Playing “Paper and Pencil” Dungeons and Dragons on an iPad.

This is probably one of the more geeky posts I will write. I’m going to go over how I play pencil and paper D&D on my iPad Pro. This post will focus on playing as a regular person; not a Game Master. That may become a separate post.

Twice a year I go to a local gaming convention, TotalCon. For a while I played D&D exclusively. Then for a few years I did board games only. Last year I did a mix of the two. I like running and playing the board games my regular gaming group doesn’t like to play, but I’ve missed playing D&D. Last year I played D&D twice and had a good time. This past weekend they held a one-day gaming event and I got a day of D&D in.

I’ve used my iPad to manage my characters as best I can for a while. D&D 4E was an almost impossible to manage system. The paperwork required for skills, magical effects, and the other minutiae pretty much required access to Wizard’s online character portal. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to get characters in and out of the website. There was an app I had on my iPad that let me handle the day-to-playing of the character. I could track damage, what skills I used, and had a one-button reset of the skills. It worked great.

D&D 5E went back to a more basic play style that did not require as much care and feeding. Wizards also put their online portal into abeyance1. That was fine, since there is a lot less shit to manage these days.

There is also a log sheet we are required to keep. It tracks the module we have played, how many points and gold we were awarded, and any items we received. It is rare any one looks at the sheets, but every now and then someone shows up with an over-geared character and some review will need to happen. What is nice is, only officially-published modules are legal for you to move your character around from place to place. So, it is easy to verify if a module gave out a certain item. For this, I just used a Numbers spreadsheet. Each character had a tab andI would update it.

Most people at the cons use some sort of paper-based character sheet. I don’t like this because I am pretty much anti-paper, and I’m always afraid I will forget (or lose) something I need to bring to play. By storing all the information in the cloud, it is fairly safe and I always have access to it.

The last two times I played, I just used a form-fillable PDF to track the character. This worked out pretty well, It looked good, and it was easy to find stuff. What I noticed both times I used this was my battery life took a big hit. I can’t tell if the app I stored them in wasn’t good at memory management, the app is constantly trying to sync to the server and therefore draining battery, or that’s the nature of pegging the iPad hard. In February and this weekend, each 4-hour session of DND would leave me with around 40% battery. I couldn’t make it through an-all day event. Fortunately, I have a decent battery pack and I can fast-charge my iPad. If it just happened this weekend, I could write it off as some sort of iOS beta weirdness, but in February I was running a release version of the OS.

So, when I got home from the con this week, I decided to roll everything into a Numbers sheet. I found a decent Excel sheet online that I made a few modifications to, and reworked some of the cell functions that may not work properly on the iPad. I also copied the log sheet into its own tab on the document now. So, everything I need for that character is in one place. I am hoping the low graphic footprint of the Numbers sheet also helps battery life.

What is also nice is it is pretty easy to find PDFs of the sourcebook on the internet2. The guy running one of my games was very impressed with how fast I could look up something. He had a suitcase full of stuff. I just had my iPad.

  1. A new version is in beta, but I’m not thrilled with the pricing. That said, it is a great way to quickly handle some of the math behind your character and speed up the leveling process.
  2. Yes, these are PDFs that have “fallen off a truck.”
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A Deeper Look at iWork and Office on iOS for iOS-only

Today, I’m going to look back on the last semester of grad school, and how I would do things different if I was iOS-only. This is the benefit of hindsight. Paths seem clearer when looking back.

In my recent article on Slamming into Walls, I mentioned some issues I had with Office on iOS. A summary of the problems:

  • Cannot edit (or create) styles
  • Does not see side-loaded fonts (I was wrong: it does see the side-loaded fonts. It just dumps them in its own “iOS Fonts” section of the app.)
  • Does not complain about missing fonts
  • Cannot edit document margins

Team Collaboration: The biggest barrier to iOS-only

There was one statement I had on the article that will be relevant to the entire piece: The more you control the output of your job from start-to-finish, the more success you will have with the iPad.

We did three group presentations in this class. The presentations were the one thing that made me hesitant about iOS-only. How PowerPoint handled the custom fonts was pretty poor. I ended up just being “the PowerPoint guy” so I didn’t have to deal with round-tripping files with team mates. I probably could have gone iOS only on all the presentations.

