Social Dark

A note: I’ve stolen this title from Matt Gemmell’s piece Social Dark. It’s a great title and sums up how I feel. The title has been sticking with me in my head so long that I’d forgotten I read it on his site.

This is a rare political post.

This election, and the aftermath, has done me in. On all sides of all issues. The noise on my social media feeds is out of control. It seems like everyone I follow on Twitter and Facebook is upset about something related to the current political climate. Again, on both sides. I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of just trying to see what the weather is going to be, if an artist that inspires me posted a picture of their WIP, or is there some sort of tech news I’m interested in and instead being blasted with a lot of vitreous discussion about whatever the hell happened in Washington in the last five minutes.

It’s just buried right now in a large fire hose of angst. I’m not putting my head in the sand, I’m just tired of being constantly exposed to it. It’s like trying to get work done with the person in the next cube on speaker phone while they are eating fish they microwaved in the break room.

So, I’m making some changes to my social media.

Facebook, I love you but you’ve got to go. There are zero mute functions in Facebook. I can’t separate out the posts I want to see from the ones I don’t. Again, this is on all sides of the issues. Facebook is still the service I use for things like Words with Friends, so I’m going to keep the app installed. My Facebook visits will be swift. I replied just now to my last political post on Facebook–one where I admitted I was wrong. A good note to go out on. I have pared down who I get notifications about posts from to a handful of close friends and family members.

Twitter, thank god for mute filters. I’ve blocked almost every political term and slang statement I can think of without fucking up my Twitter feed beyond repair. Which means derogatory terms like “snowflake” still exist, and I kinda want to hear about when snow might start to fall in New England. And yes, democrats and republicans alike; god help me if there is a sale on belt sanders I might like, or Apple will trump Samsung. Yes, I’ve blocked Obama and Barack; but not Michelle. That’s just too common a name (it’s also why Warren and Ryan haven’t been blocked). Various hashtags are muted. I’ve unfollowed Twitter users who cover politics, or politics is their main topic of discussion. I now live in a world where I had to mute the words “National Park Service.” It’s not perfect, but now it’s one or two posts that slip through instead of a torrent.

I’m not ignoring what’s going on. There are news sources that provide me with value. I will go to them, read about what’s going on, and do my own research into the facts behind it if I want to.

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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.