Team iPad Pro

My wife says I’m highly suggestible. She points out stuff all over our house that she recognizes hearing about on ad reads in the podcasts I listen to. So maybe this was inevitable, but I’ve lately started using an iPad Pro as my primary computer, even at work, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

My wife started it, to be honest. I got her an iPad Pro for Christmas to supplement her “why don’t you just sand your eyeballs” non-retina MacBook Air. To both of our surprise, she found that not only did she love the iPad Pro, but she found less and less she needed to do on the MacBook. She’s moved all of her writing and editing for to the iPad, and if Vellum would just come out with an iPad version, she’d be done with the MacBook entirely.

So last week as I fretted with what to replace my iPad Air 2 with, an iPad Pro or the forthcoming 9.7″ iPad (now rumored to also be an iPad Pro, just smaller), she suggested that we switch iPads for a week. I’d take a week to see if the 13″ size was really right for me — I’d previously remarked at how unwieldy her Pro seemed compared to my Air 2 — and she could spend some time with the Air 2 and appreciate the things she liked about the Pro. Last Thursday night, we both did iCloud backups, erased all content and settings, and swapped iPads.

At first, I wasn’t sure. The iPad Pro feels every bit as big as it is. It’s the same size as my 13″ MacBook Pro, and in portrait the screen looked ridiculous.

Until I fired up Marvel Unlimited. Comics on this are a completely different experience compared to the Air 2. Okay, so that’s nice.

I also quickly discovered that in landscape split view, a lot more apps than I expected use the normal iPad-style layouts rather than the compact iPhone layouts I was used to in split view on the Air 2. It really is like having two iPad Airs side by side.

By mid-day Saturday I was starting to really enjoy the iPad Pro, but wasn’t sure I liked it enough to switch. Then I started really using the Pencil.

I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon, and thought I knew what to expect from using a stylus on an iPad screen. I drew a lot on both my iPad Mini and various 9.7″ iPads. But the precision and palm rejection on the iPad Pro are, again, in a completely different category. I had to force myself to rest my hand on the screen like I would on paper, but once I did, I found I could draw just as fast and fluid as I used to in the old analog days.

The author napping with his cat

On Friday Jump Desktop released an update that made their remote access app much more useful on the iPad Pro. In addition to supporting the iPad Pro keyboard and split view, it also dynamically resizes Windows desktop and server sessions to fit the split view window, and fully supports the Pencil as a pointing device in the remote session. I do a lot of systems administration work in the day job, and this was just jaw dropping for me.

Windows desktop on the left, blog on the right

At this point, I was starting to make little excited noises. Then on Monday, I picked up a Smart Keyboard before going into the office. I was going into the office late because I had an errand to run that morning: picking up a client’s Surface Pro to image. So I got a chance to compare the Surface Pro to the iPad Pro side by side.

Similar, yet so different

The Smart Keyboard itself is nothing like I expected. The keys are crisp and depress with a satisfying click, unlike the Logitech Keys-To-Go I’d used with my Air 2. There’s no Bluetooth lag because of the Smart Connector and likewise nothing to charge; it runs off the iPad’s power.
And coupled with the iPad Pro’s screen and the Pencil as a pointing device, I prefer the iPad Pro for virtually everything I do. It’s better at remoting into RDP sessions than either of my laptops, runs familiar iOS apps, and — and this is a big one for me — doesn’t waste screen space with overlapping windows. Every pixel is useful.

A few caveats:

  • If my job required recording audio — podcasting — this wouldn’t work. I hope iOS 10 has a more flexible audio system.
  • There are a few apps I need every day that I can’t use on iOS, or that don’t work very well in their iOS versions (looking at you, Zendesk). Fortunately, I can work around those by running them on my Windows laptop, which stays in a dock on my desk 24/7 and I access via Jump Desktop. My wife needs to do the same to use Vellum on her MacBook Air.
  • I can’t see as much at once as I could on the Mac with Mission Control. Oddly, I think that actually helps me stay more focused, but YMMV.

