Voice memos

Years ago my brother started texting me with voice messages. It drove me crazy. I couldn’t process the audio as quickly, had to pause and listen to it, and it in general disrupted the flow of communication. It started up around the time he got into the Apple Watch. It was easier for him to fire off a voice message to me than to type anything, and at the time Siri was far from reliable (an argument could be made for that still, of course, but iOS 17 speech to text is actually good!). 

I complained to him, but it didn’t stop the incoming barage of voice from him. I finally accepted and adopted the practice myself. I LOVE it. I can’t imagine ever going back. There’s something about sharing the inflection of my voice, my emotions and thoughts, and just sharing without editing, that is extremely compelling as a communication form. As a millenial who avoids phone calls when possible, I find voice messages the perfect middle ground. We can asyncronousy share the rich detail of voice without having to plan a call. 

Because of all that I’m extremely excited that my friends are starting to adopt iOS 17, that means that the voice messages are starting to appear transcribed on my phone! So, I can listen if I have time, but I can also scan the text that appears alongside the audio. It’s perfect, and it’s my favorite form of communication now.

Update: My brother seems to remember it differently, that I sent him voice messages first and he finally adopted it. Let the record show that I think I was right. 

Amateur presenting

This article from Seth is on pointe. I recently hear a great presentation from someone, and was amazed at how well it was put together. There were even decently timed jokes, and a valuable message tied together. I thought after that I didn’t feel I could pull off that type of presentation, but I do have things I want to share. Taking the approach Seth mentioned would be authentic to me, and I feel I could pull it off. 

Writing daily

For a couple of years I wrote 1,000 words per day. I did that six days a week and wrote out hundreds of thousands of words. It was one of the best practices for unlocking my brain and removing the fear of a blank page. Now if I need to say something I let loose without any concern for what’s coming out, write it, then revise after. Writing and revising at the same time never work for me. 

Sleep on it

Some days I spend an innordinate amount of time trying to perfect a design. I wrestle with the tinest details, go over it again and again, iterate, and try to get it to a point where I’m happy with it. 

Then I sleep on it, and in the cold light of the morning have a strong sense of the things I can do to make it better. Something about sleep separates me from my work, helps me to see it from an outside perspective and critically evaluate how it can be improved. 

Also, I drew what I thought was the perfect illustration last night, and this morning it looks like absolute chaos; and not in a good way.

Listening to my books

I like to write. I’ve written a few novels for fun and plugged away at them each day with a thousand words. For years I’ve tried to figure out a way to listen back to the words I wrote each day. Maybe I’ve missed something obvious, but nothing up to this point was working.

That changed today, though! I successfully found a workflow. 

I write my thousand words, or in this case, the start of my book, and paste that into descript (premium license required). Then, using their AI voices, I have it generate that into an MP3. I then upload that MP3 to Overcast (requires a premium subscription), my podcast player, and can then listen back to it while I run or go about my chores. 

It’s pretty amazing. Granted the voice isn’t that great yet, but it’s just enough to listen and get a sense for things. I love it. 

Nobody knows what they’re doing

We’re all kind of figuring out life as we move through it. In my experience those who are the most brazen about their superiority and feigned understanding of all things are often the ones most uncertain themselves.

I recently chatted with a friend, a generation older than me, about her own experiences on a topic that interested both of us. I asked her a few questions on the topic and was surprised at her responses. 

“I’m still learning about that.”

“That’s something I’m not sure about.”

“I hope to be able to study that more.” 

These were the tone of her responses on a topic that she frankly knows far more than me on. Her grace in having a learning mind, a willingness to keep discovering new things, was both refreshing and humbling. 

I hope to embed that thinking into my own brain, to be humble, to keep learning, and to ask questions. 

Firing and hiring

My friend, Michał, just posted a fantastic piece touching on what it feels like to get fired, or to use the corporate speak term, “laid off”. 

Those tens of thousands of folks being fired from big techs aren’t just numbers. They are names and faces. It’s a known truth that the mass is easier to accept than the individual. I have experienced it and it changed my thinking a lot. I didn’t lose my self-esteem but I did lose my belief that my competences, skills and achievements can defend me.

