Minimizing My Blogs (a last post of sorts)

I’ve made the somewhat difficult decision to stop posting at this site.

I’ve had in the back of my head consolidating all of my various writing on my personal site (www.markcrump.com) for a while. I started The Casual Techie as a way to continue the sort of writing I used to do a GigaOM, but it never took off the way I expected. At GigaOM, I wrote about topics that non-power users would find helpful. Hense, the site name The Casual Techie. As I started down the iOS-primary path, the types of stuff I was writing about weren’t really so casual after all. I also found myself not writing about topics that weren’t technical in nature because maintaining two blogs wasn’t optimal.

A few organizations that reached out to me to review products didn’t want to send me review units because I had a personal, and not an “organization” site. I created The Casual Techie to give my own solely tech-oriented site a go. Ironically, the same people didn’t want to send me review units because I didn’t write for one of the established sites. At first I thought I’d try and go after the sponsored content model, but I never felt comfortable pursuing and selling myself that way. My overall readership is still low enough that I’m not affecting many people by making the move now.1

This is not the main reason I’ve stopped writing here, mind you. There are other things I want to write about, and I wanted to have a central site to write about tech, art, writing and whatever crosses my mind. At some point, I’m thinking of moving off the free WordPress host I’m on to a hosted platform where I have more customization options. At that point, I wanted to have only one site anyway. My model for websites has become less Daring Fireball and more Shawn Blanc, Jason Kottke and Ben Brooks. Personal content about matters of interest to me.

I exported the blog posts from this site over to the new home. If you had bookmarked this site, please change your bookmarks.

  1. I’m averaging about 150 vistors per month. Almost all of them from links to my writing I’ve posted in threads at MacRumors.

Books Read in 2016 — 57 books in 52 weeks

I know I read a ton of books. It’s my primary leisure activity, surpassing even gaming and trains. This year, I thought I’d see just how many books I read in a year and kept a list. The following list is the books I’ve completed. The partial list is a book I got at least 30% into before calling it quits. Not counted are books I read a chapter or two and didn’t go any further. There are some short books in there — the Quarry series are short books. I make up for it with The Historian and The Winds of War and War and Rembrance. Hefty tomes, them.

  1. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
  2. Everywhere Mary Went – Lisa Scottoline
  3. Seveneves – Neal Stephenson
  4. Neverwere – Neil Gaiman
  5. Mycroft Holmes – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’
  6. The promise – Robert Crais
  7. The Big Short – Michael Lewis
  8. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
  9. Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull
  10. Quarry’s Choice – Max Collins
  11. Quarry – Max Collins
  12. Quarry’s list – Max Collins
  13. Quarry’s deal – Max Collins
  14. Quarry’s cut – Max Collins
  15. Quarry’s vote – Max Collins
  16. Last Quarry – Max Collins
  17. Last night in the OR – Bud Shaw
  18. Quarry in the middle – Max Collins
  19. Darknet – Mathew Mather
  20. Dark Disciple – Christie Golden
  21. Friction – Sandra Brown
  22. The Hexed – Heather Graham
  23. Extreme Prey – John Sandford
  24. Rules of Prey- John Sandford
  25. Shadow Prey – John Sandford
  26. Eyes of Prey – John Sandford
  27. Silent Prey – John Sandford
  28. Winter Prey – John Sandford
  29. Night Prey – John Sandford
  30. Illidan – William King
  31. Warcraft: Durotan
  32. End of Watch, Stephen King
  33. Last Guardian, Jeff Grubb
  34. Mind Prey – John Sandford
  35. Fool me once, Harlan Coben
  36. Sudden Prey, John Sandford
  37. Secret Prey – John Sandford
  38. Certain prey – John Sandford
  39. Easy Prey – John Sandford
  40. Chosen prey – John Sandford
  41. Black Widow, – Daniel Silva
  42. Kingpin: How one hacker took over the billion-dollar Cybercrime underground.
  43. Winds of War, Herman Woulk
  44. War and remembrance, Herman Woulk
  45. Every 15 minutes – Lisa Scottoline
  46. Razor Girl – Carl Hiaasen
  47. Temporary Agent – Daniel Judson
  48. Shadow Factory – James Bamford
  49. Silent Sister – Diane Chamberlain
  50. Changer, Matt Gemmell
  51. The Girl in the Spiders Web
  52. The Bat: Jo Nesbo
  53. Escape Clause – John Sandford
  54. Sleep Tight – Rachel Abbot
  55. Night School – Lee Child
  56. Inferno – Dan Brown
  57. Catalyst – James Luceno

