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Field Notes Every Day

I never pictured myself becoming the kind of person who carries a Field Notes notebook. I hate the thought of not having all my information at my fingertips all the time. The main idea behind my workflow with nvALT, OmniFocus and Dropbox was a focus towards making things searchable and ubiquitous. Plain text and markdown furthered that goal as well.

Another issue with writing things down was that my penmanship is terrible. I mean really terrible. My handwriting is a mish-mash of cursive letters, printed letters, cramped shapes and scribbles. Moving some of my note-taking to a written medium meant addressing how badly I expressed thoughts on the page. It was a project I didn’t want to deal with and have been effectively avoiding since high school.

Introducing a physical medium to gather my thoughts meant that I would now have multiple places to search when I wanted to find things I had written down unless I copied each page to one of my text files which, given how little time I have these days, was unlikely to happen. It all seemed like a lot of hassle and the last thing I needed was another workflow to forget.

So about two years ago, when the whole Field Notes thing blew up (at least in the circles I ran with), I decided that keeping notes electronically in plain text solved a lot of issues. I could easily search my notes for scraps of remembered text, I could avoid horrid penmanship and I would have my notes in one place in a format that was more or less bulletproof from a backward compatibility perspective. As things like markdown and plain text editors started to grow in popularity, it became clear that I had chosen well and I never looked back.

“That’s a relief. No need for pens or Field Notes or more pocket clutter.”, I thought. Bullet dodged.

+ + +

After seeing a buddy’s Field Notes and Fisher Space Pen being useful on a recent trip, I noticed there were some advantages to go along with the disadvantages of having to lug additional crap around.

For one, I tend to remember things visually. Often it is the shape of my notes on the page or the formatting of titles that jog my memory more than remembering the actual content. That’s why outlines and mindmaps work so well for me. They play to the strengths of how I remember things on the page or screen. Sketchnotes is something that intrigued me because it was a way to take note-taking to its visual endgame. A way to showcase your remembered facts in a visual way rather than worry about getting all of the words down in the right order.

Second, I liked the way Field Notes books look. There are Tumblrs and Flickr groups devoted to their aesthetic appeal and they appeal to those enjoy a joining of form and function. Can you get by with a few folded 3”x5” cards? Sure. But wouldn’t you rather pull this out of your pocket?

The other thing that Field Notes books did for me was make small writing notebooks less precious. I had been given various Moleskine books over the years and never made a dent in them because I was too precious about the empty pages. Poised with pen above paper, I would second guess myself. Is this thought really important enough to capture on paper this nice? With that thought, the pen cap would be replaced, the book would be closed and the pages would remain unused. I was a sucker for a well-made blank notebook but I had learned my lesson – buying them was a waste of money and desk space with the evidence of this fact being a handful of empty notebooks littering the bottom of a desk drawer.

Field Notes, on the other hand, are forty-eight pages of dot grids (my personal preference) on thin (but high quality) paper. There is nothing intimidating about them. Fill one up, move to the next. I am as apt to use a page to write down a take-out order as I am to write down a design idea. Sold relatively-inexpensively in packs of 3, using a page here or there for a doodle doesn’t have the gravitas of sullying an acid-free, archival quality notebook page from a book of fifty.

+ + +

So where does that leave things on the “analog technology” front? Well a more comprehensive post will cover that, but for this post, I’ll sum up by saying I’ve been carrying around Field Notes and a Space Pen for about two months now. I have filled up three books and I am about to start a fourth and they have proven useful in ways I hadn’t envisioned before I started this little experiment. Given that I use them so freely, I decided to buy a Field Notes COLORS subscription so I have a deep supply of new books to write in.

I needed to expand my Field Notes supply because my wife has started using the books too. She’s doing garden layouts and planning in her Arts & Sciences edition book (she wanted the Science one, dammit!) and she loves the form factor. I still think the Arts & Sciences books are too big for my purposes. Portability is king for me and the Arts & Sciences books are just too big to carry around with me. They are confined to my desk and I use them to do larger form designs but that’s about it.

