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larry

larry has written 529 posts for Dusk Before the Dawn
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Steps to Rate and Review Apps on the Apple App Store

An App’s visibility on the Apple App Store is enhanced by its ratings and reviews. We’ve received many great ratings and reviews for our JoSara MeDia apps that are in the Apple App Store. And the steps to provide App Store reviews and ratings have changed slightly between the current iOS10 and the forthcoming iOS11 (now in preview).

What some users are not aware of is that the rating visibility of an App is reset with each new version. Even a minor change to an app will cause the ratings to reset. For example, we made a minor change to our Grand Canyon app to make the videos fit better when the iPhone 7 and 7+ were released. Even though the Grand Canyon app has only five star ratings (13 at last count) those ratings are not visible on the new version unless a user explicitly selects to look for reviews and ratings for “All Versions.”

There are several ways to ensure re-ratings, such as in-app pop-ups (Update: this will change with iOS11 as Apple will require developers to use its own in-app rating API, which will limit the number of times a user is prompted).. But users can also go into the App Store from their iPhone or iPad and easily rate apps.

The main differences between App Store reviews and ratings in iOS10 and the iOS11 preview are:

  • the app developer will be given a method (most likely in iTuneConnect) to select whether they would like ratings to carry across updates (hat tip to Reddit user emlombardo for pointing this out)
  • to rate an app on iOS11 can be done from the app’s page in the app store without going into the “Write a Review” section. This should provide for more ratings, albeit without reviews.

Here are the steps. Screenshots are below.

  1. Tap on the App Store Icon
  2. Tap in Search
  3. Type in “josara” to search for JoSara MeDia apps (or any other app name or app developer if you want to rate their apps)
  4. Scroll to the app you want to rate and tap on that apps name
  5. For iOS 10 and earlier versions:
    1. tap on the “Reviews” tab (between “Details” and “Related)
    2. tap on “Write a Review”
    3. tap on a star rating (5 stars is best, 1 star is worst)
    4. if you like, enter a title and a review of the app
  6. For iOS 11 (as of the current beta)
    1. scroll down to the “Ratings and Reviews” section
    2. tap on a star rating
    3. if you like tap on “Write a Review”

Click on the screenshots for App Store reviews and ratings in the table below to see larger versions.

iOS10 and earlier
iOS11
Locate App Store
Locate Search icon
Enter Search Terms
View Search Results
Select App to Rate and/or Review
For iOS10, tap on "Reviews" header.

For iOS11, scroll down to "Reviews" section
For iOS 10, tap on the "All Versions" tab to see ratings and reviews for all versions.

For iOS11, as of the current preview release, I can find no such option
To Rate an App:

For iOS 10, tap on "Write a Review." Star ratings are inside the "Write a Review" section. Tap a star, then tap send. Reviews are optional.

For iOS11, simply tap on the star rating.
To Review an App, tap on the "Write a Review" label in both versions

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams (Book 1 of The Last King of Osten Ard)

The Witchwood CrownIt was with equal parts anticipation and trepidation that I began reading The Witchwood Crown, the first book in The Last King of Osten Ard series which follows the classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. The anticipation points are obvious: there is evidence all over this blog how deep I’ve gotten into Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and how much I and many other readers were looking forward to continuing the story, revisiting the world of Osten Ard. And while I had no trepidation about whether it would be a good book (I’ve read almost everything Tad has written, and have enjoyed them all), my concerns were split between personal and magnanimous. Personal, in that as Tad is the GOD of Osten Ard he has the power and the right to not pursue characters and plot lines that I the self-absorbed reader would want to follow. Magnanimous, in that Tad deserves the kind of world-wide recognition and success that authors whose works came out in the Internet age of Reddit, HBO and You-Tube receive. When Memory, Sorrow and Thorn hit the presses between 1988 and 1993, an author’s legend was formed on word-of-mouth and newspaper reviews. The DAW flyer that was sent out with promotional copies described Tad Williams as a “California-based fantasy superstar.” This book, this series is and was the chance to show the world what those of us who are fans of MS&T knew was true.

I was also very interested to see how Tad’s writing experience would express itself. After thirty years of writing, plus some great collaborative editing with his wife Deb and with the experience of venturing outside of fantasy with other series, Tad’s had a lot of pages to hone his craft.

Happily, my worries on most of the above were all for naught. The Witchwood Crown is better than we could have hoped for – at times poetic in its philosophizing, blatant in its treachery, tear-jerking (no, Audrey, I didn’t cry reading this book either!) and exciting. My biggest issue was trying to slow down my reading at the end, knowing I’d be waiting twelve months for the next installment.

Though I do not believe a new reader would be lost starting here instead of reading MS&T (and the follow-on novel, The Heart of What Was Lost), I highly recommend riding the entire Osten Ard train, and then diving into this one. Or at least read the re-read eBook (shameless plug).

My reactions fall into several categories:

  • Past characters – who would be in the plot? who, after 30 years, were too old to continue? who would be left out? How many times would I cry out “No, Tad! Don’t do it!”?
  • New characters – how would they blend in? I’m including those characters that were introduced in The Heart of What Was Lost (THOWWL) as well here.
  • Motivation – Tad has spoken in many interviews about his motivation for getting back to Osten Ard. What would be the motivation for the story, what would keep the characters moving?
  • Repetition – in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, Tad paid homage to and broke some of the (at the time) well-laid and well-worn fantasy tropes. And the story of a boy who turned into a man who turned into a hero with a to-be-revealed past played well with Simon. Would we see more of that, or a different plot line? Would this be Utuk’ku vs. mankind part deus (since we know she is only in the deep sleep)?
  • Differences in Tad’s writing - Tad’s older and has many pages under his belt. How would his writing show the changes?
  • Continuity – there are at least two more books planned in the Last King of Osten Ard series. What will be the reason for continuing?

