Useful writing

I’ve been trying to find a way to reboot my writing habit for a couple of years now. The trouble is, most things I have written are on too wide a range of topics. When you’re covering a wide range of topics, it feels like you’re jumping from one subject to the next. I need to narrow these topics down.

Paul Graham’s latest essay on how to write usefully got me thinking about this again.

If you narrow the topic sufficiently, you can probably find something you’re an expert on. Write about that to start with. If you only have ten readers who care, that’s fine. You’re helping them, and you’re writing. Later you can expand the breadth of topics you write about.

How to Write Usefully

I need to focus on one or two topics and start from there.

Tried and tested apps

I’ve noticed a change in the home screen of my iPhone over the last few months. There’s a number of apps on there that I’ve used in the past but for one reason or another I moved away from.

Well, those apps are back on my home screen again. It started with Reeder, which was closely followed by Trello and more recently, Streaks.

And now, I’m back to using them again. And the main reasons that I am using them again is that I have a need for them and they are tried and tested.

When you know something works, it’s good to know you can just pick it up again.

I’m not looking for another RSS reader, Feedbin is still my RSS reader of choice. But damn, Enkel had me hovering over the sign up button with its minimal clean and simple look.

Despite the many things that Visual Studio can do, I find it very uncomfortable to use when writing code. My preferred coding font just doesn’t render as nicely as it does in Microsoft’s open source text editor, Visual Studio Code.

I wonder if there will come a time when Microsoft recommend their open source text editor over their proprietary IDE?

Even in the snow, the golf course still looks great. Just waiting for spring to roll round now so I can get out for a hit.

You know you’re a golfer when you start to despise the snow.

It’s not all bad though. I’ve got me and and the boys booked into the indoor studio for 90 minutes followed by some lunch.

My reading progress has been pretty good so far this year. I hope it’s not the kiss of death for this, but I thought I would throw up a reading page showing everything I’ve read so far this year. I’ll keep it posted through the year.

A very dark and broody sky for the snow moon.

I helped Drew make a birthday cake for Jennifer this afternoon. Proof will be in the taste test after dinner!

I’d still like to see cross-posting to Twitter on Micro.blog as a “per-post” option. The reason being, I don’t want everything to be published to Twitter. It’s usually the short posts that I’d like to cross-post to Twitter.

Feedbin is crushing it as a content organiser. First feeds, then newsletters, then Twitter and finally single web pages. The new updates to the newsletters are a welcome change. Helps make them more readable.

There hasn’t been much that has dazzled me since recently picking up C#. I must admit though, I do like using C#’s query expressions. Pretty powerful stuff when used with classes.

I went with Fantastical's annual subscription

Last night I pulled the trigger on the new Fantastical annual subscription. What was it I said a few days ago? Goodbye Fantastical? Not quite. I was skeptical about the pricing change.

I must admit, I’m a bit skeptical of the subcription move by Flexibits for their 3.0 release of Fantastical. Another app subscription is something I’m trying to avoid. I’d rather just pay for each new release of their app.

The thing about major app changes like Fantastical’s is that there’s no escaping the fact that you are going to piss people off with the change.

Being honest about the whole thing though, I wasn’t pissed off. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t even annoyed. I was just trying to keep my app subscriptions down to a level I can manage. $35 doesn’t seem an awful lot, but taking into account other app subscriptions, it all adds up.

Despite trying out a number of alternatives (including paying for a few apps from the App Store), I decided to go with the annual subscription for Fantastical.

What finally made me take the subscription is that I’ve been using the app for a couple of years now and it does tick all the boxes with regards to what I need it to do. Sure I could have just stayed on the free plan as an existing user, but the syncing of the calendar sets and the integration with Todoist was just enough to convince me to buy.

The Rework podcast share a great talk by Matthew Vincent, a member of Basecamp’s Ops team, about the life and benefits of remote work.

I often wondered what kind of impact web page bloat has on CO2 emissions. Now I know.

