State of the Apps 2019

January 15, 2019
My iPhone home screen as of January 2019

It is a new year and that means its time to talk about new apps! Not a whole lot has changed since my 2018 State of the Apps post, but the changes I did make have been pretty significant. So let’s jump right in.

 

Productivity

When I changed jobs in October I had to completely change my approach to productivity. I no longer have an iPad at my disposal and I spend most of my day in front of a Mac instead of a Windows PC. I’m also doing more web design and writing than design, which I manage a bit differently. This meant I needed to adjust my suite of apps slightly.

Toggl (On Hiatus)

I’ve decided to take a break from time tracking while I’m transitioning into my new role. I plan to start back up once I’ve been here for six months or so. At the moment I’m still learning the internal operations of the organization so it’s hard to consistently track anything.

Omnifocus 3

I wrote about this in my series of posts on Getting Things Done, but I’ve transitioned all of my task management (personal and professional) into Omnifocus 3. This app is incredibly powerful and I’m just barely scratching the surface of what it can do.

The thing that really sold me on it was the ability to set custom review schedules for projects. My life operates on a few different time scales and it is nice to be able to review projects monthly, weekly or daily depending on their needs. I’m slowly teaching myself how to build templated projects in Omnifocus as well, but more on that later.

Typora

I wrote a review of Typora after I started using it this fall, so there’s not much else to say here. It continues to be my favorite desktop markdown text editor.

Podcasting

My software setup for podcasting is exactly the same as it was at this time last year. We record in Skype, edit in Adobe Audition, encode in Forecast and then listen in Overcast. My team and I have made some hardware changes over the past year, but that’s a wholly different blog post.

Communications

My communications stack remained mostly the same throughout 2018, with one glaring exception: I’m doing everything in my power to get off of Facebook’s Messenger.

Facebook had a terrible year in 2018. It seemed like every week there was another bombshell story about how the company wasn’t taking the privacy of its users seriously. The straw that broke my back, though, was the revelation that a handful of brands had access to private Messenger data.

I wrote last year about how happy I was with the rich ecosystem of add-ons and integrations in Messenger. It turns out that many of those same features had some pretty glaring vulnerabilities built-in.

I’m working my way through my friends list and moving as many conversations as I can away from Messenger. I hope my readers will do the same, for their own privacy’s sake.

General Purpose

My general purpose app usage has remained pretty much the same as well. I still rely pretty heavily on Evernote to keep track of information and Mint for my finances. There were only two changes in this category worth noting:

Shortcuts

I wrote about Workflow last year, but its successor deserves further discussion. At WWDC in 2018 Apple announced that the recently acquired Workflow had become Shortcuts and would be integrated with Siri. A Shortcut can now be invoked by a touch trigger (like Workflows of the past) or by voice command using Siri. They also have much deeper access to iOS at the system level.

This has completely changed my approach to the app and made me think about it a lot more. I don’t have ton of Shortcuts set up, but the ones I do are indispensable. As more apps and support and Shortcuts itself gets more access to the core of iOS, I can only imagine that I’ll be using it more and more.

My favorite non-voice shortcut builds a fully back-dated Omnifocus project for a new episode of No Repeat in just a few taps. And my favorite voice enabled shortcut (triggered by saying “Hey Siri, I’m headed home”) tells me the travel time to my apartment, starts playing my Overcast queue and begins navigating me home.

LastPass

I should have already had a password manager. It was stupid of me not to have one. I set this up immediately after my MacBook Pro was stolen and never looked back.

This June, iOS 12 introduced support for third-party password managers in system-wide autofill, which made this a great investment of time. I highly recommend everyone set up a similar system in their manager of choice.

Home

I don’t have any updates in this category at the moment. I wish I had spent a little more time and money on smart home tech in 2018, but it just never became a priority. Maybe this year.

News & Entertainment

Fandango

I’ve seen a lot of movies in theaters this year. The challenge with this, until recently, has always been coordinating showtimes with friends over various messages and conversation threads. The Fandango app for iOS really came to my rescue on that front with its iMessage integration. It allows you to chose showings by movie, showtime or theater without leaving your message thread. Then in two taps you can send a deep-link to that showing to the other people in the thread. Not many apps take advantage of iMessage integrations, but this is the best one I’ve seen by far.

TV

Owning a fourth-generation Apple TV really sold me on the TV app this year. I love having an easily accessible queue of what’s “Up Next” for me to watch across almost all of my streaming services (with Netflix and Amazon Prime as frustrating exceptions). This has been particularly useful for shows I’m watching as they’re released on Hulu (after airing on broadcast television). I also use the app’s favorite teams function to get notified if/when Atlanta United matches are streaming live, which is a killer feature for sports fans.

