• WWDC 2022 hot takes

    I really enjoy watching Apple events. It’s been a joy of mine to tune in and catch up on what’s new. I don’t have all the Apple hardware, but I have integrated quite a few different devices into my daily life over the years. A change in software across their various platforms can have a decent sized impact on my day to day productivity. I haven’t had a chance to watch the entire keynote yet, but I’ve skimmed through a few sections and caught up on a number of highlights.

    Following are a few of my hot takes. The angle I’m taking for each of these is a mix of my personal time using Apple devices, as well as my time as a product designer working with a team on a mobile app.

    Freeform

    This is one of the most exciting announcements for me. While it won’t be out for months, and I haven’t had a chance to actually play with it, the general idea is fantastic. Live sketching and white boarding with others. Amazing.

    I’ve used just about every iteration of iPad apps for sketching and collaboration. Each have their pros and cons, and I’ve written about them on a few occasions.

    Having great collaboration for realtime users to sync across a network is key to my work. Figma has changed how I work as a designer, being able to work directly with other team members in a live environment. Its limited though, to hi-fidelity designs; when we’re further along in the design process. I’ve struggled to find an exact match for the more lo-fidelity aspect of my job, when I want to think through rough ideas.

    The real-life counterpart is a whiteboard with markers (not chalk, I cannot stand the feel of chalk). A physical whiteboard is perfect in a room with others, but over the internet it just doesn’t work.

    So I’m quite keen to test this out and see how it works with several of my team members. Currently we use a mix of Miro, Linea Sketch, and a few other things, but all are imperfect for live collaboration.

    Continuity Camera

    Amazing. I want to use this. Webcams on Apple desktop devices aren’t great. They’re passable, but not anything like the quality of camera on a recent iPhone. I’ve been thinking about some of the third party software to hook my iPhone, or even buying a digital camera or webcam, but all of that feels too complicated (and potentially expensive). Being able to use my iPhone in meetings for a great camera experience sounds perfect.

    Stage Manager

    This looks pretty sweet. I will have to try this first to see how it feels. Having this new window application tool across Mac and iPad OS could help to bridge the gap between the two operating systems.

    Dictation

    I haven’t looked into this enough yet, but having dictation on device with improvements could help pull me back into my workflows. I’ve tried to dictate for writing, but working live doesn’t work because of the timer limitations set by Google and Apple. At the moment I record via voice memos, then pull into Otter.ai. I’ve even been thinking about re-using my physical Sony recorder. If on-device dictation has improved, and is without limits, it could be perfect for my writing use cases.

    Making it personal

    There’s so much more I want to talk about, but I’ll keep this short for the moment. I am struggling with a decision on how I’ll move forward. The new MacBook Air M2 is perfect; it’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for, and it’s within the budget I’ve saved for this year.

    I’ve been planning to buy a second laptop for a while now, in hopes of separating my creative writing from my work life. After spending all day as a designer, I often want to close my laptop and not use it again until morning. However, I also really enjoy creative writing. If I had a second device, preferably one that looked and felt different, and only used that device for personal things; well that might help with my motivation for pushing my writing forward.

    I thought the iPad could be that second device for me. But it just doesn’t handle multi windows the way I want, and the writing software I use isn’t as good as the Mac equivalents. Now, with the iPad getting some much needed window management, as well as true external monitor support; it’s looking more tempting.

    However, the M2 is exactly what I wanted. I’m likely going to keep forward on my plan for the new laptop, but it’s exciting that the iPad has become interesting again.

  • Book sampling

    Recently I’ve hit a weird spell where I’ve struggled to write fiction. There are a few factors for this, and I’m working through them in my mind. I might share more on that later.

    During this time I’ve continued to journal daily, and continued to pour myself into books. Since my early twenties, I’ve noticed a pattern with my reading habits. If I stick too long in fiction, non-fiction, history, self-help, etc, I burn out. So, as a force of habit, and also following my own instincts, I shake things up a few times a year.

    For several months, I poured myself into the Mistborne and Way of Kings series from Brandon Sanderson. These have been an amazing read, and kept the flame alive for my desire to build stories and fictional worlds. 

    The important thing for me, though, when it comes to reading, is to not make it feel like a homework assignment. If a book starts to drag, I’ll pause it. If the topic meanders in the wrong direction, I’ll just stop. I don’t want this thing that I do to become a drudgery. It has value and helps me grow to become a better person. But that shouldn’t happen at the expense of the pure joy of reading. 

    I’m trying to ensure that not every aspect of my life feels like it’s leading to something. Some things we do should be for the thing itself, and not for the hope that it will help us capitalize on it at a later time. 

    So, after a multi-month fiction stint, I pivoted to a handful of books (and podcasts) on other topics. I’ll probably come back around to the fiction in a few weeks, especially since I’m excited to see where the next Brandon Sanderson book takes me. 

    Note: Almost all of my reading is through audio. I still the wrong verb intentionally, as it rolls of the tongue better.

  • Private and public thoughts

    I’ve taken to private journaling in the last six months. It’s a rewarding experience. This is the most consistency I’ve applied to capturing my thoughts and documenting them on paper. I love it. I’ve learned some things about myself, and used this practice to process. When I reach the end of the day, I spend a few minutes typing out my notes, and that often helps give voice to my emotions. This is a worthwhile effort, and at some level I want to keep it up going forward. 

