On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly I talk about the just-announced Amazon Echo. What can you use this first version for? How cool and practical will it actually be? What are some seemingly-glaring omissions in Echo’s functionality? Are devices that just listen for us to talk to them the future? How does an always-on, always-listening device like the Echo help us to “unplug”?

Sponsored by:

In local news, I’ll be speaking at this month’s Coffee & Design meetup. If you’re in the area you should come.

It’s on Friday morning, November 21, and will be held at Meers Advertising (map). The meetup is free, and we’ll be serving free coffee and bagels.

Side note about Coffee & Design: it’s an awesome, monthly gathering of designers, developers, makers, etc. I’ve been a handful of times and it’s always really great. Even if you can’t make it out for this month’s event, you should keep their monthly events on your radar.

We’re celebrating Fountain Pen Day over at Tools & Toys with a roundup of pen inks — er, links.

Dueing it Wrong

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized I’ve been using OmniFocus all wrong ever since the Forecast View came to the Mac.

The Forecast View is awesome. But it’s not where your daily to-do list should live.

I don’t know about you, but if I look at my to-do list, it is mostly things which I want to do today. Only one or two (at best) are things which actually have a hard and fast due date of today and need to be done.

By living in the Forecast View, I’ve slowly developed the habit of setting the items which I want to get done as being due today. Or, if I know I can’t get to it today then I’ll set it to be due tomorrow or the next day. Seems natural and logical when your in the middle of it, but it’s actually not the best way to go about things.

My usage of Due dates and the Forecast View mirror Chris Bowler’s exactly. In his weekly members-only newsletter, Chris recently wrote:

I was a heavy user of due dates, but the reality was these dates were fictitious. It was more a case of when I’d like this task to be done or worked on. This could be a problem as some tasks truly were due on a specific day, but they would be mixed in with other tasks in the Forecast view that were more wishful thinking than anything else.

I was able to get by with this usage for a couple of years. My habit was to simply push out the due dates when things got crazy and desired tasks did not get done when I had hoped.

Same here. Fortunately, Chris pointed me to Sven Fechner’s excellent OmniFocus Perspectives Redux series, which is helping set me straight with a much more logical — and honestly, a much less stressful — way of managing my daily task list.

Check out:

(If you’re using Due Dates for juggling your “things I want to get done today” list, then I highly recommend you read the above four articles in the order I’ve listed them.)

In short, you should create your own custom perspective for “Today”. And let that list show you all the tasks which are either Due today or which are Flagged. When you are doing your daily review and scrubbing your list, don’t think about what’s due — because it should already be given a proper due date — instead, just flag the tasks you want to get done that day. Then, go to your Today perspective and now you’ve got a list of items which are both urgent (i.e. due today) and important (i.e. flagged).

Another cool thing about using this Today perspective is that you can pull it out into its own window and “Minimalize” it by hiding the left and right sidebars and hiding the toolbar. And you end up with nothing but a list of your task list for the day.

I use an OmniFocus-only Keyboard Maestro macro to opens the Today perspective in its own window, automatically hides the sidebar, toolbar, and inspector, and then resizes the window to be 475px wide and 600px tall.

OmniFocus Today Perspective

Two notes about using the Today perspective like this: (1) You need the Pro version of OmniFocus 2 in order to create custom perspectives; and (2) in the setup window for that perspective you’ll want to have it open in a new window, so that the changes to window size and hiding the sidebar, et al. don’t mess up your Main OmniFocus window.

See here for how the macro works. Download it here.

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It’s the stuff like this that I love about OmniFocus. It really is the best GTD app out there. I’ve been using it every day of my life since early 2010 and I’m still learning and improving on it. Not to mention the brilliant and clever community of folks who use OmniFocus and share their knowledge with the rest of the world.

Up next for me is to get a better handle on using Contexts and Project Folder hierarchy so that when I am doing “work” work, I only see those tasks, and when I am doing “peronal” work I only see those tasks. But, one step at a time, Shawn.

Thursday, November 6

Khoi Vinh on the new iPads:

Apple knows better than anyone that computing technology doesn’t win the market on specifications. What wins is superb software that makes people recognize how their lives could be made better by owning the underlying hardware. [...]

I do believe that the cure for Apple’s iPad woes will not be thinner, more powerful hardware alone, but also a whole new class of apps that take a completely different tack to imagining how people can work with computing technology.

Ever since I set up my iMac, I’ve been having a few hiccups with Keyboard Maestro.

Some of my macros work, but not all of them. And Keyboard Maestro keeps telling me it needs to be given accessibility permissions in Yosemite’s System Preferences even though I’ve already granted the app permissions.

Turns out, this is a common problem if you install or migrate Keyboard Maestro to a computer that has a clean install of Yosemite. The problem is that though Keyboard Maestro itself is being granted accessibility permissions, the Keyboard Maestro Engine is not getting those permissions. Thus, it has issues running in the background.

But! There is a fix. These steps outlined by the KM developer, Peter Lewis, worked for me:

Generally you can force the system to add Keyboard Maestro Engine with this sequence:

  • Open the System Preferences → Security & Privacy preferences.
  • Switch to the Accessibility settings.
  • In the Finder, control click on Keyboard Maestro.app, and choose Show Package Contents.
  • Drill down into Contents / Resources and find the Keyboard Maestro Engine.app
  • Switch back to System Preferences.
  • Click the Lock icon in the bottom left and enter your admin password.
  • Drag the Keyboard Maestro Engine.app into the list.

