I’ve solved my podcast problem

Since I started using Rdio I’ve run into a prob­lem: I never open iTunes. This is mostly okay as Rdio replaced my local iTunes library. The down­side is that my pod­casts live in iTunes. By not open­ing the app the pod­casts never update and I for­get they exist.

A few days ago some­one, I have no idea who to credit because Twitter search is a clus­ter­fuck, who I fol­low on Twitter men­tioned Instacast. It’s fantastic.

Instacast gives you a native iOS app that is built around one thing: sub­scrib­ing and lis­ten­ing to pod­casts. It’s a great exam­ple of a focused app that does one thing and does it really damn well. Best of all it’s not con­nected to my iTunes library. My pod­casts now update every time I open Instacast. No need to be chained to iTunes.

The player is also tuned specif­i­cally for pod­casts. The built-in Music app places a vol­ume slider at the bot­tom, Instacast has a time slider. It still has all the nec­es­sary things like AirPlay and local caching.

Overall it’s just a really well-polished app. I’m excited to get back into pod­casts now that they’re more eas­ily updated right on my iPhone.

The Hit List Review

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I’m using The Hit List as my task app. Before, I used OmniFocus which was good but was just too much for my needs. I don’t need the flex­i­bil­ity per­spec­tives offer, the sync was pretty slow, and the user inter­face was just not my style. The Hit List is a won­der­ful change and a really well done app.

UI Gold

A nice inter­face doesn’t make up for a sub par app. But, when you start with a well designed app like The Hit List a gor­geous inter­face really makes the app shine. Those small touches I men­tioned in the ear­lier post are just part of the story though.

For exam­ple, task entry in the iPhone app is a thing of brilliance.

Task entry in The Hit List for iPhone

Not only is the adding inter­face sim­ple but once you start typ­ing one task you get that slick plus but­ton in the bot­tom right. Want to add another task right away? It’s just a tap away.

This thought­ful­ness car­ries over into the desk­top app in more ways than I have time to men­tion. One of my favorite fea­tures though is the abil­ity to view any task as a card.

Any task can be viewed like this and you’ll see the title, tags, date infor­ma­tion, and a totally free form note field. I use this view way more than I first thought I would. In some ways it’s replaced how I use Notational Velocity. If I have a quick idea for a blog post I can just cre­ate a new task and start writ­ing. It’s a great way to just cap­ture infor­ma­tion for later.

These two fea­tures allow me to really get the most out of The Hit List. I can get right into the app on my iPhone or on my lap­top and start right into inputting information.

The whole point of a task app is to not spend gobs of time with it. You’re sup­posed to spend all that time on the actual tasks. :) So, it’s cru­cial for an app to make it easy for me to get in, enter my infor­ma­tion, cross things off, and get out. That’s exactly what The Hit List does.

A smart app

Another area where it’s clear Andy Kim spent a lot of time work­ing on is the lit­tle things sur­round­ing tasks. The repeat­ing task inter­face is a great exam­ple of this.

Like other task apps The Hit List uses nat­ural lan­guage pro­cess­ing to parse what you mean when repeat­ing a task. For exam­ple, if I type “1st” it auto­mat­i­cally sets the task to repeat every month of the first.

Similarly typ­ing “Mondays” or “Monday, Tuesday” will, respec­tively, repeat it on every Monday or every Monday and Tuesday. Just another way The Hit List lets me add tasks with­out think­ing about how to use the app.

The task fil­ing I men­tioned in the ear­lier post is another exam­ple of this. It’s seri­ously incred­i­ble. With one or two key­strokes I can select a task and file it where it needs to go. Or, with a cou­ple of key­strokes I can go to any list I have cre­ated.1

There’s more too

That barely scratches the sur­face of my love for this app. Almost every day I find myself amazed by how won­der­ful it is. It takes just a few min­utes to learn the basics of the app and not much more time to really mas­ter it.

The Hit List cer­tainly isn’t one of the cheap­est task apps out there. It’s $49.95 for the desk­top app, $9.99 for the iPhone app, and $19.99 a year for cloud sync­ing.2

Sure, it’s a siz­able out­lay for soft­ware but I can’t think of an app that you’d want to spend more on than a task app. It’s your dig­i­tal brain, invest in it and you’ll get way, way more than $80 of value out of it.

Andy Kim has done a ter­rific job with this app. As an early beta tester I can say that the 1.0 desk­top app and the long-awaited iPhone app have blown away my expec­ta­tions from when I started using it a few years ago.

  1. All it takes is press­ing “g” and then typ­ing the list you want to go to.
  2. Syncing which is blaz­ing fast by the way.

WaPo tries to seat TBD.com at the kids’ table

The arti­cle pub­lished today by The Washington Post about TBD.com, is pretty sad. It is rarely a good thing when make your child­ish atti­tude clear in the first 8 words. That’s not a lede, it’s a put down.

Also, who the heck decided to put the term com­mu­nity engage­ment in scare quotes? Perhaps it’s more depress­ing that The Post does not even know what that idea means. If the com­pany had cared about com­mu­nity maybe they wouldn’t have had to sell Newsweek for a dol­lar.

