Follow me at Anxious Robot

January 12, 2016

Late last year I created and started writing at Anxious Robot, a site powered by Medium. My first piece there explains why I decided to spin up another site after almost 15 years, and why I chose to go with Medium; the short answer is convenience.

If you’ve enjoyed my writing here over the last decade+, I’d love it if you would join me at my new endeavor. The easiest way to read the Anxious Robot stuff is to follow me on Medium, and read the articles either on the web or inside Medium's apps. When you do that (and you have a Medium account), you can recommend the articles you like (by tapping the heart) and thereby increase their reach, etc.

If you prefer using RSS to keep up, kindly point your aggregator at

Thanks for reading!

The books I read in 2015

January 02, 2016

Below is a list of the books I managed to power through in 2015. While I'm certain I read more in 2015 than in any other year of my life, I think the vast majority of that reading was done outside of books. I'm hoping to change that in 2016. (If interested, here's my entire list of books.)




iPhone 6 vs. iPhone 6 Plus

September 08, 2015

TL;DR: 6 Plus

First things first, I love the iPhone 6 Plus. I love it more than you do. I adore it. I’ve had it since the first day it was available and have used it 10+ hours every day since then. I work from it. A lot. It’s my favorite.

All of that said, a few months ago I was really itching to give the non-Plus 6 a shot, despite its inferior rear camera. Its size appealed to me for a number of reasons, and I just thought it looked and felt nice. So, I went out and bought one, used it for a few days and then…switched back to the 6 Plus. But, after a couple of days I went back to the 6. There definitely were moments when I had convinced myself that I’d keep the non-Plus and sell the Plus, but ultimately I decided that, on balance, the Plus is a better fit for me.

I realize some of you are looking for me to tell you which way to go, full stop, but I just can’t. They’re both great devices and at the end of the day you just have to figure out which fits your use-cases the best.

For me, battery is a huge deal, because I literally use the device all day long. I’ve been able to go 10 straight hours with the Plus, just reading RSS, responding to email, Twitter, Pocket, messaging, etc.—“normal” use. The non-Plus can’t get anywhere near that number; while its battery isn’t bad, I’ve just been spoiled by the 6 Plus. It’s hard to explain the peace of mind I get from the Plus’ battery; I just know it’ll be available when I need it. I do the vast majority of my job these days from my iPhone, and so a bigger battery really is useful to me.

I also prefer how the hit targets of the keyboard on the 6 Plus are quite a bit larger due to the keys themselves being, well, larger. Because of this I can type much faster and with fewer errors on the 6 Plus. Again, for someone who uses this device as much as I do (and for a lot of mission-critical stuff), all of these efficiency gains really do start to add up.

Another potential differentiator is the PPI of the devices. While the added PPI of the 6 Plus is noticeable (the contrast ratio is also higher on the 6 Plus), it’s just not a game-changing feature for me anymore given that once you get above 300PPI at these short distances the distinction starts to fall away. That said, the better screen of the 6 Plus definitely jumps out at you after you’ve been looking at only a 6 for a couple of days.

Obviously, the biggest selling point of the 6 vis-a-vis the 6 Plus is its smaller size. I found the dimensions and weight of the 6 to be nearly perfect for prolonged sessions (though those sessions are a bit shorter than those with the 6 Plus). It just feels great in hand—solid, sleek, modern. The 6 Plus can wear out my “cradling” pinky after holding it for just a little while; I often find myself changing my holding position because my hand is starting to ache or cramp. (To that end I bought a PopSocket, which I can’t believe I like, but I do. Yes, it’s ugly. Yes, it makes me self-conscious in public. Yes, I hate what it does to this svelte beauty. BUT, it works, and works really, really well.)

One final plus for the Plus is that it made me comfortable not owning an iPad. I got rid of my iPad the day I bought the 6 Plus; I just couldn’t justify having both, and well, I’m kind of militant about consolidating when I can. With the 6 though I often found myself thinking about the iPad and even ended up researching them a bit.

At the end of the day, the better battery on the 6 Plus is what really kept it in my hands. Even though I generally preferred the size of the 6, especially for prolonged use, there was just no getting around the fact that the 6 Plus is a workhorse.