I will mark each section if there are potential spoilers for those who have not yet read the book. If it is on the cover blurb and freely available, I’ll assume it is not a spoiler. The potential spoiler passages will be blurred out like this next section   this is a SPOILER  - just hover over to see it.

Past characters

One of the hardest challenges of The Witchwood Crown, of continuing a series such as Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, is how to handle the characters that Tad knew all of us had grown very attached to, while weaving in the new ones that will carry the story forward. I am totally enthralled in the way Tad is pursuing this.

Tad writes the reunions of his old characters like they are reunions between his readers and those same characters, as it should be:

But both the King and the wolf-riding apparition had stopped in the middle of the bridge and were climbing down from their mounts, paying little attention to nobody but each other.
“Binabik!” his grandfather shouted, then pulled the small figure into his arms like a father whose child had been returned to him after a long, frightening absence. (pg. 91)

While I wouldn’t call the time without Osten Ard frightening, it has certainly been long and arduous!

The returning mortal characters are 30-or-so years older, and King Simon and Queen Miri have been working to rebuild a war-torn kingdom in that time, while Simon learns what it is to rule. The interplay between these two 50-somethings is one of the best characterizations of the writing. Tad lets us see glimpses of the people that they were (Simon referring to himself as “mooncalf”, Miri telling stories about him) while showing us the people and couple that they are now. They should be enjoying the twilight of their lives, but their kingdom is under siege from forces within and outside.

He didn’t mean to sound like a hurt child, but he knew that he did. At the moment though, hidden by the darkness, he did not care. “When we argued earlier, you all but called me a ‘kitchen boy.’ As if, despite more than thirty years of being a king, of ruling at your side, I was still a child you thought you had to instruct.”
“No, no. That’s not true. It’s not even fair.” He heard her bare feet pad across the floor, felt the bed sag slightly as she climbed back in. “It’s just…sometimes I lose patience.”
“As you would lose patience with a child. Or a simpleton.”
“Simon, please. It isn’t like that. Not truly.” Her hand found his in the darkness and curled within it, like an exhausted animal looking for shelter. “I love you so much that is sometimes makes me think I would go mad without you. But sometimes you don’t seem to think beyond what you can see, what you can reach. If someone tells you the mean well, you believe them. If someone fails you but tried hard, you never punish them or even dismiss them.” (pg 590)

This occurred after the oldsters had just made mad, passionate love. Relationships are complex, even after 30 years of marriage. Tad knows this, and his depiction of their relationship is complicated and engaging. I’ve never been a big fan of Miriamele, but I am a fan of her vivid depiction: a spoiled former princess who has maintained some of her airs as Queen. She is balanced out by Simon, who she constantly chides for being too nice and naive.

As noted above Binabik is back, as are Tiamak, Count Eolair, Jerimias and others. Alas, age affects mortal men and mortal beasts. Duke Isgrimnur, a key figure in both the original trilogy and THOWWL, was old in those books and barely makes it to this one. Also, Qantaqa, Binabik’s wolf partner, has went to that great wolf home in the sky. He will be sorely missed.

Josua, Miri’s uncle, has not been heard from in quite some time, along with his wife and his twin children (who were the subject of Aditu’s prophecy – see below). This is from the book cover blurb.

Utuk’ku was, at the end of MS&T (and in THOWWL as well) in a deep recovery sleep after her defeat in To Green Angel Tower. As the book cover blurb states, she has awakened.

The Sithi are back as well, though the ones we know and love do not make their presence known until the very end of the novel.

New characters

There are two vectors here: how would the new characters introduced in The Heart of What Was Lost influence this new series? And how would new characters be integrated amongst the Simon, Miriamele, Binabik, Tikmak core group of players?

On my first reading of The Heart of What Was Lost my impression of it was that it was a nice vignette (short by Tad standards!), a standalone novel if you will, the main purpose of which was to get readers back into the world of Osten Ard and get them primed for the series. Au contraire! There are major plot points and characters that were introduced in that lovely bridge novel that highly impact The Witchwood Crown.

From The Heart of What Was Lost, the characters of Porto the misplaced warrior, Viyeki the Norn High Magister of the Order of Builders and and several half-breed Norn-mortals (which was excellently setup by THOWWL) play a roll in The Witchwood Crown, with  Viyeki and his half-breed daughter Nezeru  acting as point-of-view characters in several chapters. With The Heart of What Was Lost, we were able to see a Norn’s point of view, and luckily this continues even more so in The Witchwood Crown. There is no black and white/good and evil, lots of shades of grey on all sides.

Tad always has written strong female characters, and the new characters introduced here are no exception. Viyeki’s half-breed daughter Nezeru is a central character, strong but conflicted between her human and Norn selves. She is my favorite of all of the new characters introduced.

Prince Morgan, grandson of Simon and Miri, is a central character. There are some similarities with Simon from the first book; they both have some growing up to do. But there the similarities end. Morgan drinks and cavorts his way through his first chapters. Will he be able to grow out of that and be able to lead the Kingdom? Is he the titular Last King of Osten Ard? Tad writes spoiled rotten kid roles very well (see above comment about Miri), but Morgan is very  complex depiction of that personality.

Motivation

In my article on where MS&T fit in the history of fantasy, I wrote “From a certain perspective, Williams’ MS&T is at once an homage to LOTR and a commentary on those parts that seem a bit ‘black and white.’ I still believe this was the motivation for the series – to take the success Tolkein had with his imageries of pure good vs. pure evil, and make them more grey. I was very interested in trying to discern what Williams’ motivation for diving back into the world was…but even after devouring this first book, I do not yet know. Anticipation is a GOOD thing.

All of the characters that we followed in the first series are 30 years older. For the immortal ones, that is a minor blip; but for the mortals, many of them have reached the advanced ages of life; Simon and Miri would be in their 50s if my math is correct. There are certainly the plot points of ruling a kingdom, of lands whose rulers are less that subservient or whose rulers are in danger of being usurped. However, this is certainly not motivation enough to extend the classic MS&T.

