On the latest episode of Free Agents, I talk about a big birthday and Jason is learning the value of embracing a lull. My wife went back to work and I talk about the changes that creates in working at home and Team Sparky continues to expand.
For years I've been using Overcast as my primary podcasting app. However, I have recently upgraded my car stereo to an Apple CarPlay stereo and purchased an Apple HomePod. Because of this, I was interested in using the Apple Podcasts app again, primarily because of its Siri integration. So for the last few weeks I've been using Apple Podcasts, but this morning I switched back to Overcast. Here are a few reasons why and things I learned along the way:
Siri Integration is Useful
Siri integration works pretty swell with the Apple Podcasts app. If I say, “Hey Siri, play podcast Mac Power Users,” it starts right up and plays the most recent episode (usually ... see below). That worked both with my HomePod and in my car. Starting a podcast with your voice is pretty great. I had no instance where Siri played the wrong podcast.
However, Siri got the right podcast but the wrong episode a couple of times. For some reason, it would start playing last week's episode instead of this week's episode. The first note on this is that despite talking to Siri at length, I never figured out how to tell Siri to change to a different episode. If I said, “Next episode,” it played the next older episode. But when it started lower in the stack, I couldn't figure it out. When I checked in the Podcasts app, the current episode was available, and Siri just started one further down in the stack. I never worked out how to fix this with Siri-initiated playback. This happened twice in the two weeks during which I listened to approximately 20 podcasts.
Regardless, Siri integration remains, in my opinion, Apple Podcasts' killer feature. I sure hope Apple expands Siri to let third-party audio sources, such as podcast players and music services, use this feature. It would make Siri a lot more useful to a lot more people.
The Apple Podcasts App Needs Work
I hadn't spent serious time with the Apple Podcasts app in several years, and while it is better, the Apple Podcasts app is still kind of a mess. It shows your subscribed shows, but it doesn't easily let you set playlists. The controls, once you start a podcast, are not intuitive. When I tried to set the play order of multiple podcasts, it gave me constant dialogue boxes. Synchronizing my play position between devices was also slower than I expected for an Apple application.
Apple Podcasts also doesn't include a lot of the additional features you find in third-party podcast players such as Overcast's ability to remove dead air between speakers and more granular ability to change the playback speed of the podcast. (The Apple Podcasts app can speed up or slow down just at increments of 0.5x, 1x, 1.5x, and 2x.)
There were also some strange choices made by Apple Podcasts while playing podcasts through a CarPlay device. The next track and previous track buttons on Overcast let you skip forward or backward 30 seconds on the podcast that is playing. If my mind drifts and I miss something good, I like the ability to easily rewind. Apple Podcasts uses those buttons to skip to the next podcast or entirely back to the beginning of the existing one. I realize that is a design choice, but for the way I listen to podcasts, it's the wrong one.
We Need AirPlay 2
I often listen to podcasts while doing trivial work at my desk. With this experiment, I was spoiled by listening to podcasts through the HomePod, triggering them with Siri. They sound so much better. Switching back to Overcast, I tried to AirPlay from my phone to the HomePod and found it a lousy experience. I don’t mind the few seconds delay in establishing the connection. What I couldn't stand was the way it would occasionally drop off and cut off the audio. This made podcasts unlistenable from Overcast to the HomePod. It looks like I'm back to the Overcast website on my Mac until AirPlay 2 shows up.
Starting your favorite podcast with Siri is a great feature, and I took to it quickly. However, all the other baggage that came with the Apple Podcasts app ultimately pushed me back to Overcast. While going through the experiment, I asked myself what were the minimum features I needed from the Apple Podcasts app in order to stick it out. I think I could have put up with the loss of Overcast Smart Speed and even lived with Apple's goofy decision about CarPlay implementation. The real dealbreakers for me were the user interface in the Apple Podcats app combined with the occasional problem with it playing the wrong episode of a show.
Ultimately, what I'd prefer is for Apple to expand Siri for third-party audio apps so we don't have to make these kinds of choices.
While I've never been a particular fan of endless runner games, Alto's Adventure really grabbed me. I'm certain it's the iPhone game I've logged the most hours playing. There is something special about it because it's fun and challenging while at the same time … for lack of a better word … peaceful. The graphics and music are both wonderful. I find it very relaxing snowboarding and jumping. Even when I crash, it doesn't feel so bad.
