Mako “Things I Like”: 2017

Things that are worth looking at

Welcome to the annual Mako “Things I Like” report for 2017.

Keep on trucking

Over the past several years, I have been attempting to produce an annual guide to the changes that I have made to my computing habits throughout the year. As my workflow is in a constant state of flux (always trying to refine it), I have been being more proactive throughout 2017 in keeping this up to date in order to lessen the time commitment it takes to write this at the end of the year. I am considering about making this more of a “living” document in 2018 that is hosted up on one of my personal blogs (either https://www.furrygoat.com or https://www.makoism.com) that I update monthly — we’ll see how that goes.

This year, I continued to streamline my process consistently throughout the year for managing information, work, coding, communicating by starting with an “audit” of the applications and workflow that make up my every day. My everyday carry (EDC) was updated several times, but I was able to maintain my ability to get everything I need to done using a minimal set of software that was any device that I had with me.

Some of the general advice (https://shawnblanc.net/2016/02/audit-your-workflow/) I follow when auditing your tools/apps to keep it fresh and clean:

  • Apps — examine the apps on your phone, ipad and laptop — have you used it in the last 2 months? If not, you probably don’t need it
  • Media — do you need all those documents/movies/music on your phone or laptop with you? If not, storing things away in iCloud keeps my devices light
  • Higher Learning — do you have time set aside for writing in your journal every day? do you have a few hours aside a week for learning? do you read enough?
  • On the day to day — what is the best way to manage your day, get thru your to-do list, how to deal with the landslide of email, how to optimize reading for content that is most interesting?

I find if I keep auditing myself, I’m able to get thru mundane tasks, and have plenty of time to learn, expand and grow.

Flow

Continuing the general rule that I would not let email overwhelm me for the last several years, I have been successful at having my Inbox below 10 items before the end of each day. It’s amazing how liberating this workflow is.

The flow is simple. For every new mail:

  • If I can delete it, I delete it immediately.
  • If it’s something that I just need for information or later, quickly goes into the 2017 folder.
  • If it’s something that I can answer immediately, I do, and then it goes into the 2017 folder or deleted.
  • If it’s something that I need to think about, or take action on, I shoot it over to Things as a to-do item, with tags, a project and a due date. Then it goes into the 2017 folder or deleted.

The process is simple. With extensions on OS X and iOS, the flow is very quick — my inbox is never a dumping ground for tasks.

Things 3.0

Over the past few years, I have streamlined my workflow by optimizing to-do lists. While the tool I have used has changed (OmniFocus->Todoist->Things), the process is generally the same. While I really liked OmniFocus, it was a bit of a nuclear weapon for tasks (you can really do anything you want with it), I have come to enjoy the simplicity of Things 3.

Things is my central nervous system

My setup for 2017 has been as follows:

  • Areas: I have high level areas such as “Work”, “Personal”, “Projects” and “Shopping List”. Each area has a sub-area with only 1 or 2 general themes such as “Security” or “House Projects”. Headings are also useful for area organization.
  • Tags: Every item in the list has tags associated with them. This allows me quick and easy cross area searching, with themes such as “emerging technology” or “artificial intelligence”.
  • One of the most effective tags notations that I use is people (I format them as .name, so that way, I can assign tasks to people and check on them by the day they are due, or by searching for all the things “bob” owes me).
  • Recurring Tasks: I schedule monthly recurring tasks like “archive photos to backup” or “check on some airfare”.
  • Daily Review: I have a daily recurring task to review everything in the todo list, calendar, etc so I can prioritize accordingly.
  • Checklists: One feature that I have not used enough of, but can see it’s usefulness is todo items with integrated checklists. I want to play more with that in 2018.

And it keeps getting better and better with each new release.

Overall Setup

One of the things that has simplified my EDC is the “2 device” rule — never carry more than 2 devices (I don’t count the watch, perhaps I should). Given that the phone is a must, it flipped last year from the MacBook 12” to the iPad 9.7. This year, the iPad 10.5 replaced that. Even though I upgraded the “desk machine” to the newest MB12”, I don’t think it’s been unplugged from the monitor since it arrived. Interestingly enough, as 2017 comes to a close, I am now considering going back to the MacBook + Phone combo .. it’s becoming a never-ending cycle.

