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iPhone Home Screen: March 2014

It’s been an incredibly busy last few months and time to write has been pretty scarce. I have also been working on some bigger projects that I want to post about but they are no where near fully baked. One thing that has gained a lot of attention has been my move away from OmniFocus.

If you have read this site with any sort of regularity, you’ll know how much I base what I do on OmniFocus. It has guided my days, both at home and at work, for years. There are a lot of reasons for my exploration. Some are driven by my disappointment with OmniFocus 2 for iOS, some are driven by the previous Mac beta casting some serious doubts on Omni Group’s direction for the product.

As time passed, it became obvious how difficult it is to replace an app like OmniFocus but I’m trying things that suit me very well in some ways but not so much in others. I’m not sure if they’ll work out yet and when they do, I will post the process and results of this study here. One thing I can say with certainty – re-evaluating your position on a system that you have used for a long time is an illuminating look into the habits that define you. It is also incredibly disruptive when you’re trying to get shit done.

Recently Omni Group released a new Mac beta for OmniFocus. Once it gets more stable, I will return to it full time. For now, it crashes too often for real-world use but I was happy with some of the new direction and features. I was encouraged.

So that all said, there’s no OmniFocus on my Home screen for the first time since OmniFocus’s release on iOS. Crazy stuff.

Row One

Phone has undergone some significant changes for the better in iOS 7.1. They show up in subtle ways but I think Apple made the app vastly more attractive and useful. It integrates seamlessly with Facetime, it has context-sensitive options popping up that can be reacted to intuitively. It is a vast improvement and one I don’t hear a lot about.

Fantastical is how I get meetings into my calendar, whether its on the iPhone or the Mac. The natural language parsing is unmatched and it has been a staple on my phone since its release. On the phone, I use Drafts to send meetings to Fantastical and on the Mac, I use Alfred. Drafts and Alfred are like conduits that I use to shunt information to different programs throughout the day and both give me a single place to do so. Having a focused input area like this reduces friction and saves time.

Mynd was on my Home screen back in August 2013 when it released and didn’t quite make it into a permanent rotation but it has improved quite a bit since then. While not perfect, it does a lot of things well and many of its shortcomings are because I refuse to allow it to integrate with LinkedIn and Facebook (since I don’t use them). If you’re looking for a daily organizer that will coalesce the disparate threads of your day and tie them into one, nicely designed spot, you could do worse than Mynd. Tempo is also quite good if Mynd doesn’t work for you.

I also still keep a folder for apps that rotate in and out. Things like the Apple Clock app, Wunderlist, Tempo etc.

Row Two

1Password remains. On a daily basis I hear nightmare stories about data loss, forgotten license keys, emergency bank account access and security breaches requiring mass password changes for websites sharing personal information that could have been alleviated if the persons involved had simply used 1Password. It is one of the most important apps on iOS and once you take the leap to integrate it into your digital life, it is a short leap to use it for everything. It is really a useful app once you start using it to its full potential.

Nebulous Notes is still a default iOS text file editor. Maybe someday there will be an iOS editor that will have all of the features that I need but for now, this one suffices. It has just enough to be useful but not so much that it confuses the tasks I’m trying to accomplish. Generally I need to access a file in Dropbox and look for something or do a quick edit. Nebulous is great for that. Quick notes that will eventually make it into Dropbox often start in Drafts so Nebulous is more of a text file viewer for me but its editing tools are powerful and the search is fantastic.

VSCOcam is the best iOS app for photo-taking and photo-manipulation. It takes amazing photographs and the filters are incredible. I use VSCO on my Mac in Lightroom as well. They seem to be a great company of smart, creative people making useful stuff. Support them.

Downcast is not the prettiest podcast app but it is particularly suited to what I want. I’ve tried many of the podcast darlings but I always return to Downcast because it is really smart about how it caches and manages podcast files and I can use its comprehensive set of rules to control how much space gets eaten up by the dozens of podcasts I don’t have time to listen to.

Row Three

Tweetbot is back, replacing Twitterific once again. These two apps go back and forth for me but they are both really top shelf Twitter clients worth a look.

Contacts is… well yeah. It’s not great but I do use it quite often. I’m currently trying out Cobook. I’ve used it on and off and found it terrible. It does look like it has undergone some major changes so I’m putting it through its paces again.

YNAB(You Need a Budget) is my banking and budgeting app of choice. The iOS app is a conduit to feed my YNAB file on Dropbox so I can keep track of my finances but the entire ecosystem around YNAB is the best out there by far.

Awful is a standard for me, scanning the somethingawful forums for information about knives, Buddhism, games and wrong-headed ideas about True Detective.

Row Four

Riposte is a great ADN client. I love the functionality and the look-and-feel. If you’re on ADN, you should be using Riposte.

Slack is an incredible app. I use it daily and for collaboration or just plain communication it does everything right. I can’t say enough good things about it but go try it out and you won’t be disappointed.