    However, I’ve also used this as a crutch to avoid pushing my work out into the world. On a recent podcast interview with Joanna Penn, Derek Sivers shared his desire to create in public. He jokingly mentioned the reason: ego. While it sounds shallow on the surface, it’s worth some additional thought. Austin Kleon and Seth Godin share about shipping things to the world and not holding them to ourselves. 

    Because I’ve gone private and pushed my notes internal, I’m holding all these thoughts inside and not providing an outlet to share them, to learn from the feedback I receive, and hopefully to help someone else dealing with the same issues. 

    I don’t know what this means for me long term, but it’s enough to give me pause. I want to write to capture thoughts, to process my own way of thinking, and to use words to understand who I am. That can happen in private, and should. However, there’s an inherent value in packaging things up in a format meant for consumption. It forces me to coalesce all these divergent threads and put them together in a way that makes some kind of sense. 

    A recent book has gotten my brain back into the train of processing the importance of the things I try to tackle. So much of my default is to think about the past or future, and not focus on what I have in front of me. I love books that help bring that point back around and help me appreciate what I have. 

    Nearly three years ago, I committed to a daily habit of writing a thousand words a day, six days per week. I’ve kept to that since, even when writing in private. The practice has become a part of me. I don’t question whether I can write, because I do. There’s probably less value in hammering away at the words within seven minutes, versus taking some time to process and think through a coherent flow. Still, I’ve found so much value in writing and in the identity that comes with knowing I can transfer thoughts onto the page. It’s helped to break through some fears I’ve held and sharpened my ability to confront problems with words. 

    I’ll keep at it, and see what breaks through; public and private.

  • iPad drawing late 2021

    The iPad is a lot of things, but for me the number one purpose is using the Apple Pencil. Over the years I’ve tried the larger iPads, mainly the 12.9” Pro, and put them to the test as full computing devices. But, and again I’ll state that its specific to my needs, it fails at being my primary device.

    And so I enter the awkward state of needing both a laptop and wanting an iPad; a large one at that. This beautiful piece of aluminum and glass is useful for a lot of things, in theory. But in practice it functions best as a pen inputing type of device.

    Software for the iPad is not great; at least in comparison to the things I like to do on a Mac. Whether I’m using JIRA, Github, the entire Google suite, Slack, or web browsing, all of those experiences are subpar compared to working on a Mac. Sometimes I’ve tried to ignore that fact and go iPad first. The turning point for me was thirty minutes of wasted time trying to get a specific type of document to my banker via their custom portal. True, that’s a unique circumstance, but it highlighted my constant challenges with not having the right tool for the most common jobs I run into.

    Writing on the iPad has been another job I’ve attempted. As a writer I like the idea of a separate machine; something different from my work device, so that I can have a mental shift in context. For several months I used the iPad, but got stymied time and again. At first it was the lack of ergonomic options. I like to write with elbows at a ninety degree angle, and wrists straight on. In addition I prefer the screen at eye level, and without bending my neck down or up too much. To date these things are near impossible to accomplish on an iPad. The Magic Keyboard isn’t enough, although it has some great benefits, and the whole iPad stand ecosystem is severely lacking when it comes to any contraptions that can get the screen close to eye level. It’s ridiculous, and I’ve often pondered how I could make a stand myself. There’s plenty of great laptop stands, such as the Roost, but nothing like that for the iPad. I digress.

    Next up, and the nail in the coffin for me with writing, is the bad software. I like to use Ulysses for writing that extends beyond a few thousand words, it helps organize my thoughts and keep things running forward. Ulysses on the iPad is okay, and looks great from a design perspective; however the syncing is severely flawed. Each time I load the device, even if Ulysses on the iPad was the last time I wrote in the app, it feels the need to re-sync my entire database of content. In practice that requires sitting around for a few minutes waiting for everything to load, then checking for conflicts. That doesn’t work when I only have about 15-30 minutes per day for writing.

    None of these problems exist on the Mac, all of them have been solved long ago.

    The iPad is amazing, but for writing or working my day job, it fails.

    Now we come to the reason I like the iPad, and why I keep the largest size around at my desk, and in my laptop. When it comes to drawing the iPad is king. And a bigger screen is better. A friend has got my interested in trying the iPad mini again, but for now I’ll stick to the largest size.

    I love the Apple Pencil as an input device, and bad palm rejection not withstanding, the act of putting lines to a digital page is a delightful experience.

    And so we come to the point of this post; Linea Sketch’s latest update.

    Linea is an amazing app for the iPad. It’s almost perfect. Over the years I’ve shuffled between a number of drawing apps, depending on whether I’m illustrating, sketching, drawing, white boarding, or painting something digitally. Each has their strengths, and many have weaknesses. Despite some of the setbacks with Linea, which I’ve highlighted elsewhere, I keep coming back to it for work. When I need to ideate through a software idea, or new feature, I’ll jump to analog paper and pen, or pull up Linea.

    Apple Notes, Procreate, Moleskine Flow, Miro, and a dozen others (I need to check out a recent recommendation from a friend for Vectornator, so the jury is still out there), all have their place; but Linea keeps hovering between my favorite and second favorite.

