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An Apple Music Article I Agree With

Here’s a good Apple Music article on Cult of Mac.

Apple Music meets this simple, basic desire. I launch it on my iPhone or via iTunes on my Mac and I check out For You. I look at the new playlists that show up. Are they interesting? Most of the time, they are. I hit play. I hear new and familiar tunes all in a row; I rarely need to skip tracks. It’s instant, and has thoroughly replaced my radio in the car; something Spotify or Rdio never really did.

When I want to find an album or a song I want to hear, I use Search. I’ve only had one instance of not finding what I want so far – the catalog is huge. I can download albums to my iPhone with a simple tap; it’s as good as owning the songs for my level of listening.

I agree with this whole article. People are overthinking this stuff.

Apple Music - Deep Cuts

I have been happy with Apple Music so far. I went into it with some hesitation because (a) it was an Apple cloud service and those haven’t been solid at launch historically and (b) I was happy with Rdio as a streaming music service.

After using Apple’s offering for a while, I was confident enough that it would work for me and ended up taking a leap and canceled my long-standing Rdio account. I haven’t regretted it.

Apple Music’s “For You” section has been fantastic and I have been impressed by the well-curated playlists. After uploading the rest of my local music collection (about 19,000 songs)1, it is now available for streaming to all of my devices which has been working out really well for me as well. As a result, I have been re-discovering music that has been sitting on unplugged hard drives for years. The waltz down music-memory lane has been fun.

While I have seen some of the infrequent issues encountered by others2, these are things I have experienced before with other streaming services. They aren’t perfect. I admit it has been interesting watching my Twitter stream when there’s a temporary outage. It is like the internet has never actually used something on the internet before. With so many ways for things to break, interruptions happen. It doesn’t mean I am happy about it but I am certainly not surprised when it happens and never so frustrated by a minutes-long outage that I want to stop using the service and return to the dark days of syncing music to my phone again.

Jim Dalrymple wrote an article a few days ago skewering the service and leaving a very frustrated “goodbye” note to Apple Music for his readers to mull over. I read it and wasn’t too surprised by what I found there. It is no surprise that he is frustrated about losing 4800 songs but I find myself befuddled as to why he wouldn’t have backed up his music collection before uploading his entire collection into a 1.0 Apple cloud product having used 1.0 Apple products before (let alone their iffy cloud offerings).

Also, Jim’s music collection was the years-long creation of a music fanatic who had a lot of strange cuts, alternative versions of songs etc (with nearly-identical metadata no doubt) and spanning multiple albums. I don’t think this is going to be the case for 99% of the music listeners out there. Dalrymple, of all people, should know that Apple’s focus is on the mainstream use case. Being on the fringe as an Apple user can sometimes be a frustrating experience. Should Apple’s offerings serve niche users? Sure, but not for v1.0.

The takeaway here is more of a cautionary tale – if you have an extensive hair metal collection and four versions of the same Bob Dylan song, Apple Music might not deliver the best out-of-the-box experience.

I have some very eclectic music tastes however and Apple music still seems to serve my needs just fine. I am not alone either. Jonathan Poritsky, over at Candler Blog, wrote a great piece which really resonated. Go read that for a different take that is far different from Dalrymple’s.

I just want to put it out there that Apple Music is the best streaming service I have ever used. My guess is that there are a lot of people out there who have used it without any issues. But that’s not much of a story.

I agree, Jonathan. I agree.


  1. After backing up the data, naturally. 

  2. I was unable to connect to my library once or twice. 

Research on Tech News Sites

This is the state of tech journalism.

Samsung hit with lawsuit for crazy amounts of smartphone bloatware

Samsung phones have been bogged-down with bloatware for as long as they’ve been around, but a Chinese consumer protection group is doing more than just complain about it — by suing Samsung and another Chinese vendor, Oppo, for loading their phones with literally dozens of pre-installed apps which are impossible to delete.

