Additional Organized Baggage

In light of the re-release of my favorite bag, I thought I’d post an update about what I’m carrying in it.

In my last post, I mentioned that “there’s ample room in the Gear Pouch for more” than what I had already put in it. So, I added a few things:

Also, I’ve swapped a few things.

My uni-ball Jetstream RT was replaced with a RULE/ONE loaded with a Jetstream refill. The USB drive and NomadKey on the lucky line were replaced with a pair of tweezers and a very tiny knife, which is great for opening Amazon boxes.

The Anker battery has been surprisingly useful. When I’m at a coffee shop and their Wi-Fi sucks, I use the battery to provide extra juice while I tether. Tethering is a serious battery drain. With the Anker, that’s not a problem.

The micro USB and Lightning cables are from a set sold by Incase. The lightning cable goes great with the Anker, and the micro USB is for charging our JamBox on the go.

The Space Pen comes in handy when the RULE/ONE seems too fiddly and I want to jot something quickly.

I tend not to carry cash at all, but sometimes you need it (parking lots in downtown Portland are largely cash-based, and there’s at least one toll bridge in the area that we cross on occasion).

The portable corkscrew is for, well…have you ever found yourself in need of a corkscrew when you didn’t have one? Total pain in the ass.1

I’ve also switched my daily carry bag from a tiny Timbuk2 to a Chrome Mini Buran. It holds just a bit more than the Timbuk2 (including my laptop). It’s also waterproof thanks to the 1000D nylon exterior and plastic-lined interior, which is great when you live in a rainy climate, and your daily commute involves walking to a nearby coffee shop.2


  1. Here’s the truth: When visiting my wife’s grandparents for Christmas one year, we snuck in a bottle of wine to drink in our room. We didn’t have a corkscrew. Couldn’t open it, and we eventually ended up with bits of cork in our verboten wine. Haven’t made that mistake since. This item’s more sentimental than useful. 
  2. Chrome’s bags are lined with “military grade 18 oz. truck tarpaulin liner.” Ever seen an 18-wheeler with a trailer that looks like it’s wearing a skin-tight tarp? Yeah, that stuff. 

Reading List, Shared Links, Drafts, and Authy

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that, if you’re a nerd with a smartphone, there are likely a number of apps on your device that are there because they’re more cool or trendy than they are useful. Perhaps they’re purely aspirational–you’ll use them one day when you’re a better person.

I’ve been thinking about this lately while examining a few of my habits and trying out some simplified approaches to how I use my devices. I quickly discovered that I don’t need a complicated text editor, an RSS reader, or a dedicated read-later service on my iPhone.

Shared Links

As part of this self-examination, I’ve started to back away from social services like Twitter, and I’ve cut back on how much news I read. This led me to remove most of my RSS subscriptions from my Feed Wrangler account.

In the end, I had so few subscriptions that keeping my smart streams (which is Feed Wrangler parlance for folders) made no sense. Everything fit into one bucket.

Around this time, my friend Sam mentioned he had been giving Safari’s Shared Links a try. I had forgotten all about this feature. It can pull in links from Twitter and from RSS feeds. I moved my RSS subscriptions into Shared Links, and it’s working fantastically for me as a replacement for Feed Wrangler and Unread.

Score: -1 service, -1 app

Reading List

Once I started using Shared Links, it made sense to give Reading List a try as a replacement for Instapaper. Having everything in Safari is really pleasant.

I lost some functionality in the switch. I used to have Pinboard auto-bookmark anything I added to Instapaper. I also had IFTTT sending all of the blog posts from a couple of sites I really like directly to Instapaper; I didn’t want to miss any of their posts. These things don’t work with Reading List.

After almost a month, I still don’t care. Haven’t missed it once. If I need to bookmark something, I use the share sheet provided by Pushpin. And now that I’m subscribed to fewer RSS feeds, I no longer accidentally overlook posts from my favorite sites.