    A recent update solved one of my biggest requests. Before I get to that though, let’s go through my wishlist.

    Better syncing – iCloud on Linea Sketch is a nightmare. Similar to Ulysses I often have to wait several minutes to get my previous drawings loaded up and synced to the device, even when that iPad was the only place I opened up before. It’s ridiculous. Last month I disabled iCloud entirely on Linea, a huge risk in itself, and the app became usable again. It’s fine – so long as I remember to manually copy my designs to the Mac.

    Larger artboards – The artboards in Linea are too small. At the moment its limited to the size of my screen, which forces me to open up new artboards or shrink things down to fit. I’m not asking for unlimited canvas sizes, but wish there was a method to go bigger, even 4x the current size would be a huge help.

    Better palm rejection – Lately I’ve been getting a lot of errant scribbles from my palm, it’s not a deal breaker, but it’s annoying to have to erase them. This is a hard bug to track though, so I don’t know how it would be fixed.

    Better resolution zoomed in – Because of the small artboard I often zoom into the designs, which shows off the horrible pixelation of my pen strokes. This could be solved by larger artboards, or just doubling the resolution of the current screen.

    With those concerns out of the way, I’m really excited about a new feature announced in the 4.0.1 update: Watercolor brushes!

    This is a specific request I had in the past, and it may win me back over from Moleskine flow. Though a lot of my design work is simple and sketch like, watercolor brushes help to quickly make things come alive. I haven’t tested this fully yet, so look forward to a new post soon with my thoughts.

    Note: I’m not sponsored to say any of this. I have no affiliation with Linea other than thinking they’re awesome.

  • Not knowing

    It’s okay if you don’t know everything. For many years I’ve understood this in my head, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to internalize it at a deeper level. Not knowing doesn’t mean that you’re intentionally ignorant, nor does it offer an excuse to play dumb all the time. Instead it means that you’re willing to speak up and say the parts you understand, but pause right at the cliff; right at the point where you want to speculate and look smart to the room. Instead, take a breath, call out the uncharted territory that you’re about to enter, then step forward.

    This happened recently in a critical meeting with several team members. I presented on a topic, one which I’d prepared for and understood well. However, during the meeting questions came up outside the happy path I’d planned. At first I was tempted to push forward and speculate, to cover up and pretend. However, I had a reminder floating around in the back of my head, telling me everything was going to be fine. I took a deep breath, called out to the team that I wasn’t sure about the questions, since they were an area I hadn’t thought about or explored. However, as a fast followup, I then shared some ideas that came to mind in the moment.

    That both allowed me the room to be candid, to be vulnerable, and also opened up the space to move into unknowns, to speculate. That balance is critical, and building trust with your team can lead to transparency and openness.

    At times I’ve been criticized for not knowing, for admitting I didn’t understand something. However, those times are very rare and I could likely recall them on a single hand. It’s possible that I was self-ingratiating, and my attitude in the situation showed through. Or it’s possible that the person I admitted vulnerability with didn’t know how to handle that, and based on their own insecurities used it as a weapon against me. Those examples though aren’t worth the walls that I’d be tempted to throw up just to protect myself from a few uncomfortable situations.

    My recent call helped to further cement in my brain the value of not knowing; when combined with doing your absolute best, bringing everything you have to the table, you may be able to open doors to new opportunities.

  • No spoilers

    I don’t like having a book or movie spoiled. If there’s an outside chance that I’m going to watch or read something I don’t want to know ahead of time any major plots or twists. In fact, telling me that a great show has an unexpected twist – even without revealing details – is itself a spoiler. It’s quite endearing when someone is trying to share details about something and realizing they can’t share the reason why.
    Because of my sensitivity on this front, I’ve started to convey why I liked a thing without explaining what happened. It’s a bit tricky, but it gives me the chance to share about interesting stories without giving away the plot.
    This is a great challenge in a way. If I want my friend to watch a show that I loved, but I don’t want to spoil it for them, I need to figure out a method for explaining why it’s worth their time based on what I know about them.
    The biggest tip I can suggest, if you want to do this yourself, is to focus on how you felt about a story, rather than explaining what happened.
    For me this often comes down to whether I thought the ending of the movie was satisfying, or if the mood of the book matched my interest level.
    Sometimes I get lucky, and I forget the spoiler by the time I read the book. That happened with the red wedding; I knew something was going to come up in the books, but didn’t know who it would happen to. The shock was still just as strong as if I knew nothing.

