On Having Time Off

May 28, 2018
After a busy couple of months consisting of a lot of travel its been nice to have some time off this weekend. I don’t just mean off from work though. I had no plans going into this long weekend for the first time in month. It got me thinking a lot about the lack of unplanned time in my life.
 
Earlier this year I read an article on The Art of Manliness about setting aside a “reset day” to spend on things we normally put off.
 
A weekday reset day gives you eight dedicated, distraction-free hours, by yourself, to set your physical and metaphorical house in order — to recalibrate everything that’s gone awry.
 
Instead of constantly putting out one fire, while another rages, you give yourself a chance to extinguish all the hot spots. You give yourself an entirely fresh start, a clean slate upon which to begin your efforts anew; it completely clears your mind of all the cobwebs formed by unfinished to-dos, burdensome distractions, and nagging questions.
 
I really liked this idea. I’ve had a lot of little projects and nagging impulses in the back of my head lately. Rather than fill my long weekend with a bunch of pre-determined activities I decided to take on a modified version of the “reset day.” Instead of one day I took an extended reset weekend and loosely focused on different maintenance areas each day.
 

Day One: The Physical

 
I started off the weekend working on a lot of the obvious physical stuff that needed to get done. I cleaned my whole apartment. I put in a bunch of maintenance requests I was putting off. I worked out. I cleaned out the fridge, then went to the grocery store and did some meal prep.
 
All of these tasks are usual weekend chores, but I went much more in depth with them since I had the extra time. Putting in the extra effort to do things thoroughly felt really good and it’ll keep me from having to follow up on some of these things in the next couple of weeks.
 

Day Two: The Social

 
I spent Sunday on more social matters. I caught up with some friends via iMessage and Facebook in the early part of the day. Then I went to a local arts festival to get a change of scenery and delicious street food. On the way home I called my parents and chatted with my aunt.
 
In the evening I went out for drinks with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a month or two. Over some excellent beer we caught up about our recent travels, professional developments and old classmates. We made plans to get together again when a mutual friend from college visits Atlanta next month.
 

Day Three: The Mental

 
Today was spent mostly closing mental loops that I’d been running for a while. This meant fun things like reading the end of a book and finally getting caught up on the latest season of a tv show. These may not seem productive, but they were on my long list so I just figured I’d just knock them out.
 
It also meant taking some time to do some open ended thinking and journaling. At the end of any busy season I always wish I’d been more proactive about writing and reflecting when things were happening. Today I didn’t let myself get bogged down in that. Instead, I just filled the page which is also why this post is longer than it probably ought to be.
 
Finally, I tried not to fill every second of the day with a screen or a sound. When I was watching, listening or reading I tried to focus in on the text at hand. I left my phone on the counter rather than having it in my lap while watching tv. I refrained from Twitter as best as I could. And I avoided headphones at all costs.
 
I’ve been thinking about my distracted state a lot since reading a short piece on boredom on kottke.org. Leaning into my under-stimulated moments today made for a kind of calm day that I haven’t had in a long while.

It has been really relieving to cross a bunch of things off of my list and reset some elements of my life this weekend. I hope everyone else had a solid Memorial Day.

6 Tweaks I Hope to See at WWDC 2018

May 21, 2018
Apple's announcement image for WWDC 2018

Apple's announcement image for WWDC 2018The weather is heating up, the pollen has finally settled down and I’m getting excited for Apple’s new operating systems. The technology giant unveils most of their new software features at their annual World Wide Developer Conference or WWDC.

This year, at WWDC 2018, there have been rumors that Apple will be primarily releasing refinements to their systems rather than flashy new features. I’m pretty excited by that prospect as the iOS 11 cycle and MacOS High Sierra have been pretty rough. Assuming that this rumor holds true, I’ve assembled a list of a few tiny tweaks and refinements I think Apple could make this year to improve their computing platforms.

Improved Contact Syncing

The contacts app got a visual overhaul in iOS 7 to match the new all-white color scheme and flat design. Short of a couple of other visual tweaks it hasn’t been touched since and it shows. Syncing contacts across multiple accounts or devices is a trainwreck, especially from iOS to MacOS.