Warming to Fantastical

I’m starting to warm to Fantastical. I hovered over the subscribe button today. I still find it expensive though, but clearly there are features in the app that Fantastical are paying for on a monthly basis as noted by John Gruber.

Among my favorite new features: complete feature-parity between platforms (previously, the Mac could do more than the iOS versions); integrated weather from a great source, AccuWeather (which is, needless to say, not a free service for Flexibits to offer); calendar sets with iCloud syncing; “interesting calendars” from SchedJoules like team schedules for your favorite sports (also not a free service for Flexibits); and full task support integrating with Apple Reminders, Todoist, and Google Tasks.

Federico Viticci’s Review of the New Fantastical

Today I downloaded Calendars 366 from the App Store. It shares a lot of the same features that Fantastical as, but as good as the interface is on Calendars 366, it doesn’t carry the same polish that Fantastical has.

In the search for a viable alternative to Fantastical, I’ve found that Calendar 366 has a pretty good like for like match to Fantastical’s features and without the subscription. I think this will serve as a good replacement in the short term.

It’s great to see Feedbin have added an automatic option that will automatically switch between light and dark. What is really great though, is the per device settings. Finally I can use different settings on my iPhone that won’t change the settings on the desktop.

And that’s it folks for the 2019-20 NFL season. Just 219 days to go until the next season begins!

I love those moments when I’ve been working on a big refactoring in a bit of code and it finally all comes together.

Looking more into app subscriptions and Fantastical alternatives

There was much debate this week about Fantastical’s move to a subscription app and subscriptions in general. Now, I’m not against developer’s adding subscriptions to their apps, they have to make a living somehow from the software that they produce.

My concern with Fantastical is the price. I find the subscription price quite high in terms of how much I use the app and what Fantastical are offering in their premium subscription.

Is Fantastical worth it?

Just as a comparison, I decided to look at the apps on my home screen and their subscription amounts. In total, I have 12 apps on my first home screen. Given these are the apps that I use daily, then it’s apparent that I do place a lot of value on these I have subscriptions for apps on other screens, but these are used less regularly.

Here are the apps that I pay an annual subscription for that are on this first home screen:

  • Micro.blog ($50)
  • 1Password (~$60)
  • Todoist ($35.99)
  • Bear ($14.99)
  • Day One ($31.99)
  • Feedbin ($24.99)
  • Instapaper ($29.99)

Now taking these annual subscriptions into account, there is one that I can’t do without and that’s 1Password. Being able to save my logins securely and across multiple devices is such a time-saver. I’m not saying that price isn’t an issue on this one, but this app is essential.

The rest of the apps that I pay annual subscriptions for aren’t essential, but I do use them daily and usually on multiple devices. There, I do find them valuable. At the top end of the scale in terms of price are Micro.blog, Todoist, Day One, Instapaper and Feedbin. At the bottom end of the scale is Bear.

If I were to pay for Fantastical’s pricing, it would put it at the top end of the subscriptions that I have. It’s not going to break the bank, but I do find it a bit steep. And that’s why I’m not 100% convinced that Fantastical’s new subscription app is for me. Despite using Fantastical most days to manage my schedule, I would not consider it to be worth its subscription price.

It isn’t straightforward to compare apps and their usefulness as there are used differently by everyone. For example, I use Bear and Feedbin daily, and I find them both very useful, but over the year the price difference in the annual subscription is $10. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider that you might have other app subscriptions, they can quickly rack up. So while I accept that it’s hard to compare apps and their subscriptions, I still think that the price for the Fantastical subscription is quite high.

The Fantastical alternatives

Right, so we’ve established that I find the Fantastical price a bit high, so what are the alternatives?

As for alternatives, I tried Apple’s own Calendar app this week and found it sadly lacking in features. I didn’t expect a whole lot from the app as I know it’s free, but it doesn’t appear to have been updated very often.

