I Subscribe to Way Too Many Newsletters…These are my Favorites

From Matt Birchler @ Birchtree:

I haven’t done a good List of Things I Like post in a while, so here goes! Here are some of the newsletters I subscribe to and enjoy basically every time they hit my inbox. And by doing this, I realized…wow, I subscribe to a lot!

This is a great list of newsletters to subscribe to if you’re a tech/design/gaming focused person.

Ever since I switched to Feedbin and can subscribe to newsletters with a custom email that then shows up in my RSS reader (thereby skipping my inbox entirely), I’ve really gone all-in on newsletters. I spoke about this a bit last year, when I tried to replicate some of HEY’s screening functionality by forwarding a ton of stuff to Feedbin and I can report it’s working great.

Everything New in the iOS 14.5 Beta

From Macrumors:

Apple today seeded the first betas of upcoming iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 updates, and while the new software serves as a deadline for when app developers must comply with App Tracking Transparency rules, there are also a handful of other changes worth noting.

The headline feature is the ability to unlock your phone with a watch when you’re wearing a mask. It’s also nice to see Apple getting into the habit of shipping features when they’re ready instead of rushing to get them all out at once. 

Apple News+ is Actually Good

Last fall, I came across a deal where you could get 4 months of Apple News+ for free. I figured I’d give it a shot to see if it was worth the $10/month as I’m a big believer in paying for quality news. Currently, I get most of my news from RSS, the New York Times, and Google News. I tend to send a lot of of those articles to Instapaper for reading later. I also listen to a ton of podcasts about sports, politics, news and other general-interest NPR-style content in Overcast. Was there a spot for another source of news & entertainment? I wasn’t convinced, but figured I’d give it a shot.

What You Get From Apple News+

Apple News+ is a section of the Apple News app that gives you access to hundreds of current & past issues of top magazines as well as audio versions of many of the top articles read by professionals. While you can get a lot of content for free with the base version of the app, the plus version is centered around full magazines and audio content on top of the basics.

Looking over the roster of magazines offered by News+, I quickly spotted a dozen or more publications I’d gladly read if I were to start using the service. Users are able to follow magazines they like, and you’ll see them show up when new issues are available. You’re able to set up notifications for when new issues are available, as well as download them for offline use if that’s your thing.

The News+ Magazine View

In addition, specific stories are recommended based on your reading history and taste both within the News+ interface and the main news feed when you’re browsing. I’ve found the recommendations to be pretty solid overall, and being able to give the stories a thumbs up/down have helped to weed out sources I don’t really enjoy.

On the iPhone, you can also access the audio versions of many top articles. There’s a tab to browse all audio stories, but the service also recommends stories to you much like it does within the main News+ section. What’s neat about the audio tab to me is the ability to create a playlist of stories to listen to.

News+ Audio Page

I’ve found that I’m spending more time listening to these articles over podcasts in the past few months, and I think I like it a lot better as audio entertainment because it’s “tighter” (and therefore much shorter but more informative), doesn’t have ad reads, and allows me to catch up on articles when doing chores or going for walks with my dog. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped listening to podcasts, but I was genuinely surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the News+ audio feature, and it’s one of the things that has kept me as a subscriber.

The Reading & Listening Experience

Reading articles can be done 2 ways in News+: either by jumping into individual magazine/newspaper articles via recommendations on the main feed, or as a complete magazine via the News+ tab. A few of the magazines are basically glorified PDFs and the readability on those is sub-par, but the majority of the issues are formatted for a screen like the iPad and are a pleasure to flip through.

While the reading experience is great, the interface to browse the magazines you follow is suboptimal – I wish there were a list you could access to view all of them instead of a small carousel at the top of the section. Overall, navigation in Apple News isn’t great – I wish you could configure tabs on the sidebar or hide things completely as well. It can be very tedious to organize or sort through everything even if the actual reading experience is pretty solid. Don’t even get me started on the Mac Catalyst version of the app. Honestly, I wish there were a web version for when I’m at my computer during the day. The MacOS app is that bad. Then again, you could say that about literally any app that is using Catalyst.