Goodreads

I’ve been trying to read more over the last six months. I got involved in a book club as well, which has helped me stay motivated to finish the books I start. I had a dormant Goodreads account from a few years ago, but I’m now using their iOS app just about everyday. I’m constantly adding to my reading list and updating my progress in various books. If you want to follow along with what I’m reading you can do that here.

Inks

Just like last year, I’ll close with my favorite iOS game of the year. I picked up Inks when it was on-sale as a free app, but I’d gladly pay the $2.99 for it today. This colorful spin on pinball involves bursting bubbles of paint to create colorful abstract art across the table. The sound design is as beautiful as the finished product of each completed level. I’ve had the game for almost a year and I still haven’t played through it all either. It’s huge!


So that’s what I’m using this year. I’m always looking for new app recommendations for macOS or iOS. Feel free to send those my way on Twitter.

End of the Blog Post Bet

December 31, 2018

Today is the last Monday of 2018, which means this is my last post of the year.

Earlier this year I bet Jeff Casavant that we could each publish one blog post every Monday for a year. I’m proud to say that we’ve followed through on our bet. Here’s how it turned out:

Total Posts

Out of 52 total weekly posts, Jeff and I both managed to write more than half. Jeff published 38 posts over the course of the year and I published 43.

Graph of total posts published by Jeff Casavant and Taylor Olmstead by week in 2018

Before our camping trip in November I owed him four beers and he owed me five. We brought some regional favorites with us to the mountains to zero things out.

The holiday travel season really hurt us both productivity wise. Since that trip last month, Jeff has missed three posts and I have missed two.

We met up for dinner and drinks at Sonder Brewing in Mason, Ohio just after Christmas. However, the bet wasn’t quite over by that point (and we both had to drive home) so the score still sits at 3-2.

Topics & Categories

When we started this bet in January we had no expectations of what we would write about. Technology was obviously going to be a big part of it, but I knew I couldn’t write about Apple every single week. Jeff, similarly, said that he was looking to branch out on his site a bit.

In the interest of comparison, I compiled all of our posts and separated them into the three categories I use on this site: Culture, Technology & Personal. Jeff’s posts were a little harder to categorize, but I took the liberty of lumping them into broad groupings.

My content was split into pretty even thirds. I’m not surprised that personal posts are the lowest ranked category, but I I am surprised at how close they were to overtaking tech. I felt like a tech blogger who dabbled in music and personal essays this year. The numbers don’t realy show that though. Apparently I had a lot of feelings to share.

Taylor Olmstead's blog posts published in 2018 by category.

To be honest, I expected my content graph to look a lot more like Jeff’s. Just over half of his writing in 2018 was focused on technology, followed by cultural pieces and then personal writing. I included most of his political and organizational communication related posts as “culture,” because they were too abstract to be personal in most cases. That may be why that category seems slightly inflated.

Jeff Casavant's blog posts published in 2018 by category.

Lessons Learned

Jeff and I had a debrief at the brewery and realized we’d learned quite a lot from this process. I can’t speak for him in this department though, so here are a few things that stood out to me:

Markdown

I wanted to take this bet as an opportunity to learn how to write in Markdown. I’m so glad I put in that time earlier in the year so that I could write faster as time went on.

I now have apps on all of my devices (more on this in future posts) where I can easily hop back in to a draft and start working. The files are all incredibly small too, which makes it easy to access them on cellular data and slow airplane wifi.

Markdown has also been a huge help to me outside of this blog. In my new role at Georgia State University I’m constantly editing website copy. Being able to move a 1,000+ word webpage into Typora helps me clearly define the information hierarchy of a page before I get bogged down in visual design.

Structure

Working in Markdown and optimizing for SEO has forced me to build in more headings and clean breaks between thoughts. I can tell that my writing still needs more structure though.

The problem is that my posts are mostly written in a stream-of-consciouness style. This is fine for my rambilng personal essays, but it makes me cringe when I look back at some of my more information dense technology posts.

I need to go back to freshman English and learn how to do pre-writing again.

Rhythm

Careful readers of the site will notice that I’ve been experimenting with my rhythm in the last few months.

I got some great feedback this summer saying that I was writing too academically. That’s not that surprising. I hadn’t really worked on any long-form writing since college.

I’m still fighting the urge to make all of my sentences run-ons. I overuse alliteration. I can tell that my paragraph breaks are sometimes awkward. Overall, though, it does feel like I’m making progress.

