A few weeks ago when I saw the promo video for Outbox, I honestly thought it was a joke, like Gmail Paper was. But Outbox is real.

The fundamental idea and goal of Outbox is great. Pay someone to digitize and organize all my snail mail, recycle all my junk mail while they’re at it, and then deliver any hand-written notes or other things I want to my door. And I think $5/month is an extremely reasonable price.

But the execution, as Laura June points out in her article for the Verge, seems less the great:

  • For one, you’ve got someone else opening up and scanning your bills, personal letter, and bank statements. Personally, I’m uncomfortable with that. So maybe right there is proof enough that Outbox isn’t for me.

  • Secondly, your mail still gets delivered to your house or office by the USPS. Then, later, Outbox sends their own courier to your home (3 times a week) to get what’s in your mailbox and take it back to their headquarters for scanning.

While the idea of having someone else do the dirty work of digitizing my mail and tossing the junk is nice, it still doesn’t solve the biggest “pain point” I have with snail mail: processing and following-up.

Outbox doesn’t pay my bills on my behalf, they won’t call my doctor to get clarity on a bill, and they won’t cash my checks. I guess that’s why they’re only charging $5/month.

For the digitization and organization of my snail mail, a simple document scanner and a handful of Hazel rules has done wonders for how I digitize and organize my incoming snail mail.


The Sweet Mac Setup of @AppleSpotlight

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Rob, but I’m better known as the guy behind the Twitter account @AppleSpotlight, where I write and link to stuff that I find useful or interesting.

What is your current setup?

Rob's Sweet Mac Setup

For my Mac setup, I use a 27″ iMac at my desk and an 11″ MacBook Air on the go. I can’t type that well, but I can touch type on a number pad. Therefore, I opt to use the Apple keyboard with numeric keypad. I use a Magic Mouse in one hand and a Magic Trackpad in the other for double the magic.

My iMac sits on a huge 3ft by 6ft desk from Design Within Reach, and I sit on a Herman Miller chair. I listen to JBL Creature speakers, which look super cool and sound just okay. My MacBook Air travels in a Tom Bihn bag and usually sits on a coffeehouse table.

As for iOS, I have the iPhone 5 and 3rd-generation iPad. I prefer my iPhone naked and currently use a sleeve by Richshaw for my iPad.

The iMac (and I suppose the cloud) is the hub of my setup. I treat everything else as a satellite device.

That said, this is how I spend my time by device (most to least): iPhone, iPad, iMac, MacBook Air.

Why this rig?

I was a little too early to the desktop-plus-laptop setup. In the early 2000s, I was using a Power Mac G4 Cube and a PowerBook G4. I wanted the power, storage, and larger screen of a desktop while in my office and the portability of the laptop while away. The experience of keeping things in sync, however, wasn’t ideal. Remember, this was before the days of iCloud, Dropbox, et al. So as a compromise I switched to a laptop-plus-display setup — a series of Powerbooks and MacBook Pros with a Cinema Display.

My current rig, along with the right software services, finally delivers on what I was hoping to achieve in the early 2000s.

There is no other tool in my life that I use more than iPhone, so I typically upgrade with each new version. Although upgrading gets expensive, all the improvements in each new model really add up when reaching for my iPhone several dozens times each day.

I love the feel of the iPad mini in my hands, but for now I prefer the larger, retina display and the larger keyboard.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

There are so many great apps, but here are a selection of the ones I find particularly useful:

  • Tweetbot is my primary Twitter client.
  • Dropbox keeps my world in sync.
  • 1Password makes the hell that is passwords a little more tolerable.
  • Things is the task manager that helps me get things done.
  • Focus Time is a nice little iOS app to use with the Pomodoro Technique (if you haven’t hear of the Pomodoro Technique, it’s worth checking out).
  • Reminders is the place for my simple lists, like books I want to read, and shared lists, like the Whole Foods Market list that I share with my wife.
  • Simplenote makes it easy for me to take and find all of my notes.
  • Evernote is for those things that don’t fit in Simplenote, such as notes with photos. Although I’m not a fan of the interface.
  • Instapaper is the black hole where I store things that I rarely have time to read. I’m starting to play around with Pocket, however, and I really like what I see.
  • TripIt is awesome for organizing trip details. Don’t leave home without it.
  • Pixelmator on OS X is what I use to remind myself that I don’t know much about image editing.
  • SuperDuper is what I use for full backups.
  • CrashPlan is what I use for cloud backups.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

