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Cover purchase

Cover which is the lock screen I currently use on my Android phone, got purchased by Twitter today. Cover’s neat trick is letting you peak into apps from the lock screen. This follows the purchase of Aviate by Yahoo! earlier this year, which I also was actively using. I guess this makes me an anecdotally good indicator.

The main subject of posts about this purchase seems to be speculation about what Twitter might want with a lock screen utility company. I think that’s a fairly obvious, Twitter updates without unlocking your phone.

Jellyfish Again

Jellyfish Again by bump
Jellyfish Again, a photo by bump on Flickr.

Went to Chattanooga for a night over the long weekend. Took the kids to the aquarium, which has a really nice jellyfish area.

Flow for iPad

Flow for iPad by bump
Flow for iPad, a photo by bump on Flickr.

Instagram doesn’t have an official iPad client. Who knows why this is? I have used a bunch of different iPad apps, most recently Iris, which is also quite good, to use this service on my iPad. Recently Flow was released, and I really like it, I think it’s the best Instagram client for iPad.

There are a few different reasons why I like this over the other alternatives out there. First, it’s all about the pictures. As you can see from the image above, the app is designed to only be used in landscape orientation, and fits the maximum amount of pictures into the iPad viewport with a minimum of chrome. Second, the app is snappy, and the transition animations between screens are well thought out, pleasing, yet not over the top. Third, they’ve made it easy to navigate the sea of pictures, allowing you to move picture to picture while viewing in detail mode. Also of use, and well designed, are the abilities to search and bookmark specific tags, users and locations. I have a small list that I check on a regular basis, for example #vscocam, which yields a really nice set of pictures. All the expected Instagram functionality you’d expect is there, and well supported.

Flow is free to download, and does not currently contain any advertising, so I am not sure what their long term plan to make this app into a real business might be. I guess I always wonder about this whenever I download a new app these days. I’d just much rather pay for the app than wonder what could happen in the future. In this case, given that Instagram is still figuring out how to make money too, I think I would be a hypocrite to not use this free app when I am already using this free service. The app is not perfect. The lack of portrait support, while not a deal killer, seems like an oddity in an otherwise well thought out application. I’ve also had to fiddle with it to get the pictures to refresh at times, but I do think, in lieu of an official Instagram client for iPad, that this is a really nice replacement.

Five Things I liked in 2013

In no particular order, here are five products/sites/services that I really enjoyed having/using this year. I could have written about more, but I’m lazy.

Feedbin

Feedbin

I am an RSS apex consumer, subscribing to about 500 sites’ RSS feeds. I was in a complete panic earlier this year when Google Reader was going away. NetNewsWire and Reeder, synced with Google Reader, were mainstays of my way of staying informed. I used them every day, and rarely declared RSS bankruptcy. Feedbin saved my ass in 2013.

With Google Reader going away, there were a few choices out there, but most of them were free services. That’s not what I wanted to use though. I wanted something that I could pay an honest fee for, that probably wouldn’t be co-opted by other business motives, and I evaluated the options out there and picked Feedbin.

This service hasn’t disappointed me one bit. It’s been consistently improved throughout the year, and client support for it is fantastic. Best of all, their web app, through one of those updates, supports many of the keyboard commands from the legacy RSS reader I used for so long. I read my feeds on every device I carry using this service, using Reeder on iOS, Press on Android, and the Feedbin Web interface on desktop. (Press is awesome, and probably the best RSS Reader app on any platform in my opinion.)

Cool Hunting T-Tech by Tumi Backpack

I own a lot of gear bags because I carry a lot of gear on a daily basis, and I am always looking for the perfect system for carrying things. At work, we support a lot of devices, and I need to have a few with me wherever I am to make sure that I can cover the support from where I happen to be.

I should probably do a post about what’s in my bag when I head out to CES next week. On top of that, I usually carry a camera system of some kind, and then a myriad of chargers etc. Suffice it say, this bag is really really nice, well made, and can hold a lot of stuff. There are a lot of great bags out there, but this has been my mainstay since the day I got it in the first half of 2013. Since it’s made by Tumi, I know that I can count on it. I have had some Tumi luggage for as long as fifteen years under a lot of travel, and it’s held up remarkably well. If you need to carry a lot of stuff, and like the backpack form factor, I highly recommend this bag.

Unfortunately, it seems to be sold out at this point. I’ll be watching Cool Hunting for future product releases, they have great taste and attention to detail.