Even if nothing appears in that last stage, it may still have worked. Launch Keyboard Maestro and see if the setting is actually enabled, and if not, try restarting.

Alternatives to the Just Checks

For the past 3 months I’ve been working on my next book. It’s called The Power of a Focused Life and is all about things like life goals, time management, work-life balance, creativity, the tyranny of the urgent, focus, and more.

Over the past several months, most of the episodes of my members-only podcast, Shawn Today, have been about the topics and ideas I’m writing and researching for the book.

I just recently finished the crappy first draft, and it’s around 16,000 words. I wanted to start by getting everything written down that I had in me — the first draft is just me straight-up writing down the things I know and the things I do regarding these topics. It’s a great start, but there is a lot more ground I want to cover.

And so now I’ve begun the second phase of writing, which involves intentional research. I’m now reading articles, books, and teaching series from others so I can find out what I’m missing and add more content to my second draft of the book.

All that to say, I recently read an article and book about identifying and changing habits.

It got me thinking about one of my own worst habits: checking Twitter.

One of the reasons I wear a watch is to help keep me from pulling my phone out as often as I would. If I want to check the time I look at my watch. Because as soon as I’m holding my phone, it’s instinct at this point to swipe-to-unlock the thing. And then, once the phone is unlocked and I’m staring blankly at my Home screen of icons, I’m going to want to launch an app. But because I unlocked the phone without any clear plan for what I needed to do, the next thing I know I’m checking Twitter. And all the while, I don’t even know what time it is. See? It’s a bad habit.

There are three components that make up a habit: Trigger → Response → Reward.

The keys to changing a habit are to start by figuring out what the reward is — what is it that you’re seeking to gain by carrying out the habit action? Then, learn what the trigger is so that you can head it off at the pass or prepare for it. Finally, you insert a new, healthy action as the trigger response instead of your bad action.

Now, let’s just assume that compulsive checking of Twitter, Facebook, and email are bad habits. And by that I mean they are habits we want to change. I know I personally would like to check Twitter less often. (Have I ever gained anything by checking Twitter while standing in line at the grocery store or while waiting at a red light?)

For me, here’s what my Twitter checking habit loop looks like:

  • Trigger: I have down time; I’m bored; I’m waiting for something or someone. Common times this occurs are when I’m standing in line somewhere, when a commercial break comes on during a football game, when I’m waiting for water to boil, etc.

  • Response: Pull out my iPhone, launch Twitter, and just scroll through tweets.

  • Reward: Pacify my boredom and/or get a short-term gain of social interaction because someone @replied to me or whatever.

What I need is a new action to do when I have down time.

Of course, it’s important to mention that there is nothing wrong with being bored. In fact, those little moments of mental down time can do wonders for our long-term ability to create, problem solve, and do great work.

For the times I do want to use my iPhone when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, I’ve come up with a few alternatives instead of just checking Twitter.

These are a few alternatives to the Just Checks:

  • Scroll through your Day One timeline and read a previous journal entry or browse some old photos and memories.

  • Launch Day One and log how you’ve spent your time so far for the day. Doing this for a few weeks can also be super helpful for getting a perspective of where your time and energy are being spent.

  • Write down 3 new ideas. These could be articles you want to write, business ideas, places you want to visit or photograph, topics you want to research, date ideas for you and your spouse, gift ideas for a friend, etc. These ideas never have to to be acted on — the point isn’t to generate a to-do list, but rather to exercise your mind. Ideation and creativity are muscles, and the more we exercise them the stronger they get.

  • Send a text message to a friend or family member to tell them how awesome they are.

  • Don’t get out your phone at all.

These alternatives are meant to be healthy. Meaning they have a positive long-term effect and satisfy the same reward as before. The point here is to not default into the passive consumption of content (it’s so easy to do that anyway). If you’ve got any ideas of your own, let me know on Twitter.

Take advantage of those down time moments and allow our minds to rest for a bit or else engage our minds by doing something active and positive.

Tuesday, November 4

This year’s Christmas Catalog feels like it has circled back to the first holiday guide I ever put together on Tools & Toys. It was late November of 2011, and I still clearly remember writing that year’s catalog from a hospital room.

My wife and I were about 5 months pregnant with Noah, and she began having some bleeding. It was serious enough that we went to the hospital to make sure the baby was okay. Fortunately everything was fine. But — as hospitals are wont to do — they kept us there for 72 hours so they could monitor Anna and the baby.

Anna was immobile, so she spent her time wrapping up the final edits to the book she was writing. And since I could work anywhere with an internet connection, I just logged on to the hospital Wi-Fi and decided I’d spend my 72 hours putting together Tools & Toys’ first holiday gift guide.

My wife and I now have two amazing boys. And I can’t help but consider with deep gratitude what the holidays will mean for my family this year. For me, the things I want most are the things which cannot be bought: time, health, memories, deep conversations, roaring laughter, rest, and the opportunity to serve others.

And it is with this in mind that we tried to take a different approach to this year’s guide. As I wrote in the opening letter, this year we have done our best to avoid listing out a vast array of crap that has found the inferior sweet spot between impractical, unaffordable, and meaningless.

We’ve also chosen three charities that we’ll be giving 10% of our gross income for November and December to, and we’re inviting you to do the same.

And, speaking candidly, this gift guide is a huge contributor that helps us keep the lights on. November and December are our biggest months for income, and help average out the slower summer and fall months. You don’t have to buy something on our list to support us — you can share the guide with your friends and family, and you can even just click through our links to Amazon before buying something else — we’ll still receive a kickback that way.

