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Attempting to turn a screwdriver into a hammer, or why I’m returning my iPad Pro, 2024 edition

About a week ago, I took delivery of a new M4 iPad Pro. My old iPad, a 2017 model, lasts about an hour on battery life, and the Pencil is starting to get laggy. Now seemed like a great time to upgrade.

In the past couple weeks, I’ve really enjoyed my time with the iPad. But I’m going to return it, because it’s not a tool I can use to get my work done. I wrote about this in 2020, and the situation hasn’t changed. (In fact, it’s more true for me now than it was then; I’ve added audio and video production work to my plate, and I need Mac-specific tools more than ever before.)

I’m not upset about this. My brain is most compatible with macOS, it turns out. I like having many windows open at once, and I like having a file system. Every time I sit in front of the iPad with its Magic Keyboard attached, my brain tricks itself into thinking I’m sitting in front of a capable laptop, and then I waste hours of time not doing my actual work. So the iPad Pro is going to go back, because there are many other interesting ways to spend that $2,000.

What this did make me realize is that the tools don’t matter. As makers, creative pros, we can use whatever we want to use. If we like fancy pens and paper, use them (you will not be the reason that our forests disappear”). And if you like iPads, use those, if you can.

That being said, it’s our responsibility as makers to discern the right tool for the job. Two weeks ago, a plumber came to our home to fix an issue with a toilet. He did not need to use a hammer to fix our toilet, and thank goodness he didn’t try! (Imagine the thunderous crack of a hammer colliding with porcelain.)

Instead, the plumber used a screwdriver and a couple minor objects unique to his trade. He disassembled a couple things, replaced a part, and put it all back together in under twenty minutes.

Let’s pretend, though, that the plumber always admired the shape of hammers and the satisfaction he gets when he swings one. If he were a little off his rocker, he might attempt to use a hammer for all his work. Even an outside observer would recognize this as problematic.

I think I feel similarly about the articles I’ve read in which folks suggest the iPad virtualize macOS as a sort of escape hatch” for Apple (Steve Troughton-Smith put it best). I’m sure I would love macOS on an iPad. I’m not arguing with that. But, to continue with my tool metaphor, let’s call a spade a spade and deal with the object as it is. Let the iPad be an iPad.

One other thing I’ve been thinking about is the continued movement to digitize everything in our lives. The a‑ha moment for me about my iPad came when I realized I can just sketch wireframes for my clients on a piece of paper. Not only is the tool I use for wireframing irrelevant to my clients, but the increased focus I’ll get from paper’s inherent limitations (no wifi!) is a boon in the context of work.

Or, to put it another way, does every room need to have a computer in it? We are so addicted to computers. New computers promise to work better in daylight and remove blue light in an effort to suggest, I suppose, that you can use their product anywhere, anytime — or more aptly, everywhere, all the time.

Perhaps we need to get better at saying no thanks to technology that doesn’t dramatically improve our lives.

Loved Tom Hodgkinson’s almost completely non-sensical tips on how to sleep better. My favourite suggestions of his, which really just demonstrate how wildly different we all are: drink lots of beer,” be happy,” (easier said than done for some of us!), don’t be a farmer or work for Goldman Sachs,” and be tired in the first place.”

I have virtually no interest in Jackson’s new American-made Virtuoso lineup — it’s not to my taste at all. But this commercial is the best guitar commercial I’ve seen in a year.

Comparing the Youtube algorithm and the SEO machine

After years of contemplating Youtube as a medium, I finally started my own channel about two weeks ago. To my knowledge, I’ve done it exactly right: I picked a niche, decided on a schedule and a flow, made a few videos on my own before posting anything to see if I could do it at all, and started scheduling my uploads.

(I’m not going to share the link to the channel here, because I don’t want to disturb the algorithm while it identifies my audience. The people who read this blog are probably not the people who would be interested in my Youtube channel, which is just rhythm backing tracks for guitar players to practice over.)

It’s been an interesting couple weeks, and I’ve learned a lot very quickly. I uploaded my first video nine days ago. My understanding is that you’re lucky to get ten views on your first video. My first video has 474 views.

At one point, the first video tapered off with fifty views or so. I wondered if I just picked a bad day to upload it, so I opted to try a different schedule going forward. I posted my second video only a few days later, and it got somewhat cannibalized by the first video. My second video has been up for six days, and currently has 169 views.