The prophecy that Aditu foretold in MS&T about Josua and Vorzheva’s twins was seen by many as motivation. For those that don’t have it memorized (I had to go back and find it) it is:

“They will be as close as brother and sister can be,” Aditu intoned, her voice suddenly solemn and powerful, “although they will live many years apart. She will travel in lands that have never known a mortal woman’s step, and will lose what she loves best, but find happiness with what she once despised. He will be given another name. He will never have a throne, but kingdoms will rise and fall by his hand.” The Sitha’s eyes opened wide, but seemed to gaze far beyond the confines of the room. “Their steps will carry them into mystery.” (pg. 411-412 of To Green Angel Tower)

The twins are in this book, not quite in the way I’ve imagined them. I’ll leave no spoilers here because I thought the reveal was pretty sweet. But I do not think this is Tad’s main motivation for restarting the series.

Nor do I think a second battle with Utuk’ku (though with her awakening that certainly seems likely) is Tad’s motivating factor either.

I was hoping for a view into the Norns’ perspective. That came with THOWWL and increases here.  The breeding of Norns with mortals, and the pursuant issues of prejudice and judgement of the pure bloods vs. half-breeds that comes with that, are a central part of the Norns story in this series, central to their survival and a major change in their culture. Williams writes scenes involving these characters very well, showing the  full blood Norns disdain for their less than pure brethren.

I do not think the reason for the series has been revealed by the end of this first book, although the search for the item that is indeed The Witchwood Crown (though we readers still do not know what it is) leads me to believe that it, its backstory and its usage will provide us the answer for Tad’s return to Osten Ard.

Repetition

There are several themes and plot lines that are similar between MS&T and this new novel.

MS&T can be described as a coming-of-age story of a boy that grows up to challenge dark forces led by a vengeful immortal Queen (with a Storm King side-kick, plus a mad mortal King). And that one line description could be used to describe the basis of The Witchwood Crown as well, as a lot centers on Prince Morgan who indeed has quite a bit of growing up to do.

MS&T could also be described as a treatise on love…and not just Simon’s and Miri’s. The motivation for King Elias to do the evil things he did, though it was never explicitly stated, was to go back in time to when his dear wife was alive. And let’s not forget about the love between Binabik and Qantaqa!!! The Witchwood Crown richly explores the love of Simon and Miri, but it does not seem to be as deep a theme as the first series.

There’s also a bit of familiarity of Simon and Binabik’s friendship with the one between Morgan and the Qanuc Snenneq.

I’m not pointing these out as bad things, and certainly not laziness on the writer’s part. These tie ins of familiarity are actually stimulating for readers of the first series, reminding us of what happened and how it felt to make that journey.

Differences in Tad’s Writing

It’s easy to forget that, as legendary as Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is in the annals of fantasy (see my article on SFSignal), it was the second piece of writing Tad Williams did (after Tailchaser’s Song if my history is correct). Like the characters in his book, Tad is older (though the shaved head hides it well!) and wiser…and certainly a more experienced writer. With Otherland, ShadowMarch, Bobby Dollar and other works under his belt, the pacing in The Witchwood Crown feels more natural, the characterizations more defined, the plot tighter. Some of this may be attributed to the familiarity of the world, much could be the editing of Tad’s lovely wife Deborah. It feels like a runner hitting his stride, and I can’t help but wonder if this is why Tad picked up the thread of the story…like a runner who’s feeling it and signs up for a race with confidence.

One of the knocks on The Dragonbone Chair is that it starts off slowly. There are a couple of chapters in that first book where I would agree with that sentiment – though I do enjoy the setup, the surrounding of the reader with the normalcy of Simon’s everyday life before all heck breaks loose. I personally experienced no such slowness of pace in The Witchwood Crown. I was told that I would speed through the last 200 pages – and the temptation and motivation was certainly there (though I resisted to make it last).

There are some situations here that are much more adult than the previous series, which I welcome…as they are a specific part of either the plot, or, more importantly of characterizations (especially of Simon and Miri, Pasevalles and Nezeru (not together). ).

Continuation

I do not recall reading any of Tad’s books that possess more cliff hangers than this one. Perhaps the fact that I could re-read the first trilogy back-to-back-to-back made any cliff hangers seem less significant.

In this novel, it seems that almost every major character was left hanging in one form or another – or revealed something about themselves that made us wonder how they were motivated to do that. On the one hand, I’d like to poke Mr. Williams in the ribs and shout “what the hell, Tad?” for doing that to us loyal readers. On the other hand, that might slow him down from completing the 2nd book in the saga.

There are certainly more than enough plot lines and secrets to be revealed to keep this series barreling along through the inevitable fourth book (a large third book split in two equals four)!

Things I wish would have happened

These have nothing to do with anything, just random thoughts. These contain MAJOR spoilers, so tread lightly.

  •  Aditu’s child was Simon’s. C’mon, we’re all thinking it, I just wrote it out loud!
  • Qantaqa, Binabik’s first wolf, was still alive. Maybe the wolf could have had an injection of Sithi blood or DNA to make the wolf immortal.

In Conclusion

If DAW, the publisher of this series, does a year between books, then there’s only 11 months until Empire of Grass. At least I’ve got a Packers season and the rest of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series to tide me over. Tad recently posted on Facebook that he was cleaning out the garage. If that was in any way slowing down the writing/publishing of the next novel, he could have found ample volunteers for the chore!

Tad’s trophy chest, though full of awards for bass playing, garage cleaning and promoting clowns, is empty of Hugo and Nebula awards. This books is a great story, a great start to a new series. We’ll see what else comes out this year, but The Witchwood Crown should certainly be in consideration.

Tad Williams Osten Ard

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 5

As much as I tried to make the return to Osten Ard in The Witchwood Crown last, for there is a wait of at least a year before The Empire of Grass arrives, it had to end at some point. Similar to the binge watching Netflix crowd who like to feast on entire seasons of a show in a few (or one!) sittings, I like to line up the books in a series and plow right through them. This is not just for continuity, but also for the freshness that comes with the characters. I’m in the midst (interrupted only by Tad’s latest) of a straight read through of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, which is a march through ten massive novels (with some of his cohort Ian Esselmont’s stories thrown in as well).

