Posts From January 2011
Nicholas Alpi, a Ruby developer, shares his story of transitioning from night owl to early bird. He made the decision a year ago and has stuck with it. Now he’s so glad he did.
Also, Leo Babauta gets up at 4:30 each morning and has written about the benefits of rising early.
I love being up early, but I hate getting up early. I am not a morning person.
Some folks are natural morning people — their heads pop off the pillow with little help from an alarm. I am not one of those people. I am a night owl and have been for 30 years.
But just because I’m naturally prone to stay up late doesn’t mean nights are my most productive time of the day. It’s the opposite actually. Mornings are my most productive time. They are also my favorite time of the day.
In the morning my mind is more clear; there is not yet the accumulation of “mental clutter” from the activities and worries of the day; the whole day seems like a blank canvas. And because of the endless possibilities the morning brings with it, I feel liberated and comfortable to do some of my best work of the day. Also it’s the time of day when coffee tastes best.
There is something magical about the early morning. It’s a time when the world belongs to only those few who are awake. And we walk around like kings while others remain unseen in their beds.
Ian Hines posted an idea to Twitter earlier this week:
Thought: it would be nice to be able to input content on the desktop, without having the full desktop client (OmniFocus). Just Inbox.
The premise of Ian’s idea is two fold. Assuming you already own the iPad and/or iPhone version:
- Perhaps you can’t afford OmniFocus for the Mac.
- Perhaps you don’t need OmniFocus for the Mac.
In either of these scenarios, it would be great to have a capture-only utility for the Mac that could sync action items to your iPad / iPhone versions.
OmniFocus Aid would be lightweight, easy to use, and built for the sole purpose of throwing tasks into your OmniFocus database when at your Mac. Or, put another way, it would be a utility that consisted of just the top-notch ways that OmniFocus for Mac currently lets you capture action items:
- Quick Entry Pane (not unlike the one that already ships with OmniFocus)
- It knows your projects and contexts
- Supports clippings, Mail rules, and bookmarklets
It should install in the Menu Bar to be accessible for those who don’t swear by the keyboard, and it should sync in the background. It could sell for a few bucks to anyone who purchases the iPad or iPhone versions.
OmniFocus Aid would would make a fantastic counterpart to the iOS suite of OmniFocus apps. It’s a fantastic idea, and I would love to see it get some attention from the Omni Group.
Update: I’ve received some feedback on Twitter and in email that also having a Windows- or web-based version of OmniFocus Aid would be great for those who are not on their own Mac all day. I use my MacBook Pro for work and personal; in the office and at home. I forget that not everyone rolls that way.
It’s not too often that I share personal tidbits here, but this one is worthy.
My one and only sister, my younger sister, is getting married this coming Sunday. My future brother-in-law, Mark, is a stand up guy; I couldn’t be happier.
The wedding is here in Kansas City, and family has already begun to arrive. Which means posting on shawnblanc.net will be slim this week because family always, always comes first.
So if and when you check this site and you don’t see anything new, say a quick prayer for Elise and Mark and their new life together.
Often I find myself wrestling with the tension that I have more ideas than time. There are many great things I want to do and build and ship and start, but I just don’t have the time to do them. However, I’m finding that the real problem is not my lack of time — it’s my lack of focus.
Ideas > Time > Focus
More ideas than time, but more time than focus.
This is not exactly a revelation. But the above equation has helped to put it in perspective for me. What I want it to be is this:
(Ideas > Time) + (Focus > Time)
More ideas than time, and more focus than time.
If we have more time than focus it means we’re wasting time. Time is the only thing in that equation that we have no control over. And so it should be seized for all it is worth. I do not want a wasted surplus of time due to a lack of focus.
From where I’m sitting, Blast from the Past Link Day turned out to be a wild success.
Many people posted links to their website and/or Twitter throughout the day. Some of you wrote a single article with a list of favorite reads. Some people highlighted favorites written by others, and some highlighted favorites that they had written.
Thank you everyone for joining the fun and for sharing some great articles.
We should do this again sometime. But not for a while… I have a lot of reading to do.
Maybe we’ll do this every January. Maybe not. That’s not the point.
Today, I had a fantastic time combing through my “faves”, “tips”, and “inspiration” tags within Yojimbo to dig up a few of good articles I have bookmarked over years. I also perused through my starred items in Instapaper for some golden oldies.
Alas, one of the ways of the Web is that if it isn’t fresh it isn’t worth talking about. But you and I both know that’s not true.
So tomorrow, January 20, 2011, is a day to dig up and share some of the older articles we’ve read over the years that have inspired us, encouraged us, and delighted us.