Apple TV

Not new to this year, but this small device has really become the center of our living room in 2013. It already had a strong lineup of content, and AirPlay from our various iOS devices (my wife and I both have iPhones and iPads) has become a stock way we listen to music. Having a device at the center of our living room that is synced with our ever growing library of content in iTunes helps a lot. Integration with Flickr means that there’s a scrolling slideshow of my most recent Flickr posts happening while we’re listening to music.

Flickr on Apple TV

I think, however, that there was a major shift that occurred in our home over the summer. This shift was caused by two things. June 19th, 2013, HBO Go came to Apple TV. We have DirecTV, and this meant it was like someone had bought us the boxed set of every single HBO show. The second event was Orange is the New Black coming to Netflix in July. Long time fans of Weeds, we loved this show produced by the same team, and we binge watched until they were all gone. Can’t wait until there are more, but we’re currently binging through Breaking Bad. We’re not going to be canceling our DirecTV service any time soon, but more and more, we’re watching stuff via this device. When we’re not watching, this device is what’s powering other living room entertainment.

Evernote Smart Notebooks

As evidenced by my post a couple of days ago, Evernote Smart Notebooks, in the linked configuration, have been a staple of my productivity regimen in 2013. They come with a three month extension to your Evernote Pro service. At the rate I use them, this means I won’t be paying discretely for Evernote any time soon. It’s that simple. I don’t really use the stickers, but I do take a picture of every page. Just works. I was already hooked on Evernote long before these appeared.

The Wirecutter

It’s rare that I trust a site’s advice completely, but The Wirecutter has earned that trust. Their exhaustive work in specific product categories has led to well informed purchases time and again throughout 2013. They are relentless in keeping their site and reviews up to date. I read through their deals very carefully. Some notable example purchases are our WiFi Router, the pens I use, and the cards in my cameras. I highly recommend that you check at The Wirecutter before any consumer electronic or personal technology related purchase. Here’s their guide on how to use their site.

The 2013 iPads and me

What my iPad Home Springboard Looks like on the last day of 2014 by bump
What my iPad Home Springboard Looks like on the last day of 2014, a photo by bump on Flickr.

I’ve had one iPad from every release generation so far.  I ordered the original iPad from the hospital on the day my first son was born.  In many ways, and most of them that count, my iPad is my primary computer at this point.  It travels with me, attends every meeting I attend, and is my constant companion at home.  I read my news feeds on it using the newest generation of Reeder.  I answer most of the email that I actually answer on it.  It’s a work tool, and a personal tool, and, as a result, the yearly release of the new iPads is an assumption of upgrade.

For the last year, I have had two iPads that have seen some amount of use.  An iPad 3, only 18 months or so old at this point, and the iPad Mini, which was purchased/provided by my employer.  As the year went on, I used the iPad 3 less and less.  I love the iPad Mini’s weight, despite the obvious tradeoffs that came with, these are well covered on the web already, and old news, I won’t cover them here.   When this year’s iPads were released, it seemed like a slam dunk that I would wait for the Retina iPad Mini, and that would be the penultimate iPad for me.

Oddly, that’s not the way that I went.  I purchased a 64Gb Verizon iPad Air, and I couldn’t be happier with it.  It weighs about what the Mini weighed, and it’s just so much better for typing. As I have started using the device more and more as my personal computer, the size of the on screen keyboards touch targets has become important to me, I have meaty brawler hands. I’m sure that I could have been happy with the Mini as well.

End of the Year Linkage

A case against New Year’s Resolutions (Unclutterer) I’m more a fan of continuous improvement than waterfall based improvement.

12 Changes for 2014 (zenhabits) These are sort of the opposite of resolutions. I’m in.

A Look Inside Nike CEO Mark Parker's Office. (Hypebeast) What having an unlimited budget gets you in office decor.

A Stand-up Desk (Ikea hack) (Kelli Anderson) I’d love one of these, if I weren’t so lazy and un-handy. Someone please come over and make me one.

The Best Part of the Holidays

Over the last week, first my wife’s parents were here, and then mine. It’s one of the most rewarding thing as a parent getting to see your kids interact with your parents. Unfortunately for us, we live in Georgia, and both sets of grandparents live in New England, so the kids don’t get the amount of time with the grandparents that I would like. I guess the other side of that is that the time they do get to spend with each other is that much more special.

