February 14, 2021

The Little Things

I watched The Little Things on HBO. This is the second Warner Brothers movie they have released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. So far they are 0 for 2. The first was Wonder Woman 84. I did not enjoy that movie at all. The Little Things was not as bad as WW84, but it also didn’t do anything new or exciting.

I’m a sucker for a cop drama or a serial killer movie. I was predisposed to enjoy this movie. The story was good enough to keep me interested and watching until the end [1]. That doesn’t mean it was a great story. Pacing felt extremely slow at times. There wasn’t a satisfying resolution in my opinion.

Aside from some awkward plotting and scenes with questionable acting, my main criticism with The Little Things is how familiar it felt. This could have been one of several cop/killer movies that came out in the 90’s.

In reading about the movie I learned that it was actually written in the early 90’s… which makes a ton of sense. It never got picked up by a director back then so it has been sitting on a shelf only to be dusted off and released in one of the most challenging times for film ever. They didn’t re-write the scrip, so it was needlessly set in 1990.

The Little Things wasn’t a bad movie. It was sort of entertaining to watch Denzel, Rami, & Jared act out these roles. Was it worth 2 hours of my life? I don’t know about that. Hopefully HBO Max has some winners this year in the direct-to-streaming releases. They aren’t off to a very good start.

  1. This is something WW84 could not achieve. I only made it to the end because we were talking about it on our podcast.  ↩

January 24, 2021

Palm Springs

 Palm Springs was a great movie. It was very funny, but also profound. If you have Hulu you should definitely check this movie out if you haven’t already. I was lucky enough to start this movie completely ignorant of the premise. That was a great experience. If you are still pure, stop reading and go watch the movie. 

You can assume the rest of this post is going to spoil Palm Springs

You learn about the premise very early on in the movie, but those first 10 minutes are something special if you have no idea what is happening. 

This is the newest entrance into the sub-genre of movie that I will just call a Groundhog Day film. The protagonist is cursed to live the same day over-and-over again. Typically he is the only one experiencing the repetitive nature of the day. 

In Palm Springs, Nyles (Andy Samberg) is forever reliving the day of his girlfriends friend’s wedding… in Palm Springs. He seems pretty numb to his existence until he inadvertently gets the bride’s sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti) stuck in the same time loop. 

This is the first repeating day movie where it has really dawned on me what a metaphor for our existence they are. We are all stuck in our daily routines, becoming numb to the things that really matter the most in our lives. This has never been more true than over the last 10 months as the entire world has struggled through COVID-19. 

Palm Springs turned out to be a perfect metaphor for life right now. It really highlighted how lucky some of us are to be going through that life with people you love. 

It was a phenomenal movie that I will surely revisit in the next several weeks. I want to watch it again with my wife. I think she will really like it. My only real criticism of the movie is that I wasn’t sure how I felt about the extremely scientific resolution. I didn’t dislike it, but it also felt strange. Maybe I can grapple with that a little more on my second watch. 

I have read a couple of articles about the movie that state that is supposed to be open-ended at the conclusion. I didn’t get that at all. I also don’t feel like it could even be read as open-ended based on the interaction with the family. I’d love to hear from you if you can explain a reading of the film where they didn’t both get out of the time loop. 

I guess if you really don’t like Andy Samberg you might want to avoid Palm Springs. It is filled with his brand of humor, and he is on screen almost the entire time. For me those were both a positive. I loved it!

January 3, 2021

Bart Simpson Mania

I can distinctly remember the first episode of The Simpsons. I think it came out when I was about 8 years old. My oldest brother wanted to watch it, but we were going to be gone that evening for something. We set the VCR to record it. 

I watched that episode of The Simpsons several times. We usually gathered around the TV most weeks to watch The Simpsons all together. I didn’t think of it as a big deal or controversial at all. I do remember Bart being seen as a “shocking” character early on. As a very respectful and obedient child he was quite a curiosity for me. 

