Solving a Music Workflow Problem

In the spirit of this week’s episode of Crush On Radio, wherein we discuss how we listen to music, I thought I’d write up some additional thoughts, as well as detail a new component to my musical workflow.

I keep all of my music on an external hard drive. I have 13,791 songs in my iTunes library (up from 12,170 after the great iTunes purge). This amounts to 125.85 GB of music, which I don’t want weighing down my three-year-old 15” MacBook Pro.

The downside to this setup is that I have to have my external hard drive plugged into my Mac if I want to listen to my iTunes library. Normally this isn’t a big deal because my MacBook Pro is my only computer, and it’s usually relegated to my desk anyway. I have a TwelveSouth BassJump 2 Subwoofer (which I adore), so my music sounds great when I’m working at my desk/in my room.

However, inconvenience arises when I take my MacBook Pro away from my desk. I can’t cart the BassJump around with me, so I’m left with comparatively wimpy laptop speakers. I could — and usually do — use headphones in these instances to improve sound quality, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of my iTunes library being back at my desk on my external hard drive.

Take this scenario, for example. The other night I decided I wanted to do some writing on the living room couch instead of at my desk. This is awesome because the couch is right in front of the TV, which has been newly outfitted with my dad’s gorgeous Mirage speaker towers. An ideal listening experience.

BUT. My music is still upstairs on my external hard drive.

Blast.

Previously, I’d been getting around this issue by streaming music from my iOS devices to our Apple TV, which is a decent, but less than convenient, solution. My entire library is in iCloud via iTunes Match, which is great, but it means I have to download music to my iOS device before I can listen. That means I have to go to Settings, switch on Show All Music, and navigate my entire library via my iPhone or iPad. Given the size of my library, it’s not the smoothest or fastest setup.

So, I need my iTunes library on my Mac without actually having my iTunes library on my Mac.

Conundrum.

Services like Rdio and Spotify aim to solve this problem by offering streaming music subscriptions. I never gave them much thought because I like having ownership over my library, and I didn’t like the idea of paying a monthly fee for my music.

But, as I sat on the couch with my MacBook Pro on my lap, periodically tapping around on my iPad to stream music to the Apple TV, I knew there had to be a better way. If I’m working on my Mac, controlling my music via a second device is cumbersome. I don’t want to have to take my fingers off the keyboard.

I remembered Shawn Blanc being a big Rdio fan, so I search his site for articles about the app and found this great tip. Shawn uses Rdio in conjunction with Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil to stream music to his Apple TV.

It sounded like the perfect solution, so I signed up for the $5/month Rdio subscription and downloaded the desktop app. I also bought an Airfoil license from Rogue Amoeba for $25.

This setup works flawlessly.

Rdio’s selection is very good, and the desktop app is well done. You can even match your iTunes library with Rdio’s to build up your music collection, which I wasn’t aware of. (Note: Rdio was able to match only about half of my library, but still more than enough for my needs.) Suddenly, I had access to a good chunk of my music — plus much more — on my Mac without having to overburden my hard drive or be connected to my external. Excellent.

Rdio can’t stream directly to Apple TV via Airplay like iTunes can, so that’s where Airfoil comes in. Airfoil is a simple utility that lets you send music from your Mac to a wide variety of devices. It works great.

I don’t know if I’ll move to Rdio full-time in the future. It doesn’t have every song I have in my iTunes, although I’m sure they’re expanding their selection every day.

Right now, I’m happy to pay the $5 a month to have this flexibility in my music workflow. If you keep your music on an external drive, but wish you could access it from your Mac without fiddling with iOS devices, I highly recommend Rdio + Airfoil. Special thanks to Shawn Blanc for bringing this solution to my attention.

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Dropbox Camera Uploads

In their never ending quest to simplify your life, Dropbox has added the ability to upload photos directly from their iOS apps.

This is awesome for several reasons:

  1. Backing photos up to my computer is much easier. Rather than periodically plugging my iPhone into my Mac and using Image Capture, I can just open the Dropbox app, and any new pictures will be automatically uploaded to my Dropbox. I can then move them anywhere I like.
  2. Getting photos onto my computer is much easier. Instead of emailing them to myself, my photos can now be everywhere almost instantly. This is especially handy when I need access to one particular photo on my iPhone.
  3. You can earn more free space just by using Camera Upload. Try it once, and you get an extra 500 MB. For every subsequent 500 MB of photos you upload, you earn an additional 500 MB. You can earn up to 3 GB of free space this way.

Even in the age of iCloud, Dropbox is still one of my most valued services. I keep all of my writing in Dropbox, and Crush On Radio runs almost entirely via our shared Dropbox folder.

When I put something in Dropbox, I immediately stop worrying about it. I know it’s safe, secure, and backed up.

If you use this link to sign up for a free account, we’ll each get an extra 500 MB of space.

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So Long, Lifehacker

Last week, I wrote a thing about too many inputs. One of the concerns was RSS, an area where I sometimes feel I’m just swiping “read” to process to zero as quickly as possible.

The key to RSS is being mindful of your subscriptions and only allowing those that are truly valuable to occupy your feed reader. If you’re finding more irrelevance than value, it’s time to unsubscribe.

The Culprit

One of the feeds I struggle with most is Lifehacker.

I have a love-hate relationship with Lifehacker. The site contains both a lot of great information and a lot of useless information.

Lifehacker is a high volume feed. I’d estimate they post between fifty and a hundred times a day. This frequency makes for a difficult subscribing decision.

I want to be more productive, and I want all those tips and tricks, and I want to astound people with my wealth of brilliant geek knowledge.

But do I need to know that you can use mayonnaise to clean crayon off your walls?

Or that you can use a banana peel to relieve itching from poison ivy and mosquito bites?

Or how to use a jelly pocket for a better drip-free PB&J?

Maybe I’m just biased against food hacks, but I now see where Merlin is coming from. It’s gotten to the point where whenever I see new Lifehacker posts in Reeder, I know I can just swipe, swipe, swipe them as read and knock fifteen or twenty off my unread count.

I’ve struggled to come up with a solution, because a few times a day there actually is something worth reading on Lifehacker. I’ve followed the site via RSS for years, and I’ve been following it on Twitter since I first signed up for an account.

The Lifehacker Twitter tweets every single post, so following in both places is extraneous. It comes down to the lesser of two evils: do I continue to swipe, swipe, swipe in Reeder to maintain a clean Twitter feed, or do I continue to flick past endless Lifehacker tweets to make RSS significantly more manageable?

The Twitter feed allows me to be more selective in which articles I choose to read. If a headline catches my interest, I can bookmark it or send it to Instapaper. Otherwise, I just keep scrolling. Compare this to RSS, wherein every item must be processed one way or another.

Or…

The Solution

I think it’s time for Lifehacker to go the way of Facebook for me. The percentage of relevant posts has gotten much too small, and when it comes to tech news, I prefer to read dedicated sites or real people anyway.

I’ve unsubscribed from Lifehacker on RSS and Twitter. I did, however, add it to my News list on Twitter. I only check my lists every other day or so, which allows me to keep a relaxed eye on the site while freeing myself from its information firehose.

I think Lifehacker is best treated as a database. It contains a wealth of useful information, but most of it isn’t useful either A: to me, or B: right now. Rather, if I ever find myself thinking, “Jeez, I’ve got all this mayonnaise and my walls are covered in crayon”, I’ll go look up a solution on Lifehacker.

Reading Lifehacker on a daily basis is like reading an encyclopedia from cover to cover: nonsensical. It’s more practical and efficient to look up something specific when I need it, instead of wasting my time reading about things that don’t apply to me.

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My Mostly Irrelevant Thoughts on The Talk Show

The Internet has been in an uproar ever since The Talk Show moved from 5by5 to the Mule Radio Syndicate.

Over the weekend, Gabe of Macdrifter wrote a response about the response to the change:

People take their opinion too seriously and like to inflate their own value. How can anyone without personal connections to and personal knowledge of the network switch have any opinion? Further, who gives a shit. It’s a podcast that isn’t ending, just switching networks. No one shut down 5by5. No one changed anything that materially impacts my life. I had to resubscribe to a podcast on a different feed. Big deal.

Dan Benjamin, John Gruber’s co-host on 5by5, released a statement Monday morning explaining the situation. He’s a class act.

Gabe’s response is valid. No, my life is not literally impacted by a podcast changing networks. I’m still sitting here at my desk, regardless. Nothing’s changed.

But the reason I and thousands of other listeners are feeling impacted is emotional attachment. This is what Gabe’s response misses and what Dan’s statement gets exactly right.

Like Dan, I started listening to podcasts when I had a forty-five minute commute to a job I couldn’t stand. I had been listening to NPR, but it was getting on my nerves, and I didn’t care about 90% of what I was hearing. That’s the beauty of podcasts: you can listen to thoughtful conversations on the topics that you love. 5by5 has been the source of so much learning, entertainment, and comfort for me since I started listening almost two years ago. Like Dan says, I feel like I’ve gotten to know the hosts over time, and they’ve become like my buddies. They don’t know who I am, but I spend time with them whenever I’m in the car, and subsequently I feel like they’re my friends.

