December 29, 2018
I said to my wife recently, “I’m glad you appreciate my outer inner monologue.” Which was to say, I talk a lot. I think through things, especially the existential things out loud. It’s blogging with a single-person audience. My wife provides a listening ear when I need it most, when the ideas are too big to internalize.
Minimalism is one of those things; it requires airtime, especially since it also requires her to be in agreement. I don’t talk through these things to persuade her of anything, but I also talk through things with the hope that, in the end, it comes to a point. And makes said point well enough that perhaps my wife-shaped sounding board becomes an advocate.
Honestly, though, this monologuing is something I do quite often as a part of my own introspection. (Thank God my wife knew what she was getting into when she married me; these are the types of things that can drive the wrong partner crazy.) And perhaps the amount of time I spend in introspection is unique since I would consider myself an extrovert. Or perhaps the things I am introspective about are the more rare.
But in any case, the idea is about communication. Questions should be asked and communicating those outcomes is important, even if an idea is not fully formed, perhaps especially so. We need to surround ourselves with people who are willing to hear us out even when a rumination starts or ends in a completely ridiculous place. Those that listen, those that share the burden, lighten the load.
I recently have been trying to be better about this in the written form, posting even when the words aren’t nearly as eloquently engineered as they could be. Even if the point is just to get something fresh out there. Or to share the question, the idea, the burden.
December 19, 2018
Yesterday, I realized I needed to simplify my workflows. I have to believe that the need is a commonality amongst technologists. Let me set the stage with a look into an iMessage conversation.
This set of messages was followed by my colleague sending me a message that simply read, “Hold on. I have to go read your novel.” But this is my thinking out loud face. 😝
The key is that last line: if I used email like a normal person… Replace email in that line with many other possibilities and you have a clue into the common plight of tech journalists who try to replace their laptops with an iPad for a week in name of reviewing the device. Honestly, though, this has everything to do with the complexity of computer workflows the technology world over, instead of some oversight on Apple’s part. (Perhaps it’s a little of both.)
In the case of email, the normal person uses one app to deal with email; the normal person doesn’t really care about the naming conventions of their email Archive; the normal person doesn’t care how many messages are sitting in their email Archive; (maybe the normal person doesn’t even use the Archive); and the normal person would never think of moving messages between email services or applications.
Me, on the other hand: I have emails dating back to my college years; I have emails from multiple email accounts consolidated to one, using a combination of folders and labels to differentiate; I have app preferences based on email platform, OS platform, and screen size; and those apps don’t always match up or sync using the same technology.
Email, like RSS or Calendaring, is a bit of a different situation than some others. You literally can’t have multiple Facebook clients or Twitter clients with feature parity. The point of email technology is its openness and ability to connect to so many different applications with so many different things built in or on top. In other words, the complexity may be a thing that has been weeded with time on other services or service types.
But email is a microcosm of so many other parts of a technologists daily work. IOS is a great platform, my platform of choice even; I work predominantly on an iPhone and an iPad. And as more and more capabilities come to these devices, the list of reasons some people stay on other platforms will dwindle. However, there are histories that come with cruft; there are workflows that need reimagining or from-scratch innovation.
Younger generations who start with fresh slates will find it hard to believe the technologists-of-today dealt with the complexities of older platforms for the sake of window positioning or pixel-level mouse-pointer accuracy.
December 18, 2018
I don’t often discuss my religious life on this site, but as I start discussing minimalism and my personal reasons for pursuing that lifestyle, my faith is bound to come up. I feel this is especially true given the fact that much of religion preaches the redistribution of wealth (in its many forms) whether or not that same religion actually practices it. In any case, I went to church last weekend and the sermon (the Catholic Church calls them “homilies”) was about just that: giving to those that need (preferably through a Catholic charity).
The homily went there because the Gospel reading thematically drove the point. From Luke 3:11: “[John the Baptist] answered them, ‘He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.’” The reading and the homily got me thinking about the Gospel expectation of minimalism. The idea is everywhere in the Bible. (For Gospel passages, I will stick to Luke and I will not repeat the passage above.)
I believe that the Bible and my faith dictate my minimalistic tendencies. Over time, separating the ideals of my faith from my approaches to the world around me gets harder, especially as some approaches are co-opted by hipster movements (Minimalism) or bastardized by consumeristic sentiments (Christmas).
Back to the point, the homily went about as far as I expect a homily will generally go, which is to say not far enough. The actual content of the homily aside, the point was that people should prepare the way of the Lord (as we approach the birth of Jesus) by following John the Baptist’s suggestion in Luke: if you have excess, give it to those that have need of it. The idea is an important one as evinced by the above biblical texts, but where the homily didn’t go far enough in my opinion is in the glossing over of the timeline in which we find ourselves: teeming in the excesses of the Christmas season itself.
People don’t want to be challenged to actually give away their things, especially not just after they have likely purchased more things. Instead, we often opt for the satisfaction that the idea was even spoken aloud. Or said differently, we don’t need to change anything about ourselves because being challenged is enough. I think most people leave the religion they grow up in because of that lack of follow through, the lack of action associated with the challenges they hear; or perhaps because the challenge itself is too challenging.
December 17, 2018
In one of my recent posts on minimalism in my digital life, I mentioned that such a path is a personal choice. While seemingly self-explanatory at the time, I realize that there are whole books about decluttering the stuff that children inevitably bring with them. As such, I wanted to expound on areas in which I feel I have little power to change anything at the moment.
My house has a unique layout. The reason I start here is the idea that the ability to live minimally is often tied to layout and design, whether intentionally or not. If I have five pieces of furniture in a room not meant for them, it doesn’t matter that the number of pieces is small, the room will not work toward one of the major goals of minimalism: less stress. In my home, I have an almost prescient open floor plan, since the house was built in the late-1940s.
The main floor includes an L-shaped living room and accommodates traditional living and dining spaces, if you want to lay it out in that way. My wife and I have always been reorganizers, so we tend to rearrange spaces often in the attempt to find the best layout possible. We have no traditional dining space on our main floor because we don’t need it often and we enjoy the flexibility that comes with moveable and ostensibly multipurpose furniture. In other words, our dining table is just a table and can act as a desk, a game space, etc. Our couch location accommodates a seating area, but also allows for the cook (read: me) to be around conversation in the living space. This is just a microcosm of the other spaces and the larger house, so I won’t be going room by room, though people naturally treat different rooms in different ways.
However, our living spaces also includes kid stuff. There is the obvious: books, toys, games, puzzles, craft supplies, storage for all of the above. And the not so obvious: art work, work space, and more storage for the first list. Take into account then the desire to decorate for every holiday and the storage needs for that stuff and we are living in a minimalists nightmare. And it all spreads. No matter how good your minimalist storage system is, the kid stuff will spread unless you want to make clean up a full time job.
I think the ideal for me is that I treat each space uniquely but with a shared vision. Fewer things, more flexibility, less unnecessary fluff. Desires, needs, and hobbies will each come and go. The key is not holding on to things that no longer serve their purpose. Of course, storage will always be necessary, but ideally storage spaces are used as temporary for the items that serve their purpose as often as they can.
Some of these ideals might simply have to wait until I no longer have children under six years old.
