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Site Update!

You’re still here? This place is old news. Visit my new website at CarryingStones.com to see my latest updates. This place is closed, a vestigial blog that only remains as an archive.

Update your bookmarks and RSS feeds. It’s a new day.

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Finding Your Power Apps

Michael Schechter recently asked Are Power Apps Like Omnifocus and Scrivener For You?. Watching tutorial videos for “power apps” has helped him decide when it is worth investing his time, attention, and money to learning a new application. He proposes that:

If you aren’t willing to take the time [to watch a video], you probably aren’t really all that ready for whatever app you are considering. And once you do jump in, you’ll have a better idea of what to look for and probably have a few power user tricks that you are anxious to try out.

He closed with a question that got me thinking about how I choose the software that helps me do the work I do.

What’s your process? How do you go about gauging if an app is worth your time and effort?

My process is probably among the worst out there. I can admit to being a perpetually lazy serial procrastinator. It’s easy for something shiny to lead me on a chase for a while, largely because there is nothing to fail at there. Nothing, that is, except the obvious failure to accomplish anything worthwhile.

I’ve spent more money than I care to think about over the years on apps that rarely saw any action. I should probably let you know I’m a recovering app bundle junkie. I still get cravings when I see $5,937 worth of apps for a few bucks, but I’ve gotten better at shaking off the shakes. I’ve wasted a lot of time, a lot, trying to find a use for many of those bundled apps. Even if it was a bargain bin purchase, I paid for it, right? I should learn to use them.

Nah, not really. Usually, my main reason for making a bundle purchase was to get at one of them. This is how I first saw the light with 1Password (and haven’t looked back). Get it. Get it now. Even you Windows users out there. All of you need it. Thank me later.

My Process

Back to Schechter’s questions. My process is to avoid new apps. Like I said, my tendency to chase the shiny has waned, but I do respect the opinion of people I follow online. See also, Twitter. Watch smart people in your field of interest. They have probably had more apps thrown at them than you have time to study on your own, and they have decided what works and what doesn’t.

There is room for personality though, especially in the writing space and most especially on iOS. There has been an avalanche of high quality writing tools for iPhone and iPad. I’ve weeded the garden and found what works for me (Writing Kit if you’re interested).

As a writer, the best advice I’ve found in the past 20 years is to axe word processors and stick to plain text. I only drop into a word processor to open files other people send me or to print a heavily formatted document. Plain text and Markdown are all I need (MultiMarkdown if I need tables). The only hypocrasy in my stable of writing apps is Scrivener, but it’s so amazing every writer should use it. Yes, even writers who use Windows (in fact, you can pick Scrivener for Windows at a discount through Nov. 7).

Hidden Wisdom

I hope you found the hidden wisdom in my failures. No? Let me spell it out for you.

  • Find good tools, learn to use them, and stick with them.
  • Take notice if someone you respect says an app changed their world.
  • Don’t look for new apps to do the work you already do. Great apps will find you.
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Surreal Sword Dancing

This video is so strange and so intriguing in so many ways. There is so much to see here.

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False advertising. Also, awesome!

I’m not going to argue that this music video by Kinna Grannis isn’t awesome, because that would be stupid. It is an incredible labor-intensive piece of work. Catchy tune, too.

However, I will argue that Michael Zang writing for PetaPixel should watch the videos he posts before writing about them. To wit, I enter the following photo into evidence. Emphasis mine.

No Green Screen? Really?
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RIP RSS?

OK, I know RSS isn’t going away, but John Gruber (@gruber) threw me down the rabbit hole tonight when he linked to NetNewsWire creator Brent Simmons piece about Google Reader. The whole shebang got started with this article:

Official Google Reader Blog: Upcoming changes to Reader: a new look, new Google+ features, and some clean-up.

The article states Google’s intention to “bring Reader and Google+ closer together.” This upsets me, but they say they have a plan for people like me.

That’s why we will also be extending Reader’s subscription export feature to include the following items. Your data belongs to you, after all, and we want to make sure you can take it with you.

  • Your subscriptions
  • Your shared items
  • Your friends
  • Your likes
  • Your starred items

Shocking.

Simmons doesn’t seem to believe Reader is going to buckle under Google+, but he’s not confident that the slew of apps that use Reader as a syncing hub may be in jeopardy. Simmons writes:

“When I say that the system is fragile, I don’t mean that Google Reader itself is fragile. I mean that using it as a syncing system for other apps is fragile.”

The sentence Simmons closed his article with was the most chilling (and most quoted so far):

I’m not an RSS reader developer any more. But if I were, I’d start looking for an alternative syncing system right now.

New item in my OmniFocus inbox? Learn how to export my RSS data from Reeder.