I love this take. I’ve been working long enough to have the belief that my abilities are good enough to get great work done. I don’t lack self-esteem either at this point (although I did in the past0.

When you lose a job and don’t know how to get another one the fear and uncertainty grows and it feels overwhelming. My heart goes out to those looking and trying to navigate the world of figuring out the job market. I’ve been there and it’s tough. 

App Defaults

Continuing on from the article Robb Knight posted. Here are the apps I use in each category. 

  • Mail client: HEY web app
  • Mail Server: HEY custom domains
  • Notes: Notes.app, Bear
  • To-Do: Things 3
  • iPhone Photo Shooting: iOS Camera
  • Photo Management: Photos.app
  • Calendar: Apple Calendar
  • Cloud file storage: iCloud Drive
  • RSS: n/a
  • Contacts: Contacts.app
  • Browser: Safari
  • Chat: iMessage
  • Bookmarks: Safari (unused)
  • Read It Later: n/a
  • Word Processing: Google Docs, Ulysses
  • Spreadsheets: Google Sheets
  • Presentations: Keynote
  • Shopping Lists: Bear
  • Meal Planning: n/a
  • Budgeting & Personal Finance: YNAB
  • News: Mastodon, Reddit, Reuters
  • Music: Apple Music
  • Podcasts: Overcast
  • Password Management: 1Password

Mars Edit

I’ve written on WordPress for years, and long bemoaned the lack of a great Mac first writing experience. I finally tried Mars Edit and this app is fantastic. I’ve doing all my blog writing on it now. At some point I may share out a proper review, but so far this is great and I’m able to avoid the WordPress admin interface all together. 

More podcasts, less writing

I like getting ideas out. For years I’ve written in some form or other. Sometimes I keep that writing to myself, but sometimes I share it. This year I’ve been experimenting with something different. Instead of writing as much I’ve been podcasting. I don’t know if it’s going to scratch the itch for me all the way, but it’s been a ton of fun. 

So, if you’d like to hear me on audio chatting, please check the podcasts out. They’re free!

https://www.fractional.fm – Where I talk with my co-host, Lance Robbins, about work and remote culture and trying to find a way through it all. It’s a lot of fun and we dive into our journey through working in tech. 

https://ultrapromax.fm – Where I talk with my co-hosts, Saadia Carbis, and Luke Irivine, and we dive into talking about indie app development and all things Apple ecosystem. 

So you wanna start a podcast?

Here’s the guide I wish I could have found before I started making a podcast. This is by no means comprehensive, but it does have all the basics you’ll need to get started. 

It’s also my current understanding as of Fall 2023. I still feel like a complete baby at this, so please share any feedback on how this could be better!

I’ll start with the two scenarios I run into the most, recording with a friend remotely and recording in a room together. For both of these scenarios I’m assuming you’re doing an audio only podcast; video is a whole other beast I haven’t figured out yet.

Option 1 – Recording remotely with a friend

For my podcast, Fractional, Lance and I record remotely. I’m in my office in Post Falls, and he’s in his office 45 minutes north of me. I’ll start by sharing the cheapest way you can get started, then add in some upgrades. 

What you’ll need physically:

  1. Buy two microphones. Yeti is just fine for starting out.
  2. Buy two pop filters
  3. Make sure you both have headphones! Even if it’s just $1 headphones that plug in. It’s a nightmare without it. 
  4. Two computers
  5. Stacks of books to set the Yeti on. The stand it comes with isn’t tall enough. 

What you’ll need for software:

  1. Google docs
  2. Riverside subscription ($12/month)
  3. Google Chrome

Putting it all together:

  • Microphone – Plug the Yeti into your computer; turn the gain all the way to the left, and make sure to switch the dial to the tiny heart icon. Make sure your co-host does the same.
  • Pop filter – Put that puppy onto your Yeti. It helps pick up sound better. Make sure your friend does the same.
  • Headphones – Plug your headphones into your Yeti. This will take some getting used to, but it helps you know what others are hearing, and you’ll know for sure if your Mic is working. Make sure your co-host does the same.
  • Stack of books – Stack the Yeti so that you’re facing directly into the side of it next to the solid red light, not the top. Yeti’s are made for speaking into the side. You know the drill, make sure your co-host’s mic is stacked up as well. 
  • Google Docs – Your show lives in Google Docs. You’ll want an agenda doc so each of you can look at something during the call. This then gets updated each week. Here’s an example of one we use for Fractional. Throughout the week we add things to the backlog. 
  • Riverside – Use Google Chrome to login to Riverside as the host and share the link with your co-host. They’ll login as a guest. Make sure your mic and headphones are set correctly. 

