Why I Chose Tumblr

Ask any serious blogger which publishing software they use and the vast majority of the time, they’ll say “WordPress”. When I was getting ready to start this site (which I like to think of as a “serious” blogging effort), I considered all of my options, one of them being WordPress, and chose Tumblr instead. This is where I tell you how I arrived at that decision.

The first, and undeniably biggest reason was that I would be far less distracted by things like plugins, theme options and such like. I’ve run several WordPress blogs in the past and have wiled away many hours getting my settings just right, choosing (and subsequently hacking the pudding out of) a theme and installing a pantload of plugins so my posts would do things like automatically update Twitter when they were published. This may be a testament to my lack of focus, but I wanted a platform that practically *forced* me to focus on the content instead of the aesthetics and plumbing. Tumblr fit that bill perfectly. Yes there are plenty of themes to choose from, but that’s where it started and stopped. All of the other core capabilities I needed are baked into the platform itself. And the features I didn’t really need weren’t even possible in most cases and if they were, it meant a non-trivial amount of work (and workarounds).

The second factor was that it was hosted. I have several web hosting accounts where I can install any software I want, but anything I install there must be managed (by yours truly). With Tumblr, I don’t need to think about things like scalability or reliability. I don’t need to make sure my caching plugin is up to date and working because they probably pay dudes to make sure their servers stay up. The fact that I get all of this for free was another big mark in Tumblr’s favor.

I’ve written about this before, but services like Tumblr have almost reached parity with WordPress in terms of core functionality. I can publish posts, create static pages, use tags, all of it. If I want to hack on the code that runs my theme, I’m free to do so (and I have). Yes, I had to sacrifice things like “Related Posts” and a customized archive page, but that’s all fine with me. The way I look at it, if my writing is any good, people will read it. I don’t need to concern myself with all of the in’s and out’s of the likes of WordPress because I’m here to write.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, my decision to run this site on Tumblr was a very deliberate one. And, as I said, I’m aware of the concessions I made in choosing this platform.

Where do your publishing loyalties lie? Why?

Evernote Essentials is Now Available!

I’m ecstatic to announce that my first ebook, Evernote Essentials, is now available. This has been in the works for many months now and I’m very pleased with the results. If you’d like to learn more or pick up a copy, you can do so by visiting the product page.

What is it?

Evernote Essentials is a 83-page PDF that will give you a solid understanding of the fundamentals of Evernote. I’ll show you all sorts of tips, tricks and best practices for making the most of your Evernote experience.? It’s also packed with use cases and examples of creative and fun ways to make Evernote as much a part of your daily life as it is a part of mine.

It boils down to this: I know a whole lot about Evernote and I’m sharing that knowledge with you in Evernote Essentials.

Evernote is a fantastic service and I can show how to make it really work for you. Take a closer look at Evernote Essentials; it’s a great way to sharpen your Evernote skills quickly and I hope you’ll consider it.  ?

Evernote Essentials Launches Tomorrow

I wanted to let you guys know that my ebook, Evernote Essentials, will go live less than 24 hours (click here if you have no idea what I’m talking about).

First of all, I’m crazy excited.

If you aren’t already subscribed to the site newsletter, it would be a very good idea to do so now (I have a special surprise in store for? those folks). To sign up, visit the site and plug your email address into the sign-up box on the right.

See you guys tomorrow — and stay tuned for some really great content coming up later this week.

Talking Tools: Patrick Rhone of MinimalMac.com

Talking Tools is an ongoing series of interviews with people whom I respect as creators, communicators and craftspeople. The goal is to dig deeper into how these people work, what their toolboxes look like and how they engage in their own processes.

Today, we’re talking with my good friend and blogging hero Patrick Rhone. Patrick is probably best known for his work as curator at Minimal Mac, but he’s also operating a one-man empire as an independent Mac consultant and writer. Read on to find out more about how Patrick creates, consumes and executes:

When I read the things you produce, it’s clear that you like things clean and simple - do you find that these minimalist tendencies influence your choices in tools, particularly digital tools (for both work and play)?

There’s no question about it. I’m a big fan of minimalist and modern design and absolutely am smitten with software that takes that approach. I think Rands in Repose hit the nail squarely recently when he said “My favorite feature is the lack of features”. That said, a lot of people mistake this idea so I want to be clear. Anything, and software especially, should have exactly the features it needs to be relevant to the task at hand in consideration of your needs. An obvious missing feature is just as wasteful of my time and attention as ten that the myself, and the majority, will never use.

One of the many hats you wear is that of a Mac consultant. As I understand it, you spend a good chunk of time at client sites, away from your home base. What does your mobile toolbox look like these days?

Well, it has certainly changed over the past few months. I used to take my Macbook, it’s power adapter, a bag of sometimes needed but rarely used cables, not to mention my regular assortment of utility disks, notebooks, pens, etc. to each client visit. Now, I take my iPad instead of the Macbook and related accessories in almost every case. Not to be cliché (consider that a warning), but it has been a huge weight off of my shoulders both mentally and physically. Most of what I used the Macbook for when out and about was for access to reference materials for the problem at hand. Also to access Highrise() and Basecamp where I keep client related notes, tasks, and projects. Not only can I more easily do this with my iPad but, because I keep all of my documents and manuals in Dropbox, my reference materials are available to me everywhere.

Do you have a preferred way of managing a backlog of fixes you’ve come across — some type of knowledge base?

No. Believe it or not, I keep all of that knowledge in my head for the most part. I suppose I should, at some point, start to capture that stuff somewhere. I also suppose it would be different if I were working with someone else so we did not both have to try to reinvent the wheel. That said, for the current time, and the foreseeable future, I am doing neither.

How do you manage your on-site tools (like diagnostics, driver install packages, etc.)?

I keep it all on an external USB key (I have a super tiny one that fits in my wallet) or, in the case of things like DiskWarrior and TechTool, I keep the optical disks in my bag. I like to keep things as portable as possible.

On to your second major hat - writing. You maintain several blogs, notably the increasingly popular Minimal Mac (which I love, by the way). Tell us a little bit about how you write, applications you use, tracking post topic ideas - how does the process work for you?

First, a warning, this process may seem like a lot of added work and tools for some and, in those cases they are likely correct. I’ll try to explain myself but doubt I will have any strong arguments to counter…

Almost all of my writing starts in TextEdit. I’m an unabashed champion of it and I think it does not get nearly the credit it deserves. I have it set to default to plain text, 90 characters x 50 lines, Menlo 12pt for my font (after a long flirtation with Droid Sans). Been using basically this setup, except for font changes, for years and have grown very comfortable with it.

Another thing I use is Notational Velocity. Been a NV fan and user for a very long time but the current version is spectacular. I have that hooked up to and syncing with Simplenote so I have access to it on the iPad and iPhone. Also, there is now the option of storing and reading the database from a folder of .txt files. I also keep said folder on my Dropbox. So, I simply save my TextEdit documents to that folder and they automatically show up in NV, Simplenote and then sync everywhere via Dropbox shortly thereafter.

I write everything using Markdown. Therefore, from TextEdit I generally open TextMate and convert it to HTML using the Markdown bundle. Now, there used to be a Mac OS service (humanetext.service) that would allow me to do this right in TextEdit using a key command but I lost it along the way and the developer’s site has been offline for months. That said, I also kind of like doing it this way because the syntax highlighting in TextMate let’s me see really quickly if I have slipped up in my Markdown somewhere and I can correct that real fast. And yes, I know I could just write it in TextMate to begin with and, to honest, writing out all of the steps I actually take for this stuff is causing me to consider that but, as of this writing I prefer TextEdit for some obtuse reason so…

Then I copy and paste that HTML formatted text into a new post on Tumblr (which is where Minimal Mac is hosted). Yes, I know I could flip the Markdown switch in Tumblr and skip a lot of steps but it also adds some more if I want to include images in the post and need to change the formatting of those, etc. Therefore, I do it this way for now.

Now, that said, this is the way it works on my hosted sites (Minimal Mac, The Random Post, Practical Opacity) but I have a completely different flow for patrickrhone.com which is a self hosted WordPress site. That flow involves a fantastic app called MacJournal but I’ll save you a rundown of that for now.

I know we’ve discussed this before, but I’d love to hear again why so many of the sites you manage are running on Tumblr - what is it about that service that you find so appealing?

Not only is is wonderfully designed, maintained, and supported, I find the barrier to posting really low. Especially when it comes to the “curation” style format of most of the sites I host there. I can very quickly, using the handy supplied browser bookmarklet, post a link, quote, photo from wherever I happen to be on the web. Easy peasy.

When not working and writing, surely you do a bit of content consumption here and there - are you an RSS guy? Books? Magazines? Tell us a bit about how you consume and what that toolbox looks like.

Um, yes. All of the above.

I actually consider it a part of my duty, for Minimal Mac especially, to “drink from the firehose” and subscribe to far more feeds than I would otherwise do if only doing so for my own personal pleasure. That said, I do have a system for managing them all. My preferred reader is Google Reader, skinned with Helvetireader, as a Fluid app. I send longer content to Instapaper and read it there.

I have long loved magazines. I look forward to the day when magazines are available on the iPad at a reasonable subscription price that is the same, or very close, to the printed version. I have subscribed to Wired for over ten years. I read it cover to cover every month. I even enjoy most of the ads. That said, I usually pay about one dollar per issue of the print copy. Even with the interactive content I find that paying four to five times more than that, and still having ads, is unreasonable.

Other favorite cover-to-cover mag reads are Vanity Fair, Good, and Esquire.

And I try to read the occasional book or two. I almost always read non-fiction. I find book reading to be the hardest and take the longest for me because, for me, it requires large blocks of uninterrupted focused time and I rarely get that.

How much overlap is there between your consumption and your curation for Minimal Mac and your other blogs?

I’d say probably about 50% in some way, shape, or form. For instance, in Instapaper I have two folders — Post and Reference. I’d say nine out of ten things I read there ends up in one or the other and it’s pretty even between the two. The things in the Post folder get posted to one of my sites or Twitter.

As far as feeds items not sent to Instapaper, I open anything that is post worthy in tabs in my browser and then post accordingly.

Please describe for me your ideal creative situation. What types of things surround you? What implements do you reach for?

Depends on what I am creating but it most certainly would involve paper and a pen or pencil. I still manage most of my lists, take notes, and think using analog tools. If eventually turning into long form writing, I would likely have my iPad too. Although, I have been known to write multiple paragraph posts on my iPhone (consumption, not creation be damned).

So, say you’re sitting at your desk with a glass of wine and you decide that it’s time to kill an hour on the Internet - where do you go?

The huge backlog of items I have in Instapaper would be a good place to start. I often find myself on prolonged historical and religious research ratholes. No particular reason other than those are subjects that interest me. As far a sites that are rocking my world right now, here is a list in no particular order:

Special thanks to Patrick for taking the time to talk with me. In case you missed any of the links mentioned above, you can read Patrick’s writing at Minimal Mac, The Random Post, Practical Opacity, and patrickrhone.com

Check out lots of other great Talking Tools Interviews.

Are You Using a Broken Tool?

I blame the tools

At our house, we have a set of plastic measuring cups. They look really cool - they collapse down to almost nothing when not in use, all that good stuff. Trouble is, we don’t put plastics in the dishwasher, so I have to wash them by hand. Washing these things is a huge pain, particularly if they’ve been used to measure anything extremely granular (like flour). Half the time when I pick one of them up to wash it, a little voice in my head tells me to just toss it in the garbage because, while ostensibly useful, they’re not worth the headache overall and there are *plenty* of other solutions out there that would be much easier. But, of course, these alternate tools aren’t within arms reach when it’s time to make the biscuits. Software is the same way: sometimes we’ll use a tool that brings us nothing but pain and we know alternatives exist — we just don’t take the time to find them and make them work because we don’t fully realize how much they suck until we start using them for something that needs to be done right away.

We all have downtime while at work — why not spend that time investing in your toolbox a bit? Next time a meeting is canceled and you find yourself with a free hour, you might consider poking around inside the application where you spend most of your day (Word or Excel are probably common choices here). Look through the endless menus and look for ways to make job easier. If you find yourself clicking “Edit” then “Paste”, consider using the keyboard shortcut that does exactly the same thing without forcing your to take your hand from the keyboard. If you’re performing a common task like editing plain text (looking at you, developers) and you feel like the process should be streamlined, look at other text editors or learn some of the esoteric features of your current editor. Sure, you’ll lose a bit of productive time pursuing such things, but if it can benefit you over the long haul, isn’t it worth a couple hours of your time to gain, say, a 10-15% performance increase?

Have you taken the time to fully explore the capabilities of your tools? Which of your tools do you either a) wish did more or b) simply hate? What alternatives exist? How could they be better?

Photo by bionicteaching

Announcing My First Ebook - Evernote Essentials

Update: Evernote Essentials is Here! Go check it out!

I’m extremely excited to announce that, coming up next week, my first ebook, Evernote Essentials will finally be available for sale after several months of work. Having spent a great deal of quality time with the product, I have an excellent handle on how to use it and use it well. This book encompasses all of my knowledge of Evernote and will be a gigantic time-saver for those who want to learn how to use Evernote effectively.

It also just so happens that the launch of the book will coincide directly with the launch of my new blog, Bridging the Nerd Gap (which is where you’re reading this now - might as well subscribe to the RSS feed while you’re thinking about it). Like it says on the tin, this blog is going to explore the intersection of technology, tools and effectiveness; this is a site whose main goal is figuring out ways to work faster and more effectively using (mostly) computers and other digital tools - but don’t be surprised if notebooks pop up every now and again. I’ll be interviewing a ton of smart people about the tools they use and offering plenty of tips from my years of tapping away at keyboards. It’ll be fun, trust me.

I’m really stoked about both of these projects and can’t wait to share them with you. If this stuff sounds interesting to you, I invite you to visit the site and sign up for the mailing list (look on the right hand side of any page). Not only will that get you all of the latest content I post, but you’ll also get extra newsletter-only content and a few other surprises I’ve got cooking. I’ll also be sending out an announcement when Evernote Essentials is on the shelf, so sign up now!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned next week - Evernote Essentials is coming and, if I may say, it’s pretty good :)