Help Fund Our Adoption by Donating to Our $5,000 Matching Grant

As many of you know, my wife and I are in the process of adopting. We recently had a failed adoption after being matched with a birth mom for about five months. We lost almost $10,000 with the failed adoption so we are in the process of trying to recoup those costs with a matching grant from our church, Sojourn East Community Church. The donation is tax deductible. Here is where we are standing now:

  • Goal: $5,000
  • Raised to date: $4,167
  • Total needed: $833

Donate Here

Here is the full update that my wife wrote:

Our journey to growing our family began over three and a half years ago. We were excited and full of hope as we waited each month to see signs that we were pregnant. We hoped and prayed for a baby to love, a child to bring home. But, the years wore on with no signs of pregnancy and we eventually decided to pursue medical opinions. After two and a half years of trying to conceive, we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility.

After several cycles of different types of non-invasive fertility treatments, we began to seriously consider the road of adoption. Adoption is something that we have always respected, it has never been our “last resort”. We confidently believe that God will lead the child we are meant to raise into our open arms. We now know that, that is meant to happen through adoption. So, in May 2017 we began to pursue a domestic adoption of an infant. Our hearts were open and ready to love a child.

In October 2017, we accepted a match to a baby due in early 2018. We spent the next several months preparing, finishing our fundraising, and getting to know this baby’s mom. We felt like this was the right situation for us and were so excited. In late January, a week before the due date, we got a call that our birth mom had given birth and had decided to parent him. While we 100% support her decision to parent, it has been a very hard road to walk. We experienced many intense emotions as we grieved the loss of this life in our home. Experiencing a failed match is painful and hard to understand or explain to anyone who hasn’t been through it.

Through this disruption, we lost almost $10,000 in expenses that were already incurred related to that specific match. In March 2018, we were awarded a $5,000 matching grant from the Sojourn East Community Church Adoption Fund, administered by Lifesong for Orphans. The amounts raised through this website are tax deductible and will be matched dollar for dollar by the adoption fund grant. If we can raise the full $5,000, our entire loss will be recovered. This is a huge blessing to our family and we are in awe of this amazing opportunity!

Today, we are now actively waiting to be matched again with our agency. While we don’t know the exact cost since we aren’t matched yet, we estimate the total amount due will be around what our previous match was. Therefore, we would love to raise the $5,000 here so we have the full $10,000 ready when we match again!

This journey hasn’t been what we planned or expected. These last three and a half years have been hard, harder than we could have imagined. We have cried out to God and walked through intense sadness and grief. The pain and loss of being childless has been a weighted presence in our lives each day.

However, we are committed to working through the emotions that this roller coaster of a journey brings. We turn to those around us when we have no hope and try to step each day toward God. Because the reality is that this was never unexpected to Him. He is walking on this road with us and there is not a place we’ll be, he hasn’t already seen. We are working to remain open and hang onto hope as we wait. We have no doubt that this is the place God has led us to and we hope you will support us as we continue on this road!

Highly Focused People

Each day we bombarded by multiple commitments, emails from co-workers, the occasional fire to put out, and so on. Additionally, there are probably several tasks that need to be completed, some more that you would like to do, and others that just seem to be in the distant future. You can’t do it all. And, as research shows, we can only do one thing well at a time. When you go back and forth from task to task you will always be underperforming. This is just on the day-to-day.

There is also something to be said for focusing on one project for a longer period of time until you see it to completion. Trying to juggle multiple commitments doesn’t allow you to get into the flow on the project.

I found James Clear’s advice on Twitter helpful, especially the line “If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.”

Tweet Link – @james_clear

Highly focused people do not leave their options open. They make choices. If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.

The great irony of this is that by limiting your options and remaining focused until you master a skill, you actually expand your options in the long run. Life-changing optionality is a byproduct of providing great value, which can only be achieved through focus.

So commit, focus, and complete then move on.

10 Ways Canvas Makes Your Life Easier

Earlier today I led some faculty training on how Canvas makes your life easier as a teacher or teaching assistant. Personally, I love Canvas and could come up with a whole host of tips but here are 10 things that stand out to me:

  1. Announcements
    • Announcements are the best way to help your students stay up-to-date with the course. By default, not only will students receive an email alert of the announcement but if they have the Canvas Student app installed on their mobile device they will receive a notification.
    • You can also schedule announcements for key dates during the course. For example, if an exam is due on Sunday you could schedule an announcement for the Tuesday or Wednesday of that week reminding the students to study, some key information regarding the exam, and a word of an encouragement.
    • Remember, you can send announcements either from the web browser or the Canvas Teacher app.
  2. Granting individual extensions for any assignment or allowing for a retake of a quiz/exam
  3. Contact individual students about missing assignments or low grades.
    • Using the Message Students Who… feature you can easily contact student’s who are missing assignments or score below a certain score. This will allow you to better help your students stay on track in the course.
  4. Notification settings
    • Canvas provides a plethora of notification settings that you can fine tune to only be notified of what you want to see and when you would like to see them. You can choose to be notified immediately or sent a daily or weekly summary of your notifications.
  5. Prevent or detect plagiarism
    • Unfortunately, plagiarism is a reality that teachers must address. The Turnitin software that is integrated in Canvas provides an opportunity for student’s to detect their own plagiarism before submitting to better learn how to properly cite and/or allow for teachers to detect potential plagiarism and have the necessary tools to address the students.
  6. Restore deleted files and assignments
  7. SpeedGrader options
  8. Nickname your courses
    • You can update the names of your course to whatever you would like it to be and it only shows this name for you. Personally, I write an abbreviated version of the course name and put the term in parentheses for my courses.
  9. Canvas Teacher App (iOS and Android)
    • The Canvas Teacher app allows you to do all the functions you need to do as a teacher in Canvas such as message students, send announcements, update due dates, add files to the course, record video or audio messages, and much more.
  10. Support
    • Clicking on the help button in Canvas provides the following options (this will differ based on your own school’s implementation but these links are customizable by your school’s administrator)
      1. Report a problem or need help? This submits a support ticket to the Online Learning office and Campus Technology. Upon review our support teams can either provide an answer or solution or escalate it to Canvas support who responds within 24-48 hours.
      2. My course information – find information such as meeting times, location, professor and more
      3. Register for classes – students can click here to register for classes
      4. Student account information – student’s can learn more about their tuition fees and payment dates
      5. Search the Canvas Guide – any question you have regarding Canvas can probably be found in these guides.