Partial Credit (Started but did not finish)

  1. Fireman, Joe Hill
  2. Fatal System Error

The Medicinal Value of Fucking Off

Last week, I wrote about fucking off less. My hope was that by shutting down my Macs and moving the keyboard behind my gaming PC, I’d be more productive with my free time. A friend of mine even jokingly texted me, “Stop fucking off when you get home!”

There’s a saying by Helmuth von Moltke that’s applicable: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. My week of productivity was sidelined by a bad cold. I got the cold Tuesday and sucked it up all week and went in to work. Saturday my body shut down on me and I was too ill to even play a video game. I did manage to write about my favorite iPad Pro apps, but even that quick post took a lot out of me.

Sunday I felt a lot better. I gave some thought to writing and drawing. I did work on my trains for an hour. I have a set of cars (86′ hi cube) that have proven to be a real challenge to get around the club layout. So, I spent an hour working on adjusting the couplers to try again this weekend.

The rest of the day? I played the new Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion. It was the antithesis of what I preached last week. Fuck off less; create more. It was also exactly what I needed.

Some times, you’ve given, well, adulting, as much of an effort as you can. The week I was sick was rough. I had meetings the made it impossible to call in sick, where even a day off would have meant getting ahead of it enough to stave it off. Alas, I couldn’t even sneak out a little early on Friday since I had a 4:00 meeting.

I needed a day to transition from being sick to being well. While I was capable of cognitive thought, I needed to let my mind and body heal. Some people binge watch a TV series. I chose to bing play a new expansion.

While it’s important to Be All We Be, and Always Give 100%, sometimes it’s also important to Have Zero Fucks to Give.

Just don’t do it every day. Only when used for medicinal purposes.

Creative Goals, 2016: The Accountability Post

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how I set what I felt were achievable creative goals for 2016. The year isn’t over yet, but it’s not too early to view the results. Nothing that will happen for the rest of the year impact the results, and at this point even if I did cram and meet them, it would be like getting some projects done just in time for your annual review at work.

I wanted to get the following done:

  1. Write 22 blog posts: Fail. Now, it’s possible I could write 22 posts before the end of year. I do have some cooking. If I did, though, it would satisfy the requirement, but not the intent which was to consistently deliver content for the site. Instead, there was a nearly 8-month gap between posts.
  2. Finish one piece of art beyond the sketch phase: Success. I likely won’t show it to anyone, and it’s still rougher than I would like. I did sketch and ink it in Procreate. It’s not an original piece of art, though. I saw a drawing someone did online and thought, hey, that’s in a style close to what you can draw, give it a go. It’s not colored as his is. I’m color blind and don’t feel comfortable working in colors yet.
  3. Write 40,000 words of fiction: Epic Fail. I didn’t write one word of fiction. I’m not disappointed since I thought this was the unlikely one to complete. Fiction writing is the hardest form of writing for me to do. I have the basis of a character. In 1999 I started working on a novel set in London. The main character was a bit of a Lisbeth Salander-type, but before Stieg Larsson’s novels came out. I’m still working on what her story is, though.

Extra Credit:

The year wasn’t a total dumpster fire for creativity, though. I got back into model railroading and rejoined the club I was a member of. I’ve been helping them with some scenery projects. I’m also building a module for the Ntrak organization I belong to.

I also did a photo night with a co-worker and have been getting back into some photography.

Sal Soghoian leaves Apple

Apple has eliminated Sal’s position “for business reasons.”

This sucks. Sal was a leader in macOS automation and scripting. His termination is another area where I feel like the Apple I have known and loved just isn’t the same. What’s the future for automation and scripting in Apple? Who the fuck knows at this point.

Sal has an incredible gift of explaining incredibly technical terms with the casualness of explaining how to throw a chili together.