There are two rules to participating:
- It wasn’t written today.
- You think it’s worth reading.
Here is how to participate:
- Post links to some of your favorite, older articles (even ones written by you) to your website.
- Let us know about your links on Twitter using the hashtag: #pastblast
- If you don’t want to post links on your site, just post them on Twitter. Still use the hashtag of course.
You can follow along with what I’m posting here by checking the homepage at the top of every hour starting at 7:00 am CST tomorrow morning — I’ve got 8 links queued up (so far). I’ll also be tweeting the links.
I always hire for unity first.
Because there is something much more vital than productivity to the success of a work environment: unity. Will this person fit in, get along, and bring the unity of the team up a notch? It’s not until that question is answered that I then look for teachability and, lastly, talent. (But that’s a different blog post.)
Our culture is borderline obsessed with the focus on productivity and getting things done. And while I am certainly an advocate for those, at my office, and on my team, unity is far more valuable than productivity. Where there’s unity there’s people who love their job. And a lover will always out-work a worker.
Unity encourages discovery, too. Unity means I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. When you feel safe around your team then you’ll go ahead and try out that crazy, out-of-the-box idea of yours. If you were afraid of your peers criticizing you, then you’d probably stick to what is safe and boring. Unity and trust amongst your team means you’re safe to fail. Which means there’s a far greater chance of something truly amazing happening.
I have a few short lists of people whom I turn to when I need feedback, advice, and encouragement for different areas of my personal and professional life. The areas I most often seek feedback for are:
- My writing
- My design
- New business models and strategies
- Big, hairy, audacious ideas
- Major life decisions
For each area I have a handful of people whom I trust and whom I know I can ask for their help. I know they have an educated and valuable position on the subject, and they meet two very important requirements:
They shoot me straight 100% of the time. I prefer blunt honesty and genuine feedback. Don’t dance around my feelings. Tell me what you really think and why.
They want me to succeed. Usually, by the time I’m ready for feedback from someone, I’ve gone about as far I you can go on my own. And that’s when I need someone to cheer me on to cross the finish line.
Some people are on a few of these lists, and one person is on all of them (my wife).
It’s not always easy to seek out input from others (especially when they found a giant hole in your otherwise perfect idea). But if you’re trying to push the boundaries of what you can come up with, build, and ship, then feedback and encouragement will be an invaluable tool along that path.
Growing up we always knew when a telemarketer was calling because they’d pronounce our last name wrong. But it never really occurred to me until recently that many of you may also be pronouncing my last name wrong by mistake as well.
Though my last name is spelled the same as the legendary Mel Blanc’s (no relation) it is not pronounced the same. Mel’s last name was pronounced “blank“. As in a blank canvas.
My last name is pronounced “blonk“. As in Mont Blanc. This is an americanized version of the way the French say it (my great grandfather grew up in a small town along the France/Italian border). Though a proper French pronunciation with a proper French accent would leave off the “c” altogether. I do not have a french accent.
Phonetically, it is spelled: “blah ng k”.
And so now you know.
It is, for all intents and purposes, the same iPhone that people on AT&T are using except it works on Verizon. There is no Verizon branding nor any special new features to the iPhone. Except one: the mobile hotspot.
The only software that will come “pre-installed” on the Verizon iPhone is what Verizon is calling their Mobile Hotspot app. Though, fortunately, it’s found in the Settings and not as its own app which launches from the springboard.
You can use the mobile hotspot to give internet to up to five computers (or iPads). And while the mobile hotspot is a great feature, on Verizon’s CDMA network you can’t use data and voice simultaneously. If you’re broadcasting an internet connection with your Verizon iPhone and someone gives you a call, then the connection goes dead. Like when you were online using dialup and someone called your house.
Pricing for data plans hasn’t been announced yet, but Verizon says they’ll be based on current data plans. Verizon’s current smartphone data plans are $15/month for 150 MB of data or $30 for unlimited. AT&T charges $15/month for 200 MB or $25 for 2 GB; and if you want tethering enabled it’s an additional $20 per month. My guess is that Verizon’s Mobile Hotspot will be free to use with the data plans but the data plan pricing will be a bit higher for the iPhone 4 than they currently are for smartphones.
Lastly, it appears Verizon didn’t do their homework when building their website. The Verizon iPhone info page shows an option for the white iPhone. But it also shows images of the GSM iPhone (you can tell the difference by the antenna line break just above the mute switch — CDMA has one, GSM doesn’t), and it lists the iPhone as being GSM. Whoops. Clearly these are specs and images taken straight from Apple.com. I would be surprised to see a white iPhone available on Verizon on the February 10.
