Deleting To-Dos with extreme prejudice

Note: Day 5 of the #Trust30 initiative.

It’s funny that I keep forgetting that there are 2 ways to cross things off your to-do list. Yes, one of them is to Get Stuff Done, and I’m a big fan of that.

But it’s actually more important to Not Get The Wrong Stuff Done.

The prompt from the Trust30 initiative is based on what you’d do with a week left in your life. In that case, I’d probably create an entirely new list. But as it is, I have the luxury of a larger time budget, and am going to try to accomplish more than I would with a week left to live.

This week, my focus is going to be to take my big to-do list and run them against the “internal compass” I’ve set forward for myself according to these goals:

1.) Make time to let my family know they’re special to me.

2.) Become a better programmer.

3.) Improve my health & get in running shape.

4.) Make my workplace a better place to be.

It’s easy to work extra hard to clear stuff off your plate. But people will never, ever stop dumping things on your plate. My goal for this week is to pick and choose the items that reflect my internal goals.

I don’t know exactly how yet, but I’m trying to learn to separate “wheat from chaff” and mercilessly terminate the rest of my to-dos without looking back.

No, it’s not perfect, but life is literally too short to worry about “clearing your plate” every day.

My notes from Greg’s video response

Not a post per se, but I thought I’d collect my notes from Greg’s video here for my purposes. Excellent advice throughout if you care about OSS at all. (You should still watch the video.)

The desire to get a sticker that says “you’re ready” is social conditioning that is incompatible with the diversity of work needed in open source. Being ready is just a commitment to help and a project compatible with any of your skills.

“The skills you’d need to help this project” and “ticket difficulty” would be good clarifications for maintainers. Also, “Newbie friendly” projects should clearly say that they offer more support.

It’d be nice to have a place where projects were centralized and organized by topic advertised for contribution

Not knowing where to start is OK, you just have to be able to deal with running down a couple of blind alleys first.

Failing at pull requests is winning at learning the project.

Bugmashes are a great way to dip your toe in the water and it means you’ve got a built-in invite.

Contribution guidelines may not be how you’d work in isolation, but are typically critical for the long-term viability of a project. Your patch is a one-time commitment for you, but the maintainer has to live with it forever. Keep that in mind.

Guidelines should be stated up front. For non-conforming contributions, maintainers could apply fixes for that first time, and provide feedback for future contributions.

Maintainers are as busy as busier than you are. Fixing & integrating your patches can take longer than doing the work themselves.

Not every maintainer is interested in contribution, and those who aren’t should probably put up “noobs keep off the grass” signs.

“Open source is for people who are better at this than me” is flat-out false.

Finding a bug (either organically or via a tracker) and writing a failing test case is a great way in. From there, trying to actually fix the problem is a great way to learn a codebase.

It’s a bit unfair to expect maintainers to be community-builders as well as hackers.

You shouldn’t expect immediate praise for a patch you submit, as it takes time to review and safely accept a patch. When not accepting a patch, a maintainer doesn’t always take the time to explain why they didn’t accept it.

Maintainers need to remove as many hoops as possible or risk losing many, many good contributors.

If you need a hand to hold, that’s OK, go find someone outside the project (like a coworker, user group, pair programmer, or hackfest)

If hacking takes you too long, you may have picked too large a problem. Try thinking smaller and solving an easier problem.

“The idea that you’re supposed to learn this stuff on your own is patently false.”

The idea of trying to privately study until you’ve arrived as an open-source coder is a recipe for failure.

If you just want to contribute, shop around a bit for a good fit for you, i.e. high level of developer support.

Expecting a vibrant, barn-raising community or a shark tank is drawing too sweeping a conclusion. It’s an ecosystem made up of smaller cultures. This means you need to find someone to help you find the subculture that fits you, and then work toward making the whole ecosystem better.

You probably have more resources at your disposal than you know… In my case, I could have used community resources already at my disposal rather than writing a frustrated 2 AM blog post.

Saying “You Suck, New Programmers” is not helpful.

After posting my last entry, I saw an article (via Jon Baer’s tumblr):

10 Reasons Why People Initially Suck at Programming

I kind of want to take it point by point, because the title and attitude of the article waver between helpful and douchey.