I constantly have problems applying photos to contacts. They randomly crop themselves after I’ve saved the contact card and sometimes they don’t appear outside on other devices. Syncing text fields and a single image for each contact doesn’t seem like it should be this hard.

Universal Swipe Gestures in Mail

The Mail app added swipe gestures for messages in then inbox a while ago. However, the actions those swipes initiate are set individually by mail account for some unexplained reason.

They’re also different from device to device. Swiping right on a gmail message on iPhone deletes the message, on iPad it marks the message as unread and on Mac it archives it.

Now, I may have my settings configured wrong. That’s kind of my whole point though. These gestures are only productive and elegant when they’re the same in every instance of the app.

iPad Keyboard Shortcuts for Multitasking

At last year’s WWDC, Apple unveiled a whole new multitasking system for the iPad. They demoed this in ads for the iPad Pro throughout 2017, often with a Smart Keyboard attached. The only problem is the new multitasking falls apart as soon as you try to use that keyboard.

It’s been well documented that when you have two apps open and using the keyboard iOS makes it nearly impossible to tell which app you’re typing in. I’m as bothered by this as the rest of the Apple community, but it’s the lack of keyboard shortcuts that really jams my butterfly switches.

You can alt-tab between apps, but this shortcut swaps the whole app frame most of the time and pulls up an app in pop-over some of the time. If you have two apps open there’s no way to swap out one of them with the keyboard. This all seems like an oversight that would be easy to fix in iOS 12 with a couple of new shortcuts.

Denser home screen on iPad

As iOS devices have gotten bigger the home screen has stayed exactly the same. Federico Viticci mocked up a denser home screen for larger iPad displays in his iOS concept video for MacStories last year. I love the way his team rendered this layout and I really hope we see something like it soon. The current tiny home screens are just insulting to these beautiful devices.

Record Label links in Apple Music

I’ve been talking about this one for a while now. I really would like to see pages for all of the record labels represented on Apple Music. At the bottom of each album page it lists the copyright date and the label. While these links may not be useful for the huge labels like Warner Music Group, it would be awesome for smaller indie labels.

Boutique labels headed by curators like Peanut Butter Wolf (Stones Throw), Ian MacKaye (Dischord) and James Murphy (DFA) release a consistent flow of releases from artists I’d never otherwise hear about. I’d love to be able to view their entire catalog on a page in the app.

Icon Consistency for Mail, Contacts and Calendar

This last one is mostly just a gripe from my inner designer. Now that we’re more than a decade into iOS it is high time the mobile operating system had icon parity with MacOS. It frustrates me every time I open a core app like Mail, Calendar or Messages that the icons on Mac are different from those on iOS.

The worst part is that some shared apps, like Photos and Safari, have the same (or similar) icon on both platforms. I’m not saying that MacOS should be filled with the rounded rectangle icons of an iOS home screen, but it should at least use the same iconography. It’s so odd that Mail on Mac is a stamp and Mail on iOS is an envelope.


I’m always excited for new features at every WWDC and I expect we may get a couple this year. However, I really hope Apple addresses these and a few other simple fixes this year. It would make the whole ecosystem look and feel more polished and I think that’s been lacking in the last few release cycles.

Enterprise Apps are Holding Pros Back on iPad

May 13, 2018
Me attempting to work on my iPad at a conference despite bad enterprise apps

Me attempting to work on my iPad at a conference despite bad enterprise appsI’ve attended three conferences for work this spring without a laptop. Working exclusively from my iPad while on the road has shown me that many developers aren’t taking iOS seriously. Apple has made some impressive strides in pushing the iPad into portable PC territory, but many third-party enterprise apps for iOS seem to be lagging behind.

Constant Contact

One of my primary responsibilities is managing our email marketing via Constant Contact. The email marketing giant’s iOS app is beautiful, but nearly useless for an enterprise user on the go.

First, it is impossible for the iOS app to open or edit any email that was created in the desktop version. This becomes exceedingly frustrating when I’m at the final copy editing stages of an email and have to either work in a web browser or borrow a laptop to remove a single comma.

