iPad Life: Additonal Thoughts on the iPad Pro

I am going to largely ignore the hubbub and criticism that surrounded the iPad 10th Anniversary. For the most part my comments in the Almost Four Years retrospective still stand: I remain divided about the iPad and its place in my life. It is both one of my favorite Apple devices, and one of the most frustrating.

I will say I find iPadOS to be a frustrating release. I frequently have to jiggle my smart-connected keyboard to get it to work, often needing to force quit Messages for the keyboard to work again.

The battery life on my first gen 12.9 is horrible. Two visits to the Apple Store in the last 6 months yield a battery that is close to eligibility for the battery replacement. In September I was between 85-87% battery health; on February 10th it was at 82%. The battery drain is worse than 17% loss, and feels more like 50%. In a meeting it dropped from 72 to 52% in about 20 minutes. The trip to Apple prompted a review of background apps. Nothing really stood out, but there were a few interesting data points. Things 3 had 4.5 hours of background refresh over the last 10 days, and Home and Lock Screen was also at 4 hours background over the same period. When I got home I took the drastic step of wiping my iPad, setting it up as new, and turning off almost all background app refresh. The results are slightly better, but it’s too early to say. The battery life in iOS 13 continues to be a hot topic on the MacRumors forums.

However, over the last week or so I’ve started brining my iPad instead of my MacBook Pro when I leave the house. The draw of the iPad is a light I can’t veer away from. In the parlance of Patrick Rhone, it is often enough. While I enjoy using apps like Tableau, which isn’t available on the iPad, a decent amount of my Tableau time is just refreshing data and viewing the results. Publishing the workbooks on Tableau Public with an auto-refresh of Google Sheets data fills that need.

My yearly theme for 2020 is Creativity. I constantly ding myself for not drawing, and this year drawing is one of my creative goals. The iPad is the perfect tool for that. Even AutoCAD, which kinda sucks on the iPad, is enough for me to do some hard-line drawings on the iPad.

The mantra I frequently use is the iPad is the ideal mobile creation tool, and I want to get back into having that focus in my life.

Year of Evaluation in Review

To be honest, I had forgotten my yearly theme was to evaluate my current tech footprint. I was reviewing an old article and found a reference to it:

My theme for 2019 Evaluation. For the record, I’m not looking at making major life changes. I am, however, evaluating the devices, apps, and services I use. For now, it’s a lot of data collection. What do I use my Mac and iPad for? I say I want to use x app more, but over the year I use y app instead. I promised myself it was unlikely I was going to upgrade any of my devices. Some of this is price. The increased price of the new iPad Pro may not have completely turned me away, but also needing to buy a new Smart Keyboard and Pencil (also at a roughly 20% price premium) surely did. The same with my iPhone. I used my 6 for three years, and I expect to get 4-5 out of my 8 Plus. New iPhones are more expensive and my existing one works just fine. For me to upgrade I need to see real-world improvement; not just benchmarked improvement.

The Hardware Situation

After a trip into Boston where I felt I needed a Sherpa, I made a conscious effort to return to a belief I had strayed away from: iPhone +11. That means on most trips out of the house, I will bring my iPhone and one other device. Too often this year I felt I was bringing a MacBook (Pro or Air), iPad, and iPhone. It was too much, and I wasn’t using the devices to justify the load. It is not a hard and fast rule, but for me to bring both I really need to feel that the two devices are needed.

Once I readopted this philosophy, I also found myself leaving the iPad at home. Some of this is the Logitech Slim Combo case bulks the iPad up to where my 11” MacBook Air is lighter, and iPadOS still presenting a few barriers. All that said, most of the time when I leave the house it is to go to work, where I can’t use personal devices as my primary work computer. I do use my own stuff for supplemental tasks like taking notes. All my work notes end up in OneNote, but I am thinking of going back to just using my iPad and Pencil to take handwritten notes.

At the end of the yearly theme, the winners are: MacBook Pro first; iPad second; and MacBook Air is the third choice. The few times I feel I need both, the Air and iPad will be the first choice.

Writing Apps

The main evaluation I wanted to complete in 2019 was a decision on writing apps. All my other apps are situational, and the task at hand will drive the proper app. Writing, however, is pretty much just pushing the cursor to the right.