How the recording goes:

For the pre-show you and your co-host each jump onto Riverside (using Google Chrome) from your separate computers and start recording. I don’t mind recording early so I won’t forget later. We also make sure we have the Google Doc open in a separate window so we can track the agenda together. This is also the time where we set the agenda for what we’re going to chat about that day. As long as the app is recording you’re good!

During the show you must both stay in Google Chrome or bad things will happen! The app doesn’t have to be active on the screen, but you can’t close it. 

When we’re actually ready to start the show one of us (or both of us; it’s hilarious trying to time it) will clap loud so that it’s easier to find on the audio tracks. 

Sometimes when we say the show is over I don’t stop recording. Some of the best bits have come after we thought we were done. 

Important: Once you’re done recording press “stop” and make sure you both stay in the application until Riverside says “done” on both ends; otherwise it won’t be able to finish uploading the audio files.

Once the show is over you’ll want to go back into Riverside to grab the recordings. Make sure to get the audio file for each of your voices. The synced raw file is perfect if available; if not don’t sweat it. Makes sure you have two audio files, one for each host. This will be important later. 

Ok, you’re done for now! Jump ahead if you want to know what’s next.

Option 2 – Recording with a friend in the same room

Recording in the same room is a little different. For an upcoming podcast that I’m working on we both get together in the same room in my office. 

In this case I sit on one side of the desk and my friend RJ sits on the other side so we can see each other. Each of us props a laptop up in front of us so we can follow the Google doc. 

What you’ll need physically:

  1. Buy two microphones. Yeti is just fine for starting out.
  2. Buy two pop filters
  3. Plug headphones into one laptop that’s recording. Otherwise you’ll get a horrible echo.  
  4. A Mac (laptop or desktop) computer to record on
  5. Stacks of books to set the Yeti on. The stand it comes with isn’t tall enough. 

What you’ll need for software:

  1. Google docs
  2. AudioHijack for the Mac. I don’t know the best Windows equivalent.

Putting it all together:

  • Microphone – Plug both Yeti’s into the Mac; turn the gain all the way to the left, and make sure to switch the dial to the tiny heart icon. 
  • Pop filters – Put that puppy on both Yeti’s. It helps pick up sound better. 
  • Headphones – Plug your single pair of headphones into your computer. You won’t need to wear them, just make sure they’re plugged in.
  • Stack of books – Stack both Yetis so that each of you are facing directly into the side of it next to the solid red light, not the top. Yeti’s are made for speaking into the side.
  • Google Docs – Your show lives in Google Docs. You’ll want an agenda doc so each of you can look at something during the call. This is where your co-host can use their laptop, but it’s not required. This then gets updated each week. Here’s an example of one we use for Fractional. Throughout the week we add things to the backlog. 
  • AudioHijack – Setup AudioHijack to have a block for each input device, and a separate recorder for each input device [screenshot]. This is critical since you’ll to record separate audio tracks for each of you. I go a little fancier so I can see that things are actually recording, as well as record a combined track for easy playback later, but it’s optional [screenshot].

How the recording goes:

For the pre-show I like to do a quick test in AudioHijack, where each of us speak into our mics, then listen back in the recordings sidebar to make sure things sound good. Then I just start recording for real and go into the pre-show where we talk about the agenda. 

Once we are ready to actually do the show I’ll often clap so it’s easier to find that later. I find recording earlier than I expected helps pick up fun pre-show bits we might use later. 

Sometimes when we say the show is over I don’t stop recording. Some of the best bits have come after we thought we were done. 

Once you’re done recording press stop and make sure you have two audio files, one for each host. This will be important later. 

Ok, you’re done for now!