However, where the wheels came off the bus was WebEx. One day, we had to meet via WebEx because we were all remote. The WebEx app on iOS is a blight on humanity for a presenter. I had to send the PowerPoint file to the WebEx app, and it just showed in a scrolling view. Not slides. It just looked like a PDF in preview. It also lost all custom fonts. This app would be a deal-breaker for going iOS-only.

In hindsight, I would create the presentations on the Mac again. In the collaborative setting it was the path of least resistance. I would hate to slow up a working session because I was fighting through some iOS issue.

Writing Papers:

Word and Pages both pissed me off on iOS for different reasons. Word pissed me off because I couldn’t edit the margins. Pages pissed me off because it cannot have one page in a document set for landscape, and the rest portrait. I had one paper that required this format. In Word (on any platform), if I used footnotes it messed up the bottom margin setting and I had to do a custom margin to get it to a true 1” margin. In Pages on iOS I would could do this. One way around this was to not use footnotes. Which would be ok, since I use footnotes and more of an editorial aside. The other weird formatting issue is that professor wanted the bibliography single-spaced, but with an extra line in between entries. On the Mac it was very easy to adjust the paragraph formatting for that section to have 12pts of space after every carriage return; on iOS I couldn’t do that and would have to manually add each return.

The other part of this is storage. I used both iCloud Drive and OneDrive to store all the related bits for class. The Apple way is to have individual components in the app’s folder: Pages stuff in the Pages folder, PDFs in my PDF reader directory. On iOS 10, this is the best way to do it. I found it easier to use OneDrive and dump all the various bits into an OBC500 class folder. The Files app on iOS 11 may change this a little. A part of it is going to take a mindset change as well. The good news is iOS 11 will be out long before our next class, so I will have some time with the Files app.

While both apps pissed me off, the one paper that had the funky formatting required would require me to use Word if I was iOS-only. However, I was far happier with iCloud syncing in Pages. There was one time I was working on the paper on the train and the smart move would have been to have Pages download the file from iCloud, work on the paper, and then have background sync upload the changes when I got on WiFi.

Citation management is actually pretty easy on iPad. It’s the one area I expected to have the most problems, but it ended up being the easiest. I used EasyBib on the web (not app)1 for all my citations. It made referencing web sites and books simple. Just enter in the URL or book name and EasyBib looks up all the information. When you are ready to insert your bibliography just go to Export, and choose Copy and Paste. A separate web view opens. Select the text and copy it into Word and Pages.

I wrote three papers in the last semester. All of them I were candidates for completion on the iPad. The only one that was a little harder was the one with a single landscape page and the rest of the document portrait. Word can handle this perfectly. The issue of adjusting the margins was a minor one. While I tweaked it, submitting it as-is was fine also.

Submitting Papers

It’s also nice that now Safari understands the radical notion of uploading files. Submitting the papers on the iPad would be fine. Reading the feedback from the instructor, however, was a big problem.

The way feedback was provided was entirely within the web front end of Canvas. The Word file was marked up within this web view. On iOS on both Chrome and Safari, the frame where the paper (and feedback) is displayed was cut off. Requesting a desktop version of the page didn’t work. Viewing the grade in the Canvas iOS app didn’t work. Other than the WebEx thing, viewing the teacher’s feedback was the one area where iOS-only slammed into a wall. I just couldn’t find a way around this.

The Next Class

I’m not sure how the next class will go. We don’t have a start date or syllabus yet. Based on how this class went, I think my iOS-usage will go as follows:

  • Writing Papers: I will most likely do all of these on my iPad.
  • Presentations: Solo presentations I will likely do on my iPad. Group presentations will remain in PowerPoint on my Mac. If we are collaborating on PowerPoint files, I will also use fonts available on our standard Windows build at work.2
  • Submitting: Either or. Doesn’t really matter
  • Reading Feedback: Unless the instructor supplies a marked-up Word file, I will have to read the feedback on my Mac or work laptop.
  1. On the iPad Pro, the app is a dumpster fire. It is locked to portrait and looks ugly on my 12.9″ iPad.
  2. The course I am in enrolled in is a benefit from work. All of my classmates were co-workers and the teachers come to us for the classes.

