Study and Focus Music: Chris Potter Playlist

Chris Potter is one of my favorite jazz artists. His upbeat style with a modern flare always makes for some good background music. I’m in no way a jazz aficionado so I don’t know the particular differences between him and someone like Miles Davis but much of the jazz out there doesn’t work for me when I am trying to study or focus on a work project.

I’ve put together a playlist of several albums of Chris Potter. All (I think) of the tracks do not have words so its ideal for background music while studying.

You can listen to the playlist here on Apple Music and add it to your library.

Additionally, if you add the playlist to your Apple Music library you can run this Siri Shortcut:

  1. Sets your device to Do Not Disturb (it will ask you how long)
  2. Shuffles the Chris Potter Jazz playlist
  3. Sets the volume to 75%

When you add the Siri Shortcut you can modify it to better fit how you work.

Download the Chris Potter Jazz shortcut.

Scheduled Shortcuts and Location Triggers

One feature that the Shortcuts app desperately needs is the ability to run shortcuts in the background based on a certain time or location. Launch Center Pro recently released version 3.0 and one of its selling features is the ability to run shortcuts based on a certain time or location (listen to the discussion from Viticci on Connected). Not only does this feature require a subscription or a one-time in-app purchase but it can not run the shortcut natively in the background because they are limited by Apple’s API.

Personally, I’m hopeful that Apple will add this type of integration into the Shortcut app sooner rather than later so investing in an app such as Launch Center Pro seems premature and more work later. Additionally, there is actually a way to do something similar without an additional third-party app.

Enter the “Siri, remind me of this later” feature. I think many people forget about the Siri feature which allows you to say, “Siri, remind me of this…” and you can quickly return to whatever you were doing by tapping the icon. I use this method to “schedule” a shortcut. I realize that you still have to tap something but at this point its the fastest and most efficient way to run a shortcut at a certain time or when you arrive/leave a particular location.

For example, I send an email on the first of every month. I have a shortcut that helps me populate the email with the correct date and information and then sends it to the correct people. Using this method, a reminder will pop up on my phone at 9 am at the start of every month, I tap on the Shortcut icon in the reminder, and then it will take me right to the shortcut to run.

Additionally, in the Reminders app you can also set a reminder based on when you arrive or leave a location instead of a time-based reminder. Theoretically, if you wanted to run a shortcut every time you arrived at work you could easily do so.

The video below is just a minute long and shows the process.

Note: In the video, the audio cuts out when I use Siri. This seems to be a limitation of the screen recording feature on iOS but you can still see what I say because Siri types out the words.

Quickly Go Back to the Home Screen in OmniFocus For iOS

This is quite the hidden feature and am glad that it exists:

If you long press on the back button it takes you back to the OmniFocus home screen.

This is a game changer for me as I would often get frustrated because I would be deep into OmniFocus and have to tap the back button 4 or 5 times to get back to the home screen.

Heard on Mac Power Users #461 at 47:13

My Favorite Photo Editing App: Darkroom (now on iPad)

Darkroom has long been one of my favorite photo editors on the iPhone (also voted best photo editor at the Sweet Setup). I’m excited that it is now on the iPad so I can take advantage of the large 12.9” screen, Apple Pencil, and keyboard shortcuts.

Hero

I’m not a professional photo editor, but I have been trying to learn how to do better photography from my iPhone and also edit photos. This app has allowed me to learn about the editing process without using some more advanced apps such as Photoshop, Lightroom, or other “pro” apps. Instead of outlining everything that Darkroom can do I just want to highlight some of my favorite features. If you want a full review of Darkroom 4.0 go check out the excellent article from John Voorhees over at MacStories.

  1. Portrait Editing – This by far is my favorite feature of Darkroom. When you take a portrait photo Darkroom allows you to edit the background and foreground separately. This will enable you to get some outstanding photos from Portrait mode. Often I will increase or decrease the contrast and/or brighten or darken the background, which allows the subject of the photo to really stand out.
  2. Batch editing and exporting – Many times I will take several photos in the same location and would like a similar edit on each of them. I will first edit one photo then batch copy those edits to all the photos in that same location. From there I will go in and fine tune each one. Additionally, you can batch export your photos to either modify the existing photo or create a new one. If you edit the current photo, you can still go back and see all your changes.
  3. Filters – what’s a photo editing app without filters? Darkroom has some of my favorite filters out of the popular photo editing apps. Additionally, you can modify a filter and save it for use later.
  4. The User Interface (UI) – The UI is one of the most intuitive aspects of Darkroom. It reads your photos right from your photo library and has easy to identify markers to know which are portrait photos, what photos have been edited, and photos that have been exported.
  5. Adding borders to photos – When sharing to Instagram and other social media it is helpful to add a border, so you do not have to crop the photo. I particularly like adding a white inset/border to specific photos when sharing to Instagram.