Sorry, Apple! Samsung named most reputable tech company in U.S.

While its profits may be falling on the back of weak smartphone sales, it’s not all bad news for Samsung. The South Korean company has been named the most reputable company in the U.S. technology industry in the Reputation Institute’s latest RepTrak report.

Samsung beat out all of its biggest competitors in 2015, including arch rival Apple, which didn’t even come close. The Cupertino company now sits in 21st place in the technology industry rankings, but fell from 57th place overall last year out of the top 100 companies in 2015.

I don’t really care about the rah-rah element around tech companies at this point but I have always viewed Samsung as a bad joke given that they skirt the legal edges of aping competitor products and software and present themselves with a generally ham-fisted “me too” approach to their business.

What I find surprising is that tech “news” sites can dump these dissonant messages to readers as a form of random idea soup. Reading about research like this doesn’t provide useful information. Meanwhile, RSS readers and Twitter feeds fill with time-wasting garbage and is largely why I’ve been brutally culling sites like this out of my feed-reader lately.

Nerds on Draft — Episodes 040 and 041

Gabe and I have been going into some fun topics on our podcast, Nerds on Draft, recently.

Last week, we talked about how we entertain ourselves and our families while we are traveling (or at least away from our nerd caves) and this week we drank a marvelous saison and talked about why we don’t throw away/donate enough stuff. What inspired the topic of a spring clean-out? It is hard to say.

“Cluttered house, cluttered mind” is something I used to tell myself. I had this false image that I was pretty good at staying on top of being a mess but then I looked around my house and saw a stack of dusty place-mats sitting on a side table that my brain had been editing out of my field of view for weeks and decided the whole topic needed to be reconsidered.

I moved aside the opened Amazon box that had been sitting on my dining room table for an undetermined amount of time so I could open my Field Notes and started scrawling some show notes…

Making the Apple Watch Useful

As the weeks go on, I am reaching an interesting place with the Apple Watch. Here’s an update.

Glances

One of the ways I have made it more useful is by winnowing out the number of Glances. Right now I use four. I keep a few at the tail end of the available selections but I rarely use them. Here is my current rotation.


They are all well-designed and, although three of them are slow to refresh (it is hardly their fault since they are hobbled third-party apps but I still find it annoying for now), the information they provide is something that I regularly used my phone for and they serve a useful purpose on the watch.

Fantastical’s “day map” timeline is a really nice view of your day at a glance (ha!) and Flexibits has wisely added the ability to toggle what gets sent over to the watch. I find it very well thought out. By turning off reminders, I don’t see them cluttering up my list of meetings and appointments. I don’t go to my watch to check off a reminder; I just want to see what’s happening next and anything beyond that is clutter.

PCalc’s Glance is something I originally though was a throwaway feature but, after using it for a week, it makes a lot of sense. It shows you the last two numbers you calculated (from the Watch and the iPhone) – that is all. While it may sound too sparse to be useful, having your last calculation result available with a flick of the wrist is really excellent thinking. It saves some short term memory registers in my aging brain and if I need to get to the calculator, a quick tap will take me there. Very smart.

I have been a huge fan of DarkSky’s hyperlocal weather and still use it on my phone (and I still have it installed on my Apple Watch) but WeatherUnderground’s Apple Watch Glance is my current favorite. It is a well thought-out Glance with the high temp/low temp/current conditions for your immediate location with the current temperature and an abbreviated hourly forecast on the bottom. Clean and informative.

ETA’s Glance is terrific. ETA is an app that will give you an estimated time of arrival for locations of your choice. The latest version gives you traffic conditions (for what it determines is your likely road choices). The Glance will display the last-viewed ETA which is exactly what you want when you tilt your wrist.

While I do use the Watch for Activity Monitoring and the motivational stuff, the iPhone app has more information and I usually check my progress when I have a quiet moment (thus it seems more suited to the iPhone to me).

Watch Faces

I only have three watch faces in my list and they all suit a particular purpose.

