Things I like this week, volume 29.

Twenty Thousand Hertz

This is a new podcast that I discovered thanks to it being featured on a recent 99% Invisible episode. It’s all about telling “the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds” and is exactly the kind of stuff I adore–people examining something that permeates our consciousness and culture at a deep level. Great storytelling, great production value.

And the latest episode is literally about one of my favorite things: 8-bit sounds. I had the biggest grin on my face as I listened to it.

A delightful show, and I can’t wait to hear more.

Twenty Thousand Hertz

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

How I’m using watchOS 3.

The long-awaited watchOS 3 update dropped last week, and it is–as promised–a marked improvement. I’m sure it’s very impressive on a Series 2 Apple Watch, but even on my Series 0 1 it’s really great. I’ve been spending some time reading the comprehensive review of the update over at MacStories, and I’ve learned a ton. As such, my usage of the Watch has changed dramatically in the past week, and I’m really enjoying this device again.

I still have many, many issues with it, in about a million ways. But the changes are largely positive and between technical adjustments and updates to the user experience, are far and away great steps for the OS to take. I have a much more optimistic outlook for the device than I did a few months back. I’ve always liked it, but let’s be realistic, it was obnoxious for a while.

Anyway, here are the two core things I’ve adjusted that make the Watch better for me on a daily basis. It’s only been a week, so this may change, but it feels solid for now.

Multiple watch faces and ease of switching

This is the most important one, and it has a lot of layers.

I use a “home” and a “work” watch face. “Home” contained an analog face (Utility), the OmniFocus and Drafts complications for capture in the upper corners, and the weather on the bottom. “Work” is a different colored Utility face, with the time in London and the temperature in the corners, and my calendar events on the bottom. Switching between these was always irritating, because so much about the Apple Watch is irritating. Well, I’m happy to report that I am no longer irritated, because a simple swipe changes faces now and I’m whistling like an idiot through my day.

Since apps whose complications appear on your watch face have memory priority, they are quicker to launch. And since the faces are super easy to switch through, I’ve added an extra Modular face in the middle of the home and work faces, solely to use as an app launcher2. So my new layout is:

Home: Activity analog face with subdials (loving this); OmniFocus upper left, Music upper right (I love using the Watch to control audio), and weather on bottom.

[swipe]

Launcher: Modular face; Reminders, large weather in center, Just Press Record, Drafts, Timer

[swipe]

Work: Todoist (work tasks, upper left), time in London upper right, calendar on bottom.

In doing this, I no longer need to keep something like Just Press Record or Drafts on my main face at all times, because they would always get triggered if one of my kids bumped into my wrist, which happens way more than you might think. And although I have weather on my home face, I don’t have it on my work face anymore, which means the current conditions and high/low temp are one swipe away at work if I want them.

That center face–just holding complications as launchers–is freaking amazing. I only use about four third party apps on the Watch at all, but having things so accessible means I literally never need to use the godforsaken honeycomb again. Having the apps launch/refresh more quickly because they’re assigned complications is icing on the cake. And if you don’t mind an additional swipe, there’s no reason you couldn’t add a second launcher face alongside with different apps.

Now Playing and the dock

One thing that sucks is that since Control Center overtook the swipe up to reveal glances (the removal of which I could not be happier about), it means that one of the parts of the Watch I used the most is harder to get to. I would be in and out of Now Playing multiple times a day, whether with podcasts or music. I totally understand the continuity between wanting Control Center to be triggered the same way, but removing the ability to control audio (which of course you can do on the iPhone/iPad) makes this less appealing. I almost never open Control Center on the Watch. I suppose now you can check your battery really quickly, but that’s never been a concern of mine anyway.

Dock apps also get priority in memory, which is good. But… if the handful of apps I need lives in complications, that means I really don’t also need them in the dock too. So I have removed everything from the dock except Now Playing (and whatever was recently used, which I have no control over), which means that while not quite as accessible as before, Now Playing is one button click and a tap away, since it’s always in position (since it’s the only thing in the dock). Not a perfect solution, but working well in spite of the questionable demotion of its position.

These two things have drastically changed how I use my Watch on a daily basis. I’m extremely tempted to go check out the Series 2 at the store, but the change even on the original Watch is incredible. It’s actually far more useful now. Add in all the other little bits, like the changes to replies in notifications for Messages, and my most frequent activities have experienced a palpable reduction of friction. Which is exactly the reason this device exists in the first place. If Apple keeps this trend going in the right direction, the Watch will quickly graduate from a “yeah it’s cool, I guess” to a “I can’t imagine going through my day without this” kind of device.

I’m excited to see where this is headed.


  1. I will not refer to my launch day Apple Watch as a Series 1, because it contains the old, busted chipset, and not the new bumped one. No, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask? (I will probably continue to be a giant infant and get a new Watch eventually, but I’ve held off for the time being.) 
  2. A bunch of people were super excited about this idea and were thanking me for being such an innovative person, but in all honesty, this idea came directly from the MacStories review. I read it and was like YES and then immediately implemented it. I let everyone know on Twitter but figured it was worth an additional footnote. So go thank Alex, because I stole it from him.