At some point I bought a Bart t-shirt from the local gas station. I have to imagine it was a bootleg. I know I had one with Bart skateboarding that said “cowabunga dude”. I feel like I also had a shirt with his famous catchphrase “Eat My Shorts”, but that could have been just a fantasy. 

Looking back on it, it seems strange that I was allowed to watch the show considering all of the controversy described in the podcast. I continued watching it for the next few years, but I wasn’t a diehard fan like many of my peers. At some point I moved on to watching South Park & Bevis and Butthead. 

My daughters are both around the same age as I was when I started watching the Simpsons. For the last several years I have said that I was going to re-start watching The Simpsons and see if I could make it through those supposedly magical fist 7 seasons. I have put it off long enough where now I feel like I want to bring my daughters along on that journey with me. 

For some reason I still feel like I shouldn’t let them watch it. I cannot explain why I feel that way. Surely The Simpsons is much tamer than most of the kids shows these days. I really can’t say. I guess we will find out. 

November 25, 2020

Ted Lasso on Apple TV+

 It isn’t really a secret anymore, but Ted Lasso is a great show. I am going to add my recommendation for this show. It seemingly came out of nowhere on Apple TV+. I haven’t watched many shows on Apple TV+ during my free trial, but Ted Lasso made me happy I had it and was able to experience the first season. 

Ted Lasso is a show about an American football coach who goes over to Europe to coach football in the premier league. Even though the entire premise of the show is based around “sport”… there is very little actual football happening in the series. Don’t let that scare you away. It is mostly a comedy about the relationships. 

I like that the show is not cynical. Ted Lasso is genuine and constantly cheery. This could have been annoying, but it was executed extremely well. It wasn’t his constant positivity that saved the day. It was his honesty and care for others. It was very funny and yet didn’t feel the need to punch down or make fun of characters like so many other shows. It felt refreshing.

I am happy to hear that Apple has renewed Ted Lasso for at least 2 more seasons. I think it has turned out to be one of the most popular series on the new streaming service, and it is just what they needed to get people to try it out. I am sure the budget for Ted Lasso was tiny compared to many of their other shows. I hope it doesn’t get ruined in series 2. 

If you have a way to watch Apple TV+ I would *highly* recommend Ted Lasso. There are only 10 episodes that are 30 minutes long each. It is an easy watch. I plan to watch season 1 again, it is that good!

November 23, 2020

Quote Database

I am a collector of quotes. Over the years I haven’t had a centralized place to put them. I’d paste them into whatever note-taking app I happened to be using at the time. I tried to centralize everything into Quotebook years ago, but that didn’t work either.

I find myself in a situation where when I find an interesting quote I have no idea where to put it. I have quotes scattered in sever different places and I don’t usually even remember where I decided to save my quotes to. I definitely have some entries in my Day One journal tagged as quotes. I have a single note in my work OneNote with a list of quotes. I have a physical Baron Fig notebook with a bunch of quotes I have written out. I am sure there are several quotes scattered around my old Evernote.

In the last few months I have started using Notion. I have a great book tracking workflow that I have been using. I am thinking that Notion could be a great place for a quote database. I have also started using Obsidian to collect ideas and inspiration. This could also be a great place to keep my favorite quotes.

My next step is to research workflows for saving quotes in either Notion or Obsidian. I am sure somebody has published something online for each of them. I will see what they look like and steal whichever one seems to make the most sense for me. I am sure I will also continue to write down quotes in my notebook.

November 19, 2020

Apple Mac - Mic Level Automatically Changing

When home, I work from a 2015 MacBook Pro using a Rode NT-USB Mini USB Mini mic on this stand, with some Sony MDR-V6 headphones. This is probably a bit overkill for Microsoft Teams meetings, but I lean into the absurdity of it. I like being on video with a fuzzy mic right in front of me.

