Piques of the Week – Volume 13

This time it’s all about my luggage.

In preparation for my upcoming trip, I wanted to make sure I had the right stuff for travel. Being that travel preparation is so important, I wanted to make sure I had the right stuff. I wanted to travel light, small, and better than I have previously ever done. In my research, I found these items:

Dash Hardside Carry-on by Brookstone

I’ve wanted a piece hardside luggage for a while. From what others have shared with me, it can allow you to pack more while using less space. And while there are many travel professionals out there with their ultra-fancy suitcases, I didn’t need that much for travel. I ended up finding the Dash Hardside Carry-on by Brookstone as a perfect carry-on bag.

Why a carry-on? A couple of reasons. First, I tend to overpack.1 But I need to travel extremely light for the trip I’m undertaking. I can also do laundry when I’m there, so I’ll be good. Second, I wanted a bag not only for this trip, but for future family trips where that can be our carry-on bag. The Dash is designed to fit into any overhead bin. With the 360° spinning wheels (which I love so much), it’s going to be great for going through the airport.

This bag is light-weight at 7lbs thanks to the polycarbonate shell, and I’ve been able to pack a lot of things in there thanks to the expansion zipper and some other travel accessories which I’ll get into below. I’m all packed and ready to go for this trip, and I’m thankful I’ll have this bag with me.

Eagle Creek Garment Folder

Packing a lot of clothes in your suitcase can be tricky. And even though some bags allow you to compress the items within, there are some other options to help minimize the space certain garments take up. Enter the Eagle Creek Garment Folder.

This folder comes with a helpful folding board with instructions. The two wings on the sides offer compression of the clothes to help minimize wrinkles and save space in your bag. And at 12″ x 18″, it fits perfectly inside my 20″ carry-on.

Packing Cubes

I’ve never really thought of using packing cubes. But for one reason or another,2 I ended up finding some to try out. First, there are a lot of options. But I ended up going with the Mossio Packing Cubes: there are 3 cubes, 3 laundry bags, and 1 shoe bag. And for $15, this seemed like the best deal for me to try.

While they are inexpensive, these bags are hardly cheap in feel. They use YKK zippers stitching, and have a thicker nylon fabric. The bags and cubes come in small, medium, and large sizes. The cubes fit nicely in the bottom of my bag, arranged neatly. Next to them are the laundry bags that also contained some items. I was able to place the garment sleeve on top of these, and the entire other side of my suitcase was left open.

I’m so happy with these, that I’ve ordered 3 additional sets: one for each member of our family, each in a different color. This will be very helpful for longer family trips: we can cut down on the number of bags we take, and use the packing cubes to distinguish which close belong to which person. For $60 total, we will be more organized as a family. I’m all for this.


I’m traveling for 2 weeks straight. And while there will be an opportunity for me to do laundry, I’m going to be happy that I’m able to pack everything I could need into my new suitcase and my backpack. Bon voyage!

  1. I like being prepared
  2. That other reason being Amazon Prime Day and a bunch of them were on sale

Piques of the Week – Volume 12

Smart Cover for iPad Pro

When I first purchased my iPad Pro 9.7, I immediately wanted to get the Logitech Create Keyboard Case. That has served me very well, and something that I have really enjoyed. But there are a lot of times when I’m just going around the house where the added heft of the functional case really didn’t work well. I started to remove the iPad from the case fairly often, but lost some functionality.

That’s when I thought to pick up the Smart Cover for iPad Pro 9.7. Not only does the Smart Cover allow for protection of the screen, but it also can prop up the device in two modes: the “viewing” mode and the “typing” mode.1 The viewing mode allows me to FaceTime with family, watch a show or two, or read the news if I feel like screaming into the void. The typing mode allows me to respond to people without having my device in a heavier case; this does require me using the on-screen keyboard, however. I can also pair the device with my magic keyboard for longer writing, which might come in handy for a large fall review that I’ll be working on.

I’ll even store my pencil up at the top, which is secured by the magnets. The pencil also fits in the groove on the front of the Smart Cover, but I’m nervous about it falling off and me losing it; it’s not something I often do while moving about, but while it’s on my desk or on my counter, I will keep it around.

If I had the choice to do it over again, I might have picked up the Smart Keyboard, but I like having the options. Using the on-screen keyboard has showing me that the larger devices might be better suited for that use case; either way, if I upgraded to the larger size, I’d likely get the Smart Cover for the 10.5 / 12.9. Highly recommended for sleek carry and around the house use.

