App Subscriptions

In August 2017 my favorite writing app, Ulysses, changed from a one-time purchase price to a subscription model. They gave a lifetime 50% discount for existing users. If you just purchased the apps recently you could be eligible for up to 18 months free1. While I don’t use Ulysses every day, it is my primary writing tool on both macOS and iOS.

Even with a generous discount, I still wasn’t happy with the change. So, I looked at other writing tools that weren’t based on subscriptions. I’m not going to go into a lot of that analysis here, but basically none of those apps were as tuned to my writing process as Ulysses is. Most of them would let me write and post to WordPress, or work on long-form writing, but none of them worked for me as smoothly as Ulysses. So, I paid the yearly subscription price and told myself I had a year to see if this worked out for me. My chief problem with app subscriptions is if I stop paying for the app, I have to stop using the app; it’s a rental vs. owning model.

Recently, Clip Studio Paint came out for the iPad Pro. It has a 6 month free trial, and then jumps to $9 a month (or $108 a year to save you the math). I got into a Twitter exchange with Eric Merced about my thoughts on the pricing. Looking back on it, I realized his position on Clip Studio Paint’s subscription model was similar to how I ended up defending Ulysses when I switched to the subscription app. Eric also mentioned to me that the desktop version of Clip Studio is $219, and the iPad version is a near feature-complete version of that app. So, one way of looking at it is that two years of subscriptions pays for the app, with free upgrades thrown in. Eric was correct when he pointed out that most people would pitch a fit over a $219 iPad app.

I liked the old method of software development: I pay you for your effort to create the app and if you create a new version, I will likely upgrade to that. This model, though, doesn’t work for app developers. The App Store itself is a race to the bottom. Users want free updates for life from the 99-cent app they bought and cry foul when the developer releases a new version and charges for it. Apple does not have a system for paid upgrades. Developers are kind of in a lose-lose situation. Users of these apps are also.

I’ve worked at reducing my total subscriptions this year. With apps like Affinity Photo, I was able to eliminate my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. School has an Office 365 account so I can use that instead of needing a personal account. I do pay for iCloud storage, though, because it provides value. Eliminating those subscriptions allow me to feel good about subscribing to Ulysses.

A lot of people — myself included — have argued that the iPad Pro (especially the 12.9”) is a pro-level device, and pro-level apps need to cost more than a buck to sustain development. The subscription model falls into a bad analogy. Typically, the response is something along the lines of: buy a few less coffees a month, you cheap bastard. The problem with that argument — outside of the fact that I buy a high-priced coffee so little it’s not worth discussing2, those $4-8 a month subscriptions add up to some serious money. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. At what point does an app subscription become too much? Does one set a budget on subscriptions? By having a monthly subscription a developer is forcing us to ask each month if their app is worth paying for. When that answer becomes no, the revenue goes away. It’s a bit of of mental overload thinking about this every month.

Desktop OSs are fairly stable at this point. There is little in a macOS upgrade that will break a lot of apps at this point3. iOS upgrades aren’t there yet. Sweeping architecture changes occur every year. New iOS versions frequently break existing apps. Either because they changed how an API calls a function, or the developer hacked together a solution the upgrade breaks, or iOS just changed enough. App developers have to scramble to get their apps upgraded. I don’t think it’s fair to expect free upgrades for life because Apple adds new features to iOS. Subscriptions give the developers a way to fund those yearly upgrades. I’m not 100% against subscriptions. I think the complexity of the app coupled with the pace of feature-rich upgrades factor in to whether I will subscribe to the app. I’d also like it if the app reverts to a model where you can at least export your content if you let the subscription lapse.

  1. This involved whether you own the iOS and macOS apps, and when you bought them. So, if within the month or two prior to the announcement, if you bought both apps you would get 18 months free.
  2. Funnily enough, I’m sitting in a Starbucks drinking one while I write this.
  3. Yes, High Sierra introduced a new file system, but those types of architecture changes are few these days.

Nuke it from Orbit

This is Part 2 of the thoughts behind Sacred Places of Work.

Burn it down, I think. Nuke it from orbit.

My MacBook Pro has been exhibiting some weird signs, well since I got it. Originally I had a problem where menus in Safari or Finder would flash and not let me select them unless I Force Quit the app. I had a few issues after upgrading to High Sierra where the Finder would hang. There is also apparently a bug where the GPU doesn’t respond properly when waking from sleep mode resulting in poor gaming performance1.