* * *

Now that November and the holidays are upon us, I am genuinely looking forward to the upcoming weeks. Work-wise, we have some awesome articles and reviews in the pipeline for both Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup. But also, personally, the holidays are a fun and special time. My cousin Nate is coming to town for Thanksgiving, and I’ll be slow-cooking the turkey in the backyard smoker. My oldest son is old enough to enjoy the Christmas Tree shopping trip. Etc.

Moreover, I am hoping that this season I’ll be able to serve you, dear reader. I hope the work we do on Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup will help you save time and energy for any gifts you may be buying. And I also hope we’ll be able to contribute to the sound of reason. Helping remind ourselves others that even in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, quality time with friends and family is the best thing.

Monday, November 3

Tinderbox is the tool for notes, a powerful way to visualize, analyze, and organize your most important projects. Tinderbox lets you create smart documents that help organize, reorganize, and evolve your thoughts over the course of months and even years. It’s a great tool for writers planning their next book, teachers planning their courses, product developers and designers who need to create their next big thing, and anyone who wants to organize their thinking.

A professional tool, Tinderbox normally costs $249, but this week save $50 and pick up a copy for $199. A household license has been discounted to $239.

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My thanks to Tinderbox for sponsoring the site this week. It’s called a tool for notes, but it is so much more than that. It’s an incredibly deep and feature-rich application meant to help gather and organize tasks, ideas, plans, research, information, and so much more. You can use it to outline, mind-map, organize and analyze data, write, and so much more. Tinderbox truly is professional grade.

I love that James Fallows — who wrote one of my favorite gadget reviews of all time — uses Tinderbox.

Tinderbox 6 was just recently released. It was a product two years in the making, and as it says in the copy above, this week Tinderbox has been discounted 20-percent for shawnblanc.net readers. An individual license is normally $249, but is now just $199. They’re also offering $5 off Mark Bernstein’s book, The Tinderbox Way.

Josh Ginter:

Undoubtedly, one of the best covers out there is the Hellbrand Leatherworks Field Notes cover. It has a simple design and a utilitarian purpose. Best of all, the Hellbrand Leatherworks cover looks better the older it gets — just like your trusted Field Notes books themselves.

Recently IKEA announced their first electronic sit/stand desk and it looks pretty great. Sit/stand desks are awesome. I’m standing at my desk right now, and if I wanted to sit down instead I could just push a button. In fact, I think I will…

My original “standing” desk was an IKEA Galant. I write “standing” in quotes because it wasn’t meant to be a standing desk. I extended the telescoping legs out to their max and even that was about 3 inches too short, so I put some wood blocks underneath the legs. Safe.

I worked at that desk for about 6 months, but after a while I very much missed having the option to sit and decided that if I had to chose between sitting or standing then I would sit.

The standing bug kicked in again toward the beginning of this year. I honestly just got tired of sitting all the time, especially first thing in the mornings. I would come downstairs to my office with a hot coffee and a million ideas for the day, and honestly I wanted to stand up and work because I had energy.

So I set my IKEA Galant back to its standing position and worked that way for a couple of months when I decided it was time to invest in a non-stationary standing desk (not unlike the sit/stand desk IKEA is making).

The desk I picked up is this Jarvis adjustable height desk. I wish I’d bought it years ago.

  • The height range is 23.5 – 49.5 inches.

  • It can be attached to any desktop slab that is at least 42.5″ wide and 21″ deep.

  • The control panel has an LCD that shows you the exact height (to a tenth of an inch), and has 4 memory presets.

    The Jarvis desk control panel

  • The motor is fast and quiet. Lowering my desk from its standing height of 40.4 inches down to sitting height of 24.5 it takes 15 seconds. And the reverse — lifting from sitting height to standing height — takes just one second longer. The motor starts out slow as it begins moving, speeds up, and then slows down when it reaches the memory preset.

Standing is awesome. I am here, at my desk, for anywhere from 6 – 10 hours in a day. I nearly always stand for the first half of my day, and usually stand for the second half as well. If, in the evenings, I have computer-related work to do — such as editing photos — then I usually will sit.

There are some things about the IKEA desk that are great. It has a 10-year warranty, it’s inexpensive, it’s motorized (no hand crank), and it comes with a desk top slab.

But there are things about the Jarvis I think are better. It has a vastly superior motor control panel, with better buttons and the 4 programmable memory positions.

In his review, Estes said this about the buttons on the IKEA desk:

The only other gripe I can think of are those ugly buttons. Not only are they ugly, they’re also a little bit finicky. They’re barely buttons, really. [...] When you’re adjusting the desk, moving your finger even slightly to one side or the other will disengage the button, and the desk will stop moving. You get the hang of it, though. It’s just a bummer that IKEA did so much great work building a beautiful desk and then skimped on the gadgety bit. Then again, IKEA’s never been into gadgets.

Moreover, the IKEA has just two buttons — up and down — and no display to let you know what height the desk is at.

What’s awesome about the memory positions of the Jarvis is that you know your setting your desk to the exact height every time you adjust it. Because the IKEA controller doesn’t have a height indicator you’re adjusting by feel every time.

Though, to be fair, in the comment section of his review, Estes says he likes not having a memory program:

I don’t actually think I’d want presets. Much to my dismay, I found myself adjusting the height constantly. I really liked to be able to change my posture by tiny amounts. Now it’s hard to go to the office and deal with my big dumb stationary desk.