How to keep iOS Mail from shitting the bed when swapping signatures

July 10, 2015

I recently asked someone on my team to come up with a simple way for me to automatically email a group of people (e.g., my team) from within iOS Mail. I’d tried the usual suspects like TextExpander (which doesn’t work inside and the shortcuts feature built into iOS, but something funky with how email addresses were being delimited would result in only the first person in the list being emailed (and it wouldn’t throw any errors).

A person on my team mentioned that Workflow had a built-in workflow to bring up a pre-populated email sheet. It does, and it works great, but that got me thinking about whether I could do something similar in Drafts, because that sits on my home screen and I’m in it all day long.

Turns out, Drafts has an awesome action for handling this sort of thing that, if you format your text in a certain way, auto-fills the subject and body when you invoke it (in addition to the email addresses you previously added to the action). It’s great.

The issue I’m running into doesn’t have to do with Drafts per se, but rather how the iOS Mail app handles signatures. On iOS I use Mail for both my personal email and work email; work because I have no choice (I’d love to use Outlook, but it has serious security issues that MS doesn’t seem to want to address), and personal because I’m emailing constantly from the share sheets of apps other than Mail, and iOS doesn’t let you specify a default email client other than Mail. (It’s 2015, right?) (And yes, I realize some third-party email apps have share extensions now.)

I use a signature on my work emails, but not on my personal emails, and therein lies the problem. I have any new emails generated outside of the Mail app default to using my personal address, because I don’t want to accidentally send via work email something not related to work. If you have a similar setup, and you’ve ever tried to switch a draft email from an account with no signature to one with a signature, you know that the sheet just disappears. No error, no actions, just *poof*, and whatever you typed is gone forever.

Obviously, I found this incredibly frustrating, especially in view of the Drafts action I mention above, because it basically meant I couldn’t use the action and instead would have to type out the email address of every one on my team every time I wanted to send an email to them. I played around with this some and it turns out that if you simply add a “space” character to the signature of your email account that currently has no signature (from within the Mail settings), Mail won’t shit the bed when you switch from that account to your “work” account; instead, Mail substitutes in the proper signature as you’d expect and you get on with your day.

From the Razer Boomslang to the Zowie FK2

July 03, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted that I needed new mice. I had been using a Razer Diamondback 3G for the last eight years, and other Razer mice before then, including the original Boomslang. They stopped selling the Diamondback 3G a number of years ago, but I just kept buying them off of eBay. They’re very difficult to find (new) these days, and while the three I have work perfectly fine, they’re disgusting and probably can’t be properly cleaned at this point.

One of the first responses I got to the tweet mentioned above was from Twitter follower @crspence, who implored me to get a Zowie FK1. A what?! I thought for sure it was bullshit because of the name alone. I haven’t been deep into PC gaming for about 15 years, and so I had never even heard of the company. I did a little research and realized they were legit and used by lots of pro gamers.

After looking at their models I quickly decided on the FK2, because it’s basically the FK1 (the one that was recommended), but ambidextrous, which means it’s symmetrical (and with my “claw grip” I only use symmetrical mice ;). The FK models are similar to the Diamondback 3G in the sense that they’re relatively small, and their tracking is perfect and configurable, as is the polling rate.

I swear, I’ve tried nearly every mouse on the planet and something always felt weird with the tracking (especially Bluetooth mice), and often my hand would cramp up after lengthy use. I used the FK2 for just half a day before I ordered two more—one for work and, of course, a backup. I’ll likely order a couple more at some point. I mean, I do plan on using these until at least 2030. ;)

Back to The Hit List

June 28, 2015

Long story, very, very short—I’ve started using The Hit List again. The what?! Yeah, the same THL whose developer I was so upset with in 2011, because he kind of fell off the face of the earth, and development lagged and lagged and lagged. He eventually sold the app to Karelia Software, which has kept a steady development pace ever since.

My big issue with THL is that though it offers a crazy-fast sync service, it doesn’t encrypt your data at rest (what year is it?), and so it’s not something I can use. If you’re following along, that means I’m running THL only on my iPhone 6 Plus. (Semi-related: I like the iOS icon.)

Not being able to enter tasks from my Mac is annoying, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Truth is, I do so much of my job these days from my phone, that it’s rarely even out of my hands anymore. Will I tire of the inability to enter tasks from anywhere other than my phone? Maybe, but I am really enjoying using THL again, and after installing it, I quickly remembered why it always was my favorite task management app.

