Life in Full Color


The more I read about smartwatches, the more I appreciate my “dumb” watches.

Analog Watches

These are the two watches I wear. The one on the left is a Tissot, and the one on the right a Seiko automatic. Most days I wear the Seiko.

Here is an exhaustive rundown of all the functionality of my watches: They tell the time of day (albeit they’re imprecise, and usually off by half a minute or so) and the date. The Seiko, being fancy, also tells the day of the week. And since neither watch knows what month it is, a few times per year I have to adjust the date forward from “29″ or “31″ to “1″.

That’s it.

But I don’t just wear a watch to know what time it is. Part of the reason I wear one is as an excuse not to pull out my iPhone.

So often I’d be standing in line at the grocery store and I’d pull out my iPhone to see what time it was. Then, out of sheer habit, I’d swipe to unlock and the next thing you know I’m mindlessly scrolling through tweets or reading emails without actually acting on them. Then the line would move, I’d put the iPhone back in my pocket, and if you’d asked me what time it was I couldn’t even tell you.

My analog watches are my reminder that utility exists apart from an internet connection and usefulness doesn’t require the latest software.

My watches don’t have an interactive touch display. Nor do they have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE, or USB. Heck, the Seiko doesn’t even have a battery — if I don’t wear it for a day or two then it stops working until I wind it again.

There are no apps for my watches. I can’t pair them with my iPhone, can’t give them voice commands, can’t get directions from them, nor can I use them to change my music to the next track.

On the flip side, my watches don’t require updates, and they won’t be “slow and outdated” in one year’s time after the next version comes out. In fact, they will never grow outdated and irrelevant unless they break altogether.

In 15 or 20 years my sons will hopefully think it’s special when I pass down one of my old watches to them.

That’s not to say vintage technology isn’t special. But an old watch is simultaneously special and usable. In 20 years my original iPhone, as special and nostalgic as it will be, probably won’t even power on.

My affinity for analog watches doesn’t mean I dislike the concept of the smartwatch. My iPhone is one of the most incredible items I have ever owned and used. But my experience with it has also taught me that the promise of convenient notifications and relevant information is almost always paired with the reality of constant distractions, tugs for attention, and perhaps even an addiction to the “just checks”.

When I look down at my watch I know exactly what it will show me: the time.

Grandpa’s iPad

My grandpa is legally blind. He can see, but poorly. When he reads books they are the extra large print editions, and he holds them so close they’re practically resting on his nose. And when he watches an old western film from his VHS collection he sits about two feet away from his big-screen TV.

Last weekend, while in Colorado visiting family, we had a big family dinner at my parents’ house. I loaded my 2-year-old son, Noah, into the car and we drove to pick up my Grandpa from his apartment and bring him over for dinner.

My Grandparents’ homes were always filled with seemingly floor to ceiling photos of family. And his current apartment is no different. There are picture frames on the table and on the desk and on the dresser, and snapshots of grandchildren have been printed out (with the help of more tech-savvy relatives) and thumb-tacked to the walls.

At the apartment, I held Noah while my Grandpa gathered his things — his coat, hat, and walker. And, a new item now: his iPad.

The iPad was a gift from my aunt. It’s a 3rd generation and she doesn’t use it that often so she gave it to him hoping he could use it. (Perhaps as a giant remote control for the TV?)

But my Grandpa discovered a use for it that none of us had considered. It is the best camera he’s ever owned.

Before leaving the apartment, Noah and I had to pose for a picture. Holding the iPad about 10 inches in front of his face, my Grandpa snapped a few photos.

I know there are people out there who take pictures using their iPads, because I’ve seen — ahem — pictures of them doing it. But I’ve always thought it a bit funny and awkward.

And there I was. Posing to have my picture taken with an iPad.

At first, I wanted to snicker. But how could I? If my Grandpa wants to use an iPad to take a picture of his grandson and great grandson, then who cares? Certainly not me.

Back at my parent’s house, my Grandpa continued to spend the first part of the evening taking everyone’s picture. Several of my cousins were there, and many of us don’t get to see my Grandpa more often than every couple of months, if not longer. It was a prime time for snapshots.

Later, Noah quickly warmed up to my Grandpa thanks to the iPad. (As any parent knows, iPads and iPhones are captivating to a toddler. Noah is already quite fluent with iOS and has been sliding to unlock since before he could walk.) The iPad was a way for my Grandpa to spend some time with Noah at his side, as the two of them flipped through the camera roll.

With a smile, I’ve been thinking about that evening for the past week.

My Grandpa’s iPad has enabled him to do something that he’s been unable to do for as long as I can remember. The 9.7-inch touch screen has turned my Grandpa into a photographer.

The screen is large enough that he can see well enough to actually frame and take pictures. And then he has them right there, on that same large screen, where he can browse through them any time he wants.

To me, that’s pretty magical.

Got What I Wanted

Yesterday was a day spent with family, enjoying each others’ company, laughing, and having great conversations. I hope you had a very merry Christmas and continue to have a blessed holiday season.

— Shawn

Best in Class, Built to Last

With some exceptions, Apple has announced just one major update to the iPhone and the iPad per year. Some say this one-per-year pace is too slow for such a competitive industry where consumers want to buy only what’s new, newer, and newest. But for anyone who is already an Apple customer, once a year can sure come around quickly.

When I’m able, and when it makes sense, I prefer to spend more on an item and get something high quality. The tools and toys I use the most should be as close to perfect as possible. I want something built with care and quality, that is enjoyable to use, and will last me a long time.

Apple, its products, its surrounding ecosystem all sit in this market.

There is an aura of craftsmanship and attention to detail that presides over most of Apple’s hardware and software. And this same care for product development attracts 3rd-party developers and engineers who have the same ideals and commitment to excellence. The Apple ecosystem is home to the best hardware and software in the world.

One of the reasons I spend my money on Apple products is because they’re innovative, cool, capable, and delightful. But also, they hold their value and their usefulness for a very long time.

Thursday, October 17

Great life-advice-that-you-can-never-hear-too-much-of post from Gus Mueller. It takes guts to admit when you’ve been wrong and to confess publicly that you want to do better and be stronger next time.