But for an Osten Ard novel, I will make an exception.

It will take me a while to get my thoughts together, but I would certainly agree with the job title attributed to Mr. Williams in the DAW promotional note that accompanied the book I received (thanks John!)….Tad Williams is indeed a  California-based fantasy superstar. He may not get paid as much as that other California-based fantasy superstar (who plays for Tad’s hometown Warriors)…a deeper conversation on the compensation differences between those who write prose that will last several lifetimes, and those who entertain us with skill in sports.

Tad Williams Osten Ard

In the mean time for my friend Ylva (who probably already has this memorized), here’s a list of the chapters (which I need to aid my memory as I write some notes). From my perspective after having read the book, there are no spoilers in reading these titles.

Foreword

Part 1 – Widows

  1. The Glorious
  2. The Finest Tent on the Frostmarch
  3. Conversation with a Corpse-Giant
  4. Brother Monarchs
  5. Awake
  6. An Aversion to Widows
  7. Island of Bones
  8. A Meeting on Lantern Bridge
  9. Heart of the Kynswood
  10. Hymns of the Lightless
  11. The Third Duke
  12. The Bloody Sand
  13. Lady Alva’s Tale
  14. Ghosts of the Garden
  15. Atop the Holy Tree
  16. A Layer of Fresh Snow
  17. White Hand
  18. A Bad Book
  19. The Moon’s Token
  20. His Bright Gem
  21. Crossroad
  22. Death Songs
  23. Testament of the White Hand

Part Two – Orphans

  1. Terrible Flame
  2. Example of a Dead Hedgehog
  3. The Inner Council
  4. Noontide at the Quarterly Maid
  5. Cradle Songs of Red Pig Lagoon
  6. Brown Bones and Black Statues
  7. The Slow Game
  8. A High, Dark Place
  9. Rosewater and Balsam
  10. Secrets and Promises
  11. Feeding the Familiar
  12. The Man with the Odd Smile
  13. A Foolish Dream
  14. Two Bedroom Conversations
  15. The Factor’s Ship
  16. A Grassland Wedding
  17. Watching Like God

Part Three – Exiles

  1. Hern’s Horde
  2. Forest Music
  3. Into Deeper Shadows
  4. Charms and Tokens
  5. A Nighttime Sun
  6. River Man
  7. Hidden Chambers
  8. The Little Boats
  9. Blood as Black as Night
  10. Several Matters of State
  11. Stolen Scales
  12. Homecoming
  13. Their Masters’ Folly
  14. Voices Unheard, Faces Unseen

Afterword

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 4

As I sit on Chapter 28 of 54 chapters in The Witchwood Crown, a few random observations:

Chapter Names

I mentioned this in the re-read and commentary eBook that I put together, but I’ll bring it up again. I normally never read the Chapter names in a book. Some authors keep it simple by naming the chapter at the PoV character (looking at you, Mr. GRRM!); some do not even bother with naming their chapters (guilty!). But I noticed during the re-read that Tad’s chapter names had either foreshadowing, humor or serious sarcasm in them.

The name of Chapter 28 made me think Tad was laughing when he pulled that one out of his…head. It conjures up many different images at once, and somehow made me think of the WerePig from the Bobby Dollar series!

The Witchwood Crown chapter name

 

The Appendix of The Witchwood Crown

There is a 15 page Appendix in To Green Angel Tower (which is 1,066 pages in hardback) versus a 25 page Appendix in The Witchwood Crown (which is 694 pages in hardback). Obviously the world of Osten And has grown, and/or Mr. Williams marching band of personal Scrollbearers did great research (perhaps a bit of both, and kudos to Ylva and Ron, great mentions in the Acknowledgements!). I’ve tried hard to stay out of the Appendix, for the same reason I’ve tried hard to stay away from other people’s reviews…no spoilers please!

The Back Cover Flap

To Green Angel Tower and The Witchwood Crown back cover flaps, side by side…I’ll just leave this image here. The Dogly one ages well!

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 3

Binabik-isms

The Witchwood Crown is set some 30-odd years after the end of To Green Angel Tower. This implies that some of the mortal characters will be around in the new series, and some will not. It should not be a spoiler (and I apologize if it is) to anyone that Binabik is around.

In the re-read and commentary eBook that I put together on Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (on Amazon here), I tried to call out every saying that Binabik mentioned, every Binabik-ism. Given that they were translated from his native language into Simon’s Erkynlandish, they had a very roundabout but wise-sounding way of getting to the point. As the “Singing Man” of his people, perhaps cataloging these phrases is part of the job?

The first Binabik-ism that I came across in The Witchwood Crown reads like a parallel to getting back into Osten And:

“My people are saying that to meet an old friend is like the finding of a welcoming campfire in the dark,” the little man said.

The Witchwood Crown

And, one page later, yet another:

“As we also say on Mintahoq, hanna via mo siqsiq, chahu naha! – as easily be trying to catch an avalanche in a thimble as to make the seasons stand still.”

I’m sure there will be many more

The Witchwood Crown maps

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 2

Maps

I like maps. And I’m not referring to Google Maps, Waze or Apple Maps. I’m talking about paper maps. I still have the Texaco maps of states we drove through on camping trips with my parents in a Jayco Pop-Up camper, with my own felt-tip pen lines showing the roads and the stops along the way. Thus I’m quite content with the maps in The Witchwood Crown.

As an aside, if you also like maps, you should really subscribe to the MapPorn Reddit subgroup.

In the original Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, our hero (not Simon – the author, Tad Williams) not only played the role of writer but also of cartographer. He’s listed on the credits page, and in the bottom right of the maps is a “TW” set of initials.

