Plan, Do, Study, Act

At work, we are Lean practitioners (I’m a Green Belt). One of the tenets of Lean is Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA). I’m a big fan of the saying: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. PDSA is a way of admitting your first try to get something done may not be (and likely won’t be) the correct path. In PSDA, you plan the work, do the work, study the results, and then act upon any changes. Rinse, lather, and repeat as necessary.

As a workflow geek, I’m constantly looking at my own workflows and seeing what works and doesn’t[1]. As part of my writing workflow, I’m examining Ulysses’s place in my workflow. I’m very happy with the app, but I also want to make sure that perhaps there isn’t a better method to handle my writing. So, I’m writing this post in 1Writer instead. In Ulysses, all of my scrivenings reside in one large repository. I’ve never experienced any sync issues – or heard of anyone experience in them – but I have a deep-seated nervousness about this. That said, I use Ulysses on both macOS[2] and iOS, it’s nice having a common toolset between the two. Ulysses on the Mac works exactly the same as Ulysses on my iPad. I don’t have a Markdown editor on the Mac I like as much as 1Writer on the iPad. I use footnotes extensively in my writing, and I like that both Ulysses and 1Writer handle the formatting painlessly.

I’m also working on a collection of essays that I may publish into a book later this year. Ulysses is great at this sort of thing. What I may prefer is to have each essay sit as its own text file in Dropbox and decide which ones make the cut for publication. Those will get sent to Ulysses for compilation.

Scrivener is an interesting choice for fiction. I don’t need my fiction to be in Markdown. It’s not going to end up on the web. Sometimes, writing in rich text can help. Matt Gemmell has a long post here, where he talks about using Scrivener and Ulysses on the iPad. He posits that writing in Markdown vs. rich text is something we as writers should just get over. In the end, he choose Ulysses because it supports an all-in on the iPad lifestyle better than Scrivener. I agree with him on that point. Scrivener for iOS is a perfectly fine editor, but its compilation and exporting tools are lacking. It doesn’t support ePub. The <$titles> variable to insert the document title into the export doesn’t work on the iPad. It assumes you’re ok with doing that sort of heavy lifting on your Mac. Scrivener for iOS is definitely more of a companion tool. I’m also not completely sure how often it’s really saving the files. You can set it to sync to Dropbox on project close. It just seems ripe for some sort of an error to make my life miserable. Ulysses, on the other hand, is constantly saving and syncing back to iCloud.

So, where did this PDSA lead me?

For my blog writing, I’m sticking with Ulysses. The posting interface is cleaner, and I like how it handles the footnotes and links a tad batter. For my long-form writing I’m still leaning towards keeping it Ulysses, but I’ll be testing out Scrivner a little more. I really want to try breaking the Dropbox sync before I truly trust it. My essays, that can sit on their own and have minimal formatting I will keep in a .txt file I can edit in 1Writer on iOS and Byword on the Mac.

So, after all that examining, I still ended up back at the beginning anyway.


  1. It’s tempting, yet dangerous, to spend more time examining the workflows than executing them. Work with them for a while before changing them.  ↩
  2. It’s going to take me years to not type OS X. Old habits die hard.  ↩

The Night of Deep Cuts

I bared my Air. And a few other things.

A few nights ago I came home, reformatted my MacBook Air, and laid down a fresh install of macOS Sierra. I did not restore from backup (although most of my files are in iCloud Drive, so it’s not like there was massive data loss). I did not reinstall any social media. The list of apps I reinstalled is very, very small:

  • 1Password
  • The iWork Suite
  • Instapaper extension
  • BBEDIT
  • Xcode
  • Ulysses
  • Pixelmator
  • VLC

I have 209GB free of a 256GB SSD. Once iCloud finishes its syncing I expect that number to go down. But not by much. I turned on the iCloud Drive Optimization to keep it from syncing the whole damn iCloud Drive. I don’t care that I don’t have all my files on there all the time. The amount of time I use the MacBook and I’m not on a WiFi connection is slim. If that happens, and I need something, meh. Life goes on.