Contact me on Twitter @renshaw330 or comment below with your own tips.

The Environment

In chapter 3 of Triggers by Malcom Goldsmith he discusses how our environment triggers us in different ways. You may not be a cynical person most of the time but around certain people you tend to be more cynical than normal or maybe 90% of the time you are a patient person but in certain environments you are tightly wound and snap at people around you. This isn’t to say that we can excuse certain actions because of the environment we are in but it does reveal that our environment effects us positively or negatively whether we like it or not.

If there is one “disease” that I’m trying to cure in this book, it revolves around our total misapprehension of our environment. We think we are in sync with our environment, but actually it’s at war with us. We think we control our environment but in fact it controls us. We think our external environment is conspiring in our favor—that is, helping us— when actually it is taxing and draining us. It is not interested in what it can give us. It’s only interned in what it can take from us (26).

After showing some of the positive aspects of environment he goes on to say the following:

Much of the time, however, our environment is the devil. That’s the part that eludes us: entering a new environment changes our behavior in sly ways, whether we’re sitting in a conference room with colleagues or visiting friends for dinner or enduring our weekly phone with an aging parent…the most pernicious environments are the ones that comes us to compromise our sense of right and wrong. In the ultra competitive environment of the workplace, it can happen to the most solid citizens (28-9).

We all know our environment can trigger us but the key is to peel away the layers and figure out the why so we can address those triggers head on.

What Lies are You Believing that Are Stopping You From Making Lasting Change in Your Life?

I recently started reading Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith after listening to CGP Grey and Mike Hurley’s discussion of the book on a Cortex episode. The basic premise of the book is to teach you how to make lasting change in your life. I’m only three chapters in but so far it has been quite helpful.

In chapter two, Goldsmith talks about false beliefs that we tell ourselves that don’t allow us to make changes. He says that yes, these are obvious, but too many people don’t actually take these to heart and truly believe them. So below is just the 15 lies that we believe and what this tiggers in us. I’ve also added a couple extra notes that I found helpful.

What is a belief trigger?

“An excuse explains why we fell short of expectations after the fact. Our inner beliefs trigger failure before it happens. They sabotage lasting change by canceling its possibility. We employ these beliefs as articles of faith to justify our inaction and then wish away the result.”

  1. If I understand I will do – this belief triggers confusion
  2. I have willpower and won’t give into temptation – this belief triggers overconfidence
  3. Today is a special day – excusing our momentary lapses as an outlier event triggers a self-indulgent inconsistency
  4. “At least I’m better than…” – this belief triggers a false sense of immunity
  5. I shouldn’t need help and structure – this belief triggers an unappealing exceptionalism
    • This is a natural response that combines three competing impulses
      1. Our contempt for simplicity (only complexity is worthy of our attention)
      2. Our contempt for instruction and follow-up
      3. Our faith that we can succeed all by ourselves
  6. I won’t get tired and my enthusiasm will not fade – this belief triggers depletion
  7. I have all the time in the world – Faith in time’s infinite patience triggers procrastination
  8. I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur – this belief triggers unrealistic expectations
    1. You have to realize the high probability of low-probability events. We don’t plan for low-probability events because, by definition, any one of them is unlikely to occur…yet the odds of at least one event occurring is high
  9. An epiphany will suddenly change my life – this belief triggers magical thinking
  10. My change will be permanent and I will never have to worry again – this belief triggers a false sense of permanence
    • Even when we get there, we cannot stay there without commitment and discipline
  11. My elimination of old problems will not bring new problems – this belief triggers a fundamental misunderstanding of our future challenges
  12. My efforts will be fairly rewarded – this belief triggers resentment
  13. No one is paying attention to me – this belief triggers a dangerous preference for isolation
    • When we revert to our previous behavior, people always notice
  14. If I change I am “inauthentic” – this belief triggers stubbornness
  15. I have the wisdom to assess my own behavior – this belief triggers an impaired sense of objectivity
    • We are notoriously inaccurate in assessing ourselves

What “belief triggers” are you falsely believing?

Grit and Deliberate Practice When Learning Greek (or any other language)

This was just a short announcement I sent out to my online Greek students this morning and thought I would share with you all:

In Angela Duckworth’s excellent book titled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance she argues that all people can optimize their achievement in all areas of life. In general, this means that everyone can improve their skills and achievements through what she calls grit. This can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Interest – you must have an intrinsic interest in what you are doing. Thus, in order to succeed in learning a language you must have an interest to actually do so!
  2. Practice – practice must be deliberate and purposeful (see below)
  3. Purpose – you must know why you are doing what you ultimate goal is (for Greek students our ultimate goal is to be able to rightly divide the Word of God in the original language that he inspired the apostles to write in)
  4. Hope – the mindset that you can do it and keep it all in perspective

With regards to practice I want to highlight what practice should look like from the book Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

Practice must be…

  • Well-defined and have specific goals – this means that each time you are studying Greek set a specific goal that you want to accomplish during that session and strive to reach that goal. Don’t make your goals too big but remember slow, steady, and simple wins the race
  • Focused – you must remove all distractions and focus during your session (see Cal Newport’s Deep Work for strategies for focus or my post, “Focus is Hard Work” or “Deliberate Practice”)
  • Feedback – this is why I do the videos for you all. You need feedback on what you are doing. You have to review to understand your mistakes. This is of utmost importance in Greek. If you don’t learn from your mistakes you will not be making progress
  • Get out of your comfort zone – learning and developing a skill is hard. Push yourself…they say “If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.”