In The Witchwood Crown, the maps are by Isaac Stewart. Using my google-fu, I found out that he is THE Isaac Stewart who has done the maps for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and Stormlight Archives series…and now he has added The Witchwood Crown to an impressive portfolio.

Below is an image of the map in the first pages of To Green Angel Tower (on the right) with the map from the first pages of The Witchwood Crown on the left. Clicking on the image will take you to a mo’ bigger one.

The Witchwood Crown maps

The new map is excellently similar to Tad’s original map. Stewart’s has more detail, more names of places that were visited and discovered in MS&T. But I like the way it carries on the old tradition while embellishing on the original.

In typical Tad fashion, The Witchwood Crown has three parts (no names as thar be no spoilers here) and each part has one of Mr. Stewart’s maps at the beginning (in addition to the map pictured above which is at the beginning of the book). Each of the maps show additional detail of particular areas of the first overall map.

8 chapters in (out of 54 chapters)!

The Witchwood Crown

The Witchwood Crown – Thoughts on the return to Osten Ard – Part 1

The Witchwood CrownMy personal wait for Tad Williams’ new Osten Ard novel, The Witchwood Crown, is finally over, thanks to my friend John D. who provided me the copy sent to him. I’m interrupting my goal (as I suspected I would) of reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen series straight through to read this. It’s a good stopping point, as I just finished the fifth of Steve Erikson’s books in the series (and it is a very good series, highly recommended).

The Last King of Osten Ard series (of which this is the first book) takes place thirty years after the original Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. As readers we all carry our preconceived notions of what the characters were and what they would become. So there’s always the question of what happened to the characters in that series…who died, who lived, who changed.

I’m only about 50 pages in, but already have a couple of observations:

  • Thus far, the character transitions are handled not only with respect but with reality. One example is of a character from the original series (no names to prevent spoilage) who reflects upon what those of us readers who read the original series when we were young feel about aging:

I have become Time’s poppet, he thought sadly. She plays with me as a child with a doll, pulling off a piece here, another there, dragging me through the mud, then carrying me back to sit at some mock-banquet.

  • The other unexpected piece is a tie-in with The Heart of What Was Lost. I enjoyed this novel, set just after the events of To Green Angel Tower but was happily surprised by how early Williams tied those pieces and characters together with this new narrative.

So far I’m able to throttle the desire to speed through it, and enjoy it like a fine tequila…Only 900 or so more pages to go!

RWDevCon Mug

RWDevCon 2017 – Notes and Thoughts

RWDevCon 2017I attended the third RWDevCon March 30 – April 1 in Alexandria, VA. (Yes I know that was 10 days ago, but I had a lot of notes.) It was the third time RWDevCon was held, thus I was one of a reported 12 faithful attendees who have attended all three conferences. I even dragged a colleague from one of my customers to attend this year.

Why do I return for the joy of back to back eight hour days of seminars (this year with a third all day workshop for added pleasure)?

  • Hands-on Tutorials. Before each conference, Ray Wenderlich (the “RW” in the DevCon) and his team send out the slides that will be covered in the tutorials (a small PDF) along with a Zip that includes PDFs of slides and Xcode of all of the demos and labs (with multiple start and stop points) that will be covered as well…and this Zip is huge. This size comparison drives home the point: this is the most hands-on conference of any developer conference I’ve been to. I was prepared this time, had all of these files loaded in Notability on my iPad and was taking notes on the PDFs (aside: I was a skeptic about the Apple Pencil, but this note-taking setup has converted me). In the previous two years, there were some pacing issues, where there was just way too much to type in the demos, and that got in the way of listening to the instructor. When the instructors type while they talk, and expect you to listen while you talk, laptops get closed and people start to just listen…which is okay, but not optimal. This year, I only experienced that one time. Ray and his team, with all of the practice they put into these sessions, have it down.
  • RWDevConConference organizers who listen. I (and every other attendee) received an email from Ray asking what types of sessions we’d like to see in the conference. I do not recall all of my responses, but I did list “error handling”, “unit testing”, “machine learning” and “application architecture”. All of these appeared on the agenda. Even a small item, like a request to have something other than those nasty, incredibly-bad-for-you Coke products during the breaks was listened to…with Naked Juice now as an option. When they listen to their attendees, good things happen.
  • Ray and Vicki. As I was walking into the workshop the first day, I ran into Ray, looking very bleary eyed. Though I knew he’d probably been up all night reviewing sessions and entertaining the vast horde of Brits he seems to employ (!), he stopped for a quick chat and update. Vicki walks through with her ever present smile, knowing everyone’s name. Though I only see these two once a year, they are very enjoyable people and I revel in their success. They make no excuses about being introverts, but practice their presentations over and over until they seem comfortable in the spotlight. I hope RWDevCon grows to dominate the world, just so they can enjoy the fruits of their labor.RWDevCon
  • The RWDevCon team. They work hard, they are there to help you learn, and they are a lot of fun. And Brian lets me win at the card games (sometimes). Ray and Vicki, at every conference so far, talk about inclusion, about letting people feel not only comfortable but like they belong. They walk the walk.
  • Beer. Ray and Vickie call this friendship, camaraderie…but let’s face it – we’re here for the beer (and the card games. and the people). I must ding Mr. Wenderlich, though for two beer notes:
    • At the bash at the Carlyle Club, Ray was telling me how wonderful the beer was that he was drinking; when he left to go do host-type things after setting his bottle on the bar, I asked the bartender for one…only to find out that Ray had just quaffed the last one (but left an inch in the bottle…I did NOT drink after Ray). I do not remember what beer this was as I have blotted it from my mind.
    • For the receptions at the hotel, the catered food and mojitos were quite good. But when Sam Adams is the best beer of the selection…time to head down to the Trademark for their excellent selection of beers….or to the post-conference bottle share…but that is a later session.

It would be great to see RWDevCon grow into something much larger, so that those that put in the hard work could realize that success. But it is also excellent at the size that it currently is. Ray, Vickie and the team have a hard balancing act to do.

