Dumb Home

Compared to many, I likely live in a dumb home vs. a smart home. That’s not to say that we don’t have modern tech prodcuts in our home. We have an Amazon Echo in the kitchen and in the kids’ rooms. We have a couple of HomePods in various rooms for music and interaction with Siri. We have Apple TV devices and a home security system. We have a smart thermostat that will sense when people are home and adjust things to help save energy. Our garage door opener is connected to HomeKit. We have a doorbell camera and a couple of outdoor cameras that are as well. We have a WiFi mesh network.

The reason I say that we live in a dumb home is that I’ve purposely avoided smart home equipment related to things like lights, light swtiches, home applicances, door locks and window shades/blinds. It isn’t that I don’t see the convenience or geeky angle of how lights turning on and off when you enter or leave spaces or saying a command and things magically happening all around the house at once. I’ve avoided them because they strike me as the type of home tech we’ve been falsely conditioned to think will reduce friction in our lives. I want a purely mechanical door lock that I don’t have to consider if it needs new batteries. I want an oven, refridgerator, washer and dryer that don’t need firmware updates and just consistently do the thing they were made to do.

When I hear people discussing their smart home equipment, it is mostly frustrations with inconsistent performance or incompatibility that is driving more cost, more time and more tweaking. Smart home tech creates more maintenance and tinkering for things that aren’t really that much of an inconvenience to begin with. I don’t find it inconvenient to flip a light swtich when I enter or leave a room. I don’t regret that my coffee kettle can’t alert my phone when it reaches the optimal temperature for brewing a cup. I don’t think that a door not unlocking as I reach for the knob as friction to my entry.

This opinion is mine and I don’t fault others for having a different view or feeling on these things. I just realized that my intentional aversion to many products in the smart home category is ironic given that I don’t avoid modern technology, generally speaking. I think it is an interesting connection point between concepts like slow” apps or single-threaded thinking.

2024 Feb·17

Podcast Apps and the Podcasts App

I’ve used a variety of podcast apps over the years, each for a long stretch of time. Pocket Casts was my app of choice on Android and that carried over when I moved to iOS. I tried Overcast, and while I know most folks in the circle of indie app developers and podcasters alike love it, it just wasn’t for me. I moved from Pocket Casts to Castro and used it for several years. Now I’m using Apple Podcasts, which surprises me a bit.

Late last year I decided I’d try to eliminate some yearly app subscription costs by simply trying the default or Apple native option. So many of Apple’s apps have matured and evolved, so I didn’t want to assume that Podcasts (the app) was underpowered for a pretty serious podcasts consumer like myself. I knew I’d be leaving some pro” features on the table. Two of those were trimming silence and voice boosting. Another was Castro’s sideload ability. Yet another was the ability to create a shareable clip of a moment from the podcast. Castro did all these things very well, but other than trim silence and voice boost (which I had on as defaults for all podcasts), I didn’t find myself actually using the other cool features very often at all. Castro also had a cool feature that I did use semi-frequently that allowed you to share a YouTube video to it and it would sideload the audio of that podcast with metadata preserved. I do actually miss this feature a bit, but there’s workarounds using my read-later app of choice, Matter.

I hadn’t realized at almost the same time I started experimenting with Apple Podcasts, Castro began having stability issues and there were rumors that the app was going away completely. In late January, we learned that where there was smoke, there was fire and Castro was sold. I think it is great that the app will live on, but I would prefer to not be on the possible rollercoaster of what the new buyer may decide to do with it.

So, while it may not have every bell and whistle, I can say that Apple Podcasts is pretty solid. I’ve been using it for over 3 months now and it’s been fine. The UI is eerily consistent with Apple Music. The playback speed controls are fine. The missing trim silence is not a big deal. The Apple Watch app and integration is more solid than any other app I’ve used. The syncing with other devices is great. Being able to listen on my television through Apple TV is nice. The Homepod playback works really well. I’ve read that transcriptions of podcasts is coming soon in the app, which is nice. I hope it has the ability to share a specific section of a podcast like the Music app does with the lyrics highlighting and sharing.

My gripes with the app are few. I don’t like that if I listen to a single episode of a podcast, the app begins suggesting new episodes of that podcast to me for listening as they come out. If I wanted to listen to more than the episode I selected, I would have downloaded more episodes or subscribed/followed the show itself. I wish that was something I could toggle off. The only other annoyance I can think of is that if I’m listening to an episode and then start listening to another, the one I left doesn’t automatically fall to next in my queue (or anywhere in my queue at all) to resume afterwards. From what I can tell, those just fall into the ether and I have to go back hunting for them to add them back to my queue manually.

So that’s it. I’m what I would consider a podcast superuser and yet I’m totally content to use the app that ships with the OS across the Apple ecosystem. If you would have asked me much further back than late last year, I would never have imagined that I’d be content consuming content this way, but experiments are often illuminating.

2024 Feb·15

Oh What To Do

I’ve expressed before how alluring a new app or beta testing experience can be. I’ve gotten better at this, but there’s just something about kicking the tires on a new app that tickles some part of my brain.

I saw that the new Superlist app is out and there was a nice write up over at The Verge about it. I had completely forgotten that the team behind Wunderlist was making a new to-do app. I used to use Wunderlist many years ago before it was acquired by Microsoft and it was one of my favorite to-do apps. Superlist looks pretty great, but I uninstalled it about 10 minutes after downloading it.

I realized I was about to repeat the same mistake I’ve made over and over again. I was about to evaluate another to-do app. I was about to dream about how much more productive it would make some aspect of my life. I envisioned how much more writing I would do by having things organized in a new system. I thought about how I’d structure the lists and how Superlist would boost my productivity. I did all that within 10 minutes, and then I remembered all the time I was going to invest in learning Superlist and integrating my tasks into it could be spent writing. So… I long-pressed the beautiful app icon and tapped Uninstall.

I think it’s a beautiful app and because it’s made by some of the same team behind Wunderlist, I’m confident it will make some people more productive. I’m just not one of those people, because I’m one of those people. Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step. This time, I caught it early and wrote this post instead of going down the dark alley of productivity porn.

2024 Feb·13

Slow design

Orbyt Studio also features this on their own site, but the minimalist version at the linked URL keeps the message even more pure.

In our fast-paced world today, we often forget the importance of patience and taking time to think things through. We want to remind people of the value of creativity and clever thinking, supporting a movement that embraces focus, skill, and understanding over fast production and short-lived trends. This doesn’t mean we’re against technology, but we’re asking for a balance between using technology and the traditional principles of design as a craft.

The entire page (which isn’t long) is a great list of ideals and guidance for the world we live in today, beyond just design. It’s why I moved to Blot and iA Writer for my writing. It’s why I’m cautious about the injection of AI into everything at bleeding edge pace. Slow thinking and slow design have been on my mind for quite some time now.

2024 Feb·09

A rant on ARC Search

I agree with some of the points that Manu makes with regard to AI, generally speaking. Seeing it injected with force into every app, experience and product is an uneasy feeling and I am personally taking a slower approach with it in many instances.

I am, however, using Arc by The Browser Company on macOS and trying out Arc Search on iOS. The nuance I’ll add to Manu’s points is that I’m using Arc Search, but rarely using the Browse for me” feature that’s the selling feature of the mobile browser. I use it only when I want to intentionally allow the AI to gather the 6 pages and bring me back the summation. My default is still to allow the standard search results to render and I make my way through the entirety of the web if so desired.

Arc on the desktop has a suite of features that I enjoy that are not yet part of the Arc Search app. My hunch is that Arc Search will eventually just become Arc and many of the desktop features will come to the mobile variant and vice versa. I think I even heard Josh say as much on the launch video for Arc Search.

In order to not become jaded by the portions of the feature I am cautiously skeptical about, I’m trying to focus on Arc Search as Arc and the Browse for me” feature as a separate optional function. Hopefully The Browser Company continues to allow users of its product to maintain that boundary.

2024 Feb·08

Open in Safari [Shortcuts]

[Shortcuts] posts are to share shortcuts and tips for those that use Apple’s Shortcuts app on iOS|iPadOS|macOS. You can view all posts tagged shortcuts and I maintain a page focused on writing workflow shortcuts. These posts do not appear in the RSS feed for the site.

My default brower on macOS has been Arc for many months now. With the recent release of Arc Search on iOS, I now find myself using a non-Safari default browser, but needing to sometimes open a page in Safari. This is normally to take advantage of being able to run other shortcuts that depend on Safari integrations or shortcut actions that don’t exist in Arc.

After hacking around for a bit, I managed to merge bits of two shortcuts I found in Reddit comments to make a single shortcut that works on both macOS and iOS to take the current page and open it in Safari. On iOS, just invoke the Share Sheet and choose this shortcut (I’ve pinned it to the top of my Shortcut actions in the Share Sheet for ease of use). On macOS, just use the Share function in Arc (or Chrome) and choose Shortcuts and then select it.

I wish this wasn’t necessary and Arc would build in the menu option to open the link in Safari like Firefox Focus does, but until then, this works.

Open in Safari | Shortcut Download

2024 Feb·07