Things I like this week, volume 36.

Anker SoundBuds Slim Wireless Headphones

I’ve resisted the urge to order AirPods so far. I don’t know if that’ll last forever, but at the same time, I don’t think I’d want to wear a pair of very expensive headphones for stuff like mowing the lawn. Bluetooth is essential however, and I came across these recently. I’ve been a fan of Anker for a loooong time now. I’ve yet to get something from them that isn’t terrific, so I figured I would give these a shot.

For this price, I think they’re exceptional. Used them today: great seal in the ear, pretty respectable low end, solid battery life. And they’re water-resistant. Ordered a second pair so I can have a “clean” pair and a “dirty” one. Also because I am a child.

DreamObjects

I switched my hosting a while back to DreamHost, and they have their own object storage solution, aptly titled DreamObjects. It’s S3 compatible, so you can use it with about a million things, and I found it easier to set up and manage than S3. They also have their own CDN option baked in, and it’s one click to enable that. Pricing is great, and you can upgrade your storage to a pre-paid plan in a variety of sizes. I’ve been very happy with DreamHost since I switched, and I’m looking forward to using this too.

Anker SoundBuds

DreamHost – DreamObjects

Things I like this week, volume 35.

Sycees 0.5W Plug-in LED Night Light

Sometimes the things that make me the happiest are dead simple. This is one of those times.

And as such, I’ll keep this simple. You buy these lights in a six-pack. You plug them in. They go on when it’s dark, off when it’s not. They are awesome and I have them all over my house now, and at night, it’s like when you’re at a resort, and they have that nice path lighting as you walk around outside.

These stupid lights make me happier than they have a right to. They will make you happy too.

And if super white LED isn’t your thing, apparently they have a warmer variant as well.

Sycees LED Night Lights

Rediscovering infatuation.

Every summer, I seem to go through familiar cycles, examining how I do things, and breaking down well-worn workflows to experiment with new ones. I feel that this serves two goals: on one hand, there’s a cadence to this process, as a new iOS release looms in the near distance, but at the same time, something about this time of year leads me to question how and why I do things.

I’ll chalk it up to summer being one of my favorite times of year, where the warmth of the sun energizes me physically and mentally, and I find myself stirred into new modes of activity and thinking. Whatever it is, I’ve decided not to fight it, and I almost look forward to it each year, knowing it’s on the way, quietly wondering what I’ll decide to strip down to parts and rebuild.

Last year it was task management: the psychic overhead, the bifurcation of worlds, and the sheer tactical action required to make my world keep turning. This year, I’m focused on a vector into that and many other aspects of life. This year, I’m taking a different look at the iPad.

Background

I’ve been a fan of the iPad since day one. I got the very first model as soon as it was available and adored it from the start. I always saw potential and shades of the future in it, despite its initial limitations, its basic pedigree as an older sibling to the iPhone, and the seemingly unending stream of naysayers ready and willing to knock it down for not being all things to all people.

The core argument, of course, is that it’s not a “real computer”. It can’t do all the same things a laptop can do, so it’s not worth anything. As though every tool needs to do all the same things every other tool does.

There are two fundamental tenets to my position on this that are worth remembering:

  • computing is not a zero-sum game; there are many users, many needs, and many ways to engage with technology successfully
  • value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder

I’m not going to waste my time (or anyone else’s) retreading these arguments. It’s beyond uninteresting, and crosses into eye-rolling so severe that it risks permanent ocular damage. What I would like to do is explore a few things I’m truly excited about as the iPad continues its slow evolution into what I’d consider a worthy independent computing platform.

Overview

I’ve been using two iPad Pros since last fall: a 12.9″ model that I bought in the beginning of 2016, and a 9.7″ that I bought in October. I’ve explained some of the thinking behind this on our show, so I’ll cut to the chase. I decided that having a big iPad at home and a smaller one to travel with to and from the office and on trips was the right choice for me. It’s been a nice way to use the devices, and I’ve enjoyed always having the right device for the right context.

Lately I’ve been gravitating toward the 9.7 though, for a few reasons. I still like the giant iPad because it’s just so nice to have that extra room, but what I’ve been exploring lately just makes the 9.7 the better overall target for this type of use.