Even with the autonomy of the Internet it can be scary to stand up for our personal values. There will always be the dorks who freak out because you stood up for your values and they happen to disagree with you, but most people will either follow your example (if they have the same values) or they will grow in respect for you (because you’ve been honest and sincere).

My grandfather lived to be 100 years old. If the Blanc blood running through my veins holds up like my grandfather’s did, then I’ve still got 68 years to go. Do I really want to spend one ounce of energy trying to make random people on the internet like me? Will that matter at all in six decades from now? I’d rather spend that energy strengthening my own core values, dating my wife, building life-long relationships with my sons, serving my friends, and doing the best creative work I can possibly do.

A Personal Note of Thanks

Today my heart is full, and I’m feeling so thankful.

The past two weeks have been a sprint. My son, Giovanni Blanc, is 14 days old today, and we could not be happier to have another boy in the house.

My original intention was to take a few weeks off after Giovanni was born. But, bless his heart, he waited to be born until the day before Apple announced their new iPhones. I’ve never written so many words while changing so many diapers with so little sleep in such a short amount of time. (Achievement unlocked?)

As far as work goes, I spent a lot of time testing and reviewing several new and updated 3rd-party apps, covering iOS 7, keeping somewhat up to date with the lead up to the iPhone launch, and then standing in line for an iPhone 5s.

On the home front, the Blancs are now a 4-person family. And my wife, Anna, has quit her job and is now at home being an amazing mom to our two boys.

The work I am doing here at now completely supports our family. And the single biggest piece of that pie continues to be all the subscribing members. Thank you!

This coming spring will be the 3 year anniversary of when I began writing here full time. The past couple of weeks I’ve been reflecting much on the past few years as well as looking ahead to what’s next. And I just wanted to say thanks to the small group of you who show up every day to read this site and support the work I’m doing here. It means the world to me, and I’m working hard to make sure I’m doing my best work every day.

— Shawn

iPhone 5s Initial Miscellany

iPhone 5s

My day started at 6:45 this morning. With a cup of coffee in hand,1 I was about the 100th person to join the line at my local Apple store.

To make a long story short I decided to ditch my spot in line and go to the local AT&T store where I was the 20th person in line. The store opened at 8:00 and by 8:30 I was being helped by a sales rep to get a Space Gray iPhone 5s.

  • The look of the Space Gray is much nicer than I thought it would be. It’s not as “silver” as the band on the 4/4S was, which makes it look a bit more like the original iPhone.

    I’m pretty sure this is the first year that the external appearance of the “s” model of iPhones has been so different than the previous generation. Though the iPhone 5 and 5s look nearly identical, they are less so than the 3G/3GS and 4/4S were.

  • Making a slo-mo video is super fun. On Twitter I joked that we’ll soon have tumblr accounts dedicated to iPhone slo-mo vids that are not as epic as their creators think they are. But who cares, right? If your iPhone can shoot 120FPS HD video and easily select scenes for slo-mo, then go for it.

  • Touch ID feels like equal parts the future and cheating. I have 6 years of muscle memory developed for tap-then-swipe, so I keep forgetting to tap then wait. Instead I swipe, the lock screen keypad shows up and I pause for a second, then oh yeah. Put my thumb back on the Home button and wait a second. The unlocking process truly is near instantaneous.

    The way we joke that non-Retina displays are like sandpaper on our eyes, in a few months (days?) time we’ll all be joking that non-Touch ID devices are so annoying to unlock.

When I finished setting up my new phone, I thought back to something I wrote a year ago regarding the iPhone 5:

Here I have this gorgeous object of industrial innovation, and yet its proximity to my life is not due to my above average affinity for fine gadgets. No, the iPhone has earned its place by virtue of usefulness. The curiously-thin slab of glass and aluminum that I carry around in my pocket is my camera, my jukebox, my map, my newspaper, my phone, my email, my photo album, my schedule, my to-do list, my notebook, my Internet, and so much more.

A lot has changed since I wrote that a year ago, and those changes have made the statement even more true.

The iPhone 5s, with its better camera and Touch ID sensor, make it more useful (even if slightly so) to me than the iPhone 5. Moreover, with iOS 7 and so many new and updated 3rd-party apps, we are ever getting more utility, usefulness, and delight from of our iPhones.

That’s saying a lot for a tough little computer that fits in your pocket.

  1. I may or may not keep some to-go cups around for mornings like this.

How I Self-Published My Book

It all started with a few months ago with a week-long miniseries on Shawn Today. The topic was “the importance of delight in design.”

The feedback from that miniseries was quite positive, and I really enjoyed the subject matter. So I had this idea of re-record the miniseries, polish it up a bit more, and selling it for a few bucks as a for-pay podcast of sorts.

Well, as you already may have guessed, the project spiraled into what became Delight is in the Details.

As I was re-writing the outline for the updated miniseries, I began adding more and more episodes. It turned into 7 parts and then 9.

Also, my plan was to write out a script to read from so I could be sure to say exactly what I wanted to say in each episode, without rambling on and on.

So I thought why not pair the written version with the audio version? And, gosh. If I was going to do that, why not just make it into a book? And then I thought it would be fun to include some additional audio by doing interviews with some of my friends in the industry that know about this stuff.

It started as something I probably could have built and shipped in a few days, and turned into something that took me over 100 hours to complete. But I’m extremely proud of the end result.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the tools and services I used to write, edit, design, and ship Delight is in the Details.

Regarding Promotion

Landing Page Design

I debated how I wanted to announce the book. There was either: (a) keep it secret until the day it came out; or (b) begin talking about it ahead of time.

I opted for the latter. So, obviously, I needed a landing page for the book — a place where I could tease what the book was about and encourage people follow to follow me on Twitter or enter their email to be notified when the book comes out.

My first version of the landing page was little more than a blog-post type page on this site. Over the course of a couple weeks I occasionally tweeted some links to the landing page, letting people know I was working on a book. I also wrote a few articles related to the content of my book, and linked to the landing page from within those articles.

Over those first three weeks, 173 people entered their email address to be notified.

Then, about two weeks ago, I designed a somewhat better landing page (which looked almost exactly like the page that’s there now, except instead of the buy buttons I had a big, “web 2.0″ email sign up form).

I tweeted a link to that landing page at 5:30pm on a Thursday evening. And within 24 hours I had 300 new email signups (in addition to the 173 that had already signed up). The excitement around the book seemed to skyrocket once I had that better looking landing page.

