Farewell, Sierra; Hello iOS-Primary on Mobile

I’ve used OS X as my primary personal OS since OS X 10.3 (Panther). I might have used 10.2 Jaguar but Panther is the first one I have still have a memory of. I also used Classic OS, but that was so long ago, it’s not really relevant.

In those 13 years I’ve never downgraded from a release version of OS X to the previous version.1That changed last week when I wiped my MacBook Air from Sierra and went back to El Capitan. It was the battery life that got me. My 2014 MacBook Air 11 saw a marked decrease in battery performance. Prior to Sierra I’d get 8-9 hours no problem. With Sierra, sitting idle not doing much the performance dropped to 4 hours. If I ran a 3D game, about 1 hour. A few Google searches showed that even a clean install of Sierra did not solve this problem. The replies are either “me too,” or the usual recommendation to let the post-upgrade Spotlight and Photos indexing occur. Because their battery life isn’t affected, you must be computing wrong. Here’s the thing though: waiting on indexing doesn’t seem to make a damn bit of difference.

So, even though I rarely use my MacBook off the adapter, I downgraded to El Capitan and got my old battery life back. On iOS, typically doing a Reset All Settings clears up the battery life issues. The only inconvenience is having to re-enter your WiFi passwords, but I keep those in a Notes file anyway. There’s nothing similar on macOS.

I mentioned back in February I was leaning towards going iOS-Primary for my mobile usage. Since February I’ve been pretty much iOS-Primary when not at the house. I’ve taken a few road trips and left the MacBook at home on all but one. Most of the time when I go to work I just toss my iPad Pro into my bag. Last weekend I was away but I brought my MacBook to play World of Warcraft on. The hour I spent playing it really didn’t justify hauling it around.

Right now, the use cases for bringing (or even using) a MacBook are:

  • I need to use custom filters in Lightroom2
  • I need to edit a Tableau Report3
  • I want to play World of Warcraft

Those are pretty narrow use cases. I can wait until I get home and use Lightroom on my Mac or PC. I don’t really edit Tableau reports away from my work PC much. World of Warcraft is just a leisure activity and not something I need to do away from my desk. I might play it downstairs while a game is on, but that’s still pretty rare.

With the iPad Pro I can draw, write, play a game that’s not WoW, read, and cover most of my productivity tasks. I also have a retina screen, amazing battery life, and a charger that can charge it to 80% in 1.5 hours.

But what about the Mac — and desktop OSs in general?

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking of shutting down my OS X computers and unplugging the monitor from my gaming PC4. I’m not making much progress on my creative goals for 2016. I’ll write more about this at the end of year, but I am being more creative, Just not in ways I wanted. I’ll be moving the goal posts pretty heavily on my end of the year report.

Going iOS-Primary even at home would probably help eliminate some distractions. Not all, obviously, but maybe I will be just a little more focused. I tend to drive home with all these creative ideas in my head, but when actually sit down at my desk I just surf. The seasonal change isn’t helping this at all.

When I got home tonight I powered off the 15″ and put it on a shelf. The 11″ is plugged in, powered on, but with the screen closed. I still have some Lightroom plug-ins to reinstall, and I think I will always have a powered on MacBook on the table to at least make sure all my cloud files are synced to it. The desktop PC is turned on but it’s only seeing light usage.

I am so close to being able to follow Ben Brooks with going iOS Primary. In that post Ben comments: “I lost 30 minutes to just managing my Mac that morning.” Now a lot of these issues were probably related to him running a beta of macOS Sierra, and some notifications he didn’t need to clear right then, but I can sympathize with that.

It’s clear that iOS is Apple’s priority (even if there weren’t many iPad features in iOS 10). I’m happy with iOS 10. I wasn’t very happy with Sierra.

As time goes on, the hooks I have to macOS become weaker and weaker. I was chatting with a friend this morning about MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and MacBook Pros and how I’d like to have laptop with a retina screen. With how great the iPad Pro is, it will probably be a long time before I get a retina Mac, and it wouldn’t surprise me if by that time, I won’t even need a Mac.

  1. I’ve gone back to the release version when using a beta, but that’s a different argument
  2. There’s a very interesting post here about a workaround to get some presets on Lightroom Mobile
  3. I use Tableau to edit reports at work, but at home my Tableau use is incidental. I don’t even have it installed on my Macs. So while it’s something to think about when going iOS-only, it’s such an outlying case it’s almost not worth mentioning.
  4. The gaming PC is also my Plex server, so it needs to stay powered on.

iOS-Primary

A few weeks ago, I made some changes to my home office to support an iOS-primary lifestyle. Now that it’s been a little over a month I wanted to report on how it’s going.