This setup is not only about having the best tool for the job but also about having the best tool for where I am. It is also about having access to nearly all of my data and apps, regardless of where or what device I’m using. Apple and the strong Apple development community have made all of this simple and a joy to use.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I think my current setup is near ideal, but I have a feeling Apple may have something else in mind for me.

More Setups

Rob’s is one in a series of sweet Mac setups.

The Sweet Mac Setup of @AppleSpotlight

A great interview talking about creativity and entrepreneurialism:

When somebody has high standards, it’s because they’re obsessive about the things they’re making. What sucks about that is that obsession is painful. When you’re obsessing about things, you’re subjecting yourself to the experience of being disappointed many, many times a day. It feels like that even with these videos we make. Each one is a monumental set of disappointments and figuring out problems that need to be solved in order to make something that’s presentable and not going to potentially ruin your career. At some point, you just want to relax and have it work.

The Great Discontent Interview with Adam Lisagor

This is a clever trick (via Patrick Welker) for setting up a Calendar-alarm automation so you can set predetermined times for when Notification Center is enabled and disabled on your Mac. Just like how Do Not Disturb mode works on your iPhone.

I set it up and it works like a charm. But soon after, I realized that I don’t need an automated time when “Do Not Disturb” mode is active for me. Rather I just need to fiddle with my Notification Center preferences and remove a few apps so their alerts don’t interrupt me. Primarily: Mail.

The other notifications which like to distract me when at my Mac are DMs from Tweetbot, new instant messages, calendar alerts, and software update alerts. The first two are easily handled by simply not having those apps running during times when I don’t want to be disturbed by them. Calendar alerts are important and wanted. It’s the App Store update alerts which drive me nuts — I wish I could remove them as they’re the primary reason I mute Notification Center in the first place.

But when I have Notification Center set to not showing any notifications at all, I also lose notifications from Hazel, MarsEdit, and Transmit — three apps I use quite a bit and for which I want to see notifications from, letting me know of a successful file upload or blog post.

So, if there were a “Do Not Disturb” trick that applied only to the App Store update notifications, well, that would be wonderful.

Scheduling Do Not Disturb Mode for Notification Center on Your Mac

Snow Day

Snow Day

It’s mid-morning here at shawnblanc.net 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 shawnblanc.net 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.

Snow Day

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.

One Year Later

Today, App.net opened up a free-but-invite-only tier. So, if you know someone with an App.net invite (not me) then you can join and use the network for free.

The limits imposed on free users strike me as extremely generous. For example, users at the free tier can follow a maximum of 40 people. I currently follow 73, and it wouldn’t be too painful for me to unfollow a few folks and land myself into the free tier by the time my paid membership expires. (Though I don’t intend to do that because I’m a fan of paying for the products and services I use.)

Anyway, I think this is a smart move by Dalton and his team, and I hope it brings some more of you cool kids over to the network. I’ve been on App.net since the beginning, and I really enjoy it.

My ADN client of choice is Riposte. I’ve been using it since it launched a month ago, and just recently it went free.

And, side note, shawnblanc.net is now on ADN.

App.net’s Free Tier

The iPad Can Be a True Mac Alternative

Ted Landau published an article for Macworld today, entitled “Why the iPad still can’t be a true Mac replacement”. In it, he lays out some of the differences between the Mac and iPad, and why, because of those differences, the iPad is not yet ready to be a Macintosh replacement.