December 16, 2018
Sometimes our relationships with our things don’t always make sense. We like some things because even if they require more care and attention than they ever return, you once received that important text message on your wrist at a moment when you really couldn’t look at your phone. We like them because sometime companies over-engineer a feature on a product, and you at least respect the effort. We like them because they’re attached to us, and as a result, we become attached to them.
And sometimes our relationships with our things can be unhealthy.
December 14, 2018
Engineered Eloquence was born out of the link list boom. I had a Tumblr space back then and Tumblr’s main purpose was sharing other, more important people’s content. Daring Fireball was the gold standard of link lists and every tech person who enjoyed writing wanted to be like John Gruber (to some extent). Tumblr became a stepping stone that provided me a way to use my tech knowledge and launch multiple incarnations of this site over time, including a move to Github Pages (where I learned some Ruby coding and the Jekyll blogging engine) and finally Blot (where I met Nash). Time and time again, I have focused more on the outlet itself than the content, even though the original reason I got into blogging was sharing interesting things and writing down my thoughts.
The problem as I see it now, however, is that in order to share interesting things, you must seek out interesting things. I am reading all the time, but not always on the internet and not normally the easily-distilled. Right now, I am in the midst of four books, none of which I can take snippets from to blockquote. In addition, as I work to whittle down my technology use in my personal life, I have struggled with the balance between sharing and internalizing. And finally, in my desire to become more focused and minimalistic, I have started to see more of the tech blogging echo chamber as trivial. This last point is important because I would historically consider myself a tech blogger.
I shared recently some numbers from my Instapaper queue. I have been reading and archiving with abandon to get those numbers down to manageable levels. Eventually, I hope to have zero articles saved in read-later services and focus on only those articles I intend to read. However, that points to the larger point of sharing these ideas out in the open: once my read-later queue is gone, I will move on to the next area that needs decluttering, and then the next area.
All along the way, I will be sharing numbers where appropriate or anecdotes about the experience. My link-list-turned-blog doesn’t have to be about sharing other people’s work when I have my own to share. I have an adage I use in a lot of situations that goes something like this: “I go to conferences, but they are only worth it if I am actively participating.” Put another way, I am beginning to be more particular about how I spend my time and energy because doing something for the sake of doing it becomes a lot less interesting when you could be… (insert thing that actually brings you joy here).
The key to this whole discussion though is the understanding that I am doing something diametrically opposed to what I am expected to do as a technologist. I am expected to be interested in the new products announced by that major corporation; I am expected to have my finger on the pulse of every startup company in existence; I am expected to spend my nights binge-watching every episode of that streaming TV show. I am expected to always have a screen within arms reach if not already in my hand. If the best camera is the one you have with you, my wife’s best camera is often, “can I have your phone for a minute?”
On the contrary, I am actively attempting to remove the technological clutter from my life. And to bring this back around to the start: if I am attempting to declutter my own interaction with technology, why would I force more of the same shared information into other’s feeds? They have Daring Fireball for that.
As a final note, in going through my Instapaper queue as I mentioned above, I have stumbled on some gems; this one is from Shawn Blanc that fits with the theme:
Reduce the amount of “novel stimuli” that you let in to your day-to-day life. When you have a strong baseline level of noise in all the little moments of your life, it makes it more difficult to focus on the task at hand when you’re doing deep work. Because you’re training your brain that boredom is bad.
Also, check out Cal Newport’s post on digital minimalism from two years ago, almost to the day. And finally, as a counterpoint to some forms of the minimalist movement, July 2016’s New York Times article, “The Oppressive Gospel of ‘Minimalism’”, which is just fantastic.
December 7, 2018
A few weeks ago, I started talking about my effort to take my minimalistic tendencies and apply them to my digital life. Though I have little more to share on the subject, one bit of metric I thought would be of interest is my read later queue count.
First, a list of things the reader should be aware of:
On to the data…
Below is a list of the “metrics” that I think are most interesting.
November 15, 2018
I can’t pinpoint the exact time that I realized minimalism was the way I wanted to live my life, but I have written about it in the past and consider myself a burgeoning minimalist. (In this case, burgeoning means I have kids and minimalism is a personal choice that cannot be force on others.) The keys for me are the ideas of intentionality, simplicity, and mind share; the less I think about things, the more I can focus on the important stuff, be it family, hobbies, or otherwise. By extension, I believe that every decision is indicative of someone’s priorities and minimalism allows for a smaller list of priorities to juggle. Ergo, this mindset seems to come with the potential to reduce stress and produce a higher respect for the items one chooses to prioritize. However, I recently realized that while I had produced results in changing my physical world to match these values, I had little regard to the digital assets in my life.
First, some philosophical discussion. I venture to guess that my minimalism hinges on a slightly different ideal than other people’s, so I thought I would share my approach. Though this philosophy doesn’t directly translate to the digital minimalism that is the focus of this post, I think it important to cover the “why” of my minimalistic tendencies.
I believe that things are made to be shared. I share my words as readily as I would share my things with other people if they need them. My ideal for minimalism is that everything in my life has active use and purpose; if a thing does not have an active place in my life, I would like it to have an active place in someone else’s if possible, instead of going to a landfill. For instance, I love to cook, but I am not going to keep tools in my kitchen that see no use when other people can and want to use them.
As likely every human does, I also tend to dislike things that add resistance to a process. This manifests itself in my minimalism in that regardless of the value of the thing I am purging, I am prone to donate versus sell. Hence my use of the word, “share”, when starting this discussion.
With that brief philosophical overview in mind, I would consider the expansion of minimalism from the physical to the digital to be common, but I assume it is unsurprisingly controversial. Consider these items:
After working over the past month, I can answer almost all of these questions in the way that points to minimalism. As with the physical world, if something does not bring joy or satisfaction, why is it still taking up space or mindshare? I tried to break these items up into categories, but technically, they are all of a similar vein; they are all just bits and bytes. But just like houses, if you buy more space, you will inevitably fill it without regard for your actual needs.
There is a physical extension to these digital items as well that needs mentioning: devices. The more devices you have, the more storage you need to back them up; the more cables you need to charge them; the more apps you need to download; and the more workflows/processes you need to keep in mind to stay on top of the constant barrage of activities or notifications.
As with any discussion of minimalism, it has to be said that not everyone thinks about things or approaches in the same way. Some people don’t care how many notifications come in, some people don’t care if their photos library is massive, some people don’t care if they fill their house, proverbial or not, with stuff. That’s OK, to each their own, but I offer the above comments as a means to call attention to the lack of discussion on the subject of digital minimalism (or, more rightly stated, digital hoarding), especially as more and more discussion of physical minimalism is entertained. People may not see the effects visibly, but as we create more data the world over, the need to pare down the data we keep will become all the more necessary.
As part of the accountability that goes along with this type of post, I created a list of items I focused on culling in recent months. There are ways to pull some of this information dynamically to be even more transparent, but the amount of work it would take seemed unnecessary for the amount of my readership.
The following list is a work in progress. Some of these numbers change every day, some will never be lower than they are right now. It is the reality of living in a digital world. Where I can make changes, I am actively doing so. Over the last month, I have reduced the number of bookmarks, emails, email newsletters, online accounts, files, storage locations, RSS feeds, photos, and unread articles. In addition, I have reduced the number of personal devices. The other thing to keep in mind in a conversation of this nature is the fact that these are my items and do not include items created by my family.