What’s Next

Jeff and I decided (over beers, of course) that we both want to keep writing. We’ll continue to publish blog posts throughout 2019, but they won’t be as regular.

The weekly schedule was a really good way to hold each other accountable, but it is ultimately unsustainable. We have full-time jobs and personal lives after all.

We spent a lot of time that evening talking about the idea of a personal aesthetic. Part of the joy of blogging for me, has been developing that sensibility.

I don’t have grand ambitions of leading a blogging revolution or even maintaining this site for more than a decade. I certainly don’t write prolifically or professionally enough for that. The idea of the site as a space unto itself, known or appreciated for a specific kind of content, is appealing though.

I expect that as I write fewer, but more focused pieces in the coming year I’ll start to develop that aesthetic. Or at the very least, I’ll have fun trying.

Christmas is in the Car

December 17, 2018

The view from my seat in the car on a Christmas road trip, Christmas Day 2013.
The view from my seat in the car, Christmas Day 2013.

Christmas has always involved a lot of time in the car. When I was a kid, we always drove to see my grandparents (both sets) every Chrismas. We’d visit one side of the family on or after Christmas Day and the other on New Year’s.

It is exactly 206 miles from my parents’ house to each of their parents’ houses. That’s 412 miles roundtrip for each. 824 miles per year.

Those twelve hours in the car felt like an eternity as a teenager. Sure, I had my iPod or a GameBoy, but they didn’t help much. There’s something about the endless cornfields of rural Ohio that makes truly reaching zen and zoning out feel like an impossible ideal.

These trips all started the exact same way.

Someone had to go put a blanket down in the car for the dog. Then the boxes and bags were brought to the front door, while somone took her outside one last time. Once the presents were packed, the pup was pushed into her place.

My brother was literally always the last one buckled in. He would wander outside still eating breakfast, wearing a shorts and a T-Shirt before being told to go back inside and get a jacket. The sattelite radio would sing cheery Christmas songs while the rest of us sat and steamed up the windows, waiting for him.

Speedway is a half mile from the house. We could get gas anywhere in town, at any time before the trip, but it was always Speedway at the last minute. How else would you get 72 ounces of Diet Coke for the road? The dog was not a huge fan of these stops, but the rest of us desperately needed the caffeine.

And then we’re really off to the races. Take 125 to 275, then either 75 North towards Toledo or 71 North towards Columbus. Always north first though. At least that way there might be some snow. My mom would always try to make polite conversation, but by the second stoplight my brother and I were engulfed by our earphones. She’d usually take a nap once we hit the highways anyway.

When I was much younger I would try reading on these trips. At some point or another it started making me sick, so I switched to music and never looked back. You can listen to a lot of songs when you’re sitting in a car for three hours at time, four times in one week. That’s where I experienced a lot of the classics for the first time. You can listen to The Who’s Tommy in almost exactly the amount of time it takes to drive from Cincinnati to Columbus. Pink Floyd’s The Wall will get you all the way to a gas station betwen Troy and Piqua.

When we reach those halfway points there’s always a process in the parking lot. Someone has to take the dog. Someone’s gotta pump the gas. They tell the other two their drink and food orders. Return to the same seats once you’ve completed your task. On a good day this all takes less than ten minutes. Let’s be honest, though, this is an interstate exit in Ohio over the holidays. There’s most likely a mob of many more mobile families in line to do the exact same things, in the same order, at the same time.

Then there’s that last leg. Anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours depending on construction traffic. By this point the songs are on shuffle, because I can’t settle on anything. Everyone’s getting fidgety. Even the dog is napping less. On 71 there are more and more house to look at, whereas on 70 there are less and less. Either way things start to feel more familiar.

The last half hour is the hardest. No matter how many times we made these trips it never got easier. Not only does it feel like you’ll be there any minute, you also have to prepare for getting there. Knowing that as soon as you get to the door it’s “Merry Christmas! How are you? Do you need anything to eat? How was traffic?” After three hours of isolation it takes some effort to wind back up and be social again.

We’d visit for two to four days and then turn around and do it all again in reverse. More Christmas songs, more Diet Coke and so many more miles.

Now, I live in Atlanta (477 miles on 75 from my parent’s house) and I still drive at least twelve hours every Christmas. Six-to-seven hours one way and then six-to-seven hours back. Sometimes with a secondary trek somewhere in Ohio in-between.

It may not feel as festive as some families’ traditions. And it definitely isn’t as fun. But for me, Christmas is in the car.

Reminiscing about Music Videos

December 10, 2018

Growing up in the 2000’s I watched a lot of music videos. MTV and VH1 still showed big blocks of videos every morning and afternoon when I enterred high school. By the time I went off to college all of that time had been replaced by reality shows.