And if you do start a new email on iOS you are met with a counter-intuitive editor that lacks key features. Emails must be built from a small set of templates that don’t include any of the organizational branding you may have set up on desktop. It doesn’t seem possible to add in-line links in text boxes. You can’t even resize your own images, the app just decides to display them however it deems appropriate.

Constant Contact’s iOS app honestly feels like it was built as an entirely separate entity from the desktop/web app juggernaut. I just don’t get it.

Content Management Systems

I manage five websites across three Content Mangement Systems (CMSs) in my day job. None of them work well in tablet browsers.

WordPress at least scales some of the pages in its admin dashboard for mobile, but its still filled with tiny links that make for impossible touch targets. Other CMSs don’t scale at all, forcing me to pinch and zoom all over the place.

My biggest issue is, surprisingly, text entry. Most CMSs have large text-fields where the user inputs the content for a page. Selecting these text fields in a browser is hard enough as iOS often interprets them as a form or an image. And if you use an external keyboard, like I do, most browsers will inexplicably scroll the page down when you start typing. The result is that I’m typing blind and have no way of getting back to my insertion point without de-selecting the text field and dragging the page back up.

I honestly don’t know how many of these issues are the operating system, the browser or the content management systems. Regardless, these seem like problems we should have worked out by now.

Adobe Creative Suite

I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last creative to complain about Adobe’s iOS apps. When the software behemoth initially moved onto the platform they broke apart the features of their flagship app Photoshop into a series of mini-apps. This strategy has since been extended to the whole suite of design apps including features of InDesign and Illustrator.

While small apps like Photoshop Fix are great on iPhone, they’re infuriating on the modern iPad and iPad Pro. These devices are just powerful, and in some cases more powerful, than the Macs that we use to run the full Adobe Suite. So why can’t I get anything close to a full-featured version of InDesign, Illustrator or Audition?

Adobe has spent so long investing in their small spin-off app strategy that third-parties like Procreate, Concepts, Affinity Photo, Ferrite and PDF Pen are eating their lunch. At this stage I’d almost rather Adobe just buy them so that I could sync my projects across devices.


It’s been nice not traveling with all of the weight of a MacBook for these past few months. However, I can tell I’m not getting as much work done as I used to while on the road. And that’s really a shame. If Apple wants to keep promotion the iPad, and particularly the iPad Pro, as a replacement for your laptop they’re going to need app developers to at least meet them halfway.

Female Fronted Pop-Punk for Summer

April 29, 2018
Cover art for "I Love You Like a Brother" by Alex Lahey

Power chords and sweeping choruses have always been the soundtrack to my summers. Since the summer when I simultaneously discovered No Doubt and Paramore I’ve had a soft spot for female fronted pop-punk bands in particular. These groups are (unfortunately) somewhat uncommon. However, I’ve discovered three great new acts going into the summer of 2018.

Cover art for the "Old Women" EP by Jetty BonesJetty Bones

Jetty Bones win extra points from me out of the gate for being from my home state of Ohio. Frontwoman Kelc Galluzzo has fantastic vocal range and a real talent for dynamic shifts. The Old Women EP from late 2017 reminds me of Paramore’s fantastic debut All We Knowwith its scream along choruses and sweeping vocal harmonies. For a debut EP, Old Women is incredibly well produced and the songwriting is as tight as the snare drum hits.

Key Track: “No Lover”

Cover art for "Strictly Speaking" EP by Retirement PartyRetirement Party

Recently named a “Band to Watch” by Stereogum, Retirement Party also released their debut EP in 2017. Strictly Speaking is a concise five-song offering that clocks in at about 14 minutes flat. A little more lo-if than Jetty Bones, Retirement Party channels some serious garage and surf influences. The running lead guitar lines feel like summer while the lyrics deal with the dark winters of lead singer Avery Springer’s personal life. If this EP is any indication of the band’s forthcoming full-length it’ll be a catchy glimpse into the ups and downs of life with an undercurrent of hope. Somewhat Literate drops in late May and I can’t wait to hear it.