November 12, 2018
I have been radio silent this week, but I have read a lot. A few of the highlights include the lifting of the embargo on Apple’s new tech updates (MacBook Air and Mac Mini), commentary on the “Pro” in iPad Pro, choosing a markdown editor in a crowded field of awesome options, and thought pieces on minimalism, voting, and the use of humans over machines in the news industry. In the interest of your time, I have only included pull quotes where necessary, otherwise the links are a simply bulleted list with context. The articles are listed by topic in no particular order.
Craig Mod has one of the most well thought out commentaries I have seen recently about the state of professional workflows on the iPad. I both enjoyed the read and continued my own processing of my workflows from Mac to iPad.
You can argue that camera makers should have more seamless updates — maybe through connecting the camera to a network, checksuming the files, digitally signing, securely downloading and installing the firmware themselves. But you can also very reasonably argue that the United States should be using metric measurements. It doesn’t mean it will happen.
The main reason why I am linking to a Laptop Magazine review of the iPad Pro is because of the production quality of the video review.
Shocker, Ben doesn’t like some things about the new Smart Keyboard Folio. But seriously, he makes some really good points, especially when discussing the price.
I am linking to Marco Arment’s video review of the new iPad Pro because his video reviews of late are beginning to be watchable. The most unique this about this review is Marco’s ability to compare the two sizes of iPad Pro side-by-side since he was given a review unit (12.9“) and purchased the 11” model.
MacStories breaks down the pros and cons of two fantastic Markdown Editors, both of which I use. If you are in the market for a Notes replacement or new text editor of any kind on iOS, read this rundown.
Steven Sinofsky (a former President at Microsoft’s Windows Division) runs down the history of naysayers when new technologies take over old workflows. Fun thread.
I have had this article in my thread for awhile; it makes me want to use Apple News even more.
In a quiet corner of the third floor, Apple is building a newsroom of sorts. About a dozen former journalists have filled a few nondescript offices to do what many other tech companies have for years left to software: selecting the news that tens of millions of people will read.
I think a lot about minimalism, but I had a recent conversation that made be realize I am a minimalist for a different reason that I will have to expound upon later: If I am not actively using something, I want someone else to have the opportunity. Though my approach to minimalism may be more about sharing wealth, this article has some good thoughts on why minimalism is becoming more popular.
At its core, minimalism is living with intentionality; it is simplifying life down to the bare essentials, instead focusing on nonmaterial aspects such as health, happiness and relationships. In minimalism, less truly is more.
I wasn’t even alive when Roger Angell first voted, but his commentary is important about the civic duty that all citizens share; we should all take pride in our ability to change the face of our country with our vote. Unfortunately, we break records when we get 50% of people to show up.
I don’t really care about Apple’s finances, but there are always interesting gems in these types of break downs. Best bit below.
This stinks as an observer of the company, but I don’t find it at all surprising. None of Apple’s competitors release unit sale numbers for phones, tablets, or PCs. I think it’s more surprising that it took Apple so long to make this change. Secretive company decides to be more secretive — news at 11.
I toyed with not linking out to review posts at all. They are say about the same thing and generally speaking they are positive reviews all around.
As with the Mac Mini, I thought about not linking to these at all, but they are informative and shed some light on Apple’s moves in their laptop line, especially as Intel drops the ball on being competitive with Apple’s own A-Series chip options. Daring Fireball’s review goes into detail about benchmarks between this MacBook Air and the recently reviewed iPad Pro; the numbers do not shine well on Intel.
November 5, 2018
This weekend I found time to read quite a few items. Below are the highlights of that reading, including the most recent interview with Jony Ive; some thoughts from my father from his new blog space, “Tongue on Fire”; an exploration on the extinction of the Middle Child; and an article about Apple’s approach to social networking as a study in in-person engagement at Apple Stores.
To start off my weekend, I read the oft-shared interview with Jony Ive about the iPad Pro. In this situation, I was looking for something unique and I found it in the below quotes: magic. The idea that Apple produces things that just work or are considered magical is something well-documented over time. From the perspective of a designer however, everything in a device should be planned and calculated for; this is why this discussion from the designer himself is so important. What follows is likely is a part of each design decision made at Apple. From Jony Ive Interview: Apple Design Guru On How He Created the New iPad — And The Philosophy Behind It:
Ive pauses to consider what makes something appear magical. “I think what puts a product in the place where it’s described as magical is often about those attributes which are less easy to describe. You can’t quite put your finger on what it is.” … “I think the way [the Apple Pencil] just snaps onto the side, well, that’s a nice example of a sort of that magical feeling. It’s unexpected, we don’t quite understand how it’s working and even more incomprehensible is the fact that it’s also charging. You can see how that’s aligned with this idea that you can just pick the product up and use it without thought.”
My father is a pastor and has chosen a great time to start putting his thoughts to paper as the midterm elections and political climate come to a head. His first few posts are dynamite, in the sense that they throw a proverbial lit fuse at the currently publicized far-right, Evangelical narrative. First up (of two from my weekend reading) is about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (I literally shuddered as I wrote that last sentence.) From What Brett Kavanaugh Reveals About Us - Tongue on Fire:
The fact that the men—separated by 25+ years—survived their confirmation process in spite of allegations of non-consensual sexual advances reveals that not much has changed despite the #metoo movement. The testimony of men when denying allegations of sexual assault, harassment or abuse of power is still more believable than the testimony of the women who come forward with the allegations. People—both men and women—will still default to protecting the reputations of men while dragging women through the dirt, questioning their motives and morals—especially when political power is at stake.
My mother sent this article to me awhile back and as I have the difficult conversation (in this day and age) of whether or not to be a father for a third time, it seemed fitting to get this one read. From The Extinction of the Middle Child - The Cut:
While dramatic, this shift won’t be surprising if you haunt the playgrounds of New York. As a fairly recent new parent (of one, so far), I know that, observationally speaking, two kids has become the default norm. The common argument for two kids is a reasonable one: You have an oldest, a youngest, and a sibling for both. Three kids — which a generation ago was considered a slightly smaller brood than ideal — now seems aspirational, even decadent. “A certain set of married, affluent New Yorkers are going for the third child,” the New York Times reported in 2014, and went on to quote a father of three: “At some level, the third child is a proxy for having enough wealth to have a very comfortable life.” For most everyone else, two seems like plenty. Millennials are waiting longer to get married and women are waiting longer to have children. Housing and college are more expensive than ever, and the future of the planet itself is increasingly in question. Personally, I know lots and lots of couples in New York who have children; I know precisely one family with a middle child. That couple has three kids — the Brooklyn equivalent of Cheaper by the Dozen or Jon & Kate Plus 8.
On to my father’s second posting on his blog, regarding the Lottery. I have never been interested in playing the lottery nor gambling in general, I suppose, but that may be part of the point. From Why Lottery Tickets Are the Devil - Tongue on Fire:
The desire to win more money than you’d ever know how to spend afflicts the people who can least afford it — low-income households of color. In 2017, Americans spent almost $73 billion (BILLION) playing the numbers. That is $223.04 per man, woman and child in the U.S. Put that into perspective: We spend more playing the Lottery than we do on movie tickets, video games, books, NFL and Baseball tickets combined! And according to studies, the poorest third of households buy half of all lottery tickets sold. Those who can least afford tickets often spend the most–both in real dollars and as a percentage of their income. West Virginia has one of the highest poverty rates in America (17.7%), yet West Virginians spend a whopping $598.47 per person on lottery tickets. In both Connecticut and Illinois, the poorest zip codes in the state (also home to people of color) account for the most lottery ticket sales.