Digital Nomadship and My Personal Relationship with Tech

I am fascinated by digital nomads. The idea of carrying your belongings in a bag and traveling where your heart takes you is appealing to me. I used to be a roadie for rock bands. Family lore has Irish Tinker in my blood. I get wanderlust. I love to travel. I hate the hassle of traveling, but I love seeing new places. I am genetically dichotomous. The gypsy blood wants me to roam; the German pragmaticist wants me to grow roots and be a slave to a routine. The German part of me wins more often. In my mind, the trains always run on time. I don’t like it when the timeframe for a get together is vague.

Every kid has fantasized about joining a circus. We’ll be mad at our parents and want to pack our earthly belongings into a paper sack and take off. Sometimes as adults this feeling never leaves us. We look longingly at a picture of an exotic place and think, “Fuck it. I’m going to quit my job and go live in Caribbean.” This is common in New England in the dead of winter when yet another blizzard drops 2′ of snow on us. Or what’s normally a 30 min commute turns into a 2 hour crapfest because of an accident.

The Boston Globe had a great article about the gig economy. I think if I was in my 20s now, going 100% independent would be what I would strive for. Corporate loyalty only goes in one direction these days, and it’s not towards the worker.

The reality is, I’ll never truly become a digital nomad in my career. I have roots, and I like being surrounded my stuff. Even if I had job that supported a fully-mobile lifestyle, I like having a home in the woods with my people and animals.

In all other regards, I’m a digital nomad. I can’t remember when I used a desktop as my primary computer. The early 2000s, I think. Once I got a hand-me-down Mac laptop at an old job, PowerBooks, and now MacBooks became my daily drivers. My iPad Pro is increasingly becoming the only device I need on the road. Every iOS revision I get closer to only keeping a MacBook on for iCloud sync and using iOS as my Primary OS.

Early last year, I bought a MacBook Air, 11″. We had a sudden failure of a 2009 MacBook Pro 13″, so I handed down my 2011 MacBook Pro 15″ and bought the Air. The 15″ then died so we bought a Chromebook to replace it and I put the 15″ on the shelf. It turned out the 15″ was covered under the Apple extended warranty for GPU failures1 so I was able to get it running again for free.

That 15″ is a laptop I have immense love for. As much as an inanimate object can help, it got me through an incredibly tough period of my life. I was going through a divorce, a job loss, my mom’s successful battle with cancer, and wrapping up my college degree. I wasn’t home more than I was, especially during the divorce. The 15” and eventually the iPad 3 were with me for every step. I bought the version that had the discrete GPU so I could play World of Warcraft when I wasn’t at home. The large screen helped a lot doing my chemistry homework. My only regret 5 years later is I didn’t get the version that had the 1G card. In hindsight, I was foolish to think 256gb on a video card would be enough. I’ve since replaced the hard drive with a 400g SSD and upped the ram to 8gb. Even with the entirety of my OneDrive account still residing on the 15″, I still have a 145g free. I can upgrade to a 1TB drive for short money. A few years after I bought it, Apple started making the MacBook Pros harder to upgrade, so in a lot of ways it feels like the last of the V8s.

Likewise, I have no regrets with the 11″ Air. I could have bought a higher-end version with the 512gb drive, but even with my Lightroom Library on the drive I still have 50 gig free on it (the OneDrive library, obviously isn’t on it). The Great Cloud Storage Consolidation of 2016 let me offload large, infrequently-used files to a cloud storage and never need to store them on my Mac — these are files I primarily read on my iPad. Upgrading the SSD is more expensive than the Pro, but I can update it to 480G or 1TB.

All things being equal, if the 2009 Macbook Pro died a year later I would have bought the iPad Pro, handed down the 15″ and when it had the GPU failure still bought the Chromebook (it’s worked better for her than any other laptop I’ve given her). When it got fixed, it would become my desktop Mac. I have an Alienware Alpha to play games serves as the print and media server for the house, so if I needed desktops-type stuff, I was covered. The 15″ would have become my on-the-road Mac.

Events didn’t unfold that way and I have two laptops that are perfect for me, just in different ways. I’m not going to get rid of either of them. I also can’t use both of them at the same time2.

Day-to-day use, they perform about the same. Geekbench-wise, the Air is a tad faster on single-core, the Pro about 3k higher on multi-core. In my games, the HD5000 on the Air benchmarks close to the 6490M on the Pro, but the Pro doesn’t have the frame rate sags the Air does. That said, the Air takes advantage of Metal. WoW supports Metal so it runs on the Air a little bit better.

