://www.divvybikes.com) when it was introduced last summer.

It provided a very convenient, cheap, personally beneficial and eco-friendly method of transportation in a city where those criteria can usually never be completely or concurrently fulfilled. I quickly signed up for an annual membership at $75, and used the system sparingly but happily throughout the warm months.

I’m not sure if the harsh winter of 201314 took it’s tool on the equipment, or if there the rapid expansion of the Divvy system itself is to blame, but my experiences this summer have been lacking to say the least. I’ve taken 4 trips on Divvy so far this summer and here are the problems I’ve encountered:

  1. Credit card reader malfunctioning: The card swipe device just refused to even acknowledge that a card was being dipped at all. This happened two machines that we encountered, forcing us to walk to the nearest station, about 2-3 blocks away.
  2. On a trip to Montrose beach, the one station int he vicinity of the beach, and nowhere near any other station, had 3 open docks to store my bike. Great, no problem, I thought. Wrong. All 3 docks were in the locked position, not allowing a Divvy bike to be plugged in. Rider after rider came up to the station, only to be forced to go to another station. On top of that, the console did not allow for extra time to be requested, apparently thinking that it had 3 open docks. So after riding a mile to this station, my wife and I had to ride the mile back to the nearest station, dock the bikes (luckily there were open, functioning docks there) and then walk back to Montrose, where we were now late to our volleyball league game.
  3. On top of the above story, my wife had just bought an annual pass, but could not use it since the key had not yet arrived. No temporary code or pass is offered in this situation. When she tried to dip her credit card in the console, the machine said that our Visa was not a supported credit card. 5 attempts later, it was finally accepted.
  4. Again in the #2 situation above, and in every trip I’ve taken this summer, the bikes have been in a horrible state of disrepair. The gears slip very often, almost causing me to lose traction on the pedals and fall off the bike. The fenders are loose and rattle with each bump. The gear shift rarely clicks and stay into its (admittedly horrible) 3 gear slots. Possibly related, the mechanism used to dock the bike may be so mashed up that it is causing some docks to lock without a bike in them.
  5. Paying for a one-day pass at a kiosk involves WAY too many steps. On busy weekend days, there are often multiple people waiting to take out a bike, and each person has to spend an almost 5 minute process clicking through each of the steps and acknowledgements on the kiosk screen.

I definitely do not blame the Divvy company for trying; this system is a blessing to Chicago and with the right amount of maintenance and upkeep it can be great. But right now, I believe that Divvy has grown beyond its capacity for quality and has instead concentrated on quantity.

I will not be recommending Divvy to anyone until I see that the quality has caught up with better functioning kiosks and docks, repaired bikes, and better options for riders stranded at remote stations.

Why and How I Use Twitter

I use Twitter every single day of my life, and have my live stream of tweets open on either my computer when working or at home, or on my phone when I’m commuting or waiting in line somewhere.

A lot of people ask what Twitter is used for, and why they would need to know when someone is “eating dinner or going to the bathroom.”

Twitter started out that way, yes. It was a simple, text-based system to tell your friends what you’re doing “right now.” But in the years since it was introduced, Twitter has blown up and become a vital part of our society. It’s a prominent method of communication and a vital part of the public sphere. You cannot watch TV or go online without feeling Twitter’s presence.

So how is it used? I’ve seen a lot of new users to Twitter follow people like celebrities, only to quickly realize that this tends to be more towards the “I’m having dinner” type of information stream. In contrast, I only follow a handful of celebrities and/or actual “people.” They are the ones I’m either really interested in their opinions, or I find their tweets to be hilarious distractions from my day.

The rest of those I follow are news sites (APNews, BuzzFeedNews, local newspaper), Sports related (ESPN, DetroitBadBoys), Tech related (AppleInsider, various software companies), and web development bloggers and resources (SmashingMagazine, Zeldman, AListApart, etc.). I follow accounts for any services I use, such as Gmail, Twitter, and Dropbox, so that I can get updates on outages and new features as soon as possible.

Of course I also follow my friends and colleagues, as I like to read their witty tweets about whatever is bothering or exciting them at the time.

So the gist is that I recommend using Twitter as less of a celebrity and sports team-following service, but rather as more of an information-stream, news and opinion service.