1. Programming isn’t right for everyone? Wrong. Everyone should know how to write code, at least a little. In this computer-driven society, it’s part of knowing how the world works.

2. It takes time. Duh. That’s not particularly helpful.

3. They have the wrong attitude. What? Learning to program is a profoundly humbling activity. The only enemy is the tempting option to quit in frustration at ourselves.

4. Start with the basics. Exactly. Ignoring advanced programming theory and sticking to basics is the only way through without bending your head into a pretzel.

5. Google. Google. Google. Google. 70% of my programming is done via Google. But that leads to its own set of frustrations, as I outlined in my last entry.

6. Plan ahead. Not at first. Advising to plan it out on paper first is solid, but not really for beginners. That’s like TDD: you have to know what you’re planning, and that comes through painful, blind fumbling at first.

7. Google your errors. Yes. Although this kind of an addendum to #4.

8. Study the language & syntax first. Wrong. My problem when starting out was “too many books”. I had all this abstract learning about Ruby, but little hands-on experience. When putting fingers to keyboard, I quickly learned I knew nothing. Everything I really, truly know came from failing, then looking up or asking, then doing it right the 2nd, 3rd, or 50th time.

9. What’s your algorithm? What? Asking a new programmer for an algorithm is just plain mean. But I think there are 2 gems in this bullet: “sleep on it” (works for me) and “you’re making it too complicated” (almost always true!).

10. Don’t wait for someone else to help. Eh… I think a big part of what’s wrong with programming is this “lone wolf” style that produces wanna-be rockstars and cowboy coders. No, you shouldn’t wait on someone to help, but there should absolutely be more resources and people to help new developers.

That’s my point-by-point analysis. I feel strongly about this, but if you disagree, feel free to comment or bitch me out on twitter.

3 reasons Apple won’t repeat its iPod domination

GigaOm posted a great story about Android’s return salvo against the iPhone this week. Will it be enough to stop or even slow Apple’s momentum? Not likely. Does it matter? Also, no.

Apple’s utter domination of the MP3 market was swift, clean, and complete. And the ruthless super geniuses at Apple doubled down on the iPod’s own worst nightmare: a portable touchscreen computer, disguised as a phone, that would cannibalize iPod sales into oblivion.

So is Apple poised to own the mobile handset market? Nope. What about smartphones? Still no. Here are 3 reasons it’s different this time:

1. Why iPod won: Massive quality gap

Source: Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com

Remember the Archos jukebox? No? Well, I was excited for it. But within a couple of weeks of use, the silver paint on the cheap plastic wore off, buttons came loose, and the hard drive failed. These devices were constructed like dollar-store children’s toys.

And user interface? I think of myself as technically-inclined, but never, ever figured out how to create a playlist on the Archos. Copying music was a hair-pulling mess; loading the device took literally all night.

Then the iPod came along. You plugged it in, and it slurped up all my music, playlists included, from iTunes in just minutes, charging the device off of the same FireWire cable. The scroll wheel took the process of finding a song from 5-10 minutes to 10 seconds.

Competitors plodded along with sloppy (or just plain odd) design, bad UI, and stupid control gimmicks like joysticks or sliders. I’m convinced Apple put out the 3rd-Gen iPod just to send competitors down the blind alley of touch-sensitive controls.

By the time anyone could catch up (and they never did), the war was over.

Why it’s different now: Narrower quality gap.

Android and Palm are both nipping at Apple’s heels on user interface, and absolutely eating Apple’s lunch on features like multitasking and notifications. The Droid’s screen embarrassed the iPhone many months before Apple had a chance to unveil the cleverly-branded “Retina Display”, which to my (apparently) feeble eyes, is not appreciably sharper than its Android competition.

On Android, transitions are wonky, text could look better, and the whole experience could feel a lot more cohesive. Palm’s failings were definitely not on the UI side, but in hardware and marketing. Microsoft is so far behind it’s tough to imagine them catching up at all now, but it’s not hard to imagine Palm-now-HP making a strong showing for this holiday season and giving us an interesting 3-horse race.

