Pixel-based paralysis.

I continue to hear about tools designed to help people “cope” with information. The most common is probably ways to handle your out-of-control email situation. Smarter folks than me have tackled this one already, so I'll be brief.

Our problem is not information, nor the systems we choose to manage it. I will be the first to admit that we live in a unique time period in which we have ubiquitous access to more information than anyone in the past, and this poses new challenges to us. But finding filters and applying logic-based tools to the burden we feel is panacea to the real problem. We need to decide how we are going to feel about information in the first place.

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things requiring our attention is normal. Seeking ways to assist with this is normal. But until you get positively mercenary with the things you allow to affect your emotional well-being, you will continue to feel the weight of the internet crushing you. Learn why it's not important to think about everything with the same gravitas and start to realize that you can begin to separate signal from noise more easily than you think you can. Anyone can do it. It just takes training, like every other thing you didn't know how to do before you learned to do it.

I'm sure Merlin has covered this way better and way more comprehensively than I ever could, so go listen to Back to Work. It's great. In the meantime, stop worrying about your inbox. Go hug someone you love. Your email will still be there.

Data loss and noble truths.

I don't remember the first time I lost data. I don't even remember what it was. I do remember the feeling of utter despair though, and the declaration that I wouldn't let it happen again. Since then, so much of my time and mental energy has been spent thinking about ways to prevent this from happening and creating layers of redundancy around my data and in many cases the data of those close to me.

Of course, no matter how careful you are, things can happen. All you need to do is listen to any recent episode of ATP and it becomes apparent that I could still be adding layers, checking backups, making sure. Checking disks. More. Verifying. I could always be doing more.

But I've started down a path that calls into question – or at least forces me to examine – the ways in which I think about the preservation of data. It began when I was in our kitchen, absent-mindedly staring at my wife's small box of recipes – written on index cards, as is often the case in many of our homes. Certainly she's always using the devices around our house to look up new recipes online, but this box contains things from her mother, her grandmother, relatives, and friends – things given to her over time. And it suddenly dawned on me:

This is the only place where this information exists.

I immediately began developing a strategy. We will digitize the recipes. We both use Dropbox–no. She has an Evernote account; I would simply have to get them in there somehow. Probably take photos of the cards, let them sync that way. That would be the easiest. Yes. I would talk to her about it later that night, and such it was set in my mind as I drove into work.

And then I stopped myself and began an attempt to trace back in my thinking to a point at which I could see the inception of this obsession with redundancy. I thought about what might happen if that box were lost. I suppose she'd be upset, but she could probably retrieve many of the recipes again from the folks who provided them. It would be work, but it was possible and certainly not the end of the world. Then I extended this to all the other places where I obsess about data. What were the things I truly couldn't live without? I have spent so much time actively creating elaborate architectures for the preservation of my personal data, that everything has fallen into this bucket of “must retain”. Certainly things like pictures of our daughter's birth are worth saving and having in many places. But I sometimes feel like I've taken the preservation of data to a strange new place.

For example: It all starts with Dropbox. Copies of all my files, online and on multiple machines. I can't trust iCloud, but I use it for contacts, calendars, and reminders – so I individually back each one of those up with manual exports. I love Evernote, but once a week, I manually export and save a complete set of my notes in Dropbox. When browsing for apps, I often won't even give an app a chance if there's no Dropbox sync or backup component. It's partially because I want to save time in the future with setup tasks, but there's also a voice in my head always reminding me how transient these bits I'm pushing between my devices truly are. I'm writing this on the iPad in a text editor hooked to Dropbox, but I'm not sure exactly how often it saves my document, so I stop every paragraph or so and move the view around to see that it is in fact, updating and saving. All our music and movies are available for streaming whenever we want, but I always download and store (and back up) a local copy of everything I buy. Stuff for the business? No brainer. Of course. Cloned copies as far as the eye can see. It's sort of a sickness, and sort of a well-oiled insurance policy, but it's already saved me countless hours of aggravation.

There's a large part of me that's proud as hell that I do all this. There's another part that wishes I could care a little less and just be more relaxed about things. I am by no means a practicing Buddhist, nor would I claim to be a student of it in any regard. But I do find reading about it to be very interesting, and I find myself doing it from time to time. One of the tenets of the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism involves the individual's inability to let go as part of the cause of suffering – the anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing. This is an idea that is core to the religion, but this concept also exists outside of Buddhism as well. I accept the inherent impermanence of the things with which we often concern ourselves, and realize that all my efforts are but a fleeting stab at self-placation. I try to always remember this when I find myself perseverating on small issues and physical objects (not an easy task for someone who is always eager to play with new electronic toys). This idea however, is in direct opposition to my philosophies on preserving my data, which border on good-natured zealotry in the eyes of most of the people who dare engage me on the topic.

Which brings me to the core question: is data – and the memory, time, and emotion we etch into it in our lives – more valuable than the physical objects with which we surround ourselves? Can we draw a line of distinction between the two that squarely places an iPhone below the photos I took with it of my newborn child? Attachment to anything is the key factor. I often wonder how life would be different if I were to lose all the things to which I ascribe value. Life would certainly go on if we were safe, but all our things were gone, so how important are these invisible, psychically tangible things? I would be lying if I said that I haven't stayed up in bed thinking about backups at one point or another, mulling over my machinations, unsure of just how good they were. I suppose it's more of a theoretical debate than something one can put into practice, but I can't stop thinking about it. I suppose as with most things, there's a balance to be struck between managing data and preserving what is necessary or important to you, but understanding at a deep level that it's another thing tying you to a potentially stressful obligation in your life.

