Things I Like: 2016


The annual list of keeping my flow in check

Overview

I cannot put into words how happy I am that 2016 is finally over. This has been one crazy year (which seemed to start when David Bowie passed away) — the universe appeared to go into a complete backspin the last 12 months, and I’m just glad 2017 is finally here. On the device/workflow side of things, I continued to streamline my processes for managing information when I did my annual “audit” of the applications and workflow that make up my every day. I continued to modify my everyday carry (EDC) while maintaining the 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 I follow on auditing your tools/apps to keep it fresh and clean:

  • Look at the apps on your phone and laptop — have you used it in the last 2 months? If not, you probably don’t need it
  • Do you need all those documents/movies/music on your phone or laptop with you? I have found storing things away in iCloud keeps my devices light
  • 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.

Devices

On the device front, I’m still stuck in what seems to be a never ending loop. I get down to 2 “devices”, then something new comes out that causes me confusion and questions around my gear.

This year, it was the iPad Pro 9.7” — which became my primary travel device for a good portion of the year. I ended up upgrading the laptop in November to the new 13” MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar — which is a fantastic machine and solves most of my complaints with the 12” MB Retina (ports, iSight camera, speed), but it’s just to heavy to lug around on trips.

With my “only carry 2 devices” rule, I ended up 2016 with the following setup:

  • MacBook Pro 13” w/ TouchBar — Rarely leaves the desk.
  • iPhone 7+ — Goes with me everywhere
  • iPad Pro 9.7 — Goes with me for travel, to the office, on the couch

I may try a trip or two with the 13” pro and phone only.. But this is something that I constantly find myself struggling with — the only constant is that my phone is always with me. Always. I am crippled without it. The “second screen” is really my problem that I can’t get satisfied with.

Everyday Carry

Right now, I am settling into one of two methods of travel that I’m still working on to determine which is best:

I’m still trying to figure out which I like more.

As for gear that I have for my EDC:

iPad Cable Bag — I have a bag for ‘iPad travel’ which consists of:

Mac Cable Bag — I have a bag for ‘Mac travel’ which consists of:

Depending on what “screen” I bring, I just grab one of the two travel kits

Either travel bag is designed so I can just pick up one and go, depending what “second” device I’m bringing with me. As you can see, even though there are multiple items in there, they’re actually very small and light and fit in a tiny EDC.

Email Optimization

Continuing the general rule that I would not let email overwhelm me for the last 4 years, I have been successful at having my Inbox below 10 items before the end of each day. It’s amazing how liberating this is.

How I managed it just needed a simple flow for every mail that comes in.

  • 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 2016 folder.
  • If it’s something that I can answer immediately, I do, and then it goes into the 2016 folder or deleted.
  • If it’s something that I need to think about, or take action on, I shoot it over to OmniFocus as a to-do item, with context, a project and a due date. Then it goes into the 2016 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.

RIP in 2016

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

  • Evernote — Due to the price increase and Notes is now a suitable replacement. Killed.
  • Flipboard — I hate this app. Killed.
  • Amazon Fresh — never used it. Killed.
  • Copied — Clipboard Manager replaced by built in functionality. Killed.
  • CNN (iOS) — Frankly, i use this more for “notifications” of news events. I never read inside the app. Using News app with channel notifications instead. Killed.
  • Dwell (iOS) — Great modern home design magazine — only really relevant currently with the new house in construction. Killed.
  • Duet (iOS) — Allow your iOS device to be a second screen for the laptop. Haven’t really used; still thinking this may be useful at some point in time, but is on the short list to kill. Killed.
  • VMWare Fusion (OS X) — Never really used it. Killed.
  • Paper (iOS)– Facebook finally killed it; bummer. 🙁
  • Hangouts (iOS / Web) — Terrible. Dead. Killed.
  • Trainer Road (iOS / Web) — Bike workouts and structured training — never used it — Virtual Trainer and Zwift are far superior. Killed.
  • Workflow (iOS) — Never used it. Killed.
  • Tickle (iOS) — Never used it. Killed.
  • Dash (Both) — Apple threw em out of the iTunes Store….
  • Foscam Pro (iOS) — Switched cameras to the Nest. Killed.
  • MS Foldable Keyboard — iPad Pro w/ keyboard killed this.

New for 2016

New: Home Storage

Replaced the USB connected hard drives with a Synology DiskStation 416 — its a wonderful device with an incredibly powerful interface. All of my system backups, media storage, files, etc., are all stored here now. In addition, I have this box uploading to Crashplan for offsite storage. I don’t use the DiskStation to it’s full “capacity”, but you can even have this thing be your home mail server, camera monitoring, note taking system, etc.

New: Networking

On my home network, I moved the Time Capsule/wireless network behind a Synology Router. The basic idea is that the Synology is connected to the cable modem, provides me a firewall as well as Intrusion Detection System functionality, as well as a VPN portal into the house. I have a 24 port gigabit switch that the internal wireless (Time Capsule for wireless) plug into. But this setup isolates my internal network from exposure on the outside.

In addition, I dropped Dreamhost this year for my domain/web/mail hosting — I’ve moved this all under Google.

New: Home Media Mangement

Plex — In addition to having all of my movies and TV content in iTunes, I have started running Plex on my home network. All my media is stored up on the DiskStation, and is served inside the house to AppleTV’s, Tivo’s, Xbox, Mobile devices, etc., via Plex. I do not open this up past my firewall though, but could theoretically stream this content anywhere if I punched a hole into my network from the Internet

New: Communications / Tools

Who isn’t using Slack these days at work? I’ve been moving more and more of my daily communications here, rather than email.

