In the interest of sharing more things here, I’ve added a section to the site called “Today I Learned (TIL)”
These are short write-ups of things I learned that don’t need a full blog post but I share them here because they might be useful to someone else (or just as likely: useful to me in the future). They are mostly going to be technical in nature (at least they all are so far), but it’s possible something non-technical will be included in the future.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been closely tracking the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a lot of useful resources for keeping track of what’s happening with COVID-19, but there’s also a lot of misinformation. I wanted to put together a collection of the things that I’ve found to be useful, and more importantly accurate.
Last Christmas, Nathan Seidle’s wife gave him a second-hand safe she’d found on Craigslist. It was, at first glance, a strange gift. The couple already owned the same model, a $120 SentrySafe combination fire safe they’d bought from Home Depot. But this one, his wife explained, had a particular feature: The original owner had locked it and forgotten the combination. Her challenge to Seidle: Open it.
Another travel related tip, this one for using Shortcuts. I’ve done something similar, and it’s a life saver. I’m generally a bit anxious when traveling anyway, and I find that having a detailed checklist for packing (almost 100 items on mine), as well as other things that have to be done, makes a huge difference in my level of anxiety.
As a heavy user of the 2018 12.9" iPad Pro, I’m keenly interested in what iOS 13 will bring. Redesigning the home screen to be more functional is high on my wish list. Jason Snell has a great take on this at Macworld.
I don’t know how radical a makeover Apple’s planning for the iPad home screen, but I hope it will provide us with more than a new view into the same old collection of apps. I like my iPhone home screen to be simple, but it’s small. My iPad screen is bigger than the one on my MacBook—it deserves to host a home screen that’s got more functionality and density than the one the iPad has suffered with for its entire existence.
The Big List of Naughty Strings is an evolving list of strings which have a high probability of causing issues when used as user-input data. This is intended for use in helping both automated and manual QA testing
I’m not iPad-first, but I’m definitely using it for more tasks that I would have used a Mac for a few years ago. Writing this, for instance.
Before the iPad Pro debuted in late 2015, transitions from Mac to iPad were extremely scarce. The iPad’s hardware and software were both far too limited to compel many switchers. The software has advanced since that time – thanks to Split View, drag and drop, and Files, it’s far easier to work on an iPad than before – but there’s plenty more progress still to be made. The hardware, however, is where the iPad has shined most, especially with the newest iPad Pros.
Github Actions is really intriguing, and I’m excited to get my hands on it. It’s not enabled for my account yet, but once it is I’m going to dive in and automate a bunch of things, starting with the publishing of this blog (which I currently do with AWS CodeBuild).
While I wait paitently-ish, I’ve collected some links to things I’ve read about it.
A fairly common task, I suspect: automating the publishing of content when it’s pushed to Github. I’ll be doing this soon myself. Even if it’s not something you need, this is a good intro to what you can use Actions for.
The iPad Pro is starting to play a bigger role in my photography. When I went to Florida on vacation this summer I didn’t take my laptop at all, only my iPad Pro. There are still some awkward bits about working with RAW files on iOS, but overall it’s become capable of handling a lot of things. Also, I’m starting to build/acquire a bunch of iOS shortcuts now. It’s so easy to build them, and I’ve already found a number that I’m using daily.
Once upon a time, I had a blog. This was in the days before social media, mostly. I’d occasionally write some longer things, but often times I’d just share links to things I found interesting. Sometimes I shared pictures. I even did a series of interviews at one point. It was never a terribly popular blog, but that wasn’t really the point. It was a creative outlet for me, a chance to work in a different medium - prose instead of code.
I read other people’s blogs as well, which were often the source of the things I found interesting. First with Bloglines, then Google Reader, I followed hundreds of like-minded people and read the things they wrote. It was a simpler time.