At the time, I loved music videos and I dreamed of making them. My favorite thing in the world was when cool bands collaborated with up and coming directors to create bizarre little experimental films around my favorite songs. I downloaded some of my favorite videos to my iPod and watched them on a loop on the school bus. The weekly Top 20 Countdowns were mandatory viewing in my household.

And though music videos are still a living breathing artform on YouTube today, I do feel some wistful yearning for the days of Morning Rush and (to a lesser extent) TRL. I discovered a lot of great songs and bands through those curated segments. That mystique feels very muted on YouTube.

So, as I’ve been thinking back to the music videos of adolescence I thought I’d share a few that inspired me in my formative years.

Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Released in 2000 (when I was eight), the video for “Californication” looks a lot like a Nintendo 64 game I would have plaeyd at the time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers mime their song in front of green-screened sky background, but most of the time that is in cut-out in a tiny corner of the screen. The “stars” of the video are virtual versions of the Chili Peppers who run, swim, drive and snowboard through a virtual Californian hellscape. The graphics haven’t aged incredibly well, but the conceit is still kind of novel.

This is one of the earliest videos I remember. I saw it at my grandma’s house. She had MTV long before my parents did. I was very into video games at the time, we had just gotten our N64. I remember thinking it was so cool that the band had made a video game of themselves. Of course, I had no idea that game didn’t exist. It was still super cool though.

The Scientist by Coldplay

Coldplay’s video for “The Scientist,” is still one of my favorites of all-time. Director James Thraves used a reversed narrative structure* and crafted a tragic backstory for Martin’s lyrics. Martin, to his credit, learned to sing the song backwards for the video and provides a revealingly emotional performance. He plays a grieving man whose significant other has been killed in a car crash. The viewer doesn’t know this until the song’s climactic coda. For the preceding two minutes we see him sleeping in the streets of London and sulking throughout the city.

I was shocked when I first saw Martin fly up off of his street mattress. A younger me couldn’t believe the lengths this video went to. They crashed a car just to play it back backwards! Manchester Orchestra’s video for “Simple Math” would push a lot of the same buttons for me later on, but you never forget that first moment of awe.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise) [Dialogue/MTV Version] by My Chemical Romance

Conceived as a movie trailer for a Revenge of the Nerds-esque comedy. This video stars Gerard Way and company as a group of emo-goth nerds at a preppy private school. Vignettes include people being locked in lockers, bathroom hook-ups, bad first kisses and a fight with the lacrosse team. It’s a surprisingly upbeat little video despite all of the guy-liner.

I have probably watched this video a thousand times. Frequent readers and friends will know that I love coming-of-age movies. This mock movie trailer falls right into that sweet spot. Seeing one of the most “goth” bands of the moment acting so goofy was also appealing to me. I knew people who were scared to listen to MCR. This video always reminds me of how fun they could be.

Crazy by Gnarls Barkley

The breakout hit from Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton’s collaboration with Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo Green. The song became a massive radio hit, but the rorshach test music video is one of my favorite parts. The use of motion capture on Cee-Lo’s face to create the animation makes for some really cool moments.

I mostly remember this video for how different it was. So much of MTV at the time was live performances and skilly skits. This video, like the rest of Gnarls Barkley’s first few years, felt like something wholly different. I don’t think they ever re-captured the “lightning in a bottle moment” of that first album unfortunately.

The Hardest Button to Button by The White Stripes

A year before he released Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and became a force to be reckond with in the film world Michel Gondry directed his fourth of five videos for The White Stripes. As Meg and Jack play their repetitive parts they move across New York City in a strange kind of stop motion. With each bass drum kick Meg moves forward leaving a trail of drums behind her. Jack similarly jumps from place to place by playing the song’s signature riff. As the music builds in complexity so do the shots. At one point the band form a carousel of their instruments and rotate around one another.

I saw this video a few years after it came out, when I started studying music videos in an advanced art class at my high school. I was shocked to see one of my favorite bands had worked with such a well-known director. This was one of the first times I started to really take music videos as an art form seriously.


These were just a few of the videos that really stuck out to me from that time. There are countless others. As a music nerd I was constantly on the hunt for cool new bands and videos. I even made a handful of pretty mediocre videos myself during this period. I just liked the art form that much.

I don’t watch nearly as many music videos today, event though the medium is arguably in a better place than it has ever been. I’m always on the lookout for some new or interesting approach though. So if you see anything, send it my way.


*Previously seen in Spike Jonze’s video for “Drop” by The Pharcyde.