MindNode is a relatively new tool that I have been using in my workflow, specifically when I need to sit down and think about a new project that has many interdependencies. From their website: “Mind maps are a visual representation of your ideas, starting with a central thought and growing from there. This allows you to brainstorm & organize your thoughts in an intuitive way, so you can focus on the idea behind it.” .. I have found value in being able to quickly draw these out, then export a completed task list into OmniFocus. We’ll see if it sticks.

New: Mobile Coding

Pythonista — has been a complete joy this year. While I would much rather have a full Xcode on the iPad, I have been able to write incredibly complicated (and useful) scripts that are fully executable on my mobile devices. I am still in shock that Apple allows this tool into the AppStore.

New: The Commonplace Book

Over the years I have used Evernote (and now Notes) as my general note taking system, Pocket for article storage, etc.. These are still in place, but I now have one very special folder called “Commonplace Book” in Notes.

The Grail Diary

“A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.”

I view the Commonplace Book as an uber-repository for the nuggets of life that I want to keep for years to come, and pass on.

It is the archive of knowledge I want to pass on; the archive of archives. Every month, I go thru my Pocket articles and Day One journal entries, and only after the utmost scrutiny does an item make it into the Commonplace Book.

Daily Flow / Knowledge Management

Daily Flow / Personal Knowledge Management

  • Day One (Both) — For the last year, I have been using Day One to journal. While I enjoy the tactile feel of a physical notebook, I love using Day One as a simple place to jot down something every day. Anything: A mood. A feeling. An idea. The app is simple, reminds me every morning, and grabs “context” around what I’m doing when I take a note. Getting these thoughts off my head helps feel like less stress on my brain.
  • MindNode (Both) — Used across devices to MindMap and eventually get tasks into OmniFocus. See above.
  • Pocket (Both) — This is my article storage system. Every app I use — Tweetbot, Feedly, Safari, has the ability to store articles that I am reading here. I use tags pretty extensively, but it enables me not to clutter up my inbox with things to read later on. I tend to leave everything in Pocket and have a recurring (every quarter) OmniFocus task to clean it up.
  • Notes (Both) — Notes, as mentioned, is my new 2016 central note taking system. With the introduction of sharing in iOS 10, it was enough to push me over the edge and dump Evernote. I have also moved away from “tags” as Notes is just integrated into Spotlight on the device and Mac, so I don’t need any type of organizational system outside of high level folders. Late Update: I may move back to Evernote if iCloud continues to be inconsistent with sync — my Mac has stopped syncing to Notes for some completely random and unknown reason.

Notes Setup

This has been my organization strategy for the last several years, and it works well.

  • @Inbox — My “inbox” — use the @ symbol as it always floats to the top — things don’t stay in here long
  • Commonplace Book — see above
  • Personal — personal stuff — training schedules, discounts, house projects
  • Thinking — my “idea dump” — typically there are research projects or ideas for next generation tech that I want to hack around with later
  • Code — code snippets, api samples
  • Manifestos — long form writing. I often will write in another tool such as Day One then put it into Evernote
  • To Do’s — ideas, things to do, etc
  • Work — work related items

OmniFocus

OmniFocus is the way I get things done. Since 2014, I’ve been using OmniFocus, but I did a radical change midyear in how I was using it. That’s one the best things around Omni — it’s flexible and can be as complicated as you want it to be. I first used Contexts as “energy”, but I decided to change my context system to something even more simple.

  • Every item that I need to take care of, to-do item, etc. goes into OmniFocus
  • Daily repeating task to spend 10–15 minutes and make sure everything is up to date. Monthly “review” on all items to ensure things still are valid.

OmniFocus Context

  • Goal — things I want to do, but not that will ever have a timeline associated with doing them. If I accomplish them: awesome. If not: no big deal
  • Important — the most important tasks to me
  • Urgent — something that is urgent, simply means something that must be done on the day it is due. Something that I have to do, but perhaps not something that I want to do.
  • Minutiae — annoying little things that have to be done, maybe you don’t want to do them, but also the world won’t end if you don’t do them
  • Agendas — I have a sub-context for each person that I have items to discuss with. For example, say I have 3 or 4 things to chat with “Bob” about next time we meet — I create a series of Actions under “Bob” in the Agenda context
  • Waiting For — This is one of my favorite ones — I have a sub-context that is “on hold” for EACH person that owes me something. When someone promises me something or has a deliverable, they get a task in here with a date. When the date hits, I can easily see what they owe me in the Forecast view (which I use daily)

Other OmniFocus Perspectives

  • Projects — Traditional breakdown/folders for tasks
  • Forecast — I lived in this view previously, but now its more of a calendar tracker with the new system
  • Today Perspective — Everything that is flagged or forecasted to be done today
  • Plan Perspective — Things that I need to plan that don’t have dates

Late this year, I’ve been keeping an eye on 2Do (http://www.2doapp.com), but it’s sync options right now (Dropbox only — yuck) keep me from moving forward with it.

Reading / Watching / Listening

There are only a few places where my online reading takes place: Reeder (iOS/Mac client that hooks to Feedly), Apple News, Medium and News 360. Due to various acquisitions and discontinuation of services (Prismatic, Zite), I finally just migrated my favorite topics into Apple News for “discovery” of interesting related content. I’ve been pretty happy with the articles and content that I’ve been discovering across all of these apps, but it does require a bit a tailoring to make sure you’re not getting a lot of “noise”, and really the content that you’ll get value out of.