Overall, I can see why so many of my favorite bloggers and podcasters have switched to using an iPad Pro full time. This is more than just a big iPad as the original iPad was more than just a big iPhone. Scale matters — ask science fiction’s 15 foot ant, which can’t breathe thanks to the square cube law — and a bigger screen on iOS lets you do things that previously were either impossible or at least inconvenient. I really don’t see myself going back to an Intel-based computer as my daily driver.

And that should scare the heck out of Intel.

Dear Apple, let’s talk about iBooks

Dear Apple,

I’m sure you don’t know me, at least no more than any of your other millions of customers. I’m someone who cares deeply about reading, readers, publishing and ebooks.

And I can’t help but notice that despite a solid effort with iBooks for five years now, Amazon is still eating your lunch in this space. Well, if you’ve got a minute, I think I have an idea on how you can turn this around in a particularly “only Apple” way.

As I’m sure you know, Amazon recently made a change to their Kindle Unlimited program. They’re going to pay authors who sign up to have their books in this all-you-can-eat subscription program by the page read by the customer. This is an amazing idea. Authors will get paid on a merit system; write a great book, one people can’t help but finish, and you make more money.

But what if it went both ways? What if instead of a $10/month flat fee, tying (presumably, as Amazon never actually explains their numbers) the author’s payouts to something they can’t control or influence, the number of KU subscribers, people simply paid for what they read?

I’ll cut to the chase. I’m suggesting you make iBooks a pay-by-the-word marketplace. Like Amazon, you know how much of which books people actually read; it’s how you sync their place between devices.

How about taking a cue from Apple Music (really looking forward to this) and letting everyone build their own “collection” of ebooks from the entirety of the iBooks library for free. Let them categorize and sort to their hearts’ content.

And then when they actually download and read those books, charge them a nickel for every thousand words. Reading a short story in such a way might only rack up a quarter. A novel, five bucks. And then, using the millions of credit cards you already have authorized in iTunes, you automatically bill everyone at the end of the month for what they actually read.

You have all the pieces to make this work. You have the ebook catalog. You have the billing system in place. You have the ability to track (not in a creepy way) how much people read in iBooks. And if you put something like this in place, I for one would kick my nearly thousand-ebook Kindle library to the curb and use iBooks for everything.

The only thing you’d need to do is get the publishers to go along with you. You already signed them once, so this shouldn’t be too hard. And hey, if you need help negotiating, I hear Taylor Swift is available.


Jeff Kirvin

Pro means second class

I should have known better. I did this same dance with Google five years ago.

I just upgraded my Microsoft Office 365 Personal account to Office 365 Business Premium. And when I say “upgrade,” I mean create a brand new Office 365 Business account and then manually move my documents over from my personal OneDrive to the new business OneDrive/Sharepoint. This is relatively simple to do, after I was on hold with Microsoft for an hour to find out how to do it. And since the whole point of this was to add hosted Exchange to my existing Office 365 services, and be able to use my own domain name, I used Outlook 2013 to move over all my appointments, contacts, tasks and email from iCloud. A lot more work than I expected, but I’m an IT professional. I’m okay with this kind of stuff.

What I’m not okay with are the compromises I have to deal with now that I’ve moved to a “professional” account. You’d think a pro account would have more features and flexibility. You’d only be part right.

The first thing I found out is that OneDrive for Business (the new name for Sharepoint’s file storage features, since “Sharepoint” sends some people running for cover) isn’t as easy to use as OneDrive. It doesn’t integrate with Windows 8.1 as easily as OneDrive, and as I mentioned above, it’s downright Byzantine when it comes to local file management.

But okay, I can accept that. It’s an enterprise-level product, and some configuration is expected. Then I tried to use Office Lens.

If you haven’t played with it yet, Office Lens is a nifty little scanning app for iOS (and other platforms) like Evernote’s Scannable or standalone apps like Scanbot or PDFpen Scan+. But unlike those apps, it integrates images, scanned documents or whiteboards into Office apps at a much deeper level. You can scan directly into a specific OneNote section, for example, or convert a scanned document directly to Microsoft Word. If you’re all-in with the Microsoft Office ecosystem, it’s a pretty great way to get stuff into Office.

And it doesn’t work at all with business accounts.