But the memory programming is, for me, is alone worth the $39+ extra. And really, that’s the only significant difference. You have one point of interaction with your adjustable height desk: the control panel. Having easy-to-use buttons and a programmable height memory is pretty darn nice.

And it’s not just about making the desk easier to adjust. It’s also about consistency. My body posture has a lot of habit built in, and if my desk is an inch off, I never feel quite right.

All that to say, I’ve had my Jarvis desk for 4 months now and it’s doing great. I don’t ever plan to replace it until it dies. My friend, Ben Brooks, has had his Jarvis desk for over a year and it’s still going strong as well.

Brad Dowdy: “The computer is an afterthought most of the time.”

Friday, October 31

There are just four sponsorship slots left for the rest of this year. And, honestly, they are really prime times.

  • This upcoming week, starting Monday, Nov 3, is still open. And it’s great timing because on Tuesday we’ll be publishing our Tools & Toys holiday gift guide.

    Update: this upcoming week is now booked, but there are still a few more spots for the year.

  • Also, the last two weeks of December are open. These are two huge weeks for web traffic because people looking up which apps and accessories to install on their new iPhone, iPad, or Mac. They’re also shopping around for what to buy with the gift cards they got.

So if you’ve got an awesome product, service, or company you’d like to promote then please do get in touch. If you email me in the next couple of days to book a spot, I’d be more than happy to work with you to make a deal.

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly we continue on in the Power of a Focused Life series. Today’s topic: habits and routines. Specifically, how we identify the things that trigger our habit and routine actions, and how we can change and improve them.

Sponsored by:

A Week With the Retina iMac

My review of the new Retina iMac could be said as one word: sensational.

I once read that a man buys something for two reasons: a good reason and the real reason. I bought a Retina iMac for a very good reason: my primary computer — an aging MacBook Air — was due for an upgrade. But the real reason? It’s a 27-inch Retina monitor and it is astonishing.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely an easy decision to make. For as long as I’ve owned my own computer I’ve loved laptops. I love that I can close the lid, put the computer in my bag, and take my main work machine with me anywhere I want. There’s no syncing between two machines, or wondering if this or that file is on the computer or not, and no compromises when I’m on the road.

And so the choice to get the Retina iMac was also a choice to give up my perceived sense of freedom and portability that comes with having a laptop as your one and only computer. And honestly, it’s turned out to be not a big deal.

Over the past few years since I began writing here as my full-time job, a few things have changed regarding my work habits. For one, I work here at this desk in my home for about 80-percent of my hours. There were a few months at the beginning of this year when I was commuting to a local co-working space, but that didn’t quite stick for me (but that’s a story for another day and it’s underpinned by my hope that WELD will one day come to Kansas City).

Secondly, when I do travel to a conference or drive to a local coffee shop for the day, I mostly prefer to take my iPad. The work I do revolves around reading, writing, and communicating with my team. All of which are things I can do quite easily from my iPad thanks to apps such as Instapaper, Drafts, Poster, Unread, Editorial, Slack, Mail, Basecamp, OmniFocus, Safari, and Pushpin.

All that said, leading up to Apple’s special event I knew I’d be upgrading my MacBook Air. The question was, to what would I be upgrading?

Plan A was a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and a Thunderbolt Display. The new computer to replace my old Air and the new Display to replace this grey market IPS display as a stop-gap while I waited held my breath for an updated Thunderbolt display (if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past decade of being an Apple user it’s to not hold my breath waiting for updated external displays).

But there was a rumored iMac with Retina display that was throwing a wrench in my upgrade plan.

And as I thought about my various upgrade options — either stay a laptop-plus-external display user, or switch to become a desktop user — I thought about how I mostly work. And realized that the vast majority of my computer working time is spent at my desk. I’ve been mostly using my Air in clamshell mode practically since I bought it in 2011.

And here at my desk, it’s more than just the computer that I have going on. I use a standing desk, a clicky keyboard, and gigabit internet. There are many incentives (comforts, really) that make my home office workstation comfortable, efficient, and preferable. Honestly, I like it here.

And so I decided that I was willing to double down on my home-office setup and that my next main Mac would become a desktop machine if it meant I could get a Retina display.

Welp, that’s exactly what happened. Apple announced the new iMac with its Retina 5K Display, and I ordered one right away.

Built to Order

I’ve been a Mac user since early 2005 when I bought a 12-inch PowerBook G4 so I could learn Photoshop. And if the last decade is any indication, I use my computers for almost exactly 3.5 years. And so I try to get the highest-specced version of a machine that I can afford so as to prolong its usefulness.

Graphics and Processors

When ordering my iMac I went all out. It has the upgraded processor (4 Ghz Quad-Core Intel Core i7), the upgraded graphics card (AMD Radeon R9 M295X 4GB GDDR5), the 1TB SSD, and 32GB RAM (via OWC’s upgrade kit). In short, I kinda ordered the absolute top-of-the-line iMac. But it’s worth it, and here’s why.