The winner at the end of the year is Ulysses and IA Writer. Ulysses iI use for about 95% of my writing, and the odd use case it can’t handle, I will use IA Writer. A blog post I am working on uses tables. Ulysses doesn’t support them, so I will use IA writer for that.

The main requirement I walked away from at the year was my writing tools needed to be flexible between macOS and iOS. This is why Scrivener loses out. The iOS version is not as feature-complete as the macOS version and uses a modal Dropbox sync. Scrivener may be the final step for a long-form publication, but I will not be using it as the main writing apps.

Cloud Storage

This was a challenging evaluation. I waffled between all the major players: OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud. My goal was to get to one for the main file storage. I would count iCloud+1 if I only used iCloud for apps that wrote to their own folders, but the bulk of my files were in say, Dropbox. At the end of the year, I ended up just using iCloud. I decided that paying for Dropbox was basically leasing a hard drive, so I moved all of my files to iCloud and uninstalled all of the other cloud providers. I am hoping that later versions of iOS will enable the promised iCloud Drive improvements. This does make syncing files between my MacBooks something I need to make sure happens. I keep the Air closed and plugged in, so sync doesn’t happen in the background. Every now and then I make sure everything syncs up ok.

2020’s Yearly Theme

The Year of Evaluation was a bridge year to my planned 2020 theme: Creativity. My desire was by evaluating tools and processes in 2019, I’d just get it out of my system. So far, it is working well. Creativity is a vague theme that is basically fuck off less. Working on my trains, Tableau, photo editing, etc. all count as creativity. The year is just getting going, but I am feeling great about my progress so far.

  1. And, if I am honest, just the iPhone is enough most times.

A Very Geeky Analysis of 8 Months of Data Collection on Running Trains

I rejoined my model railroad club in 2016. Over those 3 years, I had a feeling I ran certain trains and locomotives more than others. Since I work as an analyst, I decided to do some data collection on this. This post is a geeky analysis of how I collected the data, the results, and the plan for this year.

The Collection Goals

My goals for this exercise were simple: how often did I run specific locomotives and specific trains1. For example, how often did I run my Erie Lackawanna SD45s, and how often did I run my coal train?

Collecting the Data:

In the beginning, I just kept a Numbers file with the following information:

Date Reporting Mark Engines Train Name
4/13/19 EL SD45s Freight
4/13/19 UP WideCabs Freight

It was basic information. The date the train ran, the road name of the engines pulling the train, the specific engines that I ran, and a generic name of the train. The challenge of modeling two eras is I do need to be specific on the locomotives and trains. I can’t run my Erie Lackawanna power on a modern train since the railroad ceased to exist in 1976.

By the end of the year, I realized the information was too basic. In the case of the Union Pacific train, generalizing the locomotives made sense since I only had two UP locomotives. By the end of the year, I had four engines that were era-appropriate. I had to get more specific, but not screw up my count. If I ran the coal train with 4 engines, I wanted to count the train running once, and each of the engines running once, but I didn’t want to count the coal train running four times. So, I couldn’t list each of the locomotives as running a coal train since that would inflate the count.

I also didn’t want to track how many laps around the layout each train ran. I thought about it, but decided there were too many variables. A good example is a train I am making adjustments too at the club. I may make 5 laps with it, but I am adjusting problematic cars. Meanwhile, the train that runs fine may only make one lap. I decided I didn’t care about that data. I also didn’t care often a specific locomotive ran a specific train.

In the end, I ended up with a Numbers spreadsheet with the following data:

Date Reporting Mark Engines Train Name Train Class
12/7/2019 UP SD70ACE UPFRT1 Manifest
12/7/2019 UP ES44AC DPU No count
12/7/2019 CSX SD40-2 DPU No count

This is a single entry for one train running: UPFTR1. I got away from generic names, and now most trains have detailed names. What this entry notes is on 12/7/2019 I ran my UP Freight. Pulling the train were 3 engines (two UP and one CSX). DPU is a railroading term for Distributed Power Unit — typically power that runs mid- or end-of-train. I adopted it to mean any additional power that runs on a train. This means that I can get a single count for running the SD70ACE, the ES44AC, and the SD40, but keeping the count for UPFRT1 as one. Train class is a higher-level designation to see how often I ran a manifest, passenger, etc., train2. A No Count entry just means don’t count the two DPU units as Manifest train. It’s just a value to filter out in the report. As with the train name, I only care about one train class per train name. Now, if I run two different manifest trains with the same power on each, then I want two counts. There is also a count for running locomotives during the club’s operating session, but I didn’t need much specificity on the usage.