Overall, Darkroom has always been very intuitive to use and has become my go-to photo editing app. I can get into the nitty-gritty with the color palettes or just add a simple filter. Whatever my needs have been Darkroom has met them.

Now that the iPad app is out, I’ll be able to edit photos on a nice large 12.9” screen with my Apple Pencil. With the addition of keyboard shortcuts for the iPad, app editing will be a breeze. This will be ideal when I’m going through hundreds of photos after a family gathering instead of editing on my iPhone.

You can download Darkroom here.

Some Photos Edited in Darkroom taken on the iPhone XS

  

Shortcut Monday: Dictate a Daily Reflection to Day One

Shortcut Monday is a series highlighting Shortcuts that I use on a regular basis. If you haven’t downloaded the Shortcuts app yet, you can do so for free here.

Since we adopted our first child, Jax, we noticed that we talked much less about our lives with each other than we previously did. Our conversations largely focused on our son but not about what is going on emotionally such as stressors, happenings during the day, or even just what is on our mind. To this end my wife had a brilliant idea of us asking four simple questions to each other every day. These questions help let each other know how our day went but also how we are doing emotionally both positively and negatively.

While we do this everyday in conversation with each other I wanted a way to capture this in Day One on my way home. The transition from work to home can sometimes be difficult. I often will just listen to a podcast but this will not only help me prepare for our conversation but also help with this transition (download the shortcut here).

I created this specific Shortcut for these four questions but I will probably use the same logic with audio prompts and dictation for other types of entries.

The Four Questions

  1. What was your low (or worst thing) about your day? This question is fairly simple and just answers what was the worst thing about your day. Most of our days are pretty mediocre but this gives us a chance to reflect on our day and share something that happened. Sometimes this is as simple as “I went out to eat and I didn’t eat as healthy as I would have like” or sometimes more complex such as recounting a conversation with a co-worker that was difficult during the day. This also gives each of us the chance to expand on what happened during the day and we will often engage in a lengthier conversation about what went on.
  2. What was your high (or best thing) about your day? This is the same question but on the positive side.
  3. What has you feeling negative right at this moment? This question is similar to the one above but the focus isn’t on something that necessarily happened today. The goal of this question is to look at the stressors in our life that may be weighing us down. It’s a time to pause and focus about what is going on inside emotionally and to verbalize that to one another. This could be the upcoming stress of trying to get everything ready to go in order to leave for Christmas, to a project at work that is hanging over our head, our son’s schedule, or a whole host of other things going on.
  4. What has you feeling positive right at this moment? The same question as above but we want to end on a positive note.

The Workflow (download)

You will need to first download the audio files here then upload them to iCloud Drive and create a folder within the Shortcuts folder titled Daily Reflections (iCloud Drive/Shortcuts/Daily Reflections)

First, I get the current volume of the phone and store that in a variable. I want to set my volume to the max so I can clearly hear the prompts but afterwards I would like my phone to go back to the previous volume.

Beginner Tip: The “Get Device Details” can grab all sorts of information from your phone from the volume, brightness, version number, etc. This can be handy in a variety of situations.

Grab the current volume then set the phone volume to the max
Grab the current volume then set the phone volume to the max

Next, I wanted to be able to do this while I’m driving so I need this to be completely hands free. I created four audio files of me saying each question. This gives me the prompt and then a slight pause so I can begin to formulate what I would like to say. The dictation box then comes up and I can just speak my answer. After I pause for a second it moves onto the next prompt. This same action will run four times but with a different audio prompt.

Beginner Tip: The “Get File” action grabs the audio from iCloud Drive. The “Play Sound” action takes that audio and plays it through my phone. When you are working with Shortcuts you have to think like a programmer. Thus, you can just use “Play Sound” because the app doesn’t know what sound you want to play. You have to provide it with some sort of audio file first.

Grab the previously recorded file and play the sound
Grab the previously recorded file and play the sound

Before going to the Day One action I want to reset my phone’s volume so I use the “Set Volume” action and using a “Magic Variable” I grab the device details from the first step in the workflow and use that for the new volume.

The nice thing about the Shortcuts app is that I don’t have to store each of these dictated texts into a variable for later. By using “Magic Variables” I can grab each of these dictations in the Day One action.

Since Day One can use Markdown I use the # sign to do my header then type in the prompts in bold via the asterisks. Each “Dictated Text” variable is just obtained from the workflow.

The final step
The final step

Next, the workflow will open up in Day One. When I’m driving I have my phone in a holder on the windshield which can read my face without really moving it in order to get into Day One so it can save it.

That’s it. You can download the workflow here and of course feel free to modify it however you would like.

Don’t forget that you can also setup your own Siri command to run this Shortcut. The default is set to “Daily Reflection”

The entire shortcut
The entire shortcut

Recommended Coffee Shops in Denver

ETS in Denver, Colorado is right around the corner. I’m excited for many reasons but coffee is definitely near the top of the list. Here are some recommended coffee shops so you don’t have to lower your standards for Starbucks, Panera, Peet’s, or any other subpar coffee experiences.