Score: -2 services, -2 apps

Drafts

Editorial, while a stunning achievement in iOS development and a wonderful text editor, is overkill for all but a handful of people. Byword, iA Writer, and Drafts are perfectly serviceable. Actually, most people would find Pages more familiar and comfortable.

I settled on Drafts for writing blog posts because it has a few shortcuts I really like and allows for quick jotting of ephemeral notes. I don’t have to care about syncing or tags or Dropbox or a Mac counterpart with Handoff built in or long-term management of text files. Just write some words and send them somewhere with an action or a share sheet. Very simple. Plus, it just feels lighter and less fiddly than Editorial.

If I need a note back on my Mac, there’s always email. Yes, it’s unsexy and not a nerdy solution, but it works and doesn’t require more software that could break or turn into abandonware.

I’m actually surprised that I don’t miss the functionality from Editorial. I had customized the app to such a degree that I thought I wouldn’t be able to live without it.

I’m planning a follow-up post that details how I use Drafts to write this blog.

Score: -2 services, -3 apps

Bonus: Two-Factor Auth

I’ve been a user and a fan of 1Password for years. It was recently updated with the ability to generate “one-time passwords,” which is what apps like Google Authenticator and Authy do. I had been using Authy, but now 1Password handles all my two-factor auth needs, and I have one less app on my phone.

Score: -2 services, -4 apps

The take-away here is that, despite how you self-identify (prosumer, power user, etc.), you might find that stock apps or simpler solutions can work just as well as (or better than) the fiddly, nerd-friendly alternatives. Choosing the simpler setup usually means introducing fewer potential points of failure in your day to day work. That stability could save you more time than any fancy workflow.

Organized Baggage

I hate having stuff in my pockets, so I use a Waterfield Gear Pouch (size medium) Waterfield iPod Gear Pouch (size large) to keep my pockets empty. It’s small, it holds a basic set of things I both want and need around me at all times, and it’s always nearby.

What’s in it?

The most important (and most often used) items are the pen case/notebook and the headphones. Also–oddly–the nail clippers see a lot of use (toddlers are apparently prone to breaking nails and cannot continue their day without having it remedied immediately). The Leatherman comes in handy a lot for replacing batteries in toys and opening packages.

I can’t say enough nice things about the Nock case. It’s extremely well-made with durable fabrics and great stitching. It just feels good, and I want to buy several of their other cases.

If I had a monster phone, it would easily fit along with everything else, but I haven’t made that leap yet. For now, my iPhone 5 lives in the left pocket of my jeans. Point is: there’s ample room in the Gear Pouch for more stuff.

Using the pouch this way is part of a larger system I’ve put together over the years. I have many small bags and pouches (several from Waterfield and a couple from Tom Bihn) for different things. First aid kits, snack holders, tech and cable organizers, diaper sacks. They’re all organized to serve a specific purpose, and they’re all meant to be modular.

I tend to carry a couple of different full-size bags depending on the occasion. There’s my regular shoulder bag for coffee shop trips. There’s my kids’ diaper bag for extended outings and trips to the park. Moving from one bag to another is simple; toss in the small bags of stuff I need, and remove any I don’t need. The whole process only takes a couple of seconds. It’s a good system that’s served me well, and I’m a fan of how it helps instill a certain amount of focus into what could otherwise be a jumbled, bloated mess of wires, pens, and Goldfish crackers.

The Small Things

iOS users: open Settings, go to Sounds, and change the Text Tone sound. Lock your screen, and ask someone to text you. You heard your custom sound, right?

Unlock your phone or iPad, launch Messages, and have the person text you again.

Wrong sound.

Now send that person a message and note the bloop sound that plays. There’s no place in the OS to change that sound; it can’t even be disabled. If you don’t want to hear it, your only option is to flip the mute switch on the side of your device.


Yesterday, a friend of mine played a cute trick. He renamed a group chat in Messages to my wife’s name.

In the message list, there’s almost no way to distinguish between the group chat and a conversation with my actual wife. Incoming messages show two names on the lock screen (my wife’s and the sender’s).