Mail is where I handle all of my work emails. It remains focused for that mainly because it works so well with Exchange and keeping my personal email segregated also keeps me sane.

Dark Sky is on the Home screen because it has the most accurate and clear weather reporting. I check it everyday when I wake up. For more a more in-depth view of the weather and for looking at more long range I switch over to The Weather Underground app which has some great charts and crowd-sourced local weather.

Row Five

Boxer has been my main email client for a few months and I like it a lot. The configurable slide controls allow me to tweak to work with my crazy system of managing my inbox to zero. Sanebox is still working it’s magic by keeping less useful mail filed away in places where it makes sense until I have the time to get to it. I have to admit I’m perplexed by Boxer’s Sanebox1 “integration”. Regardless, it was enough to get me to try Sanebox which saves me hours per week of needless distraction and for that I’m grateful.

Taskpaper is now where OmniFocus used to be. I could write 6000 words on this fact but I’ll save it for another day.

Asana is a web-based team collaboration tool for managing projects and tasks. I use it for a specific project and it works pretty well. I think if you “lived” in this app and used it all day/every day it might be pretty great. As it is, it serves as a task manager for a very specific project.

Safari is still on the front page, useful as ever.

The Dock

Trillian still gets some use. Most of my chat has moved to iMessage or Slack but there are still some folks who use PCs at work and want to use Gtalk since typing on their phone is a pain.

Messages is awesome. I know some people have problems with it but I have had very few issues since I reduced the number of ways you can initiate an iMessage chat with me. Combined with Chatology, its a great communcation tool.

Drafts is the Swiss Army knife of text. As I mentioned above, I send text from Drafts to lots of different destinations but it gives me a single place to start. Merlin Mann uses it for the same reason as described in the latest Mac Power Users podcast.

Launch Center Pro is a great app. I still use it for all of my Mac Mini control needs because, in two taps, I can be controlling the mouse or keyboard on the Mac Mini attached to my TV. I’ll write up another article about LCP some day but for now you should get the gist of how important this app is to me given its prime slot on the Home screen Dock

  1. Affiliate link! 

MindMeister: Impressive

If you use mind- or context-maps to do your thinking, you would be doing yourself a favor by checking out MindMeister. I was hesitant at first because it is a web app and I generally prefer the power of a native desktop or iOS app but MindMeister’s web interface is incredibly powerful and easy to use. The sharing and team collaboration features are nothing short of amazing.

This power comes with a price, however, but I’ve said many times that if an app is truly good, you should support it so it sticks around. The Pro plan is fairly steep $9.99 a month but there is a personal account which gives you a ton of features for $5.99 a month and they have a free plan which includes some really powerful stuff (limited to three maps) for free. If you think you’re going to be doing a lot of mind mapping, this is a great way to go.

Pinboard Approaches by Federico Viticci

Vittici posted a love story to Pinboard on Macstories yesterday. I agree with most of it and its a great article. Pinboard remains one of my most-used websites and I find I often discontinue use of apps if they don’t give me easy ways to get stuff into it.

One of the questions I often get is why would anyone use a dedicated bookmarking service when solutions like Evernote can bookmark links and even clip full webpages. The answer is obvious for me: simplicity.

On iOS, Pushpin is a damn fine Pinboard client.

As far as the Mac goes, I add things seamlessly to Pinboard using an Alfred workflow called PinAdd.

I read my unread Pinboard feed in Readkit. It’s a total reading/storage/indexing solution for my view of the web. I haven’t opened Instapaper in months.

The Slippery Slope of Knives

The title of this post sounds like an Adventure Time episode but it refers to the purchase of buying a simple folding knife. Refer back to my earlier article about how this type of thing gets started. Use caution and good judgement when going down the EDC rabbit hole.

Rather than go into why I bought a few knives since that last piece1, let’s talk instead about the knives themselves because I got a surprising amount of feedback from readers wondering what I thought of the knives on ADN.

Spyderco Caly 3

The Caly 3 is my favorite knife so far. I have seen the knife often referred to as a “gentleman’s folder” because of its sleek, thin shape and stylish look. The blade came razor sharp out of the box (just ask my thumb) and the entire construction of the knife feels like it is of the highest quality. From the carbon fiber scales2 to the metal, high-riding “deep carry” clip to the laminated ZDP-189 steel of the blade, the whole thing just feels incredibly well put together.

It is the most expensive of the bunch but it is also the knife I’ll carry around with me most often because it doesn’t call attention to itself and the size lends itself to being something that would fit any pocket, ready to go anywhere. It does take some practice opening and closing the knife with one hand but, using your thumb to press on the frame lock and your index finger in the “spyderhole” to break the hook up seems to be the easiest way to accomplish it.