Regardless, I ended 2017 with an incredibly simplistic and light setup:

Other gear that I often use or travel with on regular basis:

Gear Bags / EDC

For my daily EDC, I’ve settled in on the Bolt Crossbody Laptop Bag. Waterfield makes incredible bags, I ended up with the Black Ballistic and Black Leather trim. It’s beautiful, light and carries quite a bit in a very comfortable format. I also create micro “travel bags” that are designed so I can just pick up one and go, depending what devices (Mac gear vs iPad gear) that I’m bringing with me. Even though there are multiple items in there, they’re actually very small and light and fit in a tiny EDC.

iPad Cable Bag

The iPad “Cable Bag”

Mac Cable Bag

The Mac “Cable Bag”

I have a similar bag for ‘Mac travel’ which consists of:

Travel Bags

RIP in 2017

As I am always auditing how I work, the following software was added to the kill list this year:

  • Evernote
  • Bear
  • Yahoo Stocks
  • Yahoo Weather
  • Partly Sunny
  • WeMo
  • Coda 2 / Coda Mobile
  • Apple Wireless Routers — if Apple can’t be bothered, nor can I. And there’s way faster options out there now anyways.
  • Comic Life
  • OmniFocus
  • Todoist
  • Skype
  • Documents from Redaddle
  • MyFitnessPal
  • TripCase
  • Fantastical
  • Ghostery — moved to 1Blocker everywhere especially after being acquired and adopting a horrible new business plan
  • Skype — moved to Wire for secure communications
  • CrashPlan — moved to BackBlaze
  • Synology NAS — moved everything over to a thunderbolt array connected to the Mac in the closet

New in 2017

So, what new things did I experiment with in 2017?

Home Automation

Finally nuked the horrible WeMo lights after several years of suffering, and went full on to automate the house where possible.

Wireless and Networking

Since Apple also got out of the networking game with the deprecation of their Airport products, I finally upgraded to mesh wireless, and took control of my firewall by building my own.

  • Eero– Hands down the best. I get a solid connection now on my wifi wherever I am around the house.
  • OpnSense– In December, I decided to do the heavy lifting around my home network firewall and build a custom OpnSense router. This is amazing. I have a quad-core, 2ghz, 8gb/64gb router now that pretty much handles DNS, VPN, AdBlocking, and anything else I throw at it. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but this has provided me an incredible amount of control (and more importantly understanding) on what’s going on with the home network. More on this coming soon, but here’s a shopping list:
  • Firewall Micro Appliance With 4x Gigabit Intel LAN Ports
  • Corsair 8GB(1X8GB) 1600MHz SODIMM Memory
  • 64GB mSATA Internal SSD

Newsletters

As I slowly swing away from reading RSS on a daily basis, I’ve been following more newsletters than I used to:

Twitter Lists

I know that there’s lots of hate out there for Twitter, but I’ve found it to be a phenomenal tools for focused information gathering. The secret of course, is Twitter Lists. A list, as described by Twitter “is a curated group of Twitter accounts. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the accounts on that list.”.

I have created several lists for things that interest me: Triathlon, Apple, CyberSecurity, Gear, etc. I’ve also curated special lists such as “Mind Changers” — the people that cause me to think. By ridding myself of the firehose, this really has made Twitter one of the most important stops on my daily reading list.

NAS Upgrade / Home Backups

What can you do with 20+TB of storage at home? Well.. pretty much anything you want to . I did a big switch this year however (mostly due to Crashplan’s insane new pricing) — I switched from using a Synology NAS to a dedicated 4-drive Thunderbolt DAS. The home server is still on a MacMini, which handles Plex media server, OSX server, time machine, content caching server, etc.

Backups are now up on BackBlaze, and I couldn’t be happier with them. It has unlimited storage, a nice native set of apps for mobile and desktop and it’s really way faster than Crashplan.

Notifications

I’ve been doing more and more in 2017 with custom notifications. Inspired by blog posts on Streamlined Pushes and Shell/Watch Notifications, I’ve been wiring more and more into Pushover (available on Mac and iOS).