Even for the hype-averse, smart and considered audience that follows me on twitter and reads this site, a good-looking landing clearly made a lot of difference. The design of the page with the graphics showing the book’s cover and interior layout, with the different reading devices, a cleaner look, a more prominent and inviting email form, resulted in tripling my email signups in one day.

TinyLetter and MailChimp

TinyLetter was my email newsletter service of choice. It’s very easy to use and I like their clean design.

Alas, when I announced my new landing page, the influx of new email signups triggered an auto-defense mechanism with TinyLetter and a reCAPTCHA was put up to make sure those joining the mailing list weren’t spam robots.

The reCAPTCHA was annoyingly difficult to answer, and it added an extra hurdle. After contacting the TinyLetter support team, I was told there was no way for them to remove the reCAPTCHA. So, after that first day, I took the list off of TinyLetter and set up a MailChimp signup form instead.

When it came time to do the mailing, I had 635 people who had signed up to get an email announcement about the book. This was very encouraging.

At this point I had segments of the list: one in TinyLetter and one in MailChimp. I exported the names out of MailChimp and dropped them into TinyLetter to create the final master list.

Monday afternoon, the day before launch, I sent an email letting people know the book would be out on Tuesday. I then sent another email at 10:00 am EST, on Tuesday morning announcing the book was out.


I used Photoshop CS3 to design the hero image for the website, size the book cover for Kindle, and create the individual MP3 artwork “covers” for each chapter of the book and each audio interview.

All the rest of the design (the actual book cover typesetting, the book layout, and the interview show notes) was done in Pages.

Regarding Writing


I wrote the whole book in Pages, and even designed the cover in pages. I used Warnock Pro and Avenir Next as the typefaces.

(Side note: Jeff Abbott edited the book for me (he edits all the major articles I publish here). I’ve been working with Jeff since I took the site full time and highly recommend him if you are in need of an editor.)

For the PDF version of the book I simply printed from Pages and saved as a PDF — easy as pie.

The ePub, however, was not so easy. I exported from Pages to ePub, but the auto-generated xhtml and css turned out horrible. There were massive line breaks between paragraphs, the default font size was too small, and the chapter formatting was all a mess. I had to dig into the ePub source files and edit all the xhtml files, the manifest, and the css.


An ePub file is not unlike a zipped up website. Each chapter and section has its own html file. My crude explanation of what’s inside is this:

  • There is a CSS file where you define line height and margins and padding.
  • There is a table of contents file that tells the reading device which order the chapters go in and what their titles are.
  • And there is a manifest file that gives an account of all the files in the zip, and which lists the “spine order” so if you wish to read from “cover to cover” the device knows which section and chapter to display first, second, third, etc.

My small experience working with ePubs has taught me one thing: they are a world of hurt.

Though the components are basic enough, I haven’t yet used an app that could generate a clean, basic ePub file. I’ve made two eBooks so far and molding each one to meet my standard of quality was a tedious and painful process.

The first ePub I did was for a book my wife wrote. We had the layout done in InDesign (CS3). I knew InDesign could export to ePub, but the whole process turned out to be quite a bit of work. I first had to rebuild the document as a new book file and apply new paragraph styles to all the text (even italics and bold). And, after export, I then had to dig into the source files and update the manifest to properly link and name the chapters, and fine tune the CSS a bit.

I thought that certainly Pages would be better when it came to ePub export but I was wrong. It turned out to be worse. Though, in part, it could have been due to operator error. I had section breaks, but not a proper Table of Contents set up and linked within my original Pages document.

If I write another book, I might build the ePub version from scratch.

Editing and Validating ePubs

A few months ago, this forum thread proved to be immensely valuable when I was making the ePub for my wife’s book. Not only did it help walk me through the process of building the document in InDesign, it also gave some helpful information about the ePub’s source files as well.

On a Mac, there is no easy way to just get in to an ePub file’s source documents. Through the aforementioned thread, I found this ePub zip/unzip app. It’s basically just an Applescript that takes an ePub file and unzips it so you have access to the source files. Then, when you’re done, you use it to turn the files back into an ePub document.

And so, after I had exported my book to an ePub file from Pages, I then unzipped it using the above Applescript, and then went to work cleaning up the source code using Coda. After I had changed some of the metadata, taken out the superfluous paragraph breaks, changed some of the CSS, and adjusted the TOC and Spine order, I zipped the folder to ePub so I could validate and test it.

I used the IDPF’s ePub validator tool to make sure I hadn’t broken anything after I had been fiddling with my document source files. If there are errors the validator tells you what’s wrong and in which document and line the error is occurring. It’s quite helpful.

Once I had a valid ePub (it took a few tries) I then “tested” it on my iPad. I did this by simply opening the file in Dropbox and sending it to iBooks. Once I was happy with the formatting, and table of contents, etc., I then made a Kindle version.


Making a MOBI file (what the Kindle uses) from ePub is a piece of cake. Using Calibre, you import the ePub file, then chose to convert it. And boom, you’re done.

I made a different cover source file for the Kindle, so it would fit on the screen of my Kindle touch. There are a lot of suggestions and opinions from Amazon and the rest of the internet about what the dimensions of a Kindle cover should be. Mine ended up being 1500×2030.

Recording and Editing Audio

Skype, etc.

I conducted all the interviews over Skype and used Skype Call Recorder (with Piezo recording as well for backup).

Then I split the MOV track created by Skype Call Recorder, and dropped the two sides of the conversation into Garage Band.

Garage Band

I used Garage Band for everything audio related except recording the interviews.

Editing the interviews The finished interviews are, on average, 30 minutes each. After splitting the conversation sides and dropping the recording into Garage Band, it took me about 2.5 hours to edit each conversation. I would adjust the individual track volumes so that our voices were about equal, and then I would crop the front and end of the call, and then listen through to edit out as much of the dead space and as many of the “Umms” as I could. I wanted these interviews to sound like something you’d hear on NPR — a well-paced conversation that sounded natural, and was free from awkward silence, talking over one another, and the like. It took me an additional 20 hours to edit the interviews, but it was worth it.

Recording and editing the audio book Using my trusty Blue Yeti microphone, I recorded the shows directly into Garage Band in my home office.