That’s right, Office Lens only lets you sign in with a consumer Microsoft account, the kind you’d use with Office 365 Personal or Home. It doesn’t work with Office 365 Business accounts. So unless I want to keep some of my OneNote notebooks on my personal OneDrive and some on my professional OneDrive (a recipe for madness), I can’t use Office Lens.

I’m scared of what other limitations this “higher” tier might hold. I went through the same thing five years ago when I upgraded from Gmail to Google Apps for my own domain. Suddenly, things that I thought of as basic Google services didn’t work for me anymore. (If you recall, it was quite some time before even Google+, which was so aggressively forced on consumer accounts, worked with Google Apps accounts.) And now it’s happening again.

So far, it’s not enough to actually undo everything I’ve done, cancel my Business Premium account and just get a hosted Exchange account to go with my consumer Microsoft account. But I’m considering it.

What goes where?

Evernote vs OmniFocus, Pinboard, Day One, Dropbox, Word, Excel…

When last we left our intrepid blogger, I was using Evernote for pretty much everything. Despite Evernote’s amazing search and tagging, this got overwhelming. It got harder and harder for me to feel like I was in control of my data. I had the over 10,000 notes and it was climbing higher all the time. And not only that, but using Evernote to personalize Swiftkey turned my keyboard into a basket case. This wasn’t working, at least not for me.

The first thing I did was reinstall Day One. I wasn’t sure about this one, because it seems like daily journal entries should be one of the things at which Evernote excels, and I’d likely want to surface journal entries in Evernote searches.

But as it turns out, splitting that function off into a dedicated app led to a marked increase in journaling. A journal needs to feel like a safe space, a private space. Writing journal entries in Evernote felt like writing everything else in Evernote, and I didn’t really open up. Also, the friction to starting a journal entry—having to select the notebook, tags and come up with a title—was enough to make the difference between jotting down a stray thought/feeling and not bothering. Day One, expecially with the cheerful blue button on my Today screen, makes this easy.

And yes, I’m entering this data directly into Day One rather than using something like Drafts. This is still a point of contention for me. I love the idea of Drafts as a single inbox where I can write down anything and then decide what to do with it later. And if I’m not using Evernote for everything, the addition of a “where does this go?” question before the capture process does add considerable friction to the capture process. But until Drafts has a Mac app or at least a web app, it’s not a universal inbox. For now, it’s more important to me that my tools, and thus process, be the same no matter what computer I’m on.

Once I’d broken one category of data out of the Evernote monolith, the floodgates opened.

The next obvious step was to move my projects and actions out of Evernote and into OmniFocus. While I understand that David Allen recommends keeping project and action lists separate, there’s real value to my scattered brain in knowing when a project has no current actions. The only way to do that is in a hierarchical system like OmniFocus. And now that the iOS app is universal, I can create and modify perspectives on my phone for even faster, easier access to the tasks I need to do right now.

I was never 100% comfortable writing in Evernote. The RTF formatting is too inconsistent, and presentation varies wildly from one platform to the next. (For example, the iOS app supports padding around paragraphs of rich text, like HTML. The Mac version does not and runs them all together if you don’t manually insert line breaks. On the same note.) Also, I’ve been a Word & Excel guy since the mid 1990s. So moving my actual writing to Word and Excel documents stored in Dropbox was a no-brainer. I can still get to my writing from anywhere, including the web now that Dropbox’s web client seamlessly integrates with Office 365.

Blogging, too, was a compromise in Evernote. I’d write a blog post in Evernote, copy and paste it into WordPress and end up with one solid column of text because Evernote uses div tags to bracket paragraphs rather than paragraph tags. So I’m writing all my blog posts, like this one, directly in the WordPress app on iOS or the admin console via Safari on my laptop.

Bookmarks and other saved web data were choking my Evernote database, so they needed to go, too. I’m using Pinboard for this now, and it’s working pretty well. I chose Pinboard over Pocket or Instapaper because unlike those products, Pinboard is designed to be an archival service rather than a read later service. It’s fast, efficient and supports tagging for things I want to group later.

So what’s left for Evernote? I’ve taken out many of the things I was using Evernote for. No more web clippings, journal entries, writing drafts, actionable tasks or projects. What do I do with Evernote?