What to do after you’re done recording

Whether in person or remotely I end up with two audio files, one for each host. I then save these files on my iCloud Drive in a folder structure like this:

Fractional / Episode 001 / Original Files

You’ve done it, congratulations! We’ll get to editing and publishing later; but give yourself a pat on the back. You and your co-host nailed it; you’re rock stars. You’ve created a podcast!

Now, there’s an old joke that every podcast will lose an episode eventually because of technical issues. It happens, it sucks, but don’t sweat it if that happens to you. It’s a rite of passage for starting a podcast. So if it happens early consider yourself lucky and learn from it!

Usually in the beginning you’ll want to just chuck your first few podcasts into a folder and leave them there, unless you both know you nailed it your first time. That’s how I’ve handled most podcasts I’ve started, we give ourself the first 6-10 episodes to practice, then archive those and start recording for real. 

Editing

Regardless of whether you recorded remotely or in the same room you should now have two audio files that are the exact same length. 

For editing you’ll want to grab Audacity, a free app online. There’s other great apps that cost money, and I’m going to start experimenting with them, but for starting out Audacity is perfect. Drop both audio tracks into Audacity and you should see two tracks that are the same length, one with each of your voices. 

Now, you can do a lot of editing, or a little. Here’s my recommendation for getting started.

  • Easy cuts – At the very least you’ll want to edit out the pre-show, post-show, and any big hiccups you may have made in the podcast.
  • Truncate silence – I like to Truncate Silence. I do -35dB threshold, 0.5 second duration, and compress to 35%. This helps to remove large gaps where no-one was speaking [screenshot].
  • Compress – Go to Effect > Compress. I set Threshold: -18 dB, Noise Floor: -40 dB, Ratio: 2:1, Attack Time: 0.50 secs, and Release Time: 1.0 secs. I don’t know the technical term for what’s happening, but it compresses down the highs and lows and softens things out on the tracks. This is really great if one person is louder than the other [screenshot]
  • Normalize – Go to Effect > Normalize. I checkmark the first option to Remove DC offset, checkmark the second option to Normalize peak amplitude and set it to -1.0 dB. I leave the last option unchecked (to normalize stereo channels independently) [screenshot].

Publishing

I use Hover.com to buy a domain, and tend to prefer .fm domains or .coms. Then I use Buzz Sprout to host the site; I’m open to alternatives but for now this is working. 

There’s different philosophies on publishing schedules, but I try to publish once a week or once a month at a set time depending on the cadence my hosts and I setup. Ideally you’ll have a handful of episodes ready to go (unless your content is news related), so that can publish on an expected schedule. 

Some times I add in chapters, but not always. I try to add in show-notes with at least a high level of what we discussed, and any links to things we referenced.

You’ll also want to publish your podcast to Apple podcasts separately, and BuzzSprout should have a good guide on how to do that. You just have to do it once then BuzzSprout will take care of it later. 

Yay! You’ve done it. Your podcast is now live. Send me your first episode, I’d love to listen to it! If there’s a step I missed, or doesn’t make sense, please let me know and I’ll add it in.

Extras

Below are a few things I’ve started to shift beyond the basic setup, which you’ll probably be interested in after your first few episodes are out of the way.

  • Recording remotely without Riverside – As an alternative to Riverside, Lance and I have started using Zoom to meet remotely during our calls so we can hear and see each other. I then use Audio Hijack to record my audio, and Lance uses Quicktime to record on his end. I then sync the audio up at the end so that we have the clearest local audio that sounds perfect regardless of whether the internet is choppy on either end. I also record on Zoom as a backup in case something happens with our local recordings. I’ve been using Zoom recording to the Cloud, but am going to try Local and see if that allows me to have separate tracks. 
  • Upgrading hardware – I currently use Yeti’s boom with a shock mount to position the microphone right up against my mouth without having to use a stack of books. It’s not necessary for starting out, but it’s nice to have the mic positioned where it needs more easily. I also two other microphones I’m experimenting with, but can’t make a recommendation yet. If you’re looking for recommendations on upgrades check out Marco Arment’s fantastic post
  • Ferrite Recording Studio for editing – I’ve started using Ferrrite first. I use it to line up my tracks (if I’m using my alternate recording method), remove umms and stutters, and clean up areas where one person stopped talking and another person started talking. This is a fantastic app on the iPad that uses an Apple Pencil. The only way I’ve found to get tracks onto Ferrrite is to upload them to iCloud Drive and import them via the Files app on Ferrrite. Jason Snell has a helpful YouTube video that shows the process of editing that he uses. It’s my favorite way to edit audio. Once I’m done with this I export from Ferrite back to my Mac, then normalize and compress in Audacity. 