Last year, I bared my Air. I got that saying from Patrick Rhone’s Enough podcast, where he would ask, “How bare is your Air?”. Patrick was a big proponent of living on the 64g MacBook Air. When I got my MacBook Pro, I thought about just getting the 256g model. Since the storage is now soldered onto the logic board, I couldn’t upgrade later if I wanted. So, I got the 512g model.

A common theme for me recently is talking about my frustrations with working on personal creative endeavors. On Episode 102 of Under the Radar they talk about Procrastiworking. I had to laugh when I saw the episode title, since me writing and posting about my lack of getting stuff done has felt like I’m being creative in some way. It’s not, but writing is writing, so whatever. It feels good to write about it and bring some order to the chaos that is my mind.

Working on my creative side projects — I always feel I need to keep adding these disclaimers that this does not pertain to the day job — requires a lot of level-setting and honesty with myself. I wrote last year about The Medicinal Value of Fucking Off, and I still stand by it. Some nights or weekend days you could fool yourself into thinking you could draw or write, but, you just don’t have it in you. Better to just take a kind of vacation day, play video games, and recharge. Balancing personal projects during a crazy work week means some weeks the personal project loses the battle. Or, you might have the energy and desire, but you know there is a possibility you could get interrupted in the next hour or so. If that interruption is going to throw you, it’s hard to start. When I start painting a miniature, I know it’s a 2-3 hour shot where I can’t do much else or my palate will dry up. When I write, I rarely get so far into a zone that it’s a hassle to come out. Working on a presentation or a diagram, yes. Even then, it’s still not the end of the world.

I got the PS4 to move game playing out of my office. Games still ended up on my MacBook Pro under the auspices of just seeing how they run. In the same way that the 27” monitor parked on my desk feels like a failure, so does having World of Warcraft sitting on the MacBook Pro.

At work we are Lean practitioners. One of the Lean tools I love is the 5S: sort; set in order; shine; standardize; and sustain. It is a way if making sure your work space is neat and orderly. In Sacred Places of Work, I worked on getting my personal space in order. Now it is time to think about my digital space.

Burn it down, I think. Nuke it from orbit.

It would be the computer created by a sadist: Dere vill be no gamez on dis komputer. Der vill be no fun. The computer would be sorted, set in order, and standardized. The hard part, as always, is sustain. It would be the digital equivalent of throwing everything you own out.

There is a catharsis to this purge. Each addition to the computer should be the result of some analysis: What does this app do that the built-in app can’t? Do you need 3 writing apps? Is this game worth taking up 20g of space?

Scorched earth feels good at the time but it isn’t an optimum solution. I’ve purged the apps, but what about the data? What about the 230 gig of iCloud Drive data that will automagically sync down — and take the entire weekend — when I log back into iCloud? Shouldn’t that be part of the nuke from orbit? Archive the entire drive somewhere and only move the recent files you are working on back into iCloud Drive and your computer. We fret and worry about data loss. We create complicated backup schemes to ensure we can always recover from a complete system failure. What if that near-complete data loss is a freeing thing? If we are not our belongings, then we are also not our data. I’m not even sure what is in some of these folders.

Eighty-three point five (83.5) gigabytes free of a 512 gig drive. That is how much free space I have on my MacBook Pro. Only 16.3% of the drive doesn’t have some form of crap on it. I mostly write and do school papers. Not exactly the type of thing to suck up a ton of data on. My Lightroom library is about 25g. I bet 100g of that is games.

This is why I like using iOS and my iPad Pro so much. The file system is hidden away. When I want to write, I open Ulysses and my project is there2. I want to draw and I open up Linea or Procreate or Clip Studio or any of the other drawing apps I use and my drawings are right there. It is all backed up into iCloud, so if I do need to do a total system restore, it’s all there and I am up and running in a few hours. Matt Gemmell wrote about being done with file systems, and I agree with him. He’s gone iPad-only since he wrote that, and the piece is prescient of his future decision.

I’m not going to nuke the MacBook from orbit. It’s too much hassle for too little gain. Games on it aren’t why I’m having issues getting stuff done. The underlying reasons are something I’m doing a lot of soul-searching with little answers. What writing about it here reminded me of, however, is how few barriers to productivity exist for me on the iPad Pro, and to continue to reach for that device when I want to create.

  1. What a bizarre argument I have here: I’m going to reformat (and likely downgrade) my operating system because a game runs poorly. The main reason I’d burn it from orbit is the game is even there in the first place.
  2. To be fair, since the app data is store inside Ulysses and it syncs via iCloud, it’s also on my Mac.

Learning to Get over Myself Learning to Draw

Thirty years ago I went to Interior Architecture school. It hurts thinking of that. Thirty fucking years ago. I was a great hard-line draftsman but never took the time to learn freehand. Even now, I bet I could sit down at a drafting table, grab a t-square and triangle, and bang out a respectable floor plan.