Slamming Into Walls

I wrote a post about how much I love and use my iPad Pro and shoot down some of the myths about doing Real Work(tm) on an iPad. The thought process behind this current post, was a long decision made quickly. It was a difficult decision as I spent a lot of time reconciling where I believe the future of computing to lie, and the reality of where computing is. The hard fact is, I can’t currently do everything I want to on an iPad. Updates to iOS or the iPad Pro hardware may well ease some of the frustrations I have with iOS, but I need to solve problems with today’s solutions; not hoping for tomorrow’s1.

So, I bought a MacBook Pro, Late 2016 model.

Before this sounds like one of those “Guy Goes iPad-only; gives up and goes back to the Mac” let me dispel that notion: I still use my iPad as much I did. It is still my primary writing and drawing tool. I sat in 16 hours of discovery sessions recently and the only time I used my Mac was when I was in a weird sitting angle. The Smart Keyboard still isn’t good for using the Pro on the lap. When I go to work on stuff, assuming it’s something the iPad can handle, it’s the device I reach for first. I’m writing this post right now on Ulysses on the Mac2 mainly to get the feel for the app, and to get used to the keyboard.

In that post, I hinted at something like this the line: I can’t currently go iOS-only. I still use a Mac. (…) Certainly, my use of iOS will only grow over the years. Right now, when I hit a wall in iOS I don’t graze it; I slam right into it.

The other school of thought I have with iPad-only is this: The more you control the output of your job from start-to-finish, the more success you will have with the iPad.3 My day job requires collaborating on Visio diagrams. If I were a consultant whose final output was a PDF of the diagrams, I could do it all on OmniGraffle on the iPad.

The last time I got a computer for power it was in June 2011. I got a MacBook Pro 15” — the 2.0GHz model with the 256mb video card. I was getting divorced at the time and was in a housing situation that was fluid. My ex and I were trying to give each other space, so we were frequently at other houses. I was also wrapping up my degree and needed a computer to work anywhere from. I loved that Pro. It’s one of the last where you could replace the hard drive, RAM, and even take out the optical drive and put in a data doubler to get a second drive.4

A few years later, a sequence of tech failures at the Casa had me hand down the beloved Pro to my mate and I got an 11” MacBook Air. When I got the Air, I made a conscious decision to sacrifice power for portability. iOS wasn’t yet at the point where I could even think about using it for work, and my iPad was an iPad 3. Those models were pretty much doomed to be slow from the start.

But, a lot of the barriers to getting work done on iPad started to go away, and last year I was able start using my iPad Pro as my main mobile device. While the iPad is still a device I will use every day, as I mentioned in the Year with the iPad Pro article, some gaps remain between the iPad and macOS. For those, I needed to turn to the Air and the MacBook Pro. Lately, though, they were starting to get too slow for me to get work done. The close to final moment came when I was sorting through some DNG files — not even in Lightroom mind you; Quick Look — on the Pro and the lag, sputters, and fan noises were too much to take. Neither of them had Retina screens and that was starting to drive me crazy.5 Even with an SSD in the Pro, the slower Sandy Bridge processor was starting to show its age. The Air ran a little bit faster, but not much. I needed a Mac. I got the 15” Pro with a 512gb SSD drive. I thought about the MacBook Adorable, but felt it was too slow for my needs.

There are a few things I do that I need a Mac for: working in AutoCad; Lightroom; and programming iOS and macOS apps. I’m not expecting to be able to do these tasks on an iPad for at least 2-3 years.

I feel the biggest thing holding the iPad back is software. Not once have I felt my iPad Pro was slow. Here is a good example of a use-case where you think the iPad would do ok, but for ease of use I chose the Mac: Presentations for grad school. My presentation style is heavily-influenced by Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen. Lots of images; little text. Almost all of my fonts are non-standard fonts. My last presentation used ChunkFive and ComiCrazy. Adding fonts on my Mac is easy. I have the system Fonts folder on my sidebar in Finder. I drag the fonts I want to add there. I download images I find on Google to the folder for the presentation. I download more images than I use. I then drag them into PowerPoint.