Hidden stakeholders

My first design project went ok. I was a teenager working toward a spec from my stakeholder and trying to understand the point of what I was making. I was quite green at creating the thing they asked for, but I spent time understanding why they needed it, poked around with the how, and iterated until we reached a point that they were happy. 

Those early design projects were crucial in helping me learn a lot of the inns and outs of making something valuable for someone else. Design—at least in the context I’m describing—isn’t the same as art. I’m not getting paid to make whatever my brain thinks is fun at the moment. There is an artistic element to it, but I also have to balance against whether this thing will meet its purpose and make someone money. 

My early projects had some hits and misses, but overall I loved them and wanted to keep learning. Over time I started to get into the swing of things. I evolved my toolset, gained experience in different types of design, and kept growing. The often mis-labeled softskills for a designer are as crucial as the actual ability to make something on a page. And so I’ve kept learning, year after year; gaining those soft skills alongside my expertise.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and to some extent still learn regularly, is the importance of knowing your stakeholder. The biggest difference between now and before is I’m able to more quickly recognize when I’ve missed the mark and wasn’t working with the right stakeholder. It doesn’t mean I can avoid the problem entirely, but I am catch it sooner and do something about it. 

So, what’s the problem? 

If you design something for a client, and over time think through all the details that matter, you’ll eventually come up with a design that can work. That is, provided that expertise and communication or cultural fit are up to par. 

When that happens there’s a moment where you could ship. The stakeholder has a call to make. 

However—and this almost always happens—when the call to ship the thing is made, a new person pops in. It’s almost like a trope in a fairy tale. The moment a new person is introduced to the project there’s an inflection point. If that new person has the power to force a change on the design, instead of offering suggestions, then you have a problem. You weren’t working with the right stakeholder. The inflection point is crucial, because your stakeholder either has the power to use it and make an informed decision on whether to change things, or they don’t and the entire project will keel sideways. 

This is different from getting feedback; which is a crucial part of every project. I believe feedback in the right context is oxygen to a designer. However, I’ve had too many situations where I thought I was working with a stakeholder, or was told explicititly that my person could make the call on what we designed; only to find out a few days, weeks, or months later that they really don’t hold any power and some new stakeholder will make the ultimate call. When that happens the designer is never in a good situation, and immediately has to pivot in a number of ways; none of which are ideal. 

However, if in the moment when that happens your original stakeholder can stand up and show that they have ownership, and provide cover for you as a designer; well let me tell you, in my book that person is as instant hero and I’d sail with them on any dangerous voyage. They’ve just done something couragous and probably deserve a statue somewhere. 

So if you have the choice to take on a project, and have even the slightest suspicion that you’re not working with the real stakeholder—even if you’ve been explicility that you are—take this advice and try to re-write the situation, or run. 

Independence and autonomy

I’ve thought a lot about motivation over the years.

When I was younger I thought my struggle to get something done was connected to not knowing enough, or being lazy. As I’ve gotten older though—and last week was my week on my 35th trip around the sun—I realize there’s more to it.

My motivation ties directly to autonomy. If I feel empowered to think independently about a thing, then my desire to do better grows in relation to how much independence I feel with the task in front of me. It’s not that I don’t like feedback, at different parts of the project it’s incredibly helpful; but I need to know that the choice to make a final decision can be mine. When the wrong elements are present I find myself counting down the time until I can get out of the situation. When I was younger I accepted an unideal state of things more readily. I assumed that I must be wrong, that others knew more than me, or that my way of doing things wasn’t correct. Now, though, I realize that my brain just likes to work a certain way, and if I can setup projects in that capacity I’ll do better.

