Expanding aural story horizons.

I’ve been increasingly tired of technology podcasts. For an industry so focused on being all about the next big thing, we can collectively talk about the same things for a freakishly long time on occasion. Stack up a few shows that cover similar topics, and you find yourself essentially listening to the same show more than once.

There are so many other things in the world, I sometimes forget how refreshing it can be to learn a new thing or even just hear a story told in a compelling way. I dropped a lot of the podcasts I’ve been listening to for months (or even years in some cases) and began exploring new things. I’m ruling the experiment a success. Here are some of my current favorites.

Lore
Produced by my friend Aaron Mahnke, Lore is a bi-weekly podcast focused on telling stories about the things that scare us. Rich with research and history, and sure to almost always creep you out, it’s a small glimpse into the darker corners of our past and why they remain so.

Lore / iTunes

The Memory Palace
Brief, heartbreaking, inspiring, stories of wonder, human weakness, triumph, and all the quietly forgotten bits of history. Like fading wisps of smoke, Nate DiMeo brings these bits of time back to the present, tells a tiny tale, and then leaves you always wondering about it.

The Memory Palace / iTunes

Criminal
A tightly produced story/interview show about the bad things people do. From the macabre to the absurd, every single episode is an interesting glimpse into the human psyche, often with very surprising outcomes.

Criminal / iTunes

99% Invisible
A weekly show about design and architecture, with terrific production values and excellent storytelling. Sometimes it covers topics I’m already familiar with, sometimes it touches on things I’ve never heard of. Sometimes it takes something that I assume is going to be boring and makes it positively enthralling. Which tells me a lot about my own expectations and why I should be open to new things in the first place.

99% Invisible / iTunes

I’m really enjoying these shows immensely, and I’m continuing the search for more. I’d love to know what you’re enjoying too.

Things I like this week, volume 8.

Day One
One of my goals this year was to write more–a little every day–whether for public consumption or just to remember things. Day One has been a big part of that. I’ve been using the app since June of 2011, filling it with anything and everything, from the smallest fleeting thoughts to the births of my children. It’s a delightful app, crafted with care in every regard, by a team that really focuses on the details, including support for multiple sync services, photos, location, fitness data, pretty much anything you want to capture about your life.

With Mac and iOS apps, and even an Apple Watch app, there simply isn’t any excuse to not be writing. Create a new habit and have a rich personal history to peruse in the future.

Mac / iOS / Web

Person-based OmniFocus context triggers with Launch Center Pro.

During a discussion with some fellow OmniFocus friends in a Slack channel, we talked about how great it would be if contexts that we assigned to people could trigger when we’re with them automatically. While there isn’t a good way to do this yet, I thought about it a bit and made what I would call a halfway decent substitute, all things considered. It combines connecting some hidden OF features on the Mac with Launch Center Pro and OF on iOS. And while it isn’t quite automatic, it’s pretty close, as long as you build a habit around it.

I remembered seeing a post about using OF’s URL scheme support to trigger actions a while back. Some of OF’s features have obvious URL scheme support, but some are a little more hidden. In order to get an actionable URL for a context, you need to have the Mac app open and right-click on the context you want to use. An option called ‘Copy As Link’ will appear. That’s what you want. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do this on iOS, so unless you’re using OF on all platforms, you may be out of luck. But if you’re like me, and you have that beautiful purple icon everywhere, proceed to step two.

With that URL on the clipboard, get it over to your iOS device any way you want. I used Notes.app, because it’s probably the easiest way to do this, as it syncs fairly quickly. With the URL on the iOS clipboard, go ahead and open up Launch Center Pro.

Now you can drop this URL in as a single action, sure, but if you want to really light your world on fire, collect URLs for all the contexts you have that pertain to people. For me, it was about a half-dozen, mostly folks at work, but I also have one for my wife, and one for my parents when I see them. Use LCP’s list format option for your action, adding a label and the appropriate URL for each new item.

When you’re all done, save the action, add an icon, and place it somewhere. You now have a single button that brings up a list of names. If you’re talking to someone for whom you have a context, fire this action off and tap his/her name. OF will open directly to the context and display all the actions associated with that person. Of course, you need to remember to do it. (You could set a notification directly from LCP to fire if you definitely know you’re seeing someone in advance, e.g. for a meeting, to even better safeguard against forgetting to do this.)

Short of having your device know who you’re talking to, as long as you have the sense to pull out your phone and tap that action in the course of the conversation, you’re all set. I have a feeling this is going to help me immensely, especially with people who have very little time and are tough to pin down. Getting all your questions answered or discussion items covered at once is invaluable if time is short. And even if it’s not, you’ve got a nice, quick way to jump to a person’s associated items the next time you sit down together.

Broken bones.

I’ve been dealing with some stress lately. Work is busy (duh), but we’re also beginning a construction project to renovate our home. Which means dealing with banks, insurance companies, and work crews, while keeping two small children housed and occupied. And we’re moving out, which means packing, total chaotic messes, and uncomfortable transitions (for all of us) from our established and well-worn routines. It’ll be several months like this, and I’ve been managing everything as best I can, but some days are better than others, as is to be expected.

I started to reflect on how I’m feeling as this unfolds around me, and an interesting thought occurred to me. I was a very sensitive child, internalizing far more than I probably should have. As such, I packed a lot of anxiety and stress inside and it had negative effects on me and my worldview. I’m far better at dealing with it now, but I’m acutely aware of certain situations that trigger shapeless feelings of dread and unhelpful patterns of thinking. Thankfully, I’ve developed better awareness of when this is happening and can identify it, working through it in a more healthy way than I could as a kid. A predilection toward organization of my personal responsibilities bordering on religion is part of that.

But there was a time in my life that I didn’t feel this way: college. I embraced an almost anarchic existentialism in my activities that in hindsight was really nothing more than pushing the boundaries of the senseless freedom of youth, but afterward I slowly returned to my “normal” state. I thought about this and how that experience shaped and changed me but ultimately allowed me to re-form in a similar but slightly different (I like to think better) way.

It’s like breaking a bone: it’ll set, it’ll heal, and you’ll go back to the way things were, but it won’t ever be exactly the same. Once you break it, in the aggregate it’s still the basic shape and size and serves the same purpose, but there are small variations and flaws that weren’t there before. Sometimes they’re innocuous, sometimes these variations yield long-term negative results, and sometimes they change things in ways we couldn’t have anticipated, making us stronger for the experience.

At times like this, I try to remember that all those bones I’ve broken have made me the person I am today, and I’m (mostly) pretty satisfied with how I’ve “set”. I’m sure to break many more bones along the way. But the shape of me won’t fundamentally change. I hope those healing periods to come bring positive changes.

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.