2. Why iPod won: Market perception

Source: iLounge.com

The iPod was a fashion accessory almost as much as a music device. It was a way to buy into a club that sat at the intersection of technology and fashion (with apologies to liberal arts).

Apple’s marketing evolved from music (I doubt many remember the Miles Davis images on the first-gen iPods), to a white device clipped to the belts of hipster silhouettes.

As it went more mainstream, the public felt that anyone caught without an iPod was left behind. It was very much a “gotta-have-it” gadget, whether or not consumers were informed about how it actually worked.

Why it’s different now: Wildly different market perception.

An iPod can be a fashion accessory first and a media player second. A phone’s job is to make phone calls first. Yes, it can be fashionable (and the iPhone 4 finally is), but that’s not its sole purpose. Consumers are aware of all the things they can do with the iPhone, and they’re generally aware that they can do many, if not all, of those things with Android.

The deadliest sin Om posts about is the fragmentation of iPod’s competitors, but they were a rag-tag bunch of also-rans. Android has created a perception of itself as a cohesive brand to be reckoned with. Go ahead, ask an average consumer if they think FroYo is fragmenting the Android platform and see what they say. Then ask them whether they’d choose Android and iPhone, and see if you get a bit more than a blank stare. I’d say Android is easily Google’s strongest marketing to date.

3. Why iPod won: No counter-demand

There were a number of options that sat opposite the iPod, but there wasn’t much they could do that the iPod didn’t do better.

After the launch of the iTunes store in ’04, there was a kerfuffle (love that word) over DRM, and hardcore geeks put their support behind the few remaining MP3 makers like Rio and iRiver. But the general public remained uneducated on vendor lock-in for a couple more years, and no average consumer could even feign excitement for any supposed “iPod killer”.

Why it’s different now: Strong counter-demand. Sure, much of this is demand for an iPhone-like smartphone on other carriers. But having waited this long by AT&T’s side has absolutely entrenched Android in the minds of consumers as a comparable product. And a lot of credit is due to better-educated consumers in the age of rapid-fire information from Twitter and tumbleogs.

But most of all, Apple’s made a huge mess for itself by locking down their platform according to their own whims and shrouding the whole process in Willy-Wonka-style secrecy. There’s a huge pent-up demand for a decent alternative, and Android’s done a good job of getting its foot in the door with one word: “open”.

Final thoughts, and a warning to Android

I do have one caution for Android: the lack of polish is hurting them. Sprint’s new campaign priding themselves on being there “first” with 4G and video calls is terrifying. Manufacturers often race to check a “feature” box (wi-fi, 4G, video calls, multitasking) without much concern as to how a user will actually use the feature on the device.

Most people don’t want to have to manually kill tasks in a task manager. Most people won’t sign up for a Qik account and install 3rd party software to make video calls. Most people don’t want to navigate hierarchal folders on a mobile device. And they definitely don’t want to have to sift through app store spam.

So Apple bides their time and drops in these features once they feel that average people are likely to use them. Most people do notice when animated transitions look jerky and chintzy, even if they can’t put their finger on 10 vs. 30 frames per second. This lack of attention to detail is OK for a while, but it’s exactly what makes Apple so deadly as a competitor.

For my part, I hope Google steps it up in the UI and app curation areas. As much as I love Apple, if Google gets their act together I may wind up switching to Android due to Apple’s refusal to play nice with Google Voice.

Dumping AT&T would just be icing on the cake.

My first week with the iPad

After spending time with the iPad, I have to admit: it does feel like I’m interacting with the future of computing. Simple, elegant, fun, hassle-free. I don’t think you should have to tether to a computer to get this experience, but it’s a pretty decent start. Here are my “notes from the field” after a week with an iPad:

THE HARDWARE

The first thing I did was to put the precious iPad into its first-party case (more on that below), so it took a few days for me to wrest the iPad from of its case and get a feel for how precise and perfect everything feels. I’ve come to expect that from Ive and the team at Apple, but it’s nice to feel that kind of quality in something this compact. It’s a big jump up from the iPhone 3GS.

Battery life is just astonishing. It is like witchcraft. I am a heavy, heavy user, and I recharge 1 time a day. Yesterday, after using it for a little email and web surfing, I had 97% when I got home from work.