  • Magic Grips for my Magic Mouse

    Several years ago I stumbled across Magic Grips, a fascinating silicon accessory to the Apple Magic Mouse. For those who prefer more ergonomic mice, or are used to a trackpad on a computer, the Magic Mouse probably looks like a weird contraption that is more form than function. After many years of use I can attest to the absolute value of touch functionality on a mouse. I love it. I can’t go back to manual click buttons, and I just don’t like the trackpad for my precision design work. However, I like to find ways to protect my hands over the long haul, so I’ve sought a compromise.
    The Magic Grips are amazing. They help to make my mouse feel more hefty in my hands, more sturdy in a way. Each time I’ve installed the grips – we’ll get to that in a minute – I’ve preferred the larger size and found that usage of the mouse just feels better. My hands can hold onto the silicon bits and movement is more comfortable in my hand. That, combined with an awesome mousepad from UgMonk, makes moving across the screen a near delight. Pro tip on that point: I like to increase the speed of my mouse to whatever max the system allows.
    The problem though, is the adhesive. About two days a week I travel into a Coworking space. That helps me switch things up a bit, and not always work out of my home office. I put the mouse into my backpack each time, inside a specific compartment. I’m pretty sure that the stress of movement is a problem for the grips. After about a year of doing this the adhesive starts to come off. I’ve tried to figure out a good way to fix this, and asked the company if I could just buy replacement adhesive strips. So far I haven’t had any luck on that front. However, to their credit Elevation Labs has been awesome on customer service (their absolute lack of any help with my adhesive problems on the DraftTable V1 notwithstanding – but that’s another article), sending me full product replacements several times. That gets tiring though, and makes this product less than perfect for my use.
    Going forward I’m going to need to live without the grips, buy a second mouse just for travel (sans grips), or find an adhesive that I can more readily re-apply whenever the grips start to fall off. The last option, and I have spent a small amount of time looking, is to find a case designed for the Magic Mouse + Grips. No luck on that front yet.

  • M1 Max battery update

    The reviews and analysis have started coming in for battery life on the New MacBook Pros with the M1 Max and M1 Pro chips. I feel partially vindicated in that I wasn’t going crazy, but questions still remain. The 14” Max model is the worst of the entire M1 line in terms of battery life. In every other regard it’s an absolute beast, and a joy to use; no matter what I throw at it, the computer doesn’t even break a sweat. However, the thing I was used to, not thinking about plugging in or needing to be aware of a charging location throughout the day, is no longer an option.

    At one point I switched to low power mode for a cycle, and tried that out. It helped, improving battery usage substantially. However, and this is a deal breaker for me, screen scrolling became worse. I noticed it after an hour or so, and had to switch back.
    I haven’t learned the exact reason, but I think power usage is related to the higher performance chips sipping battery regardless of user activity. Some folks speculate that Monterrey, the operating system update that shipped with the new devices, is responsible for some problems as well. If that’s true then there could be resolution to this in the near future.
    As mentioned before, it’s also interesting to use a device that gets warm. The MacBook Air stayed cooled all the time, and in the Winter it offered little support in warming my hands. Now, I’m reminded of the old days where the device is capable of heating up my legs when I’m using it as a laptop device for several hours. It’s a minor point though, since it doesn’t reach the scorching – burnable – levels of my 2010 MacBook Pro.
    All things being equal I’d be tempted to try an M1 Pro chip, but the process of switching devices – especially since I already sold my Air – is not an easy one. This is supposed to be my three year laptop, at least, so I’ll be curious how I feel when the M2 chip starts to ship in the redesigned MacBook Air. Either way, I’m glad that battery is the only thing I’m talking about now. My one year with the Air may just have been a wonderful anomaly.

  • Divergence and convergence

    A few years ago, Leo Postovoit, shared a concept with me. While we were chatting I remember being surprised and not having a mental model for applying the ideas to my work. It’s not that I’d never done it, but I hadn’t consciously thought of it the way he described. The concept was divergence and convergence within design, or really within anything that requires gathering of information. Divergence means going wide, and convergence means coming back to a narrow point.

    As a product designer, it’s my job to help solve a lot of problems for my clients, the products, the wonderful teams I work with, and ultimately the folks who get to use what I make. There are quite a few mental models I’ve developed over the years for doing my work, and this one stands as an important pillar.

    When I start a project, I try to keep things wide open for divergence. Practically, that means taking in all sources of information about the thing I’m working on. I collect data via scraps of paper, typing things into Bear notes, capturing to-dos in Things 3, Google docs, JIRA tickets, Github issues, screenshots with Droplr, Miro boards, Figma boards, and more. I love this, taking crazy chaos from everywhere and trying to make sense of it all.

    This divergent, collective part of the project is messy, and can take a lot of time if I don’t put a constraint on it. Going wide, receiving new ideas, is necessarily an unlimited task. You open up to all the things that could apply to your work, and follow rabbit trails across the digital and analog spaces. This is beautiful, a lot of fun, and often immensely frustrating. Often you’re digging around in areas that don’t even feel tangentially related to the project in front of you, hoping for some kind of parallel example to bring back to the problem at hand.

    Sometimes I’ll go on a walk and stew over the problem. Other times I just need to take a break and sleep through it, coming back fresh in the morning.

    If that was the only part of a project, I’d likely finish nothing, and it’s caused problems at times in my work. My sense of perfectionism can kick in here and I’ll think that I need more research, more time, more data.

    However, and this is where convergence comes in, at some point I have to switch mental modes and start culling the information, sorting the signals from the noise, and pulling out the relevant parts. This part looks a bit less messy from the outside. It’s the part where I cross items off on my digital boards, start checking to-dos in my task managers, and begin striking out text in areas. I take all that data and sort through the pieces in my mind.

    After that point, I’m often ready for feedback; whether from my team or from customers in the real world. I’ve now taken in a bunch of stuff, sorted it, and spit out an editorial opinion on that stuff. This is where unique creativity comes in. There’s not really anything new in the world in terms of ideas. I can just hope to bring my own spin to something, taking inspiration from all those who came before. It’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t require true originality, rather it takes wisdom to sort through what applies to the project and what I can toss.