As usual, Ben Thompson has a detailed rundown of what makes Apple financial result phone calls interesting. He then is able to take that historical knowledge and add a perspective that others may not think about. In this case, he describes Apple’s inability to point at unit sales and soon average sale price as units to growth. Instead, Apple’s “Social Network”, in the form of their “Today at Apple” program, is going to be able to show physical engagement numbers as a growth vector (and likely a continued reputation/popularity metric). From Apple’s Social Network - Stratechery:
What is striking about Today at Apple is the scale of its ambition combined with its price: free. Of course that is not true in practice, because one needs an Apple device to realistically participate (and an Apple ID to even sign up), but that raises the question as to what Apple customers are paying for when they buy an Apple product? Apple’s point in highlighting Today at Apple is that customer’s are not simply buying an iPhone or an iPad or a Mac, but rather buying into an ongoing relationship with Apple.
October 31, 2018
For an Apple Event that was rather lackluster for me, I have been reading a lot on the subject.
The first two sources are from Jason Snell over at Six Colors, who seems very excited about the current state of things. Just look at his use of exclamation points! As always, I prefer to share “gems” instead of main points.
This is the iPhone X factor, applied to the iPad. The home button is gone, replaced with a TrueDepth camera system that allows Face ID to work from any orientation. It’s surprising and impressive when you see the iPad unlock using Face ID when you’re holding the iPad upside-down. The camera can still see your face from down there? Apparently so.
FaceID on the iPad can be used in any orientation. Many might not know that FaceID (on the original iPhone X at the very least) was only available when the phone was in the right orientation.
So the real question is, why did people keep buying the MacBook Air all this time? Was it that $999 price? Was it the design? The size? The fact that it was the last Apple laptop without the new butterfly keyboard design?
Anyway, that butterfly keyboard. I don’t hate it but I certainly don’t love it. My daughter uses her MacBook all the time and doesn’t complain, so apparently it doesn’t bother her? And Apple probably has a bunch of user research that shows that most people don’t care. But if you hate that keyboard—and it seems to be a more polarizing design than the last one—it means you have no good options on the Mac right now.
Then there are the ports! Apple’s go-to move is simplification—fewer ports, fewer buttons, the works. On the new Mac mini, it’s gone the other way, giving all us nerds exactly what we were clamoring for. Hello, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, plus two USB-A ports, plus HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet (upgradeable to 10GB Ethernet!) and a headphone jack. What is this, 2015?
I, like Snell, was hoping that the Mac lineup would get an overhaul in the sense that Apple would simplify the offerings. Instead, they made it more messy and gave us the above thought experiment. In any case, it appears the MacBook Air is the best Mac portable from a portability perspective. On the keyboard, I think this is a generational thing. The new keyboards have their problems, but they are fine, especially if you have never (or rarely) known anything different.
On the Mac Mini, the announcement was a solid upgrade, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for. The Mac Mini has become a server admins best friend, but its original intention (aside from luring the switchers of old) was to be a complete computer in a small package; BYO… everything. I was hoping Apple would release something similar in size to the AppleTV with a full computer inside. Alas, they went the very un-Apple direction that Snell points out in terms of the available I/O.
He’s absolutely right, the mini is perfect in all of those instances. I said a while ago that the Mac mini is one of those products that Apple could update or not update and it wouldn’t matter that much. I still believe that, but I’m happy that users of these machines finally get their update.
The MacBook Air was never designed to be a workhouse computer that’s going to get your high-end graphics work done, it is intended to be the go-to computer for everyone on-the-go. It does that very well.
I think the iPad Pro is getting to the point where more mainstream people would feel comfortable replacing their notebook with an iPad. That was always the thought Apple had, but the technology is catching up to the dream.
Jim Dalrymple has a history of great takeaways. He is a happy iPad user, so the mini was not the highlight for him, but what he says above is true: if the Mac Mini is for all the pro-level use cases Apple offered on stage, the Mac Mini could have been left to languish and it still would have made Apple money. Good for Apple that they updated it, but don’t expect another update for a long while.
His MacBook Air takeaway is correct, but it is part and parcel to the problems inherent in the announcements. The MacBook Air and MacBook are competing for this on-the-go space now. For the iPad, I’m cautiously hopeful.
I tried Apple’s new Smart Keyboard Folio for both iPad Pros, and I’m not sure what to think of it yet. On one hand, I’m disappointed that Apple didn’t ship a fully redesigned Smart Keyboard with backlit keys and new built-in media keys (such as the ones the Brydge keyboard currently offers). I also had the impression that getting the iPad in and out of the folio case was a more involved process than the old Smart Keyboard, though that might just be the result of it being a new accessory that I’m not familiar with yet. Time will tell.
I am frankly not sure how I feel about the new iPads themselves and I will reserve judgement until I am able to play with them in person. No authors I have read thus far have discussed this, but the magnetic connector for the Pencil is on the top and can be used while connected to the smart keyboard. Is there a second smart connector that is used to communicate with the keyboard? In any case, the new version of the Pencil puts my first generation version to shame.
UPDATE: Rene Ritchie discussed the new changes to the smart connectors. The Smart Keyboard Folio (Ugh!) connects to a smart connector on the back of the iPad, which is why I haven’t seen it. (No one shows you the back of the iPad.)
I said I wanted a faster iPad Pro, same 12.9” screen size, with a smaller overall footprint. Face ID, sure, USB-C, whatever. We got all that, and honestly I am not sure I see a reason to buy these. Which seems absurd given that just a couple days ago I was writing how I was noticing my iPad Pro (12.9” which is version 1, not the 10.5”) was feeling a touch slow in areas.
As usual, I completely agree with Mr. Brooks. In particular, the change from Lightning to USB-C seems downright odd to me and I cannot say I am particularly happy about it even if it seems like the right move from a technology and future-proofing perspective.
The base machine, and the most expensive, which clocks in at $4,200 comes with integrated graphics, in the form of the Intel UHD Graphics 630 chipset. For a computer that Apple says can be used by pros, this blows my mind. Yes, macOS Mojave and Thunderbolt 3 make living with an eGPU relatively easy, but having a discrete graphics option, at least in the high-end models would make me feel a lot better about the Mac mini being useful to a wider range of customers.
If you are going to read anything about a Mac Mini, read Stephen Hackett. This is actually the reasoning for my commentary on the Mac Mini above. If you are going to stick to an integrated graphic card, build a new chassis that makes us all stand in awe of the external design and better understand such a tradeoff.
The new internals are betrayed on the outside by a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports,meaning the MacBook Air has the same IO as that weird Touch Bar-less 13-inch MacBook Pro. Unlike that machine, the new Air does have a Touch ID sensor, the first time we have seen it divorced from the Touch Bar. I like it.
Based on the commentaries of others, I think I would like the Touch Bar, but having an option that comes with TouchID alone is a net win. The existence of TouchID without the Touch Bar also helps to explain the limits of what can be done with Apple’s A-series Mac-based subsystems.
October 30, 2018
I’ve said before that I am more of a ring than a watch person. Still, I have a new Apple Watch on my wrist and I’m relegating the gorgeous looking Oura ring to my reading and research category.
