Drowning in Information Overload

While I was out on paternity leave in early October, I kept feeling overwhelmed. The more I realized how much work I needed to do, the more I felt like my life was spinning out of control. I discussed this with my wife, and she simply explained that by continuing to stay "connected" when I need to be dis-connected, it was impossible to relax. I did my best to simply let go of my work for that week and focus on my family (huh, a novel idea).

Fast forward to the end of October and early November, and I read this post by CGP Grey on "dialing down". A light bulb went off in my head. I had let lots of inputs into my life that weren't helping me accomplish my goals. As a result of The Focus Course, I had deduced that my goals/priorities are:

  1. Spiritual life (study of the Bible, praying, cherishing the love of Christ)
  2. Family
  3. Friends (with a focus on longer term friendships rather than a host of acquaintances)
  4. Making money/doing great work

After spending some time analyzing my life, how I spend my time, and how I let things into my brain, I knew I needed to make a few changes. I decided to do these as a test in November:

All social media is removed from mobile devices

Tweetbot was deleted from my iPhone. I blocked Twitter.com using 1Blocker. I can still access it, but it takes multiple steps. This has eliminated a lot of wasted brain space goofing off on Twitter. I also realized that while Twitter is awesome, it's also terrible. It 140 characters of individual thoughts/ideas that I have to continually process. A lot of people are terribly negative during the US presidential election season (it basically lasts two years). Twitter is essential to many of the projects I work on, so I don't want to leave it completely. I do want to reduce the amount of time and energy I give it, though. I've relegated it only to my Mac. I might engage a few times a day to catch up on news, etc, but it's taking up zero brain power outside of that. I no longer feel like I am missing anything.

Instagram is also on pause. While I have logged in a few times to share some photos (I don't have Facebook, so this is how I share kid photos with close friends/family), I delete it immediately after. If I share a picture, I'll give myself a few minutes to browse my feed, though. With it requiring me to download the app each time I want to browse it, I have largely reduced the amount of time I spend on it.

All of this is aimed at helping free up RAM in my brain to focus on what I want to focus on and eliminate various amounts of negativity. Like I said, I am not jumping off the Twitter train, but only engaging there in a window of time each day/week. I've also realized that I can get 90% as much enjoyment/benefit from social media with about 20% of the effort I was previously giving it.

TV Shows

This is a simple section, but I am limiting the amount of TV I watch in a given week. While TV is fun, large amounts of time in front of it are a huge waste of time. My wife and I watch a few shows together, but I don't watch it otherwise. If you spend two hours a day watching it, you are spending 14 hours per week total. The only exception to this is during football season, which is very much a social activity for me.

Audiobooks and Podcasts

I've loved spoken word content for a large portion of my adult life. I've been listening to podcasts for over a decade. While I think they can be awesome and provide the ability to learn new things all the time, I've realized this isn't always a good thing. Sometimes, I need to learn less and give myself opportunities to explore the thoughts in my own head. I've canceled my Audible subscription, and cut the podcasts I listen to down from fifteen to three. Eliminating the content is a way to give my brain opportunities for other things.


Music is something I've never really loved. I always viewed it as background noise for when I drive. Over the past few months, I've discovered that music should not always be enjoyed as a passive activity. Music, in a lot of situations, should be listened to with as much attention as a movie or TV shows. Spending more amount of time actively listening to music has been good for me. Music is art. To enjoy it better, I've also cleaned up my iTunes library to just include artists that I love. I looked through each album and asked myself if I ever planned on listening to this again. Overall, I'm quite happy with the increase in music listening in my life. Spending an hour listening to music leaves my brain in a drastically different state than an hour of TV watching does.

Day One

I'm making an effort to write daily in Day One. This has been good for making note of whatever I am feeling that day. It might be about my kids, my work, or my friends.

End Result

The goal of all of this is to reduce the amount of time I spend doing things that aren't related to my four priorities listed above (exercise is something I didn't mention, but has been a consistent priority in my life for sixteen years). As of the 21st of November when I am writing this, I do not see myself going back on any of these changes. I feel more in control of my time, my emotions, and my thoughts. I've given myself more time to be bored and to sit alone with my thoughts. I feel more productive at work, at home, and in all other aspects of my life. I've not completely disconnected, but I'm reducing the amount of time I am connected.