The more you learn the more you brain will be putting together connections and your “mental representation will grow and you will get better at assimilating new information.” This means for you Greek students that learning Greek is like a snowball. The more you learn continues to grow and grow and you will be understanding the language more fully and in a wholistic manner.

So, as you study this week and through the semester engage in deliberate and focused practice. You can do it, learning a language is not for the faint of heart but anyone can do it. You just have to put in the time.

Study hard, stay focused, and have a good week.

 

Greek Flashcards for Terms Occurring 10-50x

Several years ago I created numerous flashcards for studying in my Greek Syntax class. I separated out the decks so there are around 20-40 terms per deck except when you get to words occurring 16x or fewer there are more. Previously, I used Quizlet to house everything and sync with a great app on my iPhone, Flashcards Deluxe, which has superior study tools for learning a language. But Quizlet went to a subscription model and stopped all outside apps from using their sync service. You can still find them on Quizlet here but the reason I went away from Quizlet is that on their iOS app their study tools are terrible for this language study.

Therefore, I recommend purchasing the Flashcard Deluxe app for iOS (link) or Android (link) for $3.99. Then download my sets of plain text files here and upload them to the app via Dropbox (instructions here)

Flashcards Deluxe has several different study modes:

  1. Ordered – each card is shown in order (default for new decks)
  2. Random – cards are shuffled before each round
  3. Short Term Goal – focus is given on cards you don’t know as well.
  4. Spaced Repetition – advanced learning method where cards are scheduled at timed intervals.

Personally, I prefer the Spaced Repetition model for learning the cards then the Short Term Goal for review once I have that set memorized. These models allow you to focus on a subset of the cards as you go along, which aids for better memorization.

The terms are numbered and glosses are given according to Warren Trenchard’s Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament

Sets Included:

  • Trenchard 50+ (310)
  • Trenchard 49-45 (29)
  • Trenchard 44-40 (39)
  • Trenchard 39-35 (40)
  • Trenchard 34-32 (23)
  • Trenchard 31-29 (40)
  • Trenchard 28-27 (19)
  • Trenchard 26-25 (34)
  • Trenchard 24-23 (37)
  • Trenchard 22-21 (37)
  • Trenchard 20 (20)
  • Trenchard 19 (21)
  • Trenchard 18 (32)
  • Trenchard 17 (32)
  • Trenchard 16 (42)
  • Trenchard 15 (48)
  • Trenchard 14 (48)
  • Trenchard 13 (41)
  • Trenchard 12 (69)
  • Trenchard 11 (77)
  • Trenchard 10 (81)

If you have any questions please contact me via twitter: @renshaw330

Switching from Squarespace to WordPress

Today I made the switch from Squarespace to WordPress as my blogging platform of choice. I’ve been on Squarespace since I started my blog back in 2012. One of the advantages of Squarespace was being able to completely customize your website, which WordPress didn’t allow nearly as well, especially if you were on a basic plan. Additionally, at that time I wrote mostly on my laptop and had really no problems getting my posts up on the platform.

But its 2018 now and I work primarily on my iPad and Squarespace has really fallen behind in this category. Their iOS app leaves much to wanting and additionally there is no way to post directly from an app like Ulysses (my writing app of choice). Sure, I can copy and paste my text to the app and finally get it posted but that sheer amount of tension in my workflow has caused me not to write as much as I want. Yes, this is a terrible excuse but always in the back of my mind I knew I had to take the time to post and this barrier proved to be too great for me. I want a platform where I can write in Ulysses, click post, and I am done. WordPress is the answer for me.

I’ve had this setup for four months now but couldn’t get myself to make the switch due to broken links but thanks to Brian Davidson for forcing me to finally make the switch. So, some of my links may be broken, and that’s ok. My postings are primarily to share my thoughts on certain issues and not build some type of high traffic platform. I will fix those in due time but at this point I want to focus on writing and not worry about anything else.

So hopefully this will help my output. Anything I want to write on I can do so quickly and efficiently.

Thanks for reading…

If you were subscribed via RSS you may need to re-link the RSS link, which is found here.

People Value Clarity Over Accessibility

Owen Strachan recently interviewed Cal Newport, author of one of my favorite books, Deep Work, where they discussed many of the ideas in the book. Cal’s big push is that in an ever increasing knowledge work society the ability to focus deeply to work and create is vital. There are many aspects of this idea such as growing and developing oneself into a deep worker but one key aspect is to rid yourself of distractions. Too often in the work place people value being always accessible and responding quickly to questions or having an open door policy. Cal helpfully points out that accessibility isn’t exactly what people want it it is actually clarity of when one is available. Thus, if you have a closed door policy until 11am each day so you can engage in deep work people won’t actually frown on this. Instead, communicating when you are available is more important. Thus, people value clarity over accessibility.

I have found this to be true in my office as well. I try to mark off specific times on the calendar to engage in deep work and let my colleagues know when this will happen. The rest of the time is for the more mundane such as answering questions, responding to emails, and just engaging in the everyday activities of the office. I challenge you to think through your schedule and realize that you don’t have to be accessible all the time. Rather, mark certain times you will be engaged in deep work and when you will be accessible and communicate that with your team.

You can listen to the whole episode here: https://overcast.fm/+HNffOiTy4.

Keeping Twitter a Happy Place

Using mute filters liberally on Twitter can help keep your experience sane, less rage inducing, and overall a place that you can enjoy and not get sucked into the vitriolic tweets so often expressed. You don’t need to see everything on Twitter. There may be topics that you have an interest in but reading peoples reactions to those topics and being inundated with them constantly may not be good for your soul. Don’t think that you have to immerse yourself in this on Twitter. Of course, one solution is to stop using Twitter altogether but personally, I find a lot of good information and people on Twitter and when I am conscious about the time I spend on there I really enjoy it. Thus, I’ve chosen to use mute filters for many topics.