As such, the majority of these points I’ll make directly refer to the smaller of the two iPads. I’ll likely make reference to this in certain areas, but it’s worth keeping in mind as a frame of reference, so that you aren’t constantly wondering, or—more probably—saying “that would be ridiculous on the big iPad”. Much of this would. But hey, maybe it wouldn’t for some folks.

That’s what’s cool about everyone living their own lives. You don’t have to do what everyone else does, or listen to everyone else’s opinions as though they’re fact.

Also worth keeping in mind.

Always.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

Topics

  • The Smart Keyboard
  • Using the iPad by itself
  • Using the Pencil, replacing paper
  • Portrait orientation
  • iOS 11 and next steps

The first four have been overlapping and working in tandem. The last one is obviously pertinent for this summer.


The Smart Keyboard

I’ve long been a fan of using keyboards with the iPad. I’m not a fan of bulky cases.

I would search to find what I considered the best option that mixed a standalone, iOS-ready (when possible) keyboard with an easy way to detach, because I always like to decouple the two and use the device on its own if I’m not doing heavy text entry. I’ve always been ok with a slightly smaller keyboard size anyway, as my hands aren’t that large and I get used to them fairly quickly.

I started this quest with the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover for the original iPad Air. It was a great solution for having a decent hardware keyboard while keeping weight fairly low. When I upgraded to the Air 2, I couldn’t bring myself to buy the same exact thing again, so I switched to this Microsoft keyboard because it was small, but with very good battery life and what I consider comfortable keys. It also allowed me to keep the Smart Cover attached and sit with it easily while using the keyboard. It didn’t attach the same way that the Logitech did, but it allowed me to use the iPad by itself as well.

When I bought the 12.9, I decided to take the plunge and try the Smart Keyboard. Yes, it looks a bit odd. Yes, the keys are a little weird at first. In truth, I despised them. Tried it in the store and was physically repelled by it. After 24 hours, I was a convert.

The Smart Keyboard may not be the best keyboard, but I believe it’s the best companion to the iPad Pro.

The Smart Keyboard will have its detractors, but when you get right down to it, it is the best compact solution to minimize bulk and still provide the functionality of hard keys. If you don’t mind extra heft, or need backlight, or want additional iOS-specific function keys, then move along.

I bought the Logitech Create for the 9.7 initially. I wanted something that was more like a notebook, and since I was carrying the Pencil with that device, the built-in loop was a big benefit. I used it dutifully for about six months, when it began to feel bulky. I started to think about the Smart Keyboard, but was struck with the idea that the Pencil wouldn’t have a nice little home anymore. To this day I’m shocked that Apple itself doesn’t have a better solution for this.

And no, this is not a solution.

But what I’ve come to realize is that the Pencil, the iPad, and the Smart Keyboard don’t need to be connected to one another all the time. They simply need to be in each other’s immediate orbit in order to deliver the value they can provide. The Smart Keyboard (especially at the smaller size) makes the 9.7 highly functional and barely adds any bulk.

I’ve been enjoying it way more than I anticipated.

Using the iPad by itself

One of the defining factors of all of those keyboards I mentioned was the ease with which I could pull them off and use the iPad on its own. That’s been paramount to my use case for the device for as long as I can remember.

As the iPad got thinner and more powerful, I found myself simply marveling at the hardware and the way it felt to hold it on its own. With the 9.7 Pro, this has actually shifted from “isn’t this really something” to a sea change in how I use the device.

I was thinking one day about how I was more inclined to grab my phone to do something as opposed to the iPad. I stopped and really thought about why that was the case. Broke the action down to its most elemental level.

Pick up a device, unlock, use… right? Not that complicated.

But with the iPad, there was often a keyboard of some kind, or at least a Smart Cover attached. One extra tiny action that created imperceptible friction; that on a subconscious level resulted in me going for my phone because it would “be faster” somehow.

Then I watched my wife’s dad one weekend with his iPad. He leaves it around on the counter, ready to pick up and use, no cover, no keyboard. He has an iPhone too. He almost always goes for the iPad first, likely because it has a larger screen and is more comfortable. But then it dawned on me.

If both screens are available in the same capacity and without any extra steps, apart from an app not appearing in one place or the other, why wouldn’t I use the iPad first?