    This convergent phase can, in theory, be the end of a project. However, in reality, it’s often just the middle part. Going back to the client, the rest of the team, or our customers, and showing this convergence of information, often reveals flaws in the thinking. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to embrace those flaws. I get excited when someone points out an error in my mental model, or a misstep in where I’ve landed. These are opportunities to correct and improve and continue to editorialize the information.

    Sometimes minor tweaks are enough. I can change my direction and iterate a bit and ship to the world. Other times, though, my approach to thinking is off, or the direction we took had a flaw from the beginning. This happened recently with a small project. We planned a specific direction based on the design brief, and I went divergent, thinking up ideas and trying to understand the brief. I went back to the team with my insights in a Google doc and shared some concerns about the design direction. That gave us a quick opportunity to pivot and switch things up, to try something new. From that meeting I dove back out, continued to spread out and look for things, then came back to earth and converged on a new direction.

    This continual process of divergence and convergence, when appropriately timed, can help to move a project forward, and often conveys the pulse, or heartbeat, of the team. Anxiety, happiness, concern, euphoria, and a dozen other emotions all get bound up through the rhythm of the work. I love it, and this is a tiny piece of what gets me up each day and inspires me to continue to learn and grow.

    Instead of being worried about this process, about being wrong about things, I embrace it, enjoying the natural flow of things, and use this opening and closing as a tool. As with any tool, there are limitations. You can spend too much time going wide, or focus too narrowly on a problem and stay stuck in that rut. With experience comes understanding of when to apply each, and therein lies the rub. That’s a thing I’m still learning and tweaking on every single project; trying to find that balance and understand where I am in the cycle. There’s more than this, of course, to being a great product designer, but it’s a start, and when uncertainty abounds, I can come back to this model and find a reset point.

    Thanks Jonathan for inspiring me to write this, and for those following along this counted as my 1,000 words for the day.

  • My writing goal for the year

    From September, 2019 – December 2020 I managed to write four novels. The process was long and messy, and one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever undertaken. Those four books may never see the light of day, as they were a process of learning and understanding, and it would be hard to publish them now. One book, my first, is sitting in Ulysses with iteration number 17; meaning I’ve gone over the darn book 17 times. It’s a mess at this point, and I don’t know how to finish it, but that’s oaky.

    As 2021 kicked around the corner I set a goal for myself to publish four novels in this calendar year. That was far different than the previous months where I wrote books, rewrote them, and toiled in obscurity. The new goal meant getting something out the door, being vulnerable with my work and letting the world see it.

    So many doubts crept in with that goal. Is the quality of my content good? Is the subject matter good? How do I create book covers? What do I do about editing?
    Those all remain to this day, and I have spent countless hours trying to learn how to handle these and hundreds of other questions.

    Still, as of November 10, 2021, I’ve published three books, and, I’m 19,021 words into my fourth novel for the year. It will top out at about 40,000 words. I’m starting to cut it a little close, but I’ll get it done. That knowledge, knowing I’ll get this fourth book out and meet my goal, is motivating.

    Does it mean these four books are great novels? Well, I’ll leave that up to my readers to decide. I’m continuing to learn from each one and striving to improve my writing as I move forward. Pushing my books out into the world is part of that process, and it’s rewarding.

    There’s still so much to learn and figure out, and it’s nerve racking at times, but I’m glad for it. I’m also wondering about 2022 and starting to think about goals for the new year.

  • Growing a voice

    Writing has been a thing I’ve done for most of my adult life in one form or another. I’ve tried out a few blogs over the years and attempted ways of putting out regular content. The problem with a lot of my writing was the inability to make anything stick. I don’t mean the amount of people reading, but rather the consistency on my part. The things I put out didn’t really interest me, and were being done as part of an obligation of sorts. That might have been a desire to hit a daily goal of creating posts, or a scheme to monetize my words.

    For anyone who has followed along the past two years, you’re well aware of my writing fix. Six days a week, one thousand words a day, starting around September, 2019. It’s been a wonderful habit and brought about many unexpected benefits. I’ve written a few books, journaled more than anytime before in my life, and put out an exponential increase in blog posts.

    Another benefit, and I think the one that matters far more than any other, is the start of finding my inner voice. I define that voice as the ability to say things in a way that’s unique to you.

    I’ve noticed this voice from other writers over the years; whether in fiction or non-fiction, books or blog posts. I’ll pick Gruber as one example. He’s written for years, put out countless articles and bits of content, and has a comfort level with stating his opinion and building content in a way that invokes interest from his readers. It’s something I notice listening to his podcasts. When he sits down to review a piece of Apple hardware he seeks to find the angle that’s interesting and new. He doesn’t want to write words that will feel like copies of all the other product reviews, and finds joy in discovering a unique take. Does that mean everyone will agree with him, or find his words relevant for them? Not at all. But it does mean that a subset of readers, myself included, enjoy the nuance he brings to a given topic. If something happens in the tech world I want to know what John thinks about it.

