Photo of Sony-Ericsson T637
Recently, the Connected crew were discussing ideas for iOS 9 and describing putting iPhone into Do Not Disturb based on calendar events. On Nerds on Draft, Gabe and Jeff have talked about automation on iOS and on OS X. This got me thinking about my favorite phone of all time, the Sony Ericsson T637. This was my first real experience with tech automation. Combined with a single 3rd party app, this is the only phone that allowed me to feel like and appear as a wizard relative to what everyone else around me was doing.

Calendar-based Do Not Disturb

Screenshot of the user manual describing calendar-based profile switching.

When I was in graduate school, many of my professors were understandably strict about cell phones in class. This was still pretty early days for cell phone ubiquity, and many were still adapting. But, while I had the T637, my phone never rang during class. If the phone did ring and the professor lecturing, she either started early or went over her time. Because my phone supported this automatic profile switching based on my calendar, I appeared to be so on top of things that my phone never rang during class, and I got the immature satisfaction of a smug smile each time someone else‘s phone rang during class.

Ahoy, Telephone

Screenshot of the user manual describing how to configure the magic word feature

My T637 also supported an arbitrary magic word. Go into a quiet room, and record yourself saying, “Ahoy, telephone,” and flip a switch, and the phone would be always listening for you to say the magic word and leap to your service. This feature worked remarkably well, but as the warning says in the manual, it was an obvious drain on battery life. But, the T637 had a replaceable battery, and I carried a couple of spares.

Sync

When it comes to sync, the T637 was able to sync over Bluetooth with my iBook via iSync. I think iSync is one of the most underrated applications that Apple ever created. From Palm Pilots through the pre-iPhone days, iSync was solidly reliable for syncing my portable productivity devices. Perhaps this is mostly because I rarely added or changed data on the mobile devices, but I never had any syncing issues with iSync in the several years that I used it.

Games

My T637 had Snake and Mini Golf. That should be enough to entertain anyone for hours, but since my wife had the same phone, we could play two player Mini Golf! I had one particularly painful class that my graduate school required in order to make sure we knew how to use a library and computers, and it was taught by the single most boring human being to ever walk the planet. I chose a strategic seat near the hallway wall, and my wife would come sit on the other side of the wall and play Mini Golf with me over Bluetooth during the class because she’s the best.

Salling Clicker

Salling Clicker is possibly my favorite Mac + mobile combination of all time. It earned five mice and an Eddy from Macworld and two ADA’s in 2003. I initially purchased SC for my Sony T68i and it was a constant companion until the phone after the T637 was not able to run it because of dumb carrier firmware. Here are a few of my favorite features from my use:

  • Proximity Sync Thanks to the magic of Salling Clicker’s Bluetooth proximity features, my phone automatically triggered iSync when it came into range if it had been more than 1 minute since the last sync. This basically just moved over any calendar event or contacts changes, but it was important to always have this data handy and for my calendar to be up to date for the aforementioned profile switching.
  • Presentation Remote In graduate school, giving presentations was equivalent to giving a lecture to the class about the topic of your paper. While we had slide decks with bullet points on them, the really great presenters knew the material so well that they were able to walk about the room and really engage with the rest of the class. I wasn’t so ambitious as to know my paper that well (mostly because I hadn’t written most of it yet) but Salling Clicker allowed me to control Powerpoint and later Keynote from my phone and also display my presenter notes on my phone. The candy bar form factor of the T637 allowed me to discretely palm the device and advance slides even if I were several feet from my computer. I had lots of students and professors ask me how I was doing what I was doing. I explained it, but I don’t think any one of them ever pursued it.
  • Phone Calls Salling Clicker also allowed me to initiate phone calls from my Mac’s Address Book application. When I was on a phone call, SC would also mute my computer’s volume, pause iTunes, and update my iChat status to indicate that I was on a call.
  • iTunes Remote Well before Apple shipped infrared remotes with their Macs, Salling Clicker supported remote control of iTunes and other media applications. It also displayed current information from the application on the phone’s screen including album artwork, and it allowed browsing the iTunes library as well.

I’m not 100% sure why I’m feeling so nostalgic for this dumb candy bar phone with physical buttons and a terrible screen. I think mainly I’m longing for the gap that hadn’t yet closed between me and the muggles back in those days. I want to be a wizard again.

This Thanksgiving holiday was another one for the books. I hope the holiday treated you and yours equally as well.

My parents, niece, and grandma came to our place. This morning, we went for a nice walk in the park. My mom and niece stopped at a playground and my grandma and I walked to the spillway of the river. We met a nice guy who offered to take our picture. On the way back, I stopped for a geocache and explained the basics of the game to my niece.

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Screenshot of Launch Center Pro

Like Katie Floyd, I have had a lot of trouble integrating LaunchCenter Pro (also available for iPad) into my workflow. I’ve known about LCP’s power for a long time, but remembering to use it to tackle tasks was still a source of friction. Here’s how I’m learning to use LCP.

First, I identified the apps that I wanted to move to LCP. For me, this was apps like Tweetbot, Find My Friends, Reeder, and Pushpin. I put all these apps into a folder and named it LaunchCenter. (Including Pro elided the folder name.)

Next, I made this folder annoying to get to. I moved it off to the last screen of my iPhone where I relegate my folder of unused apps like Notes and Reminders. The goal with this is to make manually digging up the app I want to launch from LCP as painful as possible.

As an Alfred user, I’m also used to launching apps via the keyboard. With iOS 7 making Spotlight search available from any Springboard screen, this has become a frequent use for me. This is where the folder name comes into play. When I swipe my home screen down and type “twe”, I see Tweetbot. What I also see is the name of the folder where this app lives (LaunchCenter) and this reminds me that I mean to launch this app from there. So, I force myself to leave Spotlight and open Tweetbot from LCP.

The final piece of this puzzle is making LaunchCenter Pro itself easy to get to. For me, this meant just putting it into my dock. This is available on every home screen and seeing it all the time reminds me that I intend to use it more.

So far, I’ve worked adjusted my workflow for things like launching Podcasts and Reeder. Some apps I haven’t transitioned fully yet and I think these are mostly my most used apps (Tweetbot is always within a few apps in the switcher.) and apps I interact with primarily through notifications. But, I find myself launching LCP a lot more often and that’s really the first step to making it a habit.

Three Saturdays ago, I tore my right ACL playing ultimate frisbee. The last week or so has been a combination of doctor visits, MRI, and physical therapy in preparation for surgery. But, I needed to figure out a way to get some work done in between rounds of physical therapy once I’m back among the ranks of the conscious. I have a beautiful retina MacBook Pro that I can use on my lap, but I can foresee that getting a bit tiring between heat on my lap and pressure on my leg. So, once I manage to hobble out to the couch, I’m going to be mirroring my MacBook Pro up to my Apple TV. (The display isn’t quite as nice as the retina, but it will suffice for a while.) Married to this I will be using my Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad, pinned together with a Magic Wand, manufactured by the indomitable 12 South.

How do I know this will be a functional setup? Well, you just finished reading my trial run.

Here are two things anyone that knows me will corroborate. First, I’m a prick, self-centered nearly to the point of narcissism. I don’t care about your situation. Well, I do—I hope things are going well for you. That’s a handsome shirt—but I don’t care when I step into the voting booth. This is about me. Second, I don’t talk about politics.

So, let’s talk about the election.

2008 1

In 2008, I had a Good Job™ doing website development at a prominent retail company headquartered in Fort Worth. I was still in school, finishing up my Computer Information Technology degree at TCU, but had already parlayed my internship into a full-time position. Things were going pretty well. Within a couple years, I could probably have climbed up to some management position making three or four times the salary that anyone in my family has or will ever make and with pretty good benefits.

Then, I went to a conference for independent developers where I met a Russian guy from some company in Canada. He said they were looking to expand their team. It seemed like an opportunity, so I emailed him the next week to see if he was serious. (My current company’s stock had just dipped below $1 per share.) Just a few weeks before a presidential election and with the worst economic collapse of my lifetime beginning, I jumped ship from my first grown up job at a “real company” to do contract work with some company doing—what now? Something with Macs and iPhones? Where’s the office? What do you mean on the Internet? Most people I talked to seemed to think I had conjured the whole thing up in a fugue state that would make John Nash proud.

2012

It’s four years later, and I have been a silent basketcase about how this election would turn out. Romney’s promise to repeal Obamacare, his tax plan, and his stance on education finance would combine to mean that I would have to work harder to keep the status quo. It would mean that my kind and talented wife wouldn’t be able to pursue her dreams in the medical field, which would be a huge loss for the medical community and thousands of patients for whom she’ll provide excellent care. Romney is simply out of touch with people like me.2

Between the interest rate relief that was just renewed in July and will be back up for renewal before the next presidential election, costs of insuring our health, and provisions of the tax code such as mortgage interest deductions, our bottom line stood to take a monthly hit approaching $500. Maybe that’s what Mitt Romney drops on brie and wine at dinner, but for me and my family, it is significant. It’s the difference between renting a small apartment and owning our home. It’s the difference between our dog living and dying every month. For us, it’s the difference between forward and fucked.

The good news in all of this is that—even though I don’t care about your situation half as much as I care about my own—from what I can tell, this applies to a lot of people. If there’s 47% looking for a handout, and 1% trying hard to keep control of most of the wealth, that’s 52% of people in this country who are in my circumstances or similar, and what’s good for me turns out to also be good for them. And what’s good for us turns out to be good for everyone.3

So, I’m happy with the election results. If you’re not—if you think we’re going to be standing in bread lines and should all emigrate to Costa Rica before “they” take away our guns—that doesn’t mean I hate you. We’ll still be friends. Disagreements don’t drive me away from people so easily. For my part, I’m looking forward to four more years of progress for us all, no matter which way you voted.


  1. 2008 was the beginning of a really awful time for a lot of people in this country. I totally get that. It didn’t hit me personally, but who knows what would have happened had I stayed at that Good Job™? I made some really tough decisions at a time of great uncertainty both here and abroad, but I realize that a lot of people didn’t even get to make a choice. They were stuck. I get that, and I don’t want to minimize the tough time that a lot of folks had and are still having. I hope things get better for them. Truly. 
  2. If you can’t afford to go to college or start a business, borrow money from your parents. Really? What if your parents are poor—not broke because they overextended themselves buying houses and cars they couldn’t afford, but barely-getting-by-even-though-they-work-their-asses-off-at-two-or-more-jobs poor? Fuck you. 
  3. No one tell Paul Ryan, but Ayn Rand would concur. What’s truly best for the individual’s long-term self-interest is ultimately best for the self-interest of all. 

“That sucked,” I said to myself as I walked out of the auditorium. For the first time in over nine years, I played in a symphony band, and I haven’t played tuba seriously in almost thirteen years. And I’ve never played a CC tuba with five valves. All my previous experience is with BB♭ tubas with three or four valves. Rusty doesn’t quite cover it. I’m out of my element and in over my head.

A lot of the people in that group are way better than I am. I’m scared I won’t be good enough, that I won’t learn the music fast enough, or that my fingers won’t be dexterous enough to make some of the precise changes. But this is a more interesting fear than being afraid of trying in the first place. And it’s certainly more interesting than comfortably watching American Idol.

So, today, I practiced. I wrote fingerings in under the notes I couldn’t readily recognize. I marked where I’d breathe and the D♭s I kept missing. I played the opening eight bars of this damned Sousa march over and over. I counted out complicated rhythms while beating my hand against my leg to keep time.

I did all of this because it is something I can do today. And rehearsal is Monday whether I’m ready or not. And that’s terrifying.

Yesterday’s Back to Work covered obsessions, compulsions, and the accompanying anxiety of that feedback loop.

One of the best things I did recently was install this yellow ball in our garage. I was obsessive about and compulsively checked my parking after getting out of the car: did I clear the garage door; is there enough room on the passenger side; is it too close to the front of the garage or can I walk to the door?

Now, however, I pull into the garage and a little yellow ball drops from the ceiling. I drive forward (and slightly left) until the yellow ball touches the windshield right in front of my face. Then, I get out of the car and walk into my house. I literally never have to think about the position of the car relative to the rest of the garage ever again.

My wife expressed some doubts about whether it was needed or if I was installing it to subtly help her poor parking. No, this is about me and my own maladies of making sure I don’t dent the trunk lid or slice my leg open on the front license plate when I squeeze by or thwack the driver side in the process of taking a bicycle down off the wall or leave no room on the passenger side for my wife to get into the car without backing out of the garage first.

And my life is a mite saner thanks to that little foam ball.

I’ve been participating in a Glassboard board about productivity where Eugene asked about keeping on top of calendar events. Here’s the lengthy answer Glassboard wouldn’t let me post:

This sounds like the same thing I have been through. Even though I use THE HELL out of my calendar, I get caught up in things I’m working on and then space out on the fact that I’m supposed to leave to do $THING. A good example of this is lunch time. My wife and I have lunch together most every day. But for the longest time, I would space out while working and forget to find a stopping place and leave on time. Then I would be frazzled when she reminded me over IM or SMS and I had to scramble to get there on time. This meant I was not in the best mental state when I got to lunch to fully enjoy her company. Terrible…

The first thing is to get really good at knowing how long things take. Now, I have two alarms for lunch. The first goes off 25 minutes before lunch time. When it does, I know I have 10 minutes to find a stopping place. The second one goes off 10 minutes later and that’s when I actually pack up my stuff and head to the car. This takes about 5 minutes and then it takes about 10 minutes for me to drive to lunch.

Why am I beating that scenario to death? Because it took me MONTHS to figure it out!! I’m a complete disaster. But the only way I got better at this was by paying attention and being more honest and less optimistic about how fast I can do something. “Hey, idiot, it takes you more than 10 minutes to get from sitting in a chair with your laptop open to lunch with your wife. Stop lying to yourself!” “You have never fixed any bug past a typo in less than 30 minutes!”

What does that mean to you? First, be honest with yourself about how much time you need to make those appointments happen in a sane way. Travel time between appointments. (Not just driving time. How long from sitting here to sitting there. Does it take you four minutes to get from your car to your cube? Longer? Budget the time in.) Time to gather your thoughts before and after appointments. By all means, don’t schedule meetings with no cushion between them, back-to-back phone calls, etc.

But don’t stop there. The other side of this coin is that you have to know and be honest about how long tasks take. If you finish something and look up at your clock, don’t think to yourself, “Oh, I have ten minutes. I can totally [fix that bug, reply to that email from my boss, return that phone call, google that question I had, whatever]!” Someone smart recently said that, really, assume anything you need to do will take an hour from first movement to completion. “That’s ridiculous! I’m just going to the grocery store real quick.” Oh yah? Time yourself and argue with the clock. If you find project work and client calls or ad hoc meetings are usurping your time, the time to recognize that is when someone says, “Hey, do you have a minute?” Or when the phone rings. If you answer the phone in a small interstitial chunk between appointments, don’t be surprised that you get wrapped up in that conversation and flaunt the tyranny of the calendar. Let it go to voicemail or tell the person to come back later or ask the question over email so you can give it quality time and consideration. And as I’ve heard Merlin say more than once: Not in a dick way. Let clients know that you can’t provide the highest service on an interrupt-driven basis. And be honest with yourself that you can’t do your best project work when your brain is somewhere worrying about what appointment you’re about to space and you can’t do any meaningful project work in between those calendar appointments. If you think half an hour you squeeze out between appointments to work on a project that’s ostensibly important to you is a good strategy, you’re totally fooling yourself.

If it sounds like I’m mad, it’s because I’m mad more at me than anything. I am a total dipshit about this kind of stuff. These are the lessons I have had to learn through much trial and error, so hopefully I can shed some light on things if you’re in a boat even remotely similar to mine, and it sounds to me like you are.

A while ago, something I can’t pinpoint happened where I abruptly stopped using an RSS reader. I actually started going back to the sites manually throughout the day to see what was new. Mostly, I think this has to do with just not to launch yet another app.

Lately, though, I’ve found myself following feeds I like in a different but very useful way—via Twitter. I made a list and have added the feeds I follow there. The majority of the sites I used to have in my RSS reader have Twitter accounts as well, and since I use Twitter regularly (via the awesome Tweetbot), this fits into my workflow quite easily. This won’t work for everyone including those that read a very high volume of feeds and can’t afford to miss an article, but for me, it’s been an effective, guilt-free way to pop in, see what’s going on, and pop out all on my own terms.

This also has the bonus effect of being a up-to-date repository of feeds I read so that when people ask me about the sites I like, I can just point them to this link. It’s not exhaustive because unfortunately, not all the sites I like have dedicated Twitter accounts, but it’s a pretty good start and I know that if I check this list a couple times per day, I’m up to speed on things and can go about my day.

A couple months ago, there were a few blog posts and toots about a little-known feature of 1Password: the 1Click bookmark.

If you’re also an OmniFocus user, here’s a next-level usage for 1Click bookmarks. Enter a task you’re to complete online that also requires a login. Drag that 1Click bookmark into the notes field like so:

Screenshot showing a 1Click bookmark in the OmniFocus notes field

(By default it will create a link with the title of the 1Password login, but I’ve pasted in the raw URL for illustration purposes.)

Now, when you’re ready to complete the task, the URL is there ready to automatically log you in, leaving you an extra 1.5s to savor another sip of that beverage you’re quaffing.