I placed towels all on my desk and around where I was to help muffle the audio a bit. As I was recording, if I messed up a word or phrase, I’d just take a pause, say “again” into the mic, take another pause, and then start that paragraph over.

The finished audio book is 77 minutes, and it took me about 4 hours to record all the chapters. It then took me another 8 hours to edit out all of my misspoken words, etc.


For adding and editing the metadata and artwork of each audio file.

AudioBook Binder

AudioBook Binder is a free app in the Mac App Store. You just drop in your MP3 files, and then it will bind them together into a single M4P file with chapters.

You can make an audio book Garage Band by lining up your files end-to-end and setting your own chapter markers and then exporting. However, since I already had the individual MP3 tracks, I preferred the easier, more automated approach of just dragging and dropping into AudioBooksBinder.

Regarding Selling


I am using Gumroad to handle payments and delivery of the book.

Some alternatives I consider were Spacebox, a WordPress commerce plugin (there are many), or even a basic Shopify store.

Spacebox or Gumroad were the ones that made the most sense.

Compared to Spacebox, Gumroad is a bit more expensive. To sell my $29 book through Spacebox would cost $1.431 (that is Spacebox’s 1% transaction fee and Stripe’s 2.9% + 30 cents fee). Spacebox also charges $12/month to sell digital goods.

To sell my $29 book on Gumroad costs me $1.70 per book. That’s 5% + $0.25 per transaction. There are no monthly fees, no limits on product sales, no extra costs whatsoever.

Obviously the more books I sell the more money I lose to Gumroad that I could have saved had I used Spacebox. But I went with Gumroad primarily because of its the way it integrates on my site and how it handles digital delivery.

The design of the product and payment pages in Gumroad are very clean and classy. I like how when someone clicks the buy button on my book’s site, the payment form shows up right within the page. On Mobile, you’re redirected to their site where you get a mobile friendly checkout page. The experience is pretty much exactly what I wanted, and works how I would have it work had I built the service myself.

I also like how they handle the digital delivery. When you buy the product you instantly get a link to download. Also, an email is sent to you with a download link in there as well. This is great because it means folks who buy the product on their computer can download it immediately. Folks who buy it on their iPhone, iPad, or work computer can download it later via the email link if they like.

For one, the checkout process simple and clean (they ask only for an email address and the bare essentials of credit card info). Equally simple is the seller’s dashboard. For me to sell Delight is in the Details I just made an account, uploaded my ZIP file, set a price, and was done.

And, as the seller, I see real-time sales results On launch day I was checking the Gumroad stats page about once every 10 minutes.

Launch Day Fears

On today’s episode of Shawn Today, I talked about this in great detail, and perhaps sometime I’ll write about it more here as well. But in short, the launch day was incredibly emotional for me. I was nervous, of course. But I also woke up feeling like a fraud, before I had even shipped the book. I felt fearful that people would consider the content of my book and the interviews to be not worth paying for, and yet here I was charging $29.

While waiting for my coffee, I decided I would continue as planned and not make any emotional decisions (or listen to the “lizard brain”) on launch day.

I wasn’t afraid that nobody would buy it, rather I was afraid people would buy it and be upset. But after a few days, the opposite has proven to be true. So far the feedback has been nothing but overwhelmingly positive.

A huge thanks to Marco, Cameron, Michael, Paul, Jory, Federico, Dan, and Chase who so generously gave of their time to contribute to the project. And a huge thanks to everyone who has bought the book. Your support and kind words mean the world to me. Thank you.

Thursday, June 27

This one’s from the archives. It’s my review of NetNewsWire 3.1 from almost 6 years ago:

For the basic user who checks a few feeds once a day, NNW provides a familiar and friendly environment. For an average user who has several dozen feeds to keep up on, NNW is quick and effective. And even the power user, who lives and breaths inside their feed reader, will discover that NNW has the horsepower to feed their need for feeds.

This was the very first in-depth review I ever wrote for this site. And even now NNW 3.x has remained one of my most-used apps all this time.

In fact, the latest version of NNW (beta of 4 not withstanding) is almost identical to version 3.1 that I reviewed, except that 3.2 added support for Google Reader as a sync engine. That speaks a lot to the quality and longevity of NNW. How many apps are you using today that could stand the test of time so well with so little change?

Amidst all the kerfuffle of Google Reader alternatives, I thought long and hard about continuing my use of NNW 3 on the Mac and just turning off the Google sync. But I check feeds from my iPhone and iPad far too often and the overlap of unread items would drive me nuts.

And I know I’m not the only one. This weekend a lot of us will say goodbye to an old friend. You’ll forgive me if I’m a little sentimental, but if you’ve been reading this site for longer than a day you know I’ve got an affinity for fine software.

So… Cheers to what was arguably the most popular desktop feed reader ever, and what is certainly one of the greatest of the greats among Mac apps.

See You Next Week

By the time you read this, my laptop lid will be closed and my iPhone’s push notifications turned off for the week.

I don’t know if it’s like this for others, but for me, taking time off is one of the biggest challenges I face as a self-employed person. In the past, when I’ve gone on vacations or spent holidays with the family, I still try to spend at least a little bit of time every day working to keep the site updated.

But for this year’s vacation, I am unplugging from all my inboxes and publishing responsibilities and leaving the writing to someone else.

Friends, I’m pleased to introduce you to my cousin, Nate Spears, who has agreed to step in as the first-ever guest writer for the week.

Nate is 29 days younger than I and was the best man in my wedding. When he and I were 14 we tried to start a comic book company — our drawing skills were pathetic, and my dad was our first and only customer. Now, Nate is a software developer living in Colorado while currently commuting to San Francisco every week bless his soul.

When I was considering who I wanted to hand the reins over to for this week, I knew Nate would be perfect. For one, Nate emails me links to random, interesting, and/or hilarious stuff all the time. This week, instead of sending links and commentary to me through email, I’ve given Nate the keys to the site so he can post things here for you instead. Also, Nate is a great thinker and storyteller, so who knows what he’s got in store for the site.

The Royal Quiet De Luxe Typewriter

New Minimalist Laptop

The Royal

(Full-size PDF)

* * *

This Royal typewriter belonged to my grandfather. He learned to type on it 70 years ago. I wonder if he had to hunt and peck at the keys as I do now.