Sweet Bloom: at the top of the list is Sweet Bloom roasters. I’ve had their coffee several times and it is always top notch. If you’re looking for the best cup in Denver then look no further. When you go in there is a small seating area and if you’re lucky enough you can watch them roast their coffee. The Breve Cortado was fantastic this morning. Sweet Bloom is a 25 minute drive or a two-hour trek from the conference center (https://sweetbloomcoffee.com/).

Instagram: @sweetbloomcoffee

1619 Reed St

Lakewood, CO 80214

Amethyst: another favorite in Denver is Amethyst coffee. I love the aesthetics of this shop and they have quality coffee. They also have a good seating area as well. Amethyst is about a 15 minute walk from the conference center (https://www.amethystcoffee.co/).

Instagram: @amethystcoffeeco

1111 Broadway

Unit 101

Denver, CO 80203

Commonwealth: Last time I was in Denver they had already closed by the time I was able to make it but they kindly let me in anyways. This features an industrial space with many good coffee options. It’s about a 25 minute drive from the conference center (https://commonwealthcoffee.co/).

Instagram: @commonwealthcoffee

5225 E 38th Ave

Denver, CO 80207

Black Eye Coffee: Last time I was in Denver these guys had some of the best espresso that I’ve had. If you get a chance you should check them out. It’s about 3 miles from the conference center (https://www.drinkblackeye.com)

Instagram: @blackeyecoffee

3408 Navajo St

Denver, CO 80211

Other Recommendations (close to the conference center)

Little Owl: One location that was recommended to me that I haven’t checked out is Little Owl coffee. I’ll be headed there sometime on this trip. Lille Owl is located about a mile away from the conference center (https://www.littleowlcoffee.com/).

Instagram: @littleowlcoffee

1555 Blake St

Unit 100

Denver, CO 80202

Novo Coffee: Located about a half mile away from the conference center this also should be a worthwhile place to get a cup of coffee (https://novocoffee.com/)

Instagram: @novocoffee

1600 Glenarm Pl

Denver, CO 80202

United States

Thump Coffee: Seems to be a great location to go hangout for coffee and conversation (https://thumpcoffee.com/coffee/).

Instagram: @thumpcoffee

1201 E 13th Ave

Denver, CO 80218

Crema Coffee House: http://cremacoffeehouse.net/

Instagram: @cremadnvr

2862 Larimer St

Unit B

Denver, CO 80205

Initial Thoughts on the New 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple Pencil 2.0, and Smart Keyboard Folio

Some initial thoughts on the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

  • Initial Impression: Walking into the Apple Store this morning the screen reminded me why I loved the 12.9-inch model in the first place. It is big and beautiful with tons of space to do your work. The Liquid Retina display feels like the OLED screen on the iPhone 10XS but it is slightly different but still beautiful nonetheless. Compared to the 10.5-inch model its a definite improvement.
  • Size: The new 12.9-inch model is noticeably smaller than the original 12.9-inch but it’s not so small that you don’t really notice. After reading John Gruber’s review I thought it would actually feel smaller and more portable that what it actually feels in my hand. Don’t get me wrong it is definitely more portable than the original 12.9-inch model but its not as portable as the 10.5-inch. That said, I think it is small enough for me to enjoy casually plus large enough screen for more serious work. The reason I returned the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro was that just holding it the thing felt huge. Now, I feel like I’m holding a screen and nothing is wasted. It will be different but I think ok. Having the larger iPhone again keeps that ultra portable space with a nice large screen.
  • Smart Keyboard Folio: One thing that I was worried about with the Smart Keyboard was it would be difficult to remove the iPad and use by itself. I removed the other 10.5-inch Smart Keyboard all the time. This one is different, not quite as easy, but still quick to remove and just use the iPad by itself. With that being said the size of the folio really doesn’t bother me. It is still a thin device. I probably won’t flip the folio behind the iPad and hold it most of the time but I never really did that either. That said, when you flip the Smart Keyboard Folio back the keys do disable even though you can feel them so you don’t have to worry about typing while holding it. I enjoy typing on this one more than the 10.5-inch model.
  • Did I say the screen is gorgeous?
  • FaceID on the iPad is almost better than the iPhone. You are always looking at the iPad so anytime you need a password it just automatically registers. I haven’t had to move my head once and its worked in every orientation.
  • Home Button and Bezels: No home button seems natural. Swiping gestures just seem natural This is not an issue whatsoever.
  • The Apple PencilThe magnetic charging and holding mechanism on the top/side of the iPad is absolutely genius.
    • The Apple Pencil feels really good in the hand with the matte finish
    • It’s a little bit shorter so a little nice to write with
    • Using the double tap to switch to an eraser in GoodNotes is magic. Love that feature. This will be great when teaching and I’m sure will be a natural workflow here in a couple days

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?