enough (the hardware edition)

I was working on an article about my goals for 2017 and I had a bullet point: Reduce my technological footprint. There were a few lines about the number of devices I have and how I wanted to be more efficient and minimize the number of devices I use.

There’s a new Netflix show on Minimalism (in which Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac is mentioned). Patrick also tweeted this link to another piece on Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. The show is great, focusing on getting the rid of a lot of the crap we as humans tend to collect. The documentary hit at a good time. I was on vacation and I was going to dump out a ton of stuff from my home office. At the same time, I took a hard look at some of the electronic devices I have floating around.

What is Digital Minimalism?

From Cal Newport’s article above, he defines Digital Minimalism as:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

Tech Products I use at least 4 times a year:

So, I have a ton of devices. Here are the ones that get used heavily1:

  1. iPad Pro 12.9″
  2. iPhone 6+2
  3. Alienware Alpha
  4. MacBook Air 11″ (2014)
  5. MacBook Pro 15″ (2011)

Getting to One

At work, we are combining some groups and services. The marketing language for the initiative is “Getting to One.” It’s a great slogan and one I’m trying to mimic with my devices. It’s impossible, of course. Not one of those devices listed above can do all of the things the other devices can do. So, there are two mantras that may somewhat compete:

  • Getting to Less
  • The Right Tool for the Job

The right tool for the job is the presiding mantra. Saying I’m going to cut back to just using my iPhone doesn’t let me perform the tasks I need the other devices for. Similarly, abandoning all the devices but for the iPad Pro (my favorite of all of them), leaves out a central communication device (the iPhone) as well as most of my game playing needs.

Patrick Rhone, who I mentioned earlier, used to have a great podcast called Enough. It’s sadly gone, and the files are gone to the internet. There is a torrent file, but it’s dead also. He also has a book, Enough, which is not dead. In the podcast, they talked about what is enough. What do you need to get life done, but not more than that. One of the segments I loved was they would talk to someone about what it would take to life their digital life on an 11″ MacBook Air with 64 gig of storage. It’s the digital version of a Tiny House. The cuts people would have to make were interesting to listen to.

My goals was to get my Every Day Carry (EDC) down to two main devices. Two devices to do 80% of my day-to-day stuff. It also all needs to fit in my Tom Bihn Ristretto.

The first to go was the Alienware Alpha. I’ve moved gaming to the PlayStation 43. The only thing the Alienware really did was serve up my Plex Library. The library was on a portable drive anyway4. So, during the Big Purge the Alpha got placed on the shelf. The monitor is in a closet.

Deciding between the two MacBooks is easy. The Air is smaller and fits in my bag. It doesn’t have the processor power of the Pro, but it’s enough.

That got me to three. Not bad. An iPad, and iPhone and a MacBook Air. But what do I really need that MacBook Air for every day? I’m not talking about replacing it entirely, mind you. This is an 80% rule. I believe I can actually do 90% of what I need the MacBook for on the iPad. Working from home requires me to to log into our Virtual Desktop system via Citrix Receiver, and while it’s fine for a few things on iOS, it’s not a great interface. So, I’ll use the Mac for that.

So, the MacBook Air got placed in its sleeve and was laid (to rest) in one of the now empty drawers in the desk.

That’s two. An iPad and an iPhone for 80% of my non-gaming needs.

  1. I’m leaving out my Amazon Kindle and my Xbox. I consider those appliances, and, anyway they are hardly used.
  2. I also have an Apple Watch, but I consider it an extension of the iPhone.
  3. It’s semantics, but I classify the PS4 as a single-purpose appliance rather than a device.
  4. As a side effort, a lot of these files are .MKV files. I’m going to convert them to .M4V files. That way I can read them directly from the iPad if I want to.
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iPad Pro Apps I Use and Love

As I work on making the iPad Pro my primary computer, I thought I’d share some of the apps I use on a daily basis. There are many more apps installed on my iPad, but these are the ones I use often.

The iPad Pro

I have the 12.9″ 128 gig model with a Smart Keyboard. It’s a great setup, and I’m writing this article on it. I also have a 16g iPad Air that’s more of a reading/test environment.

Writing:

Ulysses: This is my go-to app. About 98% of my personal writing goes through this app. All of my blog posts originate in here. I also have drafts of my long-form fiction in here.

Scrivener: I’m testing this out for my long-form work. I’m not sure I like Ulysses’s all in one bucket structure for my longer bodies of work. I’m also not thrilled with Scrivener’s export functions on iOS. Ulysses can export as an ePub cleanly which Scrivener can’t do. If I do adopt Scrivener for this work, compiling my output might be something I still have to do on the Mac.

Word and Pages: I’m likely starting my Master’s degree in April. School work will probably not be something I use Ulysses for. I’m not totally thrilled with how Word on iOS handles exports, but for submitting papers and assignments it might be the best option.

Email

Gmail: I’m not in love with the Gmail app. It apparently can’t send attachments from anything but the Photos library and Gdrive. I use Google as my primary email and I don’t need to send attachments that often. It’s faster than the iOS Mail app. So, I just use the iOS Mail app when I need to send an attachment.

Outlook: Work stuff only. I keep a clean separation of church and state when it comes to work and personal email. I don’t even keep Outlook on a main screen. If you suck both your work and personal emails into one app, I strongly discourage this. It’s way easier to disconnect from work if you can toss an app into a folder. It’s on a folder on my main screen, but it’s very easy for me to ignore it when I’d rather not check my work email.