I also made a deep separation of church and state. Nothing on the laptop connects to work. If I need to work from home, I can bring my work laptop home with me. If it’s an unexpected work from day, I’ll install the Citrix Receiver app, work, and then uninstall it.

The cuts didn’t end there.

I went through my iPad and looked at every app installed and asked myself: Does this app add value to my life? and Am I using this app right now? Not an app I want to use. But one I’m using right now?1 If I’m not, does it serve a specific purpose that warrants me keeping it? 2The answers to those questions wasn’t “yes” the app got deleted. While I was at it, I also cleared out almost all my downloaded comics and books. The only downloaded comics are either ones I’m still reading, or the art in there inspires me. There is one Kindle book downloaded (the one I’m reading). None of my iBooks books are downloaded.3 My 128Gb iPad has 60GB free.

I also went through the notifications and only two apps give me badge icons: Messenger and Hangouts. The messages I receive there tend to be important (and provide value), but they do not make noise, vibrate the device, or appear on the lock screen. I also turned off the Apple Watch notification for Messages. If I’m away, or I need to put the phone in a bag and I then decide I need the notifications, I’ll turn them back on.

The separation of church and state still isn’t as good as I’d like. I use my iPad to take notes in meetings, and I like having access to my work calendars on the device. Once we go to Office 2016 and I get OneNote 2016 installed, I might not need my iPad, but I doubt it.

The cuts didn’t end there.

I went through my Twitter feed an unfollowed about 100 people. A lot of them were dead accounts. Not many of them followed me back, so it’s not like they’d notice. The cuts weren’t personal; it was simply about controlling how much information came into my feed. A lot of people I unfollowed are also in lists, so I want the value they add to my feed, I can go get it. I came damn close to deleting the Twitter client. I may still do that. Some cuts are best done cold turkey.

FaceBook on my iPad now sits in a folder called “service apps.” It’s the backbone to playing Words with Friends with some close friends. I’ll still check FaceBook, but it’s in the every few days camp and not the every few hours camp.

I’m not sure if these purges help or do anything other than try and calm a chaotic mind.

  1. Apparently I also had a lot of writing apps. Gone, all but two are.
  2. Aside: I really wish iBooks for macOS let me delete downloaded books without also deleting them from iCloud.

The Mac

Lost in all this shuffle over me going iPad-primary is that I still love the Mac. There is a lot of dogma and rigidness from the iPad-only crowd regarding the Mac and I don’t share it. Steve Jobs famously said that (paraphrasing) that PCs are trucks and iOS devices are cars.

I still drive a truck. Both a physical version and electronic.

My 11″ MacBook Air doesn’t get used on a daily basis anymore, but it’s still one of my favorite devices of all time. There was a brief period of time recently where I regretted getting it and not a MacBook Pro 13″. I missed it because I really couldn’t play games on it, but I realized that playing games on my Mac didn’t add much value to my life. After that epiphany I felt much more comfortable about the purchase. I do wish it had a retina screen, so when it comes time to upgrade it I will likely get the baseline MacBook 12″

There are some things I do that I either flat out can’t do on iOS (like de-DRM my Kindle collection for archiving) or are a gigantic pain in the ass on iOS (like copying a ton of PDFs from iCloud to OneDrive. Plus there is iOS development which I want to I get into.1

iOS still has enough roadblocks for it to replace my MacBook completely. I expect I will still need some form of Mac for the next three years, at least.

When I upgrade my beloved Air at some point, I’m not a traitor to the iOS-primary cause, but simply a realist who believes in the right tool for the job.

  1. My gut feeling is by WWDC 2018 some type of native development environment for iOS apps will be available on iOS.

enough (the hardware edition)

I was working on an article about my goals for 2017 and I had a bullet point: Reduce my technological footprint. There were a few lines about the number of devices I have and how I wanted to be more efficient and minimize the number of devices I use.