It is an interesting device. Fascinating and interesting and frustrating and wonderful, all in its own ways. How often do writers today pine for a distraction-free writing tool, one which gives you nothing but your thoughts, a blank page, and the means to put your words onto that page. This typewriter is the very embodiment of what so many wish for today.

When typing on The Royal, you have no option other than honesty. Every mistake, typo, or other error made — by you or the Royal, it does not matter — is there for all the world to see. Imprinted with ink onto paper is your pathetic, but honest, attempt at prose.

But honesty in writing is a gift. The best writing is that which touches and moves us. And who is moved toy insipid paragraphs filled with half-clever turns and twists and barely formed ideas?

What the Royal lacks in convenience and speed, she makes up for in her ability to keep you true to your words. You must think be- fore you type because there is no going back. “Leave it on the page,” she says. “What is typed is typed.”

And when it is time to take a break, she will let you know. Because the ribbon will run dry, or the hammers will jam, or the paper will require changing. We have come so far in the advancement of our writing tools. But are we advanced? What software can teach you to be honest in your writing and to keep on typing? What app rewards with a bell of accomplishment at the end of each line?

Snow Day

Snow Day

It’s mid-morning here at HQ (a.k.a. my house) and outside we’ve already got 8-10 inches of snowfall. And it’s still coming down.

The Internet has been down since at least 5:00 am, (I’m posting this via my iPad’s LTE hotspot), and it may be only a matter of time until we lose power as well (though I hope not). Unfortunately, many in the city are already without power — the snow is so thick and wet that tree branches are snapping and ripping down power lines.

Now, by no means am I trying to paint this as a dire situation. Quite the contrary. We’ve got plenty of hot drinks, snacks, popcorn, and ripped DVDs.

As president of I’m declaring it a snow day. Regular posting will resume tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that the 2013 Membership Drive and Giveaway ends this Friday at midnight. There are over $3,000 in prizes. And, for new and current members, today would make an excellent day for perusing past episodes of Shawn Today while trying a new coffee recipe.

One Year Later

A year ago today, Noah Blanc was born. Being a dad is the most wonderful, amazing, exhausting, disruptive, heart-melting thing in the world.

Two years ago — before we were even pregnant with Noah — is when I decided to quit my day job and take this website full time. One reason for the transition was my strong desire to be present and available as a dad. Anna and I were not yet pregnant, but we were ready to start a family, and I wanted a job that was more flexible than the one I was currently in.

But the second, and perhaps “real” reason I took this site full time, was that I didn’t want to be the sort of dad who set an example of playing it safe, avoiding risks, and not pursuing his dreams. I want my kids to grow up in a home where they feel empowered to take risks and try new things and safe to fail.

I knew that the example I wanted to set needed to start before Noah was even born. It was a good time for me if I was going to take the risk of taking this site indy, and so I went for it.

That was in 2011. A year later, Noah was born and I am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to work from home and set a schedule that allows me to take an active and involved role in his every day life.

I love my son, and he’s growing up faster than I thought he would. Over the weekend we had his 1st birthday party. And now we’ve recently found out Noah is going to be a big brother…

Noah is going to be a big brother

Blanc Baby Number Two, due August 31.

Here, at the End of 2012, Let’s Look Back


I’ll never be able to say enough how just thankful I am to the members of this site. Thanks to those of you who are willing to pitch in $3 every month, I’m entering into my second year of writing this site full time.

This year I recorded 156 episodes of Shawn Today. Among my favorites were the week-long coffee-gear video series, the new “Ask Shawn Today” series, and the oodles of shows talking and musing about diligence and focus. Believe it or not, I’ve heard from many who claim they’ve listened to every single episode. Amazing. I haven’t even listened to every episode, and I was there when they were recorded.

The Boy and The Schedule

This year, Anna and I had our first kid. Noah. Having a kid is so wonderful. It’s been amazing and beautiful and oh so inconvenient.

Being a dad is the best thing in the world and I would never trade it for a second. It has also been the most disruptive thing to happen to my working life.

Anna and I share responsibilities with Noah. I watch him about 20 hours a week, mostly in the mornings. For a guy who likes to have a semi-regular work pattern and who does his best work in the pre-lunch hours, this new routine has been murder to my work life.

The changes to my working (and sleeping) routine have forced me to write when it’s time to write, not when I feel inspired. And though that’s not quite as fun, it’s shown me that when you write day-in and day-out, words start to get in you. You begin to trust your subconscious a bit more and you’re okay with not waiting for that magical moment of inspiration. You sit down, you write, and later (after a few tears and edits) you realize, hey, that’s not so bad.

A Few Faves

Some of the most fun I’ve had on this site has been with the members-only podcast. The near-daily show hit a stride this year and the feedback with listening members has been great.

And, of course, I’ve had a lot of fun writing.

* * *

All this to say, thanks for reading. I am seriously looking forward to doing awesome work in 2013 and I bet you are too.

Thursday, December 20

With an Americano from Crowfoot Valley Coffee Co., of course.

Inbox Intentions

Recently I’ve read a few new articles about scaling back from Twitter and RSS. This is a common theme, especially amongst the group of bloggers I follow. And I’m glad that it’s a common theme because things like scaling back, clarifying our goals, identifying distractions, and the like are all moving targets.

There is no set-it-and-forget-it because small distractions are always creeping into our lives. It’s a constant battle to keep even a modicum of focus and creative breakthrough as a part of our daily lives. But it’s a battle worth fighting.

* * *

Patrick Rhone, “What is Enough?”:

I’m convinced that a successful life is largely driven by balance and moderation. [...]

We all have a center of balance that is unique, different from everyone else. My center of balance is different from yours. My daughter’s, from mine. As she walks the wire, hands out, wobbling to and fro, this is what she is in search of. As she gets older, this process might become easier, faster, with less wobble, but it will never end. No matter how good she becomes, she will always need some device to assist her — arms stretched, a long pole, a racquet or fan. Even the Flying Wallendas, perhaps the greatest wire act to ever perform and a family team stretching back 10 generations, still wobble and use devices to maintain their balance.

