The “I Carry Too Much Crap” Edition

From Ben Brooks:

My rule here is very simple: take a phone and one other device. Unless you have a major reason why you need three devices, take only two. For me the second device is my iPad Pro, and before that it was my MacBook. If you need a Mac, take a Mac and use your phone for anything else. But decide if you even need that second device — I take mine strictly because if I can squeeze in writing time, it is worth having the iPad Pro. But I could do it all with my iPhone if I wanted

I’ve been in a weird state where I’m straddling a few tech lines and as a result I’m leaving the house frequently with both my iPad Pro and my MacBook Pro. The short version of a long story is I can’t really go iPad-only, but, I also can’t really go MacBook-only at the same time. My primary, non-day job, yet productive, tasks are: writing, drawing, photo editing, and security analysis. I’m oversimplifying here, but the iPad is best at drawing and the MacBook is the only platform I can do security analysis with. The other tasks I can do close to equally as well on either platform.

Ben’s post helped illustrate a growing frustration I have with my daily load-out: I routinely leave the house with my iPhone, MacBook Pro, and iPad Pro. That is one device too many. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I need a powerful Mac, an iPad Pro, and an iPhone as part of my technological setup. What I struggle with is why I feel I need to bring both the iPad and MacBook Pro with me. Core apps I use (Ulysses, OmniGraffle, Affinity Photo) are reasonably feature complete between iOS and macOS1. The iPad-only apps are Procreate for drawing, and the macOS-only apps are my security toolsets.

The practical answer is to just go back to a MacBook Pro. It’s a more flexible platform and the walls I hit are fewer than on iOS. Drawing is the least-performed of my activities. Even today I ran into a weird iOS limitation. I needed to export a multiple-canvas Omnigraffle document to png files. On the Mac, there is a checkbox to export the entire document. On the iPad, no such checkbox exists. [UPDATE: I have since learned there is a workaround] Practicality is not the only driver, though. I really like using the iPad Pro. Typing on the Smart Keyboard is a dream and I love the portability of the device. As with creative work, security work when away from my home is also a rarity.

Since I can’t decide, and impulse and emotions aren’t good points to base decisions on, I’m falling back on my analyst mindset. I created a spreadsheet where I will record on a high-level my device usage. Three columns: Date, iPad, MacBook. The value will be Date (obviously) and for each device row I am using a 4-point grade: 0, did not use the device; 1, used the device lightly; 2, used the device heavily; 3, did something I can only perform on that device. As an aside, this is only for when I leave the house. I don’t care too much right now about my day-to-day usage at home. I will also take care and not cheat the data. If I brought my MacBook, have it on the desk, and the thing I want to do can be done on either the Mac or iPad, unless necessary I won’t drag out the iPad just to give it a checkbox for the day.

  1. There are edge cases on things like some filters for Affinity Photo, but for the purpose of this article we can call them feature-compatible and not get too far down in the weeds.

iPad Life: My iPad Pro Usage post-MacBook Pro Purchase

Fraser Speirs — a long-time iPad-only advocate — is leaning towards getting another MacBook Pro. Fraser is famous for a piece he wrote about going iPad-only entitled: Can the MacBook Pro Replace Your iPad? It was an interesting reverse take on the whole “Can your iPad replace your laptop” argument that is bandied about.

I am both glad and disheartened to hear this. I was glad because it’s easy to get into a situation where taking a stance on something like going iPad-only is tough to back off from. Your identity can be wrapped up in “that guy who went iPad-only”. Inevitably, you hear from all the people who gave you grief about it two years ago with an extra helping of “told you so.” So, being able to publicly and critically assess whether a tool works for you, and change course if it isn’t, is a good trait. It’s disheartening that Fraser feels that iOS 11 doesn’t meet his needs anymore and he needs to use a Mac again.

There are four people I follow on Twitter that are iPad-only folks. Not sorta-iPad only, but full-time, only use an iPad people: Matt Gemmell; Ben Brooks; Fraser Speirs; and Federico Vitcci1. CGP Grey is also a heavy iPad user so he deserves honorable mention here. Of these five, two of them are either using the iPad less after iOS 11 or are thinking of moving back to a Mac. CGP Grey needs a Mac to create his YouTube videos, so he’s always straddled that line. iOS 11 was supposed to be the big start of iPad productivity, but instead people I follow who use the iPad heavily are leaning towards walking away from it.

I am happier with iOS 11 than I was with iOS 10, but not drastically. I think the new Files app is a great step forward. Drag and drop is pretty useful. iOS 11 has helped me not use Workflow app as much as I used to. However, iOS 11 has some weird bugs that are driving me nuts. I’ve been having a lot of rotation issues where I unlock my iPad and the rotation is stuck until I engage the gyroscope again. The Apple Smart Keyboard has been flakey and I need to snap it on and off again to get it work. That said, I think the drag and drop, the Dock, and the new Files app are a net win. I wouldn’t go back to iOS 10. I don’t think I can do tasks I couldn’t do on an iPad before iOS 11, but some of the suffering around those tasks has declined.