There is also a worksheet that lists all of my locomotives and rolling stock. The rolling stock also shows what cars the train is currently assigned to.

Analyzing the Data

I was just using a variety of CountIF statements in Numbers. When the data I collected was basic this worked ok. As I wanted to do a deeper analysis on this the limits of CountIFs became a burden. Adjusting each of the CountIFs as I changed the naming was a pain. Numbers doesn’t really support pivot tables, and even then, I wanted a little more flexibility and ease of use.

Enter Tableau.

I use Tableau at work infrequently as a reporting package. I was rusty and wanted to try and keep sharp on using the tool. Tableau doesn’t support Numbers as a data source, so I moved it into Google Sheets.

Tableau made short work of filtering out the data. I could exclude the No Counts, filter out a few other things. Counting operating sessions became more of an aside.

While I cared more about locomotives and trains, the rolling stock sheet also lets me easily print out a grouped list for when I go to the shows. This way I can reduce the likelihood I buy a duplicate car.

Results of the data

Train Class Run Count
Passenger 25
Manifest 20
Unit 12
Operations 7
Local 5
Steam 2
Grand Total 71

I am not going to get into the specific trains run. Instead, I will just talk about the high-level view: the train class.

That passenger trains were around 30% of the total train types run does not surprise me. There are two reasons for this: they are my favorite type of train to run, and they are the easiest to set up and run. Each of my passenger trains can be stored and transported in one storage bin, locomotives included. If I am only going to be at the club for a short time, or just want something easy to set up, the passenger train is my usual choice.

There are only three trains that I classify as Unit trains (Coal, Grain, and Intermodal), so I was a little surprised to see them count as high as they did. Numbers-wise, it’s a wash on them. I ran the Intermodal 5 times, the coal train 4, and the grain 3. The grain train was the last train I put together, so it being low is unsurprising. After thinking about it, I like the look of passenger trains, and unit trains — where all the cars are the same type — have the same look.

Operations is just a catch-all that I ran units 6 times at the club operating sessions. From a data collection standpoint, it is hard to define. For instance, if I loan out a locomotive, how do I count it? For now, I am just noting a train class of Operations for the entire day, and counting which units I ran at each session.

Collecting Data in 2020.

The main item I am looking forward to in 2020 is getting an entire year’s data. I decided to gather the data in July 2019, and only had verifiable data from February onwards3.

I also decided I am going to collect data on the laps run. I don’t know what it will tell me due to a lot of variables that affect running trains: how long am I at the club; how the layout behaving; and how well my train is running4. I decided at least for 2020 I would collect the data to see if there are trains that make more laps than others. It’s easier to collect that from the start of the year.

Another goal that I am carrying over from 2019 is to not cook the books and run a train just to inflate a run count. I do track the last time I ran a train, so I will use that to run a train I haven’t run in a while. There is one train I haven’t run since July, so that is a candidate for running soon.

I am also tracking car usage. Mostly the date the car ran, the train it ran on, and its current assignment. Since the Google Sheets roster is kept up-to-date, it’s a quick cut and paste when I run a train. I can also capture if a car ran on multiple trains on a single visit.

Admittedly, this was a solution in need of a problem. It started with just ticking off a virtual sheet running a train and a locomotive and ended with a 5-tab Google Sheet fed into a Business Intelligence tool. Two goals were met: I have some data on running trains, and I got better at data collection and analysis.

If you are curious about the data, I posted the Viz here. There is a lot in the Viz I didn’t cover in the post, and the average laps data is obviously only going to be accurate for 2020.


  1. I didn’t really care about how often specific locomotives ran specific trains ↩︎
  2. I made a late-year change to make trains that ran cars of the same type (Coal, Grain, etc.) Unit Trains. ↩︎
  3. I’m not sure I am missing much. Grad School meant I didn’t get to the club much. ↩︎
  4. A poorly running train could require a lot of fixing, and thus more laps for testing. ↩︎

iPad Life: (Almost) Four Years of the iPad Pro

Next February will be four years since I bought the first-generation 12.9” iPad Pro. It’s the first iPad I purchased as mainly a creation, not consumption, device. I wrote about my thoughts on the Pro a year in, and this is a follow-up to that article.