Over the past few years, the smart ring market has experienced many false starts, whether that’s been due to hardware hold-ups, legal issues or just the fact they’ve proven to be notoriously difficult to get right for mainstream consumers.
But after the rise and fall of hyped brands, like Smarty Ring, Fin and Nod, a number of companies have stuck around that promise smart rings with true staying power. That means highly accurate data tracking, valuable insights and, most importantly, a design you’ll actually want to wear.
One smart ring that ticks all of those boxes is Oura.
October 29, 2018
Recently, Marco Arment posted about the inconsistencies/oddities of Apple Watch watchfaces. For those that didn’t read that commentary, the crux of his position was that the Apple Watch all but ignores long-held horological standards that make reading the time on an analog watchface more simple. Marco’s asssessment was one that I would have not been able to put into words but admittedly agreed with wholeheartedly. Shortly before that post, I puchased an Apple Watch Series 3 Nike+ to replace my aging Series 0 Stainless Steel. The reason I am providing so much additional information about all this is the differences I noted between a “standard” Apple Watch and the Nike+ models. In particular, the additional watchfaces that come with the Nike+ model watches.
As I started to do more research on this topic, I noted just how little has been written about Apple Watch watchfaces in general, aside from the annual diatribes from Apple Watch developers about the desire to create third-party watchfaces. In fact, in order to see a full list of watchface options, I had to visit the Apple Watch User Guide given the fact that there is very little information even within Apple’s main support pages. Note also that the Apple Watch User Guide does not include any information about Nike+ nor Hermès series watchfaces.
Based on the information in the Apple Watch User Guide, there are twenty-six different watchfaces available to an Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular) with one of those disallowed on non-cellular models (Explorer) and two additional ones not available on Series 3 and earlier (Infograph and Infograph Digital). All of the watchfaces have various “Customizable features” and “Available complications” listed in full in the guide. The above screenshots are the standards for promotional materials that are available on all Apple Watches and the below screenshot are the three that are exclusive based on hardware.
For Nike+ models, there are two additional options (Nike+ Analog and Nike+ Digital, pictured below) that provide a standard (read: unchangeable) swoosh icon/complication for quick access to the Nike+ Run Club app. I have used both of these faces now and really like both even though I am not an avid runner. The analog version in particular changes the commentary from Marco (“If you want analog time with numerals, Utility is the only good option.”) to include this secondary option. Aside from the fact that you cannot show the date within the dial, the Nike+ Analog watchface is worth a look if you have access. I should also mention at this point that the Nike+ version has access to non-standard color options, including Nike’s Volt green, as does the Hermès version have access to Hermès orange.
For Hermès models, there is one additional option named simply Hermès. However, the “one additional option” comment belies the sheer amount of customization that can be done to the Hermès watchface. Amongst the available “customizable features” to use Apple’s parlance, the Hermès watchface has the ability to change the color/style, typeface (which includes three options plus a roman numeral option), and dial layout (which simply means all numbers, four numbers, or only the 12 index). In addition, this watchface has room for a single complication inside the dial that is limited to Date, Stopwatch, or World Clock. To be frank, though out of my price range, the Hermès Apple Watch seems worth it to someone who cares about numerical indices as much as Marco does, plus this/these watchface(s) is/are gorgeous.
The craziest thing about the Hermès watchfaces are just how little documentation there is about them at all. I had difficulty finding any screenshots of the watchfaces, let alone ones like those documented above for the standard styles. The screenshots you see below are stitched together from Apple’s own Hermès page and does not show all options available. The only reason I know what options are available is because of a jailbreak option that is well-documented for “unlocking” these extra watchfaces on standard models and an unboxing video I found that actually did a good job enumerating the options.
This post is really only an attempt to get something on the web that people can look at to gain a better understanding of the options on the Apple Watch. I was not and am not making any assessments on the value of the above-listed options nor the expectation that this is by any means a complete walkthrough. I also have only had a few days at this point with anything other than a Series 0 Stainless Steel watch, so this was/is not meant to be a review of the new features or even the watchfaces I see in my new Apple Watch Series 3 Nike+.
All that being said, I still agree with Marco’s assessment about the current state of Apple Watch watchfaces; I personally have a carefully curated group of analog and digital watchfaces that I use on a daily basis, but I am not wholly satisfied with them. As I get used to the power and speed of a modern Apple Watch, I will likely write more about watchfaces and my preferred usage scenarios. Thanks for reading.
October 24, 2018
I normally automate some of my reading commentaries, which generally means that these posts only point to one article. In this instance, I had two articles that played off each other so perfectly, I was unable to separate my thoughts about them into two posts.
I read all of Ben Brooks items that are open to the public and have often toyed with the idea of becoming a member because he and I see eye-to-eye on a lot. I feel him on this one.
And this was never more evident than my recent internal debates about whether or not I should get an Apple Watch series 4 to try out — and no I won’t be getting one. Because the more you think about the Apple Watch, the more you realize that it exacerbates the problem — you have to choose: do you want to relax, or do you want to be more connected? If you want to relax, or have any hope in doing so, you need to get rid of your phone and Apple Watch as best as you can.
However, it was right around the time I read this that two things happened almost simultaneously: I started helping Nash with his Apple Watch post and I ordered an Apple Watch Series 3 (currently in the mail). From Nash:
It’s becoming increasingly popular to have a little screen on your wrist, but as I ask around — those who own the Apple Watch and those who don’t — there’s a misconception of what its ultimate purpose is. If it was just an extension to your phone, there wouldn’t be much of a point to owning one.
You should go read both of these posts because they each are great. I am acutely aware of the dichotomy they respresent. Ben makes a good point about the two-faced nature of current technology discussions, wherein human beings both complain about the overabundance of information and the lack of fact-checking while staying as connected and reliant on that same information as ever. On the other side of the discussion is Nash, who has put forethought and effort into simplifying his daily life through technology. He discusses legitimate use cases for his Apple Watch and, in the most powerful portion of his post, addresses the very misconception that I believe leads people to use the Apple Watch in the way that Ben detests.
In a conversation with Nash recently, I suggested the following: “Every decision is about priorities.” I believe that whole heartedly. Since I don’t prioritize having the newest or shiniest thing, I don’t usually buy brand new technology for my personal use. Since I prioritize minimalism and ecology, I buy things of quality that are meant to last. In this instance, I can agree with both of these posts because my priorities align with both.
I see the Apple Watch as a tool; one that must be wrangled, but inevitably leads to a more efficient use of my time and energy. Therefore, I agree with Nash’s assertion that there is utility (and sustained growing utility in the tool). I have taken many of the seemingly clichéd steps to calm my phone and watch habits, such as turning off many of my notifications and leaving whole social networks behind because of their noise. I have even stopped the Health features from notifying me for this reason. I use my Watch for the things that I prioritize, not what the Watch prioritizes for me. Therefore, I agree with Ben that there is a problem with tech addiction and the Apple Watch can be an extension of that problem.
October 23, 2018
I said recently that I was not in the market for the new iPhone models. After reading Gruber’s review, I started to think that maybe I should be. However, there are two gems that I thought I would draw attention to in this excellent review:
I don’t think the absence of 3D Touch is a dealbreaker for anyone, but it’s just weird that the iPhone XR is the first new iPhone since 3D Touch was introduced not to have it.