Today we get the sequel, Alto's Odyssey. I've only spent 15 minutes with it but it's just as fun and relaxing as the original. The gameplay is very similar but it looks like there are additional features as I get deeper and I'm looking forward to slowly unlocking them all.
Alto's Odyssey is easy to pick up and doesn't require you to make in-app purchases to enjoy. Control is just one finger on the screen. Give it try.
Apple’s new Close Your Rings website is a good message and an excellent way to sell the Apple Watch. While I’m not particularly excited about any app using game theory to push my buttons, for the Health app I'm willing to make an exception. I'm more aware of my activity since I started wearing the Apple Watch than I’d ever been before. It’s because of those rings that I bike most places, often wake up an hour early to go on a hike, and even occasionally find myself marching up and down the stairs in my house in the evening just to make sure I get those extra 10 minutes of elevated heart rate. Don’t believe me? Look below.
Not only does this help my physical health, it also helps Apple’s fiscal health. Several times I’ve told friends about how I use the Apple Watch to track fitness, and it often ends with them nodding approvingly while saying something like, “Hmmm”. Then the next time I see them following a birthday or big holiday, they are wearing their very own Apple Watch.
For the last month, I have been conducting an experiment with more deliberate scheduling of my time. For lack of a better word, I have been calling it hyper-scheduling.
Historically, I have kept two things in my calendar: 1.) appointments and 2.) big rock-style projects. For example, if I've been meaning to write a certain complicated client contract for a few days and it wasn’t getting done, I would set aside several hours in my calendar specifically for that project.
With this hyper-scheduling project, I have taken that to a different level. For instance, here is my schedule from a few days ago:
6:00 – Shower, shave, and meditate
7:00 – Bicycle to Starbucks
7:20 – Write Smith contract
9:20 – Review email and social media
10:00 – Write Field Guide
11:00 – Bicycle to bank, market, and home
11:45 – Lunch
12:15 – Capture “Flags”
13:00 – Legal Work
15:00 – Field Guide screencasting
17:00 – End of day email audit
17:30 – Daily shutdown
21:00 – Jones call
A few of these require further explanation.
- I have a cool bike that I use for most of my local transportation. Anywhere within five miles of my house, I am probably biking. (Hooray for California!) I have to build that time into the schedule. All the pedaling also helps me fill my rings.
- Flag capture is the process of knocking down flagged tasks in OmniFocus. Every day I have 5-10 tasks that I have flagged to make sure I get done.
- “Legal Work” is me working through OmniFocus tasks in my legal perspective that are not flagged. I don’t truly hyper-schedule time in that block of time for each specific task I'll work on. When I set up the day, I am not even sure what I will be doing during that time except that it will be legal work. I just have a block set aside to make calls and get non-critical client work done.
- One of the biggest advantages of this practice is the commitment I am making to spending time on the next MacSparky Field Guide. Before I started this experiment, there never seemed to be time to work on my books. Now it is built into the schedule.
- Shutdown is a whole thing I do (which I will write about another day). Relevant to this post is that as part of that shutdown, I hyper-schedule the next day so I can wake up and hit the ground running.
- Normally after I do the shutdown, I am done for the day. On this particular day, I had a conference call with a client in India so I had to get back on my horse later in the evening.
- Not all of my days are this ideal. Some days I spend driving all over Southern California meeting clients or going to the dentist. The system still works on those days too.
After doing this for a month, I am sold. The extra work involved with planning the day gets paid off with interest in productivity the next day.
A couple of things I have learned along the way with this experiment is to make sure and set up my schedule the night before. I am pretty sharp in the mornings, so I want to spend that time on client or creative work, not scheduling. Also, there is nothing wrong with setting a block of time as a commitment to types of work as opposed to a specific task, such as generally getting client work done as opposed to a specific client project.
Another thing is to accept that despite my planning, none of this is carved in stone. If a client calls in with a true emergency or I find out a friend is in the hospital, I can blow the daily plan up fairly easily. Because of the planning, on this day I knew I had about 45 minutes of flagged must-do tasks. If something came up, I would know that I need to find 45 minutes in the day to deal with the flags, and the rest could be scratched.
Most people who have thought a lot about calendars and planning preach that you must put space between events on a highly scheduled day. That is probably good advice, but a month in, I still haven’t done that and I am not feeling particularly bad about it.
This week, MacSparky is sponsored by the Omni Group. Did you know that the Omni Group is going to do some amazing work this year on all of the Omni apps that you love? Ken Case recently did his 2018 Roadmap post, and we have a lot to look forward to:
OmniFocus 3 for Mac and iOS
Tags ... check.