The Talk Show’s switch to a different network feels like a favorite band breaking up. Something I’ve come to know, love, and rely on in some small capacity is over.

Yes, shame on me for developing an emotional attachment to a podcast, but what can you do?

Oh, well.

5by5 will continue. The Talk Show will continue, albeit in a different form. And really, we won’t be any worse for the wear. Other than Dan’s statement, we have no personal insight into what caused the switch, and so it’s not worth fretting over. We still have a 120 episodes of The Talk Show that can be revisited any time, and now we have a new incarnation of the show to look forward to.

Rands:

Take the time to understand change before you fear change.

Unless John makes a statement, we can’t fully understand this change. If you ask me, that means we need not fear it. We shall persevere.

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Too Many Inputs

Mark Sisson:

Namely, smartphones, social media, and the Internet in general has changed the way we experience the world. For many, it has replaced engagement with the real physical world almost entirely.

Brett Kelly, on reading intentionally:

It may sound narcissistic, but I feel a lot better laying my head down at night knowing that I spent 30–45 random minutes reading books and articles that I actually want to read instead of frustratedly skimming news that usually doesn’t interest me.

Paul Miller quit the Internet for a year:

I feel like I’ve only examined the internet up close. It’s been personal and pervasive in my life for over a decade, and I spend on average 12+ hours a day directly at an internet-connected terminal (laptop, iPad, Xbox), not to mention all the ambient internet my smartphone keeps me aware of.

Stephen Hackett:

Miller’s actions are probably over the top. That said, I do think many of us who are neck-deep in the Internet daily could use a healthy dose of self-control.

Richard J. Anderson:

How much of what I’m consuming in content each day is signal, and how much is noise? […]

Every click brings us a little shot of pure, full-strength dopamine. Don’t tell me you don’t get just the tiniest little thrill when you open your Twitter client, refresh your RSS feeds, or refresh your Instagram feed.

I love being a nerd, having a website, recording podcasts, tumbling, tweeting, reading RSS and Instapaper, and on occasion, even emailing.

I quit Facebook because it was a timesuck, and I need all the time I can get. It’s the same reason I don’t keep any games on my iPhone.

But sometimes, it’s still too much. I’ve felt digitally overwhelmed lately.

I had a nonstop weekend last week. Work was consuming, people were graduating, mothers were celebrating, family was remembering. And so my online life fell by the wayside.

Other than increasing unread counts, there were no consequences for my being off the grid. But I felt a certain heaviness every time I did take a moment to check my phone. I felt removed from the online world.

Distraction is ubiquitous. It’s so easy to wake up in the morning, reach for the iPhone on your nightstand, and spend half an hour reading and consuming.

I haven’t picked up my Kindle in months, even though I love it, and I think it’s because I’m already reading all day. Reading books takes focus and concentration. It’s intellectual work, and I often don’t have the strength for it at the end of the day. I’d rather just thumb through more tweets and RSS feeds.

Combatting information overload is an iterative process.

I’m not about to quit the Internet completely; I find too much value in it, and it’s helped me discover things I love very much. It’s helped introduce me to this online world of writers and creators, a community that I aspire to be a part of.

Ultimately, I agree with Rich. The simple answer is mindfulness: being aware of all of our inputs and what they contribute to our lives.

RSS is the biggest culprit for me. I’m currently subscribed to 98 RSS feeds, some of which are high volume, many of which are not. I’ve made a conscious effort to remove any feeds I deem extraneous. If I find I’m constantly swiping “read” on a majority of a feed’s posts, it’s time to unsubscribe.

I’m considering moving to a Patrick Rhone-esque RSS system in the future, but for now I’m going to continue to keep a close, mindful eye on my inputs, and maintain the self-control to not check them every five minutes.

Sometimes, you need to shut down.

The solution to too many inputs is simple. Evaluate each input as follows:

  1. Be mindful of the input’s value.
  2. When the input is no longer valuable, remove it. (This requires letting go of the fear of missing out on what the input provides.)
  3. Repeat.

Eliminate the unnecessary. Inner peace 101.

Have an extraordinary weekend, everyone.

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Deceptively Simple

There was a time, back before I started playing bass, when video games were my biggest hobby. I'd spend hours getting lost in virtual worlds, wishing I was off adventuring instead of sitting in my bedroom.

I'm a little sad to say I don't really do that anymore. I'll go back and revisit some of my all-time favorites periodically, but otherwise, I do very little in the way of keeping up with the latest video game trends.

I have a hard time identifying exactly what caused me to lose interest in modern video gaming. For some reason, I feel the spirits of games just aren't what they used to be.

For me, this deficiency is most evident in the Final Fantasy series. The PlayStation era titles (VII, VIII, and IX) captured my imagination like nothing else. Literally hundreds of hours were spent immersed in these magical worlds. I loved it.

Still, while amazing for their time, these games do not feature high-definition graphics, ultra-realistic AI, or other technological innovations relative to today's standards.

But while they may lack the polish and shiny-ness of the latest Final Fantasy titles, they possess something the newer games do not, which I can only describe as a charming and memorable spirit.

When Final Fantasy X came out for the PlayStation 2, it was incredible. The graphics were gorgeous. The environments were tremendous. There was voice-acting!

But something was missing. It lacked the charm and immersion of earlier titles. It was as if the graphics were too good. I've still never finished the game, despite having tried to get through it numerous times. There's nothing tangibly wrong with Final Fantasy X; it's beautiful, and I'm sure it's the favorite of many FF fans. But for me, something just never clicked. It never made me care.

The reason I bring this up is that Rands tweeted this awesome video comparing the original Mega Man to Mega Man X).

The video's creator spends twenty minutes explaining the brilliance behind Mega Man X, including the way its intro level flawlessly teaches the player everything he/she needs to know without the use of blatant "here's how you play" tutorials.

Mega Man X is one of my favorite video games of all time, but even I struggle explaining its greatness. This video fascinates me because it elucidates all of the brilliance and charm of the game, which I always felt, but could never quite articulate.

The video reminds me of the Red Letter Media reviews of the Star Wars prequels in that it explains exactly why the game so good, which makes you love it even more.

When compared to today's epics, like Mass Effect and Skyrim, early video games seem straightforward and simplistic.

In some ways, that's true. But I would argue games like Mega Man are not simplistic, but deceptively simple. As the video illustrates, a tremendous amount of care was put into all aspects of Mega Man X, and it's still one of my favorite games as a result.

I haven't bought a new video game in a long time, but thanks to their charming simplicity and surprising depth, I'll always return to games like Mega Man. I consider myself lucky to have had it as a part of my childhood.

Sometimes, you just need to go right.

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Unemployment Opportunities

According to the Associated Press, half of new grads are jobless or underemployed:

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.

Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he got financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. “There is not much out there, it seems,” he said.

(Via NPR)

Yep. Regardless of whom you feel compelled to blame, the economy is down. I know nothing of economics, so I’ll just state that as known and leave it at that.

Here’s J. D. Bentley in his essay, “A Touch of a Revolution”:

I’ve been appre­ci­at­ing the light­ness of being slave to no one. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that free­dom is the qual­ity to be most con­sid­ered as I make deci­sions. The free­dom to do what I want, when I want, with whom I want, where I want is of para­mount importance.

My life is dri­ven by the desire to find the under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples that fuel the great­est ideal and then to apply those prin­ci­ples so that I might one day achieve that ideal.

Regard­ing free­dom, the two great­est prin­ci­ples are these:

  1. Want nothing.
  2. Owe no one.

Brilliant.

Do not misconstrue “freedom” as “sitting around playing video games and having no responsibilities”. I define “freedom” as having the ability and the opportunity to do great work — the work I feel is important, not the work society tells me is important.

It seems to me that despite the state of the job market, there is an intense silver lining here for us twenty-somethings.

While the economy is down, the Internet is thriving. Never before has it been so easy to create something on the Web. A blog, a website, a portfolio, anything. While the economy languishes, technology advances.

A down economy means that conventional jobs are hard to come by. Why should we struggle and compete to squeeze ourselves into the few remaining boxes in which society demands we live?

Why not create our own boxes?

What if, years from now, the history books read that my generation beat the recession with creativity and passion? With vision, care, and the tenets of entrepreneurship?

The older generations have never had available to them the technology that currently resides at our fingertips. It’s no one’s fault, but we cannot expect them to be able to comprehend the technology or how we wish to leverage it. The iPhones, and iPads, and computers — these are the devices of our generation. While our parents now exist alongside our technology, the majority lack the immersion afforded to us by growing up with it, rather than before it.

I can think of no better time to think and live outside the box. To build my own box. I have no desire to fight for a job I don’t really want, especially when such a job might as well be a unicorn.

What would happen if we saw unemployment not as misfortune, but as opportunity?