    Finding a voice in content creation takes time to cultivate, and therein lines a joy for me. I don’t like to pursue something when I perceive it’s too easy to accomplish. There’s an interest that comes in pushing my curiosity and challenging my abilities. Writing is one such activity. No matter how much I write I still see mountains in front of me. I may get better, bit by bit, but a few minutes immersed in words from my favorite authors helps to inspire me to do better. That’s exciting and motivating. I see my own skills increasing over time and, some day and in some specific pieces, matching the quality of what I love to read.

    My voice is starting to grow. I’m getting a sense for the things I want to write, and the specific angle that applies to those topics. If this is what two years of solid writing brings, I can’t wait to see what things look like in the future. That, tied with an understanding of why I write – because I have a unique take on something that is often different from others – keeps this whole exercise interesting.

    This ties in with a growth mindset on this whole topic. The world is a better place when more people create. I read more than I write, so encouraging others to become writers helps to make the whole pie bigger. In an odd way this is the only pyramid scheme that works. I may put out a thousand words or so a day of content, but I can easily consume far more than that.

    If you’re curious about your own voice, and want to cultivate it, I encourage you to find a way of creating that works for you.

  • MacBook Pro M1 Max battery life

    I’m now going on a week of using the new MacBook Pro, and in almost every regard I’m happy with it.

    There are some issues on software, but I don’t know if that’s because of Monterrey or the trackback and keyboard. For instance, one app I use for time tracking, Harvest, keeps jumping up into the top left corner of my screen. That could be the connection with my external monitor, or something else. Restarting my computer fixes it, but that’s annoying.

    The other issue is the tap to click mechanism. Something about this trackpad is more touch sensitive. Normally when I tap to click I use a soft touch. After a number of failed attempts to open links in new tabs (command+tab+click) or selecting multiple objects in Figma (shift+click), I realized the settings needed to be adjusted. I think I’ve got it figured it out now.

    Beyond those small things I’m mostly happy with the new laptop. The keyboard itself feels chunkier in a way, like there’s more travel or I have to press harder. That’s okay, I’ll adjust and get used to it. The large Touch ID button is a joy, going back to the 13″ shows how tiny the function row was.

    The biggest gripe I have though, is with the battery. The MacBook Air M1 battery was better, plain and simple. My workflow hasn’t changed, I’m still using the same apps. The Air handled those apps like a champ, battery or no. Now, I’m chewing through the battery much faster. I haven’t done any specific analysis yet, but my sense is that the M1 was about 25% better. I tried to take a guess at hours, but I haven’t timed it yet so don’t have a true idea of what kind of battery I’m getting.

    The bummer is how I use the laptop. For the past year I pretty much ignored power on my MacBook Air. I used it plugged in, I used it on battery, and I rarely got a warning to connect to a power source. That’s happened once already in the last week, well after the initial indexing completed, and now I’m checking the battery constantly. Maybe that was a blip in regards to my Mac usage, the one glorious year where battery was king in 2020; the one year where travel didn’t matter. Now I feel like I’m just back to the norm with Apple laptops, where I need to keep an eye on a power source. That one consideration alone has made me consider returning this beast of a laptop and keeping my M1.

  • MacBook Pro M1 Max initial thoughts

    When Apple announced the new MacBook Pros I knew immediately that I was interested. Throughout the year I saved up a budget for the device, and each subsequent announcement during the event increase my certainty of purchasing the new laptop.

    My laptop arrived today, and I couldn’t be more excited. The configuration I chose was a 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max maxed out, except keeping the storage at 512 GB.

    Over the past few weeks I’ve listened to numerous podcasts and read a number of great takes on the device. Following are a few thoughts from holding this new laptop in my hands for the past few hours.

    Function keys

    The full size function keys are a welcome addition to the keyboard. I must add though, that coming from a MacBook Air for the last year, I am taking a little bit of time to adjust my fingers to touching them. The first time I reached up to press the Touch ID button my finger rested in the wrong area. These changes aren’t a big deal though, and I except I’ll be okay with the changes in the near future.

    Keyboard size

    Adding to keyboard thoughts. I love the black behind the keys. It’s a change, and looks sharp. The size feels a bit different from my Air, although I can’t place the exact difference. My fingers keep hitting the wrong edges of the keys and my typing accuracy is a bit lower than normal. With that said I except I’ll get used to it soon enough.

    Overall fit and form

    As a product designer I love how something feels in the hand, how it looks on a desk, and how it fits into a backpack. Thankfully, on that last front, it still fits fine into my GORUCK GR1 laptop slot. Incidentally I might need to write on backpacks again in the near future. Working out a new configuration for how to keep all my electronics safe.

    The laptop looks and feels more thick, considerably so relative to my Air. That’s not a bad thing though. I bought this with the intention of it being a Pro device, and it feels that in every way. My wife’s first comment was on the overall shape, saying it reminded her of the a Mac from 10 years ago. I took that as a compliment.

    Notch

    Only one podcast mentioned a specific problem that I have with the notch. I’m a full screen user. I keep the menu bar and dock hidden at all times, and only access them by reaching my cursor up to that area to grab something. The notch forces a change in one of my habits, and that’s a little bit frustrating. I tried at first to make the menu bar hidden by default, but it looks weird when a window won’t go up all the way. I’m currently keeping the menu bar visible, but finding some challenge with seeing all the items at the top of the screen. I realize this is a very specific thing that few will run into. Over the past five years I’ve lived with the menu hidden so this will take some getting used to.