Manual sorting ... check.
Flexible scheduling ... check.
Improved notifications ... check.
Updated design ... check.
Collaboration ... check.
OmniFocus for the web ... check.
OmniFocus 3 is easily my most anticipated new software app of 2018.
They recently released the 7.6 update for Mac that makes using Stencils easier than ever. I use Stencils often in OmniGraffle when building diagrams, and you should too. Later this year, they will be releasing an update that makes improvements to diagramming tools.
We just got OmniOutliner 3 for iOS last week. It’s great!
There are several updates for OmniPlan in the works. There will be a new “Project Summary Inspector”, and they are making improvements to the “Publish & Subscribe” sync functions.
Rose Orchard joins us this week to discuss her transition from teacher to master automator including creating workflows, maximizing efficiency on Mac and iOS. We discuss the Sonos One and the Apple HomePod, travel tips and more.
This week Greg Pierce announced the end of life for Interact, my favorite Contact management app for iPhone. Reading Greg’s post, the reason isn’t primarily financial but instead difficulties and bugs with iOS contact management frameworks. I never had trouble with Interact and use it several times a week. However, I also keep all of my contact data in iCloud so I’m hardly an edge case.
I spent some time trying other third party contact apps following the announcement and none of them impressed me. If there is a silver lining, Greg concluded his post saying he’s putting all his time into Drafts 5. Since I happen to be writing these very words in Drafts, that makes me pretty happy.
This story about people's HomePod leaving a ring on their table is kind of crazy. How did Apple, a company that’s been shipping home electronics since the beginning, ship something that can damage your furniture? If they did know this was possible, they should have addressed it. If they didn't know about it, that's even more concerning. I'm probably making a bigger deal out of this than I should, but I expect more from Apple.
I don't know how big (or small) of a problem this is but the pictures are damning. I've had mine on my wooden desk for a week, and there is no sign of a ring but I like this desk, and I don't want to damage it. If you are coaster shopping, you can go crazy with something like the Pad & Quill solution or you can just cut out a piece of firm cardboard, or use an existing coaster. Ultimately, I spent $5 on a cork plant coaster from Amazon that should do the job.
This week the Omni Group released OmniOutliner 3 for iOS. It’s a worthy update that brings a lot of new features to iOS including password protected outlines, an improved slide-in inspector, focus & section lists, printing and pdf support, and some great looking themes. The update also gives you an iPhone X-friendly design.
The update came out this week. I was able to easily transition using my OmniPresence outlines.
I'm most excited about this upgrade's inclusion of the new Omni Group scripting language into this new version. I can now design scripts to build template and script-based outlines and run them on either Mac or iOS.
The Essentials version is $10, and the Pro version is $40. However, if you have OmniOutliner 2 installed, the Pro upgrade drops to $20. The new version is worth the upgrade.
Apple’s got a new page featuring Augmented Reality iOS apps. I think that’s a good idea. When I speak with my non-geek friends about Augmented Reality, they first don’t understand what it is, and then they don’t know what it’s for. I end up rambling about education and gaming, but I do a poor job of it.
I thought with the way that Pokemon blew up, the general public was ready to see AR in a lot more apps, but despite Apple’s powerful tools, it still feels like it is at the novelty level. The more attention Apple can put on this the technology, the better for all of us.
Also, did you know that Apple recently announced AR Kit 1.5? It adds several new features, including vertical spaces. This is notable for a few reasons. First, they are making a significant update mid OS cycle, which is unusual. Second, the number, “1.5”, implies a “2.0” isn’t far behind. Apple isn’t done with AR yet.
This week programmer and entrepreneur Manton Reece joins the Mac Power Users this week to share how he's using Apple gear to program and run his own business.
- The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad.
- Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap Helps You Live a More Productive, Efficient, Paperless Life.
- 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore.
- Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
I'm digging my HomePod. The speaker itself is excellent, and while Siri has its limitations, the features it does include are working solidly. (I do wish it could tell me my calendar appointments though.)
One unexpected benefit of the HomePod, which sits on my desk in my home office, is just how well it works with iTunes on my Mac. To play music from iTunes to your HomePod, there is a simple toggle in iTunes for the Mac. You can set volume from Mac and seriously upgrade your tunes. I always need background noise while working so often I’ll play the sound of the ocean or a thunderstorm when I want to focus. Thunder from the HomePod turned up literally shakes my desk. My iMac never did that.