On the iPad I ran into a couple of problems. Adding fonts isn’t natively supported. Instead, I use AnyFont to create a profile on my iPad for each font, and sometimes font style (bold, etc). This was annoying. I also found out the hard way that PowerPoint on iOS ignores the custom fonts anyway, so I’d have to build the presentation in Keynote6. I could save the images to my Photos library but I don’t want to pollute it with images I wouldn’t hang on to7. I can use a menu in Keynote for iPad to insert images from iCloud Drive (or any cloud storage), but it’s a painful process. This is likely to change with iOS 11 and Drag and Drop. My next class, though, all bets could be off. I may be on a different team and not have as much control over the slides as I do now. For the last presentation I also downloaded a song from the internet and cut out all but the first 30 seconds of it. I probably could have used GarageBand on ioOS to do this.

What is frustrating are the things you would think would be pretty easy on an iPad, but aren’t. On iOS in Pages and Word, I cannot edit or create document styles. It will accept custom styles in a document I created outside of iOS, however. I had a 12-page paper that I wrote almost entirely on the Mac. I am running the iOS 11 beta 1 on my iPad and I didn’t trust an important production document to a beta. A blog post, sure. Something that is 20% of my grade with a hard due date? Nope. The other reason is Word for iOS has just enough limitations that I didn’t want to run into a wall. I can’t seem to adjust the spacing between paragraphs, for example. I can adjust the overall line spacing, though. I also couldn’t adjust the margins of the document. The professor had stringent formatting requirements and I was unable to make the adjustments on the iPad. I may have been able to use Ulysses to do this. The instructor was firm on .doc formatting, so it was safer to stay native in Word.

I played it safe this semester at school. It was a 14-week class jammed into 10 weeks and I had no time for any false starts. There were a few times during class – including one emergency during a group presentation – where I was damn glad I had the MacBook, and that it was in my bag. Without the group presentations I probably would have felt more comfortable using the iPad more. Since half the assignments were group projects, it was just easier to have the Mac as the central source for working on school.

  1. Most of this was written before the June 5, 2017 keynote. My original point stands about the situation when I got the Mac. That said, while iOS 11 helps with this, it doesn’t solve all the problems.
  2. What’s really funny is, right after I typed that in Ulysses crashed. It’s never crashed on iOS.
  3. Assuming it’s not a technical job like application programmer.
  4. A friend at work is a big Mac fan, so I packed it up and gave it to him. I wanted it to find a good home.
  5. Every now and then, I wonder how getting the baseline 13” Retina MacBook Pro back then would have made a long-term difference.
  6. This would add another layer to sharing the file with classmates.
  7. Plus, when I was adding images into the slides when collaborating with team mates, I didn’t want them to see my personal photos.

WWDC Hot Takes

So, a few quick words about the WWDC stuff. I’m not going too mention the WatchOS and tvOS improvements. I love my Watch, but few of the improvements interest me. I do not have one of the new Apple TVs.

High Sierra

A lot of under-the-hood stuff. It feels like Apple is definitely going into a tick-tock release schedule for maOS. This is the “tock” year. I like the better Messages storing across the board. Faces in Photos syncing across devices is nice also. The Safari auto-blocking auto-playing ads, and blocking tracking is nice.

VR is long game, but I felt this year is where Apple worked to shoot down the “Mac can’t do VR” argument. Plus selling an eGPU for $600 is nice. Metal 2 is nice, but not a lot of games I play take advantage of Metal anyway.

iCloud file sharing is a welcome addition as well.

What I was expecting, but didn’t get, was a way to use your iPad Pro as a sort of Wacom tablet.

iOS 11

So, in general the iOS 11 stuff is nice. The iCloud stuff across the board also included iOS. Better Control Panel interface, and the new Camera features are awesome. Camera will now help you take better photos of things like waterfalls. That was a great demo about the setup required for those types of photos. Instead of screwing with aperture and shutter speeds, you just press a button.

However, if what Craig talked about for iOS 11 was it, I was going to start a blog post titled, “Apple to iPad Pro Users: Fuck You.” Another year with no iPad-specific features would have made me walk away from the iPad as a productivity tool.

We got some nice features for iPad users, though. The Dock at the bottom now stores more apps. I can fit 15 apps on my 12.9” iPad. There are also 3 slots to the right of the Dock where the last 3 apps you have launched are stored. Oddly, Apple still has the same icon spacing on the Home screen. I think the Dock is where Apple wants you to store your apps now. It gets a little crowded with a lot of apps. What is nice, is the app order stays the same when you rotate the screen. This does eliminate one of the chief problems I had with the iPad: when I rotated it, my app placement would change. It was messing up my muscle memory. What I am going to do is put my 15 most-used apps on the Dock, and keep the 2nd tier apps in folders on the second screen. That Dock on the bottom is going to take some getting used to, though.