Frank Chimero, “Digital Jubilee”:

The Jubilee offers a way out of oppressive expectations, even if they are our own. This year, I’m practicing a digital jubilee by archiving my inbox, deleting my RSS subscriptions, and unfollowing most everyone on Twitter. These, of course, will fill back up as time passes, but now I have a recurring way to purge. Practices like these have been coined “declaring bankruptcy” by the digital lifestyle blogs, but I think the phrase misrepresents the practice. Cleaning the digital slate is not a practice of giving up. It is one of self-forgiveness.

Yours truly, in an interview with Matt Alexander:

I’ve never felt that technology itself was too entwined in my life, though I have gone through seasons where I feel the need to slow down or step away. But that could be true for any and all hobbies or distractions. There are people who admit to spending too much time wrenching on the car, or too much time golfing, or whatever it may be.

Technology, gadgets, and the like are not bad in and of themselves, it’s us who need self-control to live balanced and purposeful lives.

Adam Brault: “I quit Twitter for a month and it completely changed my thinking about mostly everything.“:

I used to believe that time was the most important thing I have, but I’ve come to believe differently. The single most valuable resource I have is uninterrupted thought.

Paul Graham, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”:

But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.

* * *

For a maker, uninterrupted work time is valuable because it allows us uninterrupted thought. Large blocks of free time so we can focus, freely (or not so freely, because, well, you know how it goes sometimes).

But when we interrupt our own time with habitual checking of email, Facebook, Twitter, et al. then it’s like having micro meetings all day long.

Unfollowing everyone, unsubscribing from everything, and setting up auto-responders in our email seem mostly seem like band-aid fixes. They help in some regard (I’m trying something similar myself with Twitter) but underneath the problem is still there. Yes, apply the band aid, but that alone does not mean the “problem” is “healed”.

Because it comes down to our own choices. Are we going to spend our time the way we want to or not? Are we going to do the work we say we want to do or not? Intentions are dandy, but real men get to work.

Apple’s Photo Book

What with a kid and a new camera, this is the perfect year to give one of Apple’s photo books for Christmas. Anna and I, along with my sister’s family, put one together for my Grandpa. He has very poor eyesight and a book with 20 pages of big, full-sized, 8.5×11 pictures featuring his grandkids and his great grandkids will make an excellent gift.

This is the first time I’ve ordered one of the photo books from Apple and I don’t think it will be the last. It’s a hardcover book, with 20 (or more if you want to add them) full-color pages, printed and shipped for about $32. The pages are full-bleed, the color is brilliant, and the construction quality is top notch.

Not to mention it’s easy to make. You do it within iPhoto by picking the “theme” you want your book to have, dragging and dropping the photos you want, and clicking the button that sends it off to print. A few days later it shows up at your doorstep.

Our book arrived a couple days ago, and when I opened the shipping box I was a bit embarrassed to find the book wrapped in a white cardboard sleeve with nothing but the Apple logo on the front.

Apple Logo on the photo book Sleeve

Moreover, inside the book on the very last page is the Apple logo again with the tag, “Made on a Mac”.

Apple photo book: Made on a Mac

This is very much like Apple — their logo adorns all their gear — but the book itself is so removed from Apple’s traditional product lineup of consumer electronics that I was surprised to see the logo plastered on the front like that. And then — well — I was surprised that I was surprised.

The photo book isn’t really an Apple product, it’s a product Apple makes. And I am embarrassed to give it as a gift which, when first opened, is an advertisement for Apple. It’s like Apple’s version of a product with “special offers“. People see this book and they see it’s “Made on a Mac” and maybe it gives them one more reason to buy Mac.

The answer is as simple as removing the cardboard sleeve and tossing it in the recycling bin before wrapping the book for Christmas.

Update: Turns out there’s an option to remove the inside logo before sending to print. When you’re building the book click “Options” (lower right corner of the iPhoto app) → Book Settings → uncheck “Include Apple logo at end of book”.


“I am the President of the United States of America … clothed in immense power!”

As I’ve continued to think about the movie Lincoln, the above line is one of many which return again and again to my mind. Though it seems impossible (or, at best, unfair) to pick any single line above another.

Lincoln is certainly the best film I’ve seen all year. I found it to be provoking, sobering, encouraging, and beautiful.

The art and craft of storytelling through film seems to be more and more rare these days. In Lincoln, all the components of a movie — acting, cinematography, writing, costume and set design, editing, etc. — come together into a single, cohesive work of moving art. It is moving to watch, moving to hear, and once taken in, it lodges itself in your heart and mind for a while.

The line I quoted at the top was spoken not with pride, but with honest humility and great vehemence. Which is why I think this the line that keeps coming back to me; it sums up the character of Abraham Lincoln as played by Daniel Day-Lewis perfectly. Though you’ll have to see it for yourself in the context of the movie to fully grasp and appreciate why.

The character of Lincoln in this movie was portrayed as a deeply humble and clear-minded man. He knew he was placed in his presidential office by the vote of the people. And therefore, acknowledging and exercising his power as the President was not an act of pride but of humility.

He knew who he was and what he needed to do. He used his immense power as President to fight for the freedom of all men. And in the end, we know it cost him his life.

For Noah

It’s just after 9 o’clock in the morning, and Noah is down for his first nap of the day. The past couple of hours I’ve spent with him feeding him his breakfast of squashed up mango and banana, changing his diaper, rolling around on the living room floor with him, and holding him in my lap while we read kids books he doesn’t yet understand but likes to grab at the cardboard pages.

Yesterday, November 6, Anna and I took Noah with us to vote. Four years ago when the two of us voted in our first presidential election as a married couple, our little boy was just a thought — a dream of one day when we would eventually have kids. And in 4 years time, at the next election, Noah will no doubt be an older brother with a sibling or two.

Voting is an immeasurable privilege and honor. More than 115 million of us stood in lines all across America yesterday. Some came prepared with their cheat sheets, ready to pencil in every office, judge, amendment, and proposition exactly as they wanted. Some have been voting for decades, across a dozen presidencies and a few wars. Others cut their ballot-casting teeth for the first time yesterday.

Standing in line at the church down the road, the halls were crowded with all manner of folks. Our shared or differing political views aside, there was, as always, an unspoken sense of unity in that line. And that unity stretched through walls and precincts and states to the thousands of lines all around our nation. Most of us were more than willing to giving hours of our day to stand amongst strangers and exercise one of our greatest rights as free Americans.