Ted is correct in his reasoning for why the iPad isn’t a Mac replacement. The iPad runs a completely different OS with completely different apps. And it does not have the same hardware expansion capabilities as the Mac does, such as the ability to connect to external hard drives and monitors.

At the heart of Ted’s article, however, is this bit about why he is arguing that the iPad isn’t ready to replace the Mac:

[T]here remains a persistent undercurrent in the media predicting an eventual demise of the Mac at the hands of the iPad. Whoa!

I agree with Ted that this undercurrent exists. There also exists a current going the other direction (as Ted demonstrates) stating that there’s no way the iPad could replace the Mac. I think these two “currents” are black and white, overdramatized extremes.

The future of the Mac is not to shrink until it’s the size of an iPad and the two become one. Nor is the future of the Mac to die a slow and painful death as the iPad eventually gains so much marketshare that Apple just shuts down the manufacturing of all their iMacs and MacBooks.

Which is why I think Ted — and anyone else who argues that the iPad cannot be a Mac replacement — is missing the point. The iPad isn’t meant to be a Mac replacement.

The iPad is a Mac alternative — and only if you want it to be.

Nobody is forcing us to use iPads instead of a Macs. There is no law which requires anyone who purchases an iPad to then dispose of their Mac. When you walk into an Apple store to buy a new Mac, you are not asked to prove that your needs are sufficient enough to warrant the use of a Mac rather than an iPad.

Never has Tim Cook said that the Mac and OS X will be phased out and that we had all better learn to love our iPads. In fact, just look at what Apple was up to in 2012: Retina MacBook Pros, new iMacs, and a commitment to an annual update cycle to OS X. That doesn’t look like the demise of the Mac to me.

Arguing about if the iPad is a Mac replacement or not is a bit like arguing about your favorite color. Yes, there are people who would do quite fine with an iPad as their only computer. There are also those who can use the iPad for some work tasks, but not all. And there are those who prefer their iPad for watching videos and reading and that’s about it. And, of course, there are all those in-between scenarios.

It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of using the iPad as a workhorse device as much and as often as possible. However, it’s not because I’m “training” myself for that fateful day when Apple stops selling Macs. Nor am I against using the Mac — goodness, no. I mean, I’m typing this on my Mac right now.

The reason I chose to work from my iPad when I can is because I enjoy it. I like the change of pace that comes with using iOS. I like aiming to do the same quality of work without all the fancy macros, scripts, and shortcuts I have at my fingertips when on my Mac. I like staying abreast of iOS apps and workflows. And when I’m away from my home office, I love taking the iPad because it’s such a lightweight device with long battery life and LTE connectivity.

But does my iPad replace my Mac? No. Is it an alternative work device when I want it to be? You bet it is.

The iPad is awesome. The Mac is awesome, too. Those two statements don’t have to conflict with one another. The Mac and OS X can be refined and polished at the same time the iPad and iOS are matured and strengthened.1

The iPad’s hardware gets better and more capable every year. And iOS gets better every day. But the Mac doesn’t have to become less in order for the iPad to become more.

It was through this weblog that I cut my teeth on Mac nerdery. It was for the sake of writing about the Mac that I even started shawnblanc.net in the first place. And, over the years, as we’ve come into the age of the iPhone and iOS and iPad, a lot of my affinity for fine software and hardware has shifted from OS X only to iOS as well.

Like others, I too am ever-increasingly interested in getting the maximum utility possible from my iPhone and iPad. However, this growing interest does not prove that the future of the PC is the iPad as it stands today. I believe the whole underlying principle is behind this argument is that the iPad is showing what the future of technology hopefully looks like. It’s a future of extreme simplicity coupled with extreme usability.

Instead of arguing for or against the iPad as a Mac replacement, let’s discover ways to use both devices better.

I want to know how to use both my Mac and my iPad to do my best creative work. And I want to do that work as often as possible while enjoying and exploiting each device’s respective workflows.

  1. There’s a whole lot of discussion about the future and importance of iCloud that could bunny trail right here.
The iPad Can Be a True Mac Alternative