The chat was renamed a couple of times after this. For some reason, though, messages in that thread appear on my lock screen with my wife’s name as the conversation name. In Messages, the conversation name is completely different.

My friends see a mix of the correct and incorrect conversation names on their devices.


We used to laud Apple for the company’s relentless attention to detail. Small but noticeable things like this—whether they be bugs or just inconsistencies in the interface—didn’t show up often. Now, it seems like I spot one or two a day.

When it works, iOS can still deliver moments that feel like magic. It seems like these moments are declining in number, though, being replaced with many small frustrations.

Technology should strive to remove friction; any time it introduces friction, we should ask ourselves whether the benefits of the thing outweigh the aggravation. Yes, even when the frustrations are minor and when the technology is as transformative as a smartphone. As these frustrations accrete, the mental tax we pay for dealing with them can become a death-by-a-thousand-cuts situation.

The stability and overall success of the Apple Pay launch has at least shown that some teams inside Apple continue to carry the same QA ethic as the Apple I remember. It’s made me hopeful that Apple will one day be capable of doing something to steer things back to center. In the meantime, I’m just hopeful that things don’t get worse.

In Praise of Harry’s

The only advertising that both reaches my ears and affects my buying decisions these days comes by way of podcasts. Though I do tend to skip over most ads, sometimes one or two get through. Given the ridiculous number of spots they’ve purchased in recent weeks, it’s unsurprising that one of those ads would be for Harry’s.

I’m glad this ad got through.

About a week ago, I ran out of blades for my Gillette Fusion razor. That, combined with a growing disdain for the shaving lotion I was using, led me to give Harry’s a look. Using a promo code from the Accidental Tech Podcast, I managed to get a new handle, three blades, shaving lotion, and aftershave for a whopping $20.

Four replacement blades for my Fusion–just the blades–would have cost $16.50, so even if this new shaving kit was barely as good as the Gillette stuff I’d been using, I’d come out ahead.

The kit arrived yesterday. I’d heard the packaging was quite attractive, and it is. Some have compared it to an Apple product; I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s nice.

The handle has a nice heft to it. The cartridges seem less complicated compared to Gillette’s, but they still boast 5 blades per cartridge. The shaving lotion has a nice earthy smell; however, the after-shave has a somewhat generic manly man smell to it that’s a bit too perfumey for my tastes.

I have very sensitive skin, and every razor and lotion/cream combination I’ve tried–stuff ranging from Neutrogena to Kiehl’s– has left me bleeding from two specific spots on my neck. I came away from this morning’s shave without shedding a drop. That’s a huge win. I also had less irritation than normal afterward.

I was also surprised to find that the aftershave wasn’t nearly as pungent as I’d expected. The initial punchiness wore off quickly, and I noticed that the smell changed quite a bit after it was applied to my skin (my daughter says it smelled like berries, but she thinks everything that smells nice smells like berries). It was far less offensive than I thought it would be, but I’d still prefer something a little more neutral or scent-free. That said, it did a number on my pores. My skin hasn’t felt this soft in quite a while.

I’d be satisfied with this kit if it had cost $50. The fact that I got it for $20 seems like a steal. I’d definitely recommend giving Harry’s a shot.

In fact, I hope the company sticks around for a long time, and (given the quality of their creams and lotions) I’m hopeful they’ll branch out into other grooming products as well.

Bye Bye, iPad

A few days ago, I signed up for a Gazelle account and got an offer for the two iPads we own. I shipped them off today. New models will likely be introduced tomorrow, and I won’t be upgrading.

The reasons are both subjective and objective.

On the subjective side, I haven’t found a way to make an iPad fit into my daily life. I’ve tried using it for writing, research, online chores like paying bills, and media consumption (mostly books, comics, and long-form articles), but it’s never been convenient for any of these things.

My laptop is far better at writing, research, and anything else that involves a browser thanks to the larger screen and full-size keyboard. I’ve yet to use an iPad that matches a laptop’s speed when browsing the web. Every time I have a choice between the two, my immediate reaction is, “This will take forever on the iPad.”