A Privileged, Superfluous, Device

The reality of my iPad Pro usage is if the device died1, I wouldn’t replace it — at least not with another Pro. This is also why I have not invested in a new iPad. I still feel this iPad is enough for me. Four years in, my simple conclusion to the iPad Pro is: it proves valuable enough to my general workflows to justify using it, but not indispensable enough to replace or upgrade it. Not upgrading is an easy conclusion. I don’t feel my 12.9″ is slow, nor is the move to USB-C and the slimmer design a stress point. The device works fine, so it doesn’t need to be upgraded.

My reasons for not replacing will come out through this piece, but while the iPad is a joy to use, and I love creating on it, there really isn’t much I do on the iPad I can’t do on a Mac.

An Alternate Universe, In Which I Bought a MacBook, Instead of the 11” Air

In February 2015 I bought my 11” Air. In March, Apple announced the 12” MacBook for an April ship date. If the series of technical failures that resulted in the purchase of the Air occurred 2 months later, I would have bought the 12” instead of the 11”. Mainly, for the retina screen. The reason I got the 11” was for maximum portability, and the 12” would fit that use case.

If that happened, I am not sure I would have bought the iPad Pro, or my 15” Pro. The MacBook would be an ideal mobile creation tool. If I did get the iPad Pro, I doubt I would also have bought the Smart Keyboard, and instead just used the Pencil for note-taking and drawing, and bring the MacBook for writing.

The minimalist in me wants one device to rule them all. Having an iPad and MacBooks Air and Pro is, at times, excessive. I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to mentally resolve this with no real outcome, other than to maintain the status quo.

The Ideal Mobile Creation Device

My main creative output is: writing, editing photos, and light drawing/note taking. My ideal mobile writing tool prior to the iPad Pro (IPP) was my 11″ MacBook Air. That little laptop still kicks ass, and will the subject of a future article. While the IPP is larger (and thicker, when in its keyboard case) than the Air, the spirit of a mobile platform to write on is also present in the iPad. If I want leave the house and just write, most often the iPad will be that device.

All mobile solutions for an iPad need to remember the iPad is first and foremost a touch device that can be used in a multitude of angles and positions. Jamming the tablet into a contraption like the Brydge keyboard gets away from the pure form of the tablet. While a keyboard is essential for quick and accurate typing, I also feel it should take just a quick tug to convert it back to a tablet. I have the Logitech (not-so) Slim Keyboard, and while the back of the tablet is encased in silicon, the smart keyboard is quickly detachable. I prefer the old Smart Keyboard Cover, but Apple doesn’t make them for the original 12.9 any more, and I had reliability problems with them at any rate.

In the extreme digital minimalist situation, my Computer in the Woods would be a device running Procreate, Ulysses, and Affinity Photo. Those three apps are critical to my creative process; everything else is a distraction. I have thought about doing this, too. In fits of pique where I feel I am just not advancing my creative goals, I think of wiping my devices down to those applications. It’s an ascetic form of minimalism, to be sure.

The Pencil, and the Myth of Drawing

In the original review, I commented:

What pushed me over the line was a strong desire to get back into drawing, and rather than spend the cash on a really good drawing tablet, I could get the iPad Pro and a Pencil. There are plenty of apps that let you draw on the iPad. I wanted the freedom of movement the iPad offered.

I haven’t done enough drawing to justify the iPad. I do use the Pencil for taking notes in meetings, but my drawing is limited to just doodling. It is clear to me that over the last four years, my unwillingness to draw overtakes the desire to do anything about it. I have no solutions to this, other than an observation that clearly drawing isn’t the priority I hoped it would be.

iPad Only, and Why I Can’t

Ergonomics, and side issues like needing to work from home via our remote desktop system, I could suffice with the iPad as my only device. It would be a lean existence, with no games I like to play. There are rare times I need to print, and my printer isn’t AirPrint compatible. I do have a Alienware Alpha that is my file and media server. I could offload gaming and printing to that. Right now though, nothing technology-related needs to change, so I am not expending much effort on that.