THE ACCESSORIES

The case is substandard, but that’s to be expected. My experience with Apple is that they lack the kind of passion for their accessories that they have for their hardware/software. If you remember the first iPod case, packed-in with the 3rd-gen iPod: A flat piece of nylon, bent into a U shape, with a piece of elastic sewn in to hold the iPod inside the U (but leaving the top and sides exposed). It was a piece of crap, but it had a belt clip. It would do until the third parties caught on (and catch on they did).

Apple only produces an accessory when they don’t want to wait for accessory makers to take the lead. In this (ahem) case, Apple saw that a thin cover that makes a wedge, covers the screen, and can stand up is of great utility. And it is! It’s just a piece of crap. The edges are heat-fused, sharp and plasticky, it feels cheap, and the material picks up dog hair better than most lint rollers.

Still, the case offers screen protection (a must) and decent utility as a wedge (however, it makes for a pretty wobbly stand when set up to watch movies).

Aside from those, the best thing about the case is that it provides anonymity. Unless you want to be the “iPad Guy (or Girl)”, I thought it was cool to be the “guy with an iPod” all those years ago, but with the iPad, it’s a bit more conspicuous than I care for anymore. Most can’t tell whether you’re rocking a Kindle, iPad, or even a little pad of paper with the case on.

For typing in-lap, the Apple case is a requirement. I’d love to see someone take a stab at a nicer, classier version.

The iPad is so hard to get out of the case that I haven’t even had occasion to use the Dock yet.

THE KEYBOARD

I was surprised I didn’t miss a physical keyboard. I still haven’t paired it with the Bluetooth Keyboard, something I’d planned to do on Day 1.

There’s an unexpectedly satisfying drumbeat to the tapping of fingers on the screen that’s vastly superior to the iPhone, and maybe even more fun than clacking away on the real thing.

The keyboard is a cruel taskmaster, though: any resting of fingers, even for a millisecond, is met with a jumble of letters on the screen, a kind of rap across the knuckles from an angry typing teacher. Between the iPad keyboard and the Magic Mouse, it seems Apple is trying to teach people to hover their fingers over touch surfaces, and never to lazily rest your hands on anything. It can get tiring.

Ergonomically dubious though it may be, it really only requires a few hours of retraining muscle memory to get used to the idea. At this point, I’m pretty comfortable with it.

The best tip I heard all week was to hold down the comma key to get an apostrophe, solving one of my biggest gripes.

BUILT-IN SOFTWARE

It’s a huge pain to constantly exit my app, go back to the home screen, click settings, click General, adjust the brightness, return to my app’s screen, and re-open the app. I’m honestly considering giving a coveted Dock spot to Settings, due to its all-too-frequent use. It’d be great to have some more convenient access to brightness control in more apps (or even by some tweak to the Volume switch).

At no point have I missed multitasking. My thinking is that when OS 4.0 comes out, it’ll be exactly the sort of feature I wonder how I ever lived without.

Spell check and its “replace” function was a fantastic surprise, and worked well in everything but text-entry fields in Safari (which seemed odd).

My family loved the Photos app. It makes the iPad the best photo album on the planet right now. Some of your photos may go on the iPhone, but all of them go on the iPad. It just feels like this is where your pictures go. Browseable, shareable, emailable… My sister spent 2 hours looking through old photos and emailing herself photos of interest.

Also interesting is that all photos seem to be sized down to around 3 megapixels before being transferred to iPad. They look great, and photos now email in full-resolution, unlike the automatic resizing that happens when you email a photo on the iPhone (so no need for copy-paste workarounds).

Getting files on & off the iPad is a well-documented nightmare. Hopefully Apple has some plan to move toward cloud-based storage of this stuff. Photos would be a great start.

BROWSING THE WEB

This is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news: Browsing the web on a tablet seems like the “proper” way to surf. It just feels better than on a computer. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss Flash, especially since inline YouTube plays without issue… lots better than the way iPhone launches a separate app.

Browsing the Web in a portrait orientation feels like I’m seeing movies on a widescreen TV for the first time. Like “oh, that’s how that’s supposed to look.” Amazing stuff.