My iPhone is better for media consumption (even with its small screen) because it’s always with me. I never have to go grab it from my bag, which is alllllll the way over there. If I’m going to get up and fetch a device, I’ll get the faster and more capable one instead. I also find the iPhone better for writing and research for the same reason; I never have to haul it out from some hiding place. It’s always there.

On the objective side, the amount of software available on the iPad is shockingly small compared to what you’ll find on the iPhone or Mac.

This hasn’t improved over the last couple of years, and I believe Apple is struggling with how to solve this problem. The iPhone 6 Plus paints a picture of how Apple could one day twist the arms of developers into writing software for the iPad. Eventually, there will be no division between platforms; there will be one platform with many display resolutions. And I’ll bet supporting them all will become mandatory, meaning that devs won’t be able to ignore supporting the iPad any longer.

That’s great! Unless you’re a developer. And especially if you’re an indie developer.1 Supporting a handful of display resolutions isn’t simple. It’s a lot of work if you want to do it right, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some indies simply walk away if it becomes a requirement. The time needed to add support for every device size won’t be worth it to some—especially those who can’t charge existing users for an upgrade (which is technically every iOS developer). No one likes to work for free.

The alternative for indies is to make their iPad- and iPhone-6-Plus-sized apps into blown-up versions of their iPhone-sized counterparts. That would shorten development time and require less work, but it’s also a technique for which Apple has criticized Android tablet software makers in the past. It’s also bad for users because it wastes screen space.

For me, a larger iPhone paired with a powerful laptop makes a lot of sense.2 This won’t be the case for everyone.

I’m actually looking forward to having one less device to manage, charge, and sync my stuff to. I’ll miss having a simple device for the few things the iPad was good for (streaming TV episodes from our home server when we stayed in hotel rooms, reading recipes in the kitchen). But it’s very difficult to justify spending $600 on a computer that we use for so little. And there’s nothing the iPad can do that one of our other devices can’t do better.


  1. It’s even worse if you’re an indie dev who ships separate iPhone and iPad versions of an app. Those will have to be made into a single universal SKU. That leads to pricing issues. Charge double for the universal app? App Store shoppers will balk. Charge the same price as the non-universal app? You’ll go out of business. 
  2. I’m still not sold on the 6 Plus. Reports of an easily scratched screen, dead display pixels, rendering issues tied to bizarro software-based resolution down-scaling, speed issues tied to the paltry 1 GB of RAM, usability issues surrounding the placement of the lock switch, and more have soured me on the idea of purchasing one of these. Oh, right; it might also bend. 

Antisocial

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of people who are talking more about restricting how much they use social sites like Twitter. Too much noise these days, they say. No place for finding new friends or topics. No room for quiet conversations. Also, privacy is an ever-present issue.

There are many great apps that let you write short messages, stash pictures with captions, and even check in to your favorite locations, without posting any of the resulting data online. And there are other services that continue to provide quiet, private online communities for when you need a break from the larger networks. Here are a few that I’ve been using for a while.

Day One

Day One is a journaling app for iOS and the Mac. It’s beautiful, fun to use, and it can serve as a nice stand-in for Twitter or Instagram. It handles photos well, let’s you geotag posts with a specific location, record the current weather, and more. When you get the urge to reach for Twitter, maybe give Day One a shot. I have nearly 1,000 entries in Day One, and I add a couple more every day.1

Rego

Rego is a check-in app, but it’s completely private. Use it like Foursquare—that is, Foursquare before they split check-ins off into a separate app.

Quotebook

If you post lots of quotes to Tumblr, check out Quotebook. It can even import your previously posted quotes from Tumblr. And if you quote someone’s tweet in Quotebook, it’ll even grab that person’s Twitter avatar and display it next to his or her name. Pretty snazzy. The current version is a full rewrite for iOS 7, and it’s pretty delightful.

Photo Stream

This one isn’t necessarily private, but it’s highly restricted. My wife and I use photo streams to share pictures with each other, close family members, and friends. It’s like a private Instagram complete with comments and likes, and it comes built into your iOS devices.