The step up CPU and GPU were an easy choice. It’s $500 extra for both, but considering this is a bleeding edge machine with a bazillion pixels to push, it seemed prudent to get the better graphics card and processor in order to handle the screen. My personal computing needs consist mostly of open browser tabs and text documents — hardly the sort of work that demands the top-of-the-line iMac’s outrageous horsepower. But my gut tells me the iMac’s 14.7 million pixels will appreciate the octane, and I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Jason Snell received a baseline review unit of the Retina iMac from Apple. And in his review he encounter occasional graphic stuttering:

In my use of the stock system, graphics performance was generally fine, though if I opened a whole lot of windows and spaces and then invoked Mission Control, I could definitely see pauses and stuttering. I have no idea how much of that is the fault of the system hardware, and how much is the fault of the software.

I’ve got 18 applications with 22 windows open at the moment, and when I invoke Mission Control it’s about 98% smooth as butter. Meaning, if I’m looking for pauses and stutters, I can kinda notice one, but then it’s gone the next time. And every other graphic animation — scrolling, moving windows around, resizing, minimizing, maximizing — looks perfect (save Time Machine, which I’ll get to in a bit).

David Pierce reports of there being some tearing during fast-paced graphics games, even on his high-end review model. In my usage over the past week I haven’t seen any tearing, but I also don’t play any games on my iMac.

Upgrading the RAM was another easy choice. There’s a little plate in the back of the Mac that pops out and it’s a piece of cake to add new memory yourself. It took me about 5 minutes. And OWC has a page set up with recommended upgrade options.

The iMac ships with 8GB of ram as 2 sticks of 4GB. The most reasonable upgrade is to simply add two more 4GB sticks to get a total of 16GB. You can get this from OWC for $100. I decided to go all out and upgrade to 32GB of RAM because we all know Safari will drink that RAM up like liquid gold once she’s got more than a few open browser tabs. I hear extra memory is also helpful when working in Lightroom.

Solid State Storage

And as for the storage. Well, I went with the 1TB SSD for the sake of minimalism. Seriously.

I went with the SSD instead of a Fusion Drive because I’m not a huge fan of the latter. I’m sure they’re great, but I’d rather stick with pure solid state.

Disk Speed Test Retina iMac

What blows my mind about the Solid State Drive is the Read/Write speeds I’m seeing. My very first SSD was an OWC Mercury Extreme Pro that I put into my aluminum MacBook Pro back in 2010. At the time it had a read/write speed of 134 and 109 MB/s respectively. And when the SSD in my MacBook Air was brand new its read/write speeds were 265 and 248 MB/s respectively.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the SSD in my iMac reads at 688 MB/s and writes at 705 MB/s. (!) That’s really fast.

Compared to the baseline Retina iMac that Engadget reviewed, which included a Fusion Drive, my write read speeds are about the same but my write speed is more than double that of the Fusion drive.

The reason I went with 1TB is because a bigger capacity hard drive makes life so much easier. It means I don’t have to juggle with storage, wonder which drive a certain folder is on, nor worry about if I have room to import a card full of photographs.

I could get by with a 512GB drive because right now, all my data takes up about 400GB. But since taking up photography two years ago, it has become a very serious hobby, and I’m taking more pictures now than I was 2 years ago. And so the reason I wanted the biggest drive is so I wouldn’t have to start playing file storage musical chairs again in just a year from now.

Having a larger internal drive that can hold all of my files, also makes backups easier. With my MacBook Air, I had to offload most of my photographs and media to my Synology and then access those over the network. Not exactly a huge deal, but definitely a bit complex and also it meant I had two drives each with their own unique and priceless files on them.

Therefore I had two drives which each needed their own local backup and their own offsite backup. The Synology is pretty awesome in this regard. It runs in RAID and thus internally has its own redundancy. Additionally, it can automatically back itself up to a local USB drive (just in case the Synology unit itself ever gets fried), and it can back itself up to Amazon Glacier or Google Drive (among other options). But the only thing better than having all my files available on an awesome network attached storage drive is having all my files on my main computer.

Not to mention, even with NAS-grade hard drives and a gigabit network connection, I’m still only getting read/write speeds that are a fraction of those I’m seeing on my iMac’s internal drive.

Now that all my files are on the iMac, I have just one local and one off-site backup to manage. I use SuperDuper and an external Western Digital drive for nightly clone, and I have a Time Machine partition on my Synology.

Now that I’m no longer using the Synology as a media hub, its can be, and should be, so much more than a Time Machine destination. I’m going to do some research into using it as a VPN as well as possibly sync my Documents folder to the Synology because the iOS app for remote access to files is great (too bad there is nothing like that for accessing files on my Mac from my iOS device through Back to my Mac).


The creative professional has long been one of Apple’s primary user demographics. And it used to be that if you were doing serious work, you bought a Mac Pro. But over the years, not only has the iMac line gotten more and more powerful, so too has the MacBook Pro line. In fact, over the past several years, many a creative professional has become a “laptop primary” person. Myself (previously) included.

Anyone who deals with graphics and images and videos is always looking for fast and powerful. Naturally, it’s fun to have a computer that boots up faster than you can pour a cup of coffee. But it’s also practical to have such a beast. A more powerful machine means less time waiting for videos to render, apps to build, and photos to export. And that genuinely makes life better for a lot of us.

And that’s why its so wild that the high-end Retina iMac is faster than the entry-level Mac Pro in some cases. This is not your mom’s iMac.

And yet, despite what an amazing workhorse this computer is, you don’t buy it for the power. You buy it for the screen. For the first time in desktop computing history, the speed and power of this machine is not the primary story or selling point. Rather, it’s all about the display.

And what a display it is. What I’m discovering is that the wonder of a Retina display is directly proportional to its size.