In order to mute on the native Twitter app you can read the instructions here but personally I prefer either Twitterrific or Tweetbot’s mute filters because you can use regular expressions for more gradual control of your mutes. For example, you can add an asterisk to the end of a word to mute all forms of the word. I can put in and it will mute tax, taxes, taxing, etc. Instructions for Twitterrific can be found here and Tweetbot here. Here are some topics and keywords (I am constantly adding to this list) that I’ve muted to make Twitter a happier place:

  • Politics – so much of the political conversation on Twitter is harsh and just not good for people’s sanity. Some keywords I’ve found helpful: tax*, legistlat*, POTUS, SCOTUS, president*, Trump, Clinton, Russia, and more
  • Sports – soccer*, NFL
  • Annoying – follower*, Dr. Who, CNN, Fox News, How I did on Twitter this week, android
  • Hashtags – if an annoying hash tag appears I just mute it immediately
  • Websites – certain websites I may be interested in reading but don’t need to see constant tweets about them. This is why I use RSS
  • Accounts – certain accounts I just never want to hear from

Don’t get sucked in to FOMO and think that you may be missing something important. If it is really that important you will come across it eventually and if you miss out then it probably doesn’t matter in the long run. Keep Twitter a happy place and curate it for topics and people your interested in.

Cellular iPad

This is the first iPad I purchased with cellular. I’ve always debated whether or not to get the cellular version as it is an extra cost but this is also the first time I’ve dedicated to using my iPad as my primary device.

Its come in handy several times but no times that I’ve thought, sheesh, this was a really good decision until now. This week I’ve been in Providence, RI for a conference and have been using my iPad heavily. Hotel and public WIFI spots are sketchy at best. I’ve noticed that not once have I had an issue with being online. When the Wifi isn’t working then I just switch to cellular and I’m good to go.

So if you do any travel or are in these types of situations think about the cellular version I’ve found it very helpful.

Don’t Let Email Control You

Email is infinitely distracting and most people let hundreds or thousands of emails both read and unread pile up. The cognitive load that your brain encounters every time you open up your email client is massive. For example, on Monday you receive an email. First, you open, scan, and think I can’t actually answer that right now but I’ll get to it later. The next time you open up your email client you see that same email again and your brain will subconsciously go through the same process again (even if you don’t read it over). Additionally, you are reminded that you have this email to answer at some point in your upcoming, and presumably busy, schedule. This will happen over and over again. If you are one to receive a lot of email then this will be pushed towards the bottom of your inbox while your total count in your inbox continues to rise. Every time you open up your email you are reminded of what all you have to do.

So, make this a rule, every time you touch an email get it out of your inbox and put it in your task manager and archive so its out of your inbox. For me, this means if there is an email that I can’t answer at that moment I throw it in OmniFocus to process later. I have a specific list for emails to answer. Thus, on my own schedule, I set aside time to go through that list and search for the email and reply back to it.

You’ll know longer have the overbearing weight of email hanging over your head when you open your email client. 

Don’t let email control you

10 Thoughts on iPhone X

I’ve been fairly busy lately and haven’t had much time to blog but I recently bought the new iPhone X (pronounced 10 not X…don’t get me started on the weird naming convention). This phone is supposed to be the future of the iPhone. Now, many of these new technologies such as a full phone display, OLED, and even Face ID are not necessarily new but in true Apple fashion they try to build on existing technologies to perfect them. In the same way that the original iPhone didn’t introduce a touch interface but when the the debut of the iPhone was released it set the standard of what a touch interface should be. I think Apple did a similar feat with Face ID in the new phone. As I’ll explain below having Face ID makes it feel like the phone is never actually locked but in reality the phone is twice as secure as it was with Touch ID. Anyways, below are some of my initial thoughts on the iPhone X with a little over a week of use.

  1. As I stated earlier, Face ID makes it feel like the phone is never locked. If you look at comparisons around the web on the speed of Face ID vs Touch ID you’ll notice that Face ID is actually slower than Touch ID but in use not having to hold your finger on the home button and just looking at your phone naturally it feels quicker. Face ID continues to improve because each time it authenticated it learns more about you. I’ve been amazed that this works regardless of what I’m doing: sunglasses, hat, darkness, outside, inside, etc I rarely have an issue. I actually think I have more success than with Touch ID because times when my hands are sweaty, have food on the, gloves, and more Touch ID does not work. I’m sure I’ll be frustrated in the future but so far Face ID is an absolute success
  2. The OLED screen is fantastic. The fact that black is actually black and not black with an illuminated background that turns it somewhat grayish (if you can compare the back of the iPhone X and another iPhone and you’ll notice the drastic difference).
  3. You can now switch between recently used apps by swiping to the right from the bottom of the screen. I’ve found I am using this all the time when going back and forth from an app. This is much quicker than double clicking the home button and picking from the app switcher.
  4. The speakers around around 30% louder, which is really noticeable. I listen to many podcasts and audiobooks just from my phone without headphones or connected to the speaker and it is plenty loud.
  5. The optical image stabilization for the second zoom lens produced great looking photos in all types of light.
  6. I’m not one to take a lot of selfies but the portrait mode on the front facing camera works great.
  7. Animoji is fun
  8. The position of swiping from the top right of the screen to pull down Control Center is less than ideal. I’ve now added the Camera icon to the bottom right of my apps for quick access instead of using Control Center like I did previously.
  9. There was much talk about the notch at the top where the camera sensors are. In mockups this was very noticeable but when using my phone I don’t notice at all.
  10. Adjusting to not having a home button took less than a day. Swiping up to get back to home screen, swiping left to switch apps, swiping up and to the right to get to the app switcher, swiping from the top for notifications, and swiping from the top right for Control Center is all very fluid (except the Control Center one) and I quickly internalized it.