Bottom line: I cannot recommend this conference more highly to any and all iOS developers. Most of these sessions provided me with enough information that I could use what I learned immediately. Some are difficult enough that I’ll need to review the data before knowing enough to be dangerous. But the amount of tools and education gained in these three days provides a high ROI on time and money spent.

All day workshop – App Architecture (Josh Berlin and René Cacheaux)

FreedomIsntFreeIPAIt was a tough choice between the Debug workshop versus this one, but need won out. I’d recently completed a cycle count and inventory Swift application in a very tight timeline, and I KNEW I had broken many app architecture rules in haste….so I went to task to re-learn and hopefully be amazed by some new ideas as well. Had I known attendees would be getting a copy of Derek’s (who was leading the other workshop) Advanced Apple Debugging and Reverse Engineering book at the conference close, I would have had more incentive to choose this session…until Josh and René put out an app architecture book.

After meeting one of my three favorite nephews for brews and dinner at the Trademark downstairs the night before, I was primed and ready (obligatory local beer picture included) for the next morning’s 8 hours session.

What I learned:

  • Josh and René are both from Austin, where I’ll be living soon. Beers will be shared.
  • From the intro: “Thoughtful design of the boundaries between your apps subsystems is the foundation of a stable codebase.” Deep stuff for 9am!
  • Dependency Injection (the demos used the Swinject library, there are others available). The first demo pulled an API call out of the view controller and put it into a Swinject Assembly….need to use this as we refactor our cycle count app.
  • Storyboard Dependency Injection.
  • Use case driven development. This is not a new subject, a quick google of that phrase shows many old articles on university web sites, IBM, ACM, etc. But the workshop (specifically Demo2) showed swift version of implementing use case objects.
  • Unidirectional data flow with a state store.
  • Redux – state stored outside of the view controller
  • Some RxSwift as an appetizer to the session tomorrow (this actually had me change my schedule to attend the RxSwift session instead of the Fastlane session).

After the workshop, with a full brain, sore butt from sitting, an hour to spare until the opening reception and the threat of bad running weather in the ensuing days, I headed out to run down King Street, a very cool old set of blocks that runs towards the river, right into more running trails (obligatory running scenery picture included – session details after the photo).

AlexandriaRun

Friday sessions

There were three tracks of sessions. There are the ones I selected to attend. There are several others that I either worked through the demo material or plan on doing so…as, so far, one cannot be in two places at once.

Machine Learning on iOS (Alexis Gallagher)

Why I attended: I want to employ machine learning with two of our products (Secure Workflow and Clinical Decision Support).

What I learned:

  • Docker can actually be run on my wimpy old MBA, making me glad I didn’t upgrade (but of course, when the chipset gets refreshed, I’ll be the first in line).
  • The setup was well done, starting the training part of the machine learning demo first (so it would actually complete on a wimpy old MBA) and then going through the theory.
  • The docker image had Google Tensor Flow, and we used the inception3 algorithm.
  • Alexis has some great smiles…and some rather frightening frowns.
  • We made training data by pulling images out of videos, classifying those videos as smiling and frowning, and then letting the Docker image train on the pulled out images against the baseline.
  • The tensorFlow console is accessible in the Docker, and allows you to browse deeply through the Inceptionv3 network.
  • I spoke with Alexis after the session, and discussed with him how I wanted to employ machine learning. Based on my description, he suggested linear regression and pointed me towards the Machine Learning course on Coursera taught by Andrew Ng of Stanford University   (which he also mentioned at the top of his “Where to go from here?” slide and the end of the session). A session of it just started, and it was a great suggestion (thanks, Alexis).

iOS Concurrency (Audrey Tam)

Why I attended: We have an old objective-C app that is getting converted to Swift, and it needs some concurrency help at one customer as their network is slower. I’d like to put parts of the data refresh in the background while updating the animations of the workflow tasks and notes. Plus Audrey is my wife’s name, so there you go.

What I learned:

  •  I have a lot of work to do.
  • What not to do (deadlocks, race conditions, priority inversions)…same concurrency problems that exist in all programing languages
  • Dispatch groups, dispatch barrier tasks
  • Async operations

Building Reusable Frameworks (Eric Cerney)

Why I attended: The old objective-C app I mentioned earlier has frameworks, and they need to be updated.

What I learned:

  • “A library is a tool, but a framework is a way of life.” Let’s do t-shirts!
  • Explanation of some of the differences between the three main dependency managers (Swift Package Manager, Carthage, CocoaPods)
  • SPM still doesn’t support iOS
  • using ‘git tag’ to manage versions
  • Demo 1 walked through Swift Package Manager; Demo 2 walked through building a multi-platform library (which, as I’ve heard, is a tool, not a framework…)
  • great demo on access control, and a good list of “gotchas”  on bundle specifications, global values, and singletons

RWDevCon RxSwiftRxSwift in Practice (Marin Todorov)

Why I attended: Reactive programming. Buzz words. Got a taste during the app architecture workshop. And I sensed a book was coming (obligatory signed book page picture included, only found Marin and Ash though…there’s a lot of authors!)

What I learned:

  • Don’t try to use reactive programming for everything (also mentioned in one of the inspiration talks)
  • Asynchronous code and observables. Demo 1 walked through “Variable” and emitting and subscribing to events
  • Using Observables with “bindTo” to tie incoming JSON directly to a tableView. This I will definitely use as we update our workflow app.
  • Using “bag = DisposeBag()” to get rid of subscriptions…takin’ out the trash!
  • I’ll walk through the book for more detail. We should be able to use this in the tableViews that are in our cycle count and inventory app, which shows which aisles still have items to be counted since this is made available via RESTful web service, and currently gets updated in a non-reactive way if the current user assigns themselves an aisle to count.

Saturday sessions

Practical Unit Testing I (Jack Wu)

Why I attended: Code is never tested enough. Especially mine.