The Dock will be important because Apple finally, finally, made significant changes to the god-awful app switcher. Now, the primary way to bring an app up into Split View is to swipe up at the bottom of the screen to un-hide the Dock,and drag the app up into the workspace. Apple also now remembers your app pairing in something akin to Mission Control. You activate this but sliding up more when you show the Dock. It’s like a two step process: slide up to show the Dock, slide up more to get to Mission Control. You can also drag-and-drop between the two apps. It’s a fairly feature-rich drag-and-drop. You can grab multiple files and drag them into a mail message. It seems like it’s all still within Split View, so that may take a little bit to get used to.

Scanning documents and then signing them is amazing. The biggest problem with any of the scanning apps was getting the crookedness out of the scan was kind of a pain in the ass. The inline marking up across the board was nice. PDF editing in iBooks was interesting. I’m not sure how you’ll get the PDF out of iBooks, but I haven’t tried that.

The Files app is Finder for iOS, but they didn’t call it Finder. I remember a few years ago hoping Apple would create a Documents app to store this stuff in. Now, they have. The Files app will also work with cloud storage providers like OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive once the providers make their app compatible. The Files app works weirdly. I like that you can now have a Favorites area, where you can store oft-used folders and files. I like I can select multiple files. What I don’t like is that a long-standing problem I have had with iOS still exists, and in fact, is worse. When you add something to iCloud Drive via the document picker, it expands every fucking folder on your iCloud Drive. The only thing that made it useable was I could name a folder @something and it would stay at the top of the list. Now, those @something folders are buried in the mess that is the expanded drive. It’s just an useable mess. Also, in the Files app if I select a file and choose move (which brings up that fucking interface), everything but the folder (and sub folders within) the file resides in are grayed out. I have to add the target folder to the Favorites. Dragging the file there copies it, instead of moving it.

The iPad as a Productivity Device

We are getting there, though. I’ve got a longer piece sitting there half-edited about the reasons I ended up buying a MacBook Pro. Most of those reasons remain, but the pain of working on an iPad starting to go away.

The Files app is a big improvement, but it has some pains that need to be overcome. If I navigate down to a Word file in Files to open it, it is opening iThoughts for some reason; not Word. I can copy it to Word, but I can’t right now edit-in-place a Word file in iCloud. Maybe Microsoft will finally embrace interfacing directly with iCloud Drive this year. Even in iOS 10, it is still a weird dance to get Office files in and out of iCloud Drive.

It’s hard to tell right now how the improvements to iOS 11 will help productivity. Drag and Drop right now only works in apps that are part of the iOS 11 beta. It will be nice being able to just store images in a folder and drag them into a presentation rather than pollute my Photos library with them.

The problem is that damn iCloud extension. I can’t believe Apple made it worse. If it ships like that, I just have an even harder time being more productive on iOS. It’s just completely broken. This is something that has plagued iOS since iOS 10 beta 1. If it still persists in iOS 11 beta 1, I have a fear it will never get fixed.

Also I will not be getting the new 10.5″ iPad. I still feel the 12.9″ is the canonical Pro.

Did Apple Hint Tuesday At Using iPad Pros as Wacom-style Tablets?

In Matt Panzerinos take on the Apple PR Event about how, no, they aren’t abandoning the Mac Pro, I spotted this gem when asked about touch screen Macs:

So Apple’s path will not lead them down the direction of touch Mac screens, as they’ve stated. Instead, Federighi suggests that making the iPad Pro, which they feel has a better drawing experience, work better with the Mac is the answer.

“We recognize customers often use both— we all certainly use both — so we’re really focused on making them work well together,” he says.

My prediction: Apple in iOS 11 and macOS 10.whateverthehelltheycallit will allow you to use the iPad Pro as a touch device for your Mac. The obvious use case is artists in Photoshop. You can do this now with Astropad, but It’s not a stretch to see it baked into the base OS.