Review of the Lofree Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard

Awhile back Jason Snell over at Six Colors wrote a review of the Lofree Bluetooth mechanical keyboard that was a campaign on Indiegogo. It sounded promising and looked absolutely gorgeous. Plus a mechanical keyboard that is also Bluetooth caught my eye. So I decided to go ahead and back this beauty.

At first sight, the keyboard did not disappoint. The muted black, round keys, pinkish backspace keycap, and a compact design had me quite excited. Most mechanical keyboards have, well, a very mechanical look to them. Additionally, they are wired, which is fine, but aesthetically having one wire strung across my desk isn’t very pleasing. Regardless, I brought to the office to text out over the next couple days.

Initially, I was pretty excited. The keys felt nice under the fingers, looked gorgeous on the desk, and made the perfect clickity-clack sound that I love from mechanical keyboards. Additionally, the keyboard can be paired with three different devices. I didn’t know this at first until I started reading through the instructions. I’ve always wanted this in a keyboard but all the options out there don’t feel pleasing to type with. After connecting my Mac, iPad, and iPhone I was good to go. Switching between devices was a breeze and worked well. Some people have issues on certain Bluetooth keyboards with the iPad going to sleep and then reconnecting. I had no such issues when switching between devices.

But as I started typing more I noticed two things that ended up being somewhat of a deal breaker for me. First, the return and shift key are much harder to press down. All the other keys press down with an ever so slight depression on the key but those two keys have a double click, which feels like they have multiple key switches in them. I’m really not sure what is going on here but pressing them down took a noticeable toll on my pinky fingers. At first it wasn’t that big of deal but halfway through the day I was making more mistakes because it took a cognitive effort to think about pressing those keys with more pressure than the rest of them.

The second problem I had was with the number row because it is shifted to the right from its normal position. Normally I don’t have to look at the number row when typing but with this decision its caused me numerous typos because I am always hitting the key to the left. Thus, trying to type an explanation point I hit the tilde or attempting an asterisk I type an ampersand. I didn’t realize how often I was typing numbers or these modifiers but it throughout the work day this proved to be the biggest barrier of this keyboard. Usuallly I can type fast on a mechanical keyboard, which is one of the reasons that I like them but with this design decision it simply made it very difficult to type without looking down at the keys.

At the end of the day the keyboard is not for me. Granted, it is really a beautiful keyboard but functionally those two issues make it unusable for my main keyboard. I think I will use it in my home office when it is set up. I plan on having a small desk in there so the compact and wireless design of this will go together nicely. Additionally, I won’t spend a lot of time in there so typing will be minimal and will not be work related so I imagine I won’t be using the modifier keys as much. But for my main keyboard at work I just need something that doesn’t cause me to think about the keyboard. The keyboard should fall into the background and let you type without having to look down. Additionally, it shouldn’t cause unnecessary finger fatigue after a long day of typing. I have a hard time recommending this keyboard that retails for $149 (on sale on Amazon for $129). But if you’re really needing a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard this is the one to get even if you have to adjust your typing. But for me back to my beloved naked keycapped Das Keyboard for work.

Counting Steps on the Apple Watch with Pedometer++

Awhile back I recounted hitting 200 days of 10,000 steps. Today I hit 254 days in a row by talking a late night walk to complete my goal. Late night walks and exercise have occurred several times during my current streak. The gamification of counting steps really has caused me to be active throughout the day for awhile now. It’s really become a habit.

The Apple Watch does track steps but as David Smith has noted it is not entirely accurate. Basically it uses a priority device to track steps. If your watch is on then that is the primary device. But what happens you’re carrying groceries or walking the dog? You’re not getting those steps counted because your arm isn’t moving. So David’s app will merge the data to get the most accurate steps.

In short, I love this app. It’s helped me track my steps daily for over a half year now and has a permanent spot on my home screen on my Apple Watch. Also, I love getting the confetti to when hitting 10k steps everyday.

PS I wrote this post on my computer, errr I mean iPhone.

Forget the iPad. The iPhone as a “Laptop Replacement”

The tech Twitter and blog community is currently in a frenzy about whether or not the iPad is a laptop replacement (here, here, here, and several other places. . Ironically, I wrote a post at the beginning of the week about the iPad as a laptop replacement based on the question from a friend over the weekend. I’m in no way implying that I had anything to do with the uproar on Twitter (I didn’t) but I found it interesting that this question is still a hot topic not just among nerds but also the everyday user considering using an iPad for their main computer. My post was basically with the perspective of an academic or student trying to go all in on the iPad. I could have been more sensitive to this and frame the discussion differently, especially after reading Matt Gemmell’s excellent post on the idea of a laptop replacement. In his article he points out two flaws in this thinking:

The two big general flaws in that kind of thinking are: (1) the idea of replacement is already laden with confirmation bias, and (2) the question can only ever be validly answered with reference to an individual. It’s as stupid as if I were to claim that iPads are, in some notional, bizarre, universal sense, “a laptop replacement”, just because I personally use an iPad full-time now. I don’t understand why this is hard to understand.

I agree, this decision is intensely personal and will look different for everyone. For some the iPad can be their sole device and for others, like me, I still need access to a computer, but for the majority of tasks I do the iPad works beautifully. Personally, I prefer the experience using the iPad over a computer. Additionally, some people work better on a computer and would prefer that plus they can do everything they need on it so for them the iPad is not a laptop replacement.

