A return to form.

I type a lot. Hundreds, if not thousands of words, every day, across various devices. I’d say it’s a primary interaction model for most of us at this point. It’s changed the way I think about information, because since I can type, I often do, and it means that since I can type pretty quickly, I can capture quickly too.

Along the way, I’ve used lots of different notebooks as well. That was a vestigial practice–held from college, I’d wager–where I was never without one. But in my professional life, I could just never get it to stick the way I could in my personal life. I’d use a Moleskine or some Field Notes for a while, and then inevitably gravitate back to my Mac in most cases.

And I’ve tried to blend these ideas in the past, with various degrees of success. I’ve drastically increased my usage of iOS across personal and professional activities, but I’m still typing. A lot.

Earlier this year, I got the 12.9″ iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil. I enjoyed the novelty of finally having a digital handwriting tool that almost exactly matched my writing style on paper. But I still wasn’t using it much for this. I’d pull it out and open Paper to sketch something quickly or explain an idea, or annotate something, but I just didn’t make the mental shift to embracing it as a real input method.

But in October, I attended a conference for work. And I decided to try something different: I would sit in sessions and meetings and just listen and only write down something that stood out to me as interesting or important. What happened as a result of this decision should surprise exactly no one: I listened more attentively and actively, as opposed to simply trying to capture every detail of what was communicated. The things I did capture were of more value because they were most likely the important aspects of the information, and the act of capturing them more deliberately by hand allowed them to gestate in my mind a little more.

This isn’t a new discovery. In fact, I already knew this to be the case, even on a personal level. But blending the idea of the digital notebook along with the act of handwriting triggered something new for me. Since then, I’ve been keeping daily handwritten notes in an app that was recommended to me by a friend. Each day, I start a new notebook, log anything I need to during the day, and at the end I export a PDF to Box for archiving.

The act of more consciously listening and being present in a discussion has been transformative for me. I think that for a long time, I felt obligated to log as much as possible but what’s really more important is engaging in the discussion when it’s actually occurring.

To the extent that this is a digital activity as opposed to paper-based, in doing it this way, I allow myself a quick and easy way to backup my notes and share them if need be. I can drop images in and annotate immediately, or record the entire session and take notes alongside. Distinct advantages over a paper notebook, but the biggest one is that I have one thing to carry and I can do everything with it, as opposed to a computer and a notebook, which I’d then want to scan in some way, adding another activity to the chain of events.

I’m dealing with information differently now, and I’m really pleased with how it’s been going. It’s been about a month, and I really enjoy the act of writing again, which surprises me. It might not be as efficient a method of capture, but part of that capture process is understanding what it is I’m keeping for later—and slowing my mind and allowing that information to breathe as it moves around has been a real change.

Of course this all led me to buy a second iPad too, but that’s a story for another time. 😉

Things I like this week, volume 28.

Apple News

I’d been using it for light reading with a few sources before (not as an RSS replacement), but as of iOS 10, I’ve left the “Top Stories” stuff turned on and it’s become one of my most-used apps. I like the new look of the app, but still think it’s a bit odd on the iPad (I find there to be strange formatting issues with too-small fonts, odd layouts within articles, and photos that are huge and cropped in totally weird ways). On the iPhone however, it’s fantastic. I’m in and out of it all day, every day.1

Handwritten notes

Hopefully I’ll have more to say about this soon (working a post out in my head for the past few weeks) but for now, suffice to say I’m rediscovering how slowing down the ways in which I listen to and take in information can actually help my brain. Using the Pencil/iPad instead of typing, and reshaping how I do things.


  1. I mean, it’s mostly bringing me abject misery all day, every day, because 2016 is a goddamned emotional black hole, but I’m still enjoying the app. ↩︎

Things I like this week, volume 27.

I realized I haven’t done one of these since August, and that made me sad. Part of the reason for doing it at all was sharing fun stuff, but the other part was to make sure I was writing. Things have been extraordinarily busy this fall, but that’s no excuse. I can find 10 minutes to write a paragraph about a fun thing.

Let’s get back to it, then.

Zinio for Libraries

I’ve known about Zinio as an online magazine service for a while. And I am a huge fan of our local libarary, which has terrific kids’ programs and lots of digital media. I’ve been borrowing ebooks for a while now, but I completely forgot they also have a magazine service through Zinio.

This is different than standard Zinio, and you’ll need to make sure your local library supports it, but if they do, you’re straight bonkers if you don’t avail yourself of this. Here’s how it works.

You need a library card. Do that if you haven’t already. You’re paying taxes, you might as well have it. It’s worth it.

Then, download the app–this app, not the regular Zinio one–because it has a special login function that connects to your library’s system.

You visit a page on the web in Safari where you can see current and back issues of lots of different magazines. You pick the one you want. Then you go back to the app, refresh, and boom. You’re reading the latest issue of whatever you want in seconds, like a real grown up person.

This app shines on the 12.9″ Pro too, I’ll add–if you want the truest experience, hold it in landscape and you can see both sides of the magazine like you’re holding it for real. But if you rotate into portrait, while the device is enormous and bizarre, you get a massive, full-size page to read, no zooming required. This may be the only use-case I’ve yet found for the 12.9 in portrait mode, but it’s solid.

I’ve just been doing this in the evenings, lazily flipping pages in some magazines I like, and I don’t feel guilty about spending several bucks on a paper issue I’ll barely read, because it’s totally free, and if an issue sucks? Who cares. Delete it and get something else. Instantly.

Totally great, and a lovely complement to Apple News (another thing I’ve really come to enjoy with iOS 10) as a casual way to read.

Zinio for Libraries