A Year of Using the iPad Pro as a Laptop Replacement

It was the Pencil that got me.

When the 12.9″ iPad Pro1 was announced, I was interested, yet skeptical. I wasn’t sure of the weight and the size. I had just purchased an iPad Air 2 and really liked it. I was outside of the return window so I figured my next iPad would be the Pro, and that was the end of that.

In February, after reading about what Federico Viticci was able to do with the iPad Pro, I spent some of my tax return money on the iPad Pro. I was still a little skeptical. It was large, heavy, and I felt the 9.7″ iPad was still the optimal size. But, I could tell that iOS had really grown and was now something I could consider using as my main portable OS. This was not the case when I purchased my MacBook Air a few years ago. Still, I was willing to concede that perhaps I just had a case of wanting the new shiny. 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.

About a month later I got the Apple Smart Keyboard and that’s about the time I stopped bringing my MacBook Air with me every day. I still get some shit about the size of the iPad. The people at work at first were like, Holy crap, look at the size of that thing!2 A friend’s daughter always asks me, “What do you need to do with something that large?”3 In the year I’ve had the iPad Pro, I’ve seen only two4 in the wild. It’s not that I don’t get out. I’ve walked through a university cafeteria (a medical school, so that may skew things). I’ve seen more new MacBook Pros (4) than I have iPad Pros (2). I can’t tell how many of the smaller iPads I’ve seen are the Baby Pros.

Interacting with the iPad

I believe the best accessory you can get for your iPad Pro is the Apple Smart Keyboard (ASK). Other keyboards, like the Logitech Create, may be better keyboards. but they add too much bulk to the Pro. If you are using the Baby Pro, the Logitech Create may be a better option than the ASK. Matt Gemmell seems to think so.

Tapping the screen on the Pro, I can understand why Apple is hesitant to bring a full touch interface to macOS. It gets tiring tapping the screen on the Pro when I have a keyboard attached. The best recommendation I have is if you do use an external keyboard with the Pro, is to start memorizing and using the keyboard shortcuts.I can’t tell you how much time and physical energy they save me. What I would love is the ability to use keyboard shortcuts with the virtual keyboard. Maybe in iOS 11 Apple will add Control, Option, and Command keys to the on-screen keyboard.

One area I think the MacBook is superior to the iPad is the trackpad and keyboard placement makes it more comfortable to interact with the device for a long period of time. Even using keyboard shortcuts there is still a lot of tapping on the screen. If the on-screen keyboard was just a little bit better I’d probably just use that.

Creating

My two main creative endeavors are drawing and writing. A key app for my creating on the iPad is Ulysses. Ulysses has become my single-source of writing on the iPad. I use it almost every day. Every blog post is written on it. My long-form writing also resides there. I’ve never once lost a document or had a syncing error. It just works. I do have Scrivener, but what I don’t like about it is it’s intended to be just a companion app to the desktop version. Your export options are limited. The developer wants you to finish your compiles and exports via the desktop app. On the one hand, I like how all of my writing is one Ulysses document; on the other I like Scrivener’s “an individual file for each piece of work” is appealing. Scrivener’s sync is a little too manual for me to like it, or trust it. Ulysses has never had a sync error and I like that it uses CloudKit. It does indeed, Just Work.

I am starting to think about using Pages more as well. The new release allows for RTF export and bookmarking. When I start school I’m going to explore using Pages as my primary authoring tool.

Unfortunately, I’m not drawing as much as I’d like a year later. I still draw more with the iPad than I would traditionally, but it’s something I need to increase. My main app is Procreate, but I doodle5 with Adobe Draw as well.

With the iPad Pro, I feel like the excuses and reasons I don’t create are just that: excuses and reasons. I can write and draw anywhere I have my iPad. I always have the iPad with me, so there’s no excuse. Just creative laziness on my part.

Cloud Services

There are things about iOS that drive me bananas. iOS is my favorite platform to download a PDF and upload it to a cloud service. Unless, oddly enough, that cloud service is iCloud. iCloud expands every single folder when you invoke the share extension. It is functionally impossible to locate the specific folder you want to upload the file to. So, all my uploads go to my OneDrive account instead. The lack of selective file sync on iCloud Drive on macOS is a hindrance from going iCloud-only. So, I’m screwed both ways with iCloud Drive. I can’t save the file easily from iOS, but I can’t do selective sync on macOS. It would be nice on macOS if they did something similar to Dropbox infinite, where I can tell a folder to only store data in the cloud, but make the folder and contents available via WiFi.