Edge cases and side issues are only outliers until they become the task you need to do right then. At that point the inability do to those isn’t quaint; it’s a roadblock. The iPad is the least flexible of my devices. Let’s imagine a world in which the iPad is my only non-phone device. If I know in advance I am going to work from home, I can bring my work laptop home2. But, on unplanned days off, the inability to effectively use Horizon View on my iPad is a deal breaker. Sure, there is an app, but tasks like right-clicking are a pain in the ass. I would not want to work a full 8-plus hour day off the iPad app.

Also, no one I know that is “iPad-only” is 100% on the iPad. Federico Viticci still uses a Mac to record podcasts.3 Matt Gemmell uses Scrivener to create the final PDFs for his paperback books. Edge cases, again, until they are needed.

Doing a week to 30-day iPad-only challenge would likely be possible. At the least it would let me assess what is important and what is not.

The Challenges of iPad Productivity

In MacPower Users #512, David Sparks confessed he bought a 16” MacBook Pro. Now, granted, David has pretty much no self-control when it comes to tech, but his reasoning was solid: the iPad is a great laptop-alternative, until it’s not. He was going on a trip he needed to do some heavy Excel work, and the iOS version of Excel was not fit for this purpose.

The iPad has come a long way since its inception in 2010, but not far enough since the release of the Pro. Some of this is to be expected. The initial Pro was a solution in search of a problem. The OS and apps took a while to adjust to the idea of Pro use cases. Ulysses was always a capable iPad app, but apps like Ferrite really showed that you could use an iPad for previously Mac-only tasks, like podcast editing.

iOS now is more capable of heavy tasks. The Files app in iOS 13 is close to a Finder-level app on iOS. We can finally access the On my iPad storage as a local storage device. Previously, that area was hidden away for app usage only. We can connect external storage, and connect to servers. Where it falls apart still is accessing (and editing) Cloud-files when not connected to a network. On the Mac, your Dropbox and iCloud Drive files can be set to keep a local copy. You can’t do that on the iPad. A future release of iOS will let you pin a folder for offline use, but for now you need to make sure files you want to edit are stored offline before hitting the road.

Another challenge is app developers. The developers of Ulysses, Ferrite, and the Affinity apps treat the iPad a first-class citizen. The majority of other apps (Scrivener, Microsoft Office, AutoCad) treat the iPad as secondary device. The unspoken thought is: that iPad is fine for doing some light work and editing, but to do the heavy lifting you will still want to use a Mac.

The Trickle-down Effect of the Pro

One area I think the iPad Pro was successful at is beginning the sea change that iPads are capable creation devices. Now, previously Pro features like the Pencil and Smart Keyboard are available on almost every iPad (the ASK can’t work on the Mini). This means for less than the price of a Pro iPad, you can get a regular-sized iPad, a Pencil, and the Smart Keyboard. A year ago, my iPad Pro dying would likely end up with me abandoning the iPad. Getting a Pro, a new Pencil, and a new Keyboard case would run me more than just getting a MacBook Pro. I wouldn’t replace it as a productivity device. I would just go back to writing on my MacBook Air or Pro. I would feel comfortable spending $1700 on an iPad solution if it could truly become my only device. When it’s a secondary device, not so much. When I priced out a 10.5” Air, with a new Smart Keyboard, it was $800 since I can use my existing Pencil. That is easier to justify, since I do use the Pencil a fair amount.

 

  1. I dropped it on a hard floor right as I typed that. Sometimes you do tempt fate.
  2. I am NOT dragging that thing home every night.
  3. Federico does have an iPad recording setup, but I don’t know if he uses it all the time.

I Am a Model Railroader, Like My Father Before Me

Kids and trains, man, they’re like kids and dinosaurs.

My father was an avid model railroader and built a sprawling empire in the basement of our home. Trains in some form were a constant in my life as long as I can remember. I have memories of standing by train tracks in all sorts of weather waiting to see one; me running his trains too fast on his home layout. “Faster, Daddy, Faster,” I would shout as a five-year old.