Another things that I have consciously been making time for this year is scheduling time for reading and learning. 2 hours a week for learning, and at least 30 minutes a day to read.

My flow here pretty much works the same as it did last year — whatever I want to keep or read later goes to Pocket. Every quarter, I do a cleaning of Pocket and delete things that I’ll never look at again, occasionally archiving the most important bits in my Commonplace Book. This keeps articles from piling up in my personal mailbox.

Apps for Reading

  • Medium (iOS / Web) — I read so many articles on Medium, I use the native application
  • News 360
  • New York Times
  • Apple News

Podcasts

I have been trying to listen more to podcasts this year, especially when I have a morning commute.

Entertainment

  • TV/Movies: Tivo, HBO Go, Netflix, ABC, Amazon Instant Video, Xfinity TV, WatchESPN
  • Music: iTunes Radio/Apple Music, Sirius XM

Content Creation

  • Keynote, Pages, Numbers (Both) — presentations, writing long for documentation
  • Photos (Both) — Photo editing/library
  • iMovie (Both) — Video editing
  • Comic Life (Both) — I sometimes enjoy putting bubbles of text in a comic format on top of people
  • Over (iOS) — I like this app — basically for putting text over images and creating “manifesto” posters
  • Pixelmator (Both) — image editing, nice and small compared to Photoshop
  • Skitch (Both) — Integrates (and now is owned by) Evernote, but allows you to annotate screenshots
  • Enlight (iOS) — Hands down the best filtering / photo app i’ve found on iOS
  • Camera+ (iOS) — On the short list these days as Enlight is the new king for filters
  • Ulysses (Both) — Unsure of this one so it’s on the shortlist; I’ve had it installed for awhile now, and it is apparently the best “focused” writing solution on both iOS and Mac; but I really haven’t used it as much as I had expected.
  • Annotable (iOS) — Mark up photos, draw arrows, etc
  • PDF Viewer (iOS) — Mark up and annotate PDFs.

AdBlocking

  • 1Blocker (iOS) — I’ve tried several, but 1Blocker seems to have the best mix of configuration, control and whitelisting
  • Ghostery (OS X) — Best I’ve found on the Safari side

Personal Security

  • 1Password (Both) — password management. After getting hit one to many times where a website has been breached, I pretty much have a different password that is at least 20 characters (including whitespaces) on each site — I couldn’t do this without 1Password being the “brain” where I store everything.
  • Duo (iOS)— best multi factor authentication out there (work)
  • Signal (iOS)— Encrypted messages

General Utilities

  • AirServer (OS X) — so I can Airplay video directly from iOS to my Mac
  • AppFresh (OS X) — scans the Mac, tells you when new versions of software are available
  • Bonjour Browser (OS X) — scans the entire local network for bonjour clients
  • Charles Proxy (OS X) — fantastic tool for analyzing network traffic and man in the middle attacks
  • DaisyDisk (OS X) — determining if I like this one or not, but it analyzes what is eating up space on your hard drive
  • Microsoft Remote Desktop (Both) — SAP client 🙂
  • OnyX (OS X) — system cleaner — removes old crufty files, keeps the system up and running and fast
  • Wifi Explorer (OS X) — scan all available Wifi networks, return information, etc
  • Screens (Both) — Remote desktop client
  • IP Scanner (Both) — Scan the wifi you are connected to — very useful for setting up and securing my IOT devices around the house
  • Net Analyzer (iOS) — Various network tools for IOS
  • HTTPea (iOS)– Make HTTP / HTTPS requests, inspect responses, etc
  • SpeedTest (Both) — Like to see what speed things are running out
  • IFTTT (Both) — If this then that. I have a few basic “rules” set up — automatically notify me of drastic stock changes, etc.
  • Documents (iOS) — Read, view, annotate almost anything. What I really like about Documents is that i can connect the major services I use (Box, iCloud, etc) and shift where things live effortlessly.

Communications / Social Networking

  • Tweetbot (Both) — Twitter client
  • Feedly (Web) — I subscribed to the professional version, as I read feeds multiple times a day
  • Reeder (Both) — Feedly/RSS client on iOS and Mac.
  • Skype (Both)– I use Skype every day — my work “number” is a Skype-In number so that folks can reach me on desktop, mobile, etc., no matter where I am.
  • Facetime, iMessage (Both) — Essentials
  • BlueJeans (Both) — VTC/Conference client for work
  • Slack — Slack has become an essential communications tool (and is starting to replace massive email chains) for persistent chat at work
  • Instagram — new for me in 2016, but it’s what all the kids are using today

Storage / Documents

  • iCloud Drive (Both) — I’ve consolidated all my personal drive storage onto iCloud Drive. Nothing is left in Google Drive, and only work stuff is in Box.net
  • Yep (OS X) — the iTunes for scanned documents. Since I live pretty much a paperless life, Yep is a major part of that. All my documents are scanned here, tagged and organized. I can quickly find everything from my mortgage to my health documents to the last time I did emissions. Originally I was using a fujitsu scansnap 1300i as my workhorse, but Scanbot on the iPhone has started to replace it. Want: need to figure out a safe way to put this stuff into the cloud so I can also access on the go on iPad — may be able to configure to use in iCloud Drive shared folder…
  • Transmit (Both) — SFTP/WebDav/External file manager
  • Box.net (iOS / Web) — all my work files that I need “in the cloud” go here
  • Crashplan (OS X) — All of the machines on the home network are backed up in TimeCapsule. The home server (used to essentially power the Apple TV’s) is backed up on an external drive (connected to the Time Capsule) and stored off-site over at Crashplan.
  • Scanbot (iOS) — Best scanner/OCR app out there.

