The Dropbox App Directory

The Dropbox App Directory

A new offering from the venerable Dropbox: a big list of mobile and web apps that work with their service. Browsing through it, I had no clue that this many apps interacted with Dropbox. Very cool stuff that will certainly end up draining my monthly app budget.

And if you think this bears a striking resemblance to the Evernote Trunk, you’re totally not crazy.

(via David Chartier at Macworld)

How to Develop Nerd-Like Confidence

Math (31/365)

?The chain grocery store at which we shop has these nifty little self-service checkout lanes where you can ring up and pay for your groceries without requiring the assistance of a cashier. They aren’t so great if you have a huge cart loaded up with 70 or 80 items, but if you’re buying a pint of Mint Chip and a box of ballpoints, it’s really great. What makes it so great, at least at the store where I shop, is that these machines are almost always wide open, even though the regular checkout lines are stacked to the gills with people, several of whom are buying a small handful of items. I often ask myself why these folks don’t take a few more steps over to the self-service aisle, pay for their crap and get out of the store in a fraction of the time they’re going to sit in that line. I have a couple of theories:

  1. They’re scared of having to learn something new. Obviously, I don’t mean scared like a toddler is scared by shadows, but I do think that people look at the scan, bar code scanner and touchscreen terminal and think “man, I’d be so freaking lost if I tried to use one of those things…” The idea of having a line stack up behind them while they try to figure out how to ring up a pack of gum gives them an upset stomach (which means you’ll want Pepto, aisle seven).
  2. They’re lazy and know they could get out of the store faster if they took a few minutes to learn the self-checkout process, but are perfectly content to stand in the line and have the clerk do all of the work for them.

I actually don’t have a problem with the second group of people because they’ve made a decision; they’ve seen what appears to be a faster way of paying for their crap and have decided that they’re not willing to put forth the effort and they’d rather keep doing it the way they’ve always done it. Now, I almost certainly wouldn’t make the same decision, but that’s just because I’m constantly on the lookout for improved efficiency in all most of my life. No, I’d like to talk about the first group of people. Far too often, it seems, we shy away from beneficial changes or improvements because of either the effort that will be required of us or the simple fear of not understanding it and looking or feeling dumb. Another example might be the accountant who still hand-writes everything instead of generating forms using a computer, or a grandparent who has prints made of his digital photos and sends them to family via postal mail instead of using email (Note: I’m not saying that either of these practices are inherently wrong, just that there are alternate ways of completing the same business that are far more effective and take far less time). Learning is hard and avoiding new and ostensibly difficult things is so much easier.

Feeling overwhelmed by things like this is completely natural. I have a pretty good grasp on how computers work, but there’s about a zillion things that I don’t know a damn about: cooking, cars, finance… I could go on. Point is, it’s becoming increasingly more necessary to adopt nerd-like confidence; the idea that there are probably a whole lot of people out there dumber than me who have figured this out, so I should be able to figure it out, as well. It doesn’t mean that I won’t have to really work at it, but I will eventually get there and I am absolutely certain of this. Nothing is beyond me and, given sufficient time and effort, I can understand anything understood by another human being. Period.

The next time you’re faced with a situation or system that’s utterly foreign to you, keep in mind that you’re just as capable as anybody of making sense of it and, should you deem it worthy of your time, mastering it. For some people, that will mean walking over to the self-checkout lane at the grocery store and frickin’ making it happen. It may take time and you may need to ask for an assist from a nearby employee, but (like most things) it’s nowhere near as hard as you think it is; you just need to know (not think, know) that it’s not beyond you.

Photo by tkamenick

My Thoughts on Kindle 3 and Why My iPad’s About to Get Very Dusty

Kindle 2, Kindle 3, and iPad

?I’ve had an iPad for a few months now and I think it’s really cool. Having tried to use it for many different types of things (some of which didn’t work out so well), its primary functions in my life are reading and using Omnifocus (fine, and the occasional game of Fruit Ninja - thank me later). Reading on it is very nice, but it didn’t take long before I realized that it wasn’t suitable for reading in the same way as a physical book, and for a variety of reasons. So, being a gadget nerd, I bought a Kindle which arrived this afternoon. After spending a couple of hours with it, most of my suspicions that it would positively trounce the iPad as a reading device have been confirmed. Now, in convenient list form, are said suspicions.