That said, I am using my Field Notes books every day and that’s more than I can say for most things. We will see how this experiment unfolds but for now I’m enjoying hauling out these little books to get things done.

App Developers, The Sky Is Not Falling

Unread is a really nice RSS reader for iPhone. I eventually bought it after Newsblur support was added and found that the app is designed with some really nice features that set it apart from its peers. I’ve enjoyed using Jared Sinclair’s apps (like the stellar Riposte) and bought Unread more out of a desire to support Sinclair’s development efforts than my need for an iOS RSS app. I suspect many who appreciated Jared’s previous work did the same thing.

Sinclair recently wrote a post with some revealing data about Unread’s earnings along some details about its design process and some decisions involving the app’s App store distribution. As his blog post made its rounds on the echosphere, developers and pundits alike were pounding out stories about how the App economy is dead since Unread, by all accounts a fantastic app, couldn’t earn above poverty wages.

I think the premise behind many of these pieces is flawed. They take a surface look at the App economy through the lens of an app that, while serving a fairly large overall market1, was ultimately targeting a niche market2 inside a niche market3 inside a niche market4 inside a niche market5.

We can’t know all of the decision points that pushed Sinclair to explore the RSS app market as his next target after Riposte and Whisper (both top shelf apps). While he did talk about some of his thought process in his visit to the App Story podcast (episode 4), we don’t know what type of competitive analysis he did or if it even mattered to him that he was entering a market in which the winners and losers were largely already decided. Doing a cursory look in the current RSS reader market, you can find many capable RSS apps that have been used on iOS devices for quite some time. Some of these apps are free and all perform the common functions of an RSS reader.

- - -

When Google Reader shutdown last July everyone who used the service was forced to decide where they were going to land on the RSS reader front. It caused quite a shake-up since many people were using Google Reader, including me. Some decided to ditch RSS altogether and stick with Twitter, some decided on Feedly, and others decided on NewsBlur among others.

When Unread launched, it didn’t support all of the services that people had flocked to. I know when I saw its original release and noted that it didn’t support Newsblur, it meant that if I wanted to use Unread on my phone I would also need to switch RSS services. Since I had just signed up for a year-long Newsblur subscription, that didn’t sound like a solid idea either.

Sinclair also faced the difficulty in selling a reading app for the smallest iOS device, the iPhone. While he may have built a lot of innovation into the controls for managing feeds and reading one-handed, the truth is I tend to not read RSS on the iPhone, instead opting for a bigger screen which allows for richer navigation and visuals.

When I look at the things stacked against Unread doing well (RSS war fought and won on many fronts months before, readers generally wanting to read longform articles on larger devices, other capable free apps on the market, $5 price tag) I actually thought Unread sold fantastically well. It doesn’t really serve as the best example for why it is hard to make a living solely by publishing apps on the App Store. And as the man once said, “If it was that easy, everybody would be doing it.”


  1. As of 2013, RSS readers number in the 200-250m range. 

  2. Tech nerds who like opinionated software. 

  3. People who haven’t yet found an RSS reader they liked a year after the Google Reader shutdown. 

  4. People who want to read RSS on a small iPhone screen. 

  5. People willing to pay $5 for an app. 

Smaller, Not Larger, Phones

Here’s a good piece by Clark echoing many of the same thoughts I have about the seemingly-inevitable larger iPhone. The gist is that I would prefer a more efficient, smaller iPhone. The thought of a giant, pocket stuffing smartphone is annoying and goes against my goal of minimizing what I carry around every day.

Basically, I want my phone to disappear in my pocket, not fill it.

What I Am Carrying Lately

I have been trying to trim down what I carry around with me for a while now with mixed success. I have trimmed it down as much as I’m willing to and I’m OK with what I currently haul around in my pockets. It isn’t minimal but here it is.

iPhone 5S

I use this thing all the time, obviously. It is one of the greatest inventions ever.