Shopping

Most of the usual suspects here:

  • Amazon, Amazon Fresh, Prime Now (iOS / Web)
  • Apple Store (iOS / Web)
  • Starbucks (iOS / Web)
  • Fandango (iOS / Web)
  • Disney Store (iOS / Web)
  • Deliveries (Both) — For tracking how many Amazon boxes show up at my house.

Working Out

  • Garmin Connect (iOS / Web) — Tracking for the Garmin 920XT and Garmin 520 bike computer
  • Wahoo Fitness (iOS) — Wahoo SNAP trainer control
  • Strava (iOS / Web) — Swim/Bike/Run social tracking with tri-team
  • Training Peaks (iOS / Web) — Best app for tracking workouts and coordinating with my coach
  • Zwift (iOS / Mac) — Incredibly fun bike workouts
  • Heart Watch (iOS) — Trend analysis for heart rate, alerts when outside of normal averages, etc
  • MyFitnessPal (iOS / Web) — Tracking my calorie intake

Travel

  • Alaska Airlines (iOS / Web) — Airline of choice
  • SPG (iOS / Web) — Hotel chain of choice
  • TripCase (iOS / Web) — I use TripCase to keep track of my trips, plus — corporate travel automatically syncs upcoming travel with it
  • National (iOS / Web) — Car rental of choice
  • Yelp (iOS / Web) — For finding / bookmarking restaurants I have enjoyed and want to share
  • OpenTable (iOS / Web) — For making reservations — after 2 years, almost enough reservations to actually earn a dining credit. 🙂
  • Sky Guide (iOS) — Just interested when I travel what’s up in the air
  • Dark Sky (iOS) — Best weather app hands down
  • WSDOT (iOS) — Seattle traffic and San Juan island ferry information
  • TideGraphPro (iOS) — As I’m often in the San Juan’s now, tides have become somewhat important 🙂
  • ETA (iOS) — Great little utility app to send messages for how long your ETA is from your current location.

Dev Tools

  • Coda (Both) — Great lightweight HTML/PHP editor for websites
  • Xcode (OS X) — duh
  • Base (OS X) — MySQL and sqlite client
  • Kaleidoscope (OS X) — Diff tool for images and code
  • Hopper Disassembler (OS X) — For Hacking 🙂
  • Power JSON Editor — nice and simple json editor
  • Paw 3 (OS X) — HTTP request interface — enables me to make queries to HTTP/S endpoints, see the responses. Nice feature is that it will automatically give you the corresponding curl request, NSURLConnection code, etc.
  • Tower (OS X) — git client
  • Prompt (OS X)– SSH Terminal so I can shell to various machines, work
  • TextMate (OS X) — Been on it for years, have tried Sublime and everything else out there — this just works for me
  • Textastic (iOS) — Text Editor (similar to textmate on desktop)

Home

Been spending time in 2014 “automating” the house with several apps.

  • ADT Pulse (iOS) — Alarm system
  • Nest (iOS / Web) — Smoke alarms and thermostat. This year added the cameras
  • WeMo (iOS) — Lights in the front/office and in the bedroom.
  • AiO Remote (iOS) — For my printer — can scan/print from anywhere

Travel Gear

Finally, to wrap things up, here is some of my favorite travel gear companions of 2016:

  • MiniBoom UE — really small and great sounding bluetooth speaker. I often bring this with me when I travel for races — it’s a great form factor for keeping the tunes going.
  • Tom Bihn — Can’t say enough of the Tom Bihn gear. I have tons of their bags and travel cases that I use for cable/clothing management:
  • Aeronaut 45 is my standard multi-day travel bag
  • Smart Alec is my standard 1–2 day bag
  • Packing Cubes — These are great for packing a suitcase, the SmartAlec or Aeronaut.
  • Pouches (Cable Organizers) — I always seem to run out of these little bags, but they’re great to carry cables, or to organize any junk I need while travelling.

Homescreen

2 Pages only. Never More. Never Less.

Dock

Lots of the usual suspects in the Dock..

Macbook Dock

Seeking a Change in 2017

Exchange Mail client — simply hate Outlook on the Mac. No support for tags, terrible mail client.

PDF / Scans — Need something that integrates to Yep on the desktop — 4 years in on this, may move to something that just scans to Evernote and use that as a scanning repository

Notes — Late in the year, I’ve been hitting sync problems with iCloud. Not sure what is going on here, but given note taking is one of my most used scenarios, I need to get a system in place that is reliable. May be back to Evernote — we’ll see.

OmniFocus — I may switch to something lighter, such as 2Do, in 2017. Right now, the system works, so the jury is out. 🙂

And that’s a wrap for 2016! Happy holidays!

Embracing The Suck

Nice morning to get kicked in the face, punched and swam over. Let’s do this.

How far are you willing to push yourself?

I have never thought of myself as an athlete. Heck — throughout high school, my parents would have considered it odd if I even went outside to mow the lawn, let alone seeing me crack a sweat at doing anything physical. Fast forward to age 45, and about to head into my 5th year tackling Ironman 70.3 triathlons.