If I do end up sticking with this iPhone-only approach, I’ll be able to futz around with all of the other task management apps that don’t offer secure syncing, e.g., Things, Todoist…basically everything but OmniFocus.

All PayPal everything

June 21, 2015

I figured this was common practice, but after seeing some co-workers’ reactions to my mentioning it, I guess maybe it isn’t? In any event, the general idea is that I use PayPal whenever and wherever possible. Do I particularly like PayPal? No, but it is about as ubiquitous as internet-based payment services get (and you can pay for things with either a checking account or credit/debit card).

The main reason I try to concentrate payments there (especially recurring payments) is that it lessens substantially the number of services I have to update if and when my debit/credit card numbers get stolen. In the past year my card number has been stolen twice, and when that happens, as you likely know, it’s a damn pain going to the site of every service you use and changing the card number on record.

My process now when a card number gets stolen is 1) I add my replacement card number to PayPal and remove the old one; and 2) I reference a list I maintain of the services I pay for that don’t use PayPal, and update each of them. It’s a real time-saver.

On iOS badges and information density

June 12, 2015


Invariably, every time I post a screenshot of my iOS homescreen to Twitter, the @replies roll in fast and furious regarding the badges on many of my icons. The comments range from “Wow, how can you stand all those badges?!”, to “Wow, you’re so behind on x, you should just give up!”. Nonsense, all of them.

The pocket computer (for the past few years I've loathed calling these things phones) is a tool. I use it for work, play, and damn near everything in between. I’m fond of saying that these days I can do 90% of my job from this hand-held machine—it’s THE BEST. Also, I’m an information junkie and to actively not surface data that I think would be useful seems insane to me.

Does that mean I get notifications and badges for every app on my iPhone? Of course not. You’ll notice, for example, that the Mail app has no badge. Of course that’s not because there is no unread email (honestly, it’s a safe bet that each day I deal with more email than you or anyone you know), but rather because that information wouldn’t help me at all—I always know there’s a kajillion emails waiting for me. (For the record, I also don’t get notifications for email—work or personal—because it makes no sense to be interrupted with a small fire every 30 seconds.)

I’m on my iOS device 10+ hours a day. I like to be able to, at a glance, get a sense for where certain things are, and badges help me do that; I like to know what my various “queues” look like (e.g., RSS, Instapaper, Slack, messages, etc.). I don’t look at this device 1000 times a day because I have a pretty background (I do) or because I’ve rearranged my icons into a “fun” pattern (I haven’t). I look at it 1000 times a day to get stuff done and manage my time.

The iPhone is a beautiful tool, but a tool nonetheless. Let the machines work for you now, because soon enough we’ll be working for them.

The reasons above are the same reasons why I use the “Modular” watch face on my Apple Watch, and frankly, it never even crossed my mind to use any other. The whole point of me glancing at my watch is to glean some information (above and beyond just the time), not to see how cute Mickey Mouse can look while eating up 50% of my beautiful retina display.

Read Ruler sorts your Pocket queue by article length#

The inability to sort by reading time has long been a pain point for me with Pocket. I read more than nearly everyone—according to the stats Pocket puts out each year I read more than 99.9% of other users, and that doesn’t include books!—and so an easy way to auto-sort by article length (a feature Instapaper has had for a good while) would be welcomed with open arms.

Enter Read Ruler, which “lists your articles saved in Pocket by reading time and can also automatically add reading time tags to each article on Pocket”. It’s a brilliant solution and faster than I ever thought would be possible, especially given how large my queue is (it usually hovers between 550 and 600 articles). And yes, you can define your WPM and it will adjust its time-to-read tags accordingly.

One almost smart feature of Read Ruler is that it lets you specify tags you already use to signal to the service that articles so tagged should be filtered out of the article lists shown to you at I say almost smart because I think it should go one step further and exempt entirely those tagged articles from Read Ruler analysis. The Pocket share extension on iOS lets you specify tags at save time, and so, for example, I routinely use “media” as a way of specifying that the content is a video; even though an article is already tagged with “media”, Read Ruler still gives it a time-to-read tag as well, and so this video shows up in my list of 1-minute articles.

Kindle issues, years on

April 25, 2015

I've had every generation of physical Kindle device (yes, even the DX…and I loved it) and have used every iteration of the iOS software, and still, after all of these revisions, I have a single niggle with each implementation (that doesn't exist in the other implementation).