The more I use and learn about this iMac, the more I’m amazed with it. It’s a ridiculously powerful computer underpinning a jaw-dropping display. Put those two things together and you get something truly special. I know you know this.

Now, I’m someone who rarely does any graphic design, nor do I shoot or edit any video in 4K, and I’m a hobby photographer at best. What do I need a Retina computer for?


That’s right.

I work with words all day long, and text is perhaps one of Retina’s primary beneficiaries. We’ve been saying this since the iPhone 4 came out in 2010, but it has yet to cease to amaze me: type on a Retina screen is sharp, crisp, and print like. And on a 27-inch monitor, it’s all better. Especially when this is the screen I am in front of for the vast majority of my work day. Yes, I have my iPhone with me all the time, but I spend exponentially more time in front of my computer than my phone.

The most marketable use-case scenarios for the Retina iMac are for video and photography professionals. But if you deal with text and words as your primary vocation — i.e. writing, programming, editing, layout design, etc. — I think you’ve just as much reason to get a Retina Mac as those professional video editors and photographers do.

As a writer by trade, part of me wants to argue that wordsmiths have even more of a legitimate reason to go Retina than those working with images and graphics. But, then I open up Lightroom to process some of my recent photography and I’m blown away at just how stunning my pictures look. So I guess we all have equal grounds.

Setting up the new iMac

It was a week ago this morning that FedEx delivered my iMac. I get a new computer so rarely, that when I’m setting it up I use it as a chance to start fresh.

Instead of using Migration Assistant to port over all the apps and settings and preferences from my MacBook Air, I simply set up the iMac with the clean install from the factory and only added files and apps as I needed them.

While things are certainly a bit more tedious this way — especially the first day of setup — I like having the chance to once again pick and choose which apps I install. It lets me start with only what I actually use on a regular basis.

Dropbox and iCloud Keychain make things surprisingly easy in this regard.

Most of my apps that have any sort of syncing engine (1Password, OmniFocus, TextExpander) are up and running just as I left them on the MacBook Air. Others, such as Keyboard Maestro, Transmit, and Hazel, I had to export my settings out of those apps on the Air and then import them into those apps on the iMac.

This is one area where the Mac App Store shines. Installing a dozen or more apps from the MAS is as simple as scrolling down the list of purchases and clicking “Install”. For those apps I own which I didn’t purchase through the MAS I needed to go to the respective website, download the free trial, launch the app, and then dig up and enter in my license info for that app.

After syncing my Dropbox folder I then just copied over all the files in my Air’s Documents folder, all the music and photos from my Synology. And while that was running, the apps I installed right away were Dropbox, LaunchBar, TextExpander, and 1Password. After those I installed Byword, MarsEdit, Reeder 2, OmniFocus, Rdio, Coda 2, Transmit, Bartender, Hazel, Backblaze, Lightroom, Day One, Fantastical, iBank, Droplr, Simplenote, and Tweetbot. But not in that order.

On my Air there are 216 items in the Applications folder. On my Mac, there are currently just 66. Feels good.

Aside about 2-Factor Authentication

I have 2-factor authentication enabled on pretty much any service that offers it. This was the first time I’ve gone through a complete ground-up setup where all my logins were guarded by verification codes. To my surprise and delight, it was surprisingly painless — and even encouraging — to use all the 2-factor authentications I have set up.

Lightroom on the Retina iMac

As mentioned above, my photography hobby has been the biggest bane to my MacBook Air. Both in terms of storage space and processor capabilities. As explained earlier, the guts of my iMac have obliterated my two biggest pain points with photography. The new computer (a) has plenty of storage space to hold all the photographs I’ve taken over the past 2 years with room to spare for the next few years’ of photos; and (b) has the processing power to work much more quickly in Lightroom.

Beyond the fact that it’s a better computer for doing photo editing, it is a vastly superior screen. My Olympus shoots RAW images at 4608×3456 pixels. It’s bigger than 4K video, and quite a bit taller as well. So I can’t fit 100% of my image onto the screen while working in Lightroom, I can however view it at 50% pixel-for-pixel resolution and it looks so nice.

Time Machine Oddities

Time Machine in Yosemite

Looking at the photograph above (click here for full size), you can see some lines and odd graphics where there should be smooth graphics and gradient shadows. I asked around on Twitter, and several other folks are seeing the same thing with Time Machine on Yosemite, and, from what I can tell, it’s pretty much only an issue on Macs with Retina displays. Which includes not only the new Retina iMac, but also the Retina MacBook Pros.

However, if I take a screenshot of what you see above, then the screenshot doesn’t capture any of the graphics oddities. It looks just fine.

Something else with Time Machine is that the timestamp for the current file / folder in view renders blurry, like an image at non-retina scale:

Time Machine Pixelated Time Stamp

Fan Noise

One concern some folks have had about the Retina iMac is how loud the fan will be. My experience pretty much mirrors exactly that of Jason Snell:

I notice when I’m recording a podcast and my MacBook Air’s fans are loudly blowing because some runaway app is using way too much processor power. When I ran stress-testing processor and GPU-based tests on the iMac, the fan would definitely come on, and in a quiet room it was audible. It was also, to my mind, vastly quieter than the fan in my MacBook Air. The iMac’s not going to match the Mac Pro for quiet fan blowing, but neither is it going to beat out any Mac laptops in a contest to see who can make the most noise.

I can’t remember the last time my MacBook Air’s fans weren’t running at full speed and volume. And while my iMac certainly does have an audible fan at times, even at its “loudest” it’s nearly unnoticeable except when my office is completely silent.