So I tried it. One day at work, I was walking around my office, Smart Keyboard on the desk, iPad and Pencil in hand. It was so light, so effortless, and so enjoyable, that it began to feel like I’d discovered something new. A way of using a device—of which I thought I knew every angle—that I’d simply never considered. Put it down, go do something else, grab it and unlock, it’s ready.

It sounds positively stupid, but this simple change has made a big difference not only in the amount of time I’m spending with the device, but also in the ways in which I’m using it.

Using the Pencil, replacing paper

One of the big benefits of the iPad Pro is of course the ability to use the Apple Pencil along with it. Unlike the Smart Keyboard, I was sold on this accessory from the instant I held it and used it. I’ve tried a ton of different stylus options, and the Pencil is the best around, full stop.

I also tried a bunch of different apps for handwriting. The one that feels the most like it matches my handwriting mechanics is Notes Plus. I’ve made a conscious shift in the way I capture and process information now on a daily basis. Revisiting handwriting as a way to gather information has forced me to slow my thinking and listen more, which has led to other creative benefits as well. With my mind engaged in this way, it is freed up to do other things as I work with colleagues, and quite honestly, I find writing by hand to be a relaxing activity.

I also frequently sketch concepts, diagrams, small bits of UI that I’m describing to others, and all manner of other things. Just having the ability to do this quickly–and then immediately follow it with a digital action (saving it, sharing it, etc.) is hugely beneficial to my workflows.

I carried paper notebooks for a long time. Getting myself into the habit of reaching for the Pencil has been a lot of fun and very cool. That’s worth calling out as well: making work fun can’t be underestimated. If I’m enjoying the tools I use, it makes whatever I’m doing more pleasurable, leading to a positive feedback loop. Increasing the utility of what I’m doing (because I’m a nerd this way) is also fun, which also funnels back into that loop.

Making the ways you do your work more enjoyable is a great way to improve your daily quality of life, trust me.

Portrait orientation

The last discovery was a complete shock to me.

From the moment I got my very first iPad, I defaulted to using it in landscape orientation. I’d watched Steve Jobs demo the device onstage, sitting in that iconic Eames chair, reading and relaxing, and I thought “well that’s nice” but it never felt right to me. I guess somewhere in my mind, I always saw screens as horizontal appliances–using it in a vertical capacity just felt odd. I’d occasionally read a magazine that way, or some other very targeted activity… but it never lasted.

That’s where this whole “isn’t it fun to try new things that I ordinarily wouldn’t” thing starts to pay off. I always use Notes Plus in portrait, because I like the layout and spacing of the page in that orientation far more than in landscape. I’m using the Pencil more and more… and I’m detaching the iPad and walking around with it. So one day I just turned it and held it in portrait while I was discussing some things with people. I was taking some notes, but I also was popping around and doing a few other things. I responded to a message and realized I could type fairly easily in portrait on the 9.7, especially with nothing else attached to it because it is so lightweight, and the balance of the device when held in this way is incredible.

The balance of the device when held in portrait, with no cover or other accoutrements, is incredible.

I literally had never considered this, ever, in all the years I’d used it. It was an epiphany. But Steve knew it. It was suddenly so obvious. The device was designed to be this way.

It can’t change computing if we’re always looking at it like it’s a computer.

All this time, and it felt like I was suddenly holding an entirely different device. Again, like the notion of using it without a cover because it’s easier to unlock, this was a moment in which I considered the fact that I was a total moron. But it was undeniable. I’d stumbled onto something a whole lot of people probably knew already, but it was brand new to me.

I’ve been carrying the iPad, bare, with the Pencil, like a single sheet of digital paper, and it’s changing the way I work, and the way I do just about everything on it.

iOS 11 and next steps

This year marks the most radical shift in the iPad’s software capabilities we’ve seen. iOS 11 is poised to enable new levels of functionality in the device, unlocking increased flexibility and moving the platform forward to a level of maturity fans have been clamoring for.

I’ve been a beta person in the past, and I’ve lived with the battery-cooking, display-busting, data-losing bugs. I threw developer beta 1 on the 12.9 when it dropped because I was really curious to see it in motion after watching the WWDC keynote. I played with it for a few days, but restored back down to iOS 10 because I’d rather be using the device in a stable capacity for the time being, and because I’ve come to realize the big release in the fall just isn’t as exciting if I’ve had it for months prior.