THE OFFICE REDO
The office redo went smoothly. There is now one 27″ (down from three) screen off to the right. My MacBook Air sits near it for the few things I require OS X for (more on that later). My general game-playing is down. I still surf more than I’d like, but I think 50% of my fuck-off surfing is tech- or art-related. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do when my beloved Red Sox start, but I’m inclined right now to not move a TV back into the office for that. I might use the TV in the family room for that.

THE IOS-PRIMARY MENTALITY
Ben Brooks wrote about going iPad Pro-only here, and I echo a lot of his comments. For me, though, going iPad-Primary is about reducing the path to creative laziness. Creative people are forever coming up with ways to not create: the muse left me, Mercury is in retrograde, I don’t have my favorite pencil, my sketchbook is at home, waaaaaaaaaah. Since my iPad and iPhone are always near me, my excuses dwindle. Now, when I feel a waaaaaaah coming on, I can tell myself to suck it up buttercup and create something.

It’s been working. I set up some creative goals for 2016 and I’m making progress on most of them. I’ve been drawing with the Apple Pencil (nothing worth showing off, yet). I’ve been writing. I’m not big on taking lunches at work, but I’ve been using the transition time between eating my lunch and getting back to work to get some creative work done. Not much, but even 5 minutes lets me get a quick sketch done. Once the weather gets nice we have a decent sitting area outside I can draw at.

The only creative goal I haven’t rally made any progress on is fiction. That’s why this year is the real test. If I don’t get close to 40k words of fiction done this year, I can take “write fiction off” the to do list and focus on other areas.

Mid-February I was at TotalCon. A few years ago, I would bring both my Mac and iPad. At one point in time, having my Mac bailed me out of a huge jam. I forgot I needed a character for my D&D game and I was able to export him from Wizards online tool and create a PDF to use on my iPad. Other than that, my MacBook just served to act as a battery for my iPad. This year, the pro came in handy. I used the Arkham Toolkit to help run my Arkham game and I had stored all of my rule books into iBooks. This made search in rules a breeze since finding a specific rule on the spot can be hard.

WHERE I RUN INTO PROBLEMS
I am having a very hard time adjusting to the on-screen keyboard on the Pro. I’m not sure if it’s just relearning the keys on the larger screen, but every sentence I type has at least two typos the autocorrect can’t handle. I don’t want to start using a Bluetooth keyboard, because the virtual screen is plenty good enough and I need to get used to it so important not chained to another devise I need to drag along.

I still need to use OS X or Windows for a few things:
* Gaming: I play an online game with some friends once a week. There is no iOS version of the game. When we go back to using roll20 to play D&D, I could use iOS, but the virtual tabletop is still an area where the larger screen rules.
* Converting ebooks: I buy all of my ebooks on the Kindle, but I read them on iBooks. To do this, I need to break the DRM via Calibre. I read them in iBooks because the Kindle app on iOS is still a shit-show. It doesn’t support split screen, which is a pain in the ass if I’m working through an example in a drawing book. I’ve also had a problem since iOS 9 launched where the iPad app keeps loosing covers to my side-loaded .mobi books. So, it’s just easier to convert them all into iBooks and call it a day. My chief complaint with iBooks is I can’t have books in more than one collection. On the Kindle app I can and it’s handy.
* My taxes: TurboTax is on iOS, but it was just easier to go through it on my Mac.

THE FUTURE
I really hope iOS 10 optimizes the home screen for the Pro. The amount of space between the icons is almost comical, and I’m a little surprised iOS 9.3 doesn’t at least allow for more apps. I really want to be able to clear all of my notifications in one gesture. Downloading from Safari is still awkward. I’d like to see better downloading and the ability to extract downloaded zip files into iCloud Drive. The split screen picker needs work too. Right now, scrolling through the list of apps that are split screen capable is tedious. I’m not exactly sure what the optimum solution is, but right now it feels more like a tech demo than a feature.

One of the nice – although frustrating – things about iOS is it’s still a relatively new platform. It’s fun to see it evolve from year-to-year.

TotalCon 2016

This year was the 4th year in a row I attended TotalCon. TotalCon is a wonderfully-run board and RPG convention in the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, MA. It’s interesting to see how my tastes have changed since I started coming. Four years ago I solely played D&D. Two years ago I did a mix of RPG and board games. The last two years I have done board game solely. The main reason for this shift is I don’t really like playing role-playing games with people that aren’t my regular gaming group. We tend to approach the source material with a certain irreverence that is hard to match in a convention setting. Board games work great for me at the con. That said, my approach to TotalCon is I make my own fun. Looking through the event listings the last two years, if I didn’t run the board games I did, I wouldn’t have gone to the con. I enjoy teaching people board games so it’s a win. Plus I get to play games that don’t hit my table often.

For this post I’m going to mention the games I ran, how I thought they went, and what I likely do next year.