What Evernote was originally for. Reference. Evernote is where I store notes about ongoing projects, receipts, tax documents, documentation, and any other content that I create that doesn’t fit into one of the categories above. It’s not an “everything bucket,” but it is a catch-all for data that I need to hang on to but doesn’t have a specific home elsewhere. This leads to a database that is much smaller, more focused and has more of me in it. And ultimately, that makes Evernote less intimidating and more useful.

GTD contexts for working anywhere

First off, I admit I haven’t finished reading the new revised edition of Getting Things Done, so this might well be covered there. But after reading up on contexts and perspectives with OmniFocus, I think I’ve finally come up with a framework for contexts that works given that I can generally do anything on my list anytime, anywhere.

I start with an Eisenhower/Covey grid, but instead of Urgency and Importance, my axes are Focus and Energy. Let’s define those terms right of the bat.

  • Focus: the degree to which I can stick to a single task. This is part mental concentration, part environment. Basically, high focus means I feel confident I can devote a whole Pomodoro to a task, 25 minutes of undivided attention.
  • Energy: how much physical or mental energy I have available to devote to the task. High mental energy means I’m feeling creative or analytical, and high physical energy means I don’t, for some reason, feel like I’m in my forties.

Here’s what that grid looks like and the four contexts it generates.

Let’s go over those in more detail.


In the top left, we have Quick. This is a state of low energy but high focus. Actions in this context require thinking, or at least paying attention, but they’re relatively small bites. These are quick hits that shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes each to knock out.


In the top right, we have Focus. This is a state of both high focus and high energy. All the creative work happens here. Writing, planning, learning new things all require both concentration and energy to pull off.


In the bottom left, we have the Lounge. This is for tasks that require little energy or concentration. Watching TV, recreational reading and web surfing fall into this context.


And finally, in the bottom right, we have Grunt, for grunt work. This is where I put actions that require energy, but little thought or concentration. Paying bills, mowing the lawn, household chores and other such actions end up here. I tend to turn to this context when I’m hyper, with a lot of nervous energy but no way to rein it in.

In OmniFocus, I have these four contexts as subcontexts of Anywhere, which is a top level context along with Home, Errands, Agendas and Someday/Maybe. Anything that doesn’t require a specific person or location to complete falls into one of them.

Apple Watch Try On Report

Well, everyone else is doing one of these, so why not. I went to my local Apple Store this morning with my fiancee, and we got to try on Apple Watches to see if we really wanted them after all.

I’m really glad I didn’t scrape together the money and preorder Friday morning, because I would have gotten the wrong one. I thought I was going to prefer the Space Gray Sport model with the black flour rubber band. But after trying it on along with others, I changed my mind. Not the sport band isn’t lovely. It manages to feel silky and luxurious as soon as you put it on. It’s also a lot easier to put on than it seems. The secret is to stick the pin through the hole in the band, and then tuck the remaining band through the slot. It’s flexible enough to do this and this method removes the need for a third hand. The space gray color is also significantly darker than space gray on the iPhone, iPad or new Macbook, more like the slate color on the iPhone 5. I expect the aluminum will be just as subject to nicks and scratches as that was, and the space gray watch will age quickly.

What really sold me was the Milanese loop. I expected this to be much stiffer than it is. A lot of people have commented on how it doesn’t tug on arm hairs and feels more like fabric than chain, but I was also impressed at how supple it was. I thought it would have a minimum arc, but it folds right back over itself and lies completely flat. It’s also longer than I expected. I have big, beefy wrists, around 190-200mm. I expected the Milanese loop to just barely have enough slack to wrap over the bar and fasten, but the end with the magnet extended all the back to the center of my wrist, directly opposite the watch itself. It was thin and light enough to not interfere with typing, and because it’s an analogue fit, unlike pretty much all the other bands, including the leather loop, it slips just enough when I pull my hand back so that it isn’t too tight, but holds tightly enough to keep the sensors on the back of the watch in contact with my skin.

The leather loop was also nice, and is my fiancee’s preferred band, but because of the discrete way the magnets line up, it, like the sport and classic buckle bands, was either a little too tight or a little too loose.

So originally, I was planning on getting the 42mm Space Gray Sport for $400, plus a black or brown leather band for $150, and AppleCare+ for $50 because I’m a klutz. $600 total.