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Thoughts on Yesterday's Apple News

As you no doubt have heard, Apple unveiled a new iPad and more yesterday. Here are a few of my thoughts.

The Name

It seems like the biggest buzz around yesterday’s announcement was about the name: “The new iPad.” Some are declaring this to be a stupid move, as if Apple was “unable” to come up with a better name. Such thinking is, of course, laughable. I’m sure “iPad 3”, “iPad HD”, “iPad Pro”, and others were considered, but Apple made the right move here.

Three reasons off the top of my head: In five years, do you really think Apple would want to be announcing the “iPad 7”? The “iPad 13”? No, the numbers had to go sooner or later, and I suspect we’ll see the same for the new iPhone later this year. Furthermore, most casual users are going to call it “the new iPad” or “the new iPhone” anyway. Now there’s no need to explain that, “Well, it’s the fifth iPhone, but it’s called the 4S…” etc. Instead: “Hey, is that the new iPad?” “Yes, yes it is.” Finally, Macs and iPods do not have numbered names. There’s no “MacBook Air 4” or “iPod 12”. Getting rid of the numbering system makes Apple’s product line consistent and simple.

Slightly complicating the matter, though, is the fact that the iPad 2 is still going to be available for $399. It does seem a bit odd to envision Apple Store employees explaining the two devices: “Are you looking for an iPad 2, or the new iPad?” But, I think such a question is designed to entice customers to buy the new iPad. “iPad 2” might as well mean “the old iPad” when used in the same sentence as “the new iPad”. Plus, when comparing the two side-by-side, I don’t think people will have a hard time figuring out which model they want.

The Retina Display

…is what’s it’s all about. I remember turning on my iPhone 4 for the first time, and the screen was astounding. I can’t wait to see what the Retina Display looks like on the iPad. I’m curious to see how the reading experience compares between the new iPad and a Kindle. The Retina reading experience will undoubtedly be much better, but the new iPad is still backlit, allowing e-readers to hold onto their e-ink advantage. Still, the iPad is a multipurpose device, and browsing the web, email, photos, movies, et al. are going to be gorgeous. I will continue to own both.

iPhoto for iOS

I’m not a huge photos guy. I snap a lot of pictures with my iPhone, but I do little in the way of organizing, editing, sharing, etc. Nevertheless, the iPhoto demo (which starts at minute 62:00) really impressed me. At $4.99, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it, and don’t overlook the fact that it’s a universal app and can be used on the iPhone as well.

See Viticci’s in-depth review of iPhoto for iOS over on MacStories.

The New Camera

0.7 megapixels to 5.0 megapixels is a huge upgrade, and being able to shoot 1080p video is nice, but I still don’t see myself holding up an iPad to take photos or videos very often. I’ve seen people do that with iPad 2s on a semi-regular basis though, so it’s a worthy addition. At least now the pictures will be of comparable quality to those taken with an iPhone 4.

A5X Chip for Quad Core Graphics, 4G LTE, and 10-Hour Battery Life

Mmmmm… speed. I’m most excited about the fact that a 4G iPad strongly suggests a 4G iPhone later this year. The same 10-hour battery life is great. I charge my iPad every few days, and it’s impressive that Apple — predictably — made no sacrifices in this department.

Slightly Thicker, Slightly Heavier

Negligible. Skeptics will be glad to have something to nitpick over, but the hardware upgrades above more than compensate for a few extra millimeters and grams.

Will I Be Getting One?

Sadly, no, I don’t think so. My iPad 2 is only a year old, and I love it very much. I think the new iPad is going to be amazing, and like Marco has been saying, the Retina Display alone makes it a worthy upgrade. But, I will be buying the new iPhone later this year, guaranteed, and I’d rather stagger out my iDevice purchases than buy two in the same year. I think owners of the original iPad would be crazy not to upgrade, and even iPad 2 owners aren’t crazy to at least consider it. It’s very tempting, but I will save my $499+… for the time being.

If you are in the market for a new iPad, however, be sure to consult Marco Arment’s buyer’s guide.

The Latest Apple TV

Like Mr. Stephen Hackett, I’m glad the Apple TV is still an independent box rather than a full-fledged television set. I just upgrade to the new software, and the new interface and other improvements looks good. Notably, the only difference between the latest Apple TV and the previous generation is that the new one can play 1080p video, while the older one lacks the hardware capabilities to do so. At the same price of $99 though, I’ll strongly be considering giving/selling my Apple TV to a family member and picking up one of the new models. The fact that iTunes in the Cloud now supports movies is also pretty awesome.

iOS 5.1

Small, but nice, updates, including an always-present camera button on the lock screen. I never remembered to double click the home button before, and the swipe up gesture to open the camera is well done. Also, photos can now be deleted from Photo Stream, which is great because I can stop worrying about clogging up Photo Stream with screenshots and other throwaway shots.

“2012: There’s a Lot to Look Forward to”

Tim Cook:

“Only Apple could deliver this kind of innovation in such a beautiful, integrated, and easy-to-use way. It’s what we love to do. It’s what we stand for. And across the year, you’re going to see a lot more of this kind of innovation. We are just getting started.”

Tim’s tantalizing promise about the year to come confirms that it’s still an exciting time to be a member of the Apple community, and that it will be for the foreseeable future. Certainly, Apple could merely continue to improve upon its existing devices and do very well, but I can’t wait to see what the next big thing is.

No other company creates an experience that instills such passion and dedication in its customers. It’s why people love, support, and stand so proudly alongside Apple.

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Greener Pathtures: Part Three

Note: This post is Part Three in a three-part series about a social network called Path. It’s also about social networks in general and which ones are worth it. Be sure to read Part One and Part Two first.

This is an important quest. We are spending more and more of our time interacting with each other on the Internet. As such, I believe we must choose the highest quality methods of doing so. But which?

Part Three: The Path to Path

Parts One and Two of Greener Pathtures dealt with the nature of Path and other social networks, respectively. In this third and final installment, I will examine the potential role Path might serve in my realm of social networks.

As previously discussed, Path acts as a sort of all-in-one app, capable of handling virtually all social networking tasks. You can post a photo or video, check in with people and locations, post a song you’re listening to, post a thought, or log your sleep and wake times. By contrast, most social networks (Facebook notwithstanding) excel in only one or two of these areas. Twitter, for instance, is primarily text-based. Instagram is entirely photo-based. Foursquare is, to my knowledge, location-based.

So, we have Path’s Swiss Army knife approach versus the one-thing-well mentality of most other social networks and apps. To determine if Path will be useful to me (and perhaps you), I will compare each of its features to the app I am currently using to fulfill that need.

Photos: Path vs. Instagram

Instagram is the reigning champion of iPhone photo apps. I use it to post photos to Twitter. All of my friends use it. It’s great.

Path’s camera feature is similar, but with notable differences. Enter the bulleted list:

  • Path has fewer filters. There are some bonus filters available for $0.99 in-app purchases, which admittedly look quite nice.
  • Path’s photos are not square like Instagram’s.
  • Path’s photo filters do not have borders.
  • Path allows you to take videos and apply filters to videos.

Both apps feature tilt-shifts, flash options, and the ability to upload an already-taken photo. Both can post to Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

One thing that surprised me was Path’s ability to take videos. I took a thirty-second video and posted it to my Path and Twitter with ease. If the app took time to upload the video, I didn’t notice it. It just hopped onto my Path like it was nothing. I could view it on both Path and Twitter. The whole process worked beautifully.

I never tweet my own videos because: A) I rarely take them, B) I don’t have a dedicated video sharing app, C) uploading videos to Twitter isn’t usually seamless. Path, however, really impressed me with this feature.

You can save other people’s photos in Path. As far as I can tell, Instagram does not let you do this.

Also of note is the fact that Path is not a dedicated photo app like Instagram. That means there is no Popular tab, news feed, or profile — at least, not in the Instagram sense. People can still comment and approve of your photos on Path, they just do it on your Path timeline. It’s similar to scrolling down your Facebook News Feed, where there are many different types of posts. This contrasts with Instagram’s feed, which is only photos.

Will Path replace Instagram for me?

Probably not. Instagram is too great and too widespread for me to abandon. However, Path’s photo features are respectable, and I can just as easily use it to share photos on Twitter as I can with Instagram. Plus, Path’s video capabilities blow me away. Instagram will probably remain my main photo app, except in instances of sharing video and when I only want people on Path to see my photo.

People & Location Check-In

I’m including this as one section because they’re very similar. “I’m with so-and-so”, “I’m at such-and-such”, or some combination of the two. Checking into places or with people on Path is characteristically fun and easy.

I need to take a timeout here to point out that many features in Path can be accessed from within the other features. Stay with me.

When you click the “+” button in Path, you get a wonderfully animated radial menu that offers you the Camera, People, Places, Music, Thoughts, and Sleep/Wake options. Selecting one takes you to that feature, but then you are always taken to the Post screen, where you can add commentary, who you’re with, where you are, or choose to also post to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Foursquare.