I’ve got 100g of scans on OneDrive I’m not sure where else to put them. That said, as a minimalist they are starting to feel like the digital version of a storage locker. I’m thinking of downloading them all to a removable drive and throwing them in a drawer someplace. The primary reason I think about paying for a cloud storage plan is storing them. I do download them every so often, but it feels like a “just in case” thing. I can’t replace them in 20 minutes, which is the point the minimalists make, but they aren’t critical files by any measure.

Office 365, OneNote, and OneDrive

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Office 365 scattered through the sections, so it might just be easier to collate them all here.

Outside of the digital junk drawer, the main reason I keep my Office 365 subscription is Office for the iPad. The 12.9″ iPad falls outside of Microsoft’s free version for Office. I use Office just enough for it all to be worthwhile. $80 a year for 1TB of storage and the Office Apps isn’t bad. Now, I could use my school’s Office 356 account and save the money and get full access on my iPad. OneDrive lets me connect multiple accounts to it on iOS, so I can activate the Office apps on one account, but access my files on my personal OneDrive account. Wins all around. A technical manual I’m writing sits on OneDrive so I can edit it on the iPad when I want some distraction-free writing time. If we ever implement OneDrive at work, this will make working on the iPad very interesting. I couldn’t use it as my main machine, but I could do more with the iPad.

I start my Master’s certificate in a few weeks. Microsoft Office will likely become something I use more often in my personal use.

I have Outlook connected to our Exchange server. I use Mail and the Gmail app for my personal needs, but I like my work accounts to be separate. It helps work/life balance. I also have OneNote and Office installed to read documents sent to me via email for review in meetings. I use Documents to mark up PDFs sent to me for review.

Recently, I broke down and got the Lightning to VGA adapter to tie into the projector systems at work. VGA is the port that will never die. Our TVs at work don’t have an available HDMI port and I don’t feel like dragging an HDMI cable with me. So, got the fucking adapter. I’ve been thrilled with how it works. I used it recently for a document review and was very happy to see it used the full, widescreen size of the monitor at work with no black bars on the sided. I was reviewing some workflow documents with a group and I used the projector, GoodNotes, and the Apple Pencil to mark up the workflows. It worked great.

Note Taking Apps

I use two note taking apps: OneNote and Apple Notes. All of my work notes are in OneNote. I have a notebook for just work and separate pages in it for each project. When a project is closed I put CLOSED in front of the page name and shove it to the bottom of the screen.

I’ve found taking notes on a tablet at work removes the perceived barrier of a screen between you and the other participants. Even if you’re using the iPad with the ASK. Unless I’m taking a ton of notes, I’ll often keep OneNote open and lay the iPad flat on the table. When a person says something interesting, I pick up the iPad, make the note, and put it down. It feels more natural and that I’m more of a participant in that session.

My Apple Notes are a mess. It’s the version of little scraps of paper you write something down on and shove it in your wallet. Just looking at my Notes file I have individual notes for: an email address someone gave me; comic book artists someone suggested I check out; the address of a seminar I went to; and the cell phone number to a contractor I need to contact. I really need to combine those. I’ve gone through and deleted a lot of them but it’s still an unpleasant sight.

This situation works out very well for me. Work notes in one app, personal in another. I have OneNote installed on my work PC so I can access them there.

When I start school in a few weeks I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m thinking of using OneNote for that also. Not sure, though. I might use Notes for it. Decisive, I am.

Consuming

There are a handful of tasks I still use the Mac for — outside of iOS programming. One of my goals for the year is to examine each one and see if the task itself adds value to my life. The most-common task is converting my ebooks. I’m usually de-DRMing my Kindle books so I can read them in iBooks. Neither iBooks or the Kindle app fill me with joy. I much prefer the Bookerly font on the Kindle for reading books, but iBooks is a better PDF reader than the Kindle app6. GoodReader is also a good PDF reader and can sync PDFs on my OneDrive. The Kindle app also doesn’t support split screen, which is important if I’m referencing an art or programming book.