The actual reason I have a mic is to record “interviews” with my two daughters. This is something I have done since they could talk.

I noticed early on when working from my Mac that the mic seemed to behave differently when I was on Teams calls. Sometimes the mic level would go down to zero and nobody could hear me, but more often the mic level would jump to maximum and all background noise was extremely amplified.

I started paying more attention to the audio input setting on my Mac. I could actually see the input levels jump around on their own, but had no idea why. I just dealt with it for weeks. It was workable, but I had to make sure there was absolutely no background noise if I wanted to use my mic.

Then I started recording a podcast with my friend. In our first recording I could really tell that my mic level was way too high. I sounded terrible. This led me to start googling the internet to see if I could find anybody else with similar issues.

Right out of the gate I found this article by Dan Moren… The mystery of OS X’s haunted input volume slider – Six Colors. This describes my problem exactly. He seems to pin down that it is app specific. For me, it seemed to be happening on multiple apps… well at least Microsoft Teams and Google Chrome. I use Audacity to record locally sometimes. That app wasn’t having any issues at all. I am able to adjust my mic level in the app and it is maintained correctly.

I continued my search. I read on a random thread that creating an aggregate device seemed to help with the issue. This process was easy to do, but difficult to understand exactly what was going on. The behavior of my aggregate device seems odd. I don’t have the ability to set the input levels at all. It is like it isn’t even recognized as a mic. I played around with every thing I could think of in the interface and ended up going back to just creating a duplicate of my Røde mic with no other devices included in the aggregation.

This appears to have done the trick for Teams. Every time a meeting starts I get a warning that says my mic volume is low, but it works and everybody says they can hear me just fine. I also don’t notice background noise nearly as much in my headphones.  When I start speaking my voice isn’t so lound loud and harsh like it was before. [1]

My next step is to do a test recording in our podcast software in Chrome to see how it sounds. I am hopeful that it resolves the issue there as well. It is still frustrating that I am not sure what is going on and why it happens, but I will just be happy to have it over with.

  1. Typically my voice would start out loud and harsh in my headphones, but them immediately go down to a “normal” level.  ↩

September 28, 2020

Introverted in an Extroverted World

I’m finishing up listening to the audio book Quiet by Susan Cain. This is the second time I have “read” this book. I really love the book. I will return to it often. 

I have always been introverted. As a kid I felt pressure to not be the way I was. My introversion and shyness always felt like something I had to overcome. “Quiet” is like a weighted blanket wrapped around me telling me that it is okay to be me. 

When I was a kid I felt different. I didn’t see all the other kids that were just as scared to do things as me. I thought all the other kids were normal & well-adjusted. I thought nobody else had anxiety at the prospect of interacting with groups of people you didn’t know very well. I’m not sure where I fall on the introversion continuum, but when I was little I thought I was the only one who felt the way I did.

If you are introverted at all I would recommend that you read “Quiet”. It reminds me that I am not alone in my introversion, and that there is actually nothing wrong with me. I’ve come a long way since I was that extremely shy little kid, but in my free time I’m just as introverted as ever. I still need time to myself to recharge and think, and “Quiet” reminds me that is perfectly okay. 

The book also reminds me that not everybody feels the same way as I do, and I need to take them into consideration as well. Life has to be a balanced. I may never get it just right, but "Quiet" helps me put things into perspective. 

September 22, 2020

Book Tracking in Notion

A few years ago I got serious about reading again. That might sound weird, but hear me out. I've always enjoyed reading for enjoyment, however high school and college burned me out. During my 4 years of college I read the Harry Potter series and once I finished that I basically stopped reading novels for the next 15 years. 

In 2005 I started really diving into podcasts. I started watching a ton more movies and writing on this blog. I also started reading a ton of online content. There was no more time in my life for reading novels. 

I bought a Kindle around 2010 and downloaded a bunch of classic literature onto it. I never read those books. I filled my Kindle up with online articles that I'd saved to Instapaper. I used it as a device to read web content... which is totally against the point of a kindle. 