This seems puzzling, but I think it speaks to Path’s versatility. You don’t have to go back and forth between features when making a post. You always get the option to add People, Places, Thoughts, or post to other social networks before submitting your entry. However, you cannot, say, take a photo from the People screen, or post a song from Thoughts, if that makes sense.

It sounds squirrelly, but the more I think about it, the more logical it becomes. The radial menu has you pick your primary reason for posting, and then the Post screen lets you to add people, places, or thoughts to that post. For example, “Oh, I want to post this song to Path”, so I hit the Music button and select my song. Then, I decide I also want to tag my friend Rich, who’s with me, and say we’re at Friendly’s. The Post screen lets me add those details to my song post.

OK. Moving on.

Will I use Path for check-in services?

Again, the only check-in services I use are on Instagram or Twitter, and only if I feel it’s relevant. Path, however, makes it easy to tag friends and locations in posts, so I can see myself using these features more often. I actually already have. Again: versatility.

Music

Posting music with Path is great. The song preview works well, and people can easily listen to what I’m listening to. I can post the song to other social networks with no problem.

I’ve been using the SoundTracking app for posting music, but I’m going to switch to Path. It’ll be one less app, and I don’t use SoundTracking’s other features enough to warrant keeping it. Path lets me post what I’m listening to, and it does it well.

And you know what? Path does everything it does well. Photos, videos, people, places, thoughts, music: it excels at all of them. Don’t think that because this app does many things, the experience of each thing suffers. If I can use Path for something, I’m likely to do so.

Thoughts: Path vs. Twitter

I can’t abandon Twitter. I love and rely on it too much. Path allows me to post virtually anything to Twitter though, including Thoughts, which are essentially tweets. This means you could use Path as a tweeting client, but not as a Twitter client because it doesn’t allow you to read your Twitter stream.

For me, it’s end-of-story: Path won’t replace Twitter, and it probably won’t for any Twitter user. Path does, however, make it easy to post additional things to Twitter. I see myself using the two in conjunction. Also note your audience with each service: you have varying degrees of friendship with your Twitter followers, but Path is reserved only for close friends. That should dictate which app you use for which types of sharing.

And now, the ultimate showdown…

Path vs. Facebook

Path and Facebook are, in some ways, very similar. Both services allow you to post virtually anything: photos, videos, links, check-ins, music, you name it. Both your Path and your Facebook News Feed will be filled with a variety of stuff from people.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

As I said in Part One, Path is a quiet, cozy living room full of great moments with close friends. Facebook is a raging house party. The dynamics of the two could not be more diametrically opposed.

On the Internet, there are people you know, and people you don’t know. Your Facebook is filled with people you don’t know. OK, sure, you “know” them, but you don’t give a crap about them.

Path is designed not just for the people you know, but for the people you genuinely care about. Well, why not just delete all your Facebook friends and start over? I guess, but the concept of Facebook has become so nauseating to me that I’d rather just leave it all behind. I don’t want to deal with the invites and the games and the ads and all the garbage. To me, Path feels like a green, idyllic pasture, free from the pollution of Facebook’s tainted, blue and white, Lucida Grande factories.

How can Path replace Facebook?

By being everything Facebook is not:

Real people instead of meaningless e-friendship.

Memorable moments instead of creepiness.

Quality instead of quantity.

Beauty instead of clutter.

Signal instead of noise.

Path needs no labyrinth of privacy settings because it does not encourage you to share your life with people who have no business being in it.

I’ve always preferred a small circle of close friends to a hundred sort-of acquaintances. Path shares that value.

So, now what?

What is to be the result of this long and arduous journey through the world of social networks? Well.

My current arrangement:

  • Twitter, for communicating and sharing with the Internet.
  • Instagram, for photos.
  • Facebook, for communicating and sharing with people in whom I (mostly) have no interest.

My proposal:

  • Twitter, for communicating and sharing with the Internet.
  • Instagram, for photos.
  • Path, for communicating and sharing with those closest to me.

Note that this new arrangement doesn’t necessarily see a reduction in the number of social networks, but it certainly does see an overall increase in the quality of my online life.

I will be leaving Facebook in the near-future, after I research how to properly save my photos, delete my account, etc.

You — and the rest of the Internet — will be able to find me on Twitter and here, at andrewmarvin.net. You VIPs will be able to find me on Path.

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Greener Pathtures: Part Two

Note: This post is Part Two in a three-part series about a social network called Path. It’s also about social networks in general and which ones are worth it. Be sure to read Part One first. Part Three is here.

This is an important quest. We are spending more and more of our time interacting with each other on the Internet. As such, I believe we must choose the highest quality methods of doing so. But which?

Part Two: My Network of Social Networks

In Part One, I talked about what Path is. Here, I will discuss the social networks I currently use and how I feel about them. This exploration will help us determine what role Path can fulfill, if any.

Facebook

Facebook sucks. Everybody knows it, but everybody’s on it, so nobody can disconnect from it. If you’re still in that phase where “Facebook stalking” is a thing, I can’t help you. The older I get, the more I realize just how useless Facebook is. I’ve hidden everybody I don’t care about, and I still rarely find anything of value in my News Feed.

The people I actually love, I see or text on a regular basis. The news sources I actually care about, I subscribe to via RSS or Twitter. The events I actually want to go to, I don’t hear about through Facebook invites. The games I actually enjoy playing are not about planting virtual crops. As for photos, I just don’t care about putting them up on Facebook anymore. If I think you’ll like a photo I took, I’ll text it to you or show you on my phone when we hang out. Or I’ll tweet it. I don’t need everyone to see the hundred pictures I took on vacation. It’s probably none of your business anyway.

Facebook is a means for people to feel validated on the Internet. It feels good when someone Likes your post or comments on your photo. It feels good to read other people’s sad Facebook statuses, or to see how fat that bitch from high school has become, or to check if so-and-so is single. It feels good to know someone is having a worse day than you. It’s all a distraction.

Organizations are no better. I cringe when I see respectable businesses telling people to “Like us on Facebook!” As if that’s going to help you or anybody. Facebook is a waste of time. How much of a waste of time depends on the user. It’s social titillation, and it’s shallow and lame.

Hey, jerkface. If you hate Facebook so much, why don’t you just delete your account?

An excellent point. I should, but there are two main reasons why I haven’t yet.

  1. The Quarter-Life Enlightenment Facebook page. While I personally see little value in Facebook, I can understand the fact that some might use it as their primary news source. I want to provide as many ways as possible to subscribe to QLE, be it Twitter, RSS, email, or Facebook. If you’re on Facebook every day, then Liking the QLE page might be the easiest way for you to stay up-to-date on new posts.

  2. I’m fortunate to not be affected by Facebook’s addictive qualities. Usually, I just read the new posts in my News Feed a couple of times a day, and then I close it. I don’t look at people’s profiles or pictures, and I very rarely search for anything specific. Thus, the need for me to disconnect from Facebook is less severe than it might be for other users. It’s definitely a matter of time though.

Twitter

I love Twitter. You know this. Twitter is a tool. And it is fun.

William Gibson:

[Facebook and MySpace] feel like malls to me. But Twitter actually feels like the street. You can bump into anybody on Twitter.

Yes. I’ve interacted with people I greatly admire on Twitter who might have otherwise never known I existed. That’s really cool.

The beauty of Twitter is its simplicity. There is no forced, awkward Internet friendship. You’re either following someone, or you’re not. The 140 character limit cuts out all the crap. You have to think about what you say and how you say it. Twitter reflects the way I feel about relationships, in the sense that you actively choose who you want in your feed. You can follow celebrities, athletes, writers, politicians… whomever you feel contributes value to your life. There is no obligatory, regrettable acceptance of friend requests.

Twitter is a wonderful ongoing conversation. I love it very much.

Instagram

I love Instagram, but I mainly use it for its integration with Twitter. If I take a photo I want to share, I’ll usually take it with Instagram and post it to Twitter in addition to my Instagram profile. It’s a great app — well-designed, fun, and simple to use. Plus, it has a widespread user base. Every iPhone user I know uses Instagram.

Google+

Google+ is weird. It’s like Google Facebook for nerds. Some people have really started to use it as a publishing platform, but I haven’t felt compelled to do anything more than post a link each day, like the Facebook fan page. I’ve yet to find a way to automate this process. Google+’s interface is certainly nicer than Facebook’s, but it’s become quite clear that people are having a hard time switching.

In addition, there’s been a lot of talk recently about users moving away from Google because of their increasing tendency to “be evil”. Many have taken to DuckDuckGo for their searching needs. I’m heavily invested in Gmail, so I haven’t yet begun to get off Google, but it is on my radar.

MySpace

Hahaha.

Foursquare, Gowalla, etc.

I’ve never really used location-based check-in services, mainly because I rarely feel compelled to let people know where I am. From time to time, I’ll add a location to a picture in Instagram if I think it’s relevant, but that’s all.

SoundTracking, Last.fm, etc.