Finally Caught Up: Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Three

December 3, 2018

Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Three Title CardIt took me long enough, but I finally got caught up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After watching Ant-Man and the Wasp I can now recap the third phase of the MCU. I should note that there are two forthcoming films that fit into this phase. But I wanted to write recap everything up to this point while things were still fresh in my head.

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War is basically an Avengers movie in everything but title. Marvel had signed a deal to do three Captain America films, but the plotline they were building toward required a lot of other characters. And so Civil War is a crowded, fast-paced ensemble feature that pulls no punches. Every hero introduced so far gets a cameo and Spider-Man is triumphantly introduced after being from the evil clutches of Sony.

I watched this at home, years after the theatrical release, and it didn’t hit me as hard as I expected. This movie was such a big deal when it came out that I already had an idea of most of what happened. The ensemble experience of the first two Avengers films definitely shows here. Everyone gets equal time and some semblance of a character arc. I actually wanted a little more Captain America, but I can see why he had to lead from the sidelines. This is the first time (of many) where it feels like the MCU is pushing toward something as a unified front.

Doctor Strange

I expected to dislike this movie, based on what I’d heard about it from Marvel die-hards. However, I actually thought it was pretty awesome. The effects and art direction, in particular, are truly impressive. I love the way Strange uses time as a weapon in the climactic fight sequence. It’s also cool to see Inception style gravity-bending turned up to eleven. Definitely going to re-watch this one and comb through some of the more visually intricate scenes again.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Like the first Guardians film, I saw this one during its theatrical release. It retains the sense of fun and goofiness of the original, but gets a little too tied down in a cliche’d family reunion plot-line. I really enjoyed Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in the first film, but he is the second least interesting person in this sequel. Basically everything involving Kurt Russel’s portrayal of Ego the Living Planet is a frustrating exposition dump. The color palette is brighter and the jokes are goofier than ever before. Also, there is Baby Groot.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I. Love. This. Movie.

I’ve always been a huge fan of John Hughes’ seminal ’80s coming-of-age flicks. Homecoming is a love-letter to Hughes and high school where the nerdy protagonist also happens to be Spider-Man. Tom Holland plays a bumbling teenage Peter Parker perfectly. The Vulture is a decent vilalin. There’s a nice twist. Tony Stark is also present. After the epic scale of some of the recent MCU films, it is nice to have a smaller entry into the canon that includes a few good laughs.

Thor: Ragnarok

Where The Dark World was a miserable slog through a sea of grey, Ragnarok is a lively jaunt thorugh a technicolor dystopia. The unlikely team-up of Thor and Hulk (spoiled by the trailer…ugh) makes for a unique chemistry. Jeff Goldblum is basically just playing his ridiculous self. Tom Hiddleston chews up and spits out every inch of scenery he touches. This film really feels like a tour de force.

Acclaimed director and first-time MCU contributor Taika Waititi makes the most of the comic book craziness here. The fight scenes are over-the-top, the art direction is ridiculous and the actors genuinely seem like they’re having a blast with it all. I really hope he gets to make another blockbuster like this soon.

Black Panther

The hype was so loud and the praise was so effusive that I skipped Black Panther while it was in theaters. It’s an amazing film deserving of some serious award consideration this year. There’s nothing else I can say that hasn’t already been said.

Avengers: Infinity War

Was it ambitious? Yes.

Was it a cross-over event? Yes.

Was it the most ambitious cross-over event of all-time? Maybe.

Infinity War is the first time in this franchise where I honestly forgot I was watching a film. This feels more like a season finale of a streaming drama series than a movie. There’s almost no introduction to the plot, very little character exposition and no resolution. The effect is somewhat dizzying, especially with its breakneck pacing that makes 160 minutes fly by.

The last ten minutes of this movie have been the subject of a lot of fan speculation. Where did all of our heroes disappear to? What happens to them there? How will they get back?

This is all undercut by the fact that we know they live. Most of the actors are signed on for 2-3 more movies. On one hand, it sucks to lose the suspense of who lives and who dies. On the other, I’m glad that some of my favorites are definitely going to live to make another blockbuster.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Everything in every movie leading up to this one was extremely important. The groundwork for Infinity War was laid years ago. So what’s up with Ant-Man? Well, he’s on house arrest.

I’ve heard a few people say they don’t like the Ant-Man movies because they don’t matter. I can argue for the importance of the first film as a palate cleanser during the phase of darkness and grit. This is just a playful romp.

The whole cast performs well, the effects are even better than before and the new additions to the team (Laurence Fishburn!) fit in nicely. I love the shrinking cars and buildings. I still can’t believe T.I. can act.