Fraser’s comments made me think a little more about my iPad usage after I got the MacBook Pro in March. Has my iPad usage increased or decreased? Unfortunately, I don’t have any data to back up my theories. The best example is my iPad usage last night when I was working on my schoolwork for the week. I’d been taking part in an informal case study on a MacRumors post regarding using iPad Pros for school. Like any thread about iPad productivity it devolved into a thread of half-truths, assumptions, lies, and bold statements of what you can and could not do on iPad. So, when this semester hit the midpoint I posted my findings about 5 weeks with the iPad. I considered the experiment closed at that point. I haven’t gotten any responses to that thread in a few days, so I guess a lot of people consider the experiment closed as well. I could go back to using my MacBook Pro for school and not think twice, or feel I had sold out the cause. Instead, when I got down to the business of doing this week’s assignments I just picked up my iPad fired up PowerPoint and worked on the assignment. When I was done, I uploaded it to the shared Google Drive folder and emailed my classmates.

Was this inertia from having a rhythm of working on school work this way for the last 5 weeks? I don’t think so. When I was doing some writing this weekend I found myself always reaching for the iPad first. For a lot of creative work like drawing and writing, the iPad is such a natural fit now for how I do that work. That’s not to say the MacBook Pro will sit unused. My beloved Topaz filters only work on my Mac. I use Tableau a lot and there is no iPad version. Sometimes I need the might and power of the full Office suite. Today I am working remote and need to connect to our virtual desktop system to do work. That type of work is still best done with a pointing device you can right-click on easily.

So, in conclusion my iPad use hasn’t really changed for the core work.

  1. Federico uses a Mac to record his podcasts, but that is it.

iPad Life : Apple’s New iPad Pro Ad

“What’s a computer?” she asked.

I love Apple’s new ad for the iPad Pro. It shows a young girl using her iPad throughout the day. It starts with her grabbing it off the floor, working on schoolwork with Word, drawing with Procreate, using Goodnotes, and reading a comic on the way home. At the end, her neighbor asks her, “What are you doing on your computer?”

“What’s a computer?” she replied.

What I love is everything they showed her doing wasn’t bullshit. It’s all stuff you can do on an iPad. It’s all stuff I’ve done on an iPad. It’s not some bizarre video that only works in certain conditions that most people can’t replicate. It shows the iPad isn’t a computer, that boring, old, heavy, kludgy thing her parents use.

It’s not a promise for the future. She seamlessly switches between apps, drags a photo in Message and uses her Pencil at various times during the day. My favorite part is around the 30 second mark where she is using the iPad with a Smart Keyboard on a glass counter at a cafe while she waits for her order. When she is ready to leave she smacks the iPad down into the folded position by lifting it up and giving it a practiced smack down that and folds the keyboard under the iPad. The movement reminds me of an Arthur Fonzarelli moment.

The spot also shows off what I consider to be the canonical iPad setup: iPad with the Smart Keyboard and Pencil.

I’ve watched this spot so many times. It’s everything I love about how Apple markets their devices — a little short film showing how people actually use the damned thing.

iPad Life: Ease of Recovering from a Total Failure

There is no good time for a tech failure, but this one had a taste of self-infected. When I started working on my homework for my graduate class recently I noticed two things: my 256g iCloud Drive was almost full; and so was my 128g iPad. The iCloud Drive I knew about. I had dumped up 40g of videos to it and thought I would have more space free than I did. The iPad was worrisome. I’ve looked like even though I had Optimize Photos turned on, my iPad was still storing full images locally. When I signed out of iCloud and signed back in it told me I needed another 50g of iCloud storage. It wanted to re-upload all the images I guess.

So, I ended up just reformatting the iPad via the settings menu. I chose to restore from a recent iCloud backup and about an hour and half later the restore was complete. All my passwords were there. My apps were in the right locations. If it wasn’t for having to re-download my books in iBooks and the Kindle app as well as a few missing text messages, you wouldn’t have known it was a fresh install.

I’ve been thinking of reinstalling macOS on my MacBook Pro. The reasons are a topic for another day, but the time it takes to get everything back up and running is the main reason I haven’t. There are a lot of large apps on there plus the data from my cloud storage. It is the type of thing that will take a weekend to recover from.

iOS, though, is about two hours total.

Sacred Places of Work

I wanted to move game playing out of my home office and transform the area into a space where I would just focus on work stuff. Paint my miniatures, write, draw, work on my trains, or learn to program. Have something to show for my time. So, I bought a PS4, put it in the family room, and moved the Alienware off my desk. All that remained was the iPad, MacBook Pro, and a sacred place of work.

