State of the tech: July 2018

Over the last few summers, I’ve written a few posts about how I use technology and what tech I use. I wanted to give an update.

The foundation level is still basically the same: I mostly work on an iPad Pro (it’s the first-gen baby pro) and a Mac Mini. I am waiting on almost literally the edge of my seat for a Mini refresh or Air/Escape refresh, because both work and home Minis are getting long in the tooth. While I don’t particularly want a notebook, and while I realize I’ve been a cheerleader for a Mini, I should admit to having been tempted by the idea of a docked Escape (i.e. the non-touchbar MBP) that could be undocked and come with me on vacation, to client-sites, or if I need to visit England. For that matter, an Air would probably work if they were to offer a 16gb option. We’ll see what options Apple provides this fall, because surely the 2018 MBP refresh can’t be it.

My two other daily-use tech products are just incremental upgrades from previous iterations. Last year, I said my upgrade-path from the MiBand 1 would be a MiBand 2 rather than an Apple Watch. IT in this phase of my life is grey-collar work, not white-collar. So that’s what I did when the MiBand’s charger went walkabout earlier this year; the 2 has marginally more utility than the 1, but it’s still cheap and cheerful, and I don’t feel the anxiety about doing it harm that I surely would wearing an Apple Watch.

That anxiety, though, is a live concern with the iPhone 8. Having set up many of them for other people, I was anxious that the glass back would be anxiety-inducing, and I certainly treat it more gingerly than I did the 7. Nevertheless, I upgraded for two reasons: The Qi charging is very convenient, and it’s just where Apple seems to be going, so might as well bite the bullet now. Chances that the iPhone 9 won’t be glass-backed? None. (I went with the Product Red 8, by the way, which does look very cool. I  underestimated how much I would enjoy this phone as a physical item.) Anyway, my intention is to be on an annual cycle of trading in and moving on to the current model, and being offset from Apple’s release-cycle by about six months places me comfortably far back from the bleeding edge. The X has no appeal yet simply because it is too new a product, the first iteration of a new kind of phone whereas the 8 feels like the ongoing maturation of a stable branch of tech.

On the software side, there have been some significant changes. 2Do remains my nominal project-manager, but I’m using it very little at the moment—mostly for tracking longer-term projects and a few recurring tasks. Day-to-day and week-to-week tasks are moving through Reminders.app and Trello. This mostly isn’t a reflection on 2Do. (If this will suffice as a vote of confidence, I did ultimately pony up and buy the Mac app, too, a point on which I was on the fence last year). It just reflects the kind of tasks that are on my docket lately. There just isn’t much overspill that feels apt for capture into 2Do. Thus, for example, the many tasks in the last three months leading up to the release-date on The Racetrack Chronicle were managed as cards on a list on my TRC Trello board, not a 2Do project.

Still: To some extent, this shift reflects on 2Do. Reminders is very convenient for what GTD-speak calls “capture,” and so was Wunderlist. And it’s easier to shuffle things around in Trello, and it was in Wunderlist, too. 2Do would benefit from less friction on each of these points. Trello also has superior search and archival functions, along with a convenient Slack integration. So, for example, when I order a part, I have a Workflow that sends an email and creates a Trello card in the appropriate place with a due date. If the part doesn’t show up on time I have a reminder to follow up with Purchasing, and if it does, I have a flexible housing for any follow-up that I need to do in terms of deployment or whatever. This kind of flexibility is a boon.

(I use Slack a little, mostly, at the moment, as a channel to receive some automated notifications coming out of IFTTT.)

Speaking of Workflow: My post last year mentioned Workflow’s acquisition by Apple, and as of WWDC ’18, we learned that Workflow is going away and being absorbed into a new app called Siri Shortcuts. I’ve not jumped into the Testflight for Shortcuts and I’m kind of chary about doing so, although I am, for the second year in a row, running the beta of the next iOS. The feeling in the Apple podcasts to which I listen seems to be that Shortcuts is mostly really good, so I have high hopes, but I will wait and see. In the meantime, it remains difficult to justify sinking too much time into building new Workflows that may or may not continue to run after September.

On the writing side of things, I ended up buying Scrivener to do the last rounds of polishing and put-together on my first book. I could probably have finished it in Pages, truth to tell. Nevertheless, book #2 is shaping up to be a quantum-leap in scale, complexity, and number of characters, and Scrivener has some tools for managing such projects that I felt I’d need sooner or later, so why not just cut to the chase, buy it now, and take advantage of its features to finish book #1? I wouldn’t say that I love Scrivener, but it’s specifically designed for putting together larger writing-projects, it does so effectively, and so it’s the “great attractor” toward which all text ultimately flows, wherever it’s written. And it’s written in all kinds of places. Anything in teleplay format (see this post) gets written in Gdocs on the Mac. Mostly everything else gets drafted in Notes.app on the iPad Pro and/or the Mac; in the last few month, an increasing fraction of writing that starts on the iPad have started in Drafts or especially Bear (which are really nice short-form writing environments) but they usually transition immediately to Notes because that has the advantage of syncing everywhere immediately.

So that’s where things stand as of July 2018. I expect to be upgrading on the Mac side this fall, although my iPad Pro probably has at least another year of life in it; I’m still very happy with that purchase. (And, for that matter, with my first iPad, which continues to chug along as an iBooks reader and occasional email reader and Firestick remote on the nightstand.)