Dad grew up on the Erie Lackawanna main line in New York. He modeled that railroad for nostalgia purposes, I imagine. When I got into the hobby as a young adult, I also favored the Erie Lackawanna. I’m not sure why I did. It would be on brand for me to model the more modern railroads with the wide cab locomotives and double-stack container trains, as well as to buck my dad’s influence. Maybe it was as simple as I liked the paint scheme and wanted to be able to borrow his trains to run with mine. We were both members of the North Shore Model Railroad club, and enjoyed running our trains on the massive layout. Life got in the way and we had to resign our membership 20 years ago.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009. In 2011 he succumbed.

During the years he was fighting the disease he wanted to build a small switching layout in a spare bedroom. He bought some locomotives and rolling stock, replacing what he didn’t want any more from the earlier layout. I also never got rid of my collection. It sat in Rubbermaid bins for almost 20 years following me from apartment to apartment and to my current house. After he died, his Rubbermaid bins sat next to mine. It was a crowded closet.

Three years ago I was feeling creatively restless. I was still in contact with my friend Jeff and we had tried forming a few bands to keep in music. He was still a member of the North Shore train club and I decided to rejoin the club. I was struggling with writing and drawing as creative outlets. Working on trains felt like a way to be creative but engaging a different part of my brain.

This is when I became thankful that I modeled the same railroad as Dad. It was easy to mix-and-match the trains. At first I tried to keep the collections separate and sometimes just run Dad’s trains. About a year ago, I merged the train collections fully. I store complete trains sets in plastic bins to run at the club. One bin is mostly Dad’s trains with a handful of mine mixed in. It wasn’t intentional; it just worked out that a lot of his cars looked good together. I was up at the club Father’s Day weekend. I didn’t give it much thought as I grabbed “Dad’s Bin” on the way out the door. It was more a case of thinking, I haven’t run those cars in a while. I wonder if everything is adjusted properly? During a pass on the layout it hit me: These are Dad’s cars, and it is Father’s Day. I had a tear in my eye, but a smile on my face. I felt his presence strongly, happy that his trains were being run.

Working with trains still helps me feel close to my Dad. It would be the same even if I modeled a different railroad, or a different era1. I know the reason he wanted to build a model railroad was his way of fighting the disease. He was still active in the Erie Lackawanna Historical Society’s mailing list and would ask questions about the layout he had in mind.

This past weekend, a lot of my feelings about Dad, trains, and his influence on me all came to a head. We held the annual open house for my train club. It is one of the few times a year we are truly open to the public and it’s the model railroader’s version of a fancy dress ball. A lot of members bring out their best trains — the trains that a lot of work and effort went into. I ran a train that had one of Dad’s locomotives and a baggage car he had been working on. My claustrophobia tends to act up during the show when the small aisles of the layout get crowded, so I usually stay in the back working one of the staging yards to help members get trains on, and off, the layout. I was at my post when I saw Dad’s train go by. I mentioned to the gentleman running the train it was mine, and it turns out he had also grown up on the Lackawanna main line. He mentioned the train was getting a lot of nice compliments as he ran it.

On a later pass I mentioned how the engine and the car were Dad’s and how he bought the engine when he was sick hoping he would be able to run it before he died. He never got the chance. My new friend mentioned that he was sure Dad would be smiling right now seeing it run. I told him I knew he was.

On the second day of the show, I brought one of Dad’s favorite engines — a brass Erie Berkshire — with the hopes of running during the open house. Sadly, the steam engine and a key turnout on the layout didn’t get along so I didn’t run it during the event. At the end of the day, when I had the layout to myself, I ran it around the layout with a cut of cars that were all Dad’s. This is the one train I haven’t cross populated with any of my stuff. The label on the bin just says 1950, the name I gave the train, but it’s really Dad’s Train.

I don’t run that train often. The story I was telling myself is the engine is older than I am. That one day it will stop running and why hasten it? But, I can fix it if that happens. Running it this time, I knew why I don’t run that train often: that is the train that Dad should be running. Running his new engine and the baggage car, I can celebrate his spirit and optimism in trying to defeat a terminal illness.

Running the Erie Berkshire, though, I feel his absence.

  1. I also model the modern day Union Pacific, but the bulk of my collection is 1970s-era Erie Lackawanna.

On Minimalism and Model Trains

I am both a minimalist and a model trains enthusiast. The two are sometimes at odds. Model trains are not an interest that embraces minimalism. Sure, I can have one set of locomotives and cars that I run, but much like eating the same thing every day it gets boring fast.