The Caly 3 has a nice weight and the construction is solid with stainless liners and frame. While they have been drilled out somewhat to reduce weight, it retains a bit of heft but the carbon fiber scales weigh almost nothing so it ends up being a balancing act that works out in the user’s favor. The size of the knife when closed is about 4 1/16” and, when open it is about 7”.

This knife is awesome. Highly recommended.

Benchmade 551 Griptilian

The 551 is my “work” knife. When I am working on the house, this is the knife in my pocket for a number of reasons. The blade is half-serrated, half plain-edge which makes it useful for things like cutting zip ties or tubing as well as slicing open bags of things like rock salt or wood pellets. The 154CM steel is extremely hard and will take a beating and the axis lock makes it very easy to open and close with one hand.

The Benchmade Griptilian is a bit too grippy for me to carry all the time because the scales have a very rough texture on them. They will rip up your hands if you need something in the pocket where your knife is. However, keeping the goal in mind, extra grippy scales lend themselves to doing real work because you’ll often have wet, muddy hands and you don’t want the knife to slip or twist in your hand while cutting something.

The 551 is about 4.62” when closed and 8.07” when open. Highly recommended knife – extremely solid but not cheap.

Kershaw Cryo

The Cryo was a bit of a surprise to me. I was looking at Sebenzas and Hinderers because I was curious about the design. Those knives are crazy expensive but the search took me into a forum where people were discussing a Rick Hinderer collaboration with Kershaw knives that used his famous frame lock design in an inexpensive knife. This collaboration yielded the Kershaw Cryo. The Cryo is a “flipper” knife. This means that there is a spike on the frame side of the knife when its closed that you can press to make the knife spring open and snap into locked position. It is a handy feature and fun to play around with.

The knife is made using 8Cr13MoV steel so it balances hardness, sharpness and protection from the elements. I have found the knife to retain its edge fairly well but it wasn’t as laser sharp as either the 551 or the Caly 3 out of the box. It is still serviceably sharp however and I find myself carrying it quite a bit, despite how great the Caly 3 is. I haven’t seen any of the misalignment or construction issues mentioned in several of the reviews I’ve read. It feels well-made and solid. Overall it feels more expensive than its $25-30 price tag implies and, at that price, you’re not risking much to pick one up.

This knife is when its 3 3/4” closed and when 7 3/4” open. It is a good pocket-sized knife and, despite its considerable heft and smooth scales, I like it quite a bit. Cheap and recommended.

Gerber Ripstop I

link to image containing all four including the Ripstop for size comparison

The Gerber Ripstop I is a tiny knife. It is referred to as a “paraframe” knife as well which means that it has an open construction with no scales. This makes the knife very light but I don’t really feel like it works well as a normal pocket carry. I would be afraid that the things rattling around in my pocket might sneak in the sides and get nicked up. Or worse, my finger. Because of that, I generally keep the Ripstop clipped to my laptop bag. It is extremely small and light so it doesn’t add signficant weight and it is very sharp.

The small size also means that there is no flexibility for where you attach the clip. You can remove the clip, but there’s no other options for re-attaching it. This was the first knife I bought and, at $10, I can hardly complain that it lacks features of more expensive knives.

If you’re looking for a cheap little frame-lock knife, it’s hard to go wrong at the price but I’d recommend stepping up to a better knife right off the bat. What the Gerber Ripstop was good for, for me, was clueing me into the fact that I would actually end up using a folding knife a lot more than I thought I would. Once that became apparent, I knew that further investments wouldn’t be a waste and I went looking for more refined alternatives. If you’re still reading this, I suspect many of you will do the same so my recommendation is to skip the starter knife and do some research on getting a higher quality, more flexible knife. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

On that topic, “flexibility” is important to consider when buying a knife. The term can be used to describe many characteristics of a knife but I use it to refer to how easy it is to actually carry the knife on a daily basis. I tend to keep my knife in my front left pocket or back right pocket. To that end, having the ability to swap out where the clip goes is important. The first thing I usually do when I unbox a knife is flip the clip over to enable me to use it “tip-up”3 with the blade opening fitting snugly against the outside of my pocket to prevent accidental openings. This is the safest way to carry it and it also works for me ergonomically.

The knife/EDC rabbit hole is a deep one. There are some really smart geeks writing posts and lists about this stuff that I never took notice of because it was never an area of interest but, now that it is, I’m finding the content they’ve written is top notch and well worth a look.

Good luck with your knife purchase, nerds!

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  1. These things start slowly and innocently but before you know it you have bandages on your fingers and you’re looking at sites reserved for the real enthusiasts

  2. That’s “grips”, for you non-knife nerds in the audience (assuming you’re still reading). 

  3. “Tip-up” or “tip-down” refer to how the knife rides in the pocket – with the tip of the knife pointing up or down. I find tip-up carry feels much more natural. You just lift the knife out of the pocket and it is in the right position to use the “spyderhole” or thumbstud to open the knife.