The bad news: I really, really miss tabbed browsing. You have to hunt down the multi-page button, just like on iPhone, but it pulls up an array of pages to tap, rather than a row to browse through. It’s a pain to hunt down a dedicated button to see which pages are currently open.

Ah, but that’s the trick: they’re not open at all. I usually see one or 2 thumbnails and 6 blank pages. It seems the iPad can only cache one site (two max) at a time, so with 4 or 5 tabs open, it throws up a blank screen, and forces me to reload the entire page.

That’s time-consuming and irritating in itself, but if you have a half-written blog entry, forum post, or email in a browser window, you’d just better finish it up before opening another tab, because once you do, buddy, it’s gone.

All told, there needs to be some polish done on the mechanics of Safari for iPad to bring it closer to its Mac cousin, but I haven’t touched on how fun it is. Browsing the web on a portrait-oriented touch screen just feels like the way the web was meant to be explored.

APP STORE

This is the killer app, period. I find myself checking for changes to the “top 100” and for updates at least twice a day.

Two apps that I missed last time are Twitterific and NetNewsWire. These are used so frequently that I treat them like built-in apps. Email, RSS, Twitter, Web. That’s 75% of my iPad use.

One more piece of app news: Air Video went HD for iPad (at no additional charge!), and transcodes my movies into high-res, iPad-friendly movies and streams them to me like a champ. After iBooks, it’s the app I show people to really show off the fact that the iPad really is the future.

GAMES

“iPad as gaming platform” is not as ludicrous as it sounded to me at first. As I posted before, I am finding myself drawn to the games on iPad as I rarely do the games on my console systems.

Interestingly, the accelerometer seems friskier and more accurate on the iPad. I don’t know if it’s due to the iPad’s size (and therefore takes longer to move around), but Real Racing seems to be vastly more accurate on the iPad than iPhone. Controls are tight and fun.

I have nearly worn blisters on my thumbs from playing Geometry Wars so much. Seriously, my thumbs hurt. This could become a phenomenon.

EBOOKS

I bought a Kindle a year ago. It lasted a month. I bought a Sony Reader afterwards, and it lasted for 2.

I love e-ink. It’s like a miracle, with no discernable pixels, even though the iPad has a higher-res screen than the e-ink crowd (1024×768 vs. 800×600). Text on the iPad is a bit rough around the edges, literally: you can see jaggies, anti-aliasing tricks, and most importantly, the backlight (I’ll get to that in a sec).

And if you’re planning on reading outdoors, well… you may want to budget an extra $260 for a Kindle, or skip the iPad altogether. I don’t care what I’ve read elsewhere, it’s damn-near useless outdoors, even on a somewhat overcast day. I don’t really read outdoors, but the combination of backlit LCD and mirror-reflective screen make it even less tempting.

All that said, what’s the verdict as an e-reader? I choose the iPad as my e-reader, hands down. I was really worried about eyestrain, and was an issue at first, but as I learned to really dial down the screen’s brightness, I’ve found myself using the iPad as my preferred way to read. I actually have a physical book sitting on my dresser, begging for attention, but reading on the iPad is my preferred mode.

GoodReader is a great, powerful little app for organizing, managing, and reading PDF content. It’s got a couple of quirks that I’d like to see resolved (how about using the left/right edges of the screen for page turning, for one?). But for someone learning to program, or anyone with PDF e-books, it’s a godsend.

The biggest surprise to me in the whole iPad experience is how good Kindle for iPad is. I’ve tried to buy 3 books on the iBooks store, with no success. So I jumped over to Kindle, and bang, bang, bang… all there. The reading experience has fewer graphical flourishes, and is generally easier to use than iBooks. It’s obvious they put their best developers on this one.

The side benefit to Kindle is that if I do get a Kindle again as a backup reader, all my books are there via whispersync.

One side note about reading: I was worried that I’d never get anything read on the iPad because I would be too distracted with

other possible uses of this many-purposed device. That’s not true, as the iPad melts into whatever configuration best suits the task at hand. It’s an awesome dedicated e-Reader. Just turn off email notifications. Every time I hear the “Bong!” of a new email, my curiosity gets the better of me and I’ve lost my momentum.

