Category: Articles

Weather Apps

If you haven’t heard of it, Forecast Advisor rates the accuracy of many weather services forecasts over the past month and year. In my case, Weather Underground (WU) is almost always the best. In my search for weather apps, I’ve limited it to those that use WU.

Official WU Apps

Weather Underground – Was my default weather app for years until I discovered Hello Weather (see next section).

WU Storm – I use Storm to look up historical weather data. Provides some additional layers on the radar.1

Apps With WU as a Data Source

Hello Weather – Hello Weather has become my favorite weather app as the interface is data dense but still very clean. If you subscribe to the Fan Club, you get the option to use WU for the forecast and Dark Sky for rain. This is a very unique (and useful) combination.2

The only other two apps that I’ve found that use WU data are Clear Day and Weather Mate Pro, but I haven’t tried either as their interfaces look awful from the screenshots. If you know of any others, I’d love to hear about them.


CARROT Weather has released a huge update that includes an option to use WU + Dark Sky (you must have the Ultrapremium subscription to access this option). The widget isn’t quite as good as the one from Hello Weather, but I do really like the customization options for Watch complications and the widget.

  1. If you really want a powerful radar app, RadarScope is the best. ↩︎
  2. Hello Weather also has an excellent widget. ↩︎

Climate Change Reading

As part of consuming less news, I made it a goal to read more books. One of the first topics I tackled was climate change. Let’s take a pause here. Climate change is not an opinion or hoax, it is supported by science from every angle over a long period of time1. Now that we have that out there, I’d like to recommend three of the books I read.

Planetary Boundaries

Big World, Small Planet by Johan Rockström2 discusses how in two generations, we’ve overwhelmed the earth and ”went from a small world on a big planet to a big world on a small planet”. There are planetary boundaries (greenhouse gases, ocean acidification, etc.) that we must stay within or we risk going to a point of no return. While we have an idea what will happen if we exceed the boundaries, we can be sure there will be some catastrophic surprises. The author goes on to discuss how we can still succeed economically and as a society while remaining within the boundaries. In order to do this, we need to change our mindset and spark innovations to solve the issues at hand. If you want to be informed about the science and be inspired by some great photography, I highly recommend this book3.

Human Capability to Change

Earth in Human Hands by David Grinspoon is a much longer read. Being more of an academic book, it weighs in at over 500 pages with numerous footnotes and references. Regardless, I found it an intriguing read. The author is an astrobiologist and discusses how Earth’s climate got to where it is, as well as research on other planets’ climates. He discusses how we can learn from this research to help imagine what might happen to Earth if we don’t make changes. Overall, this book takes a much more optimistic tone (on a long term time scale) and is a proponent of engineering the planet to make sure we keep the climate under control.

Climate Denial

The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann is a quick, but excellent read. Combined with satirical cartoons, the author discusses climate denial and how we got into the current political mess surrounding climate change4. The author is skeptical of geoengineering5 and doesn’t see how we feasibly could move to another planet in the next several generations6. His solution is that we must work toward clean energy so we can keep fossil fuels in the ground.

  1. See the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and National Academies. ↩︎
  2. For a brief overview of the main points from the author, check out the book’s website. ↩︎
  3. I read the book on Kindle, but I’ve heard that the physical book is beautiful. ↩︎
  4. This book was published during the 2016 election campaign, and seems to be a bit more optimistic than it would be now. That part is a little painful… ↩︎
  5. We might make a mistake, and we don’t have another Earth to experiment on. ↩︎
  6. Although, Elon Musk is working on it. ↩︎

Backing Away From the News

After getting pulled into the news during this year’s election cycle, I decided to take a step back and reevaluate my consumption. Reading Nicholas Bate’s “22 Reasons your 2017 is going to be Awesome“, number 4 stood out:

Every single problem commentators list for 2017 from Brexit to Trump to Asteroid Collision, you will ask: Can I fix this? If yes, do so. If no, execute your plan B. But stay resourceful, walk tall and love planet Earth

I’ve started posing this question to myself, and it has changed how I consume media. I no longer mindlessly save news stories to Instapaper to read or browse multiple papers. I am even thinking of cutting out the national evening news for some extra reading time.