Social Media and the Demise of the Blog
Along came Twitter, which was the first social media network I joined, though it was far from the first. It was new and exciting. I enjoyed following people that were interested in the same sorts of things that I was. Twitter at the time had earned a reputation for being banal - mostly people talking about what they were eating for lunch - but nerd twitter wasn’t like that at all. It was a continuous stream of people sharing things they found interesting or posting links to what they’d done. Sometimes it was discussions between people on an interesting topic, discussions that were a lot harder to have in other mediums such as blogs.
Twitter made it trivial to share links and small snippets of daily life. Inevitably, the arrival of new content on my blog slowed. A little at first, but shortly it became a trickle before it stopped altogether. More social media arrived: Facebook made it easy to share things with friends and family, Instagram made sharing photos fun. There was almost no reason to use a blog anymore. I wasn’t alone, a lot of the blogs I read at the time are no more. The people aren’t gone, they’re just posting their thoughts elsewhere.
And Now Here We Are
Fast forward a few years (ok, it’s more than a dozen since this story began). I still use Facebook and Twitter, but noticeably less than I once did. I’ve come to see social media as the junk food of consumption. It tastes good at the time but leaves you feeling unsatisfied. There are still good things there, but they’re increasingly harder to find and you have to wade through a lot of garbage to find them.
I’ve also been missing my creative outlet. I had once enjoyed writing longer pieces, explaining how I’d solved a problem, reviewing a book I’d read, and introducing people to something I’d discovered. That wasn’t really possible in 140 or even 280 characters, not in any meaningful way. I’d also taken up photography as a hobby, and while Instagram and Facebook are fine for sharing that sort of thing, neither is a great forum for it.
Ultimately, I want a digital place to call home, where I control (and own) the content and how it’s presented.
A look around the internet shows I’m not alone. Cal Newport, an author I enjoy who is decidedly anti-social media, has been making the case for blogs. Jeremy Keith is as well, and others too numerous to mention. Countless others never lost the habit and didn’t succumb to the siren call of communicating to the world exclusively in bite-size content.
A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes
So I built a new website. The technical details about what it is and how I built it are a story for another post, but now that it’s up and running this will be the place where I post most things. Links/photos/longer posts will be here, and then I’ll share them on social media. I want to own my own writing, for better or for worse, and there’s really no other way to do that other than your own website at your own domain.
The new blog and this very blog post were actually started a couple of years ago, but that’s how side projects go. This was never a top-of-mind project, but something I’d tinker with from time to time. Life’s a lot busier than it was a dozen years ago, and my attention span isn’t what it used to be (whether social media is partially to blame for that is a topic for another day). But no matter, it’s done now.
This is definitely a work in progress. I brought over most of the content from the earlier versions of this site, but not all of it. Some of that content has been reviewed and revised to correct typos, formatting issues, and dead links, but that will take a while and so if you spend any time in the archives here you’re likely to find all of those things. If you do, feel free to let me know (via Twitter, I suppose, or Github if that’s more your thing.
One of the recurring themes in my quest to be organized is that of todo list staleness. Inevitably, the cycle looks like this:
I sit down, and in a burst of creative energy I create a beautifully crafted, perfectly organized todo list. It’s a thing to behold. Everything is broken down into nice orderly projects, each with a clearly identified next action. There are contexts assigned to everything: this one is an errand, this one needs to be done online, this one needs to be done in the kitchen. It is, without a doubt, the epitome of organization. And this time, it’s going to stick. I’m going to review it daily, weekly, monthly to make sure that everything is current. This todo list will give me productivity superpowers.
This generally lasts less than a week.
Fairly quickly, I stop reviewing the todo list. For reasons unknown, I’ve never been able to develop the habit of reviewing my lists on a daily basis. Once I stop reviewing the list, I stop putting things into it consistently. Often, I will write them down on paper (or in a text file, or perhaps in Evernote), and then do them without ever entering them into whatever tool I’m using. Once this happens, I end up using the simpler tool as my whole todo list. I stop organizing things in projects, I just write things down, and then do them.
