I think I’m finished with depending on local file systems for anything critical. The other day as I was updating the OS on my laptop, ran into some issues that made the disk (SSD) unreadable for a while. (Like a lot of thigns on OS X, just trying again a few more times fixed it up.) My backup disk was probably a month out of date, so it was a little scary.
But it’s going to cause me to do something I should have done a long time ago: get everything critical in my life off my local drive and into the cloud. I’ve been moving more and more data+files to Dropbox over time, but now have moved everything there. My notes are all moving over to Simplenote & Evernote.
The tough thing to reallly move completely is some of my media: photos, movies (especially home movies, but also ripped DVDs and iTunes stuff), music (again, a mix between ripped and online). For now, I’m going to be obsessive about getting all that onto our iMac at home, which gets backed up relentlessly.
It seems pretty clear to me that I should have done this a while back — not only does it mean that device loss doesn’t mean data loss, but it also means that I can do meaningful work on any of my various devices at any time.
But it also seems clear to me that there will be lots of homes without any central iMac-style hub to back stuff like photos up to. (And really all we use it for anymore is (1) local movie stores and (2) photos.) That’ll pose some problems for a while since with local movies and pictures you can get pretty big file sizes that aren’t really practical to keep completely in the cloud yet.
Anyway, long overdue change for me, but very happy to have moved all my unique stuff into a robust, backed up cloud configuration.
When we moved to our new house in February, Kathy & I decided not to get bundled cable/satellite television. To people who know me at all, this has been a super surprising development. I consume television pretty voraciously, and love live sports of just about all kinds. I love great television shows, and even love a lot of different types of reality show.
But Kathy & I felt it was time to live more intentionally. That the bundled mass of television channels was enabling easy & bad habits of watching junk.
Maybe it’s raising kids, maybe it’s getting older, maybe it’s just a reaction to the overwhelming crush of people, apps & stuff competing for every spare minute of our attention — but intentionality, focus & purpose — these things are becoming more and more important to me, not only for my own life but for our kids’.
Anyway, after about 20 years of DirecTV, we went only with an internet connection in the new house. (And a landline phone service, whose days seem pretty obviously numbered, too.)
We decided to buy the series we watch from iTunes — in particular things like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Archer, stuff like that. We supplement with a streaming-only subscription for Netflix (mainly for our son), and a Hulu subscription, which we mostly use to watch The Daily Show and Modern Family. We watch iTunes shows and Netflix mostly via the AppleTV box; we watch Hulu through the app on our Samsung TV. It all works fine, and we’re pretty happy with it. The day of delay for availability doesn’t bother us much.
We really missed being able to watch March Madness, though — watching on the iPad, even mirrored to the AppleTV via AirPlay, just isn’t quite good enough. And we wanted to be able to watch a bunch of the Olympics.
So my dad & I installed an antenna on the roof of the house for network TV, and all the networks come in essentially perfectly reliably. Which means we’ll be able to watch the Olympics, and football in the fall, and March Madness next year.
Obviously, this is completely insane. Ridiculous in every sense.
We’ve got streaming over-the-internet-but-delayed-by-a-day shows. And real time sports that we can watch but can’t time shift, subject to, you know, the weather. Some shows we like we can’t watch on the big screen because of restrictions on Hulu that limit shows to “computer only”. And no HBO shows.
So not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and a little ridiculous overall given that we live in an age of self-driving cars. But workable. And workable in a way that’s changed our relationship to television in a really good way. We don’t watch junk much anymore. We focus on a few shows and the TV is off otherwise. We’re finding, too, that the further along we get, the less we care about Hulu & Netflix, too, preferring to pick & choose the specific shows over a buffet of less intentional choices.
A default-off television is pretty different than where we were before, when the default was on (in the evenings). I’d wager that that’s true for many others in our age group (but not for younger age groups) — default-on is somewhat the norm.
Anyway, so far so good. Interesting & positive change for us overall.
postscript: as I was thinking about this post in the car the other day, I realized that in listening to radio, at least in my car, I’ve actually gone the other way, subscribing to Sirius XM for the first time recently. I like it for the audio quality and the serendipitous discovery of new music, plus live sports from time to time. But it’s easy to see how it’s a short term, transitional technology. It will persist a little bit longer, mostly because cars are more durable than other devices and last longer between purchases. But you can see how Pandora and Apple and others will eat this market, too, and soon.
I’ve been going back & forth between a couple of different modes of computing lately. For a few weeks, I’ll use the combination of my laptop, tablet & phone. Then for a few weeks I’ll try to live without my laptop at all. It’s been illuminating for lots of reasons, some of which I’ve been writing about so far, some of which I haven’t yet.
But the thing I’m finding most awkward lately is flipping between windowing models. On the laptop, I use the windowed Finder that we’ve all been using most of the last 20 years.
On the tablet (in particular), everything runs full screen.
Full screen is focusing, liberating in a lot of ways. But a pain to do things between apps — things as simple as take information about a dinner from an e-mail, look up the restaurant in yelp, and make sure everything goes in your calendar. Painful.
Windowed is more powerful, but I’m finding it to be more and more distracting, very chirpy.
So I’m left sort of unsatisfied with both schemes, and thinking it’s getting to be time for some innovation there.
I talk a lot about one filter for mobile applications is whether they really merit inclusion as one of the 20ish home screen icons for lots of users. Instagram replacing the iOS camera was a big one. Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr becoming so useful that users want them one tap away is another. It’s been a useful filter for me because it says a lot about how important and how urgent apps are for people.
The other big battle — one that ‘s more emergent — is an invisible one most of the time — it’s the battle for “notification space”. That is, which apps are important enough to merit being able to push themselves to the front of the line, pop up on your phone’s lock screen whether it’s awake or not.
I think right now this is a bit of a haphazard battleground. Things like SMS (and the actual phone application) hold privileged positions for historic reasons, but a lot of apps have lock screen rights just because you happened to click “okay” on the dialog and haven’t gone to undo them. The settings to manage these are incredibly complex and nuanced — and so many apps are vying for your attention now it’s getting very crowded. No wonder we’re all having trouble focusing on what we’re doing & staying in flow, while our phones keep beeping at us to tell us that it’s our turn on Words with Friends, that there’s a new article up on the NYT, or someone commented on a picture of a baby on Facebook.
This will have to clear up at some point.
My friend Joe Kraus made a big impression on me last year when he said he thinks that one of the very best gifts we can give our children — the thing that will help them achieve more and be better in their lives — will be the ability to focus. Reflecting on it, I think that’s always been true to some extent, but now, in an always-connected, eager-to-interrupt world, it’s quickly becoming crucial, not just for our kids, but for ourselves.
For my part, I’m aggressively turning off lock screen notifications on virtually every app on my phone. Here are a few exceptions:
- SMS & phone notifications stay on because they’re sort of my “bat signal” for family, friends & work.
- My calendar can ping me, although I don’t always turn on alerts. I’m on the fence about whether to give alert rights to task management & reminder apps.
- Apps that give me “superpowers” I leave on. Things like Highlight, for example, which let me know a little bit more about who’s around me. Apps that let me know what’s happening with events and businesses around me may stay on, too.
- I test a lot of apps, and I generally leave notifications on with those, to see how the interactions feel.
That’s about it. Mail is off. Games that I’m not completely obsessed with are off. News, feeds, quantified self motivators, all off.
Badges are related, but different, and interesting, too. A while back I accidentally turned off Facebook notifications on my iPad but left them on on my phone — and I’m finding that that’s changed my relationship with Facebook depending on which device I’m on. Alerts are the most problematic, because they take you out of flow — but badges are very tricky, too, because they tend to keep you in an “always catching up” mode.
Overall, though, I think a very interesting mostly invisible battleground to pay pretty close, um…attention to.
There are a handful of moments in your life, if you’re lucky, when what you’re doing is so consuming that it becomes your whole world. Where your field of vision gets so incredibly, incredibly small it’s really just a single thing. And in those moments, so many things come into such perfect focus that it can change how you think about everything going forward.
When your wife gives birth to a child is one of those times — there’s nothing in the world but you, and her, and the focus on bringing a new life into the world.
Anyone who’s been through it will understand — the process is hard to explain, because after months of anticipating and planning and hoping and dreaming, time seems to both slow down and speed up at the same time. You get admitted and wait around a while, but you know that the gears have started in motion, and things are slowly starting to gain momentum.
The first time we went through this the time had a bit of a dreamlike quality to it — it was an amazing, singular experience for both Kathy and me. This time around was different — more focused, more intentional, and in a lot of ways a little more stressful because we’re older now and went through a lot to get here.
But in that singular focus — just Kathy and me and the folks at the hospital — everything fell away and I saw so much in Kathy that I’ve always loved and admired, but with perfect clarity. We’ve known each other nearly 30 years now — a lifetime, really — and in the moments leading up to ZBL’s birth, she was just so striking in her strength, and care, and thoughtfulness, and sense of purpose — just so, so graceful in every way. It really took my breath away.
Some moments are like that. Wonderful in their clarity. Sometimes letting you see new things. Other times, like this one, seeing things you know so well, but with such startling clarity that you find yourself completely undone.
It was a special moment, and I don’t think the memory will ever really fade away for me.
I meant to write all of that weeks ago — it was more or less in my head fully formed the day that Z was born. But over the last 4 weeks another clarity has emerged that I want to write about as well.
The first days and weeks at home with a newborn is a very very focused time as well — not as concentrated as the actual birth, but just as focused over a longer time. You’re learning as much as you can about this new person who’s living in your house, learning about what they’re like, how they communicate, how they live. And we’re surely learning much about Z every single day.
But I’ll tell you that the person we’ve learned much, much more about is his 7 year old older brother, SPL. We’ve watched him turn from an only child into a big brother — with all the joy, frustration and generosity that comes along with it. It’s been astonishing to see, and really one of the most gratifying events of my entire life.
With your children, you do as much as you can to prepare them to live their lives as well as they can. And you think you know how they’ll develop and act in situations that are both opportunities and challenges for them. But you never really know until you see them go through it.
And I’ve been completely, completely undone by how gracefully he’s made the transition. So much more than I could have hoped for. Every bit as graceful as his mother has been all along the way.
So two moments — one just a few hours, the other over a period of weeks — with two people I’ve known and lived with for years. Amazing times, and focus that’s made it perfectly clear how amazing they both are. I couldn’t ask for a better summer, and I’m filled with excitement about what’s yet to come.