Path and App.net

Sometimes you just need a quieter place with fewer people. Path and App.net still exist, they still have great client apps (I recommend Riposte for App.net), and neither service has yet suffered an Eternal September. Path’s privacy features are especially nice and give you lots of control over who gets to see what.

Sharing

It’s worth noting that both Day One and Rego offer an option to share your entries to social networks like Twitter and Facebook. If you decide something deserves a wider audience, you can always choose to publish your entry elsewhere. This feature makes both apps a solid middle ground between complete privacy and over-sharing.


  1. My wife uses Momento, and she loves it. It has a similar feature set. If Day One rubs you the wrong way, try Momento. 

Using Command-C with Launch Center Pro

Like Pastebot, Command-C lets you send the contents of your clipboard back and forth between your Mac and iPhone. You can also use it to send stuff between your iPhone and iPad. Best of all, it supports x-callback-url, which means you can use it with Launch Center Pro.

Here’s the Launch Center Pro action I use to quickly toss my clipboard to another device. Instead of having a separate action for each device, it lets me choose the target device from a list.

command-c://x-callback-url/copy?deviceName=[list:Choose Device|Mac=bluepolicebox|iPad=MiniMe]&x-source=Launch%20Pro&x-success={{launchpro://}}

Install this action. (Be sure to update the device names to match your own.)

I have a separate action that let’s me send freeform text to another device as well:

command-c://x-callback-url/copyText?deviceName=[list:Choose Device|Mac=bluepolicebox|iPad=MiniMe]&x-source=Launch%20Pro&x-success={{launchpro://}}&text=[prompt-return:Text to Send]

Install this action. (Again, be sure to update the device names to match your own.)

Got any other nifty Launch Center Pro tricks? Post them to Twitter with the hashtag #lcptips.

Playing with URLs in Launch Center Pro 2.3

This morning, I found myself wanting to clean a URL with Clean Links and then send the cleaned URL to another Launch Center Pro (LCP) action. You can chain LCP actions together now using the [action:##] tag that was introduced in LCP 2.3. This wasn’t as straight-forward as I had hoped it would be, but the solution I came up with works really well. I’d love to see if there’s a simpler implementation.

The workflow looks like this:

  • Copy URL
  • Open LCP and fire the clean-link action
  • Clean Links strips the cruft out of the URL, places it on the clipboard, and returns to LCP
  • LCP then calls another action to do further processing on the contents of the clipboard

Here’s what the resulting LCP action looks like:

clean-links://x-callback-url/clean?url=[clipboard]&x-success={{launch://x-callback-url/clipboard/?text=[clipboard]&x-success=[action:10]}}

First, we pass the URL on the clipboard to Clean Links. It passes back the cleaned URL on the clipboard and returns to LCP via the x-success parameter.

From there—and this is where it gets hacky—we tell LCP to call an internal function (/clipboard/) to place the current contents of the clipboard onto the clipboard. This is necessary so we can then use the x-success parameter to call action number 10, which is what we’re really after.

Again, very hacky, but if you need to do something like this, it works really beautifully. If theres a better way to do it, I’d love to hear about it (@jeffmueller on Twitter and App.net).

Update: Here’s a much simpler version:

clean-links://x-callback-url/clean?url=[clipboard]&x-success={{launch://?url=[-action:10]}}

Thanks to Eric Pramono for the tip!

Apple, iOS, and Leading by Example

When the App Store launched in 2008, I started to worry about where the newly-christened iPhone OS (which would later be renamed iOS) was headed. While I was excited about the prospect of third-party native software on the iPhone, I was concerned about where iOS might eventually find itself in the not-too-distant future. It was the first move toward becoming a regular-old operating system. Given the history of Windows and Mac OS, that carries certain implications. Layers of cruft. Useless features. Bloat. Poor software. Bad stewardship.

Flash forward five years, and I think we’ve found ourselves faced with a mobile operating system that exhibits all of those problems and more.