Strider SMF Lego

This is a geniuinely serious folding knife and an amazing one at that. After hearing a lot of opinion back and forth about Strider knives, I eventually decided the only way to know for sure how good these knives are is to buy one and try it out. It has barely left my pocket ever since. There was a break-in period for both the pivot and the lock but it is incredibly smooth now. I have abused this knife and it just shrugs it off. It is a tank. Given how expensive this knife is and its fairly large size, it shouldn’t be at the top of everybody’s list but it is a solid piece of gear and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Keysmart

I hate noisy keys. I bought the Keysmart and now my keys are no longer noisy. Yup.

Atwood Atwrench

This little multitool was what I bought instead of the Gerber Shard and I actually use it a lot, especially the prybar/standard head screwdriver and the little wrench slot. It is quite possible that it is used it to open a bottle of beer now and then.

Fenix LD01 Flashlight

This little flashlight runs off of a single AAA battery and is quite bright. Connecting the Atwrench and the flashlight together with a rubberband further reduces noise.

NiteIze Slide-lock

I like the Slide-lock because I can lock both halves of the carabiner and never have to worry about losing my keychain or my keys. Before the Slide-lock, I had a few circumstances where my keys would get detached from my old carabiner and I got lucky that it was never a disaster.

Fisher Space Pen

This is the smallest, most reliable EDC pen out there. I am not sure why you’d carry something other than this handy little thing. It is awesome.

Field Notes - Pitch Black Edition

Gabe showed me how useful Field Notes could be on a recent trip and I bought a few packs when I got home to try them out. So far they’ve been coming in handy at the weirdest times. I got a few packs of the Field Notes Pitch Black books so I don’t get precious with them; I always tend to do that with Moleskine books given to me as gifts over the years.

My configuration does change now and then. I do have a Bellroy slim wallet that makes it into a front pocket, and I have a large and annoying car keyfob that gets hung on the Slide-lock as well. I try to keep things trimmed down the just the essentials but I use the items above all day long1.


  1. The Strider stays in my bag when I am at my normal job but outside of work, I tend to use it quite a bit. You do have to be sensible where and when to carry a knife, folks! 

Smartwatches I Have Known

When I was a kid, we used to look through the Sears catalog for our Christmas presents. They even called it a “Wish Book” and it worked like a charm. I would dog-ear the pages as flipped back and forth between all of the things I craved and the anticipation was terrible as well as fun. The pictures made the items look so good and it was easy to get swept up in them, ignoring the reality of what they represented.

One day, after reading some vintage Dick Tracy comics, I became fixated on the idea of wrist watch that could do amazing things. It just so happened that, in the Sears catalog, was a “Spy Wristradio” that looked like it would fit the bill. It has knobs and dials and a grill on the face that housed the speaker. I imagined hiding out in spots around the neighborhood picking up interesting radio stations all on my wrist. As Christmas approached I grew more and more excited about the prospect.

Christmas arrived, the presents were unwrapped and there it was. An alarmingly large box with the picture on the side that matched the one in the Sears catalog. I ripped open the package and looked on in horror as the sleek and high tech Dick Tracy wristwatch was replaced with the reality of a large plastic radio mounted on a gargantuan strap. It used four AA batteries and had no antenna to speak of. The power drained quickly as I spent hours listening to static while I turned the knobs patiently looking for any sign of life. I still remember the look on my parent’s faces when we both simultaneously realized that they spent their hard-earned money to buy me this piece of shit and I had been wishing for a Christmas dud all along.

That was my first smartwatch.

Back in 2004, before I contemplated ever owning an Apple product, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft nerd. I was building computers, playing PC games, running home servers (the hard way), and putting my Windows machines to use for both work and fun. As an unabashed gadget nerd back then, the holy grail was a working computer on my wrist – one that would tell the time as well as give me a full calendar, display upcoming appointments and, importantly, let me know when a critical email hit my inbox.

I already had the latest and greatest handheld device, the Palm Treo, so in reality the watch was redundant but when I saw the Microsoft Fossil at Best Buy, I got a little excited about it. This thing looked like what I expected from a smart device.