Instead, I’m (probably) going to order the 42mm Steel Apple Watch for $700, a black sports band for $50 and I might hold off on AppleCare+ because of how much tougher the sapphire screen and stainless steel body are. $750 total. Not that much more expensive and a much nicer, more durable product.

The reason for the parenthetical “probably” is that I don’t know if I’m going to order this generation of Apple Watch at all. The demo models seemed snappy enough, but they were also very limited and didn’t have any third party apps installed. Right now, ordering the watch of my choice wouldn’t get it shipped until June. And at the beginning of June, we expect Apple to unveil the real WatchKit SDK for developers to write native apps rather than just extensions that run from the phone. I think it’s possible, if not necessarily likely, that these native apps will run about as well as App Store apps ran on the original iPhone, which is not that well. So if I’m waiting until then anyway, I may as well see if I’d be better off waiting for the next generation watch to run the next generation apps.

Still, I’m glad I went today. I learned a lot more about the watch by seeing one in person, and the 42mm version is a lot smaller on my wrist than I thought it would be. If I get one I know which one I want now, and I’m comfortable waiting until Apple gets their act together and I can walk out of the store with one. But I’m also seriously considering getting a $100 Pebble and waiting out this round. Time will tell.

Evernote, GTD and the Projects folder

I got a ton of feedback on my Simple GTD with Evernote post, but by far the biggest question I got about it was “What’s the Projects notebook for?” Most people assumed I was tagging actions with their related project, so it seemed weird to have a notebook too.

The tags I add to actions that aren’t contexts (@phone, etc.) are for areas of focus, what David Allen refers to as the “20,000 foot view.” These are bigger than a single project, and typically aren’t ever “done.” I have a tag for Taledancer, the publishing services company I own with my fiancee. I have a tag for my blog. I have a tag for the company where I work my day job.

But those aren’t projects. Projects are a stake in the ground to remind you of something you’re committed to changing from what it is now. By definition, projects end. If I had a tag for each project, my tags list would quickly grow out of control and be completely unmanageable.

So let’s look at the process again from the beginning. I create a note in my !nbox notebook. Later, I look at that note and decide what it is and what to do with it.

  • If it’s not actionable, I either trash it or tag it appropriately and move it to the Reference notebook.
  • If it is actionable I decide what the next action is. If there’s only one action to accomplish it, I tag it with appropriate contexts and move it to Actions, Waiting or Someday.
  • If it’s actionable and will take more than one step to accomplish, I move it to the Projects folder. I also rename it to a sentence describing what a successful outcome would look like.

Let’s look at an example. I have a note in my inbox right now titled “Set up Facebook page for Taledancer.” This is something I need to do.

So I move the note to Projects and rename it “Taledancer has a Facebook page we can use to market our services there.” This tells me both the purpose behind what I’m doing and what success looks like: how I know when I’m done.

I’ll tag the note with Taledancer, and maybe create a new tag for Facebook. (I’m not a heavy Facebook user personally.) In the body of the note can go several things:

  • A quick list of actions if I want to do some “back of the envelope” planning
  • A link to Facebook’s instructions for setting up business pages
  • Anything else, frankly, that would fall under “project support materials” as David Allen puts it

It’s worth noting here that David Allen specifically advises against this in Getting Things Done. The reason I can get away with storing project support materials directly attached to the project reminder is that in Evernote, it’s all digital. So even with dozens of PDF or Word attachments, photos, outlines and whatever else I add, the note itself is still as agile in my projects list as if it were just a single sheet of paper.

While I could, I typically don’t link next actions to projects via Evernote’s note links. If I’ve done a rough outline of the project in the project note I’ll check each action off during review, but actions should really stand on their own. When I’m going through one of my context lists I don’t want to worry about what project each action refers to; I just want to crank though as many actions as I can. And if I really only have one action to worry about per project, the next action, it’s pretty obvious when I’m reviewing the project list if there’s a new action to create or not. One of the reasons I switched to Evernote for GTD from OmniFocus is that I actually prefer to keep actions and projects as separate lists, as David Allen described in the book, rather than a complex hierarchy.