  • Utility face with an orange second hand for the weekend
  • Utility face with a green second hand for work
  • Simple face with nothing but analog time and date number

I really like the Utility face in general and I have the different second hand colors to quickly suss out which view I am in. One of the faces is focused on work-related needs (date, sunrise/sunset, meeting reminders, activity) and the other less work-focused (date, sunrise/sunset, Hong Kong time, activity). The Simple face is for when I’d like a more stripped down, classic look.

I have been playing around with complications and like how you can tune them to to suit your needs. I never thought sunrise/sunset times would be useful but with my current push to get fit, having those times on my wrist lets me easily find time windows to fit my bike rides in throughout the day. As I mentioned above, I don’t want to delve into my activity details on my watch but having a little graph indicating where I’ve been slacking off is great.

The bottom line is they are very personal and are so easily changed that I find I don’t really worry all that much about locking down “how I use my Apple Watch from here on out”. My whole approach to the Watch has become more fluid and dynamic. If I need another watch face to serve a specific purpose, a new view can be set up in seconds and I can swap to it with a push of my finger. With familiarity comes a host of new ways to think about how to fit the watch into your day.

Note that I have removed the battery indicator from the watch face or my Glances. I rarely go to bed with less than 45% battery and seeing that every time I looked at my watch was wasted space.

Notifications

I get very few notifications on my watch.

  • Calender reminders
  • Message notifications
  • Twitter replies
  • Lead changes in the Phillies and Mets games

Calendar reminders are a no-brainer. Having them thump my wrist and show me where I’m going next is very helpful throughout the day.

Message notifications are also useful. For extremely chatty conversations, I set them to “Do Not Disturb” on the iPhone and check them when I have time. Generally they don’t contain time-sensitive messages so that works out.

Twitter replies are helpful and I find Twitterific does a great job of keeping me informed of any activity on Twitter that I should take a look at.

Lead changes in baseball games on your wrist using the MLB app is a pretty nice way of keeping abreast of what is happening in games when you don’t have time to listen or watch (which is, sadly, most of the time for me)

That’s it! Thinking critically about the types of helpful information I could use throughout the day has really paid off for me and it has been an interesting experiment seeing how my interaction with the Apple Watch evolves week in/week out. I am finding it a more essential piece of technology now than in week one and I can only imagine that, when native apps hit the App Store, we may find we have a very capable and powerful device on our wrist.

Using It For Exercise Mostly

I’m using it for exercise mostly.

That’s what I’m telling people when they ask me why I needed an Apple Watch. It is as good an answer as most at this early stage. I have this feeling like I am standing at the perimeter of something big but unaware of where the edges are, let alone what shape they might take.

The “notification thing” is really no big deal. The people who said, in early reviews of the Apple Watch, that they are “drowning in notifications” seem like people who don’t understand how technology works. That might sound harsh but I don’t have any other explanation for it. 1 Tuning your notifications is a pretty simple task and the Apple Watch app puts focus on it so if you are “drowning” in notifications, it is your own fault.

If you used to ignore someone you were talking to just to see if your phone has something more important going on, you will likely still do this with your Apple Watch and, yes, you are still an asshole. The watch doesn’t make you less of one and, in some cases, ignoring people while looking at your $600 watch to avoid taking the even-more-expensive phone out of your pocket makes you more of an asshole.

Third party apps are, at this point, almost too slow to bother with. Glances can be very useful but, if you have too many, it adds another layer of frustration as you scroll slowly through each page to get back to the one you want. Keeping your Glances down to the barest minimum is a key to Apple Watch happiness.

Battery life has been a non-issue. I go to bed after a long day with 35-50% battery left and can’t ask for more than that given how much I’m using the watch. That generally includes an hour of exercise in the form of an outdoor bike ride as well.