And for those curious, I will not be switching to Verizon. AT&T service in Kansas City is just fine.
Apple is simplifying and refining OS X with primarily one user group in mind: the decidedly non-nerdy.
The Mac App Store is the current epitome of where Apple wants to take OS X and the Mac user experience. This is the first of some significant steps towards the next evolution of Apple’s desktop software.
It used to be that buying and installing an app was a chore. But now, with the Mac App Store, it’s as simple as finding an app you want and clicking a button. Just like buying a song or renting a movie in iTunes. The whole experience is familiar, easy, and even a little bit fun.
And so it will go with Apple’s desktop software. OS X will not be advancing towards touch-screen desktops, 3D monitors, and power-packed Finder features. Instead it will be getting more and more simple — with heavy emphasis on a simple way to find your files and applications, the ability to focus in on one app at a time, and other features built for the non-nerdy.
Apple has worked very hard to keep the user experience of iOS as simple and straightforward as possible. And it is the simplicity of iOS that will influence OS X 10.7 more than anything else. In an article on Macworld, Andy Ihnatko says:
I recently read something about Walt Disney that seemed very familiar. A man who worked with him said (I’m paraphrasing) Walt wanted to make sure that if you came to Disney World, you would have a fantastic time. And he succeeded. But he also wanted to make sure that you wouldn’t even have the option of having a bad time.
That’s everything you need to know about Apple. Its roller coaster is smooth, clean, and well-maintained.
Of course simplification and a better user experience is not the only goal of the Mac App Store. It’s also there for economic purposes. (Duh!)
- Apple wants to encourage Mac users to discover and use new software.
- Apple also wants to promote growth and income for the Macintosh ecosystem.
The average consumer spends very little money or time buying and tinkering with new software for their computer. In fact, many people are simply using Web apps for their basic computing needs: Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Amazon, wordpress.com, etc. — all in the browser. The average person does not go out looking for new software. They buy and use what their friends tell them to get or what their job requires that they get.
One of Apple’s primary selling points of the iPhone and iPad is all the things you can do on it. When people find and use apps through the iOS App Store they become more “hooked” to their iPhone and/or iPad. Put another way: the apps a person uses on their device are precisely what make the device valuable to the user.
And the same is true for the Mac. However, up until yesterday, finding and installing apps for your Mac was not nearly as easy as finding and installing apps on your iPhone or iPad.
The problem had nothing to do with availability or quality of 3rd-party Mac software. To the contrary, OS X has an outstanding community of 3rd-party developers. You and I have no problem finding and using new tools to make our day-to-day computing experience better, but the average consumer does.
And so Apple wants to introduce the non-nerdy to all the fantastic software that is available for OS X. Which is precisely the goal of Mac App Store.
And it appears to be working. The Mac App Store launched with 1,000 apps in it. In its first 24 hours over 1,000,000 apps were downloaded from the Mac App Store. And of the 1,000 unique apps only a few were brand new.
Alfred — an app which I suspect most of you reading this are familiar with — saw over 30,000 downloads on the first day in the Mac App Store. Evernote — another app I assume you’ve heard of — saw an 1,800% increase in their new-user sign-up rate.
My point here is that these well-known and established apps still did great in the Mac App Store on the first day. It’s not just the new apps that are being downloaded for the sake of their newness. There is still a large and un-tapped section of the market for 3rd-parting Macintosh software.
At the end of the day Apple is still just a company doing business and trying to make a buck.
Apple’s integrated and easy-to-use storefronts have proven to be successful on every level. The iOS App Store has seen over one billion apps downloaded. iTunes is the number one music store in the world. These store fronts are providing significant income for Apple, developers, and artists. Not to mention a very easy-to-use store for users.
Why not take that same business model and apply it to the already thriving ecosystem of Macintosh desktop software? It will no doubt be a huge success for Apple, 3rd-party developers, and users.
Apple wins because they now get a 30% cut of all sales on the Mac App Store.
Developers win because they’ve got a significantly larger market to sell their products to with highly increased discoverability. And though they only get 70% of the sale it is better to sell 5 applications at 70% your normal profit than 2 applications at 100%.
Moreover, for software sold through the Mac App Store developers do not have to deal with managing their own serial number and payment processing systems, file hosting, and even (at least to a degree) tier-1 support.
It will be interesting to see how many developers stop selling their software on their own site and begin to sell exclusively on the Mac App Store. Pixelmator, TapeDeck and CoverSutra have already made the switch to being sold exclusively on the Mac App Store. How long until this becomes the norm?