The problem is that the stakes feel as small as the quantum void. We all know that Thanos’ plan succeeds somewhere at or around the time of this movie, so what happens here barely matters. Sure enough, all of Ant-Man’s firends disappear in the post-credits sequence and that is honestly the most intriguing minute out of the 125 here.

Still to Come…

It’s hard to judge this phase without seeing how it ends. Captain Marvel will make her debut in March of 2019 and we’ll see how the Infinity War shakes out in April.

My hunch, based on who survived, is that we’ll lose most (if not all) of the original Avengers next year. The actors are tired of their roles and the franchise’s newer more diverse characters have proven extremely popular.

Marvel has proven that audiences can follow a continuous story over the course of ten years and twenty-something movies. There are even super-fans that keep up with the ancillary streamings shows. Will those audiences stay after their core roster of heroes goes away?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an impressive example of how to excel at storytelling, marketing and filmmaking in the post-modern age. It has attracted a lot of pale imitations (looking at you DC) and half-hearted hangers-on (ABC just renewed Agents of Shield for a sixth season). Most of the movies in the series are only remarkable as parts of the whole, but they present a consistently entertaining experience.

I’m glad I took the time to get caught up, but more importantly I’m excited to see what happens next.

A Month of Getting Things Done

November 12, 2018

I’m a little over a month in to Getting Things Done, so I thought I’d provide an update.

My Setup

As I wrote in my Starting to Get Things Done post, I’ve set myself up in my new office with a physical in-tray, Outlook for my email and a task management app. I ended up going with OmniFocus 3, partially because most podcasters I listen to recommend it and partially because I got education pricing on the Mac version.

I try to keep my inboxes as low as possible throughout the day by knocking out any less than five minute tasks as I get the chance. This wasn’t much of a change for me. I’ve always kept tabs on those sorts of things throughout the day. The difference is that now I shut them out when I’m working on larger projects.

Managing Projects in the Workplace

Those larger projects have been the main focus of my new GTD system. My role in the university invovles communicating with a lot of stakeholders and managaing a lot of collective input. Through the liberal use of tagging in OmniFocus I’ve managed to keep on track of tasks and thoughts for about a dozen coworkers at a time. Every time I walk into a meeting I pull up the tag for that person and work my way through the list of things left outstanding between us. It’s been particularly helpful with those that I don’t see every day.

I’ve also found the weekly review (recommended by GTD and built-into OmniFocus) to be a great way of catching up on projects that may be buried in someone else’s inbox. As we get closer to holiday travel projects often tend to get stuck in limbo, waiting on deliverables from who know’s who. A simple weekly check-up has helped me at least keep tabs on where things are which eases my mind.

Home(work)

My list of books and movies to read and watch in OmnifocusThroughout Getting Things Done, David Allen advocates for employing his system throughout your entire life no matter how awkward it may initially feel. I was reluctant to project manage my home and social life, but after a month of admittedly minimal implementation I’m sold.

I’m not tracking every potential social interaction or routine task as a box to be checked. That would be ridiculous.

Instead, I’m trying to keep lists of potential ways to spend time when I’m bored rather than endlessly scrolling on Twitter.

For example, as Oscar season approaches I’m building a list of movies to see in anticipation of the nominations. I’ve also got a list of local restaurants and bars I want to check out. Another list is full of small improvements I want to make around my apartment.

Keeping track of these things in OmniFocus and tagging them properly has helped me avoid those painful indecisive conversations like “Where should we go for dinner?” or “What should we do this weekend?” Now I have a long list of things past me was interested in that I can filter through my mood and run by whoever I’m meeting up with. I should have started keeping those lists years ago.


On the whole, I think this was a great move and one I should have made a couple of years ago. The Getting Things Done system and its insistence on coimpletionism matches up well with my way of thinking.

Writing down every little thing I want or need to do has been great for me. It freed up a lot of my mental energy and minimized the sense of always feeling like I was forgetting something.

I’d highly recommend it to just about anyone.

A Weekend of Beer and Blogging

November 5, 2018

This weekend I met Jeff Casavant in northern Tennessee for a camping trip and the opportunity to zero out our beer bet for the year so far.

 

A Place Out of Time

Fall foliage at Bandy Creek CampgroundBandy Creek Campground, where we stayed stradles the line between the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Our trip also fell on the end of Daylight Savings Time in the United States. With minimal cell service and no way of knowing which zone we were in I mostly gave up on tracking the time.

I tried to connect to a cell network just long enough for my Apple Watch to get the sunrise and sunset times each morning. The rest of the day was pure guess work. We ate when we got hungry and hiked until we were tired. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent that long not thinking about what time it was.

