Apple Music and ownership.

There’s been a ton of discussion about the technical differences between iCloud Music Library and iTunes Match, since Apple is keeping both products around (at least for the time being). The core issue seems to lie with the way tracks are delivered back to you from the cloud depending on how and when you uploaded them.

iTunes Match (iTM) provides a storage locker and retrieval service that delivered DRM-free tracks back to you on demand. iCloud Music Library (iCML), as part of Apple Music, based on its pricing structure, appears to be delivering DRM-wrapped tracks when requested for offline access. This is an obvious move on Apple’s part, as it doesn’t make sense for you to download and keep DRM-free versions of tracks you didn’t actually buy for all time, the way it allowed you to “upgrade” your low-quality rips with iTunes Match. However, if you go all in on iCML and upload your entire catalog, dropping iTM, if you don’t keep local copies of those tracks, when you go to re-download them, you will receive DRM-wrapped versions. Which… will cease to work (as I understand it) should you cancel your Apple Music subscription.

Kind of a crappy solution. But crappier is the fact that it’s not exactly clear how and when this happens unless you really think about it. Keeping a local copy seems to be a safe play, though, and this whole thing only seems to become problematic if you have no local copy to fall back to.

What I’ve chosen to do (and I assume this will be ok for me) is:

  • Keep my local full library copy (already uploaded to Match and stored in iCloud) at home, on a NAS, attached to a Mac mini, and backed up in a bunch of places. This library will no longer be synced/uploaded with any Apple cloud service.
  • I have a full library copy in iCloud now, which I assume will remain as long as I continue the Apple Music subscription (which I plan to). I’m assuming this because I’ve completely disconnected that Mac mini and signed out of iCloud, and all my music is still showing up through Apple Music, having enabled Music Library.
  • I plan to cancel Match this September, which will remove my ability to re-download DRM-free versions of my music, but it’s a non-issue since I have multiple safe, offline copies anyway.
  • If I buy new music (unlikely since I don’t buy much to begin with anymore, and with AM, I can listen to whatever I want) it will automatically be available in iCloud.
  • I will then download the purchased music through iTunes on that “safe” Mac mini and store it in that offline local library.

This way, as long as I maintain my Apple Music subscription, I have a full library copy in iCloud along with everything else. If I cancel, I have the ability to re-upload a known good copy from my archive, at any time, to any service. Hell, I could even run a server again at home if I feel like it, which I did for years.

This stuff is crazy confusing, and it’s unsurprising Apple isn’t making a fuss about it. They’d probably love for it not to be so labyrinthine, but music licensing is nothing if not arcane. The safe play seems to be pretty simple: don’t delete your local library if you can help it. Stick a good copy on a hard drive somewhere and forget about it if you have to. But hang onto it in at least one good way, just in case, and have fun with the new goods.

Like anything else relating to computers, backing up your stuff always pays off.

Bravely default.

For years, I’ve eschewed using the default iOS apps in favor of third-party offerings, because maaaan, I always knew better. Apple’s apps are for regular people, and I’m a PowerUser™, maaaan. I’d configure all kinds of workarounds and extra steps because I wanted to wring every last bit of functionality out of my devices, and the basic starter apps just weren’t ever enough.

Something’s changed though–well, two things–in the past few years. I’ve lost my taste for fiddling a little bit, and the default apps Apple ships with its devices have gotten, well, better. Better than other things I could use? Not in all cases. But better… enough. I’ve been increasingly focused on reducing friction in my life, and having a simpler computing experience that works together with its component parts–as much as any multi-device connected computing experience can work without hair-pulling these days.

There are still plenty of strange UI choices and functional misses for me in some of Apple’s default apps. I could probably write a series of posts on this topic alone. But what I’m discovering is that the more I give in to accepting that some of these apps provide the core functionality I need in a certain app, the less I find my mind wandering toward exploring an endless array of options and falling into a rabbit hole of tweaking workflows and deluding myself into thinking it’s helping in some way. Faux-ductivity. I’m totally coining that. Try to stop me.

Certainly I have specific pieces of my workflows that must remain more complex; OmniFocus is a great example. The complexity-to-ability balance is tilted way in favor of the amazing productivity gains it offers when life throws a lot of stuff at me. But that new Notes app looks hot. Dark Sky is cool, but I just end up opening Weather way more often. I’m rediscovering that using Reminders for very simple nudges can be highly effective outside of OmniFocus. Most shockingly for some nerds, I’m just using the built-in Podcasts app. Why? Because my use case is having a podcast show up, and me listening to it. At regular speed. And having them actually appear on all devices consistently (yes, it’s true) is kind of nice. Now put your eyes back in your sockets. I’m sorry to have done that to you.

The added bonus for someone like me, who often restores devices for a variety of reasons, is that the process of setting up a new phone is increasingly easy, since there are fewer things to install, log into, sync, and adjust. While I don’t restore my phone every week, knowing that if I need to (or want to) that it’s not a multi-hour activity anymore is really nice. I can be 80-90% back up and running in under an hour. Time being a dwindling resource for me these days, that makes a real difference.