Notifications allow me to keep up with what I care about

Pushover is pretty cool — for an incredibly cheap one-time price ($4.99) you can create custom notifications that can be triggered from almost everywhere.

  • Using NTFY, I can have long-running shell commands let me know when they are completed.
  • I can have alerts and monitoring trigger notifications from the house.
  • All my IFTTT notifications are now also wired via Pushover — so I get a notification instantly when a new iOS release is out, or if SpaceX is launching a rocket.
  • etc .. the list is really endless.

The idea of a “personal notification system” for things that I really care about (rather than apps just bothering me) is very compelling. I plan on experimenting more with this in 2018.

Apps I currently use

This list contains the apps that I use on a fairly regular basis. Of course, there’s a few other things laying around on my devices, but I audit it pretty regularly.

Daily Focus

  • Things 3 (Mac and iOS) — moved from OmniFocus to Todoist. See above for more on how I handle lists.

Reading / Watching / Listening

Writing and Taking Notes

  • Notes (Mac and iOS) — On iOS 11 and High Sierra, the built-in Notes app is now a formidable app to my old Evernote usage. Due to the simplicity of syncing over iCloud, I finally took the plunge this year and haven’t been happier.
  • Ulysses (Mac and iOS) — Long form writing (including this document), blog posts, and presentation outlines have found a home in Ulysses.
  • Quotes — I’ve also been experimenting with keeping a “Quotes” folder in Ulysses with shared quotables I discover as I traverse the Internet. Adding to this via the share sheet in iOS makes it super easy to archive them here. Perhaps I’ll use these in a presentation down the line.
  • DayOne (Mac and iOS) — I use DayOne for jotting down simple thoughts daily. Clearing my mind at the start of every day of the “junk” has been really helpful for me to maintain better clarity.

Other Applications and Tools

Privacy and Security

  • 1Blocker (Mac and iOS) — I’ve tried several, but 1Blocker seems to have the best mix of configuration, control and whitelisting. Now with selective blocking, I have upgraded to 1Blocker on both Mac and iOS.
  • MicroSnitch (Mac) — Alerts you to when an app or process uses the mic or camera.
  • Little Snitch (Mac) — Allows you full control over what apps can do on the network
  • KnockKnock (Mac) — Malware scanner for the Mac
  • 1Password (Mac and iOS) — The best password manager out there.

Utilities

Communications / Social Networking

Storage / Documents

Shopping

Working Out

Travel

Dev Tools

Homescreens

What I use in 2017

Dock

2017’s dock remained pretty close to prior years.

The Dock

Seeking a Change in 2018

Optimize, optimize, optimize. Would love to cut back on a few apps to simplify things. And frankly, Apple should finally get off their butts and release xCode for iPad. 😉

The Value of Space

Why I Love Saying No

It’s an amazing thing when the way we spend our time genuinely shows what we want out of life. It requires the space to think clearly, to part with the excess, (physical or otherwise) and be present with the things that remain. It is by no means easy, but it is worth every second.

People often feel that “no” is a bad word. I find it to be quite the opposite — it’s liberating.

Inspiration

Nike’s Quest to Beat the Two-Hour Marathon Comes Up Oh So Short

But, despite the hype, despite the shoes, despite the millions of dollars of investment, despite the rigorous application of the latest scientific thinking and bio-mechanical analysis, and despite the mammoth effort of Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s best marathon runner, Nike’s much-publicized attempt to break the two-hour marathon mark came up short this morning at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza outside Milan, Italy. It was a close-run thing, but the two-hour marathon remains unbroken, for now, with Kipchoge finishing his marathon in 2 hours and 25 seconds.

I don’t care if it’s 25 seconds or 5 minutes too short — this was amazing and inspiring to watch. Certainly was worth it simply for the motivation.

Another Death on Everest

Ueli Steck Dies in Fall Near Everest

Ueli Steck, the Swiss climber known for his speed attempts and several notable first ascents, died on Sunday, April 30 while climbing in Nepal. He was 41 and died in a fall near Everest, according to Reuters. Steck was in the area preparing a new route: he would ascend to the summit of Everest via the West Ridge, then proceed across the South Col to 27,940-foot Lhotse.