Recently I listened to John Gruber on Really Specific Stories, and his discussion on the desire for independence struck a cord for me. If I have to make something for someone else I need to feel that I can have ownership over the outcome. That does, of course, mean accepting responsibilty for failure. 

AirPods are smartish

Next year is going to be interesting. I’m hoping to save up enough to buy a Vision Pro and experience a new world of audio and visual. Until then, I get the sense (and hear from those who have tried it) that AirPods are the first true dip into an augmented reality world; at least for the masses. I’ve thought about writing this post a handful of times in the past week, but kept thinking it wasn’t worth the energy. A recent discussion on Connected convinced me that I’m not the only one.

I’ve owned a handful of AirPods at this point, and the AirPods Pro 2 are nothing short of amazing. If they died today I’d immediately grab my original Pros and put them on, then drive to the nearest Walmart to buy another pair. They’re that good.

I can limit the world around me while I work, listen to a podcast while running, use them for video calls and music, and generally augment my audio experience however I want. For someone who works at a computer much of the day this is a joy. There’s little chance I’d ever go back to a world without these.

The noise cancelling is so good that I can keep the volume lower, which is a plus for my ears; where louder sounds tend to feel overwhelming. Given that these sit in my ears for hours on end, I’ve even limited how high they can go on the decibels, out of concern for my ears in my older years.

When Apple announced Adaptive audio and Conversational Awareness at WWDC I was more excited about these features than any other updates for Apple hardware (the hardware I own at least). Then I tried them.

Here’s the thing about active noise cancellation (ANC). It’s amazing. It changes how I perceive the world. It turns a miserable airplane ride into something a little less horrid. It quiets everything at a co-working space, and even dims the yells of happy children right outside my office. I love AirPods, and the ANC part of it is fantastic.

AirPods Pros 2 are a massive improvement over their predecessors; with one weird exception where the devices themselves are sensitive to touch, so laying on my side on a pillow, or brushing a finger against them “feels” off. But that aside, I use these exclusively and my originals sit in my closet.

So, with that context, I was extremely excited to test out the new features in the beta. I tried them, and even told my wife that they’d make conversation easier since my device would now understand we were talking and automatically adjust the audio for it.

It’s not good enough.

Within a few days I disabled both features entirely and went back to my normal AirPods modes. The conversational awareness triggered at times when I didn’t want it, and the adaptive audio felt finicky. It wasn’t reliable enough. I couldn’t trust that it would just work and behave in the way that my brain expected.

I thought I’d write more about it, but it just feels off and not worth shifting from the already amazing experience I have now.

Maybe things will improve in future software and hardware updates, but for now I’m back to toggling between Transparency Mode and Noise Cancellation mode; and frankly that’s enough. I either pull out my AirPods when I need to talk to someone, or switch to Transparency mode if I’m expecting a quick response.

That aside, I’m excited to see how Apple continues to push these into the future. I’ll instantly buy a new generation, which has me wondering about the new USB-C announcement last week.

Not so smart app defaults

I loved reading Michal’s take on tools, and how so much of it tends toward the defaults offered by Apple. 

I’ve talked about this at length with my friend, Saadi recently, and again appreciate his desire to focus on default system apps first. 

My take is a little different. 

There’s a spectrum of following the flow of what an app offers, the decisions it makes for you, and finding an app you can bend to your own preferences. Picking a default app leans in the direction of following the flow of the app. That’s a good thing I think! So often we have decision overload in our lives. Picking up an app, getting your stuff done, and moving on, is perfect for most of what we do.

But. 

I can’t quite make it work for some of my apps. I spend most of my waking hours on a screen of some sort or another. I’m not necessarily a power user, but I do spend a lot of time with various productivity apps. If something doesn’t work how I expect it’s hard for me to just accept the app’s limitation.

I’ll pick the standout examples.

Google Calendar versus Apple’s Calendar app

I’ve tried to switch to Apple Calendar numerous times. I want to use it so badly, if for no other reason than to have events show up in a timely fashion on my Apple Watch. But on the phone I think in week views, and Apple’s solution to it just doesn’t cut it for me. On the Mac it’s a little better, but then I run into sync issues. I have a work calendar running on a Gmail account, my personal gmail, my personal domain email, and all my Apple devices. The best way I’ve found to setup all that is through Google Calendar. 