I’m always talking about examining my habits to solve for new variables and increase my feelings of success across the things I do. The best way to ensure that you’re focusing on the right things is to stop focusing on everything else. I know I’m incurably broken when it comes to getting excited about trying new stuff. But I’m beginning to consider that understanding what works–getting comfortable with certain trade-offs that would have been deal breakers for me in the past–is a positive step forward that I wouldn’t have expected.

Ruthless organization.

I’m really enjoying Relay’s new Cortex podcast with Myke and CGP Grey. While I was familiar with Grey’s work before, this is actually the first time I’ve spent specifically listening to him. I know, Hello Internet is everyone’s favorite show, but I’m a little late to that party, so forgive me.

In this weeks’s episode, Myke and Grey continue to chat about homescreen organization, and Grey reveals that he hides Safari via iOS Restrictions. Although this literally made my jaw drop as I listened (I’m not kidding), I totally get the idea. I’m constantly trying to streamline my phone for the best combination of access to things I want and efficiency, while eliminating things that are just hopeless time sinks. Grey is pretty ruthless about what he allows on his phone, and while I’m not all the way there (I still derive a lot of actual business and personal value from using Twitter on my phone, for instance), it’s an interesting exercise to try.

Sometimes I feel conflicted about spending time thinking about stuff like “in what better way can I optimize the way my apps are displayed”, but I do like going through these steps because I’m constantly reevaluating all kinds of things in my life, and this is just one of those things. I see it as an extension of personal growth and awareness, and as long as it doesn’t get in the way of actual things that need to happen, I think it’s probably fine to reflect on things like this.

Auto-posting to WordPress (and archiving in Dropbox) with Drafts.

Last week at WWDC, I was lucky enough to spend some time with my friend Manton Reece talking about writing. He shared with me that he had a great little setup for posting short content to his WordPress site using IFTTT’s Do Note app and a plugin. He uses a customized version of the “status” format in WP to insert these smaller thoughts and then builds a separate RSS feed that you can optionally subscribe to in addition to the longer articles.

I thought I might like to do something like this, but after looking into it further, didn’t feel like tinkering with the post format, and figured I could probably get by with the standard format. But since every post I write starts as/is stored as Markdown in Dropbox, I was unable to automate the WP integration the way he had and still generate a local copy for myself. So I began thinking through this with one of my favorite apps, Drafts. What I was able to put together was a multi-step action that allows me to do exactly what I want with almost no effort.

Drafts allows you to send email as an action. WordPress allows you to post into the system via email. Using a combination of the action and the Jetpack plugin’s email functionality, I can go from idea to published in seconds, without touching the WP iOS app (which continues to get better, but still isn’t fast) and get my local copy stored away.

Let’s say I have an idea for something longer than a tweet, but shorter than my usual posts, and I want to just throw it up on the site. I open Drafts and write a short post where the first line is the title, and the remainder is the body. I run my “Quick Post” action which does the following:

  • Prompts me to pick 1-2 categories for the post
  • Launches an email sheet to allow me to proofread the post before sending
  • Using syntax provided in Jetpack, the post is published
  • Creates an archival .md file in the directory in Dropbox where my posts are stored

This could be sped up even further if I trust that I wrote everything correctly and skip the “foreground” email option to send in the background. However, the other benefit to having the draft email come up is the ability to edit any of the syntax on the fly if I decide to change something at the last minute. You also have the ability to simply create drafts of posts instead of auto-publishing by changing the post status option from “[status publish]” to [status draft]”. I’ve built this into a separate action so I have the ability to do either one quickly, if I’m not quite ready to put something live.

You’ll need to enable email posts on your WP site first, and generate the incoming email address to use in the Drafts action, so make sure it’s enabled and entered correctly. I also wanted to have the ability to add that second category prompt but back out without canceling the entire operation, so I asked Greg about it and he mentioned that if you turn off the “Include cancel button” option and create a button that just says “Cancel”, you can skip that step without stopping the whole action. This does create a tiny bit of editing that needs to be done, because you then have as category slugs something that looks like “[category apple,cancel]” but it adds a little flexibility and I’m willing to accept that tradeoff in that final step, since I’m proofreading (and potentially editing slightly) anyway before posting. But, since Greg is awesome, he added a scripting step to the action, which obviates the need to do this. Also, I only use categories, so you can add a step for tags if that’s more your flavor (see the Jetpack page for more info).

If you’re interested, I’ve posted the sample action (minus my WordPress-specific details) to the Drafts Action Directory here. After posting, on the web it displays the CC and BCC lines as filled with the same sample email address, but when the action is installed, they should be blank (correctly).

I really like writing in Markdown, and having a copy of all my posts easily accessible that I can return to outside of WordPress. And I’ve been looking for a way to write more frequently without committing to huge ideas. This series of steps achieves that in a quick and easy way, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works for me.