Thinking about this device replacement idea I was struck by my wife’s usage of her iPhone 7. For her, the iPhone is her personal computer. She is an accountant and she has a Windows desktop at work. But for her personal life the iPhone is always with her. She answers email, which are often somewhat lengthy, texting, web browsing, social media, watching Netflix, reading books (I still don’t understand this one but she will read entire books on her phone), gathering documents and researching for our adoption, tracking our adoption finances in Google Sheets, taking photos, editing photos, phone calls, and more. She has a laptop but only uses it sparingly to play the Sims and she also has an iPad, which I can’t remember the last time she used it.

For her, the device that is with her all the time is her computer. She doesn’t need or want anything else. For me, this wouldn’t work. Sure, I get a lot of work done on my phone but if it is a longer email or web browsing or any other number of tasks I prefer getting out the iPad. So this discussion of “laptop replacement” is intensely personal and will look different for everyone.

Its kind of funny seeing the uproar on Twitter. Many are pointing out that this decision is intensely personal and it depends on your job as well. Many jobs it doesn’t even make sense to think of an iPad as a laptop replacement. Work will often provide a computer and for many they just need a personal device for the basics and a laptop or iPad will fit that. At the end of the day, its not a question of whether the iPad is capable because it is for many situations. Just as a laptop works for most situations its not capable of everything the iPad is. So, think about what you want out of the device, what you use it for, and decide on a device. If you have the means, by all means have a laptop and an iPad. Its up to you. Don’t get stuck reading some tech review saying that the iPad can’t be your laptop. Its not trying to be.

Switching to the Native Twitter App

I’ve been a long time Tweetbot user. The aesthetic, simplicity, and mute functions always made me a firm believer in the third-party app. I’ve tried Twitterific several times in the past but I never was a fan of the design. Not that there is anything wrong with the design, the dislike is purely personal, but it never jived with me.

So what did I decide to do a couple weeks ago? I installed the Twitter app to test out for a couple weeks.

At first sight my face wrinkled in disgust, stomach churning as I became queasy from the design, I could feel blood running through my veins as I just pondered why anyone could use this horrible thing. But I decided to press on. Give it a chance and push through my initial reactions. And…

I like it

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are several major design flaws. I don’t have easy access to my lists. Promoted tweets are annoying. Searching my previous tweets are difficult. The share sheet is atrocious. I can’t customize the icons at the bottom of the screen.

On paper, this seems to be enough to send me immediately back to Tweetbot. I can’t remember what exactly instigated the switch. I think it was getting a couple notifications for replies that weren’t showing up in Tweetbot but they did in the Twitter app. Additionally, searching to mention people in a Tweet was a crapshoot. Half the time nothing would come up in my search and the other times it would be wildly inaccurate. If those were the exact reason for trying something new then it is something that definitely has bothered me in the past. Regardless, Tweetbot was seemingly losing some of its attractiveness to me.

Twitter used to open up everything for third part developers of apps but awhile back they began limiting features they would allow them to implement in hopes, I guess, of sending people to their own app. The default app for almost anything always has certain advantages over third party solutions. The third party solutions in turn provide usually a more creative design, unique features, and rethink the goal and focus of the app. For example, the Notes app has significant advantages to other third party note taking apps. Its automatically added to your phone, you can add it to the control panel (iOS 11), begin writing from the lock screen (iOS 11), share sheet functionality is the best, and more. But apps like Ulysses and Bear offer what I would argue a better design, unique functionality, support for writing in Markdown, different themes, and more robust settings. This isn’t a one-to-one analogy because unlike a Twitter client you are more likely to use different note apps for different sorts of tasks (at least I do).

So lets get back to the Twitter app. I’ve found that notifications, replies/mentions, direct messages are much more consistent in the native app. I’ve never missed anything that I wanted to see, I can use groups in direct messages, and the replies seem to be more consistent. Additionally, I’ve been able to participate in some Twitter polls and post GIFs easier as well. Searching for people for mentions works immediately and trying to find a certain user in the search is quick and easy. In addition, at some point Twitter added muting to the app. I’ve always been a heavy muting user because I want Twitter to be a place I enjoy. This means no politics, annoying hashtags, articles about hockey, guns, abortion, Trump, Grammys, and more. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on these things or even read articles on some of these topics but I just don’t want to see them in my timeline. Overall, its been a more streamlined experience. Its not without flaws and minor annoyances but for some reason the features and consistency of the Twitter app are winning the day.

The design has taken quite a bit to get used to. Compared to the Tweetbot app Twitter seems cluttered, the timeline is out of order, and you see ads. Really, this is what drew me away from from every trying it in the first place. The design was just awful. For some reason, I’ve gotten used to the design, instinctively ignore the promoted tweets, and actually like having replies be directly under the original tweet.

So, I don’t have the love affair that I used to have with Tweetbot but Twitter is slowly becoming my Twitter app of choice. If you would have told me a couple weeks ago that I would be doing this I would have called you insane because I was disgusted by the app that much. But certain features and functionality are winning the day and I’m enjoying my experience and that’s all that counts. I know some of you will call me absolutely crazy for thinking this and I would have too a couple weeks ago. But to each his one and use what works for you

∞ Kickstarter: The Panobook from Studio Neat

I’ve bought a couple items from Studio Neat, including the recent Glif. They always put out a good product and are worthy of backing on Kickstarter. In their latest offering they have seemingly succeeded in marketing a notebook gone sideways. Its actually a clever idea and one that I will probably use quite often for taking notes at my desk. I’ve backed it and so should you.

Here is Panobook, in a nutshell:

  • The unique panoramic format (160 mm x 288 mm) is designed to sit nicely on your desk, either in front of, behind, to next to you keyboard.
  • Each page contains a subtle dot grid, with guide markers to help with layout.
  • We really sweated the details. All of the materials have a premium feel and are very nice.
  • Panobooks are designed to be kept. Put it in the included slip case, annotate it if you want, and line a bunch up on the shelf.