My minimalism theory is pretty much Marie Kondo’s sparks joy approach. When my dad died in 2011, his train collection merged with mine. This was a little untenable. When I rejoined my train club, I did a purge of both collections. Cars that required to much work to repair were thrown away.

To further make things challenging, earlier this year I switched eras I modeled. My dad and I both modeled the Erie Lackawanna railroad which merged with Conrail in 1976. I couldn’t run any of the modern intermodal trains, or the newer wide cab locomotives. So, I switched to modeling the Union Pacific railroad. I didn’t get rid of my Erie Lackawanna-era stuff since it sparks joy to run it.

However, a lot of the older stuff I have isn’t appropriate for the modern era. In the 70s, 40-foot box cars were often used. Most of the 40’ cars were retired around the turn of the century. This necessitated buying some modern rolling stock. I am intentional with it, though. I have a list of items I look for at a good price: 89’ flat cars, 50-60’ box cars; center beam flat cars; and modern tank cars.

I do hyper-organize my collection. I bought a bunch of clear plastic bins and each bin contains a train, sans caboose and locomotives. They are labeled, so when I head to the club I can just grab the bin with the train I want to run. Every now and then I may move cars from one bin to another, but my overall goal isn’t to load up one train with my favorite cars. Instead, each bin has a collection of cars I enjoy. It is also fun coming up with a story for the train. What is it carrying? Where is coming from?

The bins are also labeled with the name of the train. Not a fancy name like The Lake Shore Limited1, but something like Intermodal, or EL Freight, mostly covered hoppers. When I go up to the club, I just scan the labels for what I am in the mood to run.

The one change I did make to my philosophy is to not toss cars beyond repair. I find I need test subjects for weathering techniques so I keep a bin of bad order cars to experiment on.

  1. Although, if I did model that train, the bin would be labeled as such.

Digital Minimalism: Sorting out Cloud Storage

One of the digital minimalism tenets I use is online (and removable) storage is akin to paying for a storage locker for your physical goods. It is easy to just shove files online or to a USB drive without questioning whether you really need all of those files. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course. It ignores prudent backup strategies. We live in a world where we have multiple devices and we want our stuff on all of those devices.

So while I still pay for cloud storage (iCloud and Dropbox), I do try and be mindful of the shit I throw up there.

iCloud, iOS 13, and Catalina

The simplest solution would be to just use iCloud. I pay for the 256gb option mainly for photo storage, backups, and PDFs in iBooks. There are two main reasons I can’t go all-in on iCloud: Scrivener, and lack of selective/smart sync. Now, selective sync is one of those gray areas for my digital minimalism tenet. After all, if the storage of the files exceeds the storage space on my devices, well, why do I keep it? Honestly, it’s a valid question I don’t have the answer to. It is something I think about often, but for now there are things I don’t need replicated all of my devices.

Scrivener only uses Dropbox for syncing projects between Mac and iOS. This sync method is something that I am factoring in to my pros and cons between Scrivener and Ulysses.

A lot of this changes with the next versions of iOS and macOS. While there isn’t true selective/smart sync, both OSs let me pin a folder to ensure its contents stay downloaded. My limited tests show that a pinned folder will automatically download a newly-added file without any prompting.

Dropbox

Dropbox has a few things going for it. Scrivener works with it. It has true selective/smart sync. It also retains versions and deletion history better than iCloud. Dropbox recently raised its prices from $9.99 to $11.99 a month. This price includes smart sync, which lets you choose a folder to always remain offline. This is handy for my large archive of PDFs. I don’t usually need to have them when I’m not online and can save some disk space.

The Road Forward

I am willing to take the hit on Scrivener at this point if it means moving off Dropbox. Of the apps I use, it is the only one that solely syncs with Dropbox1. I have given myself a few action items before the new OSs are are released this fall.

  • Continue to work and see if pinning continues to work to keep files synced for offline access;
  • Work on moving writing away from Scrivener and into Pages/Ulysses;
  • Take a hard look at that large PDF archive and see if it needs to reside in the cloud.
  1. AutoCAD is the other app that doesn’t use iCloud, but I don’t use the iPad app much.