(Via Daring Fireball)

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MacSparky – Blog – MPU 60 – The Case forĀ Evernote

MacSparky – Blog – MPU 60 – The Case for Evernote:

I hear that people who who subscribe to the Mac Power Users lead more productive and fulfilling lives.

David Sparks, that’s MacSparky, is right. 5by5 listeners are suave and good-looking, too.

I haven’t listened to the Evernote episode yet, but I’m looking forward to it. There is always the commute tomorrow.

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A Grand Unifying Theory of Everything

James Shelley shares the three things that must occur to move forward in A Grand Unifying Theory of Everything. It’s only 31 words. Go read them.

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Nest Thermostat

I’m late to the game on this (thanks to my day job) and you’ve probably already seen this. The Nest Thermostat looks stunning. Not too shabby at $249 as far as high-end thermostats go. We already have one of those fancy pants programmable thermostats, but it’s nothing like this one. Nothing!

Check this sucker out.

Update, from the Nest blog:

What’s it like for a guy who worked at Apple to start making thermostats? A lot like this:

“So what are you working on lately?” a friend asks over lunch.

“I started a new company. We make thermostats.”

They chuckle, take a bite of their salad, “No, seriously. What are you doing?”

“I’m serious. Thermostats.”

N.B.: I’m thankful to have a day job to keep you people waiting on hot news stories like this one.

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Breaking Bad

We were looking for something new to watch on the Netflix and found Breaking Bad. I have been hearing the buzz (sorry) on Twitter and the Web for a while about how addictive this show is (so sorry).

Breaking Bad is definitely a hit (so sorry, I swear I won’t do it again).

The story’s originality, however disturbing, keeps it interesting. The intensity of the relationships developed among the characters keeps us coming back for more. The bizarre kinship between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman–two who couldn’t be more different–is irresistible.

We’re catching up on the backlog of episodes and catching up to real time. When that’s finished, we’re going to go into withdrawals until the next season (listen, I’m sorry OK? I can’t help it! It’s an addiction!).

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John Prine – The Singing Mailman Delivers

If you don’t know John Prine, you should. This looks like a great introduction.

John Prine – The Singing Mailman Delivers (via
Paste Magazine)
:

John Prine’s had a consistent amount of recorded output over his four-decade long career. But he had to get a start somewhere, and his new album, The Singing Mailman Delivers, celebrates that beginning. The album gets its title from Prine’s pre-music job as a mailman, where he would brainstorm ideas for songs.

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Glasses

A couple of months ago, an eye doctor diagnosed me as slightly nearsighted with a slight astigmatism in one eye before handing over a prescription for eyeglasses. A few days later, I picked up my first pair of glasses and my life changed.

I had no idea what I was missing.

My eyesight used to be nearly perfect. I ferrying a group of friends to a movie when I was younger and reading the movie marquee en route to the theater. We were still nearly a mile away and they thought I was making it up. They were shocked when we got there and discovered I was actually reading the sign.

My vision has steadily and gradually declined over the years and I never gave it much thought. Who needs to read a movie sign from a mile away anyhow? It’s not like I’m training to be a sniper or something (and even they have scopes to home in on their target). But the amount of time I spend in front of a computer screen at work and play was taking its toll. I would get tired, then the headaches would come and I would get grouchy.

The first time I put my glasses on was like the first time I rode steady on a bicycle without training wheels. I was popping optical wheelies! I was visually bunnyhopping over curbs! I should have gone to the eye doctor years ago.

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Simplify

Simplify

My website has gone through many iterations over the years.

Hand-coded HTML. Template-based sites uploaded in chunks via FTP. Blogger. WordPress.

Not only that, but it’s divided and come back together like amoeba or a healing wound. At one point, I thought I would create a blog for each topic that interested me. Macs and producitivity, design, and several others. I felt like I had to write in a different voice for each audience. It was maddening and mentally exhausting so I narrowed it down to the two that exist today, which is this Carrying Stones site you are reading now and a Tumblr blog cleverly named Terrazzo.

Terrazzo: a mosaic flooring consisting of small pieces of marble or granite set in mortar and given a high polish

My idea was to publish my original writing on this site and post links to things I find interesting on the Tumblr blog. Get it? Small stones? My I am clever. Anyway…

With a few days off work I have been writing and thinking about how I want this site to function. I have decided there can be only one! I’ll leave Terrazzo hanging out there like a vestigial tail, but all posts are going to land here at Carrying Stones.

Thanks for reading!

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Alien Space Cakes!

Alien space cakes have taken over our dining room! Julie had been baking all day to prepare for our daughter’s birthday and our friends’ wedding.