What I saw is a wonderful but complicated step forward. iOS 11 brings incredible new things to the platform, but it also ratchets up UX complexity in ways a lot of users may not be ready for. One thing iOS has traditionally done well is to add new features and functionality but not make it necessary to engage with it. This allows most users to keep doing things pretty much the way they always have, and gets power users happy about new stuff. iOS 11 makes some big modifications–for everyone–and it’ll be interesting to see how that affects things overall.

I’m certainly not hinting at some kind of backlash (although we all know the tech press will latch onto just about anything it can find that would indicate one). It’s just that we’re about to see a big shift in the UI that means another learning curve. Anyone who loves iOS as a productivity platform is ready and willing to accept and keep running with this change, and it’s been a long time coming. But the typical year-to-year balance afforded to mainstream users is about to change too.

Evolution is hard, and not without trade-offs. But it’s what’s necessary to keep moving forward.


Conclusion

The iPad has traveled a long, strange road to get to where it is today. I’m honestly thrilled that after all this time I can still find new things to love about it, and change how I interact with my world. This next chapter will be one of the most interesting in its lifecycle to date. I’m ready for this device to cross over into a new class of utility.

With the introduction of the 10.5 Pro, and my increasing love of the smaller of my two current sizes, I may also move to a single-iPad life again when I decide to upgrade. Won’t be any time soon because my current stuff more than meets my needs and I’ve never once felt like it’s lacking in any way, but it’s on my mind. The 10.5 looks to be a fantastic device, and a great compromise for someone like me who’s experienced both sizes and wants to simplify.

I’ve said it before, and I think it bears repeating: this is not a zero-sum game. I still love the Mac, and use it every single day. It’s the best tool for many jobs. But the gaps are shrinking–not entirely, but markedly, for many use cases–and it’s interesting to watch this process. I use the Mac because it’s a great platform that allows me to do work in the way I prefer. I love iOS because it feels like the future in a way that the Mac once did, and (let’s be honest) probably won’t again.

To the point of all these personal observations, however: the fact that I can still find these small bits of discovery and everything continues to feel new to me is testament to how interesting a device this really is. We’re on the verge of some very big changes, and it’s one of those rare times in which I am unabashedly excited about what’s around the corner.

They seem to be harder to come by as I get older, so I have to revel in these moments when they show up.

Things I like this week, volume 34.

Bojack Horseman

Netflix has a lot of original content these days. A lot. And some of it is incredible. And some of it is just there. I’d seen Bojack Horseman come up a lot in the carousels the service shows you when you’re using it. My match rating was high. A ton of people whose work I enjoy contribute voices to it. Everything was pointing me in the right direction. But I just never watched.

What finally nudged me in was an episode of Imaginary Worlds, a previous TILTW that’s a terrific exploration on its own. Through the podcast’s descriptions of the show, and the style, and the characters, and the tone, and right through the interview segments with Lisa Hanawalt (the show’s designer), it just seemed like something I had waited too long to look at.

So I finally sat down and watched episode one. And was immediately drawn into this quirky, hilarious, and poignant world that had been created. I was amazed at how utterly silly and heartbreaking the show could be in almost the same breath, which I consider a huge achievement.

If you’re an animation fan and looking for a new obsession, there’s almost certainly something here for you.

Bojack Horseman

Things I like this week, volume 33.

Moana and Hamilton

In keeping with my long-running theme of discovering things later than everyone else, partly because of my own willful detachment from things people rave about and partly because life moves fast and I’m busy, I’m head over heels in love with two things that people told me were great and I had to just find out about in my own time.

Moana is probably one of the best movies–not just animated features, but movies–I’ve seen, maybe ever. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous, the animation is staggering, the music is incredible, the story is uplifting… I don’t have a single bad thing to say about it. My kids are obsessed with it, and I’ve crossed right over through Stockholm Syndrome into full-blown adoration myself. I’m constantly singing the songs, which is not surprising, given that Lin-Manuel Miranda had a hand in them.

Which brings me to my next point.

I’m probably the only person in America (possibly the world) at this point who hadn’t listened to the songs from Hamilton. I know, it’s a cultural phenomenon, blah blah. I get it. It’s great and everyone loves it and I should too.

You can start to see why it took me so long.