I am one of the few where this is a dealbreaker. I love the potential of 3D Touch and I use it wherever I can. I actually spend my time testing any new app icon on my home screen for extra functionality. I simply don’t think I could go back to an iPhone that lacked it.
The most visually striking difference, of course, is that the XR is available in a variety of cheerful colors. The black XR (which admittedly isn’t cheerful) looks a lot like the black XS and XS Max — it’s hard to tell them apart at a glance. The white XR (which is the color I’ve been using for the past week) is a much brighter white than the XS. The aluminum XR can’t compete with the premium look of the XS’s polished steel frame, but I think the white glass back of the XR looks better than that of the white XS models. It’s really nice — and a bit Stormtrooper-y. The coral, yellow, blue, and Product Red models all look great. I got another look at all of them last week when I picked up my review unit in New York, and to me, the Product Red phone in particular is striking.
The colors are what intrigued me most about these models the day they were announced. I want a colorful iPhone. the Product Red iPhones 7 and 8, though different face colors were lust-worthy for me. My wife has a Product Red iPhone 7 and it is tragically encased. I can’t say that color alone puts me in the market for these phones, but I can say it tempts me more than it should.
October 22, 2018
I am generally less of a watch person and more of a ring person. Ever since getting my first fitness tracker, I’ve been interested in quantifying those metrics: sleep, calorie and step counts, etc. I write all this to say I think for me, the long term vision for fitness tracking will be a ring, not a watch. The Oura Ring is awesome tech and the company’s articles about sleep and overall health are always worth a read.
Since the advent of electric light, we’ve increasingly ignored and misunderstood sleep: It’s a necessary evil. It’s an inactive state. It’s the human stand-by mode. Why sleep when you could watch just one more episode on Netflix or go to Mars? However, with advances in science and technology, and a budding revolution in attitudes towards sleep, we may be ready to throw these ideas into the dustbin of history and embrace a non-binary view on human existence and see that there is no ON/OFF for us. Rather, there are three stages of being that are inextricably intertwined, each one affecting the others: Awake, Asleep, Dreaming.
These three states of being are found in nearly all mammals and birds: wakefulness, Non-REM sleep and REM sleep. From a physiological viewpoint they are as different from each other as sleeping is from being wide awake. You just don’t notice it — mainly because you’re asleep.
October 22, 2018
I am not in the market for the new iPhones at all, but side commentaries are often the gems of reviews. In the case of Mr. Seigler’s and the original post on The Loop that brought me to his thoughts, the following caught my eye:
Overall, I’m curious to see what people think about the iPhone XR (on pre-sale as of today). Because it really does feel like it might be the right phone for a lot of people. The iPhones XS are great, but not a massive upgrade over the X. And I think the new pricing exacerbates the issue. If you have an iPhone 8, it’s undoubtedly worth an upgrade to the XS, but I’d point you to the smaller one. And I’m just not sure the XR isn’t a better path to go down for many people.
-M.G. Seigler, A Few Thoughts on the iPhone XS Max — 500ish Words
I too am interested in seeing the way the iPhones sell this year. I believe that the masses will flock toward a lower-cost iPhone with similar specs and a dash of whimsy. I know I would! The Loop’s post gave me another thought in the same vein:
I know a host of people who yearn for a new version of the SE form factor. There are people with small hands and/or terrific eyesight and/or small pockets that miss that size. … Same thing with Apple Watch. There are people with smaller wrists for whom even the old 38mm form factor was too large.
-Dave Mark, The Loop
I am one of those people who believe that smaller form factors, even with my larger hands/wrists are more desireable. There was a commentary way back in the days of the iPod that minitarization is both hard and expensive. The smaller the package, the more interested I become because I prefer my tech to be as unobtrusive as possible; this must be a shared line of thinking at a time when the words “phone” and “addiction” are often used in the same sentence.
October 19, 2018
When we think of those guilty of sexual assault and abuse, we tend to be reminded of some of the most vile and morally corrupt figures in our lives and in the…
October 19, 2018
In a conversation I had recently, I made the comment that there are very few high-pressure sales situations anymore. Technology and the market (or consumers themselves) have decided that those situations are terrible and it is better to order things online and use apps to have interactions with vendors and, more generally, other people. But now consumerism is so easy, so without friction, that the pressure has simply moved from the salesperson to the consumer; we pressure ourselves into having everything we want because it is just a tap, click, or fingerprint away. I always make the comment that any decision is about priority, but so too is every constraint about choice. We all can choose to put our information out there, just as we can choose to keep our own privacy. The problem is that most people are choosing the former.
What’s most striking about the telescreen’s ubiquity is how right and how wrong Orwell was about our technological present. Screens are not just a part of life today: they are our lives. We interact digitally so often and in such depth that it’s hard for many of us to imagine (or remember) what life used to be like. And now, all that interaction is recorded. Snowden was not the first to point out how far smartphones and social media are from what Orwell imagined. He couldn’t have known how eager we’d be to shrink down our telescreens and carry them with us everywhere we go, or how readily we’d sign over the data we produce to companies that fuel our need to connect. We are at once surrounded by telescreens and so far past them that Orwell couldn’t have seen our world coming.
Or could he? Orwell gives us a couple of clues about where telescreens came from, clues that point toward a surprising origin for the totalitarian state that Nineteen Eighty-Four describes. Taking them seriously means looking toward the corporate world rather than to our current governments as the likely source of freedom’s demise. If Orwell was right, consumer choice — indeed, the ideology of choice itself — might be how the erosion of choice really starts.
October 19, 2018
It appears that Voyager 2 will be following its sibling through one of the ultimate barriers in spaceflight: the border of interstellar space. NASA is reporting…
October 19, 2018
I really enjoyed this overview of the horological world. There were quite a few pieces of information I was unaware of, especially just how recent most of the history of the watchmaking industry really is.
As fashion and comfort demanded thinner watches, watchmakers all over Europe began to investigate new ways of building slimmer clockworks. The challenges of early watchmaking closely mirror the challenges smartwatch producers face today: how to make technology smaller and more powerful.
October 19, 2018
I usually write my review of the new iPhones about a week after I get one of the new devices, but this time around, I just kept using and trying out the…
October 19, 2018
As a part of my ongoing desire to share what I am reading, I automated posts of this type using Pocket and IFTTT. Below is an excerpt from the article and the URL for you to share in what I am currently reading. Want to discuss? Reach out.
Siri Shortcuts, your Apple Watch, and various sensors and biometrics mean the wearable device will become critical to your identity, at work, at home, and at play. And more, but you get the drift.
October 19, 2018
This is the reason why I continue to go back to Apple with my money and trust. The company chooses to take a holistic view of the experience of ownership.
“If you genuinely have a concern for humanity, you will be preoccupied with trying to understand the implications, the consequences of creating something that hasn’t existed before. I think it’s part of the culture at Apple to believe that there is a responsibility that doesn’t end when you ship a product.” As he speaks, his face rearranges itself into a troubled frown. “It keeps me awake.”
October 19, 2018
This is probably the best Apple Watch review I’ve read thus far; everything I wrote yesterday still stands.
No matter how hard Apple tries to steer clear of being related to timepieces, it’s inevitable. Humans have two wrists and are very unlikely to wear a watch on each, so the conscious decision to wear an Apple Watch or a traditional watch is made each day. The two are intertwined and, therefore, competitors.