What I learned:

  • When Jack says “practical”, Jack means practical. Lots of good points about balancing the time it takes to write and maintain tests versus having “good” and “useful” tests. Another way to read this: “Jack hates testing code as much as I do, so let’s do it efficiently and quickly and no one will get hurt.”
  • Write tests before you refactor, make sure the tests succeed, then refactor.
  • How to write a basic unit test
  • How to write a UI Test in Xcode, and how to make them not so darn slow
  • You can refactor you code to be more testable, and this makes for easier to understand code. My lead developer is a refactoring machine, and his code is always testable….make sense.
  • I started in the session writing tests for the next version of the cycle count and inventory app. This was a very practical and applicable session.

Swift Playgrounds in Depth (Jawwad Ahmad)

Why I attended: I didn’t get to use playgrounds enough as a kid. It was a tough choice between this one and Practical Unit Testing II.

What I learned:

  • Playgrounds are still flaky. Several folks had to restart Xcode (myself included) to get the Live View to work.
  • IndefiniteExecution in a playground….cool
  • Reading from and writing to a file in a playground…quite useful
  • moving code into a framework to use in a playground

Advanced iOS Design Patterns (Joshua Greene)

Why I attended: The description talks about authentication, auto re-login, data and thread safety designs.

What I learned:

  • This was one session where I could not keep up with all of the typing, and for the most part sat back and listened.
  • Demo 1 walked through MutlicastClosureDelegate; Demo 2 walked through the Visitor pattern.
  • During the lab time, I actually started going through the “On-boarding” seminar slides and demo/labs. I’ll be running back through both of these sessions again. The on-boarding piece is quite useful for first time training users, even (or especially) for Enterprise apps.

Swift Error Handling (Mike Katz)

Why I attended: My error handling looks like the if-then-else statement from hell.

What I learned:

  • I’m going to “borrow” all of Mike’s error handling routines.
  • throws, try (not the rugby kind of try I’m used to!), do/catch
  • pass errors up (from inside to the call)
  • RETHROWS!
  • Using a Result-type and map
  • The Lab went through ways to provide error responses to AlamoFire and also a way to do auto-retries after timeout errors

RWDevConClosing session

  • The RW team pushes the session and conference evaluations hard, because they compile them on the fly. And, in this closing session immediately after the last inspiration talk, Ray details a summary post-mortem and asks for more feedback. This is the only conference that I can recall that does this.
  • One way they push the evaluations is they give out prizes (you get an entry ticket for each evaluation). And, for the third year in the row, I won…nothing.
  • But I did get two books, both of which have been previously mentioned (RxSwift and Advanced Apple Debugging). And managed to get both of them signed (obligatory signed book pictures)

Post-conference bottle share

Why I attended: I brought two great beers from local Houston breweries and they needed to be tasted. (obligatory Houston beer picture included, especially since several people asked about them. They were mighty tasty)

What I learned:

One could make a case that this wasn’t really part of the conference. But it was. We traded beer stories, travel stories, family stories, tried to kill a monster in a dungeon while bluffing (more card games), and generally had a great time. All were invited.

RWDevConConclusion

With the amount of pre-conference setup, conference materials and notes gathered from this (and the previous two) RWDevCon, the investment here will continue to pay off as they are used and referenced. Next comes incorporating these into release plans for the apps we already have deployed, and those we will deploy in the future.

Some additional photos included here at the end.

RayClosing

MarinKeynote

Turtonator

BottleShare

SXSW 2017

SXSW2017 Health Technology sessions

Notes on the 2017 SXSW Health Tech sessions I attended (some with photos, some with photos of slides from the presenters) in order of relevancy to current projects. The sessions (and links to each if you want to jump down) are:

Screening for Heart Disease with the Apple Watch

No More Apps – Why Reinventing Devices is Key

Diabetes Avalanche

Dunking on Disparity: Health Tech for All

Health Data: WFT? We’ve been to the Moon, But…!

To Build in Health, Follow the $ Not the Patient

To see notes from other SXSW2017 sessions:

Bruce Sterling

Equity Crowdfunding

Screening for Heart Disease with the Apple Watch

AppleWatchHeartRateGents
Presenters: Dr. Ray Duncan, Dr. Joshua Pevnick (both from Cedars-Sinai Health System)

This was an excellently balanced and informative presentation where Dr. Duncan presented the technical perspective and Dr. Pevnick presented the data analytics and research perspective. I took pictures of most of their slides, the pertinent ones are included here.

Cedars Sinai starting allowing patients the option through their patient portal (voluntary)  to link wearable devices and their readings, and integrated those readings into their EPIC EMR system. With little advertising they got up to 2800 patients (out of 130,000 portal users) sending in readings.

SXSW Health Tech Cedars Sinai

 

  • EPIC integration for wearables (for some) comes out of the box
  • Early data was from younger, healthier patients (who are the target early adopters of this technology)
  • Due to amount of data, visualization is key (and I would assume, some machine learning for pattern matching would be great with this data)
  • Some data is erratic – is it device error or normal variant or pathology?
  • Dr. Duncan and Dr. Pevnick’s slides and presentation were both excellent. I’ve inserted a few of them below.

SXSW2017 Health Tech Cedars Sinai

SXSW2017 Cedars Sinai

SXSW2017 Health Tech

SXSW2017 Health Tech Cedars Sinai

SXSW2017 Health Tech Cedars Sinai

SXSW2017 Health Tech

SXSW2017 Health Tech

SXSW2017 Health Tech

SXSW2017 Health TechNo More Apps – Why Reinventing Devices is Key

An interesting session title, especially given that two of the panelists with devices also had apps that were critical to their devices. The incongruity was somewhat rectified by the discussion that the focus was on the device, as opposed to YAAS (Yet Another App Syndrome, my acronym).