Love and Other Drugs

From July 2008 until July 2011 I lived alone, in 2 cities and 2 separate single-bedroom apartments. What set it off was a breakup with my girlfriend of 3 years, something I initiated.

The details of that breakup are portrayed from the other side in multiple blog posts and published in a book(!), all of which don’t really paint me in the best of lights. To sum it up, I came to a very quick realization, acted on it, and ties were severed quickly. I was able to move on very quickly. The other party was not. The rest is history. Opinions vary on if I’m the bad guy.

So I bachelored it in a new apartment far away from downtown and pretty much out in the sticks. It was a 25 minute drive to school, where I had one more year to complete my bachelors degree. I also joined the club volleyball team. I was hoping to find some sort of social connection at school but, being 8-10 years older than most everyone, was unable to fit in much. I made a few connections but they were mostly hometown ties as opposed to new friends and groups.

But I enjoyed being alone and exploring where I wanted to go and who with. I did not date, but that didn’t stop me from falling in love. There were probably 3 women who I was madly in love with, without even so much as a lunch date with any of them. Girl “A” was a friend of a friend, we all went out a few times and I paid much more attention to “A” than our mutual friend, who liked me. Girl “T” was a fantastic person who I met in class and fell for on the first day. We actually became friends and still are to this day. Girl “K” lived in Chicago and was miles away but on a couple visits I felt like she was fun, pretty and wholesome. Despite knowing her hardly at all, and despite her being one of my best friend’s best friends, I thought she was perfect for me.

But alas, hindsight is 2020. I understand now, 3 years later, that I was merely alone and I was reaching. I was reaching for companionship, manifesting it in my mind wherever I found friendliness, and even mild attraction. I was looking for a quick solution to what I thought was a non-problem: not having anyone to share my life with.

I moved to Chicago in 2009 and almost immediately started online dating. I found one girl who was fun to be with but we had hardly anything in common. I broke things off with her once I met Girl “B”. I though “B” was great but it was the same thing as before: I was creating love where there was just companionship and a list of commonalities. So when I started attending volleyball meet ups and meeting new friends I found that I just wanted to hang out with them instead of with her. She was a great person, but we just weren’t as compatible as I had told myself we were. After 3 months I broke it off when I realized what was happening.

I swore off of online dating and just dedicated myself to having fun with friends. I wasn’t necessarily looking for love or even a date, I just wanted to explore the city and have fun with new companions. What happened was that one of my new good friends turned out to be my current wife.

Girl “N” and I had a lot in common, and we talked a lot in the early days as friends. But even from the beginning I could tell there was more to her than anyone I had ever met. She understood me, she supported me, she leaned on me, and she boosted my confidence. We ended up spending more and more time together and eventually we realized we were more than “just friends.” We were in love. It wasn’t forced, it wasn’t an expectation that I created out of nowhere. It was organic and pure attraction and emotion. We just loved being together and talking to each other about our lives, about our friends, and about our futures. So much so that we ended up moving in together and eventually getting married. And now she’s the love and light of my life.

I guess the point of this post is that being alone is kind of like being stranded in the middle of the desert. You have to be really careful or you’re going to encounter mirages. Your mind is going to crave water and shelter so bad that it will create it at some point. A lonely person will create emotion and connection where it isn’t if it gets to a certain point. I feel like patience and even restraint are the best practices for someone who is alone and unsure of where they will find love. Because it will most assuredly come from somewhere that you don’t expect.

I am a CSS Designer

I’ve done a few job interviews over the summer as I’ve transitioned between roles. Each interview has similar questions, one of them being:

“What is your ideal role?”

I often begin explaining that I would like a role that offers a bit of web design and web development mixed into one. I am proficient in graphic design and I am slightly more advanced in writing HTML/CSS code. I’ve worked with designers and developers directly for my entire career, and have often bridged the gap between the two (and it is often a large gap.)

However, the word design seems to capture everyone’s attention very quickly. When it comes to the web, I’ve found that “design” or “designer” can mean something very different from the world of print, 3D space or other mediums. This is because unlike print or sculpture or other mediums, the web is a very fluid, malleable, living thing.