What am I reading now?

For the past few weeks I’ve been relying on the NYTimes1 and The Economist Espresso2 apps. I also still subscribe to the Next Draft newsletter, which is where I find a lot of my long-form current event reading.

Reducing my consumption of the daily news cycle has freed me up to read more nonfiction books. While not as current as the news, you gain much more depth from reading a book. Some of my recent favorites include Elon Musk, How Music Got Free, Eating Animals, Eccentric Orbits, and 10% Happier.3

Less stress, More knowledge

So far, I’ve been learning a lot and feeling less stress about the news (but not under informed). If you feel like you’ve been pulled into the news cycle, I suggest you give some thought to your consumption as well.

Update: Seth Godin wrote an excellent article about how we need to move our media consumption from “The candy diet” (or clickbait, bad TV shows, etc.) to thoughtful consumption. Just changing our consumption habits will force the media to make changes.

  1. I mainly read the Morning Briefing and scan the article summaries in the Top Stories section of the app. ↩︎
  2. The Economist is a great source for international news and U.S. news from a foreign prospective. Espresso provides it in a quick to read, daily format (not to mention it's much cheaper than subscribing to the magazine). ↩︎
  3. Don't forget to check your public library to see if they loan Kindle books for free. ↩︎

The Great Outdoors

As a kid, my summer vacation always included a two week camping trip. During my elementary school years, it was always with my grandparents who were lifetime campers (they’ve camped in every state but Hawaii). It was during these early years that I developed my connection with nature.

It’s hard to explain, but there is a sense of peace and wonder that can be felt from spending time with nature and away from everything else. John Muir said it best in his journal:

There is a love of wild nature in everybody an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.

After finding this connection, I always looked forward to spending time in nature. Our vacations took me many beautiful places, some of my favorites being Grand Teton, Glacier, and The Great Smokey Mountains National Parks.

Now that I am on my own, my wife and I make sure we do everything we can to protect our planet. We only have one, and need to make sure it survives. We make sure to get out and enjoy nature to nurture our connection and remind us what were protecting. Every outing still brings a sense of calm and inward reflection for me. Again, as explained by John Muir:

But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.

On this Earth Day, take some time to think about how your life has been changed by nature. If you don’t feel that connection, do yourself a favor and spend some time building one this summer. We need to work together to take care of this spaceship we call Earth.

From Consumption to Education and Creation

I’ve been trying to consume less in order to learn and create more. I’ve made good progress shifting from consumption to education, and here’s how I’ve done it so far.

Pruning Twitter

The first step I took was to prune back who I follow on Twitter. I was following way too many accounts to keep up with, some people I didn’t even remember why I was following them. I took the time to go through my whole list and unfollowed a large majority of accounts. To take it even further, as I noticed high volume accounts in my stream, I unfollowed them. If the tweets were something I might still be interested in, I added them to my lists.

Do away with guilt reading

I decided to get rid of Instapaper. I found myself saving countless articles that I then felt like I had to read. If something was really that important, wouldn’t I think to seek it out again when I had time? I ended up coming to a happy medium where I now save anything I might want to come back to on Pinboard[^1]. I made sure to not use any “read later” tags as well to avoid just moving my “guilt reading”. If what I’ve saved is actually important or useful, I will remember and come back to it.

Remove extraneous sources of news

Next up was my news/article sources. I tackled this by unsubscribing from newsletters, pruning my RSS feeds2 & podcasts3, and removing most news apps from my phone4. It’s amazing the echo chamber we tech nerds get stuck in, and it was actually refreshing to get away from some of that. After a while, I found myself unsubscribed from all email newsletters (except for one5) and aggressively deleting podcasts/podcast episodes that were not interesting. I also trimmed my RSS feeds down to 28, many of them being low volume feeds.