What started out as pure curiosity (“how on earth can someone do this?”) quickly morphed into admiration when my wife, Liz, finished her first full Ironman. Of course, this goal ultimately turned into a mission (“I can do this”) — especially after I posted on Facebook that I had signed up for my first 70.3. In fact — it wasn’t just my first half-Ironman, it was my first triathlon. Oopsie.

But it provided my a powerful motivation in that I had to go through with it just to save face.

5 years later, even though I swore it was “one time and out”, I’m still active in the sport. Given my crazy schedule and this crazy hobby, I’m often asked:

  • How do you balance work, life and training?
  • What gear do you use? What apps do you use?
  • Does it hurt? Are you human? Are you nuts?

So given that one of my goals this year was to write more often, why not.. I’ll start documenting this crazy (and probably one of the most fulfilling) journey here.

On Being a “Triathloner”

First, I need to get this out there: I never have considered myself very good at this. Without doubt, with practice and training, every year I have improved at each discipline, getting stronger and more confident — but it is a consistent work in progress. I have a fantastic coach (I recommend you get one) who keeps me on focus and guides me, and am part of a great team who have provided a sense of community and encouragement that I never really have had in my life previously.

Of course, when people hear the word “Ironman”, their first thought is this:

And it wouldn’t be too far off.

The next post will be on some of the apps and gear that I use to track all of this craziness.

A Simple Test

What it felt like lugging a laptop around again. Like a trip to the past.

This week I decided to run a quick litmus test while on a quick business trip: leave the iPad at home, and bring the laptop (12″ Macbook) instead. Of course, the iPhone always is with me, but this was going back to my previous workflow for the first time in 4 — 5 months.

Within the first 2 hours, I was shocked at how “bulky” everything felt — from dealing with airport security, the larger power brick, reading on the plane, etc and it just got more annoying throughout the day.

As I return home (48 hours later), I am convinced my laptop will rarely, if ever, leave the desk again.

Everything just felt worse — as if I went back to a time long ago, long forgotten. Tasks felt slow and strange. I guess I didn’t really comprehend how much of my day to day workflow has transformed and now is optimized around a “device first” mentality. In order to adopt a new computing paradigm, you need to let go of the past and be willing to alter how you work and let go the way you used to do things. It’s also, funny enough, proof to me on why a touchscreen Mac would’t work well, or why Windows with “touch” has failed in the past (re: anyone remember Windows Origami?).

Change is hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of complaints about the iOS application ecosystem — especially on Apple’s own apps. Editing a keynote can be downright painful on the iPad, and it’s criminal that Pages doesn’t really support inking with the Pencil.

It also goes without saying that your mileage may vary on making this type of transformation depending on what your normal day looks like. If I was still coding like crazy, this setup obviously doesn’t work. Yet. I envision that notion of what an IDE needs to radically change in the future for “touch”.

Is it the end for me using a laptop? I’m not sure —To be honest, I just upgraded to a new 13″ MacBook Pro (which I have yet to set up) . I’m sure that it’ll be used for some heavy lifting when I need to; but the day to day tasks, running around between meetings, conferences, taking notes, reading, presenting, and for a large quanity of computing it’s going to be the iPad for the foreseeable future.

Finally — you may ask (since I am so invested in the “mobile” ecosystem) — why did I even bother getting a new MBP?

Simple: I have a hinting suspicion that this is the last laptop (er, desktop?) that I will need to buy for the next several years, if ever.

I’m From the Future


162 Days Later

Hello, friend.

When we last talked, I was at a crossroads. I was still trying to make a mental leap on workflow that involved a MacBook 12″ for my day to day computing and using only an iPad Pro 9.7″ and the iPhone 7Plus. The experiment as a whole has been rather facinating to watch my flow bend and adjust to something far more simplistic than what I was used to. Which is fantastic.

Over the last few months, I’ve settled into a grove with a setup that really works for me:

  • MacBook 12″ at the home office desk with a 27″ monitor, bluetooth keyboard and mouse. This machine hasn’t left the desk in 4 months, but it’s what I use when working on Keynotes, taking video conferences, etc.
  • iPad Pro 9.7 for around the house, reading in bed or on the couch, going to the office, working out (more on that in another post), and most importantly any and all travel.
  • The iPhone 7Plus funny enough, is with me pretty much all day long, all day, every day.

One of the most surprising things is that I really haven’t missed traveling with the Mac. I dont need a power brick, I get a much longer battery life, watching movies on the plane or at the hotel is great on the iPad Pro. My EDC has a simple dual-USB charger for both the phone and the pad, and it rarely leaves the bag during the day.

In addition — when I travel, all I do is run around between meetings all day anyways, so why lug a laptop from place to place?

Side note: Never get an iPad without cellular — it has proven indispensable as I won’t use hotel or a public WiFi. Plus, I have the iPad on a different carrier than the phone, so I always use the “fastest” network and just tether.

On Dongles

At first the complaining about dongles seemed just, but now I realize it’s more about people being creatures of habit. Take something away, people get mad. Most don’t want to evolve (queue #courage jokes) — floppy drives, SCSI cables, etc., etc.. move on.

I wrote about this a bit in “Be a Geek Again”. How I solved carrying dongles? Go wireless. Really have been enjoying the Beats Powerbeats3 bluetooth headphones that are powered with the same W1 chip as the Apple Airpods. Getting great battery life (12 hours) and not seeing any real battery drain on the pad. Oh, they sound great too.