The listening experience is really nice – having a running playlist of stories you can listen to is super easy to get going with and you can reorder the queue in a way that’ll make any Apple Music users feel right at home. You can select any article and either play it now, play it next or play it last in the queue. Swiping in the queue will give you a few options to remove, “thumbs up/down” or move the story to the top/bottom. When playing you can select a few playback speeds (1x, 1.25x, 1.5x, 2x) but I’d like more granularity there if possible. Another neat thing is the ability to tab a button to take you the actual story in text form, right where you were listening at. This can be helpful if you need to jump back and forth between audio and text.

Why I’m Sticking with News+

The sources I use other than News+ won’t change after messing with this service for a few months but I do think I’m going to stick with it. What I like about News+ is how it makes the experience on my iPad and iPhone in particular so much nicer. On the iPad, it’s more of a “lean back” experience where I can flip through magazine articles, save things for later and enjoy the reading experience more than I can on the web. On the phone, the audio stories mean I’m getting to enjoy more journalism than ever in those times where I’m not sitting down and focusing solely on reading.

I feel like I’m consuming less “junk food” in the form of click-baity blog posts and rambling podcasts and I’m a lot happier and informed as a result. If you haven’t given News+ a chance, I’d recommend you give it another go.

The iPad is Now 11 Years Old

[edit: I wasn’t paying attention and initially said the iPad was 10 today. Corrected it in a few places. Sorry!]

11 years ago today, Apple announced the iPad at a special keynote. Jobs posed the question of if there was room for a “third device” between a computer and a smartphone. Tablets, and specifically the iPad, was their answer.

Jobs mentioned this 3rd type of device should be better at certain things than both desktops and phones. I think it’s a mixed bag 10+ years in: browsing the web (no), email (no), photos (yes), video (definitely yes), music (maybe), games (maybe), eBooks (yes, but still not as good as the Kindle). I have an iPad Pro and use it as my “personal computer”, but the jury is still out on if it’s truly better than using a computer in most cases.

Still, I’m excited about the improvements in both hardware and software over the next few years as there’s so much untapped potential while Apple attempts the delicate balancing act between ease of use and “computer like” functionality.

whitehouse.gov

As with all new incoming administrations, The White House website has been updated.  Lots of little details stand out, like accessibility enhancements around text size, dark mode and viewport accomidations.

Also, since it affects us all, I recommend you check out the covid-19 plan page. Lots of great detail in here around how the administration plans to tackle the pandemic. Specifically, the parts around overall guidance and treating lockdowns like a “dial”, spelling out the rollout plan so folks know when/where they can get vaccinated

None of this is novel at all. It’s all pretty common sense stuff but I’m hopeful to see clear, consistent communication from our state and national leaders.

Dawn

Holy hell, we actually made it!

After 4 years, the Trump presidency ended in a way that was fairly predictable, even if we didn’t know the specifics of how it’d go down. It’s really heartbreaking to think about what we got ourselves into, but this is what happens when you elect an incompetent conman with a lack of understanding of basic facts. On top of that, he’s proven to be a pathological liar who contributed massively to the political division in this country & helped nuke trust in key institutions. While the vast majority of Americans saw through his act and voted him out, it’s really sad to see how he’s dragged some of my family and friends deeper into the far-right cesspool.

Worst of all, we just crossed 400k deaths from COVID-19 and we all witnessed Trump’s lack of interest in doing the hard work of leading us during this awful period.

But hey, at least we got our tax cuts (that are going to start expiring this year), a partially completed “wall” that Mexico definitely is going to pay for any minute now, and a few far-right Supreme Court picks.

I’m not sure of what exactly can be done in this political climate, but I am hopeful that Biden is the right person to take the temperature down a bit and work on getting the country back on track. Some of his early cabinet picks aren’t as left as I’d personally like but I’m okay with centrist appointees who can find common ground with Congress and get to work. The Senate in particular has been on ice for years, passing nearly no new legislation to help make our lives better. There’s so much that we all can agree on, we just need someone to work to bring us together instead of sow division for political gain.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about having competent leadership again.

The Sedition Caucus

The New York Times has compiled a list of the Senators and Representatives who objected to certifying the results of the election.