20111020-161235.jpg

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Our Kids Have an Awesome Orthodontist

If awesome is measured in Mac capacity, our kids’ orthodontist is the awesomest. A quick scan of the office during our visit there today turned up:

  • 3 iMacs at the front desk
  • 1 iMac in the consultation room
  • 5 or 6 13″ MacBook Pros at each workstation

The oddball in the bunch? A Cisco router, but I won’t raise a fuss. My guess is there are some iOS devices in the mix as well.

Maybe I should have been an orthodontist.

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What Are We Jumping About?

When did people start calling flash drives (or thumb drives) “jump” drives.

I grok flash drive because flash is the media. I get thumb drives because they’re about the size of some thumbs I’ve seen around town.

But “jump?” I don’t get it.

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What Do I Want to Be?

This is the second of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

  • What are three things I want to do?
  • What are three things I want to be?
  • What are three things I want to have?

This my response to the second question.

Be Bold

My respect for those who immediately speak their mind is tremendous. Sometimes they sound stupid or arrogant. Sometimes they hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

Other times, their boldness leads the way to new ground. Sometimes, being brutally honest is the only way to reach your destination. And there is a clear distinction, in my opinion, between brutal honesty and just plain meanness.

Examples are everywhere and often earn labels. Eccentric. Entrepreneur. Icon. Iconoclast. Bombastic. You don’t have to think too hard to pick them out. Hunter S. Thompson (You can still buy top-notch Gonzo gear to support his beloved Owl Farm). Seth Godin. Anne Lamott. The late Steve Jobs. Duh! Jim Henson, Salvador Dali, and Walt Disney.

All capable of creating amazing art that stays locked in your brain for good or ill, holding sway over generations of fans and pundits alike. These examples I hold up here for you (and for me, too) obviously excel at what they do, but all of us are capable of the same influence in our own particular areas of expertise. The fact is the Internet has democratized the ability for anyone to publish and share their craft in a global market and it’s practically free.

Approach life as a craft, and be bold about it.

The examples I provided above and my mindset in this response reminds me of the commercial Apple introduced in 1997 to launch its powerful Think Different advertising campaign.

Be Independent

Independence was one of the three things I wrote about in my first of three articles in this series and I feel it’s worth mentioning again in this second response. My indendence won’t become fully realized until am able to embrace boldness. This yoke of political correctness around my neck has prevented me from being as bold as I would like, and I’m struggling to shake free of that harness.

The constant worry of who I might offend has made me timid, which ipso facto prevents me from being bold. Sometimes, a verbal whack on the head is what the doctor ordered and I need to sack up and start dealing out the right medicine when I know I should.

Be Happy

Happiness is crucial. Some say happiness makes you live longer. Happiness makes you worry less (or maybe worrying less makes you happy?) Hey, let’s take a break for a shiny diversion!

Happiness comes in many packages. Happiness can be wild and out of control and it can be quiet and peaceful. You can find happiness in your work or at the beach. Happiness can be found in the early morning hours, in being the first one awake, in the solitude of just being while the aroma of fresh-ground coffee brewing in the French press tickles your nose before the sun has a chance to rise.

Being bold and independent may lead to happiness, but they aren’t necessary ingredients. You can pull happiness out of a top hat just like a white rabbit if you know where to look, just like magic.

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Third-Grade Writing Lessons from 1980

My third-grade teacher was infuriating.

Memories of 1980 include learning to read using advanced phonics (man-u-fac-ture), struggling with multiplication tables (I still do), and writing sentences using our vocabulary words. Ms. Robinson (no, nothing like that) wouldn’t let us start sentences with the words “I” or “The.” Furthermore, if my memory is churning correctly, our sentences had to be at least nine words long.

Put your third-grade brain in and let that settle a minute. Those limitations were hard for a third-grader struggling to memorize his 12’s (the 11’s weren’t so bad). I hated her for making our vocabulary so hard. I could crank those sentences out in no time if not for her stupid rules.

  • I like watermelon.
  • The rock was enormous.
  • David Bowie was androgenous.

But noooooo. She had to go and make us think.

  • Watermelon was one of my favorite things to come out of my grandmother’s garden.
  • While our family was on vacation we found an enormous rock by the lake.
  • David Bowie was among the most androgenous progressive rock musicians of the 1970s.

With her simple restrictions, Ms. Robinson graduated a class of third-graders who were better writers than when they first met on a warm day at the end of summer in 1980. My senses still recoil when I began a sentence with one of those two words. “The” or “I” immediately triggers a rewrite that is always better than the first draft.

Thank you Ms. Robinson for making me think. Thank you for making me a better writer.

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Site Redesign and a Renewed Focus

As a recreational blogger who struggles with commitment to write on a regular schedule, I have been slow to pay cold hard cash to a web host for my site. I would love to slap a CMS on there and take off to the races.

I have a long list of excuses to draw from to keep me away from writing. I’m tired. I’ve worked all day. Our kids all have performances tonight. This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. Where’s the third bowl?