Mail vs HEY

I can’t use Apple’s mail app. 

I tried years ago and it just did not work with the way my brain functions. For one, search is horrendous, and for another I don’t like the way it sorts mail. I used Gmail for years, going all the way back to 2004 with a beta account. I loved how it worked. Search was perfect, and archiving matched my brain’s desire for inbox zero. When HEY.com came out I gave it a chance and have loved it ever since. Filtering emails away from the inbox toward other areas, and screening out unwanted emails is a killer feature. 

If other email providers adopt this I could be compelled to switch; but I love the calmness of my inbox being a place I have control over. 

With that said, HEY’s search feature is pretty bad. So bad in fact that I set aside emails I think I’ll need later. 

Things 3 vs Reminders

Apple’s Reminders app has come a long way. It is a decent app that helps keep track of lists. But it’s not a great app for planning out my day.

While I use calendar events for anything that connects me to another person, I use Things 3 as a cheat sheet for what I need to get done today, tonight, and tomorrow. Reminders doesn’t have an elegant way for me to easily shift between those two ways of thinking.


That, along with the fantastic integration on iPhone widgets and Apple Watch, make this an app I just can’t go without. 

Bear vs Notes

This is one area where I’m not so sure anymore. A year ago I wouldn’t have considered Apple Notes. Bear Notes has been my app of choice for all note taking for 5+ years. But with their recent update they’ve changed a lot of the features I’m used to, and made the experience worse (for me at least). I started testing Apple Notes again and was surprised at how great it is. Other than missing markdown, it’s a solid app. I might actually switch to this for all my notes going forward. 

My Wanderlust

I look forward to Apple events. 

It’s a fun time of year for me where I can imagine how new hardware and software will improve my life in small or large ways. In some ways this feels silly to talk about, unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But I find delight in it and give myself permission to geek out. 

Today’s Apple event was no exception. This time, though, I did something different. Two friends and I got together and recorded a podcast to talk about our initial thoughts and reactions to the podcast. We may publish it someday, we may not. It’s an upcoming project in the works. Still, it was fun to have a place to share. I found myself looking forward to recording the podcast. Normally I wait for my favorite shows to drop their episodes. That won’t change, but this time around I held off looking at any reactions until I’d shared mine. I like this. 

Here’s a summary of some of the things we discussed on the podcast, along with my gut reactions. 

Apple Watch Series 9

I love the pink color. It’s really well done, at least from what I can tell in the video. I’m excited to see it in person. I wouldn’t wear a pink watch myself, but it looks amazing. 

The new S9 chip feels huge inside of the device. I haven’t checked yet, but I was surprised at its size. Seems like a moderate spec bump. 

For on-device Siri I’m hopeful. Siri to this day has been a disappointment for me. It never performs as well as I hope, and I’ve ended up disabling it on all my devices. I will probably skip this update as well, but I recognize the value of having Siri available even when you’re offline. 

Name drop to share contacts looks cool. I might try this at a convention next time I’m meeting new people. Other than that I don’t see it being used often enough to develop a habit. 

The ultra wide band iPhone finder is a useful feature. I’ve loved having a better way to find my AirPods, and having it for the phone from my watch will be useful. 

2000 nits feels like a lot. Brightness outside is always a challenge, so bring on the nits. 

My favorite feature, and the one that feels like the standout, is the double tap action. At least a few times a day I need to change something on my audio, whether pausing a podcast or song or answering a phone call. Being able to control that action without pressing any glass—or worse yet trying to use my voice—sounds amazing.

I really enjoyed the environmental video with Octavia Spencer. She killed it. In fact, everyone in the ad nailed their roles. From Tim Cook’s humorous hesitation to Lisa Jackson going toe-to-toe with Mother Earth, each person played their part and as my friend Saadia called out, the ad could easily have trended toward cringey but pulled it off well. 

I was surprised that in removing leather from across Apple’s product line they chose not to replace it with it vegan leather option. I was expecting that, but given their environmental angle I wonder if alternate leather options are just as bad. The FineWoven options look good, and I’d like to try one to see how they feel and hold up over time. They’re different, and I applaud the effort. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

A solid upgrade. 3000 nits is so much. I think that will make a legitimate difference outside when trying to read the screen. I don’t see a compelling reason to upgrade compared to the Series 9, but that was true last year as well. 