Out of School 156: iPad Pro Hands On

I'm back from paternity leave to discuss the iPad Pro hands on that Fraser got at an Apple event in London. We discuss the hardware, iOS 9 on a larger screen, and the much discussed Apple Pen and Keyboard.

Click here to listen.

If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving a rating or a review on iTunes. You can also send feedback directly to us at outofschool.net.

JAMF Software
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Fixing Evernote

After writing my post on leaving Evernote, I got a few emails asking for some more clarification on why?

It Became Annoying
For a service I pay for, Evernote had become quite annoying. Instead of making its core features even better, it adding features like Work Chat, and became seriously annoying with notifications about explaining new features....over and over again. I do not want another chat client. I do not care about Evernote for Teams. I simply want Evernote to work how I have always used it. Over the past 3 years, the application seems to get in my way more than it helps me. A perfect example is that on iOS, the reminders section is easier to get to than the search bar.

Product Seems to Have a Lack of Direction
Here is how I sum up Evernote (or how it should be): Take anything I put in it, and sync it everywhere. Over the years, Evernote has added feature after feature that didn't support that mission. This has led to the software becoming slower and slower over time. In fact, Alternote's simplicity has shown how bloated the core Evernote app has become.

I've been critical of Evernote quite a bit on my Twitter account over the past few months, but I would like to offer some recommendations on what I think they should do to regain the trust of users:

Look at Alternote
The idea of Evernote is awesome. It's a place for all those random snippets, images, PDFs, etc in your life. You get to organize everything in a simple (and easily searchable) way. Alternote has stripped away a lot of the complexity. Evernote should either buy them or model their next app after it.

Feature Cut
If a feature doesn't support the core mission of Evernote, cut it. Reminders should be gone. Evernote is not a task manager. Work Chat should be removed. They should go back to the drawing board and reimagine what Evernote would look like if it was being created in 2015 from scratch. It should be built for speed and simplicity.

Plain Text Option
This would allow people to easily get their text in and out of Evernote. Exporting notes out of Evernote also generates a .html document. They'd be better off to export files as a .docx than .html.

These are just a few recommendations I came up with at 5:00 AM, but I'm sure I'll have more later.

Learning to Leave Evernote

I’ve had a long history with Evernote. After struggling to understand it for years, I finally Learned to Love it a few years ago. Over the years, I’ve rebuilt workflows around the idea of an “everything bucket”.

As of 10/18/15, I’ve completely left Evernote. What started out as a simple “delete notes that are not longer needed” project, ended with me completely exporting everything out. Evernote hasn’t added a feature in a long time that I cared about. It was a platform that was standing still for me. It was a platform that I was invested in with my time and my money, and I felt less and less confident about its future. After reading Stephen Hackett’s Notes.app post again, I realized that it was time to go.

I’ve had an on-again, off-again thing with Evernote for years. I like having attachments associated with my notes, but dislike almost everything about the service itself.

I’m out.

Random snippets of text that I kept in Evernote are now in 1Password as secure notes. Images, PDFs, and voice notes are in Dropbox (organized in folders). Notes are now plain text stored across various Dropbox folders. I’m accessing them using Ulysses on the Mac. I’m using Byword on iOS. Both apps are set to be able to browse my entire Dropbox folder.

I’m going to avoid Notes.app at the moment. It’s not about iCloud concerns, but rather avoiding another platform without an easy exit.

Would I still recommend Evernote to someone else? Absolutely. I’ll leave my book up. The content is still useful to some. It’s just not a platform I want to continue to invest in. I’ve got a premium account till 2020, so I can always come back if things turn around.

Computers vs Humans

Spotify's approach

John Paul Titlow:

"Fresh Finds is a distillation of the hippest users on Spotify," says Whitman, pulling up a list of 38 tracks projected against the conference room wall. "These are the artists that are going to break out soon because they're being listened to by these people."

I don't recognize any of the artists on the list. Neither did he, Whitman admits. But now many of them have made their way into his daily rotation. "Just wait a few weeks and people will start talking more and more about them and they'll take off."