The best thing about it is that it’s easy to be in the middle of however many books you want, in one of the many ebook readers for iPad. Currently, I’ve got bookmarks in no less than 15 different books. Since I’m reading programming books, it can be slow going, so it’s nice to have a place to keep track of my place in my entire library, without resorting to a foot-tall stack on my nightstand (which I actually do currently have).

CONCLUSION

I was a fanboy from day 1. But what has surprised me is how the iPad has worked its way into my life. I thought I would be playing with Pages and reading e-books, and the Wi-Fi-only model would be perfect.

The trend that’s emerged is that I find myself picking up the iPad when I want to relax. I’ll catch up on RSS, the latest tweets, read some books, surf the web… and I’ll pick up the laptop when it’s time to work.

I suspect that this will lead to a kind of tech “Disneland Dad” mentality, where people love the iPad so much because it does all the fun things while the laptop nags us to get back to work.

In terms of screen size and usability, it’s a lot tougher to go from iPad to iPhone than it is from laptop to iPad. I can’t explain why, it’s just utility is somewhat retained on the iPad, where the iPhone’s tiny screen just obliterates it.

Anyone with an iPhone is going to be disappointed with the Wi-Fi version, because eventually, you’ll wind up somewhere with no (or flaky) Wi-Fi, and you just want to check Twitter or send an email. I am absolutely upgrading when the 3G version comes out, and that was not what I’d expected.

You’ve probably already made up your mind as to whether you have any reason in your life to own an iPad, but I’ve obviously found many, and as more apps pour into the App Store, I suspect the number of people who have a good reason to buy an iPad is going to steadily grow.

12 Killer Apps for iPad

I wasn’t going to write this post on my iPad. It felt like a bit of a cliché, you know? Plus, I thought it would be a bit like fighting with one hand tied behind my back. And it is, to some degree; I type about half as fast as I do on a laptop.

So why go through with it then? Because the iPad is so fun to use, I don’t feel like getting out my laptop.

I have my share of gripes and praises for the iPad, but it’s just 9.7 inches of blank screen without the apps to make it useful. And they do. In fact, “revolutionary” is not going too far.

So, with the aid of the iPad’s WordPress app, here are 12 apps I already can’t live without.

The first thing I want to say is that the iPad is an absolute joy to use. By that I mean that using the iPad elicits actual joy. Everyone was wondering what the killer app for the iPad would be. I think that the killer app might just be the experience of using an iPad, period. But to better answer the question, the answer is twofold:

– Everyone’s going to have their own version of the iPad’s killer app.
– You are going to find at least 10 killer apps within your first 48 hours

Here are 12 of mine.
READING:
I bought the iPad primarily as a reading device. It has already delivered on more than its promise. It’s not hard to imagine having an entire page of apps dedicated to the various types of reading I do. My favorites right now:

GoodReader ($1)
Without solid PDF support, I wouldn’t be able to read programming books on the iPad, and that would be a deal breaker (lame PDF support caused me to return both the Kindle and Sony Reader). Although the PDFs don’t render with lightning speed and the page turning mechanic is wonky (honestly, who turns pages from top to bottom?), this is an app that already shows maturity. I threw a 500MB PDF at it, and it cut through it with ease. GoodReader also has a raft of network-aware features, and although they’re a bit more geared toward power users, they handily circumvent Apple’s insane methods of getting files on and off the iPad.

iBooks (free)
iBooks is the app that always elicits the remark, “now they’re just showing off”. Graphical flourishes aside, it’s fast, beautiful, and fun to read books on. I had serious concerns about eyestrain, but those proved to be unfounded after fiddling with the brightness a bit. The included Winnie the Pooh book was a bit of unexpected genius; a sign of things to come as you dig deeper into the iPad experience.

Marvel Comics (free)
This is another app that really shows off what the iPad can do. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but they look so lovely on the iPad’s screen that I may pick one up from time to time.

MEDIA:
Air Video ($3)
It’s an iPhone app, but while the team works on their iPad version, they deserve your 3 bucks. With a simple server app, you have access to all the media stored on your home computer anywhere, even over 3G. Media not encoded in iPad-compatible h.264? No sweat. It’ll convert on the fly while it streams your TV shows & movies, and even pixel-doubled, media looks fine.