A few Yosemite hacks

The Dream

Last week, Ian Hines asked me how apps and websites hold up in on the Retina screen. The fortunate answer is that they hold up extremely well.

This iMac is not the first web-connected Retina device, nor is it the first Retina Mac. And so, at this point, the vast majority of websites and Mac apps have been updated to look great on a Retina screen.

While I do encounter some blurry bits on occasion, they are few and far between. The only downside I can think of with this computer is that it cannot run as a standalone monitor.

When I’m standing here, using the iMac, I keep thinking about how it’s all about the screen. But what’s crazy is that the screen is only half the story. Inside this iMac just so happens to be one of the fastest Macintosh computers on the planet. Take away the Retina display and you’ve still got an incredible machine. But you don’t have to take away the display. With the Retina iMac you’ve got your cake and you’re eating it, too.

From all I’ve read about this iMac, combined with all I’ve experienced, this is the real deal. There is no disadvantage to being an early adopter here and there is no major tradeoff. I am so happy this computer exists. This is the dream. This is Retina Desktop Without Compromise. And it is wonderful.

Tuesday, October 28

A few weeks ago Michael Steeber wrote an article on 9to5Mac about bringing the Apple Watch’s Home screen interface over to the iPhone:

Here we are in 2014, and the iOS home screen is essentially the same as it was in 2007. Plenty of arguments have been made that the home screen looks “dated” or needs certain features, but I’m proposing not change for the sake of change, but change that unifies, modernizes, and redefines the home screen as we know it. What would happen if the Apple Watch home screen came to the iPhone?

Yesterday, Lucas Menge posted a video of a springboard-esque app that does just that. His video showing off the prototype app is very cool and interesting. It looks fun and modern, and it could definitely help with reachability issues on the Home screens of the bigger phones. But I also can’t help but think how cluttered and busy it looks — that is a lot of icons all in one place, even when zoomed in.

A fantastic Yosemite update to Droplr for Mac. The utility app now has better screen recording sharing (you can save your screen recording as a GIF if you want). Speaking of GIFs, you can record a “reaction GIF” of yourself to share with others. And, of course, it takes advantage of Yosemite’s share extensions, making it super easy to take a whole-site screenshot and more.

Most items I write reviews of are items that I personally buy to use. But, every once in a while, a new gadget shows up that’s just so interesting and enticing that I buy it with the business card for the sole purpose of reviewing it. Such is the case with the Aether Cone.

I got an email at the end of August from Rdio announcing that the Aether Cone was now shipping and that, as an Rdio member, I was eligible for a percentage discount for every month I’d been a subscriber, up to 45-percent off. I was intrigued by the design and the functionality. You don’t need a separate device to stream music to the Cone, it connects to Rdio all on its own and you can talk to it to request a song.

This is the review I was originally planning to publish on launch day with the new Tools & Toys, but I was able to get the E-M10 review out the door in time instead.

Monday, October 27

Lionheart Software is an independent software studio that designs and builds delightful products for startups and small teams. Our focus is building great products because we’re passionate about our work and our commitment to our customers.

If it’s a custom website or web application that you need, you can trust us to care about creating simple, beautiful interfaces that work well and stand above the crowd. Check out some of the work we’ve done in the past with our partners.

We’ve also created some iOS apps of our own, including Tweet Seeker and the popular Pushpin app for iOS.

Ready to build an amazing website or application that can take your business to the next level? We’d love to help.

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My thanks to Lionheart for sponsoring the site this week and for being one of the sponsoring Launch Partners for the new Tools & Toys. These guys make one of my favorite iOS apps: Pushpin. It’s arguably the best Pinboard client for iOS, and its iOS 8 update is just stellar. And that’s just a sample of the work they do; Lionheart is truly does some top-notch design and development work.

Friday, October 24

On today’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I share my first Impressions of the new Retina iMac, as well as my first impressions of the new Kindle Voyage (and how it compares to the Kindle Paperwhite).

Sponsored by:

Last Year’s New Tech

Let’s take stock for a moment of a few really awesome new gadgets that are currently on the market. Specifically the new iPhones, iPads, and Kindle.

  • iPhones 6: For all intents and purposes, the newest iPhones are the best iPhones ever made. They are ridiculously thin, have an incredible camera, and are wildly fast. I’m personally a huge fan of the new curved-edge design; the way the glass screen curves off the edge like a 4-sided infinity swimming pool is awesome. Not to mention the super-high-density of the iPhone 6 Plus’s display — it’s the highest resolution display Apple makes.

  • iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3: The iPad Air 2 is hands down the best tablet ever made. It’s curiously thin and seriously fast. The iPad mini 3 improves on last year’s iPad mini by adding Touch ID and a gold option.

  • The Kindle Voyage: The new flagship Kindle is also the best Kindle ever made. And it’s not just an incremental upgrade over last year’s Paperwhite — it’s an excellent step up in terms of the design, hardware, and e-ink display.

If you’re in the market for a new iPhone, iPad, and/or Kindle — this is a great year to buy. Each device is the best its ever been. But…

Despte the fact that there are all these new and amazing gadgets, I think it’s legitimately safe to say that many folks will prefer the tech that was new last year. And, in many cases, there are some people who would be better served by getting last year’s gadgets.

iPhone 6 or 5?