What does this have to do with portable computing?

On the recent Upgrade podcast, Myke Hurley and Jason Snell were discussing Jason’s article When traveling, the iPad is essential and my Mac is the add-on. I don’t think in either the article or the podcast discussion Jason defended his thesis well — while he was outlining areas he thought iOS could improve, it came across more of a indictment of working on iOS than supporting why it was essential. However, Myke asked Jason a good question: If you could only bring one device, which would it be? Jason hemmed and hawed and didn’t really answer it because Myke set him up — Jason’s use cases make it more likely than not he would have to bring a Mac with him when he travels; this may not be the case in a couple of years.

I know what the answer would be for me: the iPad Pro in almost every situation. Even if I was traveling through Europe for a year, the only reason I would bring a Mac is if I was doing photography that required the full version of Lightroom. I could live without WoW for a year. Lightroom Mobile even covers most of my basic post needs.

It’s when you ask me to pick one MacBook I have a dilemma.

The Mac leaves the house for very specific purposes. I could be presenting on a screen while I’m working on a document. The iOS version of Excel falls down on some of the data-driven spreadsheets I use.3 In a few weeks I might need to work on an complicated Excel file with a friend. I’ll bring the 15″ so we can work on it together and I don’t have to worry about any issues with iOS Excel. I could be going to a Tableau seminar and need a laptop for their hands-on labs.

The Air is more portable, has better battery life, faster read/write performance, USB 3.0, and weighs a metric shit ton less than the aircraft carrier-sized 15”. The Pro has a larger screen and hard drive, slightly faster multi-core benchmarks, worse battery life by about 2-hours, … and a whole lot of fun memories that come back when I use it. It’s like the ratty pair of slippers you don’t want to throw away because you remember wearing them all the Christmases with the now grown-up kids opening their presents. It even has the hole still in it the now long-dead dog chewed in it.

The Air is not without its memories. My cat, Harrison, died last year and until recently there was still one of his paw prints on the back of the display. I was bummed when I looked for it a few days ago and it had finally rubbed off.

I written a few paragraphs about how I didn’t have the attachment with some of my older Macs and iPads that I do with the iPad pro, the 15″ and the 11″. But that’s not true. The 2006 plastic MacBook I was able to purchase entirely with freelance money — the first time I was able to do it. The scores of articles I wrote for PC Gamer with it on the train in and out of Boston. The 2009 MacBook Pro that shipped with the Nvidia 9400M that actually wasn’t a bad little video card for the time. It also got 7 hours of battery life — a huge improvement over the whitebook. My first interaction with Trish — an email exchange via eHarmony happened on that keyboard. I’ve met a few still-close friends playing online games on that MacBook Pro. My original iPad — handed off without much of a thought to a friend — introduced me to the world of reading electronically and has allowed me to amass a massive library that doesn’t require its own building. iPads have been my constant companion since I got the first one in 2010. Six years seems like a lifetime ago.

These devices, these little soulless pieces of silicons are our windows and doorways into the world. Our fingers touch them very day. They are the devices we share the good news of a newborn child, that she said, “YES!”, and a new job. We type the bad news of a passed family member, an impending divorce, and a job loss. We can drive by a store and remember a happy dinner within the walls. I can remember the keyboards I first talked to a new love and passed on bad news about a marriage. Typing out on Facebook about a death. Musicians mention the instruments they create a memorable song with. Guitar players wax poetic about writing songs on a hunk of wood and wire4; writers remember the keyboards and devices we write on.

What’s nice about light, thin devices is creative people can work wherever the muse strikes us — or we chain her to a chair and make her get to work. Nomads travel to where the work is. Now, my creative endeavors can travel with me.

  1. The moral to this story, kids, is don’t get a Mac with a discrete GPU. Those things have a high failure rate.
  2. I can come close, though. With all of my files in iCloud drive it’s just a syncing issue. One app I use writes a lot of logs that I need to reference. I’ve found the iCloud syncing is a little slow in that regard, so I had to store them in the Documents folder.
  3. I should be working on my work laptop, but at this point I hate the T440 I have so much, I’d rather use our VDI on my Mac than use the T440. I’m in line for an upgrade to a T460 which I understand to have a better trackpad and also is a smaller device.
  4. I play the guitar. Don’t email me.

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.