I love music, and I often want to share what I’m listening to with people. Posting lyrics as tweets or statuses isn’t very effective, so I’m more interested in services that allow you to post a preview of the song you’re listening to. That way, if I post about a song by The Long Winters, people can click through and listen to what I’m hearing. I prefer that to only posting out-of-context lyrics.

I had a Last.fm account a while back, but I don’t use it anymore. I’ve taken to posting songs with the SoundTracking app, which works well enough. Nobody is on SoundTracking itself, so I use it to post songs to Twitter. It gets the job done.

LinkedIn

I can’t really take LinkedIn seriously. To me, it feels like adults were jealous of Facebook and decided they needed to get in on the game. LinkedIn feels like Facebook for adults, rationalized under the pretense of “networking”.

So, what about Path?

Where does Path fit into all this, if at all? My online social needs are being fulfilled by the above services with varying degrees of efficiency. Is there any room for Path? Can it replace or supplement any of my existing social networks, or is it just another unnecessary account? That’s what I’ll be discussing next.

Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion to Greener Pathtures!

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Greener Pathtures: Part One

Note: This post is Part One in a three-part series about a social network called Path. It’s also about social networks in general and which ones are worth it. Also check out Part Two and Part Three.

This is an important quest. We are spending more and more of our time interacting with each other on the Internet. As such, I believe we must choose the highest quality methods of doing so. But which?

Second Note: Path recently came under fire for sending users’ Address Books up to their servers without consent. Path claimed this was being done to make it easy to find family and friends in the app. Path has since apologized, deleted all Address Book records, and updated the app to ask permission before accessing user contacts.

I believe Path made an honest mistake and has now done the right thing. I do not believe Path had or has malicious intent. Keep in mind that many apps have access to your data, and please do form your own opinion about this issue.

Part One: A Crazy Little Thing Called Path

Over the weekend, I tweeted that I really want to use Path, but very few people I know are on it.

It’s a shame, because Path is a gorgeous app. It’s beautifully designed in terms of both aesthetics and functionality. It’s versatile. It’s fun to use.

But it’s a social network, and unfortunately, that means it has to overcome a serious barrier to entry. In a world where Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and innumerable others reign supreme, is there room for Path?

I think yes, but we will need convincing if we are to let this relative newcomer onto our smartphones. You see, the nature of Path itself is a conundrum.

What is this “Path” you speak of?

To explain what I mean, here’s a brief overview of Path.

Path is a social network designed to help you “share life with the ones you love”. It comes in the form of a free iPhone or Android app. Think of it as your own private Facebook, only instead of friending every person you’ve ever met, you only add people who matter. Path encourages exclusivity. Or perhaps more accurately, Path encourages intimacy, as the video on their website demonstrates. It’s designed for sharing with close friends and family members. Imagine if you whittled down your 600 Facebook friends to the fifty or so you actually cared about. That’s Path, only in a much more beautiful package and without the Farmville, poking, and advertisements.

Path allows you to capture and share moments in a variety of ways. You can take a picture and apply filters (think Instagram), check into locations with people (think Foursquare or Gowalla), post a song you’re listening to (think SoundTracking or Last.fm), post a thought (think Twitter), or log when you wake up or go to sleep. You can also link your Path to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Foursquare to post the same moment in different places. Watch the demo to get a good idea of what Path is all about.

As you can see, Path provides a sort of all-in-one social network, but therein lies the problem. If you already use some of the above services, why bother joining something new? And why should your friends join it?

Path’s usefulness hinges on whether or not people you know are already using the app, and so we are presented with a paradox: a social network designed for you and your closest friends, but one which many of your friends may be reluctant to join.

Can we convince ourselves to leave the raging house party of Facebook for the quiet, intimate living room of Path?

To answer that question, I’m going to examine all of my current social networks to determine whether or not there is room for Path.

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of Greener Pathtures, in which I eviscerate Facebook, fawn over Twitter, and wonder if anybody still uses MySpace.

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Happiness Is a Warm Screen

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Lam wrote an article called Happiness Takes (A Little) Magic, which discusses the role technology plays in our happiness and overall well-being. Brian’s piece was in response to Matt Ritchel’s New York Times article featuring a Stanford research report, which states girls aged eight to twelve who spent more time in front of screens are “less happy and less socially comfortable” than their peers.

Brian’s article is excellent, and you should read it. Technology and happiness are two areas of focus on QLE, so I wanted to offer my response.

Here’s Brian, referring to the Stanford study:

I am fascinated by this study because everything I have been doing in the last year professionally and personally has been to reduce the overage of technology and noise in my life and it has increased my happiness by many fold.

“Overage” and “noise”. Brian is quick to admit that he makes his living on the Web, and I will forcibly argue the value of technology and even certain social networks. The concern here is too much technology, to the point where it obstructs our ability to appreciate life outside it.

Brian uses junk food as a metaphor for the type of information we are lured into consuming, and the comparison is apt. The truth is, most of us are aware of how unhealthy processed food is, but its ubiquity also makes it almost impossible to avoid. Junk food is everywhere, often in disguise. Unless you are consistently mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth, it’s all too easy to fall into a complacent state of consumption.

So it is with technology.

As Brian mentions, television is inundated with celebrities and reality shows. Radio is laden with ads and overproduced, auto-tuned noise. The Internet is a barrage of headlines, linkbait, and meaningless Facebook statuses. This form of technology is so omnipresent that is has become the norm. Like eating at McDonald’s, you have to consciously choose to reject the garbage everyone else is mindlessly consuming. You have to be the weird one by not eating that stuff, or by not drinking or smoking, or by not having a Facebook account. The unfortunate truth is, you have to go out of your way to be healthy.

This is a matter of individual responsibility. You cannot control what appears on a menu, but you can control what you order or whether you eat there altogether. So too, you cannot control what other people put on the Internet, but you can control whether or not you choose to consume it.

There are two categories of people on the Web: people you don’t know, and people you do know. Brian handles both. First, the people you don’t know:

The first thing I did was to take back my time. I quit all the online content that was id-provoking and knee jerk. I stopped reading the stupid hyped up news stories that are press releases or rants about things that will get fixed in a week. I stopped reading the junk and about the junk that was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs that write stories like “top 17 photos of awesome clouds by iphone” and “EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS COMING TO FACEBOOK ON VALENTINES DAY.” And corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most days, I feel like most internet writers and editors are engaging in the kind of vapid conversation you find at parties that is neither enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone is shouting and no one is saying anything. I don’t have time for this.

Fantastic.

Do we really need to follow the 24-hour news cycle? To be informed at all times? Whether it’s politics, tech, or otherwise, I say no. Is there important stuff going on somewhere in the world at this very moment? Probably. But, how much of it is stuff I need to know about? Unless you define yourself by being the first to know the latest news, you don’t need to worry. If something is big enough for you to need to know about it, you’ll find out. Trust me. Imagine trying not to find out who won the Superbowl. Exactly. And that’s not even important.

The solution comes down to old-fashioned quality versus quantity. Take tech news, for example. I don’t need to follow TechCrunch and Engadget and Gizmodo because 75% of the things popping up in my news feed would be things that I do not care about. To be honest, I don’t care about the latest evil thing Google did, or the latest creepy thing Facebook did, or how big the latest Android phone is. I can’t be bothered.

Instead, I follow writers — individuals — whose values align with my own. In tech, if Gruber, or Shawn, or Ben, or Viticci are talking about it, then it’s probably something I’ll want to pay attention to. And even then, not always.

“Well, how can you just blindly go by whatever these guys are saying?”

Because I trust them and enjoy hearing their opinions. I may not always agree with them, but I feel its safer than consuming information from a news aggregate and blindly taking it as fact.

Now, about those people you do know. Brian:

I also stopped reading twitter and facebook regularly, because most of my online acquaintances are nice, but I like to think about these experiences as shallow and yes, also I don’t give a shit about 99% of people I interact with online. I’ve met some great friends online, but once I find them I would prefer to spend that time and energy with the few I would do anything for. Also, clicking the like button 1 billion times will never give you an orgasm or a hug or a high five.

“Shallow”.

That’s it, right there. What’s the quality of this relationship? What does this person contribute to my life on a daily basis? Love? Support? Laughs? Or shitty, melodramatic Facebook statuses?

Delete. Defriend. Unfollow.

You don’t need the noise. If “quality over quantity” is true for anything, it’s true for relationships, and not only digital ones. Let them go. You’ll have more time for those who matter.

This is not to say there are no benefits to technology. It allows us to learn and communicate in profound new ways, but we must be cautious. It should never take the place of life itself. Here’s Brian again:

Try using technology to work and read and watch faster. Then use that time to go explore the world or do whatever makes you happier. Is it hanging out online? If you think this, then you probably have not seen the things I have seen away from my computer.

Use technology. Enjoy technology. Read. Write. Learn. Connect. Discover. Grow. But be selective in those endeavors. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a state of complacency. Don’t allow yourself to become a mindless consumer. Be disciplined. You’re smart and good-looking. You can tell what is good and what is garbage. You can tell what is signal and what is noise. You can tell what’s worth it and what’s a waste. Choose mindfully, and then shut it down.