Arkham Horror – Thursday 1pm and 8 am Friday:
Arkham is one of my favorite games and a game my regular gaming group does not enjoy playing. Four hours as a teaching game means we won’t the defeat the bad guy, but people get to at least play and learn the game. Next year the only difference is if I run it twice I will do it back to back to cut down on the setup and tear down. The system I have for Arkham lets it hit the table fairly fast, but I’d rather do it only once.

Eldritch Horror – Thursday 7pm: This was well-attended. People seemed to have a good time and it was nice playing with a father and his two sons. Even though the game was sold out, it didn’t have that big draggy feeling lots of Eldritch games with a lot of people tend to have. We had 6 people which is really the upper limit of the number of players it supports. That said, even though it was sold out and I love the game, this will be the last year I run it. My gaming group loves Eldritch and I don’t need the convention to get my fix.

Firefly – Friday and Saturday 1pm
Both Firefly games were over attended and I had turn people away both times. We also ended up with 8 people which is way too many. The unfortunate part of this game for me is I own most of the expansions making the board fricking huge. I can’t undo it since a some of the cards from the original game have been replaced by expansion cards. It’s a pain to set up and tear down and it takes up the entire table. I’ve made a few changes already: I ordered this storage solution and I’m going to get some 4x4s cut down to 6″ sections. The game boards will set on these. Next year I will run Firefly back to back. Next year, though I am going to hard stop the number of players at 4 or 5. Eight is just way to much. By a long stretch, this was my most popular game.

Fury of Dracula – Saturday 8am: Oddly, this game was the first of mine to sell out. The table was fantastic. They quickly got the rules and had a blast scheming up ways to try and find Dracula (me) we didn’t end up finishing, but I think I would have run the clock out. This game my Friday night group doesn’t like to play, so I will definitely run it again next year. Maybe even twice.

Spartacus – Friday and Saturday 7pm: The Friday night game has taken on a life of its own. The same group of people have played with me both years. We had a blast last year and almost everyone showed up again. Spartacus is a game of backstabbing and treachery. With the proper group, the game is a complete blast. This year we picked up right where we left off. The game was so exciting I had a hard time sleeping afterwards. That said, the Saturday option wasn’t well-attended and lacked the energy of Friday night. I will be running it one night only next year.

Sons of Anarchy – Thursday 10am
This went ok. The 10am slot on Thursday is tough sell. We had enough people to get a game in, and it was a good time. Next year I don’t think I will run it. The last two years I’ve run it have been sparsely attended and it’s one my gaming group will let hit the table.

For next year, in replacement for Eldtritch horror and Sons of Anarchy I’m thinking running a Small World, Pandemic, or Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters has a hard cap of four players, and four players are required to play the game (although you can run more than one Ghostbuster). My plan for the cons is to either run games my Friday night group won’t play (Arkham, Fury), games that I don’t play enough (Firefly), or are just plain fun at the con (SPARTACUS!).

My chief complaint is the restaurant at the hotel every year feels like they are shocked at how many people show up. The smaller menu isn’t that good, the service is slow, and the food isn’t prepared well. Plus, my GF is a vegetarian and the best they offer is a chicken Caesar salad without the chicken. No protein for vegetarians!

There are rumors that the convention is moving next year. I’m bittersweet if that happens. The new location is convenient to me, and by now I know my way around. I know where to park so I’m close to the board game area. But the convention has outgrown the hotel. The board game area was packed and it felt like a 20-degree difference between the hallway and 10 feet into the room.

Creative Goals for 2016

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Generally speaking, deciding to change a behavior just because it is New Year’s is setting yourself up for failure; you should enact change anytime you need to. That said, since at work we just finished setting our goals for the year, this made me think of creative goals I want to hit for 2016. As with any goal, these should be measurable. Saying “I want to write more” isn’t a measurable goal. Setting a specific writing goal is.

So, here goes:
Write 22 blog posts (Not counting the ones I’ve written this year). This means 2 blog posts a month for the rest of the year. I thought of just saying *write 2 a month*, but some months with Apple news there may be a lot to write about; other months not so much.
Finish one piece of art beyond the sketch phase. I went to architecture school in the late 80s. I miss drawing and design and want to get back into it. I’ve been sketching, but none of them I’ve been happy with enough to even keep the file on my iPad.
Write 40,000 words of fiction. I’m still torn on whether short- or long-form fiction is where my heart lies. That’s why I’m not phrasing this as *work on my novel*.

At the end of year I’ll write a blog post about how I did with these goals. And, yes, that blog post will count as one of the 22.

Changes

Distractions

My work space at home has three 27″ monitors: one hooked up to my gaming PC; one hooked up to my MacBook Air; and a TV I use to watch sports while I’m doing stuff in my office. I thought this setup would help productivity. I thought that having a 27″ monitor on each computer would meant when I wanted to write on my MacBook I’d be more effective on a large screen and my games would play better with its own 27″ screen. I was wrong. Instead, I’ve found myself with web pages up on both screens, or sometimes even having games running on each device. My focus was split. I felt like Mr Universe in Serenity. Well, except for the fembot.