There are other calendar apps on the App Store, but some that I have seen are free and have ads in them. You then have to pay to remove the ads. This style of pricing isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a calendar app or any app for that matter, but I’m personally not a fan of this style of pricing. I would instead prefer developers to charge a price for their apps or be free with an option to unlock features with a reasonably-priced subscription. For me, ads have no places in apps, so anything that has ads is out.

I also gave Calendars 5 a try from the app store. Sticking to the pricing argument I made earlier, I bought the app for full-price, which is $6.99. It does everything that a calendar app should do. Natural language input, different views and light and dark themes are all there. You can sync your iCloud calendars across multiple devices, and there’s an iPad version of the app too. I didn’t install this though, as I find that having a calendar app on my phone and my desktop is enough for me.

I’m also giving Timepage a run again, but the lack of calendar views does limit it a bit, and there is no equivalent app for macOS. There are however a number of things going for it that I do like. It includes weather forecasts for events, travel times and a daily briefing notification to see what’s coming up for the day. It’s also very customisable and includes several options to adjust the app including themes, font size calendar and timeline. It’s also significantly cheaper than Fantastical at just $11.99.

Making a decision

Having tried these apps out this week, I’m going to ditch Calendars 5. It’s okay as a scheduling app. However, I do like the extra effort that has gone into the user interfaces of both Fantastical and Timepage.

I’m still torn between Timepage and Fantastical though. Fantastical’s calendar group syncing is a feature I would like to have, but it’s not essential. To be able to have calendar groups sync between phones would be great, but it’s not a deal-breaker and certainly not worth the price of the app subscription as it stands at the moment. It’s more of a nice to have.

I haven’t deleted Fantastical from my phone yet. I can still use it without the annual subscription, but I know I’m going to get frustrated with the number of features that are locked out. It’s at this point where I will either cave and go for the subscription or I will delete the app. Fantastical hasn’t been too aggressive in reminding me to upgrade. Still, it feels like over time I might be nagged into upgrading.

There’s also the question of changing my subscription. If I take the Timepage subscription now, I could still change my mind and then use Fantastical. However, it will always feel like I wasted some money on a subscription that I’m not going to use. Sure, I bought the Calendars 5 app, I’m prepared to do that to find the right app to use. What I don’t want to do though is take a subscription for an app that I won’t fully use.

I can see me sticking with Fantastical in the short term. It will be interesting to see if Flexibits make any changes in the short-term based on user feedback of the jump from 2.0 to 3.0. Still, I suspect that they will leave the app subscription price as is. Most users will come round to paying the subscription. For me, though, it’s still too high a price to pay at the moment.

A simple upgrade has turned into a multi-app deep dig of calendar apps over the last few days as I tinker with Fantastical 3.0, Timepage and Calendars 5. I think I might rule out Calendars 5. It doesn’t offer the same benefits that Timepage has. Which just leaves me two apps now.

Finished Shiang: Empire of Salt by C. F. Iggulden. It took a while to get back into the story but it rallied towards the end. I enjoyed it. 📚

Going to give Calendars 5 by Readdle a spin. Curious to see how it fares as a Fantastical replacement.

The man behind the Super Bowl trophy

Being a Green Bay Packers fan, I already know the legend that is Vince Lombardi. A coach who took a losing team and turned them around in a single season and led them to five titles.

In Lombardi’s second season, in 1960, the Packers reached the Championship Game only to fall to an agonising defeat by the Philadelphia Eagles. The boss pledged he would never lose another championship match. And he didn’t.

Super Bowl 2020: Vince Lombardi, the story behind the name on NFL’s biggest prize

What is perhaps less know about Lombardi was his drive to ensure that all his players were treated as equals.

Lombardi said he saw athletes as “neither black nor white but Packer green” and demanded everyone be treated equally, refusing to allow any kind of prejudice. He told players if he ever heard discriminatory language they would be “through”.

Super Bowl 2020: Vince Lombardi, the story behind the name on NFL’s biggest prize

Sadly, I’ll miss the big game on Sunday night being in the wrong timezone, but as always I’ll catch the highlights the following evening. I just wish my Packers could have made the final.