Starting in 2015 or so I set a goal to read a certain number of books each year, but I would usually finish woefully short of my target. I was still trying to read classic literature or force my way through other fiction books that just weren't grabbing me. 

At the beginning of 2017 I read Deep Work by Cal Newport. It was the beginning of my exposure to a ton of nonfiction books. I started seeking out "best books I've ever read" lists on YouTube or on the web. I found lists of favorite books from all sorts of successful people. I had to have a way to keep track of it all. I needed a way to organize and prioritize the books I wanted to read. I created a kanban board in Trello and tagged books that were available at the public library. 

My Trello board was fine, but it still had a lot of friction. I debated on moving everything to a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs. Then a couple months ago Notion expanded their free tier and I knew I was going to test out the app with my book tracking database. 

I first created a database that allowed me to easily capture the books I wanted to read and categorize them in all sorts of ways. I was able to easily track data around when I start and finish reading each book. I can easily open up each row of the spreadsheet into a separate page and capture any notes that I want to make as I am reading the book. 

The "Book Vault" is a database of all the books I want to read.

I have also created a "Book Tracking" page which gives me thumbnail views of the books I am currently reading as well as the books I have recently finished. I can switch these to several other views that I have created if I want to look for items in my backlog that I want to prioritize to read next. 

I have been really happy with this system. It is serving me much better than my Trello board did and has way more features that a simple Excel spreadsheet could offer. 

There obviously is a bit of administrative work to keep up with the database, but that will be the case with anything like this. You have to feel like you are getting out of it more than you are putting into it. In this case, I definitely feel like I am getting a lot out of it. In these last several months I have read more books than I have in any other year of my life. I also feel like I am getting more out of my reading. My note-taking system for ideas from books is evolving and maturing. I feel like I am compiling a tangible set of knowledge from reading these books, and that motivates me even more. 

I am still learning Notion and I hope to make my book tracking database even fancier. I have started playing around with relationships between tables and have started logging the inspiration or influence that led me to read each book in that way. Still, I feel like I am only scratching the surface with this powerful tool. 

I want to be intentional about not overcomplicating this system. I am sure I will continue to dive down the Notion rabbit hole, but I want to make sure I don't lose sight of what is important. I don't want to waste a lot of time building unnecessary features in my book tracking system. I could be using that time actually reading. 

September 19, 2020

Quick Thoughts on iOS 14

 I installed the new Apple mobile OS’s on my iPhone, iPad, and watch yesterday. I thought I would share some quick thoughts on some of the new features. 

The reason I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger before the .1 update came out was home screen widgets. I’ve thought that would be a really compelling feature for a long time. So far I really like having a smart stack at the bottom of my home screen. It is the perfect thing for a weather and calendar app. I can get nearly all the information I will ever need from the widget, and only need to go into the app if I am looking for something specific. 

I haven’t gotten too crazy with the widgets yet, but I plan to add a couple more to my home screen and further pare back the app icons. A lot of my favorite apps still need to make widgets available. You can't tell via the screenshot, but I have 5 widgets in a stack that I can quickly flip through. 

I am hoping to embrace the App Library concept. So far I don’t know how I feel about it. In the past I had 2 screens of apps and then a bunch of folders. It was how I’ve interacted with my phone for several years. I basically have that same concept, but everything feels really cluttered now. I plan to clean out all the folders on my second page and rely more on the app library concept. I’m sure I will be messing around with app placement for weeks before I finally get something workable. 

While interacting with my phone the last couple of days the other major feature changes haven’t been that noticeable. There hasn’t been anything that sticks out with iPad OS 14. I really with you had more flexibility to put widgets on the home screen of the iPad. Hopefully that will come in the near future.  

I do think my battery life is slightly worse on both of my devices. 