My home office is amazing. We had it painted recently, there isn’t much in the way of decorations. I look out at 57 acres of woods, and several times a week see the local wildlife in the back yard. I have two work surfaces: a large desk that is the 3rd generation in my family; and an IKEA dining table that I use for painting my miniatures and working on my trains. On the desk is my MacBook Pro, the 27” monitor hooked up to my Alienware Alpha, and the related chargers and cables.

The first paragraph was written earlier this year. The second one a week or so ago. An astute reader will notice in the first paragraph the Alienware was off the desk, and in the second paragraph it came back. The problem with bad habits left unchecked they come back like weeds. The painting happened in early June. The Alienware was put away when I got the PS4 in December 2016. By September, it had crept back on my desk like a pile of kudzu. I’m looking at the 27”monitor right now and thinking: that right there is a big bucket of fail. The foundation of bad habits is lies and false promises you make to yourself. I just put that there to have the game on. I want a big screen to watch the drawing tutorials on. It’s out of the way and you hardly notice it.

I used to follow the Minimalists a lot (my full feelings on them is a future article), but one of their mantras is if you lead a distraction-free lifestyle free of things like video games, the TV, the internet, and cell phones you will miraculously find yourself an amazingly productive person.

Bullshit. Hard work may pay off tomorrow, but procrastination pays off today. If I feel like writing and drawing, I will. If I don’t, I won’t. The beauty of personal side projects is there are no deadlines. The curse of side projects is there are no deadlines.

Instead of Minimalism, I instead try and follow simplifying and the essentials. Minimalism feels like paring down too far. A minimalist may have only one Lightning charger, but I have five: one at my desk, one by my bed, one in my car, one at my desk, and in my bag is a set of MacBook and Lightning chargers. It’s not minimal, but it is simpler. Everywhere I need a charger there is one. Because it really sucks when you run out of juice someplace and realize you left the charger the last place you were at.

Likewise, my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook are essential. The Alienware and the 27” monitor are not and will be removed. The rest of the desk will be clean, simple, and essential.

iPad Life: Managing the Creative Process and Focusing on What Matters

I’ve had a running category tag on this site for a while labeled iPad-only. I’ve been inspired my Ben Brook’s iPad Productivity Reports, and Matt Gemmell’s series on going iPad Only. For a while, I’ve wanted to write a little more about how I use my iPad, so I’m starting this irregular series I’ve dubbed iPad Life.

Unlike Matt and Ben, I am not 100% iPad-only. Outside of the day job, even in my personal life I can’t go iPad-only. I run into enough challenges like de-DRMing my Calibre library, downloading some files off the internet, Photoshop filters, and 3D modeling tools to go iPad-only. It’s bothered me, in a way. A big step was getting my head around the idea that by using my MacBook for things I need a Mac for wasn’t betraying the cause of an iPad-only lifestyle; it was just using the proper tool for the job. This is just life and efficiency. Especially on a school project, sometimes it was just easier to open up the MacBook and do the task than fuck around with bending iOS to my will. I’m looking at you, WebEx app.

When I settle down to do any sort of creative endeavor, the iPad is the first device I reach for. It’s the best way for me to write and draw. I consider the 12.9” iPad Pro to be the canonical iPad, and I think an Apple Smart Keyboard are required accessories if you want to use the device for productivity. I also consider Ulysses, Procreate, Linea, Affinity Photo, OneNote, and Graphic to be my essential apps. Those apps let me focus on what matters: creating. It is a rare day I intentionally leave the house without my iPad. There is a cafe near my house I love to go work at. The coffee and food is great. There is a little alcove off to the side where I can have a little bit of privacy.

One of the things I love about the iPad is how it lets me manage my creative process. There is a great TED Talk by Adam Savage where he goes into creative obsessions. In it he mentions he has a folder on his Mac where he is constantly dumping images and creative things that inspire him. I have something similar on my iCloud Drive. What I love about the new split-screen features on iOS 11 is it is now very easy to just grab an image I like off the internet and drag it into a folder. I have folders for art I like, reference images, miniature painting references, and stuff that like that. Grab, drag, and drop. Articles I find of interest go into Instapaper and Evernote.1 When I need to reference something, I can split screen it to the drawing app, or full screen it if it’s a reference image for a miniature or a train detail I am working on.

This is the iPad’s superpower. It removes a lot of the friction to my creative endeavors and lets me focus on what matters.

  1. The reason for Evernote is archival. I enjoy Instapaper’s reading experience to Evernote, but I’ve noticed Instapaper has to redownload the web site if I reinstall. If the article is lost to history, so is my Instapaper archive.

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.”