We should not forget these cowards who insist on objecting to this election. None of them explicitly asked for what happened, but they are complicit in the events at the Capitol because they’re consistently misleading their base with lies & conspiracy theories because they think it’s politically advantageous to keep that group riled up. Senator Romney said it well yesterday – true leadership is telling hard truths.

Barry Loudermilk, my representative, is on the Sedition Caucus list and I look forward to working tirelessly to run him out of office.

Instapaper Season

With the next 2 weeks off of work, it’s one of my favorite times of the year – the season where I clean out hundreds of unread items in my Instapaper queue.

I’ve been using Instapaper since it launched over a decade ago, and it’s been one of my most used apps since. Over the course of the year I tend to collect hundreds of articles to read, and only some of those get read close to when I save them.

So, during the holidays I tend to resolve to plow through the queue in the mornings with my coffee, deleting the ones that are no longer relevant or interesting and reading all of the stuff I’ve been saving over the past 23 months.

What this means for you, dear reader, is that my Links page will get a ton of updates over the next few weeks as I star the most interesting reads. I hope you’ll follow along and hopefully find something interesting as well.

Unfriending Facebook

So, I finally deleted my Facebook account. This was something I’ve been batting around for what seems like years, but after about 6 months of having my account deactivated, I pressed the button earlier today and it felt good. So, why did I pull the plug?

In my opinion, Facebook is bad for our society and I didn’t feel comfortable remaining on the site any longer. My departure probably won’t keep Mr. Zuckerberg awake at night but getting out of that ecosystem makes me feel better, and it’s far more productive than scrolling through misinformation, arguments and conspiracy theories every day. Groups of Americans have always disagreed and argued about politics but typically you’d find ways to discuss issues or focus on things that you mutually wanted to discuss. Now people shout their craziest beliefs into the void with no regard for what it might cause or who might read it, all the while demonizing people who don’t agree with them. Fun fact: folks agree on far more than we think we do, but our time on social media pushes us further into camps while demonizing those who are different than we are on the edges.

There’s little we can do to change folks minds on social platforms that feed people more and more polarized and inflammatory content, but by leaving we might be able to further marginalize Facebook as a place people want to spend their time. It’s important to think about what you put in and what you get out of a site like Facebook or Twitter and what it’s doing to our society and relationships. We’ll all land at different conclusions there and that’s fine, but hopefully you’re using it because it makes you happy and is the best way to connect with friends. But honestly, I doubt that’s happening.

About 6 months ago, I deactivated my Facebook account. I wanted to take stock of what things I’d be missing before dramatically pressing the delete button, so I did a quick audit of what I’d be missing out on:

  • Facebook Messenger. I scanned the conversations I’d had on the messenger app in the past 6 months and I had everyone’s phone number with the exception of one. I messaged that person and let them know I’d be leaving and exchanged numbers. Easy.
  • My neighborhood Facebook group. While 99% of it is folks complaining or arguing, there are some occasional announcements or useful tidbits that emerge from the neighborhood group. That said, I was spending less than a few minutes a week looking at those posts and usually had a lesser opinion of my neighbors than I did going in. I’ll take the risk here. Plus, I can always ask my wife to post on there if need be!
  • Staying connected with friends and seeing their posts. I wasn’t really looking at those anyway, so things won’t be any different than they were before. I’ll just try harder to reach out to folks via other methods like text, FaceTime etc.
  • The traffic Facebook sends to my site via the (now closed) Facebook page for this site. Since shutting that page down, I’ve seen about a 15% drop in traffic. I’ll live without it.

The one thing I didn’t mention above was Instagram. I still maintain an account there for now and the reason is that I view Instagram as a generally positive place that doesn’t have many of the same echo chamber & argumentative problems that Facebook has. That said, they have the same leadership and it’s entirely possible I’ll have to revisit that decision if (when?) they make changes that turn that place into a cesspool of humanity as well.

I’m hopeful that over time we can continue to move to smaller-scale sharing of content with family and friends. Things like iCloud photo sharing, text message groups and Slack groups bring me much more happiness than social media ever has. Even if you do stay on Facebook, I’d encourage you to unfollow brands™, political news sites, meme accounts and the like. You’ll be a lot happier if you do.