I need to do something about this chaos. I need to stop the signal.

Earlier this year I bought a MacBook Air. A series of technical mishaps slammed into the Casa and a new laptop was needed. As I was thinking through what I was going to get, I seriously gave going iOS-only consideration. In the end, I decided against it. There were three reasons at the time: iOS 8 still didn’t really support workflows to make me think iOS could be my primary OS; I used my MacBook enough at work I thought I’d miss it; and Gigaom’s CMS didn’t really work well with iOS apps. The joke was on me when Gigaom ceased operations a month after I got the MacBook Air and I stopped bringing my personal laptop to work.

What does iOS-primary really mean, though? The more I thought about it, iOS is already my primary OS, if you factor in the aggregate of the time I spend on it. My iPhone is rarely not on the desk next to me and my iPad is rarely outside arm’s reach. I always grab my iPhone when I leave the house and probably 80% of the time I also bring my iPad. If you add up all the hours I spend on my personal devices, iOS wins by a long shot1. Granted, a lot of that is consumption, but the tools are there to support writing. I’m writing this post using 1Writer and Ulysses on my iPad. I use OneNote to take notes during work meetings. I’ve noticed that pecking along on my iPad presents a better image than taking notes on my MacBook — there’s not a screen between me and the other people in the meeting. Microsoft Word is also available as well. There are no shortage of productivity apps available. Since Steve Jobs sat down on a stage in 2010, I’ve wanted to make the iPad my main device. That was back when you had to sync your Pages files by hand over iTunes. Like savages.

If I had to give up my iPad or my MacBook, the iPad would win. It may not do everything the MacBook can, but it gives me a broader palate to work with. With the iPad in my bag I can write, deal with email, administer my web app at work, read, research articles, and draw, on a device that weighs less than my MacBook. On a recent trip to Nantucket I brought both my iPad and MacBook and my MacBook rarely left my bag.

But what does this have to do with changes?

This weekend I am uprooting my home office. The end goal is to minimize distractions and make my iPad and iOS more front and center in my life and drive creativity. I’m going to take two of the displays out of my office. The remaining display will be hooked up to my gaming PC which is also my Plex server. I play an online game once a week with some friends, otherwise I’d let it sit in the corner as a headless PC.

Why iOS though, and not my MacBook or my PC? The MacBook Air is very light, and has a keyboard, and should be fantastic for writing, correct? A desktop OS these days is staring to feel more like a relic than a plus. I have three main creative goals this year: write more; draw more2; and make more music.

Since my iPad is usually with me, that means my entire creative palate is usually with me also. My writing needs are covered with Ulysses and 1Writer. Long-form fiction I’ll likely write in Ulysses; blog posts I’ll write in 1Writer. I think the Markdown shortcuts are a little better in 1Writer. This may change when the version of Ulysses that supports iOS multitasking is released early this year. For drawing I use Procreate. Music is covered by a mix of JamUP and GarageBand.

So, what will I use the MacBook for? Some things are unavoidable. When I buy a Kindle book, I download a copy and use Calibre to break the DRM so I can read it in iBooks if I desire. Downloading non-public iOS betas can only be done from a Mac or PC. Ripping DVDs can only be done outside iOS. There’s also the online game I play with my friends. So, I’m not going to shut down my MacBook and throw it in the corner.

What I do hope happens is clearing my desk keeps prompting me to create more.

  1. I’m intentionally not talking about the day job here. While I can connect into our Virtual Desktop from iOS, I can’t really have my work data on my iPad due to security concerns. ↩︎
  2. I haven’t drawn since design school in the 90s, but I want to give it another shot. ↩︎

 

The Apple Watch

It’s funny how lately any criticism of an Apple product comes back to the iPhone. The iPad was doomed to fail because it was “just a big iPhone.” Likewise, the Apple Watch is doomed to fail because it’s “just an iPhone on your wrist.” What’s amusing about these claims is the Apple Watch has a dependent relationship with the iPhone; it can’t operate without it. Saying an Apple Watch is operating without an iPhone is like saying a car coasting downhill is operating without gasoline.

Apple has said the Apple Watch is “Our most personal device yet” and to a certain degree it’s true. You can get an iPhone in any color you want, as long as it’s Silver, Gray, or Gold. The Apple Watch comes in over 30 watch and band combinations. It’s personal in the amount of data it displays. It’s personal in that it says a lot about your personal style. I got the rubber – I’m sorry – fluoroelastomer band. There are rare occasions I need to put on the monkey suit, but looking at my wrist I can see where if I need to don the formal wear, I might want a different band.

I started this review back in April. While I loved the Watch, it was clear to me that there were shortcomings (notably activity tracker and 3rd-party apps). I decided to wait until watchOS 2 was released before publishing my findings.