More thoughtful consumption

Now that I’ve freed myself from feeling like I have to consume media, I can make thoughtful choices about what I read. I’ve been reading more books and spending more time developing skills.

I’ve also found it helpful setting myself certain times of day when I can look at certain things like Twitter, RSS, news, etc. If it’s not within one of those windows and I find myself going for my phone, I open up a book (or even a Wikipedia article6) or do some writing.

Thoughtful consumption has been working well for me, and I hope to continue and make refinements along the way.

  1. I use Pinswift on iOS (adds a Share Sheet button and can automatically grab a nice link description for you). ↩︎
  2. I use Feedwrangler and Reeder to manage my RSS. ↩︎
  3. Overcast is my favorite iOS podcast client. ↩︎
  4. NYT Now is the only one left. I have a digital subscription so I don't have to worry about the paywall when I read more articles on my iPad (usually on the weekend). ↩︎
  5. I still really enjoy the Quartz Daily Brief, even with the release of the Quartz app. ↩︎
  6. For some excellent ideas on ways to read/use Wikipedia on iOS, check out Gabe Weatherhead's excellent article. ↩︎

Doing More With the Same

Everyone’s heard the saying “do more with less”, but I’ve started to follow my own version, “do more with the same”. This stems from my previous thoughts on mindfulness and sales. Rather than purchasing something new to do something new, I always try to figure out if I can do it with what I already have.

Think about how many times you’ve upgraded just for the sake of upgrading? The latest Apple device is out? I’m an Apple fan and all my friends on Twitter are buying it, so I probably should too. This is the mindset I’m trying to move away from.

How I’m doing more with the same

I’ve been brewing beer for the past year and I still am using my starter 5 gallon kettle. I’ve been tempted many times to upgrade to one of the best kettles, but I’ve recently made myself stop and think. Most of the time, upgrades are put into my head by browsing beer forums and magazines. The logic goes like this — of course someone who makes amazing beer uses fancy equipment, so that means that’s just what I need to improve my beer. Right?

Of course that’s the wrong reasoning. The guy (or gal) who makes contest winning beer at home is not winning because of his equipment. He is winning because he has years of experience and puts a lot of time and effort into procuring the best (I will touch more on this later) ingredients and perfecting his recipes and brewing process. This gets him at least 90% of the way there. Equipment upgrades may get him the last 10%, but that only works if he already has the other 90% down.

Taking a step back to think, this logic makes complete sense. So now, rather than salivating over the shiny new kettle or latest brew gizmo, I’m working on better learning my current equipment and improving my technique. Even my “starter” epquipment allows me to do that.

I’ve also been tempted to upgrade my photography setup, but I’ve decided not to buy a new camera (a Fuji X100T, thanks Ben). This has allowed me to re-discover taking photos with my iPhone (it’s really true that you’ll take more photos if you always carry your camera). While there are some limitations, I’ve been happy with my setup. I always have my old DSLR to go back to if I want, so why upgrade if it still works? Again, it’s always an analysis of what capabilities am I truly missing out on by not upgrading.

Some other things I also recently decided not to upgrade include my boots (Why not wear out my current pair first?) and my work and travel bags (thanks again to Ben). By not upgrading my boots, I’ve learned the art of reviving and caring for leather. This will prepare me for buying something more high quality (the best) for my next pair. And in not buying bags, I’ve not created the hassle of selling/donating my old one (or more realistically, wasting space in my house).

Why are you depriving yourself?

I don’t feel that way at all. My wife and I want to spend more of our time (and money) on making memories rather than having things. For Christmas this year, we agreed to just get some small presents for each other and put the rest towards vacations for 2016. We plan to make a list of destinations soon so we can actually plan ahead and have something to look forward to.

Now every time I buy something instead of using what I have, I think of it in terms of how it affects my vacations. Want a new bag? That’s a lower quality hotel. Want to upgrade your camera? Now it’s only a long weekend instead of a weeks vacation.