Akwox Silicone Cover for Siri Remote

With multiple devices around the TV, there comes multiple remotes. And while I could get some sort of universal remote for everything, I much prefer using the remotes that come with the devices.

We have a small remote caddy at home, but one remote we have the most problems with is the Apple TV Siri remote: it’s always getting misplaced, and because the face is black, there’s a risk of it being lost. So rather than continuing to look around, I thought I would get a smarter solution – to Amazon!

I did a quick search for Apple TV remote silicone case, and arrived at the Akwox Silicone Cover for Siri Remote. There are multiple color options, but if we are going to see it in our house, I wanted to get something bright. I settled on a bright orange color for easy visibility. The case is a nice fit, and even helps point which way is up. For $7, I won’t have to worry about losing the expensive remote any longer.

  1. This is just my nomenclature for these. I can use the typing mode for note taking or drawing with my pencil, if I wanted.

Dismantling

Usually every summer, I’m going through a clearing of my life. It initiates in the spring, continues through summer, and then I start getting things back in order in the fall. I’m not sure why this happens, but it does. Rather than trying to fight it, I have learned to go with the ebb and flow of it all.

One big area of this is apps. I always try to reduce the number of apps that I use at any given time and cutting the reliance on multiple services when and where possible. I started using Slack as a personal information center last year, which prompted me to create a workflow that put my daily agenda front and center (when I would remember to run the workflow at night). That evolved when I got my watch, where I modified the workflow to run that morning to give me today’s agenda. And that worked well for a while.

Then, there was a change to the way Slack ran groups: the ability to delete archives went away. For one reason or another — ok, multiple reasons — this didn’t sit well with me, especially when I’m pulling in personal data into it. I’m not going all tinfoil-hat paranoid on this one, but if it’s going to be my personal Slack channel, I’d like to have the control to wipe out channels without archiving them.

This got me thinking about what I’m really using my personal channel for, and it really came down to several key things:

  • Alerts for Calendar events on Google Calendar.
  • Alerts for my local township news.
  • Image sources (NASA, Unsplash, etc) to get some cool images.
  • My RSS and feeds.

All of the rest that I was using it for didn’t seem so important. There was a sense of tinkering that I enjoy like when I used to build with Lego when I was a kid. I liked putting all of the pieces together because it was fun. And maybe the Slack thing was ultimately more fun than useful with all of the tinkering I needed to do to make it right.

So, I started looking around for other ways that I could accomplish those specific items. I realized that I probably couldn’t just use a single app for this, and although I like minimizing my apps, this sat well with me. What I started to realize that I was doing some tinkering again, but this time with the built in features of iOS. We’ve been accustomed to having dedicated apps for things that we often overlook the built-in solutions that have come a long way.

So to satisfy my needs and my desires, I started tackling these items one at a time.

Calendars

I’ve wanted to get away from using Google Calendar for a while. So the timing seemed right, and I moved my entire family over to iCloud calendars. With this change, I get the alerts where events have been added, changed, deleted, etc. There isn’t any special integration that I have to pipe in, and I don’t have to wait a while for the notifications to arrive. The speed of iCloud sync appears to be faster. I’ve removed the Google Calendars from my devices now, and things are going smoothly.

RSS & News

I’ve used RSS readers in the past. The problem with them is that I wanted two different things: a curated list of specific websites I want to follow, and the news. I don’t subscribe to a plethora of websites in my RSS, so using a dedicated app didn’t seem right.1 Up to this point, I had never tried using the Safari Reading List feature. Within the bookmarks area of Safari, there are two other options: Safari Reading List and Subscriptions.

I took all of my RSS feeds from Slack and have started to use the Subscriptions feature. Now I have my curated list in a single place, and I can add and remove them as I need.

For my read-it-later service, I’m using the Safari Reading List. Not only is this a native part of the OS, thus eliminating a need for a separate app like Instapaper, but I can also add a link to the reading list from nearly everywhere, including from Mail.app. This means that when I get the Club MacStories newsletters, for example, I can tap and hold on the link in the email, add it to my reading list, and continue on processing my email.

I’m also using another native app — News.app — for getting the news. I have thoughts on this, but I’m going to save that for another post. But in short, I like using it, even if I need to get better at doing so.

Local Alerts

Apparently my township website has a handy link to alerts; they have a service for text alerts through a service called Nixle. There aren’t too many messages that get sent, but if there’s an accident and I need to avoid a specific area, I get a text. If there are downed power lines, a fire, or some other emergency, I get notified through that system as well. It relies on the men and women in our police and fire departments to send in the alerts, but they are really excellent at doing so. I’ve also added the local government RSS feed to my Subscriptions so I can stay up-to-date on township news.