There are millions of devices that display the web very, very differently, from a laptop browser to an iPhone to a Playstation on a TV to a watch, there is no guarantee that the person viewing a website will be doing so under specific circumstances or environments. And in those very different devices are more variables like window sizes, screen orientations, interactive capabilities (pointer device or touch?) and more. And to add even more complexity is the thought process into how a person is using web content, on what device, and where they may be or what they may be doing (sitting at home on a laptop vs. in the subway on a mobile device. Different environments, different challenges like screen space, network bandwidth, ease of use, etc.)

Along with being fluid, web content can also be required to be very malleable. What I mean by this is that an image can not be displayed at 1024x768 pixels on every device. Text size of 12 points might look great on a desktop monitor, but may be way too small on a large projection screen. That neon green background color makes a paragraph look outstanding, however if the page is printed, the background color most likely will not be and the effect could be lost. Web content needs to be molded and shaped into what the user needs, whenever and wherever they are accessing it.

Finally, the web is a living breathing thing. Sure there are sites that have gone untouched since 1997, however the most commonly visited websites are those that are frequently updated with fresh content, keeping their visitors coming back for more. With changing content comes new challenges. Maybe that one line headline that we made room for now has two lines. Maybe that photo for the news story is in landscape instead of portrait orientation. Or maybe a huge sale will need to push all of the other content out of the way, for this weekend only! Web content is always changing, moving and being manipulated.

For these reasons, there needs to be CSS designers. CSS designers should work hand-in-hand with graphic designers and User Interface designers when planning and designing a website. A plan for a website can include a header with a navigation menu running across the top, but what happens when the user shrinks their browser width, or moves to a mobile phone? As designers create visual compositions for these scenarios, a CSS designer will need to plan and develop for the in-between moments. At what point will the menu shrink behind a menu button on mobile devices? Will the menu just pop behind the button or will there be a transition effect?

Along with solving implementation of design, a CSS designer must also solve other problems, such as saving on bandwidth, and progressively enhancing the web experience for all users and devices.

Many of us enjoy fast internet connections in our homes and workplaces, but can be saddled with data plan caps and/or slow network speeds on our mobile devices. That large, 3MB photo may download just fine on your laptop at work, but when you check it on the train at night delivers a not-as pleasant waiting period. CSS designers must implement ways to account for these situations by delivering appropriately sized images, or preventing download until the image is displayed (for example.)

Along with bandwidth, another unknown is technology. Many offices and homes are up-to-date on the latest browsers, computers and capabilities. However, most are way below the cutting edge. CSS designers are tasked with maintaining accessibility and usability of web content while adding on features and complimenting effects for those with technology that supports them. This is called progressive enhancement, and it ensures that even if someone is using a very outdated form of technology, the web content is still readable and usable.

Many of these decisions can be made by UI designers, web architects, graphic designers and more. However, a CSS designer/developer is the one who will implement and ship these solutions. I enjoy being a part of thinking through and solving the many road bumps of the web. I enjoy optimizing and progressively enhancing content for all users. And I enjoy writing CSS. It is a form of design that is unconventional but, I believe, is very essential.

To-Do: Find the Right To-do App

Having recently gotten married, I’ve gone through a few months of hectic planning and the attempt to organize tasks, assignments (from the wife-to-be) and various to-dos that come along with joining in holy matrimony. I tried out pretty much every to-do app available for iOS/iPhone/iPad, as well as a few web-based systems.

Some of the better systems that I tried included Wunderlist, TeuxDeux and Clear. I was looking for the ability to obviously create tasks with reminders, but also to be able to assign them to others and categorize them. While many of these apps were designed well and did one or two of those functions very well, none of them completely met my needs.

The solution I ended up with involves use of 2 apps: Apple’s Reminders and Mailbox.

So, after spending lots of time researching and using other to-do apps, it turns out that Apple’s default Reminders app does pretty much everything I need. You can create tasks, turn on reminders per time or per location, and share lists with someone. Lists and items also sync over iCloud, so anything I do on my phone automatically appears on my desktop computer and vice-versa.

For more complex to-do items, or tasks that come from email (as they often do,) I am trusting Mailbox. It is an email app that makes keep track of messages and mail much less stressful. They designed it with email as a to-do list in mind, since that was what many people were using email for. It allows you to check off (or archive) email that you don’t need to do anything, hide and be reminded later of mail that you can put off for a while, and helps you get to the satisfying and relaxing empty inbox. It takes a little while to get used to, but once I had used it for a few days I ended up loving it and probably won’t be able to go back.