These numbers are very good! I’m pleased with them, I suppose. I think I’ve identified a good niche.

That all being said, after staring at the numbers for a week, I had a few observations that I thought I’d share, mostly out of my own interest:

  1. It’s so easy to develop an obsession with checking these numbers. An obsession. I think I check the numbers twenty times a day. This actually hampers enthusiasm, because instead of seeing the numbers go up by dozens every day, you see the numbers go up in increments of two or three, which is less encouraging.
  2. My first video has 16 likes, but got its first dislike this morning. It turns out that the dislike is not a useful metric for the creator. It tells you nothing about what that person disliked, but it does give you a reason to feel bad about yourself. 94.1% approval is great — a number I should be totally okay with — but all I really feel is the 5.9% disapproval.
  3. The other reason the dislike means nothing is because, for all I know, somebody clicked or tapped the wrong button. In the same timeframe, I got a new subscriber. For all I know, this person is also the person who gave my video the thumbs down, but they did it accidentally on the way to the Subscribe button. The web designer in me knows that the margin for human error on the internet is… huge.

The biggest takeaway I have so far about the Youtube algorithm is that it operates similarly to Google’s SEO algorithms: it’s interested in content that gets eyeballs, and it’s pretty heartless about anything that doesn’t do that.

One person said that if you plug away at your channel for a while, and you never develop an audience, there’s a good chance that people simply don’t care about your videos. That would obviously be extremely painful for the content creator behind those videos, but there’s an element of truth there.

I think Google’s search engine algorithm operates at a similar level, but because Google doesn’t control the entire internet (thankfully!), they don’t have the same level of control. That creates an opportunity for abusive and scammy sites to make their way to the top. (One could argue page one of Google has become increasingly useless.) In that sense, this is an apples and oranges comparison, but there is still some truth there. 

Real success is, of course, a little more complicated than understanding the algorithm. Youtube Ali Abdaal has a great video where he breaks down how to be internet successful” better than I ever could: find your unfair advantage.”

His theory is very interesting: successful Youtubers stand out because they have an unfair advantage. Everybody can work hard, but not everybody who runs an industrial design-focussed channel can claim they, say, worked for Apple.

Basically, you need to be a little lucky.

It was a good reminder for my client work, though: if you want to make a successful Youtube channel or a successful website, you need to have decent presentation, publish consistently, and be lucky enough to have a perspective people want to hear from.

… Yeah, super simple.

The new PRS wing tuners

I’m a huge fan of Paul Reed Smith — the man and the instruments. Paul is smart and well-spoken. The way he talks about his guitars reminds me of the way Steve Jobs spoke about Apple products.

So when Paul speaks, I listen. Like Apple, PRS typically makes incremental improvements to their products, rather than the static lineups or complete refreshes other brands often do. This year, the big” change are new Wing” tuners (PRS claims they look like wings, which, okay). Instead of aluminum, they’re made out of plastic. The shape is different too.

What interests me is that Paul says this opens up up the guitar and makes the midrange sound more vowel-like. You have to take him at his word for it, because how would one measure that? And if it were true, is that actually more desirable? Every time I’m mixing a sound, I get rid of some of the more obnoxious 800hz midrange. If the vowel sound lives in that 800hz range (and again, there’s no way to really know if that’s what Paul means), then I don’t want it.

So I’m not convinced this is an upgrade. This sort of seems like cost saving measure sold as an upgrade (getting iPhone 5C vibes, which was also an interesting sales pitch). But I’m also not convinced it would sound better or worse than before, so much as different.

But it’s interesting to read all the hoopla surrounding NAMM 2024, and compare Paul’s announcement here. It’s very low key by comparison.

For me, PRS makes some of the nicest guitars money can buy right now. My Silver Sky SE is an incredibly inspiring instrument, and my Custom 24 Piezo is insanely versatile and feels like it was built for my hands. The violin carve also sits well on my body. I don’t mind the plastic tuners at first blush, but I’ll admit that I’m suddenly encouraged to buy 2023 models of anything I’m interested in.

Everybody keeps looking for apps where everything is in one place,” but why do we need one app to do everything poorly when Finder can just house… everything… in one place?

Thoughts on Namm 2024

This past week has been all about the 2024 NAMM Show for me. (With the exception that I’ve also been very into coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Mac.) I like NAMM a lot — it’s CES for guitar nerds. What’s not to love?

It’s no secret that guitar journalism is less relevant every year, but thankfully Guitar World still has actual writers covering this thing, so I’ve been able to keep up throughout the week. The show isn’t over until Sunday, but there have been some interesting announcements so far.

The Epiphone Dave Ghrohl DG-335

I’ve been waiting for this guitar for a while, and I’m excited the DG-335 was finally announced. Much like Epiphone’s takes on the Korina Explorer/​Flying V and Lazarus Les Paul models, this looks like a quality instrument: one-piece neck, Gibson Burstbucker pickups, Graphtech nut, and Grover Mini tuners. All the components in this thing look like good stuff.

It sounds like this model streets in March. I’m thinking about getting a semi-hollow, so I plan on looking for a copy to try as soon as they’re in stores.

A lot of signature guitars

A lot of artists get signature guitars, including a bunch of folks who probably have no business getting deals like that. There are always a few that are worth commenting on, though:

  • Alex Lifeson has partnered with Godin to create the LERXST Limelight signature guitar. I don’t know if I’m interested in the guitar, but I like that Canadian musician Alex Lifeson partnered with Canadian guitar company Godin for his latest signature. I don’t own any Godin guitars, but they make nice instruments, and as corny as this is, some small part of my heart is warmed by this partnership.
  • ESP has released Bill Kelliher’s (of Mastodon) signature guitar, and it looks awesome. It’s worth looking at the photos, but it’s sort of like a Les Paul Doublecut, but with a lot of attitude. The one downside? Apparently they can weigh up to 13 pounds! That’s part of the marketing for the thing, as though the weight will help make the guitar sound bigger (it won’t). This is one of those rare cool-looking guitars, though. I’m a big fan.
  • Gibson announced a new Slash colour — this one is called Jessica. Look, who cares? It’s just Honeyburst. But I wanted to mention it because I have one of the current Slash Les Pauls, and it is the best Les Paul I’ve ever played. If you’re on the hunt for a good Les Paul, consider this a reminder that you really ought to check out the Slash Les Paul. (And maybe Epiphone’s Lazarus 1959 Les Paul Standard, while you’re shopping.)

Some Gibson news

Gibson isn’t at NAMM this year, but they’ve announced a few interesting things I wanted to comment on.

First, there’s another new Kirk Hammett Les Paul. Kirk, if you’re reading this for some reason, I appreciate that you’re cashing your cheques. Good for you! But enough is enough. I love the Greeny model (I particularly like the standard), but nobody needs this 1989 Les Paul Custom — especially at the $9,000 USD price point.

I genuinely don’t get it. Is Gibson crazy? The aging on this new reissue looks pretty bad. The pickups aren’t accurate to what Hammett used in 1989, and instead use Gibson’s T‑Type pickups. I’m all for modern updates, but I don’t think the T‑Type pickups are good — especially at this price. Obviously, EMG active pickups have fallen out of fashion (they still sound great, by the way, but fashion is fleeting), but T‑Types are not the sort of thing I’d imagine your average Kirk Hammett fan (I am one!) is into.

In other Gibson news, they’re back into the amp game. It somehow never occurred to me that part of the reasoning behind Gibson’s acquisition of Mesa was bringing Gibson amps back, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. Their first amps are the Falcon 20 and Falcon 5. These aren’t for me, but it’s worth keeping an eye on what Gibson does here.

Pedal news

I think guitar pedals are a dime a dozen, but the industry is fun to watch. Like the candy industry, there’s a new flavour every week:

  • Andy Timmons, who has golden ears, announced a new overdrive pedal with Keeley called the Muse Driver. I think it sounds good. Anything Timmons releases is worth your time. The man has taste.
  • In the category of holy ***” news, Jackson is bringing back Fulltone. On top of that, they’re rereleasing the OCD overdrive pedal, and plan on bringing back other pedals from the archive, as well as working on new designs. There’s a very cool documentary-style Youtube video announcing the partnership. Mike Fuller is publicly an awful person. I respect him as a maker, because I feel a kindred spirit with anybody who makes* things, but it’s too bad that Jackson Audio chose to bring him back too. (In the words of one subreddit, bigotry and racism are back.” Yikes.) I like how Fulltone pedals sound, and I’m excited that folks can get some of these great pedals again, but it’s too bad the man who designed them was so empowered to air his hateful poopy opinions in public forums. (In other words, it’s great that folks can buy used Fulltone pedals.)
  • EHX sold a reissue of the Big Muff Pi, and it sold out in barely over an hour. It was a limited run. I don’t love that. But it is interesting!
  • Jack White has announced an inexpensive 3‑in‑1 multi-effects pedal in collaboration with Donner. Neat!

Amp news

Two interesting things in the amp news” category this year, outside of the aforementioned Gibson Falcon series:

  1. Laney released a new tube amp, but also released a matching plugin at launch. Nobody has ever done this before. Power move, Laney.
  2. Vox announced a new hand-wired series of AC amps. They say this will be the ultimate recreation” of AC amps. It’s neat that this is an option, but the way I see it, hand-wiring things just introduces a lot of margin for error, which means odds are good that your hand-wired Vox AC-30 is only like the originals in the sense that they’re very inconsistent from one to the other. Still interesting, though!

The show isn’t over yet, so I’m looking forward to potentially hearing about more gear. Honestly, though, the Epiphone DG-335 was the headlining news for me. Hard to imagine what will top it.

Video games played in 2023 (with commentary)

I have three main hobbies: watching movies (which I log on this site), playing guitar, and playing video games. Inspired by Matt Birchler’s post about every game he played in 2023, and Elisa Gabbert’s post about every book she read in 2023, I thought I’d share every game I played in 2023 and what I’d like to play this year — along with some commentary.

God of War: Ragnarok

I had a lot of fun with this, but it didn’t blow me away the original did. The hub-centric world of the original was something I really enjoyed, and its leaner running time made it feel a little more like a Metroidvania. In this game, the scope got larger, but I’m not sure they pulled it off as well as the first’s big story more intimate approach. 

I’d still like to replay this, though, particularly because of the free Valhalla DLC that just got released and partially because it feels like I rushed this one. I think I would enjoy the story more if I took it at a slower pace, but after waiting for years, I really wanted to see how this ended.

Mass Effect 2

This is my first time playing the Mass Effect trilogy. I adored the first game (I have the benefit of playing the remade version with less janky controls), but this one kind of burned me out. I thought I’d be fighting the Reapers, but instead it felt like I went on a very long series of fetch quests. 

I’m only a couple hours into Mass Effect 3, but it feels much closer to what my expectations were for the second one.

Red Dead Redemption 2

One of the best games ever made. I’ve been very slowly playing it through a second time since early 2021. I only have a couple story missions left, but I’ve spent hundreds of hours in this world and I still feel like I experience new things all the time. It feels very alive.

I didn’t like this game the first time I played it, probably because I rushed the story, but if you play this game slowly and really chew on it, it might be the best this medium has to offer. Plus, a buddy of mine and I occasionally play online together, and we still have a blast.

Tears of the Kingdom

I really liked Breath of the Wild more. I’m sorry. I am 80 hours into this and I’ve beaten three of the main dungeons, and it’s a great game, but there’s no comparison to the magic of BOTW for me. What drew me into BOTW was the focus on exploration and making your own story. TOTK has much less of both of those things.

Witcher 3

Playing it through again on modern consoles. This remains a great game. No notes.

Starfield

I actually liked this, and played a ton of it for a few weeks. But something happened around hour 60 or so where I just completely lost the desire to play. I don’t quite recall a game where I played so many hours and then immediately lost interest with no desire to ever return. It’s still on my Xbox, but I’m more likely to play Skyrim again than I am to return to this in any capacity. I know why everybody dislikes this, but none of that stuff really bothered me much, so I don’t know why I lost interest.

Sea of Thieves

I play this one online with a friend and we have a lot of fun hunting for treasure. No idea what else you can do in this game, and I know there is a lot of other stuff, but we honestly just go digging on islands. We’re simple men. We like shovels and gold.

Spider-Man 2

I loved this. It was possibly my game of the year. Beautiful, fun, great story that wasn’t too long. Can’t wait for New Game Plus. This series is the best reason to own a PS5 right now.

Alan Wake Remastered

Got this through PlayStation Plus. I genuinely don’t get the hype. I thought it was pretty bland, with bad combat, sluggish controls, and uninteresting characters. I finished it because I thought it might click” eventually, but it never did. Thankfully it wasn’t very long. I played a couple hours of Control too, to give that a shot, and I disliked it for largely the same reasons. (I might give it another shot next year. We’ll see.)

Tunic

Wonderful game! Had a great time with this, but the final couple hours were a real slog. Once you reach the gauntlet of bosses you’ve already fought, it feels like the game has run out of ideas.

One thing I loved, though, was the in-game use of the instruction manual. Discovering a page and realizing you had a skill all along, but didn’t know how to use it, was a macial experience.

Forza Motorsport

Absolutely not for me. Driving every track for multiple laps before I can actually race on those tracks is an unnecessary level of realism for me, a person who isn’t into cars, but likes zoning out after a long day in a racing game. Horizon 4 and Horizon 5 are two of the best racing games ever made, though, and I’m back to playing them for the same fix.

Elden Ring

Second playthrough. Great stuff. Exactly my jam. No notes.

It Takes Two

This is one of my wife’s favourite games, and we replayed this over Christmas and immediately made plans to replay it again in the New Year. It’s just fun. Great voice acting.

Baldur’s Gate 3

I didn’t buy this until just before the holidays, but oh my gosh. Surpassed Spider-Man 2 for my game of the year. It’s easily my favourite game since Elden Ring, or perhaps Red Dead Redemption 2. Just a total delight. I’m almost done act 2 and will spend a lot of time in this over the next several years. I’m already planning a few more playthroughs with wildly different characters. 

This is the first video game RPG that has me interested in actual role play. We talk a lot about player agency in video games, but most video games have the same basic ending no matter how you play them. This feels like you actually get your own unique story. Maybe Mass Effect largely pulls that off too, but the scale that Larian is operating in here is unparalleled in my mind. I’m trying to convince my wife to play this with me and have a couple friends I’d like to play it with too. 

I nearly gave up on this halfway through the first act, though. I’m new to CRPGs and had a hard time understanding how to play. Once I got over that hurdle and it clicked, this went from a fun novelty to being one of the most rewarding games I’ve ever played.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is my game of the year at the moment.

2024 list

I’ve got a long list of titles I’d like to play in 2024. A lot of these were released recently and I just haven’t had time for them. Some of them are on in my backlog and I’m finally going to play them this year.

Most of these were games I played for an hour this year and went Oh man, this is cool, too bad I’m already playing (insert another game here).”

Here’s the list:

  • I plan on wrapping up Baldur’s Gate 3, RDR2, Witcher 3, TOTK, Elden Ring (unless I have something new to say about them, don’t expect me to mention these again next year)
  • Star Wars: Jedi Survivor
  • Ghost of Tsushima
  • Metroid Prime Remastered
  • Super Mario RPG (a couple hours in and this is hilarious)
  • Super Mario Wonder (I’m on world 2 right now and this is delightful)
  • Lies of P (played for a couple hours, but was already playing Elden Ring and my brain had a hard time adjusting to the very minor differences in combat)
  • Dead Space (the remake)
  • Mass Effect 3 (I’m a few hours in and can’t believe how much talking there is in between each mission. I’ll have more to say once I’m done, but they might as well have just made this a linear game with 20 minutes of cut scenes between each mission.)
  • Control (I’m going to try it in the summer and see if those late summer nights suit the mood of this better)
  • Plague Tale: Requiem (played the first in 2021 and enjoyed it)
  • Death’s Door
  • Hollow Knight (have started this four or five times and never finished it)
  • Cocoon
  • Dredge (this looked amazing)
  • Resident Evil 4 (remake)
  • Final Fantasy 7 Remake
  • Avowed (I’ll be amazed if this actually releases this year, though)

It’s a long list. I won’t get to all of it. I’m truthfully quite grateful there aren’t a lot of 2024 releases that interest me, because most of this list is just me playing catch-up from last year still.

Here’s to a great 2024.

The PRS SE Silver Sky is Reverb’s best-selling electric guitar for the second year running. It’s amazing that any one guitar would sell more than Fender’s best-selling guitars. I have an SE Silver Sky, and while it’s certainly not as nice as any of my more costly guitars, I’m inspired every time I pick it up.

Adobe abandons Figma purchase

The Verge reports that Adobe and Figma no longer plan to merge, largely thanks to legal pressure from the EU.

First off, this is great news. Adobe acquiring Figma was obviously bad for the industry, at least from the perspective of the designers who work in it. Adobe has a history of buying and subsequently squashing beloved industry tools.

Figma is also the only player keeping Adobe from a total market stranglehold. Bohemian Code’s Sketch would be a player if they offered a Windows app, but they’ve chosen not to pursue that market (and I think missed a big opportunity in the past decade as a result).

For the most part, life now goes on: Figma gets to do their own thing, Adobe does their thing, and all the smaller players (of whom Sketch is probably the biggest) keep doing their things too.

That being said, it’s not all sunshine and roses here. Adobe sunsetted XD, their design tool competitor, shortly after announcing the Figma acquisition. That tool has been dead in the water for a year, with little to no updates in that time. 

I have colleagues who use and like XD who will now have to migrate elsewhere. And let’s not forget the XD team: the folks Adobe had working on XD over the years were all top notch and had great ideas (Khoi Vinh is one of my heroes). I don’t know if those folks are still at Adobe. While life goes on for most of us, this sideshow has caused some actual destruction for a few.

In classic Adobe tradition, nothing meaningful has been accomplished, and a lot of people got hurt along the way.

Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful…be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.” 

William S. Burroughs

I completely forgot to include CJ Chilvers’ article when I wrote about the benefits of messy desks. Better late than never!

Does good web design hurt or help?

Dan Mall’s recent post struck a chord with me when I read it. The whole post is worth reading, but in an effort to avoid quoting the entire thing, I’ll simply share his opening statement:

This past week, I finished making a small website for a family member’s business. I had an idea I liked for a subtle header animation. As I sat down to do it, I couldn’t justify how that animation would make the site any better at its job — attracting potential clients — than the static, non-animated version would.

It got me thinking: could I justify an animation for any website’s header? Can anyone justify an animation for a website’s header? A quick glance at the latest Awwwards Site of the Day nominees shows that lots of modern sites have animations in the header. But it is worth the effort to make?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few weeks. Dan acknowledges in his post that, of course, web design has changed a lot. These days, as he says, we live in a world where a Kardashian or a Youtuber can launch a product or even an industry with a tweet or an Instagram post, a role previously dominated by The Website.”

I think there’s another change that happened: websites got a whole heckuva lot easier to make. If a designer’s primary job was to live at the intersection of art and commerce, that job has been eradicated at the low end by shrinking budgets and easy-to-use website builders like Wix and Squarespace.

The remaining websites are either vanity projects for large organizations (designed to attract attention and brand cachet), or they are designed as business tools for whom conversion is their primary purpose. If conversion is the primary purpose, there is less space for design. As Conversion Rate Experts says:

Some people ask why they shouldn’t optimize for function and aesthetics. Even if their visitors are perfectly happy with the current appearance of the website, what’s the harm in being beautiful regardless?

It’s like asking What’s the harm in giving Usain Bolt an egg and spoon to carry while he runs?” They don’t realize that beauty, like an egg and spoon, tends to slow progress to a crawl.

If I’m being very cynical about my own work, I think Amazon has proved that web design is more important than ever, but beauty is less important than it’s ever been.

That doesn’t mean making something beautiful is irrelevant. I’m working on a highly-polished website for a non-profit right now. Their design has a lot of attention-catching elements (several are mentioned on this list), and even relies on a motif. That being said, the non-profit sector is a space where cohesive design goes a long way to generating goodwill from potential donors.

I don’t entirely know where I’m going with this, but I do know that web design is still a young field. I think the jury is out on whether or not good design can have a negative impact on conversion, which is really what people pay for. (If you spend a bunch of money on a site, but get no return on that investment, you are probably not getting what you pay for.)

That all being said, I think the days of being in this for the art — like a modern-day Andy Warhol — are mostly behind us. All that matters is the conversion rate. Usually, we aren’t hired to make art. I too hunt for those jobs, but I increasingly feel like a hungry lion in the jungle craving a penguin.

Default apps in 2023

I love a nerdy blogging trend. I don’t remember where I saw this first, but I know I read Matt Birchler’s post, Manuel Moreale’s post, and Chris Coyier’s post in my RSS feed. Robb Knight has a list of others who have shared their app defaults. Here are mine:

  • ✉️ Mail service: Fastmail
  • 📬 Mail client: Apple Mail
  • ✅ Tasks: Omnifocus (beta testing OF4)
  • 📰 RSS service: Feedly, although I really ought to move to Feedbin
  • 🗞️ RSS client: Reeder
  • ⌨️ Launcher: Alfred
  • ☁️ Cloud storage: iCloud and Dropbox
  • 📸 Camera: Usually my iPhone 15 Pro, but when purposefully shooting, I bring my Canon R6
  • 🌅 Photo editing and library: Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and Apple Photos
  • 📆 Calendar: Fantastical, but if it weren’t for the quick even creation, I’d use Apple Calendar.
  • 🌐 Web browser: Safari for personal, 1 Chrome window for each active work projects. (John Siracusa is my browser window and tab collecting spirit animal. Right now I have 89 tabs open across five browser windows — and I’m still collecting links for this post.)
  • 🔖 Bookmarks: Pinboard for text, Eagle for interesting visuals (I highly recommend Eagle)
  • 🗄️ Backups: Time Machine and Backblaze on every Mac, Synology for cold storage (also backed up to a remote Mac), iCloud for iOS devices. (This is very overkill, but I lost 1TB of photos during my stint as a wedding photographer because multiple backup drives simultaneously died while I was away over Christmas vacation, so I’m hardcore about this now.)
  • 🎙️ Podcasts: Overcast
  • 🎶 Music: Apple Music
  • 🎹 DAW: Logic Pro
  • 🍿 Movie tracking: Letterboxd. I also share everything I watch on my own website
  • 🧑‍💻 Code editor: Nova, with occasional Visual Studio Code usage
  • 📝 Notes: Obsidian
  • ✍️ Writing: iA Writer
  • 🎨 Design: Figma for UI, Illustrator for some icons and logos, InDesign for print work, Apple Freeform for sketching
  • 🔐 Passwords: 1Password
  • 💸 Budgeting: YNAB (I can’t recommend YNAB enough. I hate talking about money, and YNAB has made planning and budgeting finances with my wife tolerable.)

A lot of software on this list hasn’t changed in many years — sometimes close to a decade. I am far more likely to change the physical hardware in my life than I am to change my software tools.

Additional software I’d like: Ulysses with backlinks. Notion without the fiddling.

Messy Desks

The other day, during a conversation with one of my clients, we talked briefly about the messy state of our workspaces. I like to keep up the pretence of a clean desk (see my workspace tour from 2020 or my Sweet setup interview in 2018), but in reality, my desk is often a mess.

My desk is littered with guitar picks, some keys, a stack of receipts, a few USB cables, four notebooks, a couple microfibre cloths (not just for wiping monitors, but also for polishing guitars), coffee cups, a stapler, wire cutters, and a Swiss army knife. 

I should put some of this junk away, but one thing I realized in this conversation is that a messy desk is a productive desk, and a messy office or studio is probably the same.

Here are a couple quick, well-known examples of messy offices so we’re all on the same page:

Albert Einstein's messy desk hours after he passed away

Albert Einstein’s desk was famously messy.

Steve Jobs' home office was a war zone

Steve Jobs didn’t have a particularly organized home office.

I think this is also why I’m personally attracted to huge desktop towers (like the Mac Pro) and giant speakers. Part of what you pay for is the statement it makes when you walk in to your workspace: this is where the magic happens.

Recently, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of staring at audio professional setups. These rigs are typically filled with racks of studio equipment, musical instruments, and sometimes multiple computers. Even if you take all the clutter off the desk, these setups never look clean.”

macprovideo.com's image of their audio workspace

I love this setup from macprovideo.com’s review of the 2020 Mac Pro. You can’t hide this mess. When you walk into this room, there’s no way to hide its purpose. You’re going to get work done here.

A music production sit/stand desk

I also love this marketing image for a sit/​stand music studio desk. There’s not one, but two Mac Pro towers (I’m jealous). Each rack slot is with gear. There is rack equipment on the floor. Cables everywhere. For minimalists, this is a nightmare. But I love it.

Austin Kleon's studio

Austin Kleon (not a musician) keeps a messy studio too. I love the roll of paper towel. (I also love that his super-large L‑shaped desk has space for both making and visiting.)

If there’s anything to glean from this, all I’ve learned is that my desk probably isn’t messy enough.