Using my iPad Pro as my Primary Computing Device: Day 1

On Saturday, I sent my MacBook Pro in to get its keyboard repaired. Because my Hackintosh died late last year and I decided to keep things simple, I will be without a computer for two weeks for the first time in my professional life.

Boo hoo, right?

Ten or even five years ago, this would have been a big problem, but in this age of advanced mobile devices, it should be okay, at least in theory. I have a first-generation iPad Pro 9.7 with keyboard and Pencil, and I enjoy it very much. I use it a lot for sketching (via Paper) and writing (via Bear and Ulysses). Because my iPad does not let me multitask as easily as on my laptop, I’m able to focus more, which is great for reflecting and writing. Everything syncs to the cloud instantaneously, meaning I can access this data on my laptop immediately.

The iPad has limitations that make it difficult for me to replace my laptop entirely. For example, G Suite does not play that well with the iPad. I can’t ALT-TAB between different documents, the mobile versions of the app have limited functionality, and I haven’t figured out how to easily use the desktop versions of the app via Chrome.

It’s all good… until you no longer have access to your laptop. I timed my repair (which will take 1-2 weeks) to when I figured it would be least inconvenient, and I’m making a go of using my iPad as my primary computing device in the meantime. Here’s what I’m learning so far:

  • My bag is much lighter!
  • Writing blog posts via the WordPress app works quite well!
  • I can’t easily print from my iPad to my 2011 Brother printer. Exploring options now.
  • I’m not sure how well conferencing via Zoom will work. At minimum, I usually take notes while I’m on Zoom, and I often use its more advanced features, such as screen-sharing and breakout groups. I’m not planning on doing the latter on any upcoming calls, but it’s a good opportunity just to see if any of this is possible.

We’ll see how this all goes.

Google Maps Timeline: Interesting or Valuable?

I was at a dinner party last night where a friend was talking about his Google Maps Timeline year-end report. Another friend asked:

Do you find it interesting or valuable?

This is a very good question to ask about technology in general.

Personally, I find Google Maps Timeline interesting, but not valuable. It’s generally interesting as journal. I’d love to import a static copy of the data automatically into Day One or other journaling software. (Lazy Web, has anyone done this already?)

Using it to track movement is interesting and potentially valuable. In 2018, I traveled 27,711 miles total, about one time around the world. I walked a bit less than a mile a day averaging 2.25 miles / hour — not as much or as fast as I would have liked. Tracking this data more regularly might encourage me to move more, but fitness trackers provide this same data in less creepy ways.

More valuable is the transit information. In 2018, I spent over 21 days on some sort of ground transportation for a total of 9,575 miles, about 26 miles / day. This was surprising for someone who works from home at least twice a week and sobering from the perspective of someone who cares about carbon emissions. That said, I don’t know that trying to optimize these totals further is very valuable. I already take lots of public transportation, carpool when I can, and drive a Prius. I could lower my carbon footprint much more dramatically by changing my diet.

I’m not sure whether Google Maps Timeline will ever be valuable for me individually. However, I do think Google makes this data valuable for me in aggregate. For example, Google is able to tell me the average wait time at my favorite coffee shops and restaurants. I could imagine this data in aggregate could be very valuable for urban planning. I would like for it to be used this way, and would be happy to give this data to someone if I trusted they would use it in useful and also ethical ways.

And there’s the rub. We still don’t have good, trusted agreements between organizations and individuals. I don’t trust the government to handle my data competently — to anonymize it appropriately, to store it securely, etc. — or to put it to good use. I trust Google to put it to good use, but I am very skeptical that they will use it ethically. That said, I trust Google a lot more than most companies, which is also potentially misguided.

Way back in the day, I did some work on these kinds of issues in community with good folks like Phil Windley, Doc Searls, and Identity Woman. Aman Ahuja and his friends at the Data Guild have also done a lot of good thinking around ethical guidelines for using data. I’m heartened by the work they’re all doing. If you know of others doing great work in this space, please share in the comments below. Be specific — what is the problem they’re tackling, and how are they going about it?

Seeking Google Alerts Replacement

Google Reader officially died today. I was not one of the legions of people who expressed dismay and displeasure at Google’s decision. I can’t argue with a company’s desire to focus, I don’t have any insider information as to why they made that decision, and I’m not interested in participating in tech punditry theater.

My general feeling is that, if a service that’s valuable goes away, the marketplace will replace it. That’s exactly what happened here. Feedly and several other companies moved very quickly to fill that void. I migrated to Feedly shortly after Google made its announcement, and while the service has some warts, my overall feed reading experience is better than it was with Google Reader. Score one for markets!

Despite my overall apathy toward the shift, I was annoyed to receive a notice this morning saying that Google Alerts no longer supports RSS feeds. I suppose it validates speculation that Google is de-emphasizing RSS, as I see no substantial technical reasons why it should kill what amounts to another serialization format.

So it goes. I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to find a replacement stalking personal dashboard notification tool. Unlike Google Reader, Google Alerts has been gradually fading on its own for months now, so this is a good excuse to find something better. I’ve already been using Newsle for several months now, which I like quite a bit, but it’s centered around people, and I want something for topics as well.

Any suggestions?