Both of these apps are free (Reminders comes with iOS devices and Macs, Mailbox is a free app but requires a Gmail account, for now.) Try them out and see if you agree.

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Thoughts On Dwyane Wade

I make it no secret that I hate the Miami Heat. And I hate Lebron James. And I hate the star-system that has taken over and ruled the NBA ever since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined the Celtics in 2008.

But I can deal with it all in some fashion or another. However I can’t deal with my absolute hatred of Dwyane Wade and the miserable human being he is. This is a pretty close summarization of my thoughts on him, via Andrew Sharp on Grantland:

To review:

  • He dresses like Lucille Bluth.
  • When he’s struggled, he’s generally refused to take responsibility.
  • He remains king of the cheap shots.
  • He nicknamed himself “WOW” earlier this season, and even LeBron said it was corny.
  • He’s been a liability for the majority of the Heat’s playoff run, and before Thursday, there was plenty of evidence the Heat are better without him.
  • Even when he plays well, he still dominates the ball, complains to the refs constantly, and hijacks the Miami offense for possessions at a time.

This is an incomplete list of Dwyane Wade transgressions, but you get the idea.

And he’s not getting traded. No matter what anyone says about the Heat maybe possibly parting ways with D-Wade, no matter how badly he falls off, it’ll never happen. Because he played a crucial role in the shady process of recruiting LeBron, because he is a certified deity in South Florida, because nobody would ever trade for him at this point. In other words, we’re stuck with Wade front and center on the best team in the NBA for at least the next year or two. After Game 7 he told reporters to call him “three,” and then corrected a reporter who called him “Dwyane.” It’s horrible. _He_ is horrible.

But he played well last night. And came up huge in a must-win Game 4. And in the two biggest games of the Pacers series. And in the closeout game against the Bulls.

I wrote about this a few weeks ago: You can hate Dwyane Wade, you can curse his name during every Heat game, and you can make jokes about how objectively horrible he’s become, but he always finds a way to show up and silence everyone. He did it again in Game 7 — 23 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks — because of course he did.

And when he was giving drunk interviews and doing confetti snow angels and giving himself nicknames last night, I was even a little happy for him. Just for a second. He deserves it, because he sold his soul to the devil and/or Pat Riley, got baptized in Moët and/or ate Rony Seikaly’s heart, and because he probably played through an ungodly amount of pain the past few months. He’s incredible whether we like it or not.

See you next year, D-Wade. Hate you. Love you. Will never escape you.

Browser Wars Episode VI: Return of the Mac

I’ve switched over almost completely to Google Chrome after being a Firefox loyalist since it was first called Firebird. I even contributed to the Firefox 1.0 project and got my name in the New York Times (as seen here.)

But after a while Firefox’s memory leaks and constant slowness got to me and sometime around the beginning of last year I changed over completely to Google Chrome. What sold me on it was definitely not the UI (aka the “chrome”) but rather Google Sync, which allowed me to have my bookmarks sync across any computer I was signed into (home, work and phone.) Also, Chrome uses Webkit so they were usually leading the charge in supporting new web standards.

I’ve been looking for quality alternatives to pretty much any Google product lately, so I’ve been browser shopping. Lately I tried a complete switchover to Safari, seeing as how I’m pretty much married to Apple products (our household has 2 iPhones, 2 iPads, a Mac Mini, a Macbook Air, and an Apple TV… all marvelously synced in the Apple-ecosphere. Oh, and yes we have home owners insurance.) However, Safari turned out to be very slow, a pretty significant UI changeover from Chrome, and had a few other minor annoyances that I just could not get past.

I went crawling back to Chrome for a couple of weeks, but I’m trying Safari again. I’m not entirely sure why but maybe the minimalistic nature of it appeals to me. Some of the small unique quirks of Safari are growing on me, but there a few things I would like to see either changed or made optional:

  • Resizable tabs - If I have 4 tabs open, don’t stretch them to fill the full width of the window. Or at least make this a setting.
  • Right-click, Open in New Tab - Allow me to put this option above Open in New Window in the right-click menu
  • Sync settings - iCloud syncs bookmarks and tabs, well how about browser settings? I don’t want to have to remember settings for each of my computers
  • Allow me to move the refresh button - I’m not sure why they would bury it in the address bar ala Internet Explorer.