How does he know? The machines told him, naturally. Fresh Finds takes a central component of The Echo Nest's original methodology—its web content crawler and natural language processing technology—to mine music blogs and reviews from sites like Pitchfork and NME and figure out which artists are starting to generate buzz, but don't yet have the listenership to show for it. Using natural language processing, the system analyzes the text of these editorial sources to try and understand the sentiment around new artists. For instance, a blogger might write that a band's "new EP blends an early '90s throwback grunge sound with mid-'80s-style synthesizers and production—and it's the best thing to come out of Detroit in years." If this imaginary act goes on tour and writers in Brooklyn dole out praise of their own, the bots will pick up on it. It helps address an issue some people have voiced early on with Apple Music, that its selections aren't adventurous and it tends to recommend things you already like rather than things you might like.

vs. Apple's approach

Michael Rundle:

"When I met a lot of our competitors in the field the first thing they said to me was, 'Look we don't have anything to do with music, we're a utility'" Iovine says. "[But] no matter how you shake it, when you listen to a radio station that was programmed purely by an algorithm you will go comfortably numb."

Apple's advantage, Iovine says, is one of scale: the scale of the resources it can put into human curation, and the scale of its ambition to do curation properly.

"Algorithms are great but they're very limited in what they can do as far as playing songs and playing a mood... And a lot of these companies they just go and hire somebody who used to work in the record business 25 years ago. Well, great. You have one person. We have hundreds... We have one of the great tech companies of all time building what we need."

Wi-Fi Assist in iOS 9

In the most recent iOS 9 beta, a new option showed up under celluar settings called Wi-Fi Assist. This will automatically allow your iPhone (and Apple Watch) use cellular data when Wi-Fi connectivity is poor.

This is going to be huge for Siri. One of the places that I typically use Siri is backing out of the driveway at home or the parking lot at work. Wi-Fi is just strong enough in both of those locations to stay connected, but have a hard time transmitting data. To a user, Siri is not working, but in reality it's just a poor Wi-Fi connection.

This feature is going to change that perception.

Update: See tweet below. While this hasn't been my experience (Siri struggles when my Wi-Fi is poor. The person tweeting does work for Apple.

Blink 1.1

Blink is my favorite way to create afiliate links on my iOS devices. Blink 1.1 was released today with some great new features.

Global Linking – Most iTunes content is region restricted. If I send you a link to a movie generated in the US iTunes Store and you tap it while signed into the iTunes Store for Austrailia, you will get an error. “Geo” prefixing links fixes that. If the equivalent content is in both stores, users of your links are directed to the correct version.

The iTunes Link Maker is the only way to generate these links right now, but with Blink 1.1, users can add a “geo” prefix to any link created with the app. Blink extension goes even further. If you convert a link from country other than the one you selected in Blink’s settings, the converted link includes a “geo” prefix automatically so it will work in your home store and any other store that offers the media to which you are linking.

Music – Affiliate commissions are different for Apple Music and the iTunes Store. With Blink 1.1, you can choose to direct users to either destination. You can also generate affiliate links to Apple Music-only content like playlists and radio shows. Developer Analytics – Blink 1.1 lets app developers create links to their apps that include a Provider ID token so they can track the performance of those links using iTunes Connect Analytics.

If you write on iOS, this app is a must have. It's on the App Store for $4.99.

My Apple Watch Review

Me over at Tools and Toys:

I’m actually surprised how little I use Apple Watch day to day. This is a huge positive to me. I’ve got enough problems keeping away from screens that I wanted a device to help put technology in its place. When I get home from work, my iPhone is placed on my night stand, and I rarely look at it until my kids go to bed. If someone calls, I’ll get notified. If an important iMessages comes through, I can respond. I won’t be tempted to pull up Twitter or check Instagram from the watch (yes, I know they offer apps, but it’s not a good experience). The magic in Apple Watch lies in what it can’t do. There is no web browser. There is no App Store on the device. It’s providing just enough data to keep you in touch and informed, without being a distraction. If Apple Watch owners are simply more aware of what is going on around them, then the product is a success in my mind. It’s allowing us to have access to great technology, but still live in the real world. I wonder if we will look back at the world where people have their eyes glued to their iPhones as an era where people didn’t know how to control themselves.