Every year it saddens me when accidents (either by natural disasters or by people) occur on Chomolungma. An incredibly tragic death, that always reminds me of my time there and that every moment is precious.

Little Things

Personalization, at it’s best

I love when I get an email that starts with “Dear [FirstName]”. Makes me feel like a valued customer.

Choose What Is Killing You

Find What You Love and Let it Kill You

So the better question isn’t when you’re going to die. It’s what are you choosing as your vehicle to get there? If everything you do each day brings you closer to death in its own unique and subtle way, then what are you choosing to let kill you?

There’s only so many minutes in each hour, and hours in each day, and every day there’s a finite amount of things that you can let weigh you down. It’s incredibly freeing to choose what is killing you.

Instagram

Raising The Snapchat And Instagram Generation

The dynamic of social currency on Instagram, and how it translates into real-world social standing in junior high and high school, is unavoidable for kids. They either ignore the service entirely (to their social peril), or play the game and chase the likes. I thought I had it tough when I was a teenager in the ’90s.

I’ve always wondered why my son adds, then delete’s photos on Instagram. It turns out, that it is super un-cool to have photos with only a few likes.

The iPad Nano

Some great things come in small packages

Sometimes the simplest solution is right in front of you

Shall we play a game?

It’s been a while since I have written about using the iPad Pro as my primary machine so I thought it would be as good time as any to give an update on where my head is at.

To be honest, the cracks in this whole plan have been forming for a while now. While I’m certianly not the first person to post about it, the interesting bit is that the iPad itself really isn’t the problem — it’s 100% the software at this point.

Watching my computing habits during this transformation has also been particularly interesting. Similar to my laptop usage, the iPad Pro was sitting in my bag throughout the day — only to get pulled out at night at a hotel, or around the house for reading. I started to wonder if it’s time to go all-in and experiment a bit with what I call the “iPad Nano”… yes, the iPhone 7plus.

Would this work?

Let’s take a look what the normal computing needs are:

  • Would I attempt to create a Keynote on it? Nope.
  • Try and write a huge manuscript? Not a chance.
  • Take notes during day, respond to emails, check off items in Todoist? Sure thing!

Sure — I still have my “desk-bound” laptop with a huge-ass monitor when I need to do the heavy lifting; but really, most of my day (and I realize this is really a “what do you do all day” defining problem) could easily be tackled by the phone — and that “the best computer is the one you have with you”.

I still fundamentally agree with what Ben Brooks said:

But the truth of the matter is that it’s a laptop, and as much as you disagree, a laptop is not the future of computing, it’s the ancient hold over.

I continue to gravitate to a future where problems and tasks are best solved with the device that is in your pocket.

Sure — just for kicks — I may experiment with a small portable keyboard thrown into the bag for typing long form at night (Ulysses is simply the best), but I may go ultralight for a bit.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads..

All of this time spent noodling on how I compute, makes me think a bit about what Apple is going to announce at WWDC this year — it would be interesting if I could just plug my phone into a large monitor use a keyboard and mouse (it has enough processing) and then just take it with me when I need to.

But the real question is where this leaves the iPad?

I do like reading on it. I like using it for the day to day. And, frankly if there was an iPad Mini 5 I would probably just go with that. It’s really sad because I sincerely believe that the iPad could have (and, who knows, still might) transform the computing market — it kneecaped itself by limiting it’s usefulness as being treated as a large iPhone. We already have one of those.

Go Dark: Mac Edition

Blackout.

Your privacy is (not) an illusion

As someone who has not only been interested in “the security aspect of cyber” and the implications for personal privacy for quite a long time, it’s facinating to watch the world become slightly more aware of what really happens to your data when you’re using your computer, mobile phone, tablet device, internet-connected-fridge, etc.

The security (or the lack there-of) with regards to the “connected age” is just starting to light on fire with the public, and unfortunately there will most likely be some real ramifications that will hit people in the next few years.

While I am not advocating that you need rush to the store and buy a tinfoil hat, as a user of technology, I think it’s important to understand what information you are giving up — either willingly or unwillingly — to those that want to monetize off of your habits and social networks, or even worse; those who have ill intent towards any and everyone.