Don’t let your screen replace the sun.

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Should You Put a Case On Your iPhone?

Dave Caolo, of 52 Tiger fame, has noted that Gizmodo wants us to stop ruining our phones with stupid cases. Writes Jamie Condliffe:

It’s time to lose your cover for good, and let your phone roam free, nude, as nature intended.

I have no love for Gizmodo, and while I disagree with the tone of Condliffe’s article — even though it bears the site’s “Rant” tag — I also don’t use a case on my phone. I frequently discuss the issue with fellow iPhone users, so I thought I’d lay out my thoughts here.

On my iPhone 3G and my current iPhone 4, I’ve used a handful of cases with varying degrees of intensity. I started with the tank-like Otterbox Defender on my 3G, which can supposedly withstand being run over by a truck. Eventually, I realized this case was overkill, and over time I settled at the opposite end of the spectrum with the minimalist Incase Snap. This case offered little more than scratch protection, but it felt good.

When my Incase Snap cracked, I replaced it with what turned out to be (according to reviews) a knockoff from Amazon, which was made of a different material and didn’t fit properly. Well, no iPhone of mine wears a knockoff case, so I decided to go try going without. I haven’t used a case for probably six months now, much to the shock and awe of my friends and family members.

In retrospect, I believe my progression from indestructible to minimalist cases helped grant me the confidence to let my iPhone go naked. When it came time to ditch my phony Incase Snap, I asked myself, “How much protection is this case really providing anyway?” In other words, going from a very thin case to no case at all wasn’t much of a leap. If you’re contemplating going sans-case, might I suggest moving to a thinner case first as a stepping stone.

But that brings us back to the original issue and Gizmodo’s article: why would you want to go without a case?

Let’s take a look at Gizmodo’s three points. The first is that “it’s unnatural”:

Putting a case on your phone is a little like painting your Ferrari with rust-proofing paint, then wrapping it in burlap. Sure, you’re less likely to scratch it. But you obscure every beautiful detail of the bodywork. “It’s sensible,” you say. Lies. It’s not more sensible. It defeats the point of designing the phone in the first place.

There’s a valid point here. The iPhone 4/4S is a beautiful device, no question about it. Much of this beauty is due to the glass screen and back, which consequently give it a fragile feel. I’m not going to go into the technical specifications of the type of glass Apple uses, but what it comes down to is showing off your beautiful device versus protecting your prized possession. If you drop things a lot, a case might in fact be the “sensible” option. That’s up to you, not Gizmodo.

Personally, “showing off” isn’t the reason I don’t use a case. While it does look better, it also feels better. Holding a bare iPhone after using a case for a long time is pretty amazing. If you haven’t taken your case off in a while, try it, and remember how the device is supposed to feel, if only for a moment. That being said, there are some wonderfully grippy cases out there that feel great in the hand. Still, I prefer the feel of a naked iPhone. Giggity.

Side Note: You might wonder why I use a Smart Cover on my iPad if I prefer having nothing on my iPhone. While I do prefer the feel of my iPad 2 without it (considerably thinner), the Smart Cover was designed by Apple specifically for that device. It doesn’t just add protection with minimal bulk. It also provides increased functionality as a stand and sleep/wake mechanism. If Apple came up with a Smart Cover equivalent for the iPhone, I’d probably jump on it.

Gizmodo’s second reason is that “it’s not worth it”. They say you’re going to upgrade to new phone in a couple of years, and any scratches only reduce the resale value by what a case would have cost anyway. Plus:

But remember that a few knocks along the way add character. Those little scratches will remind you of things that actually happen in your life. I have a ding in mine from when I walked into a wall drunk. That was a good night. I like that it reminds me of it.

But then, maybe things don’t actually happen in your life, given you spend so much time worrying about protecting your damn phone.

If you need to damage your phone to remember your drunken escapades, you might take a step back and reevaluate. Perhaps consider the Camera app. But anyway, ignore the quoted douchebaggery here for a moment, and let me say what could have cut this response down by about a thousand words:

Whether or not a case is “worth it” is a matter of personal preference. If it helps you sleep at night, by all means, get one. If you think it’s a waste of money, don’t buy one. It’s very simple. There’s no reason another person’s decision about their phone should cause you personal angst.

A $40 case is an expense, for sure, but if you’re accident-prone, it’s probably worth it for you. I will say, however, that I’ve treated my iPhone 4 better since removing the case. When it’s not covered in plastic and rubber, I remember that I’m holding a beautiful, $300 piece of technology. I’m more mindful when using it. I rarely even toss it on the couch or my bed.

My phone is usually in one of four places: in my front left pocket (alone… keys go in the front right pocket, wallet goes in the back right) with the screen facing my leg; in the center holster of my car; on the flat surface next to me; or in my hand. When my iPhone is in transit between these locations, I’m very aware of where it is. I always put my phone in my pocket before getting out of the car. I usually put it down on top of a book or legal pad if I’m at my desk, and I make sure the surface doesn’t have crumbs or other abrasive materials. These are habits I’ve built since going case-less. It’s not to say accidents don’t happen, but being consistently mindful has helped me reduce the risks and feel confident about having a naked iPhone.

On to Gizmodo’s third and final point:

A quick survey reveals that every phone in the Gizmodo office is nude. That’s right; we’re not just talk. Our phones run naked and free, as nature intended, and haven’t yet had occasion to regret it. Neither will you.

“Our final reason for being anti-case is that none of us use cases.”

All right.

A phone case is a matter of personal preference, and thus my point is two-fold.

First, the preference. If you’re going to be stressed out carrying $300 worth of unprotected technology around in your pocket, do get a case. The forty bucks is worth the peace of mind. On the other hand, I happen to think it’s worth learning how to live without a case. It’s nothing to be scared of. It just takes a bit of mindful practice. I’ve no interest in forcing anyone to adopt my point of view, although I’m happy to share it.

Which brings me to the personal: You worry about you and your phone. I’ll worry about me and mine.

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Game Over, iPhone

I’m a proponent of removing clutter. A clean workspace, physical or digital, helps reduce stress by eliminating distractions and adding lightness to your day. When the weight of clutter is removed from your desk, it’s also removed from your mind. Clean is calm.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to take a drastic step and delete the Games folder on my iPhone.

Going game-less on the iPhone is something Stephen Hackett has talked about on his site, 512 Pixels. I touched on it, but only recently have I decided to adopt Stephen’s thinking.

iOS is a terrific gaming platform, and there are many fun and beautifully designed games out there. But, in the four years I’ve owned an iPhone, there’s never been a game that has held my attention for very long. Maybe a month, if I was playing it with a friend, but such games are rare. Even ports of games I loved as a child, like Mega Man and Chrono Trigger, go mostly unplayed after the first couple of days.

So, I’ve decided to try getting rid of them, and I think the benefits will outweigh the consequences.

  1. No games = more space. Some games are pretty large and take up quite a bit of room on my phone. This isn’t a huge problem because I own a 32GB model iPhone 4, but now that iCloud is in full effect, I’m keeping more and more music on my phone instead of a separate iPod. There’s simply no reason to take up valuable space with unused apps, games included.

  2. No games = save money. I know: most iOS games are a couple of bucks at the most, but those dollars add up. According to iTunes, I’ve downloaded 240 apps since I got my first iPhone circa 2008. Some of those were free, but some of them were $4.99 or more. If I don’t have a Games folder on my iPhone, I’ll hesitate before buying any new games, especially since I can’t stand the thought of a folder with only two apps in it.

  3. No games = more productive. As I said, I’d rarely play the games on my iPhone, so it’s not like they were preventing me from getting things done. However, sometimes I’d choose a mindless game over doing something more useful, like reading an article in my Instapaper queue. Some may argue that it’s good to mindlessly play a game for a few minutes during a work or study break, but I think reading — or even not looking at a screen at all — is far more relaxing.

  4. No games = guilt-free. Most would argue that games don’t have feelings, but it’s hard not to feel bad about never playing that $9.99 5-star role-playing game you splurged on two weeks ago. Gone are those negative feelings; every little bit helps.

I’m probably going to personally offend a few friends with this decision, so let’s call it an experiment for now. I’m keeping the games on my iPad for the time being, since its larger screen is better suited for playing. As for my iPhone, unless the greatest game of all time becomes available for iOS, I can’t imagine I’ll miss my old Games folder. Although, if that day comes, I might have to give it a spot on my home screen.

"A Physical App"

Diego Basch on the Kindle:

The Kindle is so cheap that I see it as a “physical app”, just like the iPod Shuffle. I couldn’t care less about the object itself. I don’t have a case for it, and when it breaks I’ll order a new one overnight without thinking twice about it.

I agree. I love my Kindle, and it’s nice that it’s so easily replaceable.

Via Brett Kelly

Information Overconsumption

Clay Johnson, in an interview with Mac Slocum:

In other words, we don’t suffer from information overload — we suffer from information overconsumption and poor consumption habits. The solution is just as simple as a successful food diet. It’s about building habits and healthy choices for yourself, and sticking to it.