How to choose what to buy

In some cases, the value of purchasing something new or upgrading makes sense in this new way of thinking. The next decision that comes is whether to buy the best or not. The way I look at it is to think about how I will use something and how long I will use it.

In the case of my beer brewing equipment, I chose to get a relatively inexpensive starter kit because I wanted to see how I would like the hobby. While I didn’t purchase the best, I did make a selection that wouldn’t need replacement if I got into the hobby. Of course, that brought the temptation later, but reframing my thinking helped me to see that isn’t yet necessary. This could also apply to something like a tool you need to fix something or any new hobby. A good chef could cook a great meal even with an average knife.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes it makes sense to buy the best. This benefits you twofold – you get something that will perform to the highest standards and you don’t have to waste your time thinking about purchasing the item again in the near future (or maybe at all). A good example of this would be my boots. While I’m currently wearing a relatively inexpensive pair, now that I know I wear them a lot, I plan to buy the best when I wear out my current pair. This is a commitment though. When you decide to invest in something in this category, you have to make sure you are committed to any maintenance required. If you don’t take care of what you have, even if it is the best, it won’t last.

Of course, buying only what will make a difference in your life, and buying the best when appropriate also creates less waste, but that’s another topic.

What’s next?

This change in how I think has been in development for a while now, but really started to kick in leading into the holiday season. My wife and I are feeling good about it, and it has actually helped me to make some good decisions. We will see how it works out through the holidays and next year. Hopefully I’ll have some great memories to talk about!

Mindfulness and Sales

In trying to be more mindful with my possessions, I’ve started to think about how sales play into mindful purchasing. How many times have you seen something on sale or on a “deals” site and purchased it simply because it was a great deal? We’ve all been there, and if you want to put an end to it you need to change your relationship with your things.

I think of mindfulness as it relates to possessions as making sure everything has a use and is enjoyable to use. It can also be extended into buying the best you can afford1. If you only purchase what you will use often and enjoy, it makes sense to pick an item that will last you a lifetime. Of course this comes at a higher cost, however, can save you in the long run (not to mention the environmental impact of disposable items). These products also tend to come from companies you can feel good supporting.

Now that I’ve changed my outlook, I don’t browse the internet for deals and sales. Whenever I see a deal on Twitter (or elsewhere) that seems too good to pass up, I can let it go. If there is something new I want, after completing my research, I add the item to my wishlist. If I need it now and can fit it into my budget, I make the purchase. If it’s something that can wait or I don’t want to pay full price, I save up for it and keep an eye out for a good price (usually by checking the company’s website, email list, or Twitter account). Gradually acquiring these items spreads out the pain on the wallet, plus, there is no need to discard items you are replacing before their time is done.

Making this adjustment can take some time, especially if you aren’t used to prices of high quality items, but it is worth it in the long run. My hope is to eventually only have things that are pleasing to use and can be repaired so they will last a lifetime.

  1. Of course this doesn't always apply. For example, if there is a tool I need for a single house project and I can't find one to borrow, I won't always buy the best. ↩︎

Due For All Tasks

Ben Brooks recently wrote about how he uses Due as his high priority reminder system. He started out using it as most do, for static, repeating reminders (take out the trash, stop for dinner, etc.). The power started to come out when he started adding his short term tasks that are easy to forget (like calling someone in 15 minutes or sending an update in a few hours).

For those of you not familiar with Due, it is a task list app that allows you to have constant reminders of a due task (the interval can be customized from any minute to any hour). These reminders will alert you on your iOS devices and/or Apple Watch. There are a few more features, but it is “auto snooze” that is the killer feature here.

I started using Due for similar purposes to Ben and then took it a step further to manage all my tasks. I had been using OmniFocus for a long time because it was the power user’s choice. Still a great task management app (and even better now that the iOS app finally supports Push sync), it really had too much power for my lists. After floating around between some simple list apps and falling down the TaskPaper rabbit hole, I settled on Due back in February. I think I am well on my way to cementing Due into my routine (and hopefully it will continue to stick).