THE PRE-ORDER/ORDER EXPERIENCE AND INTERNET REACTIONS
I ordered my Watch at xx:05:10 on April 10. Because I ordered the Space Gray – along with half the Internet – by that time my order had slipped to the 4–6 range, or the May 13–27 range. My first reaction was, “Wow, already? That kinda sucks. Oh well.” The second was, “the MacRumors forums are going to lose their shit.” I promptly spent the next hour reading the forums as they did, in fact, lose their shit.

I was surprised that the Apple Watch slipped shipping ranges so fast. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been. Reading through the iPhone 6/6+ pre-order threads it looks like that device slipped date ranges in 19 minutes or so. Usually, pre-ordering an Apple device in the first 5 minutes means you are getting a device on launch day. That clearly wasn’t the case here. Cue 2 weeks of a lot of forum posters acting like Violet Beauregarde.

It’s hard to tell why it sold so fast. It could be demand was off the charts, or if there were yield issues (the Space Gray Watch and Black and Pink bands seemed to be constrained), or there were large issues with the taptic engine. I am somewhat surprised Apple offered so many bands, especially in the Sport line. It would have been very Apple-like to offer a Silver/White Band and Space Gray/Black band and then soak you $50 if you wanted a different colored band. The yield issues (or at least the demands must have died down because now you can get bands in additional colors.

In any event, instead of having to wait 3–4 weeks, my Apple Watch showed up on the 28th. Two business days after launch. Not too shabby.

THE OUT OF THE BOX EXPERIENCE
I picked up my Watch at the UPS will-call. When I got back to my car I opened the box and started the initial setup. The pairing went very easily and I walked through the handful of prompts. After I told it to auto-install all the apps, it started syncing. This looked like it was going to take a bit so I started to drive off. About 5 minutes down the road it finished syncing. Then my phone started vibrating with a lot of notifications.

NOTIFICATION OVERLOAD
I thought I’d done a good job at eliminating most of the notifications I get on my iPhone. After a few hours with the Watch, I learned I needed to refine them even further.

One of my favorite bits is George Carlin’s “I place for your stuff.”. Watch it; it’s good. I took the same approach with notifications. In the depths of my iPhone is every piece of information that comes my way. All my emails, calendars, texts, Twitters, Facebooks and the like hit my iPhone. I just don’t want to hear about all of it. On my iPhone I get notified if a VIP emails me, upcoming calendar appointments, calendar invites, text messages, my IM+ notifications, and @replies and DMs in Twitter.

Obviously, I don’t want all of these on my wrist. My sole goal with notifications on my Watch was to make sure there was a 90% chance of the alert actually being something I give a shit about.

Here’s an example. A few months ago my band rented a sound stage. All the band members are on my VIP list. When I was setting up my gear I had my iPhone in my jacket on the other side of the room. When I was done, a few members of the band had shown up so we started setting up more gear. During all this one of the members (not there) had emailed with a crucial question. By the time I got my iPhone is was too late. If I had my Watch, I would have received alert and looked down and read the email. Then I could have grabbed my iPhone and replied to it.

I also want to get access to a few pieces of information without dragging my iPhone out of my pocket. Pre-Watch, if I was out to dinner and my mate asked “Have you heard from your mom about (whatever)?” I’ll take my phone out, check that there were no new messages from my mom. I’d then take a quick look at Facebook. While I was at it, might was well read Twitter because that’s where the cool stuff is anyway. Next thing I know, I’m reading an article about the plight of the Kurdistan Muskrat while I’m being shot daggers from across the table. Now, with the Watch, I’ll look down at the Messages app and answer “No.”

So, on my Watch, I get notified on VIP emails, the activity app, Messages, and upcoming calendar appointments. In most cases, this works. The only outlier is my boss is a VIP so I know when he emails me. It’s not always relevant, but I like getting them. During the day when I’m in the office it’s not big concern. When I’m out of the office, I care a little more. I could move him in and out of the VIP list, but that’s too much of a hassle.

One curious thing is how the OSs handle Notifications. It seems as if I’m not actively using my iPhone, the alert will pop up on my Watch. When this happens, the badge icon on my iPhone disappears. This is fine in most cases. Where I ran into a problem is on the way home. When I’m driving I put my iPhone in the car mount and listen to music or podcasts. If I get a text message, I use Siri to listen and respond. One night driving home I noticed the Watch thought I wasn’t using my iPhone and the alert went to my Watch. I couldn’t use Siri to read unread messages. There might be a way to do this with Handoff, but I’m not sure. It’s something I need to look into.

I had bariatric surgery in August. As a result, I need to track a lot of data. Stuff like how much do I weight, have I gotten enough protein in? Is it time to eat again? Did I take my vitamins? Have I had enough I have alerts for most of these on my watch to make sure I don’t accidentally miss a task.

What I also like about the Watch is when you get a notification, it doesn’t light up the screen or do anything do let people know you’ve gotten alert. You just slightly turn and raise your wrist and see the notification. I’ll get into the social contract later.

GLANCES
If it’s not real obvious by now, pretty much the one job Watch has is to forward information from your iPhone to your wrist. There are some exceptions, like the Workflow app, which allow you to do actionable items, but for the most part you’re triaging information. One way this happens is Notifications. The other is Glances. You access Glances by swiping up on your Watch. This is the opposite of Notifications, where you swipe down. Swipe up; swipe down.

The Glances I have on my Watch are Battery, Heart Rate, Activity, Calendar, Dark Sky, MLB At Bat, and OmniFocus. The heart rate I keep for one reason: I had the Workout app screw me out of a workout because the sensors had frozen and required a Watch reboot. Now, before I start a workout I make damn sure the heart rate monitor is actually working.

One thing I advise is to keep your Glances to a minimum. Going back to George Carlin, the stuff I want to see on my Watch is the equivalent to going across the island in Maui – I just want the stuff that’s really important to me.

While you can control your music and podcasts from the Watch, I don’t care to. When I’m walking my iPhone is in my hand and it’s easier to switch songs right from the device.

ACTIVITY/WORKOUT
The primary reason I bought the Watch was for activity tracking. Sure, I could get a Fitbit, but I’d rather get something that integrated fully with the Health App. As a fitness tracker, I’ve found the Watch moderately successful.

The biggest issue I had is identifying what counts as exercise. The Apple Watch considers exercise anything that has a sustained heart rate over a certain amount. This amount is determined by your sex, height, and weight (which are defined in the Settings app). This is lofty goal, but given my general lack of fitness, I’m defining exercise as an activity I’m going out of my way to do.

Here’s an example. The place I work has a large parking lot. From where I park my car to the front door is about a quarter-mile walk. If I pull in and grab the first available spot, I don’t consider that exercise. However, if I park in the back row and walk the extra bit to the door, I do consider it exercise, even though I’m not elevating my heart rate. Likewise, if I take a walk at lunch, I’ll consider that exercise.

Because I’m not having a sustained heart rate over 100 BPM, the Outdoor Walk workout won’t track every minute. A lot of this is a strong desire to not walk back into work all sweaty. So, I use the Other workout to track this. It gives me my Move and calorie goals. One downside I’ve seen is that while there is a setting to discard the data after you’re done with a workout, the data doesn’t really go away. A few times, I’ve left the Workout app running longer than I intended by a few hours. This obviously messed up my goals. When I ended the workout, I chose to discard the data but all the activity still showed in the rings. What I’d like is some intelligence where the Watch would detect “ok, your heart rate is still at resting, and you haven’t moved for a bit Are you really exercising?” and give me the option to purge the data.

A lot of these issues are gone in watchOS 2. An excellent addition is the watch seems a lot smarter about tracking exercising without needing to launch the Workouts app. Over the last few days I’ve noticed that when I take a brisk walk around the building or walk from the end of the parking lot, I’ve had the exercise ring move on its own. What’s even better is the numbers it is generating actually seem to represent how much exercise I’ve gotten.

My only remaining complaint about the Activity tracker is the weekly summary. Every Monday I receive a notification about how often I hit my move goals the previous week. If I don’t hit the goal a lot, the Watch will suggest a lower move goal for the coming week. This is fine, except it just checks to see if I met the goals and not worry about if I exceeded them. Here’s an example: I have a move goal of 240. If I exceed it and hit 330 5 days, but only get to 239 twice, it may suggest a lower move goal. I would rather the algorithm be based on a percentage (either above or below the target) and base its recommendations from that number. The

THIRD PARTY APPS
With watchOS 1 the experience with 3rd party apps was miserable. For instance, by the time MLB at Bat loaded on the Watch, I could have just taken my iPhone out of my pocket and checked the score there. That said, even the watchOS 2 version of the MLB app seems slow. Other apps like OmniFocus seem to work fine with the new OS.

I’ve intentionally kept apps like Twitter off my Watch. Again, this about quick glances: do I need to be somewhere, do something, get a text someone is going to be late? How am I doing on my exercise goals? These are all areas I want to have brought to my attention. Not if I’ve gotten a DM or a reply to Twitter. That stuff can wait. During baseball season, I care about the Red Sox score.

The App screen to me feels very un-Apple like. It’s not clean. Tapping apps is like playing darts blind. I’m often tapping on the wrong app icon. I know I can use Siri for a lot of it, but I feel like Dick Tracey talking into my phone. Instead I use Complications and Glances to see info and launch apps. I use a timer a lot, so I have the “start timer” complication on my Watch Face.

THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
The Watch reminds me of that person whose job is to whisper into the president’s ear. Sometimes it’s to mention who is next in a reception line. Sometimes it’s a more urgent matter. While the Watch is great at helping you determine if a notification is something you need to act upon, looking at your watch in the presence of another person doesn’t convey “I’m curious if my mom has an urgent matter.” It broadcasts “how much fucking longer do I need to listen this person?” This is often not a desirable outcome. As with looking at your iPhone in the company of others, make sure that glancing at your watch is appropriate at that time.

THE WATCH
After all this talk about what the Watch does, I almost forgot to talk about the device itself. John Gruber said in his review: There are two types of people in the world: those who wear a watch, and those who don’t. I am not a watch wearer. I used to wear a watch, but after I got a cell phone (even my small Ericsson mini phone) I stopped wearing one. Having the Apple Watch on my wrist has forced me to remember that I kinda miss having a watch. It’s easier to tap (or flick) my wrist to see the time. I’ve noticed that when I’m out with Trish she will tap my wrist to see what time it is as well.

Since I’m not a watch wearer, I can’t really comment on the feel of it compared to a mechanical watch. The last watch I wore was almost 15 years ago. I do find the Watch to be very comfortable for extended periods. It’s a lot thicker than some mechanical watches, but it doesn’t feel like it throws off the balance of my wrist.

I only own a Sport Watch with two Sport Bands: the black and the midnight blue. A few weeks ago I switched to the midnight blue band and I love it. The original blue band was too cartoony. The midnight blue band is much more subtle. It’s a dark blue that’s almost a black. The midnight blue also goes well with most of my dress shirts, and is a tad more formal than the black. David Chartier posted about a $45 Milanese loop that might work better for some formal occasions.

BATTERY LIFE
I’m calling this out in its own section because it’s a frequently-asked question. In the 5 months I’ve had the device, I’ve never wanted for more battery. After the first week I’ve pretty much stopped looking at the Glance other than idle curiosity. I charge it at night (and use it for my alarm clock), and it would go well into the following morning without a charge. In average, daily use, I could get between 18-20 hours of use. I haven’t done an all-day type of activity — like a long run or bike ride — so I don’t know it will affect that. The closest comparison I have is a few all-day walks in Boston and I still had tons of juice when I got home that night.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I’ve had the Apple Watch for almost five months now. This has easily been the most challenging review I’ve ever done. I love the Watch. I wear it every day and will go home and get it if I leave home without it. I’m constantly monitoring how much I’ve moved, where I need to be, what tasks I have and if the text message I just received is informational or if I need to act on it.

The Time Travel feature (added in watchOS 2) still feels a little gimmicky. Basically, you can spin the digital crown to move the time forwards or backwards and the Complications will change depending on the data it has for that time. It’s great if you want to see what the weather is like tonight, or when your meetings are. That said, I think it’s easier to just launch Dark Sky or the Calendar app to see the data instead.

However, when people have asked if they should get one, I’ve had a hard time answering. For fitness tracking you can just use a Fitbit. If you don’t maintain your schedule and to do items electronically the Watch is of little value to you. However, if, like me, you use digital tools to manage your entire life, the Watch can be a very handy tool.

Why I’m ordering the Apple Watch

As much as I love Apple tech, I was originally not planning on buying a Watch. Some of this was related to the loss of Gigaom; the loss of that income also meant the loss of my general tech splurge fund. I also wasn’t sure what use the Watch would have in my life. Sure, the notifications are nice, but I’m working on trying to not look at them when I’m being social, so the Watch often seems the same end result with a different means to that end.

Then I read Peter Cohen’s article in this month’s Loop Magazine. Like Peter, I need to eliminate a ton of weight. I read how he will use the watch to track fitness stuff and that struck a chord with me. Sure, I could get a cheaper Fitbit, or just track the information by hand. I like raw data collected from a trusted source. A watch telling me I burned this many calories and walked a specific amount of steps is better than me guessing what it is and eliminates me being overly generous. “Sure,” I’d say. That leisurely stroll to the mailbox was a quarter-mile, high-impact run.”

I also make sure every 30 min or so I get up and make a lap of the building I work at. However, I usually keep my iPhone on my desk and forget to grab it when I take my stroll. My goal with the watch is to keep it on my wrist as often as possible. I want credit for every flight of stairs at home, every step I take (every breath you take), and all that good vital sign data.

Amazon eliminates free cloud storage

Amazon sent me this email last week:

“Thanks for being an Amazon Cloud Drive customer! Amazon Cloud Drive is introducing new unlimited storage plans.

You can now save all your photos in one place with the Unlimited Photos plan for $11.99/year, plus 5 GB for videos and files. Or, if you have more than photos that you need to keep safe, the Unlimited Everything plan is perfect for all your photos, video, files, and documents, for $59.99/year.”