But honestly, complainers are always going to complain. Nothing I can do to help here.

Apps Are the Future…

On of the most useful things that this experiment has had me doing was to start exploring new applications to smooth out my workflow. Apps such as MindNode have moved from “novelty” to “essential” when I’m in a brainstorming session. I never really got into the mind map thing until I made a mental leap to stop excessive note-taking and move to something more fluid.

As a bonus, I can easily move a mind map to tasks in OmniFocus.

Easy, effective and smooth. The way it should be.

… And Apps Are the Achilles Heel

And on the flip side, I’ve often hit odd roadblocks when applications can’t do what you want. Or worse, what you expect them to do.

Last week, I found myself in the situation where I needed to edit a Keynote master slide — guess what? You can’t on the iOS version.

Also hit several weird copy/paste bugs, especially copying items into the Notes application. It’s sometimes painless, but often it is an exercise in frustration when you move beyond some of the basic functionality and need to push things a bit.

I said this before, and will say it again and again:

The iPad Pro is all the hardware you need, but the software hasn’t caught up yet.

This is also true with the iPhone 7Plus. Why more developers don’t take advantage of landscape mode is beyond me. Why force touch is mostly used for useless gimmicks is also strange. These can be awesome — as shown by the iPhone 7’s haptic engine on the home button. There needs to be more of this.

Pencil Sharpener

For me the Apple Pencil has basically been useless. I watch (in awe?) as co-workers use it, scribbling notes all over their screen in OneNote. And I’ve asked them about it — they love it!

I just can’t get there. There isn’t a killer app yet that is making me use it; so my usage is pretty much this: I lug it around with me and have to recharge it every week.

Being From The Future

This experiment really has me wondering if that perhaps the next phase of computing is actually here now, and it only requires a bit of a larger leap of faith and further simplification of workflow.

It’s in your pocket already.

Justin Blanton has two really great articles “The iPhone 7 Plus is My Only Computer” and “iPhone Only?” which talk about his transformation to “the computer in his pocket”.

Maybe the real transformation down the road is to just leave both the Mac and iPad at home. Go “phone only”. The Mac on the desk is the “backup computer” (as Justin comments).

It’s certainly intriguing- I’m not sure how I’d write a post like this (which was entirely written on the iPad) or edit a Keynote with any precision on the phone. I’m also not a huge fan of reading a book on the phone, or watching hours of video on a long flight. It’s certainly doable, just not pleasurable.

But as an information device, it’s there today.

Be a Geek Again

Touch Me

While not entirely unexpected, my social feeds lit up this week like a Christmas tree with anger around Apple’s new Macbook Pro and how non-pro a “pro” laptop felt, and how folks felt betrayed by Apple. People have interesting expectations: what exactly did you expect Apple to launch?

I’ll say it (and im sure there’ll be the often “apple-lover” comments”) — but I’m not sure if I entirely agree here. Marcus Fehn summed it up:

The 13″ with TB looks like a perfect blend of Air & MBP retina. For a laptop connected to a monitor most of the time — pro enough for me.

The move to having four identical Thunderbolt 3 ports, 2 on each side, is a perfectly good evolution of the cable madness that we have been dealing with for years. While I wish the headphone jack was removed completely, or just a lightening connector, I get why on some level why Apple decided to keep it.

Sure — people are complaining about dongles, dongles, dongles. But as someone who has been on a single-port MacBook 12″ since 2015, this has never been a real problem for me. I have a single plug that goes into my laptop at the desk, and im connected to everything else I need: power, monitor, webcam, extra USB ports for whatever, etc. Simple.

On the road — 2 cables: power, and a USB-C to lightening/micro-usb that allows me to plug into everything mobile. Occasionally I used an HDMI adapter, but I have been moving over to wireless for presenting content.

The only thing that Apple really missed — was not introducing a new “Magic Keyboard” with the Touch Bar integrated into it. My main usage of the MacBook is with the lid-closed and a giant monitor, magic keyboard and magic mouse.

The lack of a keyboard at with Touch Bar omission now has me wondering if my new configuration at the desk will morph into just the MBP 13″ on some laptop stand (such as the ParcSlope) instead of a giant 27″ screen. Unknown at this time.

To the Future

In the end, Ben Brooks nails it:

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.

Over the last 6 months, computing has changed drastically for me.

My laptop, never leaves the desk. Sure, I use it now and again to create a presentation or if I need to code something up, but at the office, when I travel, when I read at night, when I’m sitting on the couch reading, it’s all iPad Pro and iPhone.

But this isn’t the only transformation I’ve been experiencing — I’ve been using Siri and Alexa more and more around the house. I talk to machines.

The way we interact with computers is fundamentally changing.

We are only at the beginning of the next evolution of computer interaction — voice, vision, AI, mobility. There’s something insanely awesome of just saying “Alexa, add spinach to the shopping list” when I’m in the kitchen, or “Alexa, turn off the front door lights” from the bedroom, or “Siri, what’s the score of the Seahawks game?”. Just think about that for a moment (goal-post jokes aside).

I’m excited for this future. We are only in the first inning here. And this has always been at the core of what is fun about being a geek.

It’s about pushing the impossible and moving forward, not bitching about a dongle.

That Damn Headphone Dongle


There’s been a lot of controversy (or dare I say anger?) since the announcement of the iPhone 7 and 7Plus regarding the removal of the headphone jack. While I never really considered it a big deal, I was curious to see what my experience would be when traveling with it.