@scientifics @jeffhunsberger Indeed, but revamps are seductive and don’t necessarily work better long term. The stuff that sticks is hard.— macdrifter (@macdrifter) March 8, 2015

Why I Returned My Apple Watch

Last week my wife surprised me with a trip to the Apple Store to purchase an Apple Watch. Ultimately I decided to return the watch, but let’s start with the positives.


During my time with Apple Watch I did appreciate getting notifications on my wrist. It was convenient to be able to see important notifications without having to pull my phone out of my pocket. Having Siri on my wrist was also a plus, however, it is not always appropriate (in public) or feasible (in a noisy environment) to talk to your wrist. The battery life was also good, always lasting me a whole day (even when spending time playing with it).


With the limited capability of a small screen for input, Apple Watch relies heavily on Siri for capturing text. While I found Siri to work well, the usefulness was greatly diminished in noisy locations (even just at home with the TV on). Also working a corporate job in a cube, Siri provided me no utility during the work day.

Apple Watch also seems slow: glances don’t update in a timely fashion and apps need to load before most interactions can occur. For me, the glances are a key feature. Without regular and reliable updates of the glances, I cannot depend on being able to quickly check the weather or see if I have any upcoming tasks in OmniFocus. I’m sure watchOS updates will improve the overall slowness, but I’m not willing to take the chance that it might take a hardware revision.

Interaction is also an issue for me. I really like the Digital Crown and wish it was available for more interactions. I find hitting the right touch target on the screen difficult sometimes, and can think of many ways the Digital Crown could make things easier.

Health Features

With a heart rate monitor, Apple Watch has the potential to be a better workout companion than the standard step tracker. In reality, it’s not. Let’s get something straight first though: no “fitness tracker” will ever accurately measure your calorie burn (and as for intake, a calorie is not just a calorie).

The step tracker portion of Apple Watch seems to work as well as any other device, however, the heart rate monitor falls short. I found it to be slow when using it during a run.

One of the software features other users have been talking about is the Activity feature (concentric circles that fill based on movement, exercise, and standing). I was disappointed to find that only activity measured with the watch counted towards these goals (this will change with watchOS 2).

Overall, Apple Watch is a fine step tracker, but it doesn’t provide anything more (in my mind at least) than the cheaper options on the market. For serious fitness, we still lack a good way to track strength training, and for heart rate monitoring, a chest monitor works better.

Turning Point

After getting over the gadget nerd excitement and newness of Apple Watch, I started to think about the value I was getting out of my interactions with the watch. Is it really worth $450 to be able to check notifications and interact with Siri on my wrist? Ultimately the decision was no, or at least not yet. Looking back at the first iPhone, I see a future of great improvements for Apple Watch. I’m sure all my issues will be ironed out and I will be a believer in the future.

Notes Update

Back in April I wrote about how I used nvALT, Simplenote, and Evernote for my note taking needs. Since then, I have made some changes:

Plain Text

Anything that is suitable for plain text gets stored in nvALT/Simplenote rather than Evernote. For me, the speed and simplicity of plain text is important. I have notes with everything from lists, frequent flyer numbers, and keyboard shortcuts I commonly forget.

I have decided that the convenience of using just one app everywhere outweighs the speed of plain text notes. I now use Evernote for everything. For quick entry on OS X, the menu bar icon with a keyboard shortcut comes in handy. On iOS, I use Drafts to quickly capture text. Drafts then allows me to send the text to Evernote. I’ve even set up some custom actions that allow me to append text to certain notes.


As for tags, I use them in Evernote for ease of finding documents.

For simplicity I’ve done away with tags. With the excellent search and OCR capabilities of Evernote, I find that between the titles and content of all my notes/documents, I have no trouble finding what I need.

Offline Notebooks

I’ve found offline notebooks (Evernote Premium feature) incredibly useful with this change. I made my notebook for my quick notes (what I used to keep in plain text) offline so I have easy access to it on my iPhone if I don’t have an internet connection.