Thinking about those who were in line with Anna and me, and all the other 115 million Americans who voted yesterday, I think it’s fair to say there is a common denominator amongst us all: we want what is best for our families.

As I sat down with my ballot and pencil in that crowded church room I had a single purpose: I was voting for my family. I voted with my son in mind, and our future children, because they will inherit the country we build for them.

But that country our children will live in is not built in whole through the aggregate of millions of ballots. Nor is their inheritance the responsibility of Washington.

I voted for the men and women who I felt most aligned with the values of my own life. Who I endorse in the privacy of my voting booth is just as important as the actions I endorse in the privacy of my own home.

I deeply want this great country to be led by men and women of character and conviction. Officials who will do what’s right and leave the fabric of these United States stronger than when they started their term. But it is not mostly up to them; it is mostly up to us.

It was, as always, an honor to have voted yesterday. But my civic duty is far from over. I want what is best for my son and what is best for this country. And, as you know, that goes beyond showing up to vote. I believe it starts with making my home a place where children grow up to be wise and strong and free.

For the Sake of Creating

When I say successful artist, what first comes to your mind?

The first thing that comes to my mind is financial success. I tend to think of a successful artist as someone who has been fortunate in business with their creative endeavors.

But when it comes to creative work, finances measure only one definition of success. Is there such a thing as a successful designer who makes a below-average wage? Or can a writer who makes no money at all still be successful? Of course.

There is another definition of success: sustained pride in the quality of our work.

If, in our creative endeavors, we continually do work we are proud of, then that my friends is also success. We don’t make to get rich, we make to make. We build for the sake of building, create for the sake of creating. We do it because we have to.

“We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.” — Walt Disney

Of course it’s wonderful when wealth and riches are a byproduct of our work. But for many of us finding a way to make it profitable is secondary.

Dost thou love life?

Things like diligence, focus, priorities, saying no, to-do lists, time management, and the like are important to me. But why?

Well, this quote by Benjamin Franklin pretty much sums it up for me:

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

Circles Conference

This past weekend I was in Dallas for Circles Conference. It was a fantastic event filled with equally fantastic speakers. Of course, the highlight for me was the time spent in-between the sessions spending time with the other attendees. (Isn’t that the highlight of all events like this?)

The biggest personal takeaway for me was something Noah Stokes said. Talking about his design shop, Bold, he said that 20 years from now he wants to be working on his company, not in it.

That rings true for me too. In 20 years I don’t expect that writing will still be my full-time gig. But I love the tech and design community, and I love contributing to this space.

In the average 9-5, climbing up the corporate ladder is already laid out. Showing up and doing good work will often lead you to the next step in your job because the company has already laid out what progress and promotions look like.

However, for those of us who run our own businesses (or have aspirations to) there isn’t necessarily a “career path” to follow. Not only is the destination something we have to define for ourselves, so too is the path to get there. Maybe success looks like sustaining the work we are doing today, but maybe it looks like something different.

And so, on my flight back from Dallas I found myself pondering what decisions I need to make and what steps I need take now that will begin leading me to the place I want to be in 20 years.

On Teachability

Winston Churchill:

The most important thing about education is appetite.

Robert Frost:

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

Gavin Seim:

I’d rather be improved by honest criticism than ruined by false praise.

Rick Warren:

Emotional maturity is demonstrated by how kindly you treat those who mistreat or misunderstand you.

Social Me-Me-Media

That’s a line I think I heard Merlin Mann say once in a podcast.

And the way I see it, there are two sides to Social Me-me-media:

  • There’s the narcissistic, naval-gazing, ego-centric side. How many followers do I have? Did that popular person follow me back? Has anyone @replied to me, retweeted me, or faved my tweets in the past 30 minutes?

  • And then there’s the fighting-against-the-potential-time-sink side. What’s a reasonable number of followers for me to have? How many interruptions am I willing or able to allow? How much time do I want to spend here? How much value am I getting? How much value am I giving?

It is oh so easy to get sucked into the first side and never think once about the second. But now that you are thinking about it, why not give yourself permission to unfollow whomever you want without worrying about hurting their feelings. And to check in, link in, post a picture, or update your status less often without the fear that you’ll be forgotten about.

Make social media about you — not your ego.

Most People

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”
― Dave Ramsey

Most athletes don’t make it to the Olympics. Most startups don’t strike gold. Most writers don’t get on The New York Times’ Best Sellers List.

And that’s okay. We all have our own definitions of success, and global fame and recognition doesn’t have to be one of them.

But how many entrepreneurs get around to taking that risk and starting their own business? Or how many writers get around to writing that book they know they have in them? How many people save for that vacation they’ve always wanted to take? How many people have become far too comfortable paying for just one more toy using the credit card?

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t surrounded by energetic, highly-focused, successful individuals who can set an example for us. Instead our classrooms and workplaces and neighborhoods are filled with folks who are good at spending more than they make while watching television, checking Facebook, and playing video games. Doesn’t it seem silly to think we have a better chance at achieving our goals while living like most people who will never achieve theirs?

Here’s a metric that can help you determine if you’re on track for reaching your goals: are you spending your time, money, and attention differently than most people?

The Slow Obviation of Yojimbo

For the past few months I’ve been contemplating just how useful Yojimbo still is for me.

Often times we don’t know what sort of solution we want, or even that there is an area of friction that we can remove. When we find an app we love we often accommodate a bit to its workflow. And as we get set in our ways, we sometimes forget to tinker.

The longer I use my computer, the less and less I enjoy tinkering. I prefer to lock in with a handful of world-class applications and learn them inside and out. Such has been the case with Yojimbo over the past 3 years.

In my review of Yojimbo in 2009 I advocated the need of an “Anything Bucket” and heartily recommended Yojimbo:

Anything Buckets should be more about ease of use than about depth of features. The very best ones lend themselves to perpetual use. And if you use them, depth will come from breadth.

The info we throw at them can be permanent, temporary, important, or trivial. It doesn’t matter. Regardless of who, what, when, where, or why, the best Anything Bucket is ready to receive any bit of information that threatens to elude you.


Put plainly, Yojimbo is the simplest way possible to save any bit of spontaneous information. No matter how indispensable or arbitrary that information is.