  1. It would be delightfully lighter than the iPad - I knew this before I’d even held it — the iPad, for all its glory, is difficult to negotiate when you’re trying to read. The WiFi iPad that I have weighs 24 ounces, while the Kindle weighs eight ounces. Disregarding that my physical fitness level could be adequately described as “doughy”, holding the iPad up at eye level as I would a book was a non-starter; after a few minutes, my arm would get tired and, even after shifting the thing back and forth between my arms, I would be sufficiently distracted by arm fatigue that really engaging with what I was reading was effectively out of the question. On the other hand, I’ve spent the last hour holding the Kindle up “book-style” and I’ve barely noticed it. Suspicion #1 = Confirmed.
  2. I wouldn’t feel encumbered by a touch screen - This is something that Marco pointed out not too long ago (I swear I had the same thought before I read his post!), but all of the reading apps that I’ve tried on the iPad support a whole myriad of touch gestures, which means that the entire screen would do something when you touched it, anywhere. Naturally, this means that, in order to read a full page of text without interacting with the app, you have to keep your mitts off the screen and hold the iPad by the edge, which is just north of 3/4” wide. The Kindle, as you probably know, doesn’t have a touch screen, so I can partially rest my thumb on it without worrying about turning the page or anything else. It also has a big ass keyboard area at the bottom with buttons that you any normal person isn’t likely to press accidentally, so you’ve got oodles of room down there by which to grip it. Suspicion #2 = Confirmed.
  3. I would enjoy and appreciate it’s singular purpose - My biggest problem with reading on the iPad is my own distractibility. If I become even the least bit disinterested in what I’m reading, there are a ton of other things that I could do with exactly the same device that were only a couple of taps away (Twitter, Reeder and frickin’ Fruit Ninja, to name a few). The iPad simply provided my dumb ass too many ways to defer what I was reading until after I’d done something else. The Kindle, by contrast, is for reading. That’s it. When I pick up my Kindle, I’m doing so because it’s time to read. Since I’ve only had it for a few hours, I’ve already noticed myself reaching for a button that would show my screenfuls of apps I could putz around with — and I was thrilled to death when I realized that there was no such button. Suspicion #3 = Freaking Confirmed.

I noticed something else a few minutes ago that made me smile — there’s no clock on the Kindle. I realize that this is a small thing and, really, there wouldn’t be much reason to include one. But, as per the Getting Started guide that opened when I first powered up the Kindle, one of it’s goals as a device is to disappear — to let you become fully engrossed in whatever you’re reading. There’s a reason you’ll never see a clock on a casino wall, and I think the same principle applies here. The idea that I’ll lose track of time while using this thing is attractive to me.

I know that a great many folks think that the iPad is a “Kindle killer” (ugh, always with the killing), but I can say pretty confidently that the Kindle is going to fill a void that the iPad couldn’t effectively fill: a light, small device whose single, express purpose is reading, not everything.

If you’re anything like me and you like to read, but your discretionary time seems to inexplicably get chewed up by other computer-ish things, the Kindle might be the cherry cough syrup.


Photo by Andy Ihnatko

First, Please Give a Crap

?Much of what’s been written here is about how do to things better, faster and more effectively. While this is an admirable pursuit, there’s one prerequisite to doing your work well that is, in my humble opinion, all too frequently ignored: no matter how hard you try to do better at anything, it will all be for naught if you don’t give a crap about what you’re doing.

One needn’t look far to find examples of this; the checked-out teenager working the counter at the gas station, the waitress who would clearly rather be about a million other places than standing there explaining your choice of salad dressings and the condescending IT guy who feels it necessary to remind you that fixing printers is so very beneath him. We’ve all experienced it and most of us have been there. Having to do something you couldn’t care less about is just about as soul-sucking a thing as has ever existed. If you don’t care about what you’re doing, it’s extremely difficult to do it well.

If you actively dislike the work you do, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Stop doing it and, instead, find work that you do enjoy and do that instead.
  2. While you’re working on number one, search out the interesting part of what you’re doing and give a crap about that.

I believe that every crappy task imposed upon anybody has something interesting about it, indiscernible as it may seem. If your job is to dig ditches, count how many shovelfuls of dirt you move each day and figure out how many you move each day. Once that gets boring, now figure out how much each one weighs and calculate the number of pounds (or kilograms) of dirt you move each day. Now that you have these two metrics, my ditch-digging friend, try each day to beat your personal best. Or, pick an arbitrary number of shovelfuls or total weight moved and make that your goal.

The point is that even if the work you’re doing is inherently mindless and brutally boring, you can invent ways to give a crap about it. Once you have, you’ll be surprised at how much faster your day goes and how much better you are at the crappy job. You never know - perhaps your stellar performance as a soil displacement specialist will earn you the responsibility of managing other soil displacement specialists. Better than that, though, is the fact that doing a great job at anything feels really good. It’s also the kind of thing that can motivate you to actually go out and find a different job that you don’t hate.

Photo by Quod

Talking Tools: Marco Arment of Tumblr and Instapaper

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, I’m pants-on-head excited to be speaking with Marco Arment, the CTO/Lead Developer at Tumblr and the one-man band behind Instapaper, a service that allows you to read things later that I use every single day. He frequently shares interesting thoughts on technology (among other things) on his blog at He’s a badass. Read on for a riveting discussion of programming languages, text editors and blunt force trauma-inspired career changes.

I’m guessing you use a computer or two - please tell me briefly about each machine you regularly use and its particular purpose.

My home and work setups are identical. In each place, I have a 2008 Mac Pro with two 24” monitors, a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard (the only Microsoft product I use), and an Apple Magic Mouse.

I also have a 2009 15” MacBook Pro, matte screen, that I use during my daily train commute and whenever I travel.

I recently upgraded the laptop and the home Mac Pro to SSDs, which I would highly recommend to anyone willing to get good ones (Intel X25-M or SandForce-based).

You’re a somewhat-outspoken fan of the Kindle - what were the last three books you’ve purchased? Were they any good?

My Kindle is mostly an Instapaper reader, although I do (very) occasionally read books on it. The last one I read, which was almost a year ago, was George Carlin’s Last Words, which I’d recommend for any Carlin fan, even if you’re only a casual fan.

Aperture, Lightroom, or Walgreens + Shoeboxes?

I used Aperture 2 for a while, but couldn’t handle its awful performance, frequent bugs, and confusing (to me) interface and file management. When I tried the Aperture 3 trial, it didn’t seem to fix any of those problems. So even though I could have gotten Aperture 3 for just the $80 upgrade price, I chose to spend $300 on Lightroom 3 instead.

Lightroom and I get along very well so far. I do miss Aperture’s easy integration with iTunes and iPhone syncing, but I don’t really miss anything else about it.

My dream photo-editing program would probably just be iPhoto with Aperture’s lossless RAW editing controls. But Lightroom is pretty great, and it seems to be more important to Adobe than Aperture is to Apple, so it seems to be improving at a rapid pace, whereas I always think that Aperture is about to be abandoned.

What’s your favorite program with which to write programs and why do you like it? What others have you tried and subsequently found lacking? Also, please provide a small screenshot of the color scheme/theme you use.

I used to try to do all of my coding in vim. That didn’t work out very well, because I never learned how to navigate it insanely efficiently like many of its users can. Plus, I like GUIs for editing, even though I still do almost everything else in terminals during development (MySQL commands, version control, test scripts, file processing).

So I use TextMate. I love it. I use it for nearly all of my text-related needs, including drafting long blog posts and emails.

We’ve spoken about coffee briefly in the past, so I know you’re something of an enthusiast - tell me about how you make an awesome cup of Joe and please be specific.

Currently, my favorite method is a simple pour-over filter cone with Kenya AA beans, as freshly roasted as I can get (which is usually about 3-7 days old). I recently detailed the equipment and process here.

I want to start home-roasting, but I’m waiting until we buy a house so I can have sufficient space and ventilation.

You built Instapaper to scratch your own itch, so to speak - how, if at all, has the popularity of Instapaper changed the product? Alternately, if you were still the only one using it, how would it be different from what it is today?

It actually wouldn’t be very different. It would probably be uglier, as I have pretty low design standards when I don’t think anyone else is looking. The non-critical functionality would also be more clunky and difficult to use, since I never would have had a reason to sand down the rough edges.

If you had to choose a single tool/application on your metaphorical tool belt that would be the hardest to replace, which would it be and what would be a likely replacement?

Probably PHP. I know PHP so well that I can be extremely efficient and productive with it. I don’t know any other languages in its class well enough to do anything useful, mostly because I haven’t yet needed to.

If I had to replace it, I’d most likely choose Python. I don’t care for Ruby’s style, but Python seems to be a solid choice. If I were starting a major web project from scratch today, and I could afford to spend some extra time, I’d almost definitely choose Python for it.

I’ve watched some friendly exchanges on Twitter between yourself and Jeff Atwood regarding PHP and you seem to generally come to PHP’s defense - what about that language do you like? Also, what do you find infuriating (surely, there must be something)?

Most people judge PHP on bad tutorial code they saw ten years ago. But it’s a very capable, advanced language that supports many modern programming amenities. And deployment is extremely easy: any Linux server can have Apache and PHP deployed on it, if it isn’t already, with one command to the package manager. Mac OS X already has both installed — Snow Leopard even includes the fairly recent PHP 5.3. And once it’s set up, you barely need to touch it. It’s very fast, very stable, and very low-maintenance. Almost everyone knows PHP already, and if you don’t, it’s quick to learn and easy to read (when written well).

But there are a lot of things not to like about PHP. Its method names, parameter orders, and general styles are inconsistent. Its core designers and Zend are all over the place and often make decisions that I strongly disagree with. It doesn’t have any practical support for parallelism. And nearly every third-party module or library I’ve ever used has been terrible.

Coding professionally in PHP is lonely. While I know this isn’t the case, it always feels like we’re the only ones using it at this scale, because we hit so many bugs in critical modules (such as PECL’s two Memcache modules) and libraries (anything from the Zend Framework and any community code) that seem like any reasonable use should encounter, but nobody talks about them or publicly fixes them. I’ve needed to discard a lot of third-party code and replace it with my own implementations because it just doesn’t work. Every time I talk to an engineer from another major PHP-using web service, such as Yahoo or Facebook, they always say the same things. But nobody’s public about it.

These are valid criticisms of the language. But what I don’t like are criticisms based on the ability to write bad code, or the large amounts of bad code in tutorials and popular PHP software. These are both mostly because PHP has been so popular (and so easy) for so long. It’s possible to write bad code in any language — whatever this year’s geek-darling language is, somewhere, bad programmers are writing bad code in it — but it’s less widespread than bad PHP code because every other web-app language is used far less often than PHP is, and most have been in use for much less time.

Moreover, it’s perfectly possible to write good PHP code. Tumblr, Instapaper, and some of our old consulting clients use a great PHP-5-only MVC framework that we’ve written over the last four years, which puts us in a great position: we have the advantages of knowing what all of the code does and where to fix bugs or add features, but we also have this mature, proven framework to do the heavy lifting and enforce good code structure.

So it works for us, and I think we made the right decision in 2006 when we decided to build on PHP. (Remember what it was like deploying Rails sites in 2006? Keep in mind that we didn’t have a sysadmin, and we were paying full price at Rackspace for servers.)

But, for starting fresh today, I think I’d choose Python because it appears — at least to me, an outsider — to have most of the advantages that PHP had when we chose it in 2006, but with better direction, better library quality, and parallelism.

“If I had to choose a single programming language to use for the rest of my career, it’d probably be __________. “

I hope I never need to make this decision.

I’m conservative with how many languages I learn. I currently would only describe myself as having workable knowledge — enough experience to be productive at reasonable speed without a learning curve — of PHP, C, Objective-C, and maybe Javascript.

There’s definitely a point of diminishing returns with learning new languages: it’s hard to be a productive programmer unless you’re an expert in at least one or two languages (including their respective platform libraries), and it’s hard to find the time to become an expert if you keep starting from scratch with new languages. I think it’s a good balance to have workable knowledge of three to five languages and maybe be an expert in two or three of them.

But I’d hate for new languages to stop being made or used, or for my career to settle on just one. I dislike parts of all languages. And whenever I see a great feature in one, I learn from it and try to apply its lessons to all of my coding. If that list ever stops growing, I’ll stop getting better, and I’ll probably get bored and burn out.

Can you tell me a little bit about your blogging process? Assuming it’s a somewhat-lengthy piece, where does it live as it’s being written, edited, primped and polished?

Usually, I’ll get an idea for a post at an inopportune time, like when I’m in the middle of doing something else, so I’ll quickly create a Tumblr draft post with just a title and maybe a couple of sentences to remind me what I was thinking of.

Over the next couple of days, I’ll write a few paragraphs here and there, or I’ll just sit down one night and bang out the whole thing. Then I’ll sit on it for a day or two to do edits or partial rewrites. If it’s only a few paragraphs, it’ll still be in Tumblr’s drafts. If it’s longer, or if I’m on my laptop, it will more likely be in TextMate.

Then, at some random time when I feel like it’s done, I’ll hit Publish.

You wake up in the morning and find that you have, say, 500 unread emails that weren’t there when you went to sleep. Tell me how you’d handle this and what applications/utilities make it easy (or easier)?

The Delete key works wonders.

The only way to deal with large amounts of email is to devise standards for deciding quickly whether to respond to something. And not whether you think you should respond, but whether you think that you realistically will. You have to be honest with yourself and brutal to the senders who don’t make the cut.

This is how most people work anyway, but they’re in denial about it, so they’ll let their inboxes collect thousands of messages and then “declare bankruptcy” after a while and start the cycle again.

I need to be able to judge, as soon as I see a new message, whether I’m likely to respond. I try to keep the inbox clear at the end of the day, because realistically, if I haven’t answered something within two days, I probably won’t answer it. So for each message, I ask myself, “Am I really going to have the time to respond to this today?” And if the answer is no, I move it to the archive folder with a keyboard shortcut and move on.

I don’t recall ever having read anything about how you manage tasks and such. How do you remember to pick up the freakin’ dry cleaning?

If there isn’t an iCal alarm or a message at the top of my email inbox about something, I probably won’t do it.

If some big dude clubbed you over the head with a tack hammer and you forgot how to write software, what type of work do you think you would do?

I enjoyed my high-school job at Bruegger’s Bagels. Now, I enjoy coffee. I might just open a coffee roaster somewhere where there isn’t a good one nearby (so, almost anywhere) and live wherever I could afford as a result.

Say we’re at the doorstep of the Apocalypse and you have time to drink and enjoy one last beer before humanity is extinguished - please tell me which beer it would be and what, if anything, you’d eat while drinking it.

Probably a Chimay Grande Reserve (“blue”). And maybe an everything bagel with chicken salad.

You have an hour or so before bed to spend however you chose - please tell me how you’d unwind.

I’d write.

Big dorky thanks to Marco for taking the time to talk with me. You can find Marco’s writings at and follow him on Twitter at @marcoarment. And, to quote El Gruber, “If you’re not using Instapaper, shame on you.”

Check out lots of other great Talking Tools Interviews.

How to Have More Ideas

I work with computers. I spend a staggering number of hours every day seated at a computer. I work for a company that makes a product designed to act like paper, but better. I can type faster than just about anybody I know and my handwriting looks like that of a surgeon who just finished his third martini while riding in the back of Gravedigger. Why, then, do I keep a pen and paper on me at all times and, when seated, open in front of me, ready for input? Because that’s how I have ideas.

We’ve all heard statements like “I have my best ideas in the shower”. Have we ever stopped to consider why that is? I’m certainly not a neurologist, but my money says that it’s because you’re almost certainly free of distraction. You’ve cleaned your body a million times, so you don’t have to focus on cleaning it this time and your brain is free to wander. That’s how I feel when I look at a blank page in a notebook.

“But, sir!”, you may be thinking to yourself, “can’t you just as easily stare at a blank text file on your computer and possibly have the very same reaction?” No, not really. At least, not me. Because so much of my time is spent in front of the computer, my mind immediately jumps to one of a hundred things I could be doing when my fingers touch the keyboard. Through years of doing this type of work, the computer has become “where I work”.

My notebook is my brain’s shower, my computer is certainly not.

Try it - put some blank paper and a pen on the table in front of you and just let your head splash around for a bit. Write down everything you think of, even the stupid crap. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the kind of creativity that can happen in such a simple circumstance. Think of it as pretending to get in the shower.

Photo by me - and, yes, that is my most recent order of Field Notes notebooks - shut up.

Evernote and Dropbox: Why I Use (and Love) Both


I’ve gotten a surprising amount of email from folks asking if they should use Dropbox instead of Evernote since, in their opinion, the services seem to offer the same sort of basic features. The point of this post is two-fold. First, to quell this misconception. Second, to describe just how much I use the *shit* out of both of these services and, up until Evernote hired me, was happy to pay for both (I still pay for Dropbox). Before we get into that, I think it’d be interesting to try to sort out how people arrive at the conclusion that Dropbox and Evernote are similar enough to cause confusion as to which is best to the exclusion of the other.

Being a pretty experienced Dropbox user and a very experienced Evernote user, here’s my take as to where the similarities begin and end: both services specialize in keeping a given set of data in sync across multiple machines and the Internet. They both offer native mobile clients on multiple platforms for managing said data and they both, to one degree or another, deal in files (like spreadsheets, word processor documents, photos and such like). The ability to keep previous versions of said files is also present on both app’s feature lists, but this is executed in very different ways by each company. That’s it, folks.

This isn’t to say that, should one be so inclined, somebody couldn’t make Evernote into a kind of a Dropbox or Dropbox into a kind of an Evernote. The similarities are strong enough (barely) such that one could theoretically be used in place of the other. I’m not a fan of this idea because I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the job.

Dropbox’s focus is files, so that’s what I keep there. Lots of them, in fact (about 89gb worth, as I type this). I keep all of my iTunes music in there, all of my current development projects and all sorts of other stuff. It’s also really great for ad hoc file sharing/hosting using the Public directory and it allows files of over 50mb (which Evernote does not). And it offers a sort of poor man’s version control system by letting you revert to all previous versions of a file going back 30 days incase you foul something up. Evernote supports this to some degree with it’s Note History feature, but it doesn’t keep a revision of every change you make, but rather a snapshot of the note at a given interval that you can revert to if you like.

Evernote deals primarily in textual and image content. It does allow you to attach files to notes, a facility that I use frequently, but not the same way Dropbox does. Evernote allows more versatile and customizable organization in the forms of notebooks and tags (instead of just nested directories). The vast (*vast*) majority of what I keep in Evernote is text: account numbers, throwaway SQL scripts that I might want again someday, scanned copies of Apple Store receipts (which are also searchable), etc. As far non-image, non-PDF files I keep in Evernote, it’s mostly blank forms that I use semi-frequently (like a time off request form or an expense report) and archives of files I want to keep but may never need again.

Some other examples:

  • Dropbox is short-term storage of files, Evernote is long term.
  • Dropbox is where I keep the music, Evernote is where I keep the list of bands to check out and the receipts for the music I buy.
  • Dropbox is where I keep records of client assets, Evernote is where I keep a log of client communication.
  • Dropbox is how I move files easily between computers, Evernote is how I move text easily between computers.

You probably get the idea.

I rely heavily on both Dropbox and Evernote to make my data available to me everywhere. They’re both fantastic ideas with brilliant execution and I’d be seriously bummed if I didn’t have either one. That said, I don’t think one is an adequate replacement for the other; they simply have too many disparate use cases to be considered competing products.

[Shameless Plug: If you’re new to Evernote, you might enjoy this thing I wrote.]

Image boosted from Fernando and hacked to pieces by me.

Is That a Smart Phone in Your Pocket?

A few days ago, my two buddies Patrick and Dave were doing this little Twitter thing where they took pictures of what was in their pockets, and I decided to play along. In case it isn’t obvious looking at the photo above, I don’t carry a wallet; I haven’t for several years now, in fact. This is due to my wanting to reduce my walking weight a little and, I think more markedly, due to the iPhone.

When I carried a wallet, it was usually brimming over with old receipts, business cards, outdated photos of my wife and children, various identification cards that I hadn’t needed to produce since acquiring them and assorted other useless crap. Now, it all lives in the computer that I carry with me (mostly in Evernote, naturally). I know is passe to talk about how the advent of modern smart phones has helped us commoners carry less when we walk around, but I’m curious if any of you have an interesting “after I got my iPhone/Droid Whatever/Blackberry, I stopped carrying ________” kind of story.

Oh, and as I mentioned in the original posting of this photo, my keyring holds a LaCie USB thumb drive that I almost never use because of Dropbox and its iPhone client.

How about you?

N.B. - I’ve been using a Field Notes notebook instead of my trusty Levenger Shirt Pocket Briefcase for the last week or so and I’m loving the crap out of it. Frankly, it’s borderline embarrassing how much I dorkswoon over quality paper products.

An Interview with Neven Mrgan by Shawn Blanc

An Interview with Neven Mrgan by Shawn Blanc

Neven Mrgan is a designer at Panic, Inc. and half of the creative team behind The Incident, one of my current favorite iPhone/iPad games. If you’ve enjoyed the Talking Tools series here (which recently featured Shawn, oddly enough), you’ll definitely find this to a very interesting read (and in no small part due to Shawn being an excellent interviewer).

The iPad and Content Creation


We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we need to complete a task and the appropriate implement for the job isn’t available. Or maybe it is available, but it’s just not immediately at hand. If I encounter a loose screw on one of the cabinets in my kitchen, my mind immediately tries to recall the location of the nearest screwdriver. When I realize that said screwdriver is on the other side of the house or out in the garage, I then start looking around for a suitable, one-time stand-in like the tip of a table knife or a narrow key. Clearly, I’m not going to use a tool like this to drive all screws from that point forward because it’s inefficient, but it will get the job done in a pinch. Such is my opinion of the iPad for “content creation”.

While there are obvious proofs of the concept that the iPad can be used to create things instead of just consuming them, I think we need to take a step back and consider the idea that just because it’s possible to create with the iPad doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPad is the best tool for a given job. When talking about content creation, typically people mean things like writing, shooting and editing photos and video and other visually creative things like drawing or sketching. I won’t argue that the iPad can do most of these things, but I will argue that it doesn’t excel at any of them to the point where it’s a better tool than a “regular computer”. It comes down to the concessions you’re willing to make.

For instance: I’m writing these words on an iPad while sitting on my front porch. I’m typing a good deal slower than I would be if I had a physical keyboard, and making more mistakes. I chose to use the iPad in this situation because it was a matter of simply grabbing it off of my desk and walking out my front door. I chose it because I’m not in any particular hurry in writing this, but I also don’t plan on sitting out here all day and just wanted to work on this post for a few minutes, so unhooking my laptop would have been a bigger hassle. I’m making sacrifices of speed and typing accuracy, but gaining portability and mobility. Is the iPad doing a good enough job in facilitating the writing of this post? Yep. Is it the best tool for the job among those available to me? Nope.

I’m not saying that people who opt to take their iPad to a conference instead of a notebook computer are somehow dumb or crazy. I’ve heard lots of people do this and since they’re ostensibly doing so with the understanding that they’re giving up certain affordances by doing so, more power to ‘em. Wanting to travel lighter and have a more compact device with which to take notes or check their email is understandable. The problem is that many of these same people would have you believe that they are simply using a different, yet equally capable, tool for the job at hand and this simply isn’t the case 99% of the time.

Most of the examples of people doing crazy shit on an iPad are to show that said shit is *possible*, not efficient or even practical. If I really wanted to, I could hobble my way through a game of tennis using my iPad to hit the ball, but it doesn’t mean my iPad is an excellent or even passable tennis racket.

I don’t mean to get all ranty here, but I find the endless grandstanding about the iPad’s content creation facilities to be a little tiring. If you show me somebody who can type on an iPad as fast or faster than they can on a “normal” hardware keyboard, then I’ll show you somebody who needs to spend less time trying to convince the world that the tip of a table knife is all the screwdriver they need and more time doing interesting things with their fingers.

The iPad is, in and of itself, truly amazing and I love using it the way I believe it was intended: as a short-term understudy for my Macbook Pro that’s really good at helping me read and watch things in a polished, engaging fashion - and maybe tap out part of a blog post. Occasionally.

Surely you have something you’d like to say about this?