Via Shawn Blanc

J. Eddie Smith Reviews the Kindle Touch

J. Eddie Smith, IV reviews the Kindle Touch, with a particular focus on how the experience differs from iOS:

I’m not saying the iPad fails as an e-reader. Honestly, it revolutionized how I read by being the first e-reader I ever took seriously. I’ve read at least a dozen books on it in the last two years.

But when it comes to reading longer form content (books), the Kindle Touch has made me realize that the absence of features in an e-reader is a feature itself.

I talked about why I own both a Kindle and an iPad in my $79 Kindle review, and I fully agree with Eddie’s points.

I Am My Settings

Devir Kahan on the issue of choice and stress:

There is a certain bliss when you don’t have to make a choice. Or more specifically, when a choice is made for you. Most all of our stress comes from having to make choices, so why not take some of that stress away? Well, because having choices made for us can result in some bad choices, and ones we don’t agree with. I need to be able to choose and configure certain things just how I like them.

I totally agree. Choice is a source of stress, perhaps not in a harmful way, but in a this-is-making-me-hesitate sort of way. But really that hesitation evidences who and what I am, which is awesomely nerdy.

When it comes to app settings, I’m usually pretty good with the “set it and forget it” strategy. In fact, the first thing I usually do upon installing a new app is go through its preferences, tweaking them as I see fit. Once the app is configured to my liking, I don’t revisit the settings unless additional preferences are added via an update. Something like buying a stick of deodorant, however, can take me upwards of ten minutes, even though it doesn’t matter at all which scent I choose. (Must be the fear of smelling like the wrong kind of tree.)

As a nerd, I like to fiddle. I like settings and preferences. Like Devir says, customization allows me to make things my own. People may complain about how iOS’s closed system isn’t customizable like Android’s in the sense that you can’t change how the icons or the operating system looks. But I feel my iPhone is so uniquely my iPhone because of the apps that reside on my home screen, the apps I’ve chosen to put there. These apps, with their respective qualities, values, and features, define me. OmniFocus represents my love for GTD; Twitterrific my love for simplicity; Reeder my love for quality writing; Instacast my love for nerdy podcasts; Music my love for eclectic artists; Notesy my love for capturing random thoughts and ideas.

I guess my point is that my passion for tinkering — for making little choices — allows me to arrive at a place that suits me best. My former girlfriend once made a comment while I was driving, something along the lines of, “There’s a reason for everything you do, isn’t there?” And yes, that’s exactly it. There’s a reason why I keep my sunglasses in the overhead compartment in my car instead of in my center console. There’s a reason why I use a cassette adapter to listen to my iPod, rather than an FM transmitter. There’s a reason why Reeder is on my home screen, but Instapaper isn’t, even though I love both.

The reason is I’ve tried — or at least considered — the alternatives and, in doing so, have determined what’s best for me. Some people can’t be bothered with changing fonts or scrolling through settings, but for me, those few minutes are well spent because they ultimately allow me to remove friction from my experience. Choice is a wonderful thing because it gives me control. As long as the choices don’t overwhelm and paralyze me (as in the case of deodorant), I find joy in making these little decisions; they’re a product of my identity.

Human-Computer-Human Interaction

Adam Lisagor on human-computer-human interaction:

As we learn to speak to Siri, we’ll learn more about how we formulate ideas into words, how to express those so that they may be understood with less margin of error, ultimately shortening the gap between intention and comprehension.

Review: The 2011 $79 Kindle

Note: This is my first product review. Please pardon the shoddy photography.

About a week ago, I was in need of a distraction, so I bought one of the new $79 Kindles. I’d been thinking about making this purchase for quite a while and finally decided to pull the trigger.

It’s delightful.

Unboxing

The Kindle arrived two days after I ordered it, thanks to Amazon Prime’s free shipping. The packaging was neat, tidy, and product-specific. When you open the box’s lid, you find the Kindle cheerfully nestled there, accompanied only by a USB cord and a “Getting to Know Your Kindle” index card, which labels the device’s buttons and ports.

My first reaction was surprise at how small the Kindle was, probably because I’m so used to the iPad 2. The Kindle is 6.5” x 4.5” and only 0.34” thick, according to Amazon, and it only weighs 5.98 ounces compared to the iPad 2’s 1.33 pounds. It’s very light. More on iPad vs. Kindle in a little while.

After plugging it into my computer, the Kindle powered up quickly. Although it didn’t ship with a full charge, the battery reached capacity in less than an hour. Amazon says it only takes three hours for a full charge. I haven’t owned the Kindle long enough to be able to speak to its battery life, but I have no trouble believing Amazon’s claims. I don’t think I’ll need to charge it for at least a couple of weeks.

“Andrew’s Kindle” automatically appeared in the menu bar, as the device is pre-registered to whomever’s Amazon account made the purchase. (You can change the registration information in the settings if need be.) After selecting my home wi-fi network, all of my Kindle books appeared in a few seconds with virtually no action on my part. It’s great that you don’t have to log yourself into your Amazon account on the device, which would be a pain using the onscreen keyboard and 5-way controller. It feels like Amazon said, “This is Andrew Marvin’s Kindle” when they put it in the box.

I assume Amazon has gotten really good at shipping people Kindles, and it shows. The unboxing and setup process was painless, and I was ready to read within minutes.

Hardware

The $79 Kindle has a six-inch e-ink display. It has “Next Page” and “Previous Page” buttons on both sides, the former being about twice as big as the latter. Below the screen are, from left to right, a Back button, a Keyboard button, the 5-way directional controller with a Select button in the center, a Menu button, and a Home button. A USB port and Power button can be found on the bottom edge.

The Kindle’s case is a pleasant silver color, and it’s made of plastic. The back has a slightly grippy feel to it, and I wouldn’t describe the Kindle as a “slippery” device. The combination of plastic and the device’s minimal weight do make it feel somewhat fragile, and I found myself cradling it as I would any new electronic device. Marco Arment, in his review, said, “Nearly everything about the $79 Kindle is cheap.”, and while I tend to agree, I don’t consider it a negative sentiment. That is, I didn’t regret my purchase upon taking the Kindle out of the box, nor did I think, “What a piece of junk…” The Kindle doesn’t need to do much except feel good in your hand and provide an enjoyable reading experience, which it does.

This is my first Kindle, so I can’t compare it to previous models, but I found the tactile response of the Next and Previous Page buttons to be perfectly adequate. You press the buttons down — as in away from you — rather than in toward the screen, which took a few pages to get used to. The buttons on the bottom aren’t amazing, but they don’t really need to be. They click when you press them, so I have no difficulty determining whether or not I successfully hit one. Because they’re centered below the screen, it does take some finesse to use them with one hand; my right thumb has to reach pretty far to hit the Back button. My thumb also cramped up slightly the first time I used the 5-way controller to add my name, phone number, and email to my device’s Personal Info. The Kindle is about twice as wide as the iPhone 4, so it’s not as easy to operate the buttons one-handed. Justin Blanton noted in his review that the Kindle 3’s controller was in the bottom right corner, which would have been nice, but oh well. Fortunately, the Page buttons are a piece of cake to use, which is what really matters since they receive the most presses. When you’re reading, which comprises 95% of your Kindle time, using it one handed is no problem. I also like that the Next Page button is larger than the Previous Page button, which obviously gets used less. I usually switch to two hands when not reading, i.e. navigating menus and the like.

The top of the device just says “kindle”, and it’s nice that the Amazon logo isn’t in your face. (It’s on the back, centered at the bottom where the word “iPhone” would go.) The frame/bezel is maybe half as thin as the iPad’s. I don’t know if I have small thumbs, but there’s just enough room for my thumb to rest and have easy access to the Next Page button without obstructing the screen.

Notably, the Kindle doesn’t ship with a power adapter. It charges via the USB cord that connects to your computer. I thought about buying the sold-separately power adapter, but I felt that, given the Kindle’s charge cycle and battery life, so little time would be spent charging that it wasn’t even worth the $10 on sale.

Similarly, I didn’t feel the need to buy a case either. I don’t want to add weight or bulk to the Kindle, and I consider the zone between my bed and nightstand to be pretty safe. Cases on Amazon range from $30 to $50, and the Kindle itself was only $79. No thanks.

The Kindle is light; my hand doesn’t get tired after holding it for a while, unlike the iPad. I wish the Power button was in the top right corner, since I’m used to putting my iDevices to sleep that way, but it’s no matter. I don’t have much else to say about the hardware. I like it, and I haven’t found any glaring annoyances. Screen/display discussion can be found below.

Software

The $79 Kindle is ad-supported. (Amazon calls them “Special Offers”.) It’s available without ads for $109. The ads show up when the Kindle is asleep and at the bottom of the Home screen. No ads are displayed while reading, and you can remove them by paying $30 after the fact on your Kindle Management page at Amazon.com. You can also supposedly change the types of ads you see, but I haven’t noticed any difference so far. At some point, I’ll probably pay to remove the ads, but their unobtrusiveness is sufficient enough for me to put off doing so.