Then I read about David Sparks wrangling his own family in California, working as a successful attorney, writing at his own MacSparky blog, recording the MacPowerUsers podcast with his partner Katie Floyd across the nation in Florida, and publishing two books in the past year: Mac at Work and iPad at Work.

Did I mention pocasts? Yes I did. Look at Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 podcast network. He’s been committed to recording audio since he was a kid and has built his current empire in just over a year. He manages production of 18 successful shows and is cohost in 10 of those. During the past year he and his wife had one youngster running around the house, another one on the way (congratulations Dan!), and orchestrated a move from Florida to Austin, Texas, while only missing a few episodes.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing to whine about. I need to shut up and get busy.

For now, I’m dressing up this free WordPress.com website with a new (to me) theme. I hope you enjoy my implementation of Dusk to Dawn.

What would I run on my own server? I enjoy WordPress.com. I’ve been using it here on the free hosted site for years now and wouldn’t mind rolling my own installation of the .org variety; however, the latest version of Drupal is enticing as well. For the record, I have been using Drupal Gardens at work and can vouch that it provides an excellent hosted version at a reasonable cost.

I’m going to percolate a little longer in the womb here at wordpress.com and continue to focus on writing more before seriously considering a move and rebirth of sorts with a hosted provider.

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So Saith Gandhi

Yeah, I hope to get there too. Noble goals running my mind tonight.

(Via Garry Tan)

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What do you want to do?

This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

  • What are three things I want to do?
  • What are three things I want to be?
  • What are three things I want to have?

This my response to the first question.

Write passionately

Writers don’t have to heave up turgid prose in countless cheesy paperback romance novels to share their passion. Hardware. Software. Computers for desks and laps, phones smart and dumb, and apps free and paid for all. When you love what you write about, your passion shines through.

If you think writers can’t be passionate about technology then you haven’t read the Daring Fireball. Do you think high-tech mumbo-jumbo is just a bunch of boring topics stuffed with technical terminology nobody understands or cares about? Let’s talk again after you read Robert Noyce and His Congregation by Tom Wolfe. Can’t have a little fun with it? Spend some time at Andy Ihnatko’s Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA)

Flipping bits from the latest microprocessors to the lowly index card can’t be any better. Right? Merlin Mann was passionate about the value of index cards when he published Introducing the Hipster PDA in 2004. If you heard him talk about them with Dan Benjamin last week on his podcast Back to Work (s1e36 Writing on the Wind), then you know he is just as passionate about them today.

Paper can’t be cool? Check out Moleskine. Even better, take a gander at some products by Field Notes. Paper is magical even today. Put paper and technology together and you’ve got a horde of productivity nerds shouting mantras (Do it, delegate it, or delete it!) and waving copies of Getting Things Done in the air like it’s a street preacher convention. I can say this because I have practically been there myself, like, literally.

Live independently

One of my goals is to write for a living. Technically, I did that for a while as a newspaper staffer reporting the news to readers of local weekly and daily newspapers. The life of a general assignment reporter wasn’t as grand as it sounds.

No, really.

Sure, you can get hooked on finding the inside scoop and breaking a story before the competition, but most mornings and nights are spent with city council members and county commissioners, with school board members, police officers, and emergency responders. Just listening to the grinding sound of that bureaucratic sausage in production.

Like the man pleading with the genie after getting what he wished for (I mean, like, literally), I need to revisit my definition of writing for a living. Make that writing about something I love to write about for a living. I’m not saying I want to get rich, though as “side effects” go that’s not a bad one.

I want to earn enough to provide comfortably for my family and feed my gluttonous (not glutinous or gelatinous, which popped in my head immediately after thinking of the word gluttonous and are related by more than the letter “g”) desire for technological crack. iPhone 4S? Yes please.

Here’s what I think I’m trying to say. I don’t want to write to make money, but wouldn’t mind earning money while writing. If you’re writing with the goal of making money, chances are you won’t make a lot of it and probably won’t be happy during or after the attempt.

Stay hungry, stay foolish

Steve Jobs gave oodles of great advice during his time with us and bundled some of his best ideas in one speech given to the Stanford University Graduating Class of 2005. If you haven’t seen it yet, well, as they say here in the South, “Bless your heart.”

I’m making this easy for you. The video is embedded here, runs about 15 minutes long, and worth every second. Gobble it up now if you have the time (or sling the transcript over to Instapaper to read later).

Jobs shares three simple stories. One about connecting the dots, another about love and loss, and a third about death. A paragraph in the third story–the one about death–leapt out at me.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The bow around this gift he left us was his memory of the final edition of The Whole Earth Catalog, its back cover decorated with a photo of a country road and a simple caption. “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

I hope I can do that.

This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache.