The only worry I have about Priority Inbox is the additional complexity it adds to Gmail. As I said this past week on TWiG, Gmail is just getting stuffed with new and more advanced features: phone calling, Buzz, Tasks, and now this, not to mention the (awesome, but huge) buffet of optional features in Labs.
So, the web is all, um, atwitter about GMail’s new Priority Inbox feature. It basically takes a backwards approach to their already excellent spam filtering by using the technology to help filter up the messages that are most important to you.
There is lots of coverage on this already today but I am linking to Gina’s piece because a) it is a nice, concise overview but also b) she brings up the important observation quoted above.
GMail has such an overwhelming myriad of settings, features and options now it is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. Priority Inbox is a compelling feature but I sure would have an even easier time dealing with my mail if there were not chat lists and buzzing and themes and all sorts of other stuff I had to turn off just to, you know, check my email.
There is also the increasing privacy concerns. By using this new feature, you basically are telling Google what and who matters to you. They will use that info to both provide a better experience and push more relevant ads to you. Sure, they are already doing this to some extent with the ads that are already there. That said, this will surely help them make that data even more precise. Do you trust them? Is this a fair trade off?
To paraphrase a dead old white guy, perhaps those who give up privacy for the sake of inbox sanity deserve neither.
I think there are many out there who struggle to find the same control over their workplace computing environment as they do their home. For most, there is less choice at work over the tools you are given to use. As someone who works for themselves, I wanted to have someone speak to this quandary and tell their story. Thankfully, Julio was happy to step up to the podium.
My cubicle at work made me uneasy for years, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. This year, it dawned on me what had bothered me for so long — It was my computer stand.
You probably know the kind. It’s an adjustable metal apparatus with dual surfaces, one for a PC and monitor, the other for the keyboard and mouse. The surfaces slide backwards and forwards with a yank or a shove, as well as upwards and downwards via a rubber-sheathed metal crank.
My workplace has dozens of the stands, positioned alongside cubicle desks. My co-workers toil on the stands without complaint. In a bit of an epiphany, though, my long-suppressed hatred for these Rube Goldberg contraptions bubbled to the surface — and I knew I had to be rid of mine.
To grasp why this stand bothered me so much, you need to know how I work in my home office.
I have the simplest of desks, consisting of a sturdy rubberwood table my wife and I picked up at Pier One Imports for a pittance when we were newlyweds. It was our cozy dining-room table for a long time, until we bought something larger and more appropriate for entertaining our friends.
Then it became my workstation. It was too tall for typing, but my wife — who, unlike yours truly, can be trusted with power tools — fixed this by taking inches off the legs and reattaching them.
Thus transformed, the table became a single, broad work surface for a succession of all-in-one Macs, with plenty of room to spare for peripherals and the printouts I fan out when I am writing.
The table is typing and mousing heaven, with an obscenely ample area for my optical rodent to roam unimpeded, and curved edges that cause no irritation to my underarms and wrists during my marathon work sessions.
Commercial computer tables don’t measure up. These range from cheapo OfficeMax versions with ridiculous slide-out keyboard trays, to hyper-expensive variations from the likes of Anthro and Biomorph. Sure, the latter are elegant and ergonomic — even electrically powered, in some higher-end cases, for raising and lowering with push-button ease — but I’m not about to spend hundreds or thousands for such Lexus-like furniture.
My rubberwood desk adheres to the Minimal Mac ideal: It does its duty with absolute simplicity, maximum efficiency, minimal cost, extreme elegance and complete comfort.
My PC stand at work offends me in many so ways. The faux-wood typing surface is barely wide enough for the keyboard, with little extra room for a mouse. Its legs are enamel-painted metallic tubes ending in ugly, jagged-edged openings; the rubber covers intended to camouflage this are always missing. So is that absurd hand crank, forcing me to go in a frantic hunt for a substitute.
A couple of months ago, I reached my breaking point and had the stand banished. I needed no replacement brought in, as it turned out. I already had one: my cubicle’s desk.
This surface was too tall for comfortable computing, but I knew it could be lowered to precisely the right height. I’m sure millions of cubicles around the world have the same flexibility.
With my stand gone and my desk adjusted, I sighed in relief as I rolled my computer chair up to the ultrawide typing station and got busy (on a Mac, of course). This felt just like my rubberwood table back home. All the mechanical complexity was gone; a single, exquisitely positioned work surface remained. I like my job, and this allowed me to like doing it.
My new computer setup, though, made me something of an office oddball. Visitors to my cubicle would become flustered as they sensed something amiss — it took them a second or two to see that the PC stand was gone. No one at my office, to my knowledge, has ever done such a thing.
But I’ll never go back. This is what freedom feels like.
Send a canned message in under 2 seconds!* It’s as easy as launch, select, send!
We have all been in the situation. Perhaps while driving (which I in no way advocate), or in a meeting, you need to send a quick text message to someone. Usually, it’s the same person or group of people – your spouse, your daycare, your team. Usually, it’s the same message – “Stuck in traffic, running late.”, “Stopping at the store, what do we need?”. You get the picture.
Canned solves just this. Set up pre-addressed and composed SMS messages to save, select and send. Either to one person or a group. It does one thing and it does it well. Also, it’s only 99 cents. This is a home screen app for sure.
Some of the old timers may remember one of Apple’s most famous ad campaigns – “What’s on your Powerbook?”. In it, celebrities and some regular folk were pictured with their Powerbooks and revealed in text were some of the things they used it for. Even back then, I was highly fascinated by the tools people use and how they use them and this fed that crave quite nicely.
Instead of getting into the nitty gritty of of my recent return appearance on The Bro Show podcast, I’m going to attempt to explain why I love this podcast so much.
These are two young guys who are truly passionate about the things they discuss and that really comes through in the show. I mean, seriously, go listen to last weeks episode and tell me you know any two guys more passionate about the Scott Pilgrim series and film, or BBCs Sherlock Holmes series, or, well, anything they discuss. The only thing they are more passionate about is having a great podcast that earns any recognition they may get.
Not to mention, they are the epitome of the archetype British gentlemen. They are unflinchingly gracious, professional, a bit cheeky, and very smart.
So, go take a listen and subscribe while you are there. While this week you get to listen to me blather on at tedium, the coming weeks you get to hear two fine young gents who believe in things, and such qualities are increasingly rare these days.
Wow. Great read. John Carey hits it beyond the bleachers with this piece. Many, many things that resonate here with me, I’m not sure I know where to start. I’m just going to pick out a favorite bit or two:
I find that I sit somewhere between the ultra minimal lifestyle that many tout on their blogs and social networks and those attached to older, kitschy nostalgia. I like having old books on my bookshelf and small trinkets from my travels scattered around my living space. I like both the minimal forms of modern trends in product design and the warm feeling an old wooden bookshelf can bring.
Yep, same here. While people who don’t know me would peg me, based especially on what they see here, as a modernist/minimalist, they may be surprised to find me spending hours each day at my treasured old-fashioned cherry wood desk. I love it. I’m a writer and when I first saw it I thought to myself that it looked like the desk of a writer. Lots of cubby holes for pen and paper stuff. To me, it feels like a place where serious work gets done. Then there is this:
So when it comes to buying into new products I feel its good to look at things in a really obvious way, why do I think I need this and what do I need it for, which leads me to also picture what I DON’T need within the product as well. All too often a product will stretch itself way to thin by trying to accomplish too much. When you boil down a need to its essence you will more often than not discover you can usually do more, and be happier with less. When you simplify your desires it leaves room for you to actually enjoy the results of your labors.
So very, very true. Also, don’t be fooled. He does dig deep and peel back some layers on overdoing it with the minimalism for its own sake. That said:
Happiness is easier to find when you don’t fill your life with all that clutter and that is the reason I have been thinking about all of this lately. It feels all too daunting to live a life so crammed full with information and constantly changing standards to keep track of. I search for ways to find a balancing point, a calm among the madness of life spinning around me.
I have been a dedicated user of Simplenote for quite some time. Almost everything you see here on the site is either synced to it via Notational Velocity or written directly in the iPad or iPhone app.
The new version was just released and it is nothing short of amazing. They have chosen just the right features to add, and the right polish on the UI, while still maintaining what brought its users here in the first place — Simplicity.
Some of the new features that matter to me are the ability to “pin” notes you select to the top of the list, word and character count, full screen mode on the iPad version in landscape orientation, and versioning.
Seriously nice work. If you have not tried it yet, well, I’m rather surprised you have bothered reading this far.
I want to talk about something very important. Something that, I feel, has gone increasingly unnoticed – in fact abandoned in many cases – on the internet today. It’s increasing disappearance is akin to that of an endangered species. It’s so small that, when its population dwindles, people stop noticing. Pretty soon, we will look up one day and it will simply be gone. If we do not take action now, only those of us who remember the early days of the Internet will remember it. Then it will be too late. For this reason, I plan to take drastic action now. What is this rare yet important part of the online ecosystem?
The “via”, as we online writer types call it, is what you see at the bottom of a post giving attribution to the source where you found the link. For instance, take a look at the recent via I gave for this link to Scott Adams’ The Less Feature:
Not only did I acknowledge who pointed me to the article. If you click the name, I link directly to the exact place and words he used to point me to it. Obviously, I can’t do that in every case. But where I can, I will.
I made it very clear the events that happened that led me to not only the link, but also the fact that I initially saw it and passed it over but then, thanks to a trusted source linking to it, gave it secondary consideration.
Then, there are cases like this:
(via Ben Kogan who, despite my offer, said it was not necessary to link. He was just excited to share it.)
Ben sent me the tip off for the link via email. Therefore, I could not have linked to the exact source. Even though I asked if he wanted me link to his personal site or some other place when I gave him the via, he told me he did not. Guess what? I still need to make it clear why I am not linking to the source.
Attribution and acknowledgement of sourcing are not only the right thing to do, the honorable thing to do, they are the very strands in the thing we call the web. They are what connect it all together. They help to explain how I got here from there and why. They also help you navigate back down that thread and, hopefully, onto other places filled with wonder, curiosity and delight.
Many on the web have become far too relaxed at doing the simplest of vias:
I wont call out any specific examples. It really does not matter. What does matter is that I not treat my vias with the same lack of care. Therefore, I feel I must overcompensate for my own transgressions in this area. To make it up not only for the ones I have failed to do, but to make it up for the rest of those who do not. Especially those who fail to link this site in that chain of knowledge, thus potentially robbing their readership of examining the threads herein. Therefore, you will be seeing a lot more hyper-explanatory vias from me. I will not be perfect at them. I will forget and fail. In fact, the iPhone photo from my friend Jorge that I linked earlier failed to receive a proper via. It will go like this:
(via Ian Hines. Despite Jorge being my friend, and I a reader of his photoblog, I failed to see this photo before)
Apple often gets the less features thing right. The iPad didn’t add a fast boot-up speed, it subtracted a hard disk. It didn’t add a touch screen, it subtracted a keyboard. You want to print? Forget it. The iPad is awesome precisely because it has fewer options. If I want more complexity I can purchase apps.
Moving Tales presents the Classic World Tales series—each story is an imaginative interpretation and adaptation inspired by age-old folk tales, archetypal yarns, and legends from around the world. These are age-old tales of transformation, truth, drama and humour.
Another iPad app for young people the likes you have never seen before. Once again, the video is a must see.
One could almost start a whole blog just about these sorts of apps for kids and using the iPad in education*. Really great stuff.
*That is a free idea that I hope someone runs with.
(via Josh Lewis, who on Twitter rightfully bestowed the title of “the future of children’s literature)
It’s time to do things a better way. By exploring. By collaborating with friends. By charting your own course. Follow your curiosity into a more engaging experience. Inkling isn’t just a book on a screen. It’s an entirely new way to learn.
Anyone who has any doubt whatsoever that the iPad is the future for our children, has not yet seen Inkling. Make sure to watch the video on the site. Also, download the app and create a profile. You get a kid friendly interactive version of The Elements of Style free. Really cool stuff.
(via Ben Kogan who, despite my offer, said it was not necessary to link. He was just excited to share it.)
I mentioned this on my personal Twitter account but it warrants repeating here. If one wanted to go extreme minimal Mac, they could easily make due with a 40GB SSD for only $99. For instance, if one used mostly built in apps, used lots of web services, streaming music, etc. the trade of unused space for speed would be a huge win. An Intel model of the same size and price was recommended over the OWC model by a trusted source as well.
Now every purchase I make comes with a second-guess: Do I really need this? Like really, really need this? In the past year, “impulse buy” has left my vocabulary. I found myself buying fewer things, but also nicer things. On the whole, it’s led me to cherish my few purchases more. Every possession also requires a certain amount of upkeep, and I find myself with more time and less possessional guilt. Every thing owned begs to be used constantly; every second not utilized comes a shred of buyer’s remorse. Everything I own I use at least once per month, save for my winter clothes.
This is a followup to the “Living Out of a Hard Drive” post on the BBC that I linked to yesterday. Many details left out of that article are explained in much better detail here. Lots of food for thought. The above quote is just one example.
Add an event in just two quick taps. See how full your week or day is at a glance. It works with the built-in iPhone calendar but it’s faster.
Come for the better looking interface than the built in iPhone Calendar and Helvetica. Stay for the OMG-it’s-so-much-faster-and-easer-to-add-events-its-mind-blowing. (thx Blue Perez for the pointer to this)
Mr Sutton is the founder of CultofLess.com, a website which has helped him sell or give away his possessions - apart from his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a “few” articles of clothing and bed sheets for a mattress that was left in his newly rented apartment.
Simplenote has been growing fast. Over the months, we’ve received all kinds of great feedback. We processed this feedback, pondered it, prioritized it, and came up with 3 areas of focus for this version: reliability, organization, and sharing.
Importantly, we’ve also put a lot of effort into preserving or improving Simplenote’s speed and elegance. Our number one piece of feedback is consistently this: please keep it fast and simple. So we did.
It was somewhere early on in the design of the of the new Minimal Mac theme that I realized why designers as talented as John Rust must hate working with someone like me…
I’m a minimalist.
You see, I often am not sure about what I want. I am far more sure about what I don’t. Therefore, I will give someone like John a very general and nebulous idea of what I think I am looking for, they will go off and deliver exactly what I asked for, then I will say, “Wow. That’s great! Love it! Now, just change this, and this, and remove this, and move that, and make this tighter and…”
Just like the logo, all I knew was that I wanted a modest change. Nothing drastic. Just an improvement and polish all around. I mean, frankly, the site has “minimal” in the title so there are only so many ways you can go, design wise. That said, “modest change” does not clearly communicate anything really. What separates designers like John (and Aaron for that matter) is that they listen to my indecision, misdirection and generality with patience and professionalism. They let me know when I am wrong without making me feel stupid. But, more then anything else, they deliver what I am thinking of far better then I can ever articulate it myself.
John went above and beyond the call of duty in every way and even thought through and delivered things I had not even considered that made the overall experience for the reader that much better. For example, if you have an iPhone go ahead and load up the site in Mobile Safari. Seriously, do it now. I’ll wait… See that? Yep, John went and made a custom theme for the iPhone that blows away the default Tumblr iPhone theme. It retains the look and feel of the site while optimizing it for the iPhone. I did not ask for this, he just did it. Why? Because that is what great designers do, they think of the things you didn’t know you even wanted.
Some other things to note about the new theme. It is designed to look great on the Mac, iPhone and iPad (the last one really sucked on the iPad). Also, the icon looks great on the iPad/iPhone home screen. Post pages now have descriptive page titles. This should make life much easier for users of Instapaper, Del.icio.us, Pinboard, etc. (Special thanks to Pat Dryburgh for his post on this). Also, I wanted the theme to be fresh. The site is well past the time it needed to grow up and stop using an off the shelf design.
Finally, this theme is a custom theme made just for Minimal Mac. You will not find it in Tumblr’s Theme Garden. Please don’t copy it. I want a look and feel that is unique to this site. If you would like a custom theme of your own, I would urge you to get in touch with John. You will find few designers who can do an equivalent job as he, let alone better.
This is the best interview yet at Brett Kelly’s new online venture and it is more than helped by the subject on the receiving side of the questions. Shawn is an endlessly fascinating guy and herein lays out the many ways he exemplifies what we believe in…
Showing my office has always felt awkward for me. Perhaps because most people don’t know how to respond to the enormous monitor on my desk and the obvious lack of clutter. But that’s not even the main point. There is no way for a stranger to truly grasp just how much time I spend in my office and how important that space is is to my daily life.
When a small desktop is clean it merely looks tidy, as it should. But when an oversized desk is clean? That’s conversation worthy.
I think the less an email application does the better — feature-rich ones only encourage users to move in. I’d rather spend my time somewhere else.
Seriously, this is a must read. If you have not yet clicked the link you are moving too slow.
Twenty Years, One Keyboard – Guest Post by Dave Caolo
I’m honored today to share a guest post from Dave Caolo. Dave is an Editor and regular contributor at The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW). He also writes long form pieces about Apple and related subjects at his own 52 Tiger, which I have linked to here several times before. I really appreciate the fact that a big time blogger like he has taken the time to show up on my little project here.
The other day, he shared a photo on Twitter of his writing setup. I was especially intrigued by his keyboard and asked if he would share a bit about it and why he uses it. As you know, one of my driving principles here is that if a piece of technology works for you, even if it is just enough to get the job done, one should use it until it hurts. It looked like Dave was far from hurting and was, in fact, thriving with this mechanical wonder from the last century (as his recent iBooks opus proves).
Without further delay…
The first Mac I ever used was a SE/30. It was compact and tidy with an internal hard drive and ethernet port. Definitely an enviable machine in 1990. Connected to it was a forgettable mouse and an Apple Extended Keyboard II. That massive battleship of a keyboard was an homage to beige plastic, and laughably oversized for the Mac.
I loved it. So much so that I still use one today. In fact, it will have a place on my desk for as long as it works (and as long as Mac OS X continues to recognize it). Here’s why.
First is the sound. That lovely wooden-stick-on-a-hollow-log “thonk” that announces each keystroke is yet to be duplicated. It’s satisfying in a way that affirms your productivity. Much like the jackhammer operator feels content at the end of a noisy day’s work, I feel that I got much accomplished with all that thonking and clacking.
It’s also intimate. Over the years I’ve noticed that some keys have their own pitch. For example, the Space Bar has the highest pitch, the Return key has the lowest and the Period Key produces a solid whack that’s especially satisfying at the end of the day.
I also love the keyboard’s feel. Apple’s Bluetooth keyboards are nice, but the keys barely move when pressed. In contrast, the Extended Keyboard’s keys just drop when pressed, providing wonderful tactile feedback. They then spring back with perfectly appropriate force. I’ve used some keyboards that either repelled my fingers on the upstroke or yielded like cold oatmeal when pressed. They’ve all made me long for the ancient artifact in my office.
Finally, I love this keyboard’s longevity. It’s nearly 20 years old and working flawlessly. Once a year I take it apart and give it a good cleaning, and that’s the only maintenance it’s ever required. When reassembled it looks great and is ready for duty. In fact, the keyboard on my MacBook Pro has lost keys while the Extended Keyboard works as it did the day I unboxed it. Also, the Griffin iMate I use for ADB to USB connectivity years ago still works, and Mac OS X (so far at least) is happy to let me use it.
Any job is more pleasant when you can use tools that you love. I’ve used other rigs over the years, but when I’m sitting in my own quiet office with the Extended Keyboard II beneath my hands, I feel that I could write forever.
We thought it was time to give the 10-year-old retail phenomenon a new look. Apple’s retail store sales for their most recent quarter were $2.58 billion. Each store brings in an average of $35.9 million in sales, which continue to rise as visitors continue to stream in.
Impressive infographic with even more impressive numbers. Example: Twenty percent of Apple’s revenue is generated from its retail stores.
Look! Up on the page! It’s a new header logo for Minimal Mac!
Designed with love, care, and a lot of fiddling due to my misdirection and honest attempt to finally have a staring spot on Clients from Hell, by Aaron Mahnke of Wet Frog Studios. In all seriousness, Aaron does amazing work and delivered exactly what I requested in a header logo for the site – a modest but fresh change to what was already there. He delivered quickly and was kind enough to both listen to, and give, feedback when requested or warranted. I can’t say enough good things about him. If you have any venture that requires such work, it would be foolhardy not to consider him.
This is just the beginning of some of the changes I have coming up for the next year of Minimal Mac. Stay tuned.
And I think people who use software — which includes you and me and everybody reading this — are learning to value power over flexibility. In part because of iOS apps, and in part because our attentions are further disintegrated and we have less time for each app.
Wonderful and insightful post by Brent Simmons about how software development on the Mac may be changing because of iOS with a renewed commitment to power over flexibility. (via Shawn Blanc)
Minimal Mac recently rounded the corner of it’s first year in existence. I think I can safely say that everything about it has exceeded my expectations, mostly because I really had none at the start. I thought I would come up with this little project that a few people might enjoy that discussed the merits of having “enough” when it came to technology and, with extrapolation, life. It went from that thought to execution in 24 hours. Here we are, almost 900 posts later, still doing this thing. I won’t discuss the numbers but, let me suffice to say that more than a few of you show up every day to see what I post and, as a writer and curator, it makes me equal parts humbled and proud.
I hope the coming year will bring even more of the same, yet better. I want to continue to make sure I am working every day to bring a level of quality to the work I produce here that is consistent with my beliefs and abilities. I want to make sure that the subject matter is both topical and rational. I also want to work hard to make sure that anyone who chooses to give me even a moment of their valuable time and attention walks away feeling it is a fair trade and square deal.
I’m also hoping to spruce the place up a bit. Perhaps a fresh coat of greyscale paint. Make it look even better on those new fangled devices all the cool kids carry these days.
I thought, especially for those that have not been here since the beginning, an appropriate way to celebrate would be for me to call out some of the posts I think are not only a good overview of the year that was, but are also a reflection of what we believe in:
Apple makes it easy for people like my mother to buy a computer without feeling stupid. They make it easy by having fewer products (quality vs quantity), having products names that are easily recognizable and easy to remember (do you know what the Dell Latitude E5400N is?) and finally they have a website that makes it easy for you to understand the differences between the models and pick the one that is best for you.
Good rant about the differences in buying a computer from Apple’s website and buying it just about anywhere else. I’m currently researching PC laptop options for a client and it is a nightmare. They just need a basic business laptop that will soldier along reasonably for four years (the term of their replacement cycle. The only special requirement is that it needs to have a docking station. Every time I go looking I’m lost in a mess of models and options.
If not for the docking station I would have already recommended a couple of Macbook Pros and thrown Windows 7 on them. It’s like the PC guys actually work hard not to take the money. How do they manage to make any?
Of the 30 million tons of digital junk, about 70% ends up in poor nations. And increasingly, that garbage ends up in West Africa. Countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast get this garbage through illegal imports. This is called digital garbage by importers of semi new but in fact, 80% of computers that arrive there are outdated and broken.
That shiny new phone you want, you don’t want bad enough yet. That system that is getting “a little slow” is not yet slow enough. Even if it is too slow for you, it is more than most of the world could ever dream of having. Seriously, use your technology until it hurts – badly. Because the pain all of this consumption is bringing to a world that is just beyond yours is immeasurable.
Then, when you must (and only when you absolutely must), please make sure you reuse (first preference) or recycle all of your technology in the most humane and responsible way possible. Here are just a few of the possibilities:
Free Geek – If there is a Free Geek program in your area, consider using it. They are a non-profit organization that will refurbish your electronic equipment and give it new life and use by giving it to those who could not otherwise afford it. Anything they can’t refurbish they recycle according to the strictest standards.
Best Buy – Best Buy will take up to three electronic items, per household, per day, for responsible recycling. They do this as no charge for most items (those with screens, TVs, monitors, etc. are charged a nominal fee that is refunded on the spot in the form of a Best Buy gift card). I have done this with many items and it’s a pain free, no questions asked, experience.
Apple – When you buy a new Mac, Apple will take your old computer for recycling for free.