The next stop on this train is that I stop reviewing things weekly. This inevitably creates a bit of anxiety. I know that there are things in there that I should be doing, but I’m not. I’m focused on the things on my little todo list. It’s a paradox, because on the one hand I feel productive checking things off of my little list. On the other hand, I know that this means I’m not making the best use of my time. It means that my todo list is skewed towards the most recent things that I’ve put on it, rather than things on the larger list that might have more strategic value. To borrow a phrase from Stephen Covey, it’s the urgent, not the important.
In the end, the list atrophies. It’s not updated anymore, and starts to resemble a decaying building that’s been left to sit for decades. It’s a mix of things that have already been completed but never checked off, projects that are long-past relavant but still sitting on the list, and poorly worded tasks, the context of which have long been forgotten. It’s Exhibit A in the argument for the Broken Windows Theory. I could go through and get everything up to date again, but I don’t. Mostly, I suspect, it’s just too overwhelming. There’s lots of stuff there and my eyes just glaze over when I look at it.
Inevitably, in a fit of productive frustration, the cycle begins again. Sometimes it’s a restart with the same tool, purging the old and busted, and replacing it with the new hotness. Quite frequently, however, it’s with a new tool altogether (I think I’m on my sixth or seventh system by now).
In the most recent cycle, I switched tools again. This time from Evernote (which is an awesome notetaking tool, but a very poor todo list manager, at least for people with more than a handful of things going on) to Omnifocus. I’ve watched Omnifocus for years and always viewed it with quite a bit of interest. I’m a GTD advocate (even if I frequently fall off the wagon) and it was designed from the ground up to work well with GTD. It’s got great mobile apps, and a top notch desktop experience as well. The reason I hadn’t used it before now is that I spend a good portion of my day using Windows. Not by choice, mind you, but it pays the bills. Without a solid cross platform experience, I didn’t really think I could be productive. But now that I work from home, and have easy and constant access to not only my iOS devices, but my Mac as well, it becomes a little more practical. So I plunked down my cash on the counter and bought into the entire ecosystem.
So far, Omnifocus has been great. But predictably, there are signs of the cycle repeating. I’ve gone days or weeks without even looking at it. I’ve got a small, hand-written list on an index card (the amazing Frictionless Capture Cards). There are things in Omnifocus that are certainly out of date, and there are projects that I’m working on that aren’t in there at all. The first window is shattered.
There’s hope though. Omnifocus has one thing that I have yet to see anywhere else, which is a review mode. It exists in the desktop app, but it really shines in the iPad application. It works like this: you tap Review, and Omnifocus takes you through every single project in your list, and presents it to you one at a time. You can look it over, check things off that have been completed, and add things that might be needed. Then you mark it as reviewed, and Omnifocus gives you the next item. It’s brilliant. You only see one project at a time, so it’s much less overwhelming (at least to me). Once I’m done with the review, everything is current and I feel much more relaxed. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the last review, in less than an hour I can be completely current.
So after decades of using tools that never stuck for long, I feel like I’ve finally found the one that works the way my brain does. And while it’s not perfect, it suits me well.
I try to ride my bike
most mornings, assuming it’s not pouring down rain. It’s the same
route most days, but it occured to me
a few weeks ago that I really had no idea how far, or fast, I was
riding. Being the nerd that I am, I decided to find a technology
solution to this problem.
Dedicated bike computers and GPS devices have existed for some years
now, but like most everyone else these days, I’ve got an iPhone with a
GPS built right in. A little searching led me to a number of apps that
did what I wanted, and after reading some reviews, I settled on
Cyclemeter. The name is actually a bit of a
misnomer, since the app will also work for walking, runnig, skiing, or
pretty much any other activity that involves moving forward on a
How it Works
Once you’ve installed the app, it’s easy to get started. Open the app,
and click the giant green “Start” button. Then get moving. Cyclemeter
will plot your route as you go, and calculate your time, speed,
distance, elevation and calories burned (if you provide your weight).