The App Store has become a mess of black-hat SEO techniques, rip-offs, cons, and poorly architected applications that show a total disregard for common QA practices. It has all of these things despite being a much-maligned walled garden, and it’s been this way for a long time now. The built-in search doesn’t work well despite being reworked several times (including once using technology that was snapped up via the acquisition of a company that specialized in searching the App Store). New app releases can take hours to propagate through the store for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Apple seems content to let the App Store fester.

Apple’s own software has been bug-ridden for some time. iOS 7 was–and remains–full of issues. Even seemingly basic applications like Reminders fail routinely for people. Duplicate contacts scattered across devices. Voice Memos that randomly refuse to play.

iCloud continues to be unreliable despite being almost three years old, which has led many third-party developers to build their own completely unreliable sync services. iCloud file storage remains a black box of data that users can’t see into. Apple still eschews iterative development and ships updates to its web services on (what appears to be) a yearly basis, meaning any issues users face will be present until the next big reveal.

iCloud storage plans are expensive even by Apple’s standards and top out at 50 GB despite the largest iOS device carrying 128 GB of storage, which means some users with a full device can’t use iCloud Backup despite paying a premium for the highest tier of storage. People still don’t understand that Photo Stream can and will quietly delete your photos based on arbitrary limits. Data loss is common in both cases.

iOS hasn’t grown in a meaningful way over the last couple of years. Yes, it’s gotten better for developers, and lots of nifty (but currently useless) things like iBeacons and peer-to-peer networking were added, but users haven’t gained much more than a pretty interface that makes buttons hard to discern. Apps still can’t share data with each other. AirDrop on iOS can’t talk to AirDrop on a Mac, which is baffling.

The iPhone and iPad are both beautiful examples of industrial design, though. I’m sure the next versions will be every bit as nice. But good hardware with bad software still leads to a half-assed product. Other hardware makers are getting better at industrial design. Good hardware is no longer enough to separate iOS devices from the rest of the market.

But the thing about the rest of the market is that all of it is objectively worse than iOS. Android has privacy issues that are too numerous to count. Windows Phone remains a confused OS with a poor selection of third-party software.

Unreliable software and services. Complacency. Privacy concerns. Bad stewardship. Confusing user experiences.

The best of the best is, at the moment, face-planting in grand fashion. iOS’s platform issues are so entrenched that driving them back could take years. And the alternatives to iOS are non-starters to those who care about a solid ecosystem and some semblance of privacy.

To me, the early promise of mobile computing has been broken. The iPhone took off like a rocket and replaced everything from the calculator on your desk to the flashlight in your closet. And then it got weird. And confusing. Simple things that technology was supposed to make easy (e.g., managing your to-dos) became a game of Russian Roulette with a server farm in North Carolina. That’s not how things were supposed to go.

I’ve personally dealt with this by slowly backing away from using computers to do important things. Not just mobile devices, but computers in general. The trust I had in my devices has eroded slowly over the last seven years. Despite wanting to be paperless, I’ve found myself turning to notebooks, post-its, and analog tools like whiteboards that won’t mysteriously go missing in the night because someone tripped over a power cord halfway around the world.

It saddens me because of the potential of these devices. Our phones and tablets are powerful and capable of so much, but they continue to fail us because of bad software. It’s easy to blame third-party developers, but I think it makes more sense to blame Apple for doing a poor job of shepherding the platform along.

They set the standard by which iOS software should be measured, and they control the primary mechanism of distribution. If Apple ships bad software, why should other iOS developers care to do better? And if the App Store encourages bargain basement pricing, scammy in-app purchases, and generally deceptive marketing practices just to make your app visible via the built-in search, why should we blame developers for doing what’s required to turn a profit? Bad begets bad.

Rumored iOS features used to excite me; now they frustrate me because they point to Apple taking on still more responsibilities. As a developer for and a user of Apple’s products, I hope they’ll reign in their focus soon. We don’t need a new TV or a wearable device. We need an operating system and an App Store and web services that are reliable enough to restore our trust in the platform. We need Apple to set a better example.