Things That Worked for me 2013: Bullet Journal

Over the years, I have tried all sorts of methods for managing my day to day, both analog and digital. I’d go so far as to call it a never ending process of trial and error, ever trying to find something that works for me, helps me prioritize things the right way, and helps me not forget something important. Unfortunately, I tend to find a system, use it for some period of time, then decay from using that system back to using my email inbox as my task management system. I then realize that that doesn’t work and I am not prioritizing work the right way, I then try a new system, then begin to decay again after a couple of weeks. Rarely has any system stuck for very long.

Over the summer, while on a business trip to Manhattan, I read this blog post over at Simplicity Bliss about a newish productivity method called Bullet Journal. It struck a chord with me, and so I decided to give it a try for a couple of months and see if it worked for me. I ran out and picked up a Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook, thinking that I would combine this with Evernote for a longer term searchable archive of my daily productivity notes. This method of managing my todo list, and my notes from the various meetings and calls from each day has proved to work really well for me. I won’t spend any time trying to explain how the system works here, watch the video and head over to the well designed Bullet Journal site for more information. What I will say is that I have made some changes in the way that I use the system, and that I still also use Trello for managing my longer term to do list, while I use Bullet Journal to manage my day to day to do list and notes from meetings/calls. I’ve filled one of the Evernote notebooks above, and have moved on to my second. That size of notebook works really well for this. (I am going to experiment with a combination of Bullet Journal and a Hobonichi Techo in the new year.)

I think the reason that this journaling productivity technique works well for me is that it forces a routine each morning, where I am move the undone items from previous days to today’s page. This routine makes me think my day through with a more metered approach in mind. This coupled with the task of physically writing the items down each day engrains the list in my mind as I move through my day. There’s a huge difference for me mentally between typing something and writing it down, and my retention of things I write down seems to be much higher. What I found, after using it for a month or two is that the results in productivity were definitely tangible, and the results in a more peaceful work mind were even more useful. There will always be change to adapt to in the work day, but it’s a lot easier to adapt to change when you have a plan.

The achilles heel of this system, for me anyway, is that my handwriting is not neat, or aesthetically pleasing to me. I have tried to find a better pen, and that helped some. I am now, however, starting the process of trying to teach myself neater handwriting. It will end up being one of my New Year’s resolutions at the very top of my list. If there’s something you don’t like about yourself, you more than likely can change it, it just takes hard work and mental flexibility.

Basically, I will be using some variant of the Bullet Journal system for the foreseeable future. It hits the sweet spot for me between the efficiency of my digital toolset and the flexibility and retention of a completely analog system. Were I using it purely, I don’t think it would be as effective for me, it’s the hybrid of using it with Trello and Evernote that makes it a success for me. Huge thanks to Ryder Carrol for coming up with this concept and the video/site.

Some additional recommended Bullet Journal related links:

Review: DDC Stuff Sheath

stuff sheath

I got a DDC-101 “DDC Stuff Sheath” because I have been looking for a more flexible cover for my massive and constant usage of Field Notes. It is, in Draplin’s own words “Just a simple little leather sheath to protect yer Field Notes, and whatever else your might have in yer pocket.” The simplicity of it made a lot of sense to me, and at $39.99, it didn’t seem like too much of a gamble.

I’ve found that it works much better for me than the cover style Field Notes holders I have used, mainly because it’s also a good catch-all for the other things that are knocking around in my pockets. Mine currently contains a Field Notes notebook, some cash, my frequent shopper card for Octane, a printed recipe that I picked up somewhere, a couple of blank index cards and some Delta airlines coupons for free cocktails.

I’ve been using it every day since it came in the mail, and, if anything, it’s getting more attractive looking with continued use. The Stuff Sheath is very well made and durable, and I think I will more than likely get bored of it long before I wear it out or destroy it. This thing feels like I could end up passing it on to my kids. Granted, not everyone enjoys the orange, but I do. I find the orange color to be visually striking, and a nice respite from the mostly black gear and covers that I tend to be attracted to.

I’ve carried it in both my front and back pockets comfortably, although with a phone in my front pocket, it’s a little tight. It’s capable of holding quite a bit of stuff, and in my quick testing, the combination of everything I already mentioned plus my passport fit comfortably.

The simplicity and flexibility of this little holder are going to make it a part of my everyday carry for a while. I recommend it. It seems really simple, because it is.