Astute readers will note the free 5 GB plan has been eliminated. I have no sources on why Amazon did this — maybe people weren’t really using under 5 GB, but I wonder if this is due to e-book piracy. I do wonder if most of what people were using the Personal Documents for pirated ebooks and this is Amazon’s way of getting some money from this.

Either way, it sucks. I used to use Personal Documents to store PDFs of manuals. I’ll likely just toss them in iBooks now.

How I practice guitar at home

My stage rig only gets used at practices these days. I’m in my home office so often it’s just easier to practice my guitar on my MacBook. This quick post goes into the tools and software I use.

My main guitar for my punk band is a 2009 Silverburst Epiphone Les Paul Custom. I’ve replaced the bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickup that I love. I also have an after market set of guitar knobs with skulls on them. Because we play a lot of Social Distortion, the guitar is tuned down to Eb and usually has a capo on the 2nd fret. So, essentially it’s a half-step sharp from standard tuning.

When I practice at home my guitar goes into an Apogee Jam and then into IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 3. I’ve found Amplitube the most flexible of amp sims. It has licensed amps from Carvin, Marshall, Orange and lots more. I have a few presets for heavy metal, blues, and punk. They’re pretty much just different amps.

When I practice at home I’m not usually too worried about extra effects like delays and flangers. I’m usually just playing to iTunes and I’m more worried I’m getting the song down correctly than worrying if I have the right amount of delay. Speaking of iTunes, I have a playlist with all the songs my band is working on. Sometime I’ll get unlazy and rearrange in our set list but that’s a chore for another day.

This set up works well and eliminates most excuses to practice. There is usually a guitar within arm’s reach at the house. With this setup I can just plug in and play.

Life with a MacBook Air (and why I didn’t go iPad-only)

Two weeks ago, I bought a MacBook Air. The better half’s laptop died and we needed to get a replacement. I wanted a smaller laptop, so I gave her my MacBook Pro and bought an Air.

At the time, I seriously considered getting a new iPad Air 2 and going iPad only. Obviously, I didn’t, so I wanted to talk through some of that thought process.

Workflows

Translating my overall workflow experience on iOS 8 still feels a little clunky. I have my creative projects folder on iCloud I use to sluice information into over the course of a day. I’ll either print a page to PDF, save a photo, or file away a document.

Some of this stuff I’ll clip into Evernote for. I’m still on the free account and usually just run up against the 60mb transfer limit. On OS X, the Evernote web clipper works a treat. For some reason though, I can’t get a photo I’m viewing in Safari on iOS to invoke extensions. When I bring up the share extension, none of the extensions are there. I can save the photo to my Photos app and upload it to Evernote from there, but that’s an unnecessary step.

I also wasn’t able to easily publish to Gigaom on the iPad. No blogging app on iOS could break through the front-end Gigaom had built– we had to choose the channel we were posting to before creating a post. I’d usually just copy the HTML in Byword to WordPress in Safari. I could do this in Safari on iOS, but I’ve never been very happy with WordPress on iOS Safari. The joke was on me since Gigaom shut down the week I got the MacBook Air anyway.

Adjusting to life on the small screen

Going from a 15” to an 11” screen hasn’t been as tough as I expected. I thought for sure I’d have some eye strain that hasn’t been the case. While it’s not a Retina screen, it does seem a little bit crisper than my 2011 MacBook Pro.

The 11” screen seems very suited to full-screen. I don’t maximize the Finder, but OneNote, Word and Byword I usually run full screen. I think I remember Jason Snell mentioning that he ran a lot of apps on is 11 full-screen and I find myself leaning that way as well.This is also the first Mac that I have put the Dock on the right-hand side of the screen. A little more vertical real estate is handy.

The post-Air creative life

I expected I’d be slightly more productive with the Air. I wasn’t expecting I would be a lot more productive. During the day, I use my Air at work to take notes in meetings. It’s more comfortable than my work laptop and I don’t have to worry about the battery running down.

At home, though, my desire to work on creative projects has blossomed since I got the Air. The small size really got me going. I have an L-shaped workbench in my office. The Air is small enough that when I’m working on a model, I can bring up a reference photo without the laptop taking over the bench.

I also like having a machine that’s dedicated for writing. When I pretended I was looking into writing on my iPad I was trying to make sure my writing files would also be editable on iOS. Right now, since Byword is still my main writing app that’s not an issue, but I’m leaning towards using Scrivener for my longer-form projects. However, that workflow may end up also end up on iOS since the iOS version of Scrivener is getting closer..

Is the MacBook Air the last laptop I purchase?

Most likely.

Like I said earlier, I bought the MacBook Air because it fit all of my needs right now without any compromises and I couldn’t afford to wait. While I admire Federico Viticci and his ability to make an iPad Air 2 his main computer. I’m not there yet. I think for me, we are still one or two iOS releases away from me going all-in on iOS.