Images

I don’t usually subscribe to an image of the day type of service. But with all of the exploration to Pluto and Jupiter as of late, the images of space are amazing to see. We are witnessing some history, and I like seeing that as often as it comes. So I’m using the subscriptions feature in safari to handle this also. Image sources are piped into Subscriptions and are bookmarked as well.


Dismantling my personal Slack has been an interesting endeavor. I’m usually a fan of single apps, piping in a bunch of information. But as the native apps have gotten better and better, I’m starting to utilize them more often. I’ve replaced the complexity of Slack with Safari, News, and Calendar – three native apps. I’m not relying on a middle-man anymore, and that feels better to me. Even with my current task manager, Things 3 for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, I can use the Reminders integration with Siri and Drafts actions, which feels more native than a custom sync solution.

As time is going along, I’m finding that in general, the basic solutions work for me. I don’t need complicated workarounds. Even though the same information I was gathering before in one place has now spread amongst several places, my perception is that it’s lightweight, cleaner, and better. Sometimes your perception of something being better is all you need to make it reality.

  1. And it would ruin the Feng Shui of my homescreen.

Building Habits

Habits are difficult. It is very easy for me to build bad habits, and I struggle to build good habits. The positive/negative effects of habits can be far reaching, depending on the scenario. One thing that I often struggle with is my weight. I’m not morbidly obese, but I am fat. This is due to bad habits that I’ve maintained over a number of years: stress eating, bored eating, poor portion control, poor diet, not enough exercise etc. The long story short is that I don’t do enough to monitor myself and don’t exercise nearly enough; I’m not doing a good enough job at taking care of me.

In admitting to myself that I have a problem, I talked about this with Seth on our podcast where I told him that I eat my feelings. And while I understand that a lot of people do this, it’s not a sustainable thing for me to do. There are a number of reasons why I personally wanted to devote an entire episode about it, but there were two big reasons: that 1) Seth had gone through something similar before, and has spent some time building good habits which he maintains today; 2) I needed to gain some accountability.

It kind of sounds stupid when I start thinking about it. Why do I need to be accountable to the listeners of a podcast that I do? Why do I now need to be accountable to the people that are reading this?1 Why can’t I be accountable to myself and to my family? When it gets down to it, I really need to be accountable to my family the most: my wife and sons count on me, and I need to be around for a long time to help them through life. I also want to be a good role model. So this isn’t a question of something that I just want to do: I have to do it.

One of the things that I talked about on the show was time management. I needed to set aside some time to do this. And with as busy as my life can be at times, the morning is open. It just requires that I wake up earlier. And since I’m going to the gym, I can just get ready for work and leave from there. The only thing that I need to do is prepare my workout and work bags the night before, plan my meals/snacks for the next day, and get to bed early. The more I think of this, it’s really coming down to time and task management: setting aside the time to do it, and completing all the steps.

Since we recorded that show, I’ve been to the gym at least 3 times a week; I’m now in the fourth week, and I feel like the habit is there. I’m getting things set up the night before with my bag and clothing, and getting to bed earlier. I’m not seeing significant weight loss yet, and I don’t expect to anytime soon.2 But what I am feeling is more energy throughout the day when I work out; the off days aren’t as energized, but I feel better than I did before. I’m generally feeling better with everything in life. I’m able to handle stress better. I just feel better.

I’m going to follow some of what Seth said, even though he isn’t a nutritionist or personal trainer. He’s more of a personal productivity advisor and life coach.3 I’m not setting out to hit quantitative metrics: I don’t care about tracking my calories; I don’t care exactly how many minutes I’m working out; I’m not tracking my weight every day/week/month. I’m going go by qualitative goals rather than quantitative: Do I feel better? Do clothes fit better? Do I have more energy? Do I have less anxiety? Am I building stamina in my workouts, and improving my fitness overall? If I’m hitting all of those, I’m doing the right thing. Hopefully over time, I can build the healthy habit to get healthier and more active. And if I can accomplish this and stick with it, then that takes all of the things I once thought to be impossible in my life and makes them possible if I want them to be. I’m really enjoying this renewed focus in bettering myself. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

  1. Hello, dear listeners/readers.
  2. I am down 5lbs in 3 weeks, however.
  3. Seriously, he’s amazing at advice. Well, most of the time…