When you’re done, click “Stop”, and CycleMeter saves the information.
You can look back at previous days on the calendar.
Cyclemeter has a slew of other features, like sharing via Facebook,
Twitter or Daily Mile, competing against yourself or someone else, and a
bunch of nice ways to visualize your results. You can also export all of
the data, so you’re not locked in if you want to move to something else,
or just want to play with the numbers yourself. All of your data can be
backed up to iCloud as well, so you won’t lose it if you run into a tree
and shatter your iPhone.
You Need This
At $4.99 Cyclemeter is quite a value when you consider what it
replaces. If you bike or run, I’d highly recommend it. You can buy it on
the App Store.
As the title of my blog implies, I’m a curious person. I like learning,
and I’m addicted to keeping up on the latest news about things I’m
interested in: programming, design, and the like. Sometimes I find it
hard to keep up with it all. About a month ago, I discovered
Prismatic, and it’s changed how I read the
web by making it easier to find the news that I care about.
Prismatic scans all of the links that come across Twitter (that’s a lot
of links), and categorizes them using some fairly sophisticated software
and then matches those links to you based on who you follow and what you
tweet about. It sifts through all of Twitter to find the stuff that YOU
care about. That’s powerful.
Getting started with Prismatic is easy. Sign in and link it to your
Twitter accounts and it will present you with a list of articles that
you will like, based on your Twitter activity. You can also tell
Prismatic what you’re interested in, by adding, well, interests. They
seem to have just about everything, so whatever you’re looking for is
likely to be there.
Prismatic gives you the stuff you care about presented in a single
“river of news” format - as you get to the end of the page, it loads
more articles for you. They pull out a little it of the article to give
you an idea of what it’s about, and show you a sampling of what people
on Twitter are saying about it. Each article that you see has a couple
of controls on it that let you tell Prismatic what you like and dislike,
which will adjust what it shows you based on that feedback. In theory,
at least, it will learn over time what you want to see and show you more
of what you like, and less of what you don’t.
I’ve been using Prismatic for a month now, and I’m completely addicted.
It’s a great way to find news about the things you’re interested in, has
some great features, and there’s certainly more to come (an iOS app is
in the works according to their blog). Try it out and let me know what
I am a huge fan of coffee and over the years I have tried a lot of
different means of preparing it. I currently own a french press, a drip
maker, and a stovetop espresso pot. All of these make good coffee, with
each having its own set of pros and cons. Last year, however, I
discovered the best method for brewing coffee:
It makes delicious coffee, takes up almost no space in your kitchen, and
cleanup is easy.
The Aeropress works kind of like an espresso maker, though at a much
lower pressure. The coffee it produces is espresso strength. This means
you can drink it like an espresso or use it to create espresso-based
drinks like Cafe Au Lait or Capuccino. I add hot water to mine to make
Since getting the Aeropress, it’s been the only method I’ve used to brew
coffee. It’s replaced the drip machine in our kitchen. It takes up
almost no space, travels well, and produces consistently great coffee.
Perhaps the greatest feature is the one I haven’t mentioned yet: price.
It will set you back a little more than $20, much lower than a decent
home espresso machine or even a drip coffee maker. It’s great for
traveling or camping. Any place you can make hot water, you can make
coffee with the Aeropress.
One caveat: you will need a coffee grinder, or a place to buy beans that
will grind them for you. Coffee ground for a drip coffee maker won’t
work (which rules out pretty much all pre-ground coffee you would get at
the store). You need grounds that are somewhere between espresso and
drip. You’re really going to want a conical burr grinder, similar to
this one: I suspect if you’ve read this far than you either have one or
are willing to buy one.
In summary: If you enjoy great coffee, you need an
To get an even better idea of how it works, check out this short video: