Twitter   Facebook

By Jared White

Pygmy Nuthatch
  • JSON Feed: Now Supported

    XML has not been a popular data interchange format on the web for some time now. All the cool kids are using JSON. And for good reason — it’s far more readable and much easier to work with than XML. Yet the standard feed format for blogs and news sites for ages has continued to be RSS (and to a lesser extent Atom), a dated and somewhat unwieldy format that is only in use because of its far-reaching support.

    Thankfully, some intrepid souls well-known in the world of news readers have banded together to launch the new JSON Feed format. It’s supported by a fast-growing number of news readers, and the geek community is adding JSON feeds to its sites at a rapid clip. Now, so have I!

    This is exciting stuff. At the risk of sounding like one of those dudes that always says “hey, I thought of that before too!”, I did think of that before too. I was playing around with a format proposal I called RJS (Readable JSON Syndication), and it was obviously inspired by the design of RSS:

    {
      "channel": {
        "title": "Jared White",
        "source_url": "http://jaredwhite.com"
      },
      "sections": [{
        "title": "Essays and more",
        "entries": [
          {
            "title": "Top Questions About Stuff",
            "subtitle": "Blab blah blah",
            "excerpt": "I am an excerpt and lots of stuff",
            "full_body": "I am an excerpt and lots of stuff and also a full body",
            "authors": [{"name": "Jared White", "social_urls": [{"service": "Twitter","url": "..."}]}],
            "published_at": "ISODate",
            "canonical_url": "http://jaredwhite.com/foo",
            "images": [{"size":"thumbnail","url":"..."},{"size":"cover","url":"..."}]
          }
        ]
      }]
    }
    

    Needless to say, I don’t have the industry cred that Brent Simmons and co. do, so it’s much better that they were the ones to publish a new format spec. My hat’s off to them, and I hope people continue to champion JSON Feed so we can finally say goodbye to RSS/Atom/XML!

    Monday, May 29, 2017
  • Go Beyond Timeboxing with Spaceboxing

    As a freelancer, I’ve long been a huge fan of timeboxing as a technique of managing workflows and creating a rewarding and productive schedule. But one thing I’ve noticed with that approach is you can grow dissatisfied with the routine.

    You know what I’m talking about. That feeling that you’re just doing the same sequence of things over and over again. You enter your home office or cowork space and get a sense of déjà vu. While there is be a certain degree of comfort in having the same routine each day, for more adventurous souls the monotony can become palpable.

    What I’ve started to to do with my schedule is not just break up each day into timeboxes but also spaceboxes. Ever hear of the spacetime continuum? (That thing Doc Brown always tell us to protect?) Well that’s exactly what I’m referring to. Just as a timebox is a scheduled change of the type of work you’re doing, a spacebox is a scheduled change of place in the course of a day’s business.

    Maybe you need to dedicate four hours to work on a particular client project. Rather than spend all four hours at your desk, take a pause in the middle and bring your work at your favorite coffee shop. Or perhaps you start off your day by driving to a cowork space in an adjacent town for the morning and then come back to your regular office in the afternoon.

    Even if I plan to work solidly at my desk for several hours, I try to get up and go for a fifteen minute walk every hour or two at most. On my walks I try to vary my routine even then. Don’t just walk down the same street every time because it’s the obvious path. Mix things up!

    There’s an art to a great work schedule. Play your days like Jazz. Improvise in the mix of a creative structure so you avoid that sense of monotony.

    This can even extend to the most simple things like eating lunch. Plan on getting lunch from a wider variety of places. Try new foods you haven’t been interested in before. Maybe you don’t even have lunch at the normal time…have a big brunch and then an afternoon snack instead.

    It’s not bad to have a regular routine. To a certain extent, having an improvised day is actually scary! It means more stress and more chance of not getting the work done that you intend to do. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about intentionally and deliberately scheduling your days in advance to incorporate “planned improvisation” and flexibility of routine. You’re not bucking the system to try something different. You’re building something different into the system at the start.

    And if you’re really lucky, you can schedule timeboxes and spaceboxes during the week that don’t even have to be work projects/billable hours! I absolutely love this quote by Matt Gemmell:

    “Somehow, you’ve earned the fantastic modern convenience of working from your own home (or office): it’s the dream! It’s OK to enjoy it a bit. Those leisure breaks and walks I mentioned are just the beginning. It’s fine to schedule a half-day off for the launch of that new game, or take advantage of cheap daytime movie tickets once in a while. Otherwise, why bother at all?” Matt Gemmell

    So go forth and build a bit of adventure into your day. As a “free agent” you have the freedom to orchestrate when and where you work. Take advantage of that freedom. I’m definitely grateful for it!

    Friday, April 28, 2017
  • Looking Ahead to WWDC and iOS 11

    It’s that time of year again when Apple fans eagerly look forward to the panoply of goodies that will be offered at the Worldwide Developers Conference, taking place in San Jose, CA in June.

    Here’s what I personally find interesting this go around: when I contemplate the future of macOS, or iOS on the iPhone, I can hardly think of anything that I’m really hoping for. The Mac is a mature platform, and as macOS is such a powerful workhorse already, I feel like the desire for new features comes down to tiny things like the recent addition of Night Shift (which I’m a huge fan of). Regarding the iPhone, my 7 Plus is simply an incredible device with both hardware and software working together seamlessly in a way only Apple can deliver. For the most part, I don’t have any complaints.

    Which brings us to the iPad. Listen, I love my 9.7” iPad Pro (which I have mentioned numerous times here on Pygmy Nuthatch), but I agree with pretty much every Apple commentator out there that iOS on the iPad needs some major love. We haven’t seen any pro-level features come to iOS/iPad since the introduction of split-view multitasking back in iOS 9. For a product that Apple claims is the future of personal computing, the pace of progress has been surprisingly slow as of late.

    When thinking about what would allow me to use my iPad a lot more for the professional tasks I still use a Mac for, here are a few main suggestions:

    • Better multitasking. The split-view side application switcher works in a pinch, but it’s really not a very good experience overall. I’d much prefer a homescreen-style grid of icons (with my favorites pinned) I can use to switch to an app on the side. In addition, I would like to see some way to save “combos” of apps and switch between those (sort of like Spaces on the Mac) — so for example, I could have Ulysses and Twitter open in one combo, and then switch to Numbers and Safari in another.
    • Floating windows. I’m not asking that iOS go full-bore Mac here and adopt anything-goes windows, but I would like to see a way to pull an app out of split-view and have it float anywhere on the screen. Picture-in-picture videos already allow for this type of interaction, and I’d love to be able to do that sort of thing with a utility like a calculator, or a photo viewer, etc.
    • Terminal. Now we’re getting a little far out, but I would absolutely love to have a secure, sandboxed Unix environment I could drop into and run Ruby scripts, web servers, databases, and other command-line software. If such a thing were possible, I could do real web development directly on my iPad and not be forced to switch over to my Mac. I’m already able to get some work done occasionally using code editors and Git repo apps, but without any local servers running, my options to test code changes are limited.
    • External display. If iOS is truly going to evolve into a pro OS for pro users on pro hardware, Apple is going to need to figure out how to translate the iOS experience to external displays. I would love to be able to plug a 27” monitor into my iPad Pro and get a larger view of all my apps. The challenge here of course is how do you interact with those apps? iOS doesn’t have the concept of a mouse cursor because everything is a touchscreen. Perhaps when the iPad has an external display connected to it, there’s some way to use the iPad itself as a fancy touchscreen “trackpad” of sorts to navigate the interface on the external display.

    So there you have it: my top requests in descending order of likelihood for new iPad Pro hardware and iOS 11 functionality. We’ll see Apple has up its sleeve come June. Hopefully they’ve not been sitting on their hands and are cooking up some cool surprises to wow us all.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2017
  • Love Hate Relationship with Social Media

    I’ve been pretty active on social media (namely Facebook and Twitter) for a number of years now, but my consistency from a “content marketing” perspective has never been very good. When I have something new to share, such as a blog post, a magazine issue, a record, etc., I typically share that once, and then I usually forget to share that ever again.

    Most of the social media tools out there that let you manage multiple social accounts and pre-schedule posts don’t really help. I’m just not disciplined enough to sit down for an hour or two and write out hundreds of Facebook posts/Twitter tweets and schedule them out for weeks at a time. I’d much rather be creating the actual content I want to share than simply talk about it.

    So I’m on the lookout for a good tool to help keep my social channels updated on a regular basis by reposting past stuff to pad the times when I’m not posing something new. This is a common strategy all big “brands” take (and frankly some of them post way too frequently for my liking), and since it’s statistically proven that when you post something most of your followers won’t actually see it, I know I need to get disciplined about this. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Edgar so I’m going to try that first, but hopefully there are a few others out there to compare. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear about them!

    Friday, April 14, 2017
  • Trellis Magazine: What is Minimalism?

    In addition to blogging here at Pygmy Nuthatch, I also publish an online magazine called Trellis. Each monthly issue focuses on one or two topics that are thought-provoking and provide an in-depth look at cultural trends. It’s written from a Christian faith-based perspective, but also with a slant towards progressive voices and an intent to appeal to secular readers.

    In the April issue, I’ve written about the increasingly mainstream “minimalism” movement and the way it’s come to provide a compelling counter-narrative to the typical consumerist American lifestyle.

    Proponents of the minimalist lifestyle will throw out phrases like “live a more intentional life” or “keep only those things which spark joy” — but what does that even mean? Are we all living unintentional lives? Are we keeping things in our homes or offices that don’t bring us any joy?

    Well, as I go on to explain, that’s actually what many of us are doing all the time.

    The consumerist, mass-produced, disposable culture we live in is so pervasive, so all-encompassing, that we seldom take a pause and ask ourselves why we’ve bought into it so heavily. Minimalism begs us to start asking the right questions.

    Minimalism is even creeping into the business world—James Altucher being one of the better-known examples. Of course, no discussion of business and minimalism is complete without mention of the ultimate minimalist-driven entrepreneur, a man who was way ahead of his time: Steve Jobs.

    Link: What is Minimalism?

    Wednesday, April 12, 2017
  • The Mac is...Back?

    Last year was a terrible year for Mac desktops. Some might argue it wasn’t a great year for Mac laptops either. The thing is I know people who are very happy with the 2016 MacBook Pro, the Touch Bar, and all that came with the refreshed package. Apple also recently reported strong sales of the laptop lineup. However, it’s hard to deny that a sizable number of Apple’s pro customers are less than enamored with the latest MacBook Pro.

    But it’s much, much worse on the desktop side of things. 2016 was an absolute trainwreck. No new iMacs. No new Mac Minis. A fairly lightweight update to macOS. (I personally like Sierra a lot, but honestly, it felt more like a point release than a real upgrade.)

    The most frustrating situation by far though was no new Mac Pros. Not only that, Apple let it slip that they were out of the display business entirely, ceding vital ground to LG (which turned out to be yet another trainwreck, in the form of faulty units that LG was forced to recall and re-engineer).

    Now here we are in the spring of 2017, and—in a strange turn of events—there are hopeful signs that the Mac desktop line is destined to blossom once again.

    Apple will be completely redesigning the Mac Pro from the bottom-up, with a new “modular” form factor that Apple can update on a regular basis and a renewed purpose of being the fastest, most powerful Mac computer for high-end pro users. If you got the cash and want the best CPUs, GPUs, memory, and storage money can buy in a Mac desktop, they’re going to give that to you. Finally! Apple also plans to release a new standalone display to compliment the Mac Pro. Buh-bye LG.

    There’s only one problem with this rosy new scenario: it’s not going to happen this year. (cue sad trombones) No official release timeframe has been given, but I think it’s safe to assume spring or summer 2018. (I doubt Apple would go past WWDC next year, as they’d have a riot on their hands!)

    Thankfully, we will be seeing something new this year, in the form of an “iMac Pro.” Updated versions of the all-in-one Mac will sport significantly beefed up internals. It’ll be interesting to see how far they can push the GPU and memory capacity…if it’s a better upgrade than pros might expect, that just might be enough to tide over a lot of folks this year.

    No solid word yet on the Mac Mini, but Apple is on the record that it doesn’t intend to drop the product line, so they’re going to have to upgrade it at some point soon.

    Bottom line: as a current Mac laptop user who hasn’t owned a desktop Mac in some time, I’m once again seriously excited about Mac desktops. After the wasteland that was 2016, it’s a big relief to know that Apple is aware of the mistakes they’ve made and intend to rectify those mistakes. As the saying goes, better late than never.

    Tuesday, April 11, 2017