Image from their Kickstarter page

Back the project on Kickstarter

Additionally here is a podcast episode with the guys from Studio Neat discussing the Panobook

😳😳😳😳

😳😳😳😳

Scanning Documents in iOS 11 with Notes and Augmented Reality

At WWDC Apple announced AR Kit for developers. In short, Apple is opening up a framework for developers of apps to easily create augmented reality apps. Tim Cook has spoken about augmented reality as one of the key technologies for the future. Even if you haven’t heard of augmented reality you’ve probably seen it before. One of the latest fads, Pokémon Go, is an example of augmented reality. Basically a device is able to superimpose digital items into the real world through the screen of a device. When you are playing Pokémon Go, you see the characters on the screen in the real world.

An example of a Pikachu sitting in the real world through your phone

One way Apple is integrating augmented reality in iOS 11 is through the new scanning feature of the Notes app. Previously scanning apps tried to detect edges through other means. You would have to setup your phone in good lighting, holding it over the document, steady, and shoot the picture. Depending on the quality of your picture you would have to detect the edges and if you took it at the wrong angle your document would look skewed.

Not so anymore. Below I took a picture from pretty far away and at an awkward angle to capture the scan.

Using Notes in iOS 11 to scan a document

With the technology of augment reality the phone is able to easily detect the edges of the document and make a scan of the document. Pretty impressive. Just as with other third party software I imagine other companies will implement a better scanning solution using the same technology. Apple usually releases a good basic version (mail, notes, scanning, reminders, etc) and then other companies build on that idea adding more features.

If you follow @madeiwthARKit on Twitter you will see tons of other cool ideas as well. This measuring app is particularly cool.

Scanned document from the earlier picture and if you’re ever in Louisville you have to go to Quills Coffee :)

∞ Slamming into Walls

Mark Crump:

I feel the biggest thing holding the iPad back is software. Not once have I felt my iPad Pro was slow.

And

What is frustrating are the things you would think would be pretty easy on an iPad, but aren’t. On iOS in Pages and Word, I cannot edit or create document styles. It will accept custom styles in a document I created outside of iOS, however. I had a 12-page paper that I wrote almost entirely on the Mac. I am running the iOS 11 beta 1 on my iPad and I didn’t trust an important production document to a beta. A blog post, sure. Something that is 20% of my grade with a hard due date? Nope. The other reason is Word for iOS has just enough limitations that I didn’t want to run into a wall. I can’t seem to adjust the spacing between paragraphs, for example. I can adjust the overall line spacing, though. I also couldn’t adjust the margins of the document. The professor had stringent formatting requirements and I was unable to make the adjustments on the iPad. I may have been able to use Ulysses to do this. The instructor was firm on .doc formatting, so it was safer to stay native in Word.

Spot on. The limitation as the iPad for your only device isn’t the device itself but the software needed to run on the device. Earlier I outlined some similar issues when it comes to using reference managers on the iPad. I’ve had similar issues with Microsoft Word. At the end of the day, to finish a writing project to run in I had to complete the paper on a Mac.

Source: https://markcrump.com/2017/06/13/slamming-into-walls/

∞ Amazon and Whole Foods

If you’re at all interested in Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods then you should check out the Exponent podcast. Ben Thompson’s unique analysis of why Amazon spent so much money on the grocer is spot on I think. Also check out his article “Amazon’s New Customer”, which is quite insightful as well.

This is the key to understanding the purchase of Whole Foods: to the outside it may seem that Amazon is buying a retailer. The truth, though, is that Amazon is buying a customer — the first-and-best customer that will instantly bring its grocery efforts to scale.

Today, all of the logistics that go into a Whole Foods store are for the purpose of stocking physical shelves: the entire operation is integrated. What I expect Amazon to do over the next few years is transform the Whole Foods supply chain into a service architecture based on primitives: meat, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, non-perishables (Whole Foods’ outsized reliance on store brands is something that I’m sure was very attractive to Amazon). What will make this massive investment worth it, though, is that there will be a guaranteed customer: Whole Foods Markets.

Can the iPad Replace Your Laptop?

When the new iPads were released a couple weeks ago it reignited a conversation not only on tech blogs but also from friends about the iPad being a replacement for the traditional computer. My current setup is the 10.5” iPad Pro for basically everything outside the office. In the office I have a work iMac and at home I have a 2012 MacBook Air that normally lives tucked away under the couch. If I was to break down my usage it would be:

  • iPad – 60%
  • iMac – 40%
  • MacBook Air – negligible

I can and prefer to use the iPad for most of my work. There are a couple key hang ups for my situation (citations/bibliographic management for research papers, screencasts) but for the most part I could do it all from iPad. That’s not to say that I have to think differently about some tasks that I do. But once you make the switch you can maneuver your way around and get things done as fast or sometimes faster on the iPad. iOS 11 will be released closer to the Fall and it will reduce many friction points that people have when using the iPad.

I think the hang up for many is that if you use a laptop it covers all situations for the general person. If I was going to go one device without access to any others I would have to go with a laptop. The iPad is nice and I prefer it in many situations but it hasn’t reached the level of a necessity yet. Although, for some tasks it makes the process faster such as grading students papers but I can do that on the laptop as well. Additionally, I may be more focused on the iPad but that is more of a personal problem rather than a device problem.

A laptop may not be the best solution for all situations but it is an adequete device for everything. An iPad may be a better device for many tasks but it can’t do everything.

At the end of the day when you are making a decision about going all-in on the iPad you need to think about what all you use the computer for. Additionally, if there are some things you can’t do on the iPad do you have access to a computer? The iPad can do many many things and for many people this could be all they need. I just know that for me I still need access to a traditional computer. Its not the limitation of the device but the apps that are available.

Below I’ve catalogued in detail what I do on the iPad and what I have to do on the Mac. Notice that the tasks on iPad can all be done on a laptop as well. But as a preference, most of these I would rather do on the iPad.