Calendar

Calendar: For most of my personal needs, I use the built-in Calendar linked to my Google Calendar. I don’t really need a powerful calendar app so the default one works fine for me.

Outlook: Again, work calendars only. I hate how Outlook handles calendars, actually. I can’t change if an appointment shows as free, busy, or out of office, and I also can’t view free/busy information for invitees. I only use the app to see where I need to be at a given time.

Drawing

Procreate: Hands down, my favorite drawing app for the iPad. I love the custom brushes and it’s pretty much a dream come true for digital artists. They also seem to have some big things planned for version 3.2 that should be out soon.

Graphic: Autodesk Graphic is as close to an Adobe Illustrator clone as I’ve found for the iPad. It’s great for when I need to do precision vector artwork.

Reading

Instapaper: It’s still my favorite Read Later service. I’ve floated between it and Pocket for a bit, but over the last year I’ve just settled on Instapaper and never looked back.

Kindle: I buy all my ebooks through Amazon. Periodically I’ll download them and deDRM them so I can have an archive or read them in iBooks. At one point, I felt that iBooks had superior typography to the Kindle app, but once Amazon introduced the Bookerly font I much preferred that. I also get books out from my library to read on the Kindle.

iBooks: I pretty much just read PDFs in iBooks. I think I’d use it more if I could have a book in more than collection. I also don’t like that it doesn’t shove the book I’m reading to the top of its list like the Kindle app does.

Reeder: I don’t often hit RSS, but whenI do it’s through Reeder. I have it set to sync my Feedly account via Google. I probably follow about 100 sites on it from photography to tech to art. I probably open it once a week

Social Media

Facebook: I am not a fan of the Facebook app. It’s not optimized for the 12.9″ iPad. To be frank, I’m also not a fan of the entire Facebook service, but it’s where I stay in contact with my friends.

Tweetbot: I prefer Twitter to Facebook, although on Twitter I tend to initiate the communication more than on Facebook. I interact with some other writers and tech folks who don’t follow me on Twitter. I don’t have a problem with this. Twitter is also my primary way of finding out tech news.

This article is part of a series on going iPad-only. For more in the series click here.

Shutting Down and Eating My Own Dog Food

Part of this is epically failing in my 2016 Creative Goals. Part of this is encouraging people to go iOS-primary while still often reaching for the security blanket of a laptop at night. Part of it is admitting I’m far too likely to spend the night fucking off on a virtual world.

Matt Gemmell wrote about social dark. It’s a great piece about limiting distractions while working from home. Matt recently switched to an iOS only lifestyle and I asked him how he handled distractions without the scripts he used to run. He replied:

@crumpy I don’t have notifications on the iPad. With every app being full-screen, that’s enough.

Tonight when I got home I did the following things (outside of dinner and after-work greetings with T.):

  • Admitted to my creative failures in 2016
  • Finished the inking on a sketch
  • Got on the treadmill for 15 min at a brisk walk. Watched half an XOXO Fest talk while I was at it.
  • Caught up on some threads I’m following on MacRumors.1
  • Fucked off online for the rest of the night. Some of it in a video game, some of it on Twitter. Some if it’s just gone.

I came downstairs and thought about another blog post I’m working on. It’s a long post about the Mac, what I still use it for, and if I’ll get another Mac eventually. There’s a line in it that I’m not sure will stay, but I wanted to post it here anyway:

This year when I got the 12.9″ iPad and the Smart Keyboard I made a commitment to iOS. It was a slow process. I got it and the pencil so I can draw. I was out with a friend getting her a Smart Cover for her iPad and she talked me into getting a Smart Keyboard for my iPad. I love the combination. Almost all of my writing happens via this setup. The screen is large, gorgeous and crisp. The Smart keyboard isn’t my favorite keyboard of all time, but it gets the job done.

I can do about 90% of my personal-computing daily tasks on iOS. At dinner last week, someone commented that I’m an iPad Pro pro user.

I’m active in forums and discussions encouraging people to look at the iPad as a serious productivity tool. But, I give myself the fallback position of a Mac too often. This is getting in the way of my productivity at home.

So, I went back upstairs, shut down the two MacBooks and placed them on a shelf in my office. I took the keyboard to my gaming console and put it behind the monitor. That PC is also the media center for the house so I can’t I shut it down.

My goal is to find and the live the pain points of using an iPad as my primary personal device. There are a few outs I’m giving myself:

  • There is a weekly personal task I need a Mac to perform for the next 3 weeks or so. So, the Mac will be turned on to do that task and shut down
  • I might be playing a video game once a week with my friends, so the PC or Mac will be used for that
  • If I work from home, using my 27″ monitor and my PC is the best way to connect to our VDI solution. I will not live like a savage and try to spend 8 hours doing that task on my iPad
  • If I want to work in Xcode, obviously I’ll need a Mac
  • On the nights when I feel like I’ve earned some game time, I’ll treat myself to a night of World of Warcraft

If I hit a wall where I can’t do a task on iOS, but need my Mac to complete the task, I’m not going to bang my head against the wall fruitlessly and not complete it; I’m going to fire up the Mac, do the task, and make a note of it.

I need to get on my surfboard and ride this wave of iOS and iPads Pro as far as it will take me. I need to step over the line and see if I fall over a cliff.

 

This is part of a series on using the iPad Pro as my primary device. For more posts on this series, click here.

  1. Some of the posts I write there are almost blog posts. There’s a lively thread on using the iPad as a main device I’m involved in. Some of my comments have ended up as the basis for a post here.

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.