There’s a new Netflix show on Minimalism (in which Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac is mentioned). Patrick also tweeted this link to another piece on Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. The show is great, focusing on getting the rid of a lot of the crap we as humans tend to collect. The documentary hit at a good time. I was on vacation and I was going to dump out a ton of stuff from my home office. At the same time, I took a hard look at some of the electronic devices I have floating around.

What is Digital Minimalism?

From Cal Newport’s article above, he defines Digital Minimalism as:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

Tech Products I use at least 4 times a year:

So, I have a ton of devices. Here are the ones that get used heavily1:

  1. iPad Pro 12.9″
  2. iPhone 6+2
  3. Alienware Alpha
  4. MacBook Air 11″ (2014)
  5. MacBook Pro 15″ (2011)

Getting to One

At work, we are combining some groups and services. The marketing language for the initiative is “Getting to One.” It’s a great slogan and one I’m trying to mimic with my devices. It’s impossible, of course. Not one of those devices listed above can do all of the things the other devices can do. So, there are two mantras that may somewhat compete:

  • Getting to Less
  • The Right Tool for the Job

The right tool for the job is the presiding mantra. Saying I’m going to cut back to just using my iPhone doesn’t let me perform the tasks I need the other devices for. Similarly, abandoning all the devices but for the iPad Pro (my favorite of all of them), leaves out a central communication device (the iPhone) as well as most of my game playing needs.

Patrick Rhone, who I mentioned earlier, used to have a great podcast called Enough. It’s sadly gone, and the files are gone to the internet. There is a torrent file, but it’s dead also. [UPDATE; It turns out the podcast is archived on iTunes. You can find it here.] He also has a book, Enough, which is not dead. In the podcast, they talked about what is enough. What do you need to get life done, but not more than that. One of the segments I loved was they would talk to someone about what it would take to life their digital life on an 11″ MacBook Air with 64 gig of storage. It’s the digital version of a Tiny House. The cuts people would have to make were interesting to listen to.

My goals was to get my Every Day Carry (EDC) down to two main devices. Two devices to do 80% of my day-to-day stuff. It also all needs to fit in my Tom Bihn Ristretto.

The first to go was the Alienware Alpha. I’ve moved gaming to the PlayStation 43. The only thing the Alienware really did was serve up my Plex Library. The library was on a portable drive anyway4. So, during the Big Purge the Alpha got placed on the shelf. The monitor is in a closet.

Deciding between the two MacBooks is easy. The Air is smaller and fits in my bag. It doesn’t have the processor power of the Pro, but it’s enough.

That got me to three. Not bad. An iPad, and iPhone and a MacBook Air. But what do I really need that MacBook Air for every day? I’m not talking about replacing it entirely, mind you. This is an 80% rule. I believe I can actually do 90% of what I need the MacBook for on the iPad. Working from home requires me to to log into our Virtual Desktop system via Citrix Receiver, and while it’s fine for a few things on iOS, it’s not a great interface. So, I’ll use the Mac for that.

So, the MacBook Air got placed in its sleeve and was laid (to rest) in one of the now empty drawers in the desk.

That’s two. An iPad and an iPhone for 80% of my non-gaming needs.

This is part of a series on using the iPad Pro as my primary device. For more posts on this series, click here.

  1. I’m leaving out my Amazon Kindle and my Xbox. I consider those appliances, and, anyway they are hardly used.
  2. I also have an Apple Watch, but I consider it an extension of the iPhone.
  3. It’s semantics, but I classify the PS4 as a single-purpose appliance rather than a device.
  4. As a side effort, a lot of these files are .MKV files. I’m going to convert them to .M4V files. That way I can read them directly from the iPad if I want to.

Books Read in 2016 — 57 books in 52 weeks

I know I read a ton of books. It’s my primary leisure activity, surpassing even gaming and trains. This year, I thought I’d see just how many books I read in a year and kept a list. The following list is the books I’ve completed. The partial list is a book I got at least 30% into before calling it quits. Not counted are books I read a chapter or two and didn’t go any further. There are some short books in there — the Quarry series are short books. I make up for it with The Historian and The Winds of War and War and Rembrance. Hefty tomes, them.

  1. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
  2. Everywhere Mary Went – Lisa Scottoline
  3. Seveneves – Neal Stephenson
  4. Neverwere – Neil Gaiman
  5. Mycroft Holmes – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’
  6. The promise – Robert Crais
  7. The Big Short – Michael Lewis
  8. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
  9. Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull
  10. Quarry’s Choice – Max Collins
  11. Quarry – Max Collins
  12. Quarry’s list – Max Collins
  13. Quarry’s deal – Max Collins
  14. Quarry’s cut – Max Collins
  15. Quarry’s vote – Max Collins
  16. Last Quarry – Max Collins
  17. Last night in the OR – Bud Shaw
  18. Quarry in the middle – Max Collins
  19. Darknet – Mathew Mather
  20. Dark Disciple – Christie Golden
  21. Friction – Sandra Brown
  22. The Hexed – Heather Graham
  23. Extreme Prey – John Sandford
  24. Rules of Prey- John Sandford
  25. Shadow Prey – John Sandford
  26. Eyes of Prey – John Sandford
  27. Silent Prey – John Sandford
  28. Winter Prey – John Sandford
  29. Night Prey – John Sandford
  30. Illidan – William King
  31. Warcraft: Durotan
  32. End of Watch, Stephen King
  33. Last Guardian, Jeff Grubb
  34. Mind Prey – John Sandford
  35. Fool me once, Harlan Coben
  36. Sudden Prey, John Sandford
  37. Secret Prey – John Sandford
  38. Certain prey – John Sandford
  39. Easy Prey – John Sandford
  40. Chosen prey – John Sandford
  41. Black Widow, – Daniel Silva
  42. Kingpin: How one hacker took over the billion-dollar Cybercrime underground.
  43. Winds of War, Herman Woulk
  44. War and remembrance, Herman Woulk
  45. Every 15 minutes – Lisa Scottoline
  46. Razor Girl – Carl Hiaasen
  47. Temporary Agent – Daniel Judson
  48. Shadow Factory – James Bamford
  49. Silent Sister – Diane Chamberlain
  50. Changer, Matt Gemmell
  51. The Girl in the Spiders Web
  52. The Bat: Jo Nesbo
  53. Escape Clause – John Sandford
  54. Sleep Tight – Rachel Abbot
  55. Night School – Lee Child
  56. Inferno – Dan Brown
  57. Catalyst – James Luceno

Partial Credit (Started but did not finish)

  1. Fireman, Joe Hill
  2. Fatal System Error

The Medicinal Value of Fucking Off

Last week, I wrote about fucking off less. My hope was that by shutting down my Macs and moving the keyboard behind my gaming PC, I’d be more productive with my free time. A friend of mine even jokingly texted me, “Stop fucking off when you get home!”

There’s a saying by Helmuth von Moltke that’s applicable: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. My week of productivity was sidelined by a bad cold. I got the cold Tuesday and sucked it up all week and went in to work. Saturday my body shut down on me and I was too ill to even play a video game. I did manage to write about my favorite iPad Pro apps, but even that quick post took a lot out of me.

Sunday I felt a lot better. I gave some thought to writing and drawing. I did work on my trains for an hour. I have a set of cars (86′ hi cube) that have proven to be a real challenge to get around the club layout. So, I spent an hour working on adjusting the couplers to try again this weekend.

The rest of the day? I played the new Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion. It was the antithesis of what I preached last week. Fuck off less; create more. It was also exactly what I needed.

Some times, you’ve given, well, adulting, as much of an effort as you can. The week I was sick was rough. I had meetings the made it impossible to call in sick, where even a day off would have meant getting ahead of it enough to stave it off. Alas, I couldn’t even sneak out a little early on Friday since I had a 4:00 meeting.

I needed a day to transition from being sick to being well. While I was capable of cognitive thought, I needed to let my mind and body heal. Some people binge watch a TV series. I chose to bing play a new expansion.

While it’s important to Be All We Be, and Always Give 100%, sometimes it’s also important to Have Zero Fucks to Give.