In iOS I hate that I still can't scroll through my books. I’m instead made to page through them like it's Q12006. For whatever reason, and it may be just a feeling, I feel like I read faster when I scroll. (Maybe because I tend to keep my eyes focused on the same physical area of the device and scroll content through that area?)

With the physical devices, the thing that still really irks me is that it insists on showing the percentage of the book completed. I was hoping the Voyage would rectify this, but no dice. Amazon, no one wants to see this all of the time! You've always hidden this in the iOS app, so why not here too? You hide it in the web reader as well, and the Mac app! (UPDATE: Minutes after posting this, David Dixon reached out to me on Twitter to let me know that this information can indeed be suppressed on the physical devices. On my Voyage, I simply tap the bottom left of the screen, where by default it says “Loc XXX”; tapping there cycles through the display options, including displaying nothing!)

All of that said, I LOVE my Kindle(s), and continue to read like a crazy person.

"Blogging" with Twitter and Instapaper

April 01, 2015

With the advent of “textshots”—screenshots of text linked within tweets (and viewed inline on many Twitter clients)—I’ve decided to try something new with Twitter: “blogging”. (You can find me at jblanton.) Because Jekyll doesn’t yet run on my phone (it’s coming…I know it is…right?!), and because I’m rarely in front of my home computer these days (for personal and professional reasons), I’m having a go at using textshots for the content that usually would find its way into a “linked-list” post here (i.e., posts where I have little to nothing to add to a linked article, other than maybe calling out a particular passage and/or making a smart-ass comment).

The first solution I came across that truly automated the end-to-end generation of textshots was Federico Viticci’s Workflow, which is a dizzying string of operations. Soon after that came out, OneShot debuted and made all of this even easier, but it still required you to 1) take a screenshot from within whatever app you were using to read the content you wanted to share and 2) switch to OneShot to complete the process. Finally, Instapaper 6.2 made this easier still by building the functionality directly into the app itself, which is why last weekend I switched back to Instapaper again (from Pocket). (Ugh. Yes, I’ve done this dance many, many times.)

Using this new feature, the flow of posting a textshot to Twitter is so low friction, so delightful, and so fast, that I just feel compelled to post more links to Twitter, and thus write this post about it. (Yes, Medium recently added a similar feature, but of course that’s limited to articles shared from…Medium.) Relatedly, be sure to not miss Brian Donohue’s article re how he built this feature in 72 hours; it’s a great read.

If I had to describe a niggle I have with the textshot implementation it’s that it doesn’t automatically include the title of the linked page in the draft tweet. I think that should be the default, and then I can edit/delete as desired; as it stands now I have to manually type out the title.

As a bonus, Instapaper 6.2 also added a speed reading feature. I’ve used most of the available one-word-at-a-time apps, especially those that talk directly to Pocket and/or Instapaper, but I rarely jump into them because the archiving, deleting, and moving operations are always a little clunky, or worse, don’t exist at all. Given that this functionality is now just a two-tap, in-app process, I suspect I’ll start using it more.

I last went back to Instapaper when they announced their highlights feature, which I thought I’d find a lot of utility in with respect to linked-list posts, but for various reasons, and as mentioned above, I’m not in front of my home machine too much these days and just wasn’t using it. At some point thereafter I went back to Pocket, mainly because there were a couple of services I used that didn’t support Instapaper, but did support Pocket (e.g., Prismatic), and I felt like Pocket’s article parsing was a bit more robust.


The other day on Twitter I asked about WayTools‘ TextBlade portable keyboard; it had caught my attention a few days earlier and I was curious to know if anyone had any experience with it. Turns out MacRumors did a lengthy piece on it that I encourage all of you to read. After getting through that article I immediately preordered one (and it’s shipping mid-May).

I’ve owned nearly every desktop and portable keyboard ever made (well, all of the great ones anyway ;), and am very excited about the possibility of using this thing as my only keyboard—that’s right, Mac and iPhone. I realize this may be a pipe dream, but hey, let me hold on to it for a couple of months.

Also, what an awesome and apt product name, right?