On the way down from the Angel Falls Overlook our conversation turned to the midterm elections. It wasn’t until that point that I realized I hadn’t checked Twitter, read the New York Times or kept up with any news at all since Friday afternoon. In the heat of a contentious election season it was great to just walk away from all of that. I early voted a few weeks ago anyway, so it really felt like the weight of the situation was gone for a little while. What a welcome change.

Beers & Blogging

UFO Pumpkin Ale brewed in Boston and consumed in Tennessee by way of GeorgiaBased on our records it looked like I had missed four posts and Jeff had missed five, so we owed each other four and five beers respectively. I stopped at a Kroger on the way out of Atlanta and created a mixed six pack of some of my favorite breweries of the southeast (Terrapin, Monday Night and Highland) plus some UFO (from Boston) for good measure. Jeff went a slightly different route picking out three core flavors from two of his favorite breweries: BrewDog and Land Grant.

Rotating through new tastes and old favorites around the campfire was an excellent way to spend an evening. I noticed that our conversation similarly rotated around new and oldtopics we’d written about. We made reference to each others’ blogs and recommended media and topics based on the other’s work.

When we made this bet (at Fifty West Brewing) last December I don’t think I realized how much it would impact our relationship to each other. Jeff and I have always kept in touch, but we haven’t shared regular updates like this since we were working on stage crew together in high school. Reading what is on someone’s mind once-a-week for a year creates a much deeper impression of the person. I’m pleased and honored that Jeff has agreed to take the time to commit to that with me this year.

Announcing “No Repeat”

October 29, 2018

No Repeat Podcast artworkI’m very excited to announce a new project I’ve been working on. After three years of pocasting, my friends Shaun EvansTyler Reed and I have decided to end our pop culture panel show Dudes Brunch and launch a new music podcast: No Repeat.

This podcast is a natural evolution of Dudes Brunch with a clearer focus and more polished presentation. Each week we’ll begin with a prompt or situation such as the best karaoke song.

We each pick one song and argue for its inclusion in the canon of songs on our endless Spotify playlist. Those songs are then ineligible for all future challenges.

As time goes on the choices will get narrower, the challenges will get more esoteric and we’ll hopefully be forced to listen to new and different kinds of music.

The format may be new, but the conversation is classic. Shaun, Tyler and I have built our friendship on ten years of loving and listening to music together. We went to some of our first concerts together. We spent hours swapping songs on flash drives and burned CDs in Tyler’s basement as kids. And we have very strong opinions about what we like and dislike.

One of the most exciting parts of this show for me will be seeing how the audience pushes us into new challenges. We’ll be accepting submission prompts via Twitter and Email, and I really hope things get weird fast. All three of us have over 1,000 songs in our iTunes Libraries and we honestly belive we can find a song for just about any occasion.

I’m also just excited to continue to have the opportunity to make cool things with two of my oldest friends. That was the spirit behind Dudes Brunch, and its the underlying motivation of No Repeat. I hope you’ll get at least as much enjoyment out of listening to it as we do recording it.

No Repeat is available now on Apple PodcastsOvercastTuneIn and as an RSS feed via Libsyn.

I’ve also embedded the first episode below for your listening pleasure.

Trying Typora: A Minimalist Markdown Editor

October 22, 2018

Screenshot of Typora on the MacI’ve toyed around with Markdown a little bit in the past as a Reddit user and internet nerd, but I really didn’t start using it in earnest until I spent a lot of time writing on the iPad this summer. I took a recommendation from Jason Snell and started using 1Writer, which is a great minimalist Markdown writer.

When I became accustomed to writing in the language I needed a solution for my iMac at home. After months of passive-agressive searching I think I’ve found my solution in Typora.

Typora is a super minmal Markdown editor for Mac, Windows and Linux that uses Github Flavored Markdown. It’s attractive, fast and stays out of my way. Basically it’s exactly what I was looking for.

There are a lot of great text editors availble for the Mac that support Markdown. However, most of them also support dozens of other languages and are used primarily by programmers. Typora is one of a few editors that seem to focus on prose.

When you open the app you’re immediately greeted with a blank document. When you hover over the window’s title bar you get a word count and an option to open the sidebar. That’s all that’s there. The rest is just a blank canvas for your text.

I almost always launch it directly into full-screen mode. I think its a carry-over from iOS, but I just haste having anything else on the screen while I’m writing.1 I also use Typora’s “Night” theme, which is a light-grey on dark-grey look that is easy on the eyes at any time of the day or night.