Just don’t do it every day. Only when used for medicinal purposes.

iPad Pro Apps I Use and Love

As I work on making the iPad Pro my primary computer, I thought I’d share some of the apps I use on a daily basis. There are many more apps installed on my iPad, but these are the ones I use often.

The iPad Pro

I have the 12.9″ 128 gig model with a Smart Keyboard. It’s a great setup, and I’m writing this article on it. I also have a 16g iPad Air that’s more of a reading/test environment.

Writing:

Ulysses: This is my go-to app. About 98% of my personal writing goes through this app. All of my blog posts originate in here. I also have drafts of my long-form fiction in here.

Scrivener: I’m testing this out for my long-form work. I’m not sure I like Ulysses’s all in one bucket structure for my longer bodies of work. I’m also not thrilled with Scrivener’s export functions on iOS. Ulysses can export as an ePub cleanly which Scrivener can’t do. If I do adopt Scrivener for this work, compiling my output might be something I still have to do on the Mac.

Word and Pages: I’m likely starting my Master’s degree in April. School work will probably not be something I use Ulysses for. I’m not totally thrilled with how Word on iOS handles exports, but for submitting papers and assignments it might be the best option.

Email

Gmail: I’m not in love with the Gmail app. It apparently can’t send attachments from anything but the Photos library and Gdrive. I use Google as my primary email and I don’t need to send attachments that often. It’s faster than the iOS Mail app. So, I just use the iOS Mail app when I need to send an attachment.

Outlook: Work stuff only. I keep a clean separation of church and state when it comes to work and personal email. I don’t even keep Outlook on a main screen. If you suck both your work and personal emails into one app, I strongly discourage this. It’s way easier to disconnect from work if you can toss an app into a folder. It’s on a folder on my main screen, but it’s very easy for me to ignore it when I’d rather not check my work email.

Calendar

Calendar: For most of my personal needs, I use the built-in Calendar linked to my Google Calendar. I don’t really need a powerful calendar app so the default one works fine for me.

Outlook: Again, work calendars only. I hate how Outlook handles calendars, actually. I can’t change if an appointment shows as free, busy, or out of office, and I also can’t view free/busy information for invitees. I only use the app to see where I need to be at a given time.

Drawing

Procreate: Hands down, my favorite drawing app for the iPad. I love the custom brushes and it’s pretty much a dream come true for digital artists. They also seem to have some big things planned for version 3.2 that should be out soon.

Graphic: Autodesk Graphic is as close to an Adobe Illustrator clone as I’ve found for the iPad. It’s great for when I need to do precision vector artwork.

Reading

Instapaper: It’s still my favorite Read Later service. I’ve floated between it and Pocket for a bit, but over the last year I’ve just settled on Instapaper and never looked back.

Kindle: I buy all my ebooks through Amazon. Periodically I’ll download them and deDRM them so I can have an archive or read them in iBooks. At one point, I felt that iBooks had superior typography to the Kindle app, but once Amazon introduced the Bookerly font I much preferred that. I also get books out from my library to read on the Kindle.

iBooks: I pretty much just read PDFs in iBooks. I think I’d use it more if I could have a book in more than collection. I also don’t like that it doesn’t shove the book I’m reading to the top of its list like the Kindle app does.

Reeder: I don’t often hit RSS, but whenI do it’s through Reeder. I have it set to sync my Feedly account via Google. I probably follow about 100 sites on it from photography to tech to art. I probably open it once a week

Social Media

Facebook: I am not a fan of the Facebook app. It’s not optimized for the 12.9″ iPad. To be frank, I’m also not a fan of the entire Facebook service, but it’s where I stay in contact with my friends.

Tweetbot: I prefer Twitter to Facebook, although on Twitter I tend to initiate the communication more than on Facebook. I interact with some other writers and tech folks who don’t follow me on Twitter. I don’t have a problem with this. Twitter is also my primary way of finding out tech news.

This article is part of a series on going iPad-only. For more in the series click here.