You may not want one of the new iPhones because the smaller form factor of the iPhone 5s is better to you. It will work with the Apple Watch when it ships and since the iPhone 5s has Touch ID, it will also support Apple Pay via the Apple Watch.

iPad mini 3 or 2?

You may not want the new iPad mini 3 because its only significant difference over the iPad mini 2 is Touch ID. As nice as Touch ID is, I don’t think it’s nearly as critical to have on an iPad as it is on an iPhone. That extra cost would be better spent on apps which will improve the utility of your iPad far more than Touch ID will.

Kindle Voyage or Paperwhite?

On the new Kindle Voyage, I think the 300 ppi display may be the least exciting upgrade when compared to the Kindle Paperwhite. Yes, the lighting is better, the form factor is better, and the page turn “buttons” are a most-welcomed addition. But I personally cannot tell a significant difference between the 212 ppi display of the Kindle Paperwhite and the 300 ppi display of the Kindle Voyage.

I don’t mean this as a put down to the Kindle Voyage at all. Mine arrived yesterday and I’m thrilled with it. But, it is one of those situations where it’s not an obvious choice. The Kindle Paperwhite is still a really great Kindle, and the $80 saved when compare to the Voyage may be better spent on Kindle books.

* * *

All this to say, I think it’s a fascinating product lineup this year — there are some truly amazing and wonderful products available. But for the first time in recent memory, it’s not a completely obvious choice to just buy the latest version. Last year’s gadgets may not only be the better choice from a financial standpoint, but also as a personal preference as well.

Thursday, October 23

It took a good long time for me to find an iPad case/sleeve that I liked, and the Felt Case Mini is just that (though I suppose if it were made out of leather and printed $100 bills it’d be a bit nicer, but other than that I think it’s pretty great).

Wednesday, October 22

Tons of great tips from Austin Mann:

Apple’s sharing all kinds of software updates with us these days, and a few of them are especially exciting for power user iPhone photographers. Here are my thoughts on how the new features affect how we create and share images with our iPhones.

This is like the computer screen’s version of how in the old days our parents had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways.

John Gruber:

Everything Apple is promoting about the Air 2 is true, both in terms of what you can objectively measure, and in terms of how it feels to use it. It’s thinner, lighter, faster, and has a better display and better camera. And, yes, Touch ID is great, especially if you’ve been using it for the last year on your iPhone.

I don’t think I’m going to buy one, though.

Last year after spending three months using both the (then) new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina, I switched from being a hard-core proponent of full-sized iPads to being a fan of the iPad mini. And I can’t imagine going back.

There is more to it than just that the mini is lighter and easier to hold with one hand. The screen size didn’t impact the way I create or “consume” content at all. Moreover, the smaller footprint of the iPad makes it easier to fit in my bag, or to carry around by itself in a sleeve.

It’s unfortunate that it looks like the iPad mini is now going to be one year behind in hardware innovation, but that’s okay. I mostly use my iPad for reading, writing, research, and basic communication. Though, now that I’m switching to a desktop Mac as my main machine, who knows… perhaps the amount of work I do on my iPad will spike in the upcoming year.

Tuesday, October 21

This review has been on our list since the beginning. But we knew major updates of Wunderlist, OmniFocus, and Things were all in the pipe. And, now that they’ve shipped, we’ve spent time with the apps and written up our official pick for what is our favorite productivity and GTD app suite: OmniFocus (of course).

On the outside so many of these apps all seem like the same type of app with the same functionality: projects, tasks, due dates, tags, sync.

But, in working on this review, it struck me just how much different OmniFocus truly is from pretty much every other productivity app out there. OmniFocus goes far beyond the feature set that most other apps have with its use of contexts, defer dates, custom perspectives, forecast view, and review mode.

The most common arguments against OF are price and learning curve.

Regarding price, first off: you get what you pay for. OmniFocus is not overpriced, it’s priced according to its feature set. There are a lot of things OF can do with your tasks and projects that these other apps cannot.

Not to mention, the Omni Group has a decades-long history of making apps for the Mac, and they currently have some of the world’s best Mac and iOS developers working for them in Seattle. If there is a GTD app out there today that has a chance of being here in 2025, OmniFocus is at the top of that list.

And regarding learning curve, it’s true — OmniFocus takes time to discover and figure out. But there are so many resources, tutorials, and guides out there that if you’re willing to take the time and learn the app, you’ll reap the dividends for years to come (literally).

Monday, October 20

Backup is important! Half of all computer users lose data each year. Back up all your data with Backblaze online backup. It’s unlimited, unthrottled, uncomplicated, and at $5/month per computer, it’s a no-brainer.

How does Backblaze work? It natively backs up your music, movies, photos, and whatever you’re working on or editing for just $5/month. Backblaze continuously and securely backs up all the data on your computer and external hard drives.

Accessing backed up files is easy. Download and share your files with the iPhone and Android apps, use any web browser to download your data, or have Backblaze FedEx you a flash key or USB hard drive.

Data loss happens all the time. For $5/month, Backblaze will back up all the data on your Mac or PC. Stop putting it off. Start a risk-free trial, and get your backup started today!

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My thanks to Backblaze for again sponsoring the site this week, and for being one of the sponsoring launch partners for the new Tools & Toys. I’ve personally been a Backblaze customer for several year and continue to be very happy with their service. They are arguably the best off-site backup service out there.

And speaking of setup interviews, over on Tools & Toys we just posted a hyper-nerdy interview with Mike Rohde (of Sketchnote fame) regarding his everyday carry gear.

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