    Speed

    I have nothing to comment yet on the performance or speed of this device. My MacBook Air was great for all but the most strenuous of tasks. Only on a few occasions in the past year did I even have a hiccup, where it needed to take a second to load something. I’m very curious to see what this feels like after pushing the device through its paces.

    Brightness

    I was excited to switch from the MacBook Air to this new laptop for a brighter screen. So far, though, I’m not feeling a great difference. This may be do to eye strain late in the day, and I’m curious how I’ll feel tomorrow; from my perspective a screen can never be bright enough, especially in dark mode. I tried switching to light mode and did notice a difference, but my general use case is a dark screen.

    Overall

    This is a device that I’m happy to own, and expect to become a utilitarian part of my workflow for years to come.

    Update: Warmth

    This is going to take some getting used to. My Air does not get warm. The metal stays coolish to the touch no matter what. This device is warming my hands and lap, which is a surprise after holding a cool aluminum device for the past year. So far it’s not a problem; nothing close to the scorching heat I’ve dealt with on MacBook Pros of old, but I wasn’t expecting it.

  • Food inflation

    All around us we see patterns of products and software designed to influence our habits and purchasing decisions. As mentioned before, I’ve got a pet peeve with syrup containers. A while back I read a great book on the topic of habits and getting connected with the products we use, explaining the cycle we run through when we become a user of something.

    Apart from syrup containers and the over-sized pouring spouts, another thing that’s bothered me to no end is yogurt containers. I’m a huge fan of soy yogurt from Silk, the blueberry flavor in particular. I steer towards non-dairy when possible, so this is my favorite yogurt on the planet. Granted, the sugar has something to do with that. Still, opening up one of these yogurt containers, cleaning off the inner foil lid, and diving into the thick creamy contents is an amazing experience. This is one of my favorite snacks. It seems we can never keep enough of these around. Something’s happened though, in the years since I started eating these. The containers themselves have changed. As far as you can tell from the outside things look the same. It’s still the general yogurt shaped object I grabbed from the refrigerated section as a teenager. However, on the inside the total quantity of food has been reduced; I’m almost sure of it.

    I haven’t dove in yet to research the extent of the problem, but the false bottom of the yogurt drives me nuts. Based on my completely unscientific research, I’d estimate that the yogurt containers are designed to look close to 8 ounces, or a cup in American measurements. That’s a decent size amount, and worthy of enjoying on its own; or with the granola of your choice sprinkled in. However, because of the oversized false bottom on the container, the actual amount of food you’re getting to consume is far less than it appears at first glance. The total food inside is 5.3 ounces, a travesty in my opinion.

    Whether rising food prices, inflation in general, or a number of other factors, Silk has chosen to keep the perceived size of the container the same as a dozen years ago, while pushing up the bottom on the inside. It frustrates me to no end, and I wonder if this is a way of hiding the cost of food inflation without consumers noticing.

    There are far worse things in the world to be stressed over, but this is a little thing that just bothers me, and I wish Silk would sell a standard cup sized yogurt, without resorting to what I perceive as dark patterns. This is no way reflective on them in particular, I just complain because I like their food so much. This happens across the board with so many food products, and some times to a point of being ludicrous.

    Anyway, enough ranting on that. I’m going to go buy some more yogurt.

  • Upgrading phones for the camera

    The latest release of the iPhone this year has me thinking about my phone again. My previous model, the iPhone X, was chosen for its camera. Portrait mode blew me away. I bought an iPhone 12 Pro Max last year with one purpose in mind, to get a camera that could handle better low-light situations. As a father of two small children, I try my best to capture pictures of my kids in as many environments as possible. They’re getting a little older, 4 and 8, so asking them to hold still for a moment has become easier. Still, there’s something about being able to pull out my camera, press a button, and have a decent picture most of the time. My phone does that, and I love it.
    Over the past year I’ve managed to take a lot of photos, and several dozen are images I can say that I’m quite proud of; some are of landscapes and outdoors shots, and the rest are of my family. Those are my two main purposes for wanting a phone with a great camera.
    With that said, my current phone is massive. Even after a year I still feel that it’s a large phone, much more than I need. When I picked between the four available I went with the one that had the best low-light camera.
    This year, with the iPhone 13, both pro models have identical cameras. And, based on reviews so far, it seems like a decent incremental upgrade over what I have today in terms of camera. In my mind I always run the decision tree of need versus want. This is absolutely a case of wanting the latest tech, but having something now that is more than sufficient.
    So, first world problems and all, I’m at a bit of an impasse over whether to upgrade. Before I waited three years, and now I’ve been planning to wait two years. A funny thing starts to happen though, as my phone gets older. In the first year of purchase I take more photos and start to play with the latest changes. As time passes I take less. This is fine, I have so many great photos of my kids. However, I like to incentivize myself to take more and capture those moments. Each years the tech gets a little better and pushes the limits of what I can take.
    I’ve all but stopped carrying around my DSLR. Granted, it’s a lower end model, but for years it caught the kinds of pictures my phone could only dream of. Now, based on my knowledge of the devices and the ease with which an iPhone allows capturing a shot, I’m often happier with what I can take on the phone, especially with it always being on me.
    Since my goal is to get great pictures of my kids, and fun new technology enables that, I don’t feel too bad about the upgrades.
    I may try and figure out a way to sell my phone and upgrade, but it’s a bit of a nightmare since I’m still on a plan through my phone carrier.