I bought one, at a dear cost, and spent the afternoon setting it up. It was a gigantic disappointment. The phone was need to be rebooted often, the battery drained as I watched and would need to be connected to a charging cable often, the communication was carried out via a nascent wireless service called MSN Direct which was still a bit too nascent to actually work. After three days of having to explain the ridiculous thing on my wrist to co-workers, the watch started to rattle and then eventually stopped working altogether. I wrote to Fossil and they sent me an updated model which lasted a few days longer but, by then, I realized that the smartwatch thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It ended up being another device full of imagined promise but delivering none of it.

At this point, I feel as if I’ve learned my lessons on this whole smartwatch thing. Smartwatch technology just isn’t very useful or interesting and I can’t think of a good, life-changing use for it. The Pebble looks like it “works” but delivers information that’s not important enough that I need it at wrist level. Plus it is ugly.

Nothing that can be displayed on my wrist is important enough to get me to wear anything on my wrist. For now, my phone will remain in my pocket and I will check it when I need to know something but every time I see someone wearing a smartwatch, I’ll be sure to ask them the time so they can enjoy a little jolt of superiority staring at the screen of their future piece of garbage.

Horns of a Dilemma

UPDATE

Thanks to @tjluoma for alerting me to this update on the linked piece regarding Amazon’s removal of iOS Kindle access for certain titles. Turns out it was a glitch. Thanks, TJ.

Vertical has just been informed by Amazon that the issue with Knights of Sidonia and the company’s other manga titles on the Kindle App for iOS is due to technical issues. Amazon is working to fix these bugs and have stated the comics should be available again in the near future

Amazon understands how this may inconvenience not only Vertical but our collective costumers, so they took the time to call and explain the situation.

If the problem persists or other issues arise regarding Vertical content on the Kindle please send us an ASK with details and we will look into things.

I’m glad this story has a happy ending and that’s a good response from Amazon customer service. I am still a bit squeamish about Amazon’s handling of the Hatchette contract issues and this whole Amazon Fire Phone thing, but at least I can still (for now) read my purchased ebooks across all of my devices. Whew!


It is becoming painfully apparent that what we saw coming in bits and pieces in the last few years is coming to pass. The services that were low-cost or free are starting to exact their tolls and leaving us with some interesting choices.

The services are wide reaching and nearly ubiquitous. Google, the “don’t be evil” benefactor who provided the internet at our fingertips, is killing off widely used but hard-to-monetize products like Reader and pushing ad-driven social media experiments like Google+. Facebook was never shy about dismissing privacy concerns and made it clear that having a lot of users willingly to give them the intimate facts of their lives for free was their business model. Dropbox has hired Condoleeza Rice, clearly no advocate for protecting my privacy. It is discouraging to say the least.

I have written about my loss of trust where Google is concerned and I’ve taken steps to extricate myself from their influence wherever possible. I have dropped Gmail, use DuckDuckGo for searching the internet, moved my calenders into iCloud and have created anonymous and de-identified accounts to access links from friends (like Youtube).

Facebook was always in my doghouse. I saw it as a worthless timesink at best and a massive privacy violation at worst. I created an “anchor” account there to reserve my name but other than that, I haven’t seen a need to log into Facebook in months, if not years.

Up until now, Amazon has gotten a free pass. They sold us cheap stuff and delivered it quickly to our doorsteps. They did such a great job, we didn’t mind the Amazon Prime price hikes and we quietly seethed at the ridiculous lawsuits they goaded the DoJ into bring against Apple when Apple attempted to break Amazon’s monopolistic strongarming of publishers.

Amazon was still seen as useful despite my misgivings. Free two-day shipping has been such a normal part of the buying process for me that paying extra for shipping and waiting 4-5 days seems like an affront. When iBooks DRM made it difficult for me to move the books I purchased to Marvin which, at the time, was providing a much superior reading experience, I decided to stop buying books from Apple and moved back to Amazon. That changed when I bought a Kindle Paperwhite and was relatively happy with the experience. Bookmark sync was a powerful motivator. I could read for a few minutes on my phone or iPad, confident in the fact that when I returned to my Kindle Paperwhite, the last page I read would be remembered.