October 18, 2018
As a part of my ongoing desire to share what I am reading, I automated posts of this type using Instapaper and IFTTT. Below is the description of the article and the URL for you to share in what I am currently reading. Want to discuss? Reach out.
Twenty-one months after she left the White House, Michelle Obama is returning to public life feeling purposeful and invigorated. She launched, within weeks, high-profile social initiatives on voting and girls’ education while preparing for a mega-book tour unlike any book tour, well, ever.
October 18, 2018
As a part of my ongoing desire to share what I am reading, I automated posts of this type using Pocket and IFTTT. Below is an excerpt from the article and the URL for you to share in what I am currently reading. Want to discuss? Reach out.
For a while now I have been bouncing back and forth between using Dark Sky and Hello Weather as my tools of choice. Then a few months ago, after seeing some new features (at the time) of CARROT Weather, I decided to give the quirky app a try.
October 18, 2018
I couldn’t sleep. It’s never at bedtime that this happens, it’s always in the early morning. Something wakes me, be it child or dream, and my mind reels, starts whittling away at some project or idea that could have waited until morning. Depending on the day, I may take my Apple Watch off to charge it at this point or I may put it on, having taken it off the charger. You see, I wear my Apple Watch to bed to track sleep, using the excellent AutoSleep, and use it as a silent alarm. It’s these types of use cases that don’t seem important to Apple right now and it is one of the things that drew me to wearing fitness trackers in the first place. I moved to the Apple Watch originally for extensibility and for it being a pretty good watch.
The worst part about the technology writers echo chamber is the fact that no matter where you go online, you will find the same set of analyses, block quoted and commentated, as if it is some kind of modern chain letter. (#showingmyage) Of course, I am about to do the same thing, but the thing about this post is the first draft of it was written before Marco Arment’s commentary went out. Because the point of my post is different, though the similarities can’t be denied. Here’s Marco:
These [design principles] all improve legibility by making it as fast and easy as possible to know which hour is being indicated (and minimize the chance of an off-by-one error), first by orienting your eyes to the current rotation with the 12 marker, then by minimizing the distance between the hour hand and the indices it’s between.
Apple Watch’s analog faces all fail to achieve these principles.
I have an Apple Watch Series 0 (First Generation) in Stainless Steel. When I bought it in late 2016, I had no idea how long it would be supported with OS updates. I got my answer during WWDC this year; now is the end of that road. I knew that buying the first generation would ultimately leave me behind, but I was able to get a deal on it and I wanted Stainless Steel. The reason why I mention this is to say this: the announcement of the Series 4 didn’t immediately impress upon me a need to update my watch. Instead, it made me start the process of reassessing what I wanted out of a watch, an apparently annual exercise for me.
Looking back into my archives, I wrote a lot about these things. Consider the following links a walkthrough of my journey in this regard:
Of course, in order to get a handle on what I wanted out of a watch, I needed to assess the things that I liked (and didn’t) about the Apple Watch. I wrote a post about the pros and cons of the Apple Watch after my first year of ownership (link above); that post actually stood up well in my rereading of it. So much so that my conclusion to this post is based largely on the same idea (spoiler alert):
The real sign that I am becoming displeased with the Apple Watch, though, is that I signed up for more information on the Nokia (née Withings) Steel HR this morning; it embodies what I still want, even after all my time with the Apple Watch: a good watch with smart capabilities, what I generally refer to as a “smart watch” (notice the space). The reason why the Pebble was a good fit for me initially was due to its always-on nature and lack of nightly charge routine. In other words, it was a good watch. I am not always sure that the Apple Watch is a good watch, though.
Fascinatingly, I return to this line of thinking just after Withings (née Nokia) announced their update to the Steel HR line with the sport model that brings the device more in line with the Apple Watch in terms of features, along with killer battery life.
Back to the exposition: I have written before about my previous love for Pebble. To be frank, there is nothing on the market remotely like what Pebble was doing and while their approach was not without its issues, they were the only competition Apple had in the smartwatch field. Even now, when people discuss smartwatches, there is Apple Watch and there is a bloody battlefield of second place psuedo-contenders.
But when I wrote Smart Watches and Smartwatches (again, link above), l was fascinated by the idea that there was a difference and that each type of device had its place. I divided these devices into the following types: smart wearables (fitness trackers and other single purpose technologies), smart watches, and smartwatches.
I have had devices from a number of companies over the years and none were without their faults. One could also argue that the Apple Watch is the best device in each of the aforementioned device categories while still understanding the fact that there are legitimate problems with it. In fact, the Apple Watch still does not do things that each of my previous devices (now years old) did well out of box (again, smart alarms, sleep tracking, etc.) I purchased apps to fill in the gaps, but on a Series 0, most of those apps were quickly set aside due to how slow the hardware is.
So what device to get next is a valid and current question for me, but what further complicates the question is the assessment that I don’t even know what category my next device should fit into. If all I use my Apple Watch for is fitness tracking and I am OK with that fact, my next device could be fitness tracker. If I want a time piece that always shows me the time no matter how I move my wrist, perhaps a smart watch would be a better choice. Or maybe just a standard watch would be more suitable.
I have qualms with the Apple Watch as it stands today, things that even the Series 4 doesn’t address. Then, take into account Marco’s commentary, mentioned above, and I start to see why some people are former Apple Watch owners and have since moved to standard watches.
Without belaboring the point too much, the Apple Watch is successful because of its broad ranging capabilities and I can’t be sure how much I’ll miss any given piece of it if I were to jump ship. Investments in apps and watch bands create lock-in, while the steady improvements year-over-year and the attention to customer feedback feed loyalty. As I’ve said on an apparently almost annual basis, perhaps next year these questions will be answered for me.
October 5, 2018
I’ve been reading recently about the relationship between sleep and overall health; this article seems to have a slightly different take: the relationship between sleep and exercise. Between my Apple Watch (with the desire to close those rings) and my general desire to feel rested in the morning, I feel like I do relatively well with all of the above, but something like the Oura Ring seems to do some really cool things with data collection and health assessments. From Men’s Health:
[Dr. Robert] Graham instead advised that for best results, don’t work out too strenuously right before bed. Ideally, try workouts for 20 minutes or more — whatever it takes for your body to feel hot — at least three hours before you want to sleep. As your body temperature cools, it acts as an additional signal for your body to sleep. Conversely, raising your core temperature immediately before bed will probably increase the time it takes you to fall asleep and may interfere with sleep quality.
October 5, 2018
Everyone has to stay on top of things somehow; each person just decides what “things” they need to stay on top of and how to do it. With my relatively recent decisions (plural for multiple platforms) to forgo social media, News is one such item that I need to stay on top of and I have a clean slate on how to go about doing so.
Of course, clean slate is a misrepresentation. I have a history with technology, having been in the business for over a decade and having been using technology in one form or another since my childhood. And since technology is the way I have chosen to get my news since high school, I started out with more of a return to form; I went back to RSS as a means of keeping up on current events.
Using a sync service, in my case Feedly (because apparently there is only one real option for local RSS reading with iCloud sync and no thanks), I jumped back in with an old OPML file full of tech, food, and coffee blogs. Next, I started looking for a feed reader that syncs with Feedly (they all do) that was not the first-party Feedly client.