The tech industry has always slapped labels on this type of data collection as “big data” or “personalization” or “data science” — and sure, I agree — there is value in some basic level of understanding what a user is doing to augment and enhance the experience of whatever you’re doing. But i’d argue there are ways to do same type of enhanced experiences without collecting every little personal detail about you.

Anyways — I thought I would put a few words down on some tools you can use to see under the hood on what those apps are collecting. I’ll handle mobile in an upcoming post, but for now, let’s see what’s going on with your home computer.

Internet Traffic

Little Snitch — Have you ever wanted to see the traffic that every application (even system processes) is sending from your computer? Little Snitch is the answer.

little snitch will scare the crap out of you

Little Snitch also allows you to control that data collection: you have the ability to block (or allow) every little network call that is made from your apps. You’d be shocked how many applications send data over to Google Analytics. The warning on Little Snitch is that it can get incredibly noisy. It will be somewhat shocking to you when you first install it how much data is flying off your machine to the cloud. But with some tuning, you can really get things under control with a little work.

Ghostery— Best ad-blocker out there with extensions for almost every major browser. I have this on, blocking every social network beacon and data tracker I can find; but it sometimes causes odd side effects. For example, I can’t even log into xbox.com with this on. (note: Ghostery supports per-site whitelisting)

Communications

After the election, the question people asked me the most about was how to lock down their communication and instant messages.

iMessage — For the casual user, iMessage does already offer a reasonable amount of security on each message. Apple doesn’t have the encryption keys for messages, encrypts each message in transit, etc., but the security field usually dings Apple as there’s no way to confirm independently that there’s no one eavesdropping on the encrypted session. In addition, Apple doesn’t open up it’s encryption code to outside reiew.

So what’s the other options?

Wire — Wire is a relative newcomer to the encrypted messaging space. It has end-to-end encryption for its text, voice and video communications, runs everywhere from a browser to your iPhone to your iPad. No ads. No profiling. It uses a fingerprint comparison to verify the digital identity of other users. Wire also open sources its code. See 1.15.17 and 1.16.17 updates.

Signal — Signal is probably the most well known of the encrypted messenger applications. Built on Open Whisper Systems, all messages sent over Signal are end-to-end encrypted, and they don’t store the keys to decrypt them. Signal’s source code is also open-sourced, and they store little-to-no data on you or your communications. Even in your backups, messages aren’t included.

Several folks also recommend using WhatsApp, which is built upon the same Open Whisper system that Signal uses. The “issue” with WhatsApp is although they do not have access to the messages you send, they can read metadata which includes time stamp of each sent and received message, mobile phone numbers and the time stamp of delivered messages.

As for other system such as Facebook Messenger, just don’t bother if you’re looking for privacy.


Update 1.15.17: After reading through this post on how private messengers handle key changes, I would not recommend Wire until they fix/alert when a remote key is changed. Signal still seems to be the best. Bummer, I was really starting to enjoy Wire.

Update 1.16.17: Wire responds, and now I’m more intrigued. Going to keep an eye on this to see how it shakes out, as I really like Wire.


File System

Little Flocker— You can think of Little Flocker as “protection against ransomware, spyware, and misbehaving applications”. It does real-time protection (similar to Little Snitch) against unauthorized access to your files, alerts you against ransomware, spyware, or other programs that might attempt to steal, encrypt, or destroy your personal files. It also protects USB sticks from being accessed by applications without your permission.

Like Little Snitch, I find Little Flocker to be an essential tool — but it’s VERY noisy. It requires some serious tuning/personalizing to be effective.

BlockBlock — BlockBlock continually monitors certain persistence locations and displays an alert whenever a persistent component is added to the OS. More simply — it looks for software that’s installing itself in such a way that it will always be running and will restart after a system reboot — similar to most malware.

Cameras and Microphones

MicroSnitch— I use MicroSnitch instead of putting tape over my webcam.

Sure, tape can help with your camera — but what about your microphones?

This simple app sits in the background, and notifies you whenever your camera or microphone gets turned on. Nice and easy.

Everything else

If you want to go really hardcore, check out “The Practical Guide to Securing macOS”. Most of the suggestions in there are going to go beyond what a normal user will do, but it’s a great read.

Next time, I’ll dive into an even worse source of data collection: your phone.