  • Focusmate

    I’ve tried just about every productivity hack, tip, and methodology. Over the past decade and a half I’ve researched tons of methods for improving my ability to get stuff done. Some work, some don’t, all of them wear off.

    At the end of the day my ability to get something done comes down to a combination of personal energy reserve, technical ability to complete the task, collaboration with team mates, and one other crucial ingredient. Over the short term I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. However, over the long term, my ability to show up day to day and keep pushing on a project is directly related to the level at which the project pushes me. If something is too easy it’s hard to stay excited and motivated. If something is too hard I feel blocked and overwhelmed.

    This ability to find something just hard enough, just at the level of challenge, enough to engage me – frankly, that’s something I live for and search for.

    When all of these components line up I’m able to enter a state of flow, and that is a beautiful thing. I’m a designer for a variety of reasons. I love the outcomes of my work, seeing things grow and bring joy and value to others. But there’s another component that’s equally important. The act of doing, The Practice, the showing up each day, matters. I want to get into a state of loving what I do, of striving to learn, of forgetting time for hours on end and pouring over ideas to create something better. If a third of my life is devoted to work I want to enjoy that work.

    So, to bring that full circle to my point, I listened to a recent Focused episode, interviewing the Founder of Focusmate. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m blown away. I’ve heard about Focusmate before, had it in my mind as something to try eventually. Thanks to the episode I gave it a try and dove in. Now I’m 3 sessions in and ready to throw a bunch of superlatives out there and tell everyone how amazing it is.

    Granted, this is new, and perhaps this will wear off as well. However, there’s something special about meeting with another person, telling them for a moment what you plan to do, then having them as an accountability partner over the next 25 minutes. I love it, and I’m hooked, and want to explore where this goes over the coming days.

  • Writers Write

    The past two years have been a blast. Six days a week, 1,000 words per day. This was the minimal guidance that Stephen King suggested in On Writing, and I took it to heart. On the majority of days I add to the books I’m writing, and push them forward a half chapter, or a full chapter, one day at a time.

    On my off days I’ll write anyway, and just not add to my books. This may be a personal journal entry, or a blog post. This decision, knowing that I’ll write no matter what, has been such a positive one. I’ve completed 7 novels, three of which are published, and am in the start of an 8th novel.

    I’m a writer because I write, not for any other reason. The joy comes in the doing, that’s the reason to keep moving forward; or at least the biggest reason.

  • Building trust matters

    Every now and then I need to duplicate a WordPress post or page. It’s not a built-in feature, and requires adding a custom plugin to my site. For those who aren’t familiar with WordPress, the plugin ecosystem is a strength and weakness. Thousands of amazing plugins, built by caring and hardworking developers, focused on solving problems.

    The challenge is adding plugins can cause problems. The WordPress.org plugin team works hard to ensure that every plugin is reviewed and meets security standards. However, with 59,111 free plugins available, there are bound to be problems; especially if you don’t keep your site updated.

    So, imagine my relief when I go to look for a duplicating post plugin and see a top result from the team at Yoast. I’ve grown to trust Yoast over the years, and have an expectation of a more rigorous vetting process from their internal team. Because of that I don’t hesitate, I grab their plugin. Building trust matters and extends in many positive ways.

  • New MacBook Pros

    I’m very excited about the announced upcoming event next week with Apple. The rumor is that we’re getting updated MacBook Pros. Earlier this year I sold my 2019, top of the line, 15″ MacBook Pro. I then bought an M1 MacBook Air with upgraded ram.

    As a designer I often push the limits of my machines, The M1 has held up to everything like a champ, and in some ways was better than the previous laptop I owned, at a third of the price.

    I’ve been amazed at its performance. It’s on par with my previous laptop, and it’s just about the cheapest laptop Apple sells. I can’t wait to see what they announce next week.

  • Drawing apps

    I’m currently at a challenging points with basic sketching and drawing apps for the iPad. I use these apps almost daily for the initial ideation stage of my design work.

    Recently I had to purge all of the artwork from Linea Sketch, numbering in the hundreds, and disconnect the the app from iCloud. These were forced measures to try and speed up the time to use the app. Slow software sucks, and that’s the line Linea crossed in the past few years. No, no pun in tended. The solution is imperfect. I have to manually cut out the artwork I’ve done, back it up as .PNGs to my computer, and hope I can find it later. All layers are lost, the fancy time lapse feature is lost. Yes, there’s ways around it, but I was in a hurry.

    Given that, I tried switching to Apple Notes. It’s…. possible, or passable. It kind of works; but it’s not a pro app by any means. If Linea could just get a bit faster, and allow for a larger canvas, I’d be a happy customer for years to come. Apple Notes has an infinite canvas, and the drawing tools are okay. However, just try to get the artwork out of Notes and you quickly run into a world of trouble.

    The technical details aren’t that interesting for why, although I might write about these at some point. Needless to say, I wonder at some point if I need to design the app I’d like to use.