I hope I don't sound like some nitwit who would put his family in jeopardy and throw away a mortgage and a home to run free among the flowers unencumbered. Nor did I want to take a fundamental precept of one of the world's major religions and apply it to a triviality like where my phone numbers are in iCloud. We all take on various levels of responsibility and as providers to those we love, we shoulder the burdens that come with those choices. That wasn't the point of the thought exercise. I just happened to reflect on this concept and follow it to this point. I plan to continue backing up and safely retaining all my data, just as I am today. I may even become more neurotic about it. I haven't gotten around to the recipes yet, though.

But I probably will.


How to Takk… about Sigur Rós albums.

We really like Sigur Rós at the office. However, like you, we have found it’s really hard to speak about the albums because of their… interesting names. So we came up with a system to refer to them, and you’re welcome to use it. It is as follows.

Will now be known as “Ghost Baby”.

Will now be known as “Tree Trellis” or just “Trellis” for short.

Will now be known as “Buttcheeks”.

Will now be known as “Angel Embryo”.

Will now be known as “Parentheses”.

Will now be known as “Instagram Ocean”.

Will now be known as “Planets 1 and 2″.

Will now be known as “Scary Mask” or “General Grievous”.

Feel free to share this guide with your friends who also struggle with Icelandic pronunciation while enjoying the dreamlike soundscapes this great band provides us.

One notebook to rule them all.

At WWDC, I picked up a new MacBook Air. This machine simply changed the way I thought about computing entirely. I have never loved a Mac as much or used a laptop with the same feeling of absolute freedom as I have with this computer. In fact, I love the MBA so much that I thought about getting rid of my iPad entirely instead of trying to find places for it. The combination of the Air and the iPhone was powerful enough to handle almost anything I could throw at it. This fall, as the new iPads were launched, I marveled at how nice they were, but resigned myself to not buying one. After all, I was happy with my new workflow and saw no reason to complicate things by adding more moving parts. Then I used the iPad Air.

The iPad Air has reinvigorated my love of the iPad line. It’s obviously the fastest iPad I’ve ever used, but the size and weight change make the largest perceivable difference in my opinion. It feels only slightly heavier than the mini. The bezel reduction takes it from feeling enormous to feeling quite manageable. Its proportions are so much more favorable now. When I first used one about a month ago, coming directly from the mini, everything felt cartoonishly large. I got over that in about a day. Having a retina screen again is divine, too. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started using it again. I really loved the first generation mini, but there’s just no substitute for those extra pixels. Everyone’s already said it, but it bears repeating: there are no tradeoffs with the two new iPads, it’s simply choose your size and go to town.

The new objective: full integration of the iPad into my day as a work device. I have no games on it, no movies, and only a few leisure (read: Twitter, ADN, read later, etc.) apps, most of which would provide no distraction while I’m trying to get something done. I intend for the iPad to replace my paper notebook (which I do love, but is limited and great at certain things but not many others), but also to become something more robust – a device that allows me to do the things I was previously doing and extends my ability to do more, easily. It will allow me to leave my beloved MBA docked at my desk, attached to my second display. I can AirPlay docs and demos to the Apple TVs we have in the office, I have all my notes, docs, and anything else I can think of loaded up and synced, and my home screen is organized for maximum efficiency. I held off on getting the Logitech keyboard case I loved so much with the iPad 3 only to give the incredible weight reduction of the Air a fair shake. I’ll probably get one because it’s a terrific addition to the device, but for now it’s a Smart Cover and that’s it. I do have a few standalone Bluetooth keyboards, one of which I’m using right now, so maybe I’ll stick with them.

I’ve been doing more interface sketching as I work on projects, and I’ve enjoyed allowing myself to just sketch rough ideas quickly instead of waiting until they’re solidified mentally first and then going directly into a document. These usually live in my paper notebook as well, but I’ll be doing this in Paper on the iPad (yes, ha ha, isn’t that adorable) which is my preferred drawing app. I’ve tried tons of them, and keep coming back to Paper, because it just feels the best. I’m intrigued by the development of that custom stylus for the app as well. I have a Bamboo stylus currently, but I’m hardly a fan. Having something that makes the act feel even more natural and less gimmicky is a huge plus for me.

The other things that I’m looking forward to are the great music apps that come along with iOS. GarageBand and AmpKit are two that I really love to use, and there’s a host of other drum machines and sequencers/synth apps that are surprisingly good. I’m going to dive into Audiobus more this time around too, I think, and see how I can chain things together, ultimately ending in GarageBand for now (so I can move files back to the Mac in some cases). Granted, this is more of a secondary use case than the day to day productivity stuff, but it plays into the concept of the global notebook – a device that I always have, to capture and document (and in some cases expand on) my ideas.

I find that these things go in phases for me, so this may just be a new (old) phase. Either way, this device has incredible potential. I don’t think I’ve ever made a dedicated effort to use the iPad like this – I’ve always stopped short of going all the way. It’s important to note, though that I have no intention of replacing my Mac(s) with iOS; rather it’s a matter of choosing not only the right tool for the job, but the best tool. I’m excited to give it a shot with the Air.