I prefer OmniFocus but if you like Things, The Sweet Setup has a really nice course they’ve just released. I watched it and was impressed. My favorite part, however, is the additional materials where Shawn shares some of his own productivity and planning workflows. That material is useful no matter what apps you use.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by Tinderbox, the tool for notes. Tinderbox is a Mac App that lets you collect your thoughts and slice and dice them any way your brain prefers. The application does a great job of adjusting to the way you think. With Tinderbox, you can make a mind map, a check list, timelines, charts, outlines, and more. My favorite feature is that you are not tied to any paradigm with this app. Put your data in and start moving it around to help you make connections that weren’t there before.
People are using Tinderbox in all sorts of ways from writing novels to planning a computer network to organizing a complicated corporate merger.
Tinderbox recently released version 7.3 with more than six dozen visible improvements and a bunch of new technologies. The app continues to improve. Tinderbox can now look at your ideas from Notes, Evernote, Dropbox and more on iPhone and iPad. The new version also has quick links to connect notes instantly and composites to build big ideas from small notes. The new fonts also look fantastic on your Mac.
Perhaps best of all, the Tinderbox developer has agreed to give MacSparky readers a limited time $50 discount. That’s a great deal so if you’ve been wanting to try Tinderbox, this is the time. Go check out Tinderbox today.
Emoji are increasingly a bigger deal to me. And I say that non-ironically. I recently sent an octogenarian client an email telling her that her corporate minutes were done and she responded by sending me a text message with a smiling face and heart eyes. That was it.
As text messaging and email have taken over for in-person and voice communications, emoji do fill a role to add context to words. I use them a lot more than I used to.
All that said, the people in charge of Emoji have announced 150+ new emoji and Emogipedia made a cool video showing them off. You can probably expect these in the first major update to iOS 12.
Here are my official awards:
- Favorite overall: Superhero
- Runner-up for favorite: Pirate Flag
- Favorite new animal: Llama
- Favorite new food: Cupcake!
- Best new emoji for use in emergency situation: Toilet Paper
- Social Justice Award: Red Hair
- Most awkwardly familiar: White Hair
- Happiest new Emoji: Partying Face
- Most likely to be misused: Bone
In the latest episode of Free Agents, Psychiatrist, writer, musician, and free agent Kourosh Dini joins us to discuss his long journey to being an independent worker, mixing his various jobs, dealing with the stress of being on your own, and much more.
Today I celebrate my 50th birthday. I know this is a big one. Right?
For a long time now I’ve known this day was coming, and at the appointed day I'd leave my 40s behind me. At the same time, I felt ambivalent about it. It’s not that I don’t like celebrating my birthday. I love cake as much as any other guy. We even have traditions in my house on my birthday. It’s all fun for me and who doesn’t like being special every once in a while?
The thing I’ve felt ambivalent about is the gravity of the integer. If turning 50 was supposed to be a big turning point, I don’t feel it. Indeed I woke up today feeling a lot like I felt last night, back when I was in my 40s. I don’t feel older. I don’t feel suddenly smart or senile. I definitely don’t feel wiser.
Instead, my root feeling is the same that it has been for the past several years … satisfaction.
I had a great run in my 40s. My MacSparky thing got pretty big. I wrote some books. I started some podcasts. I quit my law firm and started my own legal practice. And I did all of that on my own terms. Looking back at the last decade, I made a pretty good showing. Best of all, where I did fall on my face, and that happened plenty, I was able to stand back up and keep marching.
I think it is that underlying satisfaction that explains why I'm not too worked up about turning fifty today. I also think that’s why I’ve never experienced a midlife crisis. In my head, at least, I'm just getting started. I’ve got more plans and optimism at this point in my life than I’ve ever had.
There isn’t really a point to this post. It started out as a diary entry, but as I read it, I realized that the reason for my very happy 50th birthday is that people just like you care enough to read my blog, my books, and listen to my podcasts and I wanted to share and say thanks.
Thank you … for everything.
The wheels at Bare Bones Software just keep turning. Today they released BBEdit 12.1. My favorite new feature is the ability to open files over 1.5GB. That's right. BBEdit, largely used for development text files can now open 1.5GB files because for some people, a 1.5GB cap on text files was a problem. That is just how extreme some BBEdit users are. Additionally, BBEdit is now fully 64-bit and includes Touch Bar support for the MacBook Pros.