It’s bothering me that I can’t really do everything I want in one app. I don’t want to buy my ebooks on the iBookstore. I’m just going to have to get over myself on this one. non-PDF reading in my Kindle. PDF reading in iBooks.

I use Instapaper as my read it later service and Tweetbot as my Twitter client.

Apple’s Vision for the iPad

There is one thing about the iPad Pro that concerns me… and it’s Apple. I’m just not sure that Apple has a long term plan. When the Pro launched, Apple was all, “Hey look, it can be a laptop replacement!” To a certain degree it’s true. The new iPad Pro commercials are cute, but some big limitations to going iOS-only exist.

iOS 9 brought out Split View. Split View made a lot more sense when the 12.9″ iPad came out. Instead of one of the two apps in Split View being an iPhone view, both apps were iPad views. The whole Split View picker needs some serious love. It seems like the type of feature that showed off well in a demo, but once people used it, it didn’t work out right. The problem is, iOS 9.3 didn’t address it, iOS 10 didn’t address it, iOS 10.3 doesn’t address it. In iOS 10, uploading files to iCloud Drive became problematic because the Document Picker expands every folder and sub folder.

I can’t currently go iOS-only. I still use a Mac. Almost all of these limitations are software. Adobe’s Lightroom app isn’t as good as the desktop version. Office for iOS lacks citation management. Maybe by the time my Retina MacBook dies in 2023 I might be able to go iOS-only. Certainly, my use of iOS will only grow over the years. Right now, when I hit a wall in iOS I don’t graze it; I slam right into it. I can’t use my Topaz presets on the iPad. I can’t use the full version of Photoshop. I can’t use Word’s citation management. I can’t run some of the 3D rendering programs I want to learn.

This is not an indictment of the iPad. It’s just an acknowledgment that I have some needs the iPad can’t meet. It’s great at the things I want to do on it: write, draw, read, email and triage my photos. For the things it can’t do, I have my Mac.

It’s all about the right tool for the job.

  1. For the sake of clarity, in this article when I refer to “the IPad Pro, I’m referring to the 12.9”. The 9.7 will be referred to as “The Baby Pro.” This is because, for me, the canonical iPad Pro is the larger screen.
  2. That’s what she said.
  3. I did not say, “That’s what she said.”
  4. One of them was a person really taking advantage of the device. He was taking handwritten notes with the Pencil.
  5. That bad pun was not intended, but fuck it, I’m keeping it.
  6. This is mainly because iBooks displays the full height of the PDF when reading in landscape. I keep my Pro in landscape mode almost all of the time, so this is pretty important to me. There is also the not-so trivial issue that the Kindle uploader caps out a 50mb.

Creative Checklists

The last time I posted a meaningful article to this site was January 25, 2017 (I don’t count the quick post about the iPad’s problem being software). I was chiding myself for not posting more until I looked at my Ulysses library and saw about 10 items in the Blog subgroup. All but one are fairly fully-formed. Clearly, I’ve been writing. I just haven’t been posting.

I’m not sure what the final state for writing is. Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship.” I imagine shipping would be posting to the site.

Or is it?

Patrick Rhone (a writer I greatly admire) is on sabbatical. He’s stopping all of his online writing to collect the writings into some sort of book. I think subconsciously I’ve been doing the same thing.

I have an unannounced project I’m working on. I’m still not going to announce it today. When I finish typing an article in Ulysses I ask myself two questions: does this even need to go out in the world, and if it does, should it be in The Project? Lately, the answer has been that it might belong in The Project. There are also a few blog posts that felt better to write than publish. Sometimes, the best post is the one you write and hit the delete key on.

There are a few reasons I’m not announcing The Project. While it’s safe to say it’s a collection of essays, I’m not sure what the theme is. I have several themes in mind. The best thing right now is to just write them up and see what themes emerge. I do have two themes in mind; it’s just a case of which one sticks more.

The other reason is even after I collect the essays, I may still not feel they add anything that hasn’t been said already.

For now, I’m not going to measure my creative progress on what I’ve shipped, but just on what I’ve created. Creative people are famously finicky and overly critical of their own work. This can lead to artists not sharing their work. It’s a danger to be sure, but one of my themes for the year is trying to earn some income from my creative projects again. Getting this collection out in the world is a good motivator for me.