The Kindle’s Menu button reveals options to turn off wireless connectivity, shop in the Kindle store, view archived items, search, create a new collection (folder), sync, access settings, view special offers, and configure the screen orientation. There’s also an option labeled “Experimental”, which — obviously — launches the Kindle’s makeshift web browser. Doing so brings up a list of generic bookmarks to Amazon.com, Wikipedia, Google, Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, etc., but that’s about as far as I bothered to go with it. Because typing is so slow, I can’t imagine ever using the browser. It’s there in a pinch, I guess.

Speaking of typing: using the onscreen keyboard is painful. The non-touch Kindles still require the 5-way controller to select each letter, and the keyboard has an alphabetical layout, not QWERTY. Again, since the controller is centered below the screen, I had to hold the device in my left hand and operate it with my right. But, since the most you’ll probably do is type out the title of a book in the Kindle store, it’s not that big of a deal.

Shopping in the Kindle store is a pretty decent experience. You can browse books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and Kindle Singles, which are essays and other short-form writing. I bought Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson simply by going to the Top Sellers page. Selecting a title brings up detailed information about the book, similar to what you’d see on Amazon’s website. Clicking the Buy button sends the book to your device immediately and charges your on-file billing information at Amazon. It’s very simple and should facilitate quite a few impulse buys.

Amazon says turning off wireless increases the battery life from weeks to months. I would turn it off since I only use it for a minute or two when buying a book, but I’m going to leave it on for a while because I want my Kindle to sync with the Kindle apps on my iPhone and iPad. Perhaps I’ll turn it off in the future.

Amazon recently released version 4.0.1 of the Kindle software, which adds the option of configuring the device’s Page Refresh setting. This Kindle model refreshes (blinks) on every sixth page, but as Marco pointed out, it causes the text to degrade slightly after several pages. I turned Page Refresh on so that it blinks with every page and keeps the text looking sharp. The blink itself only takes a second, and you get used to it very quickly.

Oddly, my Kindle shipped with version 4.0, and I could not get it to prompt me for an over-the-air software update, at least not in the first hour of playing with it. You can manually download software updates on Amazon’s website, click-and-drag them onto your Kindle, and then install them in the device’s settings. It was easy, but I expect to be automatically prompted in the future.

The Kindle’s menus are contextual, meaning that, depending on what screen you’re on, a different menu will pop up when you press the Menu button. The variations are mostly minor. For example, the “Change Font Size” menu item is present on both the Home screen and reading menus, but you can only select it while reading, which is dumb. Also, you can’t actually change fonts, only size, typeface (regular, condensed, or sans serif), line spacing, and words per line.

Nothing is present onscreen while reading except the text, any black-and-white pictures, and a progress bar at the bottom, which shows how much you’ve read as a percentage. The progress bar is also filled with dots, spaced seemingly randomly, which actually indicate the length of chapters. I find the progress bar a little distracting, but it’s nice to see how much further the next chapter is.

One thing I had to learn was that the 5-way controller doesn’t bring you to the next page. For some reason, I had to break the habit of pressing “right” on the controller instead of the Next Page button. Pressing right or left actually brings you to the next or previous chapter, which confused me until I realized I was an idiot.

Reading Experience

Never mind those two thousand words, let’s move on to more important matters. What’s it like to read on this thing?

Simply put, it’s wonderful.

You hear all about how great e-ink displays are, but they’re definitely one of those things you don’t understand until you’ve tried it. They’re really great. The Kindle’s 6” display is easy on the eyes, clear, and soothing. It displays pictures nicely. The font, which a very quick Google search says is called Caecilia, is pleasant enough, although some choices would be nice. It’s easy to read in low light, and the text only looks better in well-lit conditions.

The Kindle is about the size of a mass market paperback. (See a comparison shot here.) I would guess it’d be easier for the visually impaired to read on the Kindle’s screen than on a standard mass market paperback’s page.

I absolutely love how there are Next and Previous Page buttons on both sides of the device, so it doesn’t matter which hand you use to hold it. Sometimes I accidentally think the left buttons are for Previous Page and the right buttons are for Next Page, but that’s only if I’m holding it with both hands, and I suspect it won’t last.

Something about the Kindle’s display encourages me to slow down and enjoy what I’m reading. It’s a wonderful break from the frantic skimming of reading on the web or any backlit screen. You can stare at the Kindle’s display for hours with minimal fatigue or strain, unlike a backlit display. I know many people are afraid to leave tangible paper-and-ink books behind, and as an English major, I completely understand. But the Kindle has many advantages, and I maintain that it’s the (for lack of a better word) content that matters. The medium in which it is presented is of far less consequence. A book’s spirit is contained in its words, and whether those words appear in ink or e-ink shouldn’t really matter. Still, I do know how good books feel, smell, taste, and all that. Just don’t fear the Kindle, especially if you haven’t given it a try.

On Owning a Kindle and an iPad

Now, I know those closest to me can’t wait to lovingly mock my Kindle purchase because I’m such an iPad evangelist. After all, one of my biggest reasons for buying an iPad was for reading. I’d like to discuss this here because I think it’s a valid debate, and I want to explain why I think owning both devices is nothing to scoff at.

First, let me clarify that a Kindle is not an iPad, and an iPad is not a Kindle. Yes, an iPad is capable of doing everything a Kindle can do; there is, after all, a Kindle app for the iPad.

Conversely, the Kindle obviously can’t do everything the iPad can do. The iPad is a mobile computer, just like the iPhone. It’s capable of just about every casual task a laptop can do: email, web browsing, reading, writing, music, games, etc. Whether or not a particular device is better for certain tasks is a different issue all together, and we won’t get into that here. (You’re welcome.)

Despite the iPad’s ability to read eBooks, reading on a Kindle is an entirely different experience. Let’s do this in bulleted form.

  • It’s healthier. Everyone knows that staring into a backlit screen for hours isn’t good for your eyes. The Kindle’s display doesn’t sear your retinas, even after many chapters. It also helps you sleep better. Blue light, such as the kind emitted by most electronic screens, keeps us awake by affecting melatonin (sleepy hormone) production. That’s why it’s recommended that we cease using backlit screens in the couple hours before bedtime. Reading on the Kindle before bed is about as harmful as reading a real book, i.e. not at all. It may not seem like a big deal, but when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, every bit helps.
  • You can read outside. The iPhone and iPad have great displays, but they aren’t very useable with the sun glaring overhead, like, say, at the beach. I wouldn’t want to bring my iPad to the beach anyway, but a $79 Kindle? Absolutely. Not to mention I’ll be able to bring one Kindle with a ton of books on it, which is easier to carry than even a single paperback.
  • It’s for a different type of reading. I bought my iPad so I could read on it, that’s true. But most of my iPad reading comes in the form of blog posts, RSS feeds, Twitter, Instapaper, and other websites. It’s great for long-form articles, especially with Instapaper, but when it comes to really long-form reading, like books, it can grow tiresome. I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done on the iPad, and it took me forever. Twitter, Facebook, RSS, and the entire Internet are only a tap away, so it’s easy to get distracted. The Kindle is built for a single task: reading eBooks. I can get lost in a book on the Kindle, whereas I was prone to skimming on the iPad. Skimming is fine for the web, but when it comes to a novel, I want to be totally present.

I’m sure the majority of people with tablet computers still buy hardcopies of books. It would be illogical to assume otherwise. I see the Kindle as a replacement for stockpiles of books that go untouched after one reading, if any. Could you use the iPad for the same purpose? Sure, but I argue that the Kindle is better suited for book-length reading. Just because someone owns an iPad doesn’t mean they shun books, and I don’t think it means they should necessarily shun the Kindle either.

I plan on bringing the Kindle anywhere I’d normally bring a good book, whereas I bring the iPad anywhere I need to be able to do mobile computing over wi-fi.

The bottom line is that the iPad and the Kindle are not competing products. Buying a Motorola Xoom or an HP TouchPad when you already have an iPad doesn’t make sense because they’re the same type of product: tablet computers. Buying an e-reader to supplement your tablet is much more logical. I’m not saying that everyone who has an iPad should buy a Kindle, but I do think it’s easy to understand why someone would prefer to own both, whether you’re a gadget nerd or not.

So, anyway.

I’m very happy with my purchase. For a long time now, I’ve been unable to read books as much as I’d like to, and even then, I rarely finish them. I foresee the Kindle being a great asset in helping me get back to enjoying books. It’s a device designed for one thing, which it does very well and for an inexpensive price. Richard J. Anderson sums it up nicely:

For all intents and purposes, the Kindle comes off as a unitasking device. When I pick it up, I am picking it up to read something—and I love to pick it up.

I agree with every word of Richard’s article. The Kindle has already changed my reading habits by eliminating excuses to read.

As much as I love the iPad, I’m now an avid supporter of Amazon’s Kindle as well. I think any book lover would do well to consider one.