As you write Markdown, Typora creates a live preview of your formmatted text. It even auto-completes certain common character sets like square-brackets and parenthesis. Purists may find this distracting or frilly, but I like it a lot. It gives a better perspective when I need to look back to a section above where I’m typing.

The app auto-saves documents to a user-defined folder (in my case, a drafts folder in Dropbox) and can export your document to a handful of common formats including HTML, RTF, PDF and even Microsoft Word’s .DOCX.

My only minor complaint is that I wish I didn’t have to save an exported file for uploading to my CMS. I prefer 1Writer’s option to copy the article to clipboard as Rich Text for easy insertion. The “Copy as HTML” works just as well most of the time, but every once in a while I need to paste Rich Text.

Typora is currently in beta on all three platforms and the developers are sharing it for free during the beta period. If you write anything longer than a tweet on a desktop or laptop I highly recommend checking it out. I’ll almost certainly be picking up a paid copy when it comes out of beta.


1 If I need a web browser to do research or cite links I’ll keep it in a separate desktop space immediately to the left.

In Another Life by Sandro Perri – A Review

October 15, 2018

Album artwork for "In Another Life" by Sandro PerriI listen to a lot of ambient music. It’s a way I calm down my anxious brain and wind down after a long day. Usually when I’m in those moods I listen to Brian Eno, Moby or Trent Reznor. This month though, I’ve been fascinated by an album outside of my usual circles: In Another Life by Sandro Perri.

Sandro Perri has built an avid following for his blend of folk sounds, acoustic instruments, quiet vocals and experimental synth textures. His latest album seems to be a refinement of his previous works. On In Another Life, Perri lets songs simmer and develop slowly. He also invites collaborators to bring their own vocal flare to his beautiful soundscapes. The album exudes a quite confidence that I’ve found really reassuring and relaxing.

In Another Life is structured as a vinyl record made up of two long tracks. The entire first side is taken up by the title track and the three movement suite “Everybody’s Paris” makes up the b-side. Streaming services break this up into four tracks, but I listen to either the whole thing or one side at a time since each “piece” clocks in right around twenty-three minutes.

In Another Life

Perri’s epic title track is one of the stickiest pieces of music I’ve heard in years. The pensive piano chords that serve as the track’s foundation have carved grooves into my brain like the catchiest of pop songs. The electric guitar slides and bubbling synthesizers add an ever-evolving texture to the piece, but those piano chords make this song work for me.

Sandro Perri croons over top of this repeating cycle of bleeps, bloops and chords with a sincerity that could cut through glass. He laments about the world around him and waxes poetic about ideal states of being. He intermittently repeating the titular phrase “…in another life…” like a mantra. The result is a calming sense of possibility mixed with a haunting sadness. By the end of the song it starts to feel surreal, like the spiraling thoughts of an anxious mind.

As he sings, Perri’s synthesizers ebb and flow between a minimal drone and near cacophony. He uses stereo panning to excellent effect, with patterns entering and receding like passing cars. The changes creep up on you, which helps the time go by as you fall in and out of focus on the music. A piece this long almost begs the mind to recede into its own thoughts. Perri gently pulls the listener back every few minutes with new sounds throughout.

Everybody’s Paris

Separated into three parts, “Everybody’s Paris” feels more like a series of traditional “songs” than “In Another Life.” Each section is lead by a different vocalist, with Perri taking lead on the first section. All three movements are meditations on the city of Paris, built upon a shared chord progression.

“Everybody’s Paris” moves from plinking pianos, childrens’ singing and Perri’s ethereal croon to a swinging lounge jam led by Andre Ethier and ends somberly with a distorted dirge sung by Dan Bejar. It feels like the progression of a day or a life spent in the City of Lights. However you interpret it, the suite is impressive.

As the pieces pushes on the perspective on Paris becomes more and more negative. Perri’s lyrics in part one are mostly hopeful and aspirational: “Everybody’s Paris, everybody’s France, Everybody coming when they get the chance”. Ethier celebrates the everyday parts of everybody’s Paris in a ballad to the mundane beauty of city life. Bejar, though, shares a much darker picture of Paris:

In a city of lights In a city that lights up Everybody wants to fall then get back up But all around you the dead stack up In everybody’s Paris

Despite this darkness, I find a strange kind of joy in “Everybody’s Paris”. It feels like a character study of a city. It provides glimpses into how one place can mean many things to many people.


The plurality of interpretation is, in my opinon, the best part of In Another Life as an album. These songs are organized around central thoughts, but they leave a lot of space for interpretation. They inspire creative thought and encourage imagination. I think that’s why they’ve had such a tight grip on my mind lately.