I took a different slant than a lot of reviews. Instead of just talking about Apple Watch, I talk about about two days of my life while wearing it.

The New Evernote Plans

Evernote has introduced a new mid tier paid plan called Evernote Plus. You can read the blog post here. They've also shifted some features from free to paid only plans.

Evernote Free
This plan includes the ability to sync notebooks, share notebooks, and use their cloud-based OCR for printed and handwritten text in images. You can upload 60 MB a month with a max note size of 25 MB.

Evernote Plus
With this plan, you get 1 GB of monthly uploads with a 50 MB note size. You also get the ability to send notes into your database via email (previously a free feature). You can also set notebooks to be offline on mobile devices. This plan is $2.99/month or $24.99/year.

Evernote Premium
With this plan, you get unlimited monthly uploads and a 200 MB note size. It also includes the ability search inside of PDF, Office docs, and attachments. You can also annotate attached PDFs, scan and digitize business cards, view previous note revisions, see related content, and the ability to turn notes into presentations. This plan is $5.99/mo or $49.99/year.

What is the best plan?
I always thought that Evernote gave away a lot of features on their free plan, so I don't blame them for moving some into a paid plan (especially the send to Evernote from email). Everyone has to eat, so I am happy to keep paying them. I'll likely stay on the premium plan as I use search inside of Office docs frequently. This move seems aimed to getting free users who didn't want to pay $50/year to at least pay $3/month.

You can check out this support article for more information on the plan differences.

I'm Not Using iCloud Photos, but You Probably Should

Over the years, I've talked a lot about photo management in the smart phone era. I'm not going to recap that here other than to say:

  1. We are taking a ton of photos
  2. No one has a clue how to organize them

With the release of Mac OS X 10.10.3 , Apple has unified their photo management solution. It's called iCloud Photos, and they have apps for iOS and Mac. The simple version is that all your photos are in sync everywhere without requiring you to store them locally. With that feature alone, I am going to recommend that everyone I know use it. That solves most of the photo managements issues for iOS and Mac users.

I have a very specific method for organizing my photo library (2015 Folder with a 2015-04 inside of it), and I want to keep that. I've got every photo since 2005 (when I got a digital camera) organized with that method. It's backed up in multiple places, and I feel very secure with the safety of my most treasured items. Photos.app is similar to iPhoto in that the photos are stored inside a database file. I know you can link them on the initial import, but new photos would have to be added to the database. My concern is that I'd have to give up my preferred organization method, and it would be a pain to break it back up again if I ever wanted to leave. My method will easily scale up for 20-30 years. One area that it really needs to address is sharing your entire library with a spouse. I imagine this will eventually be a feature of Family Sharing, though.

If you've got more than 5 GB of photos, iCloud Photos isn't going to be free. The pricing is a bit high in my opinion. I'd like to see 20 GB be the free trier and 200 GB be closer to $1.99/month. We can argue about hardware margins vs cloud storage costs, but Apple is not in that business. They are in the business of solutions.

Overall, Apple has provided a solution that will work for 99% of its customers. They took the guesswork out of syncing and backing up. In my experiences, the syncing worked very well. I'm just in the 1% that takes the time to organize their photos. I have zero complaints against Photos.app and iCloud Photos, other than that say that it wasn't built for my needs.

I'm not using iCloud Photos, but you probably should.

Our Favorite Podcast Client for iOS

There are many podcast clients in the App Store. Our new pick for what we consider to be the best podcast client for iOS is Overcast. Overcast has a very easy-to-use interface, in the year since it was released it has seen frequent updates, and it’s available as a universal iOS app and a web-based player. But best of all are Overcast’s two most useful and compelling features: Smart Speed and Voice Boost (which we’ll get into later).

I've been listening to podcasts since the beginning, and Overcast is my favorite app. Read my review over at The Sweet Setup.

Force Conference Room Display on Apple TV

Fraser Speirs:

Apple TV comes out of the box with all of Apple's movie and TV services enabled, as well as all the additional channels that keep appearing on the Apple TV home screen.