Key Track: “Men’s Volleyball”

Cover art for "I Love You Like a Brother" by Alex LaheyAlex Lahey

Somewhere between indie and pop-punk, Australian singer/songwriter Alex Lahey crafts short aggressively catchy rock on 2017’s I Love You Like a Brother. The rumbling garagey guitars create a compelling contrast with Lahey’s melodic vocals. Simple song structures and catchy hooks are employed throughout the album to address some fairly complicated lyrical subject matter. This is particularly potent on the surprisingly poppy confession of mental illness “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself.” I’ve had this album on repeat since it came out in October and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

Key Track: “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself”

—-

I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting things in the pop-punk space. The style has been getting stale for a little while now. Thankfully there are some great bands and talented women pushing the genre forward right now. If you know of any others I’d love to listen to them.

Spending a Weekend in Cincinnati

April 23, 2018
The Cincinnati skyline from one of the city’s seven hills

The Cincinnati skyline from one of the city’s seven hills

Through a series of lucky circumstances I managed to combine a business trip and a visit home to Cincinnati. It’s been a while since I was back in the 513 outside of a major holiday. I enjoy seeing it this way though. Things are much more laidback without the stress of those seasons.

As I was prepping for this trip a surprising number of people I work with asked me questions like “What is there to do in Cincinnati?” And since I’m here for the weekend I decided to write down a few things I always try to do when I’m home.

Drive along the Ohio River

It’s pretty hard to avoid the Ohio River when traveling through the Greater Cincinnati Area. It runs right across the middle of the region from east to west and State Highway 52 follows it all the way on the Ohio side. I always drive the scenic way home when I first get into town just to see the river. It’s best at sunset, when the light reflects up off the water just right.

Eat Some Chili

You can’t bring up Cincinnati without talking about chili. That thin meat based sauce just tastes like home to me. Natives will argue endlessly about where you can find the best coneys in town. However, since I’ve been away for a while I’ll take just about whatever I can get. As long as I have the option of ordering it on dogs or spaghetti, I’m in.

Grab a Pint

Cincinnati’s German heritage and midwestern catholic culture have made it a great beer city. There are dozens of great microbreweries in town and I’ve yet to find one I didn’t like. On this particular trip I hit up Mt. Caramel Brewing Company and Fifty West. They’re a ways out on the east side, so they have a more relaxed vibe than in-town greats like Rhinegeist and Madtree.

Go for a Hike

There’s a lot of great hiking in Greater Cincinnati, especially on the east side of town in the Appalachian foothills. I try to get a short day hike in every time I’m home. There’s a great variety of trails in East Fork State Park and at the Cincinnati Nature Center for hikers of any skill level.


So those are just a few of the things I did to enjoy my home city this weekend. For native Cincinnatians, I’d love to hear your go-tos. And if you’ve never been, I highly recommend checking out The Queen City.

Just Listening to Music

April 16, 2018
My simple stereo headphones are nothing special, but they get the job done

My simple stereo headphones are nothing special, but they get the job doneWhen I was a kid, throughout middle and high school, I used to spend a ton of time just listening to music. I would get a new CD from the library or some new MP3s from some sketchy download service and pore over them for hours. Now it has become a special treat to listen through an album.

I haven’t stopped listening to music altogether, but I’ve stopped just listening to music. I no longer intentionally sit down simply to experience songs. I constantly find that I have to fit music in around the rest of my day. And if I do have a spare hour for an album I inevitably end up doing something else halfway through the first side.

I’m sure part of this is the increased obligations of being an adult and living on one’s own. Another part is probably the insane amount of podcasts I listen to. The abundance of readily available streaming video is certainly a contributing factor as well.

Lately I’ve found myself craving the solitary listening experiences of my youth.

I brought my phone, EarPods and a book to the laundromat tonight. Redundant entertainment to keep me from spending a single moment idle. In the end, I spent most of the wash-dry-fold cycle just listening to music.

For the first time in a long time I sat through an album just staring off into space. Granted, POST- by Jeff Rosenstock clocks in at a brief forty minutes, but it was a nice feeling. I found that I enjoyed the songs a lot more on this listen than I had during the countless times I’ve heard them in the car over the last few months. There was something about the intentionality of it that made them feel more impactful.