I still agree completely with what I wrote in 2009. Everything doesn’t always fit nice and neatly into our current set of apps and file hierarchies. But in my willingness to break habits and workflows that may no longer be the case for me — I’m considering a transition away from Yojimbo.

This is a subject that saddens me to even think about, let alone write about.

I’ve used Yojimbo every day since early 2009, and it is the only Dock Application I have set to launch when I boot up my Mac. Because, like TextExpander or LaunchBar, if Yojimbo isn’t active when I expect it to be, I’m thrown off for a moment. I’ve written several custom AppleScripts for it. A huge part of my daily routine revolves around tossing stuff into Yojimbo. I store all sorts of things in this fine app: bookmarks, passwords, serial numbers, encrypted notes, regular notes, and more.

But over time, many of the things that I first used Yojimbo for have been replaced. Apps and services like Pinboard, 1Password, the Mac App Store, FileVault 2, and Simplenote/nvALT have all but obviated the majority of Yojimbo’s daily usefulness for me.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve begun using superior, dedicated bookmarking and password apps. Or perhaps I’ve settled into my groove for how I use my computer and what sorts of files I keep. (It’s probably a bit of both.) But whatever it is, there is now little left for my Anything Bucket.

In fact, the only regular thing left for me to store in Yojimbo is receipts and serial numbers. But receipts is a legacy habit at this point. Now that is run under an LLC, I’ve far more tax-deductible expenses than I used to. Which means I no longer use a calculator and add up my receipts for year-end accounting purposes — I only keep them around for just in case. Saving them to a Finder folder is now easier in the long run and more efficient.

Search & Bookmarks

This all started with search. They say a good filing system is one in which you can find whatever you’re looking for in 60 seconds or less.

I currently have 2,523 total items in Yojimbo. About 650 of those are bookmarks, and 800 are notes. As my Yojimbo library grows, I’ve increasingly been having a hard time finding certain things when the time comes. Since search results are not sorted by relevance, looking for an obscure bookmark or a particular note means scrolling through a lot of the more-current but less-relevant items first.

The more I add to Yojimbo the harder it is to find things. This is not a desirable behavior.

It was this search-related friction that led me to give Pinboard a shot. Several months ago I stopped adding bookmarks to Yojimbo and began adding them to Pinboard, and a few months later I’ve grown to love the service.

Pinboard has proven to be fantastic. I’ve easily been able to find specific bookmarks I’m looking for, I have tag completion when adding from the browser, and since apps like Reeder, IFTTT, and Instapaper all work with Pinboard, I can add more bookmarks from more places. It’s a wonderful service and I highly recommend it.

And thanks to this slightly-wonky-but-yet-still-effective script, I was able to port all of my 650-some-odd bookmarks from Yojimbo into Pinboard.1

Encrypted Files and Notes

With the advent of built-in SSDs and FileVault 2, there’s no reason not to encrypt my Mac’s entire drive. For the one-off note, PDF, image, or whatever that needs to be individually locked down, then 1Password can do that (albeit, not as elegantly or easily as Yojimbo).

I already use 1Password to store all of my login and password information and there’s no reason not to use it for the storing of secure notes as well. Additionally, these notes sync to my iPhone and iPad. And with my transition to my iPad as my traveling work computer, having access to some of this information when on the road may prove extremely advantageous one day. You see, the thing with synced data like that is you never know when you’re going to need it.

The disadvantage of 1Password compared to Yojimbo is with how extremely easy it is to add a note to Yojimbo. In fact, that is the whole point of Yojimbo: super easy capture. But the need to create an encrypted note is such an infrequent occasion, I am willing to suffer 1Password’s extra steps (and uglier UI).

Simple Notes

One question I still get on a regular basis is how do I differentiate between notes in Yojimbo and notes in Simplenote / nvALT?

Basically, Simplenote has been for anything in progress and Yojimbo was for anything worth keeping. I don’t write in Yojimbo, I store. And for a long time I didn’t store in Simplenote, I just jotted.

But since finding notes in Simplenote is so easy and quick, I’ve taken to storing some long-term, non-private bits of information in there right alongside the short-term notes. My Simplenote library is currently hovering just under 800 notes. This includes random quotes, articles in process, outlines for potential articles, and even things like my Southwest Rapid Rewards number, relevant specs about my Jeep, and the lightbulb specifications for the various fixtures around our house.

Getting Stuff Out

Something else Yojimbo excels at (that I’ve always known, but haven’t experienced first hand until now) is how easily it lets you export your data. It’s as easy to get your stuff out as it is to get in. With a little effort I was able to port all my bookmarks to Pinboard (see above), and with very little effort I just dragged and dropped all my 2012 tax expense receipts into their own Finder folder.

It’s likely that I will continue to use Yojimbo for odds and ends here and there, but it’s no longer the daily workhorse app that it once was. Times change and so do our workflows.

  1. If you try this script, note that any Yojimbo bookmarks with apostrophes, commas, or parentheses in the name will cause an error on export. You’ll also have to be sure to empty your Yojimbo trash because the script will read those bookmarks as well. I spent about half an hour doing some manual cleanup of my data, but once all was polished the script ran fine. It took about 40 minutes to run its course.
Tuesday, August 28

Abdel Ibrahim interviewed me about taking this site full time, what sort of contribution Shawn Today has had on my full-time gig, iPads, BBQ, and more.

Tuesday, August 21

Paul Miller:

For me, my time is no longer defined by the fact that it’s spent without the internet. It’s simply my time, and I have to fill it. The luxury that no internet has afforded me is that I feel like I have more time to fill, and fewer ways to fill it. It’s the boredom and lack of stimulation that drives me to do things I really care about, like writing and spending time with others.

Using the “the-iPhone-is-the-cigarette-of-this-century” analogy, Paul quit smoking and now he can breathe better and exercise easier, etc. We all need time to let our mind be bored, and I think the iPhone is one of the biggest enemies to that. But it’s not the iPhone’s fault — it’s our own fault.

What Paul is discovering — and he admits this: “‘Disconnecting’ and ‘disconnected’ are two very different things” — is that going on an Internet sabbatical is not the way we make time to do other valuable things (like having face-to-face conversations, reading those books you’ve always wanted to read, and writing more). Rather, we make time by making time and then having some self control about it.

(Also, we can all see and chuckle at the irony that Paul’s update about being offline was posted to the Verge website, right?)

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