I have a hard time in a lot of cases getting on board with things that people breathlessly rave about. I’m way more inclined to check something out that got a great review from one person in my world whose opinion I trust, and that’s usually how I discover things. When the entire world is infatuated with something, my natural physiological response is to repel it.

I’m also not a huge fan of musicals. I’ve always found them to be somewhat grating, although I do make exceptions for certain ones that found a place in my heart, and for movies with songs I love. Sung-through musicals where every bit of dialogue is part of a song? Forget it. I’m not going near that.

So I begrudgingly finally decided to check this music out after two things happened recently: I shared part of a train ride with a family who had just seen it and really enjoyed it a week ago, and Tim was like “So you love Moana and you won’t even listen to Hamilton? What’s wrong with you?”

Having admitted my feelings for the music of Moana, I thought I could fight this battle no further. I love history, and I live in a part of the country where most of this stuff actually happened. I also like good music.

I’m sure you can see where this is headed now.

I’m absolutely hooked on this soundtrack and have now adopted it as the “thing I will literally not shut up about” for the next few days. I think I also have developed a bit of a crush on Mr. Miranda, since holy crap, he makes musical choices that resonate so strongly with the way I like to hear songs constructed, it’s like parts of this damned thing were written from my own thoughts. He’s made his way onto my list of People I Would Love To Sit Next To On A Plane And Speak To At Length But Stopping Short Of Being That Guy. This is a short list, and includes only a handful of famous people whose work I would describe as life-changing.

If I want to see the show, apparently I can buy very expensive tickets for sometime in 2018. Probably not going in my next actions list just yet.

So yeah, I’m a dope, these things are great, I love them, the end.

Moana – Deluxe Soundtrack

Moana – Film

Hamilton – Original Cast Recording

Things I like this week, volume 32.

DEVONthink

I’ve bounced between a lot of note taking and reference apps over the years, and none have felt like home for more than a little while. I’d resigned myself to just using files and folders in Finder or iCloud Drive or my Synology or whatever, and thought that was the end of the road. The logical conclusion to not finding anything that really ever fit long-term.

I’d heard about DEVONthink before, probably first and most often from Gabe over at Macdrifter, who’s written and talked about it a lot. It always seemed like one of those insane apps that did way more than I could ever have needed, and with my focus on developing simplified workflows where possible, it felt like serious overkill for what I wanted to do with information.

Fast forward to March of this year. I’m re-reading GTD, in an effort to more fully embrace it, as opposed to the semi-adoption and remixed personal approaches I’ve always tripped into in the past. The notion of a place for actions and a place for reference material is critical to success. I ruminate on this, as I have information scattered across many areas and find it intensely frustrating.

At the same time, I read another of Gabe’s excellent, detailed posts about DT. I find myself fascinated with this app’s potential and continue digging into posts and other info. I decide to go all in, buying it on the Mac and iOS. I decide it will become the place where my information lives.

I have not regretted this decision.

I could say a lot about it, but do yourself a favor if you’re even remotely interested in a significant overhaul to your digital workflow and read Gabe’s stuff. Start with that link in the paragraph above.

Then, go support great software and buy it. It will absolutely change the landscape of your information and how you access and use it.

DEVONthink (iOS)

DEVONthink (Mac)

We did a thing.

It’s been a little while since Iterate went off the air, and I’ve often thought about when I might want to podcast again. I knew that my schedule was different, the demands on my time are higher now, and life is moving pretty quickly. I also knew that it was something I enjoyed doing, and some part of me missed chatting with friends and then sticking it on the internet so other people can listen to it.

Tim and I have been friends for a few years now, and would joke from time to time about starting another podcast. We never really did anything with it. Then we wrapped on Iterate (for the time being, I still hope we return to it at some point), and literally that day, Tim said “hey, now you’ve got time”.

A few months later, I agreed.

So we did a thing. It’s no big deal. Two friends talking about the stuff that fills our minds. The basic premise is that we like to solve problems, and we usually do it in nerdy ways. It’s not a show about apps, or workflows, but they might show up occasionally. It’s a show about how we think about our worlds, the information in them, and how organizing those things makes us feel better about everything.

It’s purposefully short, and we only plan on publishing every few weeks, probably more like monthly. So there’s no commitment required. It’s casual, and we aim to keep it that way. We’ll see where it goes.

Hope you like it.