The updates to Messages are nice, but don’t significantly change the way I use the app. 

The new watch faces are fine. I am testing out one of the “stripes” faces as well as a tachometer face. The rainbow numbered “California” face is also a nice clean look. 

I’ve just started playing around with Shortcuts. I’ve automated the changing of my watch face during work hours. I use an information dense one during the day and switch to a simple analog view after work. That is a nicety that I didn’t know I wanted, but will probably go down the rabbit hole on setting up these little automations. 

One annoyance that I've always had with iOS is that you cannot remove the name of the app that is always shown beneath the icon. I know all of my apps by now, I don't need the name always to be shown. It creates unnecessary visual clutter. Now with the widgets it drives me absolutely insane that they have the name of the app printed below the widget. For some reason this is unacceptable to me. I hope they consider changing this or adding an options. 

Overall it isn't that exciting of an update, but I haven't dug into all of the features that it offers. 

September 14, 2020

Notes Are Personal

 Even though I haven’t posted lately, I have continued to think about my note-taking system and how I might further refine my process. This has led me to think about what principles have been important to me developing the system I have. I’m also thinking about the things that are most important to me that will help guide my way forward. 

I have decided to turn these principles into a series of posts. This first item is central to how I got to where I am right now. It is also something I keep in mind as I continue to learn how other people work. 

When I think back to when I was getting started I was so quick to adopt systems from other people. It let me on a wild goose chase. I would run into frustration almost everywhere I turned. I got to the point where it no longer became helpful to see how other people worked because I didn’t have a foundation for myself to build from.

It wasn’t until I created my own simple workflows that I was able to start improving. I had something that I had created that worked for me, and now I was ready to start building onto that using ideas from others. 

Your productivity workflow has to be something personal to you. For notes to be effective you have to be able to engage with those notes in a productive way. If you are using a system that doesn’t fit you there will always be friction. You will have a ton of trouble trying to stay engaged and excited about your note-taking system. You will stop using it. You will be back at square one. 

I have an extremely analytical personality. I like structure. I have to create discipline and consistency in my routines. Those things give me a sense that what I am doing is working for me. My entire productivity and note taking systems are geared around those personality traits. I have started to understand what worked for me and now I am able to try new things and push my comfort zone in a way that is useful and expands how I think. 

Earlier in my productivity journey I did not understand exactly what I needed and what types of workflows connected with my brain. It can feel like you are blowing in the wind trying everything you see but never finding a system that completely works for you. 

My guidance would be to create something from scratch. What is the simplest thing you could think to do that is better than what you do now. Does that work? Build on it. 

What I am writing on this blog is something that I would find beneficial in my current productivity journey. The whole point of me writing all of these things down is to further teach myself what worked for me, and continue to push myself forward. I don’t want to lead anybody astray that hasn’t figured out what works for them yet. 

So what am I really saying here... you already have to know what works for you in order to create something that works *better* for you? That seems silly. 

I’m saying that you have to explore options and be aware of when a system creates friction for yourself. In order for any of this to work you have to want to do it. I don’t think anybody is going to force a personal productivity system onto you. You have to know what you want to get out of it, and you have to identify when you find something where the juice is worth the squeeze. 

I was lost in the wilderness for a long time before I ever felt like any of this was worthwhile. I still question it from time to time. There will be days/weeks when I disengage for some reason. Then there are times when I don’t do something I have put in place for myself and it causes me to completely fail. I’m getting better at catching myself and getting back on track. Those are the times that keep me trying. My desire to be better at all aspects of my work pushes me to follow my own rules and keep up with my own expectations. To make it work you have to want it. 

This post doesn’t have anything you can tangibly do to get better. It is warning you to be aware. Try new things, but don’t be too hard on yourself if they don’t work. You have to try new things and figure out what connects with you. Don’t feel like you need to wholesale adopt a system. What do you need to do to get to a point where you can build upon a foundation and continually improve?