Cross-platform was the main driver for my reason to buy my books from Amazon. Being able to swap back and forth between my iPad and my Kindle was a killer feature.

But today, Twitter was buzzing with a story that certain publisher books will no longer be available on the Kindle app – just Amazon’s own Kindle devices. We can’t say for sure what Amazon is likely to do in the future but it has certainly given me pause about buying books on Amazon. Their behavior over the last few months has been thuggish at best and their quest for control has put legitimate, paying customer convenience in the back seat.

I lost trust in Google. I never trusted Facebook. I am losing trust in Dropbox. Now, I can’t trust Amazon. I guess “trust” isn’t the right word here – I never really trusted any of these companies to do anything other than act in their best interests. My mistake was thinking that their best interest was doing what was right for their customers. That’s clearly not the case. Good to know.

Losing Apple - Interesting Take

I think Sid O’Neill sums up some insightful points in this piece entitled “Losing Apple”. Admittedly I’ve been thinking a lot of the same things recently. The technology echosphere regurgitates the same facts over and over and, while I admit I read quite a bit of it, I often feel like I am reading to find support for things I’m already thinking.

Unlike O’Neill, I am truly excited and maybe too optimistic about the latest Apple news. The WWDC announcements seem pretty major to me. Some of it is marketing and it is easy to get caught in the afterglow in the afterlight of such events, but the long term effects of the announcements will be felt for years to come. I suspect, given the amount of copying that goes on in the mobile OS space, the changes will ripple through the entire mobile ecosystem in a major way.

O’Neill states:

I really am not trying to condemn anyone for having a lot of interest in the above stuff. I am speaking from a place of sympathy and empathy. My main feeling here is just one of confusion. How did I end up so interested in this? And why would anyone be interested in this?

It’s a fair point. After plowing through dozens of very similar articles I ask myself the same question. Despite the over-exposure, my interest stems from a few specific areas.

  1. I work with teams of developers who make and distribute apps on iOS. Because of this, impacts on the app functionality, distribution systems, and feature extensions have material effects on my coming year. It is a huge deal.
  2. Technology is changing the world and making certain things better. There is a lot of sappy marketing bullshit about technology (the early episodes of Silicon Valley did such a great job of skewering that whole premise) but saying it is all “marketing” is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is some truly life-changing things that have appeared since 2007 in large part due to what happened after iPhone 1 keynote.
  3. With Android copying Apple’s ideas, I like seeing the interesting new ways that Apple pushes the platforms into unknown waters, further differentiating their offering and making it more popular with paying, savvy consumers. That helps me as a developer. While it is clear that Android has made some advances with its latest OS releases, I think Android sucks, Android phones suck and the entire Android ecosystem sucks. I would rather have a more worthy #2 to Apple but Samsung has done such a good job catching the lowest-common-denominator market, I can’t see another #2 emerging.1

While it is true that the last couple of weeks have been a deluge of dubious information for most people, for those whose livelihood depends on the things announced in the 2014 WWDC keynote, it has been a pretty extraordinary series of revelations that we will be feeling the effects of for years to come.

One thing Sid and I can agree on – “Rumor is pointless”

Apple will release what Apple releases, when they release it. The speculation is just vapid mouth-flapping.

Now if you’re excuse me, I need to go tweak my news filters to exclude any mention of “iWatch” and “bigger iPhone”.


  1. The Android crowd has been crowing about the addition of custom keyboards and things that are more widget-like than previous iOS versions. These features represent, to me, Apple’s checking things off of a list to shut up Android devotees who continue to hold these minor features over their heads. To have them embedded as a bullet-point on a slide surrounded by more substantive and sweeping changes seems to back up that idea. “You four people who want custom keyboards? OK you got them… moving on…” What is ironic is that the extension of the keyboard may lead to even more innovation within apps which can now use them to extend their specific functionality. Also, thanks to Apple’s newest inter-app communication protocols, this is all happenening with far more security that Android’s implementation as well, which shouldn’t go unnoticed given the fact that 97% of malware exists on the Android platform (according to a Forbes 2014 report). 

