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.

The Great Cloud Storage Consolidation of 2016

David Chartier posted this wonderful series of articles about combining his various cloud storage into iCloud Drive.1 My digital detritus is spread across three cloud services: iCloud Drive; Dropbox; and OneDrive. I need to consolidate this somewhat.

The bulk of my crap is in OneDrive. I have my main working folders with my documents and about 100g of scanned comics and guitar magazines. iCloud is the next second with its own version of working directories (my iWork files for example are all there). Dropbox is this kind of dumping ground with only about 4gig of stuff.

My Office365 subscription comes due soon and I gave serious thought to cancelling it. I don’t use office that much. In the end, the hassle of moving the scanned images to some other service outweighed any benefits of cancelling. If iCloud Drive did selective sync, I would have uploaded it, but this type of data doesn’t need to live on every — or any — of my devices.

Dropbox does a few sketchy things with its OS X client that I’m not thrilled with. I’m not sure if the battery problems I had in Sierra were related to Dropbox scanning the whole system (I doubt it), but it was an energy vampire I could live without. The same with OneDrive. I use OneNote as my primary note taking platform and the OS X version can read and write from OneDrive without needing to have the client installed. The same with the Office apps.

I moved all of the general stuff I need on a close to daily basis from OneDrive to iCloud Drive. Folders for my now-defunct freelance business, a general Creative Projects folder, and my Calibre Library are now moved from OneDrive to iCloud Drive. The only things left up on OneDrive are the large image libraries of the scans.2

There were a few reasons I undertook this effort. I didn’t like having stuff scattered through different services. I’d keep asking myself, where did I store this file? The main thought was to limit the services that run on my Mac. I don’t know how much these contributed to any battery issues. I also don’t run my MacBook on battery often. When I do, though, I want to make sure I’m eking out every second.3

iCloud Drive isn’t perfect. I don’t like that it doesn’t do selective sync, and it’s still something updating and running in the background. I have faith in Apple to be a little more circumspect and not scan the entire file system. Given that cloud services still aren’t one of Apple’s strong suits this may be misplaced trust. When I go to save a file in iOS, the “Save to iCloud” action expands every freaking folder making navigation incredibly unwieldy.

Finding where iCloud downloads my iBooks files was a lost cause. Originally Apple’s plan with iBooks in 10.11.4 was to allow you to delete the local iBooks downloads — like you can with iOS. Right now, though, you can’t. I know they are taking up considerable storage on my Mac, I just don’t know where. I would probably move some of them to OneDrive if I had a better idea where they were to get a file size count. After a few hours of Googling the best I can find is they are stored in an iCloudiBooks folder that’s impossible to find. The best I could find was the PDFs in the directory with a Finder search.

My original goal was to eliminate OneDrive completely. I was looking into something like BitTorrent Sync or Seafile, The problem I had is the reader apps I use on iOS don’t support these natively. Sure, I might be able to find in the file in the service’s iOS app and do an “open in,” but that’s too much hassle.

A few days into this, I’m happy with the decision. iCloud has come a long way in a few years. Only two years ago I wrote about how crappy my experiences with iCloud Drive were.

  1. David is also on MacPower Users Episode 345 talking about this.
  2. That’s not 100% true. I still have the old folders I moved, but this is more of an archival backup than a working copy.
  3. I’m not sure if turning wifi off when I really need good battery life will stop the scanning. I also could have written some sort of script to kill OneDrive and Dropbox when I need to.