My main reason to get an Ultra comes down to battery and the large screen. I’m interested, but not sure the increased cost justifies the price difference. 

Apple Watch SE

I appreciate that they dropped the price to $249. I’m considering getting one for my son. 

iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus

Love the pink! Nice colors across the line.

Everything has a dynamic island now. That’s good! I hope this will bring more attention to developing for this area of the screen. I couldn’t tell but I think Flighty got a callout for the airline app. I need to try that!

Next generation portraits is an amazing update. I won’t have to remember which mode to choose ahead of time. I’ve been playing with cinematic mode over the last year and love being able to change the focal points in editing. Doing that with photos is a great addition. 

Find my via Satellite is such a great addition to Satellite SOS. While the former is something I can see using with family on occasion, the latter I hope to never need. 

I’ve been thinking about USB-C, and I’m guessing it will be a welcome change; eventually. It’s a massive shift for the average iPhone buyer. Many don’t have other USB-C devices laying around. When I shared with a non-tech friend after the event she gave an eye roll to the cord change. 

iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max

This piece is already getting longer than I intended, so I’ll cut to the main points that interest me. 

I like having titanium. A lighter phone will be a welcome change. The new cameras look legit and I’m excited to try them. 

The biggest update though? I was surprised to see spatial videos! I want to capture these types of videos of my kids while they’re still small, even though I can’t actually view them yet on any medium. This alone warrants an upgrade. 

——

As to what I’ll buy—I’m guessing I’ll get an Apple Watch Series 9, hand down my Series 8 to my wife. For my phone I have a 14 Pro, but I think we’ll get an iPhone 15 Pro Max for my wife, since she hasn’t upgraded in three years. 

Podcast intro sounds

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts over the years, and as an exercise I wanted to collect the intro sounds from some of my favorites. This is for my own purpose as I try to figure out what I want my podcasts to sound like in their intros (fractional.fm for now, and more coming), and it may be helpful to others. Please note that the quality of these is very low, as I was more interested in the sound than any specific recording quality.

Accidental Tech Podcast

Connected

Cup of Tech

Dithering

Downstream

Launched

Mac Power Users

Magic Rays of Light

Material

Reconcilable Differences

Sharp Tech

Stratechery

The Rebound

Upgrade

Thinking with an iPad

I use a MacBook Pro and iPad every single day for work. Both devices have become critical to what I do as a designer and creative person. Several years ago I tried to make the iPad my primary device for everything design related. It didn’t work. It forced me to make too many tradeoffs and find workarounds for simple tasks. 

Things have settled though, and I now have a workflow that feels about as perfect as I could imagine. I work on a laptop for communication, high-fidelity design work, and just about everything else. 

But when it comes time to think, where I need to process the user experience of an app, think through a tough visual challenge, for connect chaotic pieces together, I always turn to the iPad. 

Over the years I’ve written about the various iPad apps for sketching: Miro, Paper, Linea Sketch, Adobe’s products, Procreate, etc. Each have their uses, and I’ve tried all of them and a dozen other options. With each app I’m looking for the closest thing to a piece of paper and pencil. Now, in the last year, Freeform has become my favorite app by far. Despite some [challenges] I’ve had with it, I can’t imagine using anything else now.

Thinking, for me, doesn’t happen in an app like Figma. Instead, I have to use my hand and a stylus to process through something. An iPad with Freeform is a perfect expression of that. After I’ve figured out the actual layout of something, I can then open an app like Figma and fuss with interface elements.

To go along with that I’ve also wrestled with iPad sizes. I currently own an iPad Pro 12.9″ and an iPad mini. While I bought the mini for travel, and setup the larger iPad on an Elevation Lab stand for my desk, I turned more and more to the mini. Now I’m 100% on the mini. There’s just something special about holding a tiny tablet in one hand and sketching with the other. It’s as close to a notepad as I could imagine, and it’s perfect. 

If you haven’t experimented with this, I highly recommend it. Any iPad will do, but training myself to think first by hand has helped me become a better designer.