Fundamentally Broken

Things I like this week, volume 31.

Offshore

A podcast that’s just wrapped its first season, focused on real events in Hawaii, and that aims to shine a light on the issues the state faces in context with the rest of the country. Long thought of as paradise, Hawaii struggles with many of the same social problems we see elsewhere on the mainland. Season one deals with a killing of a young Hawaiian by a white federal agent in 2011 and brings to bear a turbulent, racially-charged past that continues to exert its influence on the people of the islands to this day. Highly recommended.

Homecoming

Compelling audio drama from Gimlet. Six episodes in S1. (I thought it was a standalone set of work, but apparently they’re already working on S2, which is awesome.) Features great sound editing and terrific performances from Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer, David Cross, Amy Sedaris, and others. A chilling mystery with an interesting path.

I binged both of these shows entirely in the span of less than a week. My guess is you’ll feel the same once you start.

Offshore
Homecoming

Using Drafts and Workflow as a clipboard manager.

As I continue to play this little game I’ve created for myself in which I try to use and install fewer apps while discovering new ways to use the ones I love, my latest run is based on replacing a dedicated clipboard manager app. While I do really like Copied and other apps like it, the truth of the matter is that I don’t need an app solely devoted to holding and managing snippets of information like this. I do occasionally have this need, and so it’s something I like the idea of having, but it’s almost only for text/links, which I can do in a variety of ways.

The trick is storing the snippets, but also making them accessible and easily retrieved, and because of the way iOS works, we’re limited in a few ways. Any app that does this can only run in the background for so long, and even if you’re using a widget for this, there’s only so much room in the UI to account for the things you can do without launching a full app UI. But since my specific needs are limited, I’ve experimented with pairing Drafts and Workflow together: one as the snippet storage and one for the quick access to my most-used bits of text.

A quick note: I think it goes without saying that if you use an app like Copied for images and other rich media, this wouldn’t really work for you. This is really centered on text, and the impetus for this was restoring my iPhone recently and for the millionth time not having my iCloud text expansions appear. Given that my needs are fairly limited anyway, I’m giving up on that broken-ass bullshit and building a replacement with the tools that I know will work. I still don’t understand how this far along and with all it can do having iCloud remember a three-letter shortcut for my email address and making it available on new devices consistently is such a fucking Herculean task.

Anyway.

Drafts as the library

I used to use TextExpander. I also used to have a million snippets I couldn’t remember. Then I decided to simplify and keep only the stuff I could. Once I realized this was a relatively small number of items, I decided to use the native iOS keyboard expansion for shortcuts. As you can see from my above comment, when it works, this is more than adequate for my needs. However, all too often I restore a device or set one up and I never get the shortcuts. Or they show up a month later.

But Drafts is always there. Building on my thinking for how I was using filters to move tasks out of my inbox, I created a filter to separate these text snippets out too. I liked the way Copied allows you to have a title for the snippet, so I created that same structure in Drafts. I just added a tilde to the end of the title line.

Along with that, I needed an action that would copy the body text but ignore the title line. Drafts has just such an action built in; just use the clipboard replace action, and instead of the draft tag, use the body tag. This takes everything but the first line and sets the clipboard.

From here you can go wherever and slap it in. You can even search right within the filter if you have a lot of these.

Workflow for quick access

So that takes care of the storage and the occasional browse to find a thing you want. The other time I need this ability is when I’m doing something in another app, and the easiest way to do this is with a widget. I headed over to Workflow and built a very simple list of some frequent snippets that loads right in the widget body, replaces the clipboard, and can be dismissed immediately. I noticed that 15 lines is the max I can fit in one of these on my iPhone 7; any more beyond that and you won’t see everything. Again, my needs are simple, so this is fine. What I’ve done is build a multi-step action that first asks which list you want to display, and then displays the snippets in that list.

The simplest way to get started is to just do a basic text list, add the exact text you want, and have it replace the clipboard. But you could also use the text list to show a label, and then add “Replace Text” blocks for each one, and then send the replacement to the clipboard. This would work better if you had bigger blocks of stuff that you weren’t going to see anyway, or if you just like things looking tidy. (This was Tim’s idea, I like it; I like tidy things.)