The actual function as a watch has been great. Even a slight flick of the wrist activates the screen and there are no complaints there. In almost every case, it is akin to magic. I was showing it to an Android Wear person yesterday who nodded in reluctant acceptance that it was, indeed, quite good. He so badly wanted a reason to roll his eyes and sniff in the way Android users do but the Apple Watch didn’t give him the chance. For now he’ll just have to console his despair by side-loading some malware or whatever Android users do for fun.

The landscape the Apple Watch defines right now is wide and its edges unknowable. For those having trouble coming to grips with how to use the watch, my advice is to turn off almost all of the extras for now. Use one or two Glances. Disable all but the most important notifications. Basically, use it as a normal watch. As time goes by, you’ll think “It’d be great if I had {SUPERCOOLTHING} on my watch.” and then you go activate that thing and see if it is as great as you thought it might be. If it is, keep it. If not, turn it off and keep learning.

The more time you spend using the watch the clearer the landscape becomes but there’s so much more it will be able to do as developers come to grips with how to extend its usefulness. However it shapes up, it will always be hard to describe to someone else how the Apple Watch has become useful to you because the things that are providing value sound trivial and inconsequential. But at a personal level, those things are pretty great and despite doubting the point of such a device for months, I have to admit Apple created a device that can do some pretty neat stuff right out of the box and I am even more excited about where this thing is going.


  1. Other than maybe to create a link-bait-worthy controversy which is always possible in the “awesome” world of tech blogging. 

Silence to Noise Ratio

I couldn’t agree more with Gabe’s last piece on notifications.

I also use the Do Not Disturb feature of iOS liberally. Whenever I walk into a meeting I toggle off the world. It’s a hugely underrated feature and easily accessed on iOS 8. Learn these settings. Browse the Notification settings in iOS too. Remove as many as you can get away with. It’s unlikely you need a notification at the exact time a package is delivered. It’s unlikely that your text editor has anything urgent you need to know. Avoid the constant and unnecessary pain created by too many green toggles.

Spot on.

Nerds on Draft 026 - Alfred Workflow Follow-up

I have gotten a few questions from listeners about my Alfred workflows in reference to episode 026 of Nerds on Draft. For those curious and intrepid souls, here is how I set them up.

For quick entry of Home-related tasks, I created an Alfred workflow that looks like this:

Then I added the following python code.

with file('/Users/<username>/Dropbox/<folder>/tpHomeProjects.taskpaper', 'r') as original:    data = original.read() 

with file('/Users/<username>/Dropbox/<folder>/tpHomeProjects.taskpaper', 'w') as modified:
modified.write("    - {query}\n" + data)

The home and work workflows are very similar. Just change the file names and the Alfred trigger.

To use these, just activate Alfred and type “wtodo” or “htodo” (or whatever you set to your default trigger work) and follow that with the text you want to add to your taskpaper file. It takes less than a second to run and I use it all day long.

Good luck and keep the questions coming!

Nerds on Draft 026 - A Task Management Discussion

Gabe and a few friends went to Asheville, North Carolina last weekend for a brewery tour trip and we ended up releasing the latest episode of Nerds on Draft a little late. Sorry about that.

I think this episode was worth the wait because it is a topic that I have been thinking a ton about for the last few years.

Gabe and I dip into productivity porn, going deep with task management touching on how we use Sublime Text, PlainTasks, Drafts and some of the scripts we use to manage the things we have to do. All of these disparate parts have come together to craft fully-functioning workflows that are very different from the more-self-contained OmniFocus workflows we have been using for years.

It has been an interesting system to play with but I like the whole Taskpaper/Sublime Text thing a lot. The beer was great in this episode too.

Tap-Utils for TapCellar is Available

Terrence Dorsey blogged about his release of Tap-utils on github this week. If you’re a TapCellar user (and why aren’t you?!) and a nerd, this collection of ruby scripts is a no-brainer.

Tap-utils use your TapCellar backup file as the source to do some really cool stuff and give you insights into your beer drinking that can be enlightening. Grab these and play around with them. It will be well worth your time.