Tasks on iPad

  • Email
    • Spark
    • Mail
  • Research
    • PDF Expert
    • Goodnotes
    • Evernote
    • Logos Bible Software
    • Accordance Bible Software
  • Writing
    • Ulysses
    • Bear
  • Create and write documents for work
    • Google Docs
    • Google Sheets
    • Ulysses
    • Microsoft Word
    • Keynote or PowerPoint
    • MailChimp
    • Goodnotes
  • Communicate with students
    • Canvas app
    • Email
  • Grade students homework and papers
    • SpeedGrader
  • Meeting notes
    • Goodnotes
    • Notes
  • Communication
    • Slack
    • iMessage
  • Web browsing and reading blogs
    • Safari
    • Fiery Feeds
    • Instapaper
    • Amazon app
  • Photo editing
    • Affinity Photo
    • VSCO
  • Watch baseball via MLB.TV app

Tasks that need a Mac (for me)

  • Finishing research papers: This is one of the biggest and saddest pain points. If you use bibliographic software such as Zotero there is no good way to do this on the iPad. Normally, I will write almost everything on the iPad in Ulysses then export it to a .docx file and finish the paper in Microsoft Word on the Mac adding citations, formatting, and proofreading.
  • Screencasts: For work I make a good amount of screencasts and tutorials for various things. There is no good screencasting software on the iPad and additionally, to help others out I really need to be using the device they will primarily be working with. Making edits (both video and audio), capturing audio, exporting, uploading to Vimeo or YouTube all need to happen on the Mac.
  • Editing websites: this is a more minor issue but is a pain point. For example, the other day my wife and I were working on a website for a donation campaign for our adoption and I had to bring out the old MacBook Air to create the website. I use Squarespace so if you use other services or know coding then you may be able to get by on the iPad.
  • Miscellaneous tasks: every once in awhile I just run into simple tasks that I just can’t do (or don’t have the time to figure out how to do) on the iPad. For example, one morning I was getting ready to send out a MailChimp campaign from my iPad and I was running into formatting issues. I had to go back to the office to finish this up. Another example is using Google Sheets I’ve run into a couple issues that I could not do on the iPad.

I have the luxury of having a iMac for work so I really don’t have to worry about having multiple devices. The only friction on the personal side is finishing research papers on the iPad. For work, I’ve run into more miscellaneous issues that I’ve needed a Mac for. I love the iPad and I wouldn’t want to give it up but I still need access to a Mac for some things.

If you have any further thoughts or comments I’d love to hear from you on Twitter (@renshaw330)

Saturday Recommendation: Overcast: Podcast Player

If you’re looking for the best way to play your podcasts look no further than Overcast.

Four Reasons:

  • Smart speed – this allows you to listen to podcasts quicker without distorting the audio. Instead of speeding up the audio it cuts out silent gaps, which add up and allow you to get through more podcasts in a shorter amount of time. The app still allows you to speed up the audio but you can do it in conjunction with smart speed. Looking at my stats it says I’ve saved 204 hours from smart speed alone.
  • Voice boost – pretty simple, improves the quality and volume of voices on podcasts. I never think about it but when I turn it off I think how could I not have this on
  • Priority podcasts in playlists – basically this allows you to add several podcasts into a playlist but if there are some podcasts that you always want on the top of your list when new episodes come out you can prioritize those to always be at the top
  • Sharing podcasts – you can not only share an episode through the iOS share sheet but you also have the option to share at the current time stamp. This comes in really handy when I want someone to listen to a particular portion of a show. Additionally, if they don’t have Overcast installed on their phone then it will play in the web browser.

Before Overcast I was constantly switching between different podcasts apps and never satisfied with any of them. Since its release (2ish years ago?) I haven’t switched apps. I’ve tried a couple others such as Castro but the combination of smart speed + voice boost keeps me hooked.

Download

∞ How to Write a Good Review of a Product

Ben Brooks is one of my favorite writers on the internet. His reviews and thoughts on technology and other various products are insightful, full of humor, and ultimately help me make a decision about a product. I find this recent post about writing reviews for products to be spot on:

Minimalism is reduction for the sake of reduction, whereas simplifying can be both reduction, or addition, whichever actually makes the “thing” simpler. Minimal, then does not mean simple, it means “less”. Simple means removing that which is complex. Often, having less can make things more complex — as counterintuitive as that may feel on the surface. I suspect most people think ‘simple’ and say ‘minimal’.

Here are the elements which make for a good, and a succinct, review:

  • A statement of opinion on the subject matter. At the lowest level: do you like it, or not. If you don’t say this, then you haven’t written a review, but a walk through.
  • 1-3 supporting facts to your argument of why you like or dislike the thing.
  • An attempt to convince the reader you are correct, which may or may not bear out of the supporting facts, and to have them come to the logical conclusion they should also agree with you.

Source: Essence of a Review

Does the 9.7” Smart Keyboard Fit the 10.5” iPad Pro?

If you are thinking about upgrading from the 9.7” iPad Pro to the newest and slightly bigger one then you will want to plan on buying a new Smart Keyboard as well. As you can see in the pictures the keyboard does fit and will work on the new iPad but the dimensions are slightly different. If you are trying to save some money and have an extra case or sleeve for your iPad then theoretically you could still use the 9.7” Smart Keyboard but I’ll let you make that decision.

For more on the different dimensions of the whole iPad lineup check out Serenity Caldwell’s post over at iMore.

Sorry, forgot to clean off the keyboard...

Slight overhang on each side

Recommended Coffee Shops by City

Over time I’ve created a list of quality coffee shops that I have either been to or has been recommended from various places and friends such as The Coffee Compass. I hope to keep this list growing and updated to help you and me find good coffee on our travels. If you have any recommendations that you think should be added please send me a message on Twitter (@renshaw330)

You can check it out here: brianrenshaw.com/coffee

Current Cities:

  • Louisville, KY
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Nashville, TN
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Columbus, MO