I miss drawing. I miss designing. I love writing and making music, but I miss creating visual art. Part of the reason I got the iPad Pro and the Pencil was to eliminate excuses. The iPad is always with me, therefore I always have the tools to draw. I’ve drawn some, but not enough. I’ve been having a problem getting motivated to do more than quick warm up sketches.

I was listening to a podcast with Stan Prokopenko as the guest. Stan runs a great website, proko.com where he shows off some amazing beginner lessons. On the podcast, he mentions that to get good at art, you need to spend 40-50 hours a week working on your art. Drawing the same thing over and over. Sketch a gesture. Rip it up. Sketch another one. Learning the fundamentals of guitar was easy. Learn the basic open chords and you can pretty much play most of the three-chord rock songs out there. Hours of entertainment. AC/DC made an entire career out of this. Learning to draw, however is harder. Every time I grab the Pencil and open up Procreate, I think: this thing I am about to create is going to suck. That’s not false modesty. Look at any Master’s output the first time he or she picked up a pencil and it will be laughably bad. It’s hard not to wonder if this is all just a waste of time. Will I ever get good at it? What’s my definition of good enough? Finding motivation is hard when you see an established artist do a quick sketch that is better than anything I could think of drawing.

My experience with architecture school tells me its probably not a waste of time. Even though freehand wasn’t a strength, I could still get the idea of what I wanted do in a sketch. A year ago when I made an effort to learn to draw I was pleased with my progress over a short time.

There is a hard and lengthy fought battle over tracing in art. A lot of people think it’s horrible, and a cheat. Before I continue, let me say that laying down tracing paper over someone else’s drawing, tracing it, and passing it off as your own is theft. However, let me tell you a story about how I created perspectives in school.

In the early 90s, CAD programs were in their infancy. There was a great one for my Mac called MacPerspective or something like that. I started using it when I was having a hard time getting the perspective for an atrium correct. I put in a rough version of the floor plan, walkways, and skylight into the program. I then picked a camera angle I liked, printed it out, stuck it on the drafting table and put my vellum over it. I then did all the little detail work and finished the drawing. I didn’t think I cheated. I just needed to get the damn drawing done. I could screw around for a day or two getting the perspective and vanishing lines done, or I use a tool to get the grunt part done. Norman Rockwell would project photographs onto his canvas and trace over to get the rough sketch done.

Where I’m going with this getting my mind around parts of the process. Some drawings I do I might sketch out from nothing. Others I might put a photograph on a background layers and sketch out from there. Jack Skellington is a basic enough character that it would be fun to use his head as an exercise in circles and shading. A picture of a friend with a sword, though, might end up in a background layer where rough out the anatomy to become an orc warrior.

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.

My First Computer

My parents always did a great job at Christmas. There are two Christmas gifts that have stood the test of memories 30-40 years later.

The first was an aircraft carrier about 3 feet long that had a wire-guided plane you could land on it. It worked similar to this. My dad decided that the short wire that came with it was inadequate, so he grabbed his fishing line and rigged up a 30-foot guide line that ran the entire length of the house. That upped the fun and difficulty. I was probably 9 or 10 at the best, but even now I can picture the whole thing: the plane mounted on the table in the front room; 30 feet of fishing line going through the family room and landing in the doorway to kitchen. I’d hit the button that would launch the plane, pilot it with something that looked like a control mechanism from a Cessna, and attempt to grab the guide wire on the carrier. We probably pissed my Mom and the dog off equally. Too bad we didn’t have a cat or that would have really upped the challenge. Update: this is it.

The second was a Commodore 64. I have no idea about the thought process behind why they got me this. The computer revolution was just starting. I was in high school and had taken a couple of computer classes. I think my parents may have realized that computers were going to be a thing, heard about the Commodore 64 and bought it. There was a lot of angst on their end. The gift did not show up until Christmas Eve. I had just left the house to go to my friend Dave’s house and never saw the UPS truck show up.

Back then, it didn’t even have a floppy drive. It had cassette player you would load the program with. The day after Christmas we went to some small computer shop and I got a few games to play. One of them was called Gato which was a great submarine simulator. It was a lot of ASCI code showing the ships I was shooting at, but looking back that was some serious programming chops in the early days of computing. He also realized that I liked D&D-style games and bought me Zork. Zork was one of the first interactive fiction games by a great company called Infocom. While EverQuest and World of WarCraft probably hold the top places for hours played in a game, Zork comes close. This was before the internet where you could just Google your way out of a problem. A lot of my analytical skills and thought processes came from playing that game. I remember having an entire notebook with maps I had made and notes on what I tried to do to solve various puzzles. I still have the games loaded on Frotz on the iPad.