In times past, the typical practice was to laboriously go through and hide all the channels. This becomes a game of whack-a-mole as channels come and go.

There is a way, however, to have the Apple TV boot into Conference Room mode by default. Conference Room mode is a view that hides all of the extraneous features and just provides information about how to connect to the Apple TV.

Saving this to Evernote.

Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband

Cliff Kuang:

It’s amazing how much friction Disney has engineered away: There’s no need to rent a car or waste time at the baggage carousel. You don’t need to carry cash, because the MagicBand is linked to your credit card. You don’t need to wait in long lines. You don’t even have to go to the trouble of taking out your wallet when your kid grabs a stuffed Olaf, looks up at you, and promises to be good if you’ll just let them have this one thing, please.

This is just what the experience looks like to you, the visitor. For Disney, the MagicBands, the thousands of sensors they talk with, and the 100 systems linked together to create MyMagicPlus turn the park into a giant computer—streaming real-time data about where guests are, what they’re doing, and what they want. It’s designed to anticipate your desires.

Which makes it exactly the type of thing Apple, Facebook, and Google are trying to build. Except Disney World isn’t just an app or a phone—it’s both, wrapped in an idealized vision of life that’s as safely self-contained as a snow globe. Disney is thus granted permission to explore services that might seem invasive anywhere else. But then, that’s the trick: Every new experience with technology tends to gently nudge our notions of what we’re comfortable with.

I went last fall, and it was impressive. Cliff nails it when he says that it removes friction. Disney World is a well oiled machine. Their free Wi-Fi isn't half bad either.

My Favorite Run Tracking App

I’m a firm believer in the mantra that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. Did your doctor want you to start running 3-4 days a week? Did you? If you don’t track it, then it probably won’t happen. All that is standing between you and tracking your run is an app download.

If you already use your iPhone while running to listen to music, there is really no reason to not track your runs using the built-in GPS. The apps provide useful statistics during and after your run. Likewise, It’s helpful to know your current pace and distance. It helps keep you on track and on pace with your desired speed.

I wrote all about iPhone running apps. Which one is my favorite? Read the review here.

How to Manage Subscriptions

Rishabh Dassani:

So, why shouldn’t you sign up for yearly subscriptions? Many subscriptions offer discounts if you subscribe on a yearly basis, but a year is simply too long a time to accurately determine if you’re using the service and/or deriving real value from it.

I spoke about this on managing digital subscriptions on Mac Powers Users back in January. Rishabh makes a great point on yearly subscriptions. You'd be a lot better off to do the monthly option for a few months to make sure that you will want it for a year.

You might also choose to sign up for a service intermittently. For instance, I have a Netflix account that I only pay for occasionally when I know that I’ll make time for watching films in a given month. It also makes watching TV more active versus watching it passively, and the same goes for magazines, online subscriptions, online services, etc.

Another great point.

Chipping Away at Amazon's Retail Dominance

Amazon is my default place to buy just about everything. I'm a big fan of Harry's for all of my shaving products, though. The products are great quality at fair prices. They are not sold at Amazon. Brands like Harry's are, in my opinion, a big threat to Amazon long term.

Does Amazon sell shaving products? Absolutely. Do they sell Harry's? No, they do not. It doesn't matter what prices that Amazon can sell razors for because they don't carry the brand that I want. In talking with my wife, she said there are a number of makeup brands that she prefers that aren't on Amazon (unless it's a third party seller, and they are usually knock-offs). They only are sold through makeup specific retailers.

Amazon, in some ways, relies on brands not mattering to the customer. What they rely on is you trusting the Amazon brand and the Amazon shopping experience. Amazon's biggest threat isn't Apple or Google, it's everyone else. As Amazon continues to grow as a store, they are open to smaller brands chipping away at their retail dominance.

Our Favorite iPhone Timers

Over at The Sweet Setup, I took a look at the state of the iPhone timer market.

Timers are one of those things made better because of the iPhone. Gone are the days of fiddling with the timer on the stove or microwave. Simply ask Siri and you can have a countdown going effortlessly. For some tasks, however, the iOS built-in tool doesn’t offer enough flexibility or power.

This was a fun article to write, so I hope you will check it out.