The Apple-supplied EarPods never really quite fit my ears properly, so I wasn’t really keen on trying out the new lightening-equipped ones. And, thru many years of trying a large variety of earbuds, I really have come to love the way the Bose QC20‘s with “StayHear” tips sit in my ear; not to mention the overall quality of the sound.

Yesterday, I “dongled” for the first time

And you know what, everything was just fine. And, just for kicks, I used the dongle on the iPad Pro too. That worked swell.

Sure — i’ll go ahead and probably get one of the new W1-powered headsets to play around with it — I’m generally interested in seeing where the technology goes beyond just sound. The W1 is a computer in your ear, and I have a feeling this is going to be another step from Apple in the evolution of computing.

But for now, the dongle didn’t ruin my day.

Don’t Get Hacked by a USB Charger

“What do you mean the charger hacked me?”

Now that I am doing a large amount (if not all) of my computing via mobile devices, making sure that I have enough power with me throughout the day is an absolute must.

Even though the iPhone 6S+ and the iPad Pro 9.7 are great on the battery, I still carry a small backup battery and a rapid charge adapter with me to keep myself charged throughout the day. And as a frequent traveler, I also find myself in a rental car, airplane, airport or hotel with a USB charge available — but I never felt really comfortable plugging into some random USB port just to get a quick battery recharge.

Every day, there seems to be a new article detailing a horror story about people using these plugs out of convenience and then the chargers steal your data — a practice commonly known as “juice jacking”:

Juice jacking happens when a mobile device (i.e. smart phone or tablet) is plugged into a charging station via USB — it does not occur via laptops or devices plugged into wall sockets. Any employee with a smart phone or tablet that is connected to a corporate network can open up exposure simply by plugging his or her dying device into the USB charging kiosk at an airport, business center or conference. These charging stations can be hijacked by hackers and configured to read and copy data from the device and also upload malware to facilitate later exploitation, all without the user’s knowledge that anything is amiss.

To combat that, one of the easiest and most useful tools that I always carry with me is a USB “condom” — also known as a smart data blocker. From trying out a bunch of these, I highly recommend the PortaPow Fast Charge + Data Block USB Adaptor with SmartCharge. It’s easily the best one that I’ve tried, without any charge time performance hit. Basically, the PortaPow sits in-between your normal charge cable and the USB outlet — cutting the data lines of the USB — so your device is only getting the charge and doesn’t leak your data.

It’s a simple but effective way to keep yourself and your data safe.

Crossroads

“The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation.”

It’s happening again: in less than one month, I have already begun to question the iPad Pro experiment. While I’ve been getting by just fine answering emails, writing documents, attending meetings and taking notes, there just seems to be something off with the entire experience.

Remember, I started this journey again with the specific intent on shaking up my workflow; what I have quickly found is the opposite. Instead of reinventing how I work, I have been trying to bend the iPad Pro into my existing workflow.

More apps, little hacks here and there, putting together a Workflow or creating new Pythonista scripts to get things done — where on a full laptop, these things are easy to do. (Side note: Don’t mistake what I’m saying here — Pythonista is FANTASTIC; it’s opened up a whole new level of productivity for me on the mobile devices).

But really, at the end of the day, while it’s an interesting exercise, I’ve found that I am spending a good chunk of time trying to make things work optimally so I don’t need a laptop with me.

But I think this just ultimately highlights a key flaw, which I mentioned in an earlier post:

The iPad Pro is all the hardware you need, but the software hasn’t caught up yet.

I’m not quite sure why application developers haven’t done more with the Pro at this point. Too many devices and differences to build for? Too limited of a market? Perhaps it’s similar to what I saw with landscape mode on the iPhone 6+ and 6S+ .. it’s incredible useful, yet few apps really took advantage of it.

And then there’s the question of “small apps” vs “full apps”. On one hand, I like single focused applications where you can get to information quickly. On the other, it often gets in the way and lends to application overload: I really don’t want 6 photo apps to filter, crop and manipulate an image — I want a single, full-featured workhorse.

Which brings me to the MacBook 12″ Retina, the other machine in my stable that I’ve been neglecting as I try this experiment.


It weighs only 2.03lbs (vs the iPad Pro 9.7 with Smart Keyboard Cover at just under 2lbs), has a solid 8–10 hours on the battery, and runs full macOS. It has a super-small wall-wart plug, and despite controversy, I actually like the keyboard. Alot. While there’s also been alot of back and forth on the single USB-C port or the overall speed of the laptop, I haven’t really had a problem with this. I even use VMWare Fusion on the laptop to run Kali on occasion.

My only fault with it is the crappy 480p iSight camera — it sucks in low light and it’s great for video chat.

In the end, it’s not a big difference when it comes to the hardware, weight or battery.


It’s the software that is the tipping point. Did I mention it runs full macOS?

I’m not at the point of giving up on the iPad Pro for work (yet), but I am starting to question if the real optimal workflow combination is the MacBook 12″ and the iPhone 6S+?

The Evernote Exodus


One of the most important, yet simplest, tasks that do every day is to take notes. While this probably isn’t the right post to discuss exactly how many hours of my life is spent in meetings, note-taking has easily become one of the single most critical tasks for my computing needs. This need is ubiquitous for me, it doesn’t really matter if I am on the MacBook or the iPad Pro or the iPhone — I need my “backup brain” with me.