When I got home and put my laundry away I kept on listening. Even though there’s an unedited podcast project on my desktop and there are dishes that need washing in the kitchen. I sat in my room ruminating about writing while listening to Television. It felt like old times, even though the band’s sophomore LP Adventure was new to me.

I started my third album of the evening, Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds, while writing this post. I can feel myself ignoring it though, so I think I’m going to wrap things up here and just listen to the music.

Empire Records Headed to Broadway!?

April 8, 2018
The cast of Empire Records

Via Stereogum, Empire Records Broadway Musical In Development:

Empire Records is being turned into a Broadway musical, as Deadline reports. The musical is in development now and is being eyed for a 2020 debut, which would coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary. The stage adaptation of the 1995 cult film, which is set in a failing record store, is being made alongside the film’s original writer Carol Heikkinen, with music and lyrics written by Zoe Sarnak, who is behind the upcoming musical Afterwords.
This is radical news to hear on Rex Manning Day! I really hope this production actually makes it to the stage. I love Empire Records and I can just imagine how a blend of soundtrack cuts and original songs could make it into a super fun musical. Plus, who doesn’t want to see more of Sexy Rexy?

The Life and Death of The Dana Carvey Show

April 7, 2018
A promotional image for The Dana Carvey Show

I watched a great documentary this week on Hulu called Too Funny to Fail; The Life and Death of the Dana Carvey Show.

I’ve been a big fan of Dana Carvey since I was a little kid. My uncle did a mean Church Lady impression, and I remember checking out his Saturday Night Live Best Of DVD from my local library.

I had never heard of his short-lived sketch show. Learning of it now, I’m realizing I would have totally been one of its raving fans if I weren’t four-years-old when it aired.

The Dana Carvey Show was an off-kilter sketch show with an anti-authoritarian streak and a strange sense of glee. Its cast and crew included Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK and Robert Smigel.

In the documentary a few of the contributors mention that Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a key influence. I was a big Python fan in middle and high school thanks to a friend’s extensive DVD collection. Watching a couple of episodes of The Dana Carvey Show brought me into a weird parallel nostalgia for my afternoons spent with the Pythons.

If this sounds like something up your alley, you should check out the trailer for Too Funny to Fail:

I also want to share what may be the best moment in the film. In this clip Robert Smigel recalls the night when he finally watched ABC’s  broadcast of The Dana Carvey Show in context. He immediately understood how horrible it was that their show aired after the family friendly sitcom Home Improvement. The documentarians then showed the lead-in to Carrell, Colbert and other cast and crew in the present-day. Their reactions are priceless.

The full eight episode run of The Dana Carvey Show is now also streaming on Hulu. It’s well worth four hours of your time.

Beam Barrel Aged Buds

April 3, 2018

From Ad Age,  Budweiser and Jim Beam team up for new beer:

Budweiser in September plans to release a limited-edition brew called Reserve Copper Lager that is aged on Jim Beam bourbon barrel staves. (Staves are wood pieces that makeup bourbon barrels.) Before then, the two brands will begin appearing together at bars. The “beer and a bourbon shot” promotion kicks off this month.

Beam Barrel Aged Budweiser seems like a no-brainer to me, and I’m surprised they didn’t come up with it sooner. Barrel-aging is really taking off in the craft scene right now. I’m glad to see trends and new styles bridging the gap into the macro-brewing space too. Anything to bring more variety to the table.

RSS is Due for a Comeback

April 3, 2018

Via Wired,  RSS Readers Are Due for a Comeback:

The difference between getting news from an RSS reader and getting it from Facebook or Twitter or Nuzzel or Apple News is a bit like the difference between a Vegas buffet and an a la carte menu. In either case, you decide what you actually want to consume. But the buffet gives you a whole world of options you otherwise might never have seen.

This analogy perfectly sums up why I’m still a die-hard RSS fan. I want to get the news I’m interested in from the sources I trust without having to wade through a sea of click-bait and garbage.