End of year reviews and the grading system

This would be ideal:

In my ideal man­age­ment world, a review is sim­ply a doc­u­men­ta­tion of well-known facts, your per­for­mance over the year. It also con­tains con­struc­tive advice and insight regard­ing how your boss believes you can improve on that per­for­mance. My dream is that you already know all of this infor­ma­tion because you’ve been get­ting year-round feed­back from your boss.

Minimalism and my ideal news experience

As I’ve men­tioned before I’ve been using Shaun Inman’s Fever for a while now as my sole RSS reader. The more I use it the more I come to love it and in the last few days I’ve real­ized why: it does exactly what I want it to and no more.

In my case I want to use my RSS reader for one thing: read­ing. This is why I felt that it was worth $30 to move away from Google Reader.

As Google has devel­oped Reader over the past years and months I’ve felt that they’ve strayed from the orig­i­nal idea of pro­vid­ing a light­weight and fast way to stay on top of the news that’s impor­tant to you. If I want to share an arti­cle, save it for later, email it to a friend, or “like” it I have my own ways of doing that and don’t want those fea­tures to infringe upon the pri­mary pur­pose of my RSS reader.

The fact that I was so will­ing to drop $30 on a prod­uct that I couldn’t even use a demo of is a tes­ta­ment to my faith in Shaun Inman as well as my sim­ple frus­tra­tion with Google. It also got me think­ing about news in gen­eral and the expe­ri­ences that most (if not all) major news orga­ni­za­tions provide.

Continue read­ing

A new Che film

Somehow this slipped by me when it came out, but appar­ently there is a new movie about the life of Che Guevara in which Benicio Del Toro again plays Che. The movie weighs in at almost 4 and a half hours long (which could be a good thing in my eyes). Alas, it was only released in select the­atres so I guess I’m left watch­ing it when it comes out on DVD.

Read the New York Times review here.

Michel Foucault — Discipline and Punish

I’m cur­rently read­ing and enjoy­ing Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Taken from Wikipedia is the summary/main information:

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is a book writ­ten by the philoso­pher Michel Foucault. Originally pub­lished in 1975 in France under the title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison, it was trans­lated into English in 1977. It is an exam­i­na­tion of the social and the­o­ret­i­cal mech­a­nisms behind the mas­sive changes that occurred in west­ern penal sys­tems dur­ing the mod­ern age. It focuses on his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments from France, but the issues it exam­ines are rel­e­vant to every mod­ern west­ern soci­ety. It is con­sid­ered a sem­i­nal work, and has influ­enced many the­o­rists and artists.

Foucault chal­lenges the com­monly accepted idea that the prison became the con­sis­tent form of pun­ish­ment due to human­i­tar­ian con­cerns of reformists, although he does not deny those. He does so by metic­u­lously trac­ing out the shifts in cul­ture that led to the prison’s dom­i­nance, focus­ing on the body and ques­tions of power. Prison is a form used by the “dis­ci­plines”, a new tech­no­log­i­cal power, which can also be found, accord­ing to Foucault, in schoolshos­pi­tals, mil­i­tary bar­racks, etc. The main ideas of Discipline and Punishcan be grouped accord­ing to its four parts: tor­ture, pun­ish­ment, dis­ci­pline and prison.

Read the full Wikipedia arti­cle.

A critique of Morrison

Finally, another human on this planet that does not think that Toni Morrison is the great­est writer alive. B.R. Myers writes of Morrison’s new novel A Mercy that:

How shal­low and vague that is; how glibly it breezes through the life of the mind. A Mercy is eked out with a few set pieces, but even they rush us through; the book never seems to set­tle into nar­ra­tive “real time.”

For all its cheer­less­ness, the novel is any­thing but grit­tily real­is­tic. Some scenes, such as one in which a char­ac­ter gets out of her bath “aslide with win­ter­green,” evince an effort to make even these mis­er­able lives pic­turesque. But Morrison’s fail­ure to evoke the period is more the fault of her all-too-contemporary prose style: “1682 and Virginia was still a mess.” No one likes an archaizer, apart from a mil­lion Cormac McCarthy fans, but a nov­el­ist writ­ing of the 17th cen­tury should at least avoid lan­guage that is jar­ringly incon­sis­tent or out of place. Reminiscing, the slaves vac­il­late between would-be-poetic English and an equally improb­a­ble sort of Hollywood Injun: “Shadows of men sat on bar­rels, then stood. They said they were told to break we in.” Anachronisms abound, from New Age lingo like “She gives off a bad feel­ing” to the dialect of the post­bel­lum South: “her born­ing young.” We are even told that our Anglo-Dutch trader had “gone head to head with rich gen­try.” What, and not drunk their milk shake?

For the one required class on cam­pus Freshman year we were required to read Beloved which I found to be a self-indulgent and arro­gant piece of lit­er­ary crap. I have never been able to under­stand why Toni Morrison gets the praise that she does for her nov­els while other American writ­ers sim­ply get overshadowed.

Link to the orig­i­nal arti­cle.