Editorial 1.1 is Out

The new version of Ole Zorn’s Editorial is out. It is a Universal build so if you bought the excellent iPad version, you get the new iPhone version for free.

It is magical. Zorn is a wizard. There is no other possibility.

Viticci has written another comprehensive and quintessential review of the apps and their features and it is well worth checking out if you are on the fence. Pour a big cup of coffee before starting it. It is epic-length and has videos.

Go buy Editorial now. It has finally unseated Nebulous Notes as my go-to text editor on all devices running iOS and it is worth far more than the paltry $6.99USD price tag. Finding the app may be a challenge however since searching for “Editorial” on the App Store yields tons of useless garbage not related to editorials or text editing. I found the app by searching for “Pythonista”, Zorn’s other tour-de-force, and then looking under the heading “Other apps by this developer”. Nice job, App Store. Real nice.

Internet With A Human Face: Ceglowski's Beyond Tellerand Conference Talk

Here’s another great talk by Maciej Ceglowski. This time he talks about some topics near and dear to my heart:

  • Computer memory never forgets
  • We are willingly giving faceless and untrustworthy corporations our data
  • When confronting these facts, we throw up our hands and say “Well, what can you do?!”

He writes with humor and candor and I really love his take on some of the topics which he’s in a great position to give an opinion on. I hate throwing up my hands at the powerlessness of it all, so here are some steps that I’ve taken and maybe you should think about taking too.

  • Stop using Gmail. (use Fastmail instead) I cut the cord almost a year ago and it has been working far better than I had expected it would have. I used Gmail for so long, my mind would spin with “what-if” scenarios whenever I considered leaving the service. Now that it is in my rear view mirror, it feels like a yoke has been lifted.
  • Remove yourself from all social networks1. I still hold on to my accounts on Facebook, Google+ etc, that’s mainly to prevent someone nefarious from impersonating me on them.
  • Store all of your important stuff locally, then encrypt it and back it up (and store a copy offsite).
  • If you decide to use a social network or service, make sure they’re upfront about what they plan on doing with your data. As Maciej mentions, paranoia shouldn’t keep us from benefiting from all of this magical technology – we just need to consider the implications of exposing that data a bit more than we all have in the past. Not all data sharing is bad and not all analysis is pernicious. You just need to pick your spots and go in with your eyes wide open.

From Maciej’s talk:

I’ll use Facebook as my example. To make the argument stronger, let’s assume that everyone currently at Facebook is committed to user privacy and doing their utmost to protect the data they’ve collected.

What happens if Facebook goes out of business, like so many of the social networks that came before it? Or if Facebook gets acquired by a credit agency? How about if it gets acquired by Rupert Murdoch, or taken private by a hedge fund?

What happens to all that data?

Comforting thought, no? I wish I had given that idea more weight before I uploaded all of my pictures to Everpix. I’m sure they deleted all of the photos I uploaded to their site…right?


  1. Admittedly, I cheat on this one. I still read Twitter although I read it much less than I used to. I also have a secret and anonymous (ha!) Instagram account where I follow things I like. (disturbing fun fact: it is all tattoos, tattoo artists and knives. Take that, Facebook NSA.) 

DuckDuckGo Next Searching with Alfred

Over at The Candler Blog, Jonathan Poritsky writes about an Alfred workflow he wrote that searches DuckDuckGo’s new beta DuckDuckGo Next. DDGN is a great version of my favorite search site with a cleaner results page that combines the best search alternative to Google in existence with a gorgeous design sense. The workflow is great.

Poritsky’s workflow uses Google Suggest to suggest possibilities as you type and then the result is sent quickly to DuckDuckGo. The results are displayed in your default browser.

If you’re a DuckDuckGo fan and an Alfred user, go snag the workflow on the Candler Blog.