Newsweek interviews Rick Rubin#

Your taste—your ear—has been spot-on again and again, across genres. What’s the secret? I never decide if an idea is good or bad until I try it. So much of what gets in the way of things being good is thinking that we know. And the more that we can remove any baggage we’re carrying with us, and just be in the moment, use our ears, and pay attention to what’s happening, and just listen to the inner voice that directs us, the better. But it’s not the voice in your head. It’s a different voice. It’s not intellect. It’s not a brain function. It’s a body function, like running from a tiger.


Yes. But being open to using your instincts instead of going, “Oh, that’s not going to work.” Or listening to the part of your brain that goes, “Oh, that’s out of tune.” Or the part of your brain that says, “That’s too loud.” You have to shut off all of those voices and look for these special moments—these moments that you accept you have no control over. So much of my job is to not think—to be open to what’s there, and then use my intuition to see where it takes me.

An incredible article about an incredible talent. Though I don’t create music (unless my amazing finger drumming counts), I approach listening to it in much the same way as Rubin. Music plays—and always has played—such a huge role in my life (and the regulation of my emotions), and I’m ever quick to not dismiss any genre, because I appreciate good music and lyrics, no matter the style. Sure, I prefer certain genres to others, but I think I’ve lost myself to nearly all of them at one point or another.

LaunchBar and simple math

January 18, 2015

This is another of those super simple LaunchBar features that, it seems, most people don’t know exists. Once you invoke LaunchBar, if you start your command with a number and a mathematical operator, LaunchBar will do the math. For example, if you punch in “2+2”, LaunchBar will present “4” without any further input.

If you press return, the equation will disappear from the input bar and just the result will show there; if you then start typing an operator, the “saved” result acts as the first operand.

It’s great.

Humans drink alcohol because of evolution and bad fruit#

The results suggested there was a single genetic mutation 10 million years ago that endowed human ancestors with an enhanced ability to break down ethanol. The scientists noted that the timing of this mutation coincided with a shift to a terrestrial lifestyle. The ability to consume ethanol may have helped human ancestors dine on rotting fruit that fell on the forest floor when other food was scarce.

So, um, hrm, I, uh, put a case on my iPhone 6 Plus

January 13, 2015

I’ve owned 50+ phones since 1999 and I’ve never used a case. Not once. The iPhone 6 Plus has forced my hand.

It will surprise no one to hear that I’m not a “case guy”. They offend me, and surely they offend the designers of the device they’re meant to protect. But, every once in a while, a product comes along that requires a case, and unfortunately, the iPhone 6 Plus falls into this category.

The issue is that this phone is SLIPPERY. It’s like a wet fish. It feels like Teflon. Seriously, it’s uncomfortable to hold the phone a lot of the time—especially if your hands are dry at all (and you live in dry-ass California, like me)—for fear that it’s just going to fly off and slice someone open, or worse, hit the ground.

So, what did I buy? It’s called The Scarf (ugh), and it’s great. It’s .3mm thin (you read that right), weighs next to nothing (0.2 ounces), and fits the 6 Plus like a glove; in other words, it hardly exists at all (especially in the clear/white color I got). Moreover, it’s just  $9.99 at Amazon.

It’s finished with a slightly rough texture that provides a nice amount of friction when you hold it. Is it going to protect your phone from a 10-foot drop? Probably not, but that’s not why I bought it. I bought it to make the phone more comfortable to hold and use, and it does that exceedingly well. Plus—and maybe this is the strongest endorsement I can give—I’m not embarrassed by it.

If you’re an aesthete and a minimalist, this probably is the case for you.

The books I read in 2014

January 02, 2015

Below is a list of the books I managed to power through in 2014, and below that is a list of the books I’m currently reading.




Currently, I’m reading the following books:

The dominant "life form" in the cosmos is probably superintelligent robots#

The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there’s what Schneider calls the “short window observation”—the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they’re probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. […]

“As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI,” Shostak said. “At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.” […]

Most of the radio-hot civilizations out there are probably thousands to millions of years older than us. […] “The way you reach this conclusion is very straightforward,” said Shostak. “Consider the fact that any signal we pick up has to come from a civilization at least as advanced as we are. Now, let’s say, conservatively, the average civilization will use radio for 10,000 years. From a purely probabilistic point of view, the chance of encountering a society far older than ourselves is quite high.”

SKEYE Nano Drone#

Meet the SKEYE Nano Drone, the world’s smallest quadcopter measuring just 4.0 x 4.0 centimer (or 1.57 x 1.57 inch)!