The concept of a “backup brain” is one I’ve been thinking about in various forms over the years, but generally it’s a place to store all your random thoughts, web clippings, important facts, bookmarks, and pretty much everything possible. The tools I’ve experimented with have varied over the years from personal wiki’s (VoodooPad) to OneNote to almost any and every tool I could find.

Then 3 years ago, I discovered Evernote — and since then my workflow, my world, has centered around it.

  • Taking notes in a meeting? Evernote.
  • Long term archive of articles? Evernote.
  • Shopping lists? Packing lists? Evernote.
  • Scanned file storage? Evernote.
  • Commonplace Book? Evernote.
  • Evernote, Evernote, Evernote.

While Evernote wasn’t perfect — it basically accomplished what I wanted — a place for me to store notes in a manner where I could find it quickly and easily. On whatever device/computer I used.

And still for some odd reason, every year, I’ve continued to look for a replacement. I’m not sure why — perhaps it was the integration of their silly “work chat” feature. Or the fact that I was paying for another premium service. Or, perhaps it is just the constant drive that I have to keep simplifying my workflow.

The final push for me though was the pricing changes this past month. I was a premium customer for the last 3 years and $70/yr just felt wrong to me. I’m not the only one — lots of backlash here and here.


Migration to Notes

I finally pulled the trigger and migrated the thousands of notes out of Evernote this past week and into Apple Notes. It’s pretty easy to do — Export a series of notes out of the desktop Evernote application using the “Evernote XML Format”, then just import it into Notes directly. There is a great article describing the process as well.

  • Is Apple Notes as feature rich as Evernote? Nope.
  • Does it matter? Nope.
  • Is my workflow simplified? Yes.

And that in the end, is what matters most to me.


Update 12.19.16

Evernote has further angered people by releasing, and now backtracking from a new privacy policy. I am now fully off of Evernote, and have no plans on looking back.

User data must be treated as a liability, and not an asset.

Mobile Tools

if all you have is nails, sometimes you need a hammer…

You never know what you’re going to need…

One of the things that I still find joy in is the simple discovery of understanding of how things work, regardless of what weird road my career has taken me to. These days, it’s rare that my day has me spending time in a debugger or pounding out code like I used to. And while I often joke that Keynote is my new IDE, I still hack away at technology when I have free time because I simply enjoy it.

More importantly — I fundamentally believe that it keeps me sharp. Technology isn’t stagnant; it’s amazing how often people I run across who have decided to just stop learning.

Anyways… One of the biggest things I have had to let go of (and it’s a big one) when I made the leap over to using the iPad Pro as my day to day computing device, are the things that comprise my tool “warchest”. Heck, some of these utilities/scripts/apps I’ve been lugging around with me for years. And while I certainly don’t need them every day, I can often find the right one for the job when the need crops up. Or if something special popped up — just write a new one fairly quickly.


Being able to get things done is an obvious requirement of my new minimal setup, and having to completely rethink how tools play into this was tested this past weekend. We were taking a few days off for the 4th, so I was on the road again with my new setup — something from work popped up (as it always does). During the course of figuring out what the issue is, I had the need to examine a few photos EXIF data. For those that don’t know what EXIF is, the easiest way to explain it is that it’s data on a photo that isn’t the picture. Almost every digital camera, phone, etc., adds additional “metadata” to every photo it takes — information about the camera, the lens, even the location that the photo was taken (think of the lovely privacy issues).

On the Mac, I would typically just open up the photo in pretty much any photo editing application (or even Preview), and just view the information. But this was an interesting challenge on the iPad Pro — Photos didn’t appear to have any way to do this built in.

Often the solution on iOS utilities can be found on the AppStore, where I found 2 quick ways to do what I wanted:

  • ViewEXIF — A very simple .99 application that works as an extension to the Photos app (review). Worked perfectly.
  • Workflow — Workflow is an interesting application that reminds me of old block programming used to automate tasks on iOS. I’ve had the application for awhile, but frankly, really haven’t used it for much. They do support an Image object with the ability to “Get Details of Images” which would have also done the job.

I ended up using ViewEXIF, as it was just a quick and easy solution to my current problem.

The Hammer

Of course, when I had more time to really sit down and think about it, I ended up writing my own tool — on the iPad itself. As I mentioned earlier, I love to understand how things work and to push the boundaries where possible. While most folks wouldn’t go this route, I found it to fit the best for the tinkering way I compute.

While XCode is still non-existent for iOS (and a good topic for another post), I have been spending quite a bit of time over the last few months (on iPhone, now the pad) working in my new favorite tool— Pythonista.

I have no idea how/why Apple has allowed it into the AppStore, but it’s a full-blown Python development environment. It allows you to create standalone apps, application extensions, call into Objective-C, debug, etc. It’s easily the single app which is responsible for completely transforming the way I use my devices.

I can write code directly on the iPad or iPhone. It’s amazing.

With it, I was able to easily create a Python extension, pass in a photo, and by using the Python Image Library (built in to Pythonista), use __getexif() and parse through the EXIF data myself.


While I understand 99% of humans wouldn’t go to this extreme to get the job done, I have found over the last few weeks, having the ability to create my own custom Python tools that allow me to bend/extend the capabilities of my devices has brought me to a whole new level of productivity.

Big win for the iPad here, while my laptop gathers dust at home.


Update: After I posted this, Omar dropped me a recommendation for Exify from the IconFactory. Took a quick look, and as usual, the IconFactory delivers — its a real nice extension. The only thing that dont see it handling is the ability to strip metadata from a picture.