I also learned some basic programming. You could get Byte magazine which would have programs printed in it that you would then type by hand into the computer. Two years of typing classes in school didn’t do shit for my typing. Typing in thousands of lines of computer code, however, did wonders for learning that skill.

The Commodore gave way to an Apple IIe, which later ceded the way to a Macintosh in 1985. That Christmas, though, changed my life.

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.

I Write Because I Have To, and the Realities of Writing on the Web

On a good day, this blog gets tens of visitors. Whenever I check the WordPress stats — which I assume to be slightly accurate — I ask myself: is this even worth it? Ben Brooks doesn’t look at analytics anymore. I’m sure he gets feedback on how well a post is received from Twitter or emails. My posts go into an internet black hole. Maybe twice a year I will get some feedback or a retweet or something.

I write these posts because I have to. The idea comes into my head and I will have trouble sleeping until the post is published. I don’t agonize over it. A lot of these posts sit in draft form until I’ve got the idea in a good enough shape to publish. In Ulysses I have a folder labeled Abandoned. The posts that I am never happy with go there. I rarely look at them. It could just be something that typing up felt good enough, or the circumstances that lead to me writing the post changed, or I just gave up. Usually posting is the end goal; sometimes just writing it is enough.

Like most writers, I dreamed of going independent. Daring Fireball was a great inspiration, and it’s hard not to look at Gruber’ success and think: that could have been me. It takes talent and luck to make it. Gruber has both. No sour grapes there1.

The last time I was paid for my writing was back in 2014. I wrote some for-pay articles in 2015, but Gigaom closed down with a balance due that was never paid. In 2011, the company I worked for laid off its entire Tech Ops team. Over the next two years, the only employment I could obtain was short-to-medium term contract work. What little freelance work I was able to do made a difference. Stephen King said in On Writing something along the lines of: If you received a check for your writing, and you used that money to pay a bill, you are a professional writer. I paid plenty of bills with freelance checks.

The measure I used to determine if I could become a full-time independent worker was if I earned enough each month to pay the mortgage for six months in a row2. I never made the mortgage one month, forget six months. The closest I came was around 2009. At the time, I was writing about video games, and if you added up the hours I spent playing the games and writing the copy, my hourly rate was under what I’d make working minimum wage. Writing for tech sites was a better time to income ratio. My tech articles only took 3-4 hours to write. Maybe a little longer if I needed to review a product. It still worked in my favor compared to an MMO review.

After Gigaom shut down I didn’t look too hard for another freelance gig. Macworld had laid off a lot of staff so there was a glut of Apple-based writers available. One outfit contacted me asked what I made per-article for Gigaom. They never replied when I told them.

So, I started a site (thecasualtechie) to sort of try my hand at getting my own site going. The internet advertising model is pretty much non-existent. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to line up sponsors to pay to advertise on a site that no one reads. If I were trying it today, I would probably start a site whose focus is solely on iPad productivity. I still might. The mantra has always been: write good content and people will come. Few people want to pay for content online. Internet advertising doesn’t pay much, and I’d want to control the ads that appear on my site anyway. Affiliate link commission keeps declining.

I liked having a side hustle. The income from my writing paid for my tech toys, which lead to articles about how I used them. One of the themes I had for 2017 is trying to work on some sort of a model that paid. I liked writing an article and getting paid for it. But, it was a 1 to 1 relationship. Write an article; get a check. I never wrote one article and got two checks. I’m out of the freelance game anyway. In addition to the rates being low, almost every site I worked for actually getting paid was a hassle. Invoices would be tied up, lost, not paid. Promises would be made; these promises were then broken.

As I look ahead to writing, my goal is some sort of passive model. Self-publishing is the likely solution, but It also has long odds. I’m not sure how I’d feel about pouring thousands of hours into a book no one bought. Fiction stories don’t kick at me to be born the way these posts do, but a few ideas are stirring. Maybe there is a story in there trying to get out and I am ignoring it.

This is a post with no answers. It’s not a cry for help. I’m not looking for advice on how to (air quotes) Build a Brand. I just had to share about writing on the web in 2017.

  1. As an aside, I miss the old Gruber. He used to write more original pieces. Now, he just posts a lot of links with some inline commentary.
  2. Granted, just making the mortgage wasn’t a survivable wage. It was a data point that if I could make that amount on a part-time basis, I could probably earn enough to live doing it full-time.

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.”

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.