Users win because they now have a one-stop shop to find and install new software, thus increasing the personal value of their Mac experience. (Savvy readers will know I have a soft spot for fine software.)
In many ways the Mac App Store is today what the iTunes music store was in 2003 — a new storefront to help promote and grow an already-established industry that could use a bit of a boost.
A lot of great software shipped in the past 12 months. There were many new apps for the iPhone and iPad, and many great updates to some already stellar Mac apps.
Here is my list of the best software that shipped in 2010. These are apps I use regularly and which were brand new or received an X.0 update at some point in 2010.
OmniFocus for iPad
OmniFocus for iPad was released in July. It is, without a doubt, the best of the three-app suite of OmniFocus software.
It seems to be a common practice that for apps with a strong presence on the desktop, their iPhone and iPad counterparts are portals, or lighter versions, of their desktop apps. Not so with OmniFocus on the iPad; it is the current king of the OmniFocus hill. Moreover, it is one of the most robust, feature-rich, easy-to-use apps on my iPad.
The two most-addicting features of OmniFocus on the iPad are the review and the forecast views. This app is one of the few which have justified my iPad purchase.
Reeder for iPad, shipped in June, and it is superb. I enjoy the UI and the top-notch readability it presents. By far, my favorite feed reading app for the iPad.
Canned is an iPhone app that came out in August. I had the privilege of helping Sky Balloon beta test it, and it’s been on the front of my iPhone Home screen ever since.
Canned lets you pre-write the content of those text messages you send often, and even pre-assign those to the individuals and groups whom you often send that same text to.
Instapaper Pro for iPad
If there ever was a piece of software that was like a good cup of coffee it would be Instapaper. Unlike other software and services where describing the ins and outs and use-cases gives others a very good understanding of the product, Instapaper is much too simple for that.
So in short, Instapaper is the best way to read the Internet. And the iPad app (which launched in April) is the best way to read your Instapaper articles.
And, if you want to get my starred articles in your Instapaper queue, my username is “shawnblanc”.
MarsEdit is one of the most-used, most-important, and most-beloved applications I own. I can’t imagine writing shawnblanc.net without it. Version 3.0, which was released in May, added quite a few features to an already rock-solid application.
A highlight feature of the 3.0 release for many was the WYSIWYG editor. However, the most notable for me was the added support for WordPress custom fields, which — when combined with this Linked List plugin — makes posting links on my site a breeze.
Simplenote is an iPhone and iPad app that offers a minimalistic writing and note-taking interface and over-the-air syncing. Version 3 shipped in August, and is the sort of app adored by those who pride themselves in their use of beautiful and uncomplicated software.
Simplenote is also an app for people with ideas. It’s for those who need some way to jot an idea down, build on it, and refine it until they’re sick and tired of it, regardless of where they are or if they brought their laptop.
And as a writer, Simplenote could very well be your principal writing app. It has a straightforward design that makes it effortless to use. In Simplenote there is no text formatting, it’s just plain. There is no document titling — when you create a new note, the first line is the title. There is no saving a note — you just write and your note is backed up in real time, and even synced with any other other devices you use: iPad, iPhone, and Mac.
The most common misconception about Dropbox is that it’s solely for file syncing between multiple computers. Well, I only own one computer and I use Dropbox all day long.
Because Dropbox syncs your files to the Web, I use it to keep all folders for my current projects. This means things I am working on at the present moment are always backed up to the Web.
Also, by using Symlinks, I have the Application Support Folder for my most-used apps (MarsEdit, Yojimbo, 1Password, OmniFocus) sitting in Dropbox as well. Which means if I didn’t back up my laptop for a week or two, chances are good I would hardly lose anything important. And if I drop my laptop out the car window on the way home from work, I for sure wouldn’t lose anything from the day.
Dropbox finally hit version 1.0 in December, adding some stability issues and, most notably, options for selective syncing of folders.
Instagram launched in October and by the end of 2010 had over 1,000,000 users. It’s part iPhone app, part social network, all fun.
It’s an iPhone-only app that works somewhat like Twitter but with photos. You take a quick snapshot, apply a filter, and share it with your followers. You can also send those photos to your Flickr, Tumblr, and/or Posterus accounts, as well as sharing them on Twitter and Facebook.
Instagram is low friction, and high-fun. And now that Twitter displays Instagram Media inline, it’s not unlike using TwitPic to post photos to your Twitter account. You can find me on Instagram as “shawnblanc”.