Side note: first-party clients are not always bad. Third-party clients, however, need to work to make a reason for their existence. There is a reason why the existence of any third-party Twitter clients scares Twitter; their priorities are different and, for that reason, they are just plain better. Third-party clients are able to focus on making their customer—the consumer—happy with a focus on the features that make for a better app, while first-party clients, especially for free services, focus instead on making their customer—ad agencies—happy with greased wheels between their products and the end-user. 🤢
All in all, I tried a couple different clients out and quickly found Fiery Feeds, an app that mirrors a long time favorite of mine on macOS, Readkit. I see the similarities in a variety of ways not limited to its focus on an intuitive, well-designed interface and its ability to act as a reader for many read-later services as well. Fiery Feeds is well maintained, has both iPad and iPhone apps that just work and has a low-cost subscription-based business model that will allow the developer to continue to work on it hopefully for years to come. (If all of this sounds familiar to you, it should; the best apps in the App Store have basically the same modus operandi, including Drafts, Overcast, etc.)
All this to say, RSS is still an open platform that anyone can build on top of and use, which is definitely something that I have chosen to prioritize in my move away from proprietary technologies, especially in the social media and news aggregation spaces. It works and it will continue to work even if any/all of the above commentary is rendered obsolete in a matter of years.
In a separate commentary, I will need to discuss the current landscape of read-later services and why I am displeased with that as well, but I thought I would try to stay focused on RSS this time around. However, whether I am talking about RSS or read-later services, the following stands: if only someone would figure out how to make an app that looks nice, works just as well as Fiery Feeds in every other way, and syncs via iCloud instead of a third-party service, we’d be golden.
October 4, 2018
NOTE: This post originally appeared on nashp.com, as a guest post. Check the original out and Nash’s blog as well; he’s pretty great!
I went through a bit of a slump this summer. With overwhelming amounts of stressful work, family, and personal situations all vying for my attention, I just couldn’t bring myself to write without the proper time and thoughtful consideration I expect from myself when writing for the site. I even took my site down for a time due to how full my brain felt.
When I say slump, I mean I was unable to find motivation to do much of anything. My wife assures me I did not show this feeling outward, but I scaled back a lot of the things I generally considered fun. At home, cooking became a chore, housework became anathema, and I generally didn’t want to do anything that required energy. At work, whether I was working on a coding project, working on a committee, or pursuing professional development, I was unmotivated to do more than the bare minimum.
In my overwhelmed state, I more generally felt a loss of purpose and I only recently came to grips with what I was feeling and how to combat it. As I stated in my post about responsibility, I normally feel passion and desire to help others, especially when I have a voice as a white person in the United States of 2018. Said more bluntly: what right do I have to have a slump at all?
I honestly have no idea how or when I first heard about nashp.com, but I ended up following him on Twitter, reading his Blog, and subscribing to his email newsletter. One such newsletter caught my attention in August of 2017:
That’s what this change here is. I’m writing you directly. This isn’t automated, and this isn’t for my website. I’m writing straight to you. The goal is to build relationships with the people that are interested. The cool thing is, all you have to do is reply to this message, and a conversation is started. You can simply say hello, or we can discuss a certain topic that I wrote about. Or I can help you with a project that you’re working on. Just let me know.
I love this. I wish there was enough time in the day to convert all those nascent Twitter follows and likes into something more real. I recently deleted Twitter from my phone because of just that feeling. I was watching more and participating less. I’m now trying to use my Blot-hosted blog as a space to write short but meaningful thoughts and automate my posts to social media to better prioritize real connections where I can. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for trying something different.
This started something: an OMG-has-it-already-been-a-year back and forth that has led to one of the closest online-only relationships I have ever had. Nash and I have the commonalities of a desire to share, a desire to connect, and a desire to serve. He and a few others helped me realize that I was putting too much pressure on myself, even with just the name of my site; his words: “Keep it..rebrand it to just your name..and there’s nothing eloquent..it’s just you”. I have had the site name for so long, I can’t just get rid of it, but his point struck me and stands.
I decided my slump had to end and in a big way, so I’ve started to write and share again, but I’ve also started to help others with their own stuff.
Being the son of a pastor and a lifelong teacher, I was raised in a service mentality. My sister went into social work and community organizing; I went into service-focused technology with particular passion for libraries and higher education. I married a teacher with a passion for minority and underrepresented populations. In other words, we have a desire to help in each of our focus areas and we are service-oriented.
I sometimes wondered if I went into the wrong industry. Due to the digital divide and my passion for access, the technology landscape is at direct odds at times with my sensibilities. But a passion is a passion and every area needs compassionate, empathetic people to steer toward a better future.
Similarly, I never thought of my website as a place where I could reach out to those who needed assistance or better yet where they could find the information in order to reach out to me. So my day job was helping people with technology and my site was separate; it seems silly now to think I would keep my site separated from something I am passionate about. For whatever reason, I was never sure how much detail people wanted in my niche community about what it takes to code my site and sites like it. Nash debunked that theory.
This site runs on Blot. I tell you this since it is a commonality between my site, Nash’s, and others for whom this story matters. I don’t generally consider myself a programmer, but I understand code just like any other person who spends enough time around it and similar puzzles; as an aside, at some point I will have to stop this line of thinking since a person who programs as often as I do is probably considered a programmer. One way I see myself helping others is in sussing out code problems and giving advice about design and approaches to technology. Long story short, I have helped Nash with a few things and want to help others in the same way.
Short story long, Blot uses the Mustache templating engine to render pages. The nicest thing about it is the simplicity it can provide for those who want a blog that just works, while providing the flexibility that other templating engines have without the excessive learning curves. Blot also has a number of nice touches to complete the simplicity chain, such as folder-based post tagging and automation capabilities that come by way of its use of Dropbox as a file server.
For janea.net, Nash and I set out to provide a dead simple way for the purveyor to post folders of pictures and render them as photoblogs. In addition, we looked at her site as a blank slate. With the information she provided, what could we do to make the site both usable for her ministry, but also useful for those who wanted to stay connected to her. This was the short list for the initial launch: simplistic navigation, automated email newsletters (and dead simple signup process for it), a place for her words, a place for her pictures, and a place for her donation campaigns and handmade merchandise.
For instance, Blot’s tagging system allows Janea to create a folder within her hierarchy called “[china]”. By default, Blot has the ability to use a page that points to specific tags, in this case janea.net/tagged/china. Using the templating engine, I was able to make it so that if given the proper combination of tags, the tagged “posts” (in this case the photos themselves) are listed. If not given the proper set of tags, the name of the article is listed as one would expect a tagged post to appear.
Since our preference would be that all of this would be invisible to Janea, she now is able to simply name a folder in Dropbox “China”; throw a few pictures from her trip to China into the folder; and be presented with a Photoblog of her trip, accessible to the world. Being a tech guy who cares about ease of use (after all I am an Apple guy) and service, coupled with a person like Nash who wants only the best, we say, “It can be and should be that simple for creators!”
In a truly holistic approach, Nash and I collaborated to code it, test it, format old items according to the new syntaxes, and write documentation for reference: my own, Nash’s, and Janea’s.
I’m dedicated to service in both my personal and professional life; so is Nash. We thought it best to write something up on this little endeavor to discuss our consulting work, both of which are represented by pages on our sites at “/help”: here and here. If you have a project, idea, or need, reach out and we’d be glad to help.