Panel: Lu Zhang (NewGen Capital, VC), Stuart Blitz (SeventhSense Biosystems), Janica Alvarez (Naya), Jeff Dachis (OneDrop)

  • SeventhSense has TAP, a one-touch blood collection device (for use by healthcare professionals, not consumers currently). The device was just FDA approved. Stuart was formerly with Agamatrix, a connected blood glucose meter vendor.
  • Naya Health has a connected smart breast pump.
  • OneDrop has a subscription service for their bluetooth connected meter, strips and lancet. The device is FDA approved.
  • Discussion on FDA approval, and seeing the FDA as a friend, not the enemy. Naya FDA approval took five months.
  • Why no more apps? The device plus the app is an ecosystem.

SXSW Health Tech Diabetes AvalancheDiabetes Avalanche

I could have elected to wait in the two lines for Joe Biden (one for wrist bands, one to get in) and his cancer moonshot discussion. And, as I found out later, I also could have fanboyed out and found the Game of Thrones session (which I wasn’t aware of) which was right new door to Biden (apparently).

But the statistics and perspectives presented in this SXSW Health Tech session were a reminder of the size of the problems of diabetes and pre-diabetes.

Panel: Dr. Phyllisa Deroze (Black Diabetic Info), Dr. Sarah Mummah (IDEO), Marie Schiller (Eli Lilly), Adam Brown (diaTribe.org)

  • The cancer moonshot (dollars for a cure) was upstairs with Vice President Biden. Adam Brown asks where is the moonshot for diabetes and pre-diabetes?
  • Slide of how large the problem is, and growth rates (see below)
  • A lot of comments on poor diabetes education, and what can be done about it (both websites linked to in the panel list have lots of great education information)

SXSW2017 Health Tech

DunkingOnDisparityPanelDunking on Disparity: Health Tech for All

Panel: Dr. Baker Harrell (It’s Time Texas), Michael Mackert (UT Austin), Nish Parekh (IBM Watson), Stephen Pont (Dell Medical Children’s)

This was a Texas focused session, which featured using technology to reach all Texans. Statistics were presented about smartphone penetration (e.g., there almost everywhere) and the app called “Choose Healthier“, a collaboration between It’s Time Texas and the Dell Children’s Medical Center was introduced. It initially contained events and location information for in and around Austin at the time of the presentation.

The slide below shows stats from a PEW on smartphone penetration from 2016. The point of the panel was that apps could be delivered to all people regardless of income level or demographic factors.

DunkingOnDisparityPhoneStats

 

Health Data: WFT? We’ve been to the Moon, But…!SXSW Health Tech Data Panel

This is the session where I got stuck in an elevator on the way up to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Lovely! Apparently this is the only way to get up to the chamber of commerce. We weren’t in there for longer than ten minutes, and since it was raining out it wasn’t too steamy…just another bit of excitement at SXSW.

Panel – Brian Baum, Charles Huang, Karen DeSalvo, Sukanya Soderland

This panel had an interesting mix of local and national perspectives, all of whom agreed that data collection is hard but data integration is harder. One of the best slides was one I got a mostly crappy photo of (if you get stuck in an elevator you don’t have the best choice of seats, or so I found out). But it talks about the amount of money that is invested in segments of healthcare that create or utilize data…versus integrating or sharing it. That slide is below.

DataBurden

Karen DeSalvo, the former director of the ONC, shared the goals of data and system integration between the public and private sector. Little discussion on what would happen with these goals with the new administration.
DataPublicPrivate

At this panel, Brian Baum introduced Connected Health Austin, a local initiative. There was discussion on defined data communities within Austin, and all they “solve the same problem differently everywhere” followed by discussion on how Connected-Health Austin would be different in this regard. I heard of several of these type initiatives in Austin during SXSW, hopefully they will all inter-connect.
DataConnectedHealth1

DataConnectedHealth2

To Build in Health, Follow the $ Not the Patient

Panel – Abhas Gupta, Andrew Rosenthal, Carine Carmy and Matt Klitus

The focus here was on providing advice for starting a company in the health tech sector.

  • Discussed using Net Promoter Score, something we see more and more in healthcare for feedback
  • Try shifting money/cost from wellness budget to medical budget. $500 is a large sum for wellness, not at all for medical
  • LTV/CAC – Lifetime Value over Customer Acquisition Cost; LTV is $ per customer per year, how many years, % profit margin. This ratio should be over 3x per Gupta
SXSW 2017

SXSW2017 Equity Crowdfunding

SXSW2017 Equity CrowdfundingNotes from the SXSW2017 Equity Crowdfunding session.

Presenters: Slava Rubin (one of the founders of IndieGogo), Bill Clark (CEO of Microventures)

First Democracy VC is their joint venture that focuses on Equity Crowdfunding that was made possible by Reg CF, Title III. Slava and Bill said all of their ventures thus far has reached their funding goals. A slide they shared (at the end of these notes) shows that as March 2017 about 230 Reg CF offerings have been filed with the SEC (this is since it ‘went live’ in May 2016).

Brief History

Slava shared a brief timeline leading up to the availability of equity crowdfunding.

  • 1933 Securities Act (created SEC, accredited investors, IPOs)
  • 2012 JOBS Act (which contains Reg CF about equity crowd funding)
  • 2016 (May) JOBS Act goes live

Three types of Equity Funding

  • Reg D506 – accredited investors only. Form LLC, can only have 99 people to invest
  • Reg A, mini IPO. Raise up to $50Million
  • Reg CF, Title III (which was created out of the JOBS Act): raise $1 million in 12 months. If you raise over $100,000 requires financial review. Have to use a portal, other rules apply.

Types of CF raises

  • Equity Campaign
  • Revenue Share: Investors get a percentage of sales until the initial investment is paid back. Example: invest $100K, if they are successful, returns $150K, but no equity. This type of CF raise can include perks in an equity campaign (similar to a kickstarter or indieGoGo campaign).

A slide the gents shared on current equity crowdfunding statistics is shown below.

SXSW2017 Equity Crowdfunding Stats

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