What I’ve described is two separate sets of actions that manage this content. Now you can can get Workflow to talk directly to Drafts by using the “Get Contents of Draft” action. This requires you to copy the UUID of the draft you want and place it in the action. This would be true automation, and way more fun. Unfortunately, when you do this, Workflow can’t grab the content directly from Drafts without first switching to the app, so you leave the widget and do a quick round-trip, which defeats the whole purpose of having a widget action in the first place. So I chose a few of my most-used snippets for access within the widget and spent the time up front to save it later.

Now, you might be thinking: boy, that seems like a LOT of dumb work to do just to get the same functionality that a single app can provide, and you’d be totally right! It is. I will not argue this, not even a little. But, there are two reasons I like this.

  1. I always have both of these apps installed, which means they’re always on every device anyway, and it’s one less app to install/manage in addition to that.
  2. Every time I do this kind of thing, I figure out new things. In many cases, these dumb little experiments end up allowing me to refine something else I might have been doing already. This feels good.

Finally, I figured I needed a quick way to make adding snippets easier, so I created a basic Workflow that asks for input or grabs the clipboard (assuming I’ve copied what I want), asks for a title, and uses Tim’s nifty Auto-Archive action to dump the filtered draft in the right bucket.

Needless to say, since Tim and I go back and forth on this stuff all the time, I’ll drop an idea on him, and he’ll latch onto it and improve the flows.

So he figured out how to construct the text as a dictionary, and have Workflow present the list and pull the right text that way. Which means you can build a single text file in whatever app you want containing the labels and links/snippets/etc. and then just drop it into the leading text block in the workflow. This makes things very easy and nice. Here’s the template for that.

And then sometime later I went to bed. But he didn’t.

I woke up to a long message and a few links. One to a new Drafts action and one to a Workflow that’s called by that action. Basically, since Workflow can’t get the info directly out of Drafts in the background, he thought to create a text file that Workflow could access in the background, and stuck it in its iCloud folder. Within that text file is the dictionary, containing the names of the text snippets, and the corresponding values for them. You can store these files in Drafts, and update them whenever you need to. Save the file again to that same folder in Workflow’s iCloud storage, and it’ll overwrite. The next time you run the workflow, it calls the new information from that file. It’s still not quite directly linking the two apps the way you’d think you should be able to, but it’s damned creative, and I told him so. And it’s way easier to edit the dictionary within Drafts than in a tiny box within Workflow.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best way to do this: maintain a text file (or a series of text files for whatever you want) in Drafts, save out changes to Workflow’s iCloud folder, and the updated versions are always available when you want them. If you want to keep this in the widget, you’re still limited to the row number, but if you don’t care, you can have a list as long as you want.

I realize it seems circuitous and somewhat silly, but the whole point of all of this is to play and learn. The game of reducing apps has a direct benefit in that every time I restore or set up a new device, it takes less time to get up and running. But these small excursions also allow me to think through problems and find new ways to solve them. Some people engage their leisure brain with crosswords or sudoku. These are the little puzzles I like to solve.

Update 2017-01-13: I realized a week too late that I was mistakenly referring to dictionaries as arrays. So I corrected this egregious mistake. Sorry about that.

Things I like this week, volume 30.

Mozart in the Jungle

Amazon has, in the past few years, gone from “the place where I buy almost everything” to “the place where I am continually surprised to find extremely compelling original entertainment”. When the company announced it was creating its own content, it seemed like a very me-too move. But to its credit, it’s gathered an insane amount of talent and continues to put out some incredible stuff with its Prime Video service.

Apart from the high-visibility shows like the absolutely amazing Transparent, there are a ton of other efforts, some of which barely register on the radar but are still very good. One of these shows is Mozart in the Jungle. I’m not going to get into plot summary, but suffice to say if you like snappy dialogue and classical music, you’ll probably like this show. Hell, even if you don’t like the music, you’ll probably like it. There are several recognizable faces and some outstanding performances from a few you don’t yet know.

It will probably take you a few episodes to get into it, but since it’s a half-hour show, you can chew through it really quickly. Season three just landed in early December and I haven’t started it yet, but we’re about to and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s charming, scathing, heartwarming, and hilarious in equal parts, and once you get into it, you find yourself strangely compelled in watching the lives of these characters unfold. It’s a look at how utterly normal and relatable seemingly different people can be, and it’s a delight.

Mozart in the Jungle