Dear, departed Simplify Media ($N/A)
This one is a big WTF. Being able to access my music and photos remotely made this easily one of the most useful apps ever. Simplify not only streams your music from anywhere in the world to your iPad, it allows you to share your entire library with friends (and share theirs in turn). It’s the poster child for the idea that your media shouldn’t have to fill local storage to be accessible. But you can’t buy it, can’t download it, and even if you own it like I do, it will stop working in a couple of months. Rumors are swirling that these guys have been bought by Apple, and the mystery surrounding their disappearance is certainly consistent with past Apple acquisitions.

Sketchbook Pro ($8)
Smart controls and pro-caliber features make this the king of the sketch apps. Using it makes me wish I had more talent. I have seen it do amazing things in the hands of greater men than I.

PRODUCTIVITY:
SugarSync (free)
Apple has crippled this genius app. Access to all my documents, synced automatically from my desktop, anywhere… It’s a fantastic promise. On the iPhone, it doesn’t matter that the documents are read-only. But as soon as you need to edit a word document or save a PDF to GoodReader, you’re out of luck until you go through Apple’s convoluted manual sync process, or email it to yourself (and then it’s a crapshoot). Even with its limitations, SugarSync is a great app and helps point out the gaping hole in Apple’s cloud storage offering.

Instapaper (free)
There’s little to say about Instapaper other than that it’s nearly perfect. It’s a simple premise: save longer web articles for later reading. And what better place for all this to wind up than on your iPad? The “nearly” in “nearly perfect” is because Apple doesn’t allow in-app brightness control from third-party apps (though Kindle for iPad seems to have found a clever workaround).

Evernote (free)
Another simple-but-brilliant idea: all your notes, write once, sync everywhere. Clippings, links, anything you’d rather not forget goes into one safe place.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVITY:
Games were the biggest surprise on the iPad. Aside from the week of my life I lost to fieldrunners, I’m not a big iPhone gamer. But with a larger screen, the games on iPad a compelling enough that I don’t foresee firing up my Xbox or Wii anytime soon.

Geometry Wars ($10)
This was the Xbox 360’s only memorable launch title, and it’s made quite a splash on the iPad. The dual-analog-stick-emulating controls are fantastic, though you need to place your thumbs well inside the bezel to get the best results. It’s quick to pick up, and I feel it pulling at me even now.

Top Gun ($5)
It’s dumb, retro fun. Tilt controls are a great way to experience this game that feels like a cross between Top Gun for NES and After Burner for arcade.

Touch Hockey ($3)
The iPad was made for moments like this. You pull out your tablet, set it on a table, and challenge a friend to a realistic, fast-paced round of air hockey. The highs and lows are just as visceral as the real thing, and it seems like a great way to strike up a conversation with a girl. Try doing that with your Kindle.

The iPad has tremendous potential for graphics capability, and I’m still holding out hope for a beautiful-looking, bumper-grinding arcade racer like Burnout (or an entry in the Burnout series).

Incidentally, the WordPress app for iPad (which I posted this from) is not yet a killer app; it’s a larger version of its iPhone cousin. Give us some HTML formatting help and better image handling, and we’ll talk.

I had to use one other app to make this post: Photogene ($4) to rotate and resize the photo I used in the post. Seems pretty cool, I look forward to using it more.

So there it is: for $30, a great way to start off your iPad experience. $40 if you include Pages, but I haven’t yet found occasion to use it.

I have a lot more to say about the iPad in general, but it can probably wait until I’m at a more comfortable keyboard.

DRECKWATCH: The lamest video, the saddest post, the worst blog.

Surprise! Our friends at That’s Fit are foisting their self-gratifying garbage upon their hapless readers again. This time they’ve reached a new low:

Watch my kid do pull-ups, blah blah blah blah blah…

I guarantee, not one non-relative of the author cares! I would scarcely tolerate this on a private blog, much less a professional, ad-supported one.

Please don’t forget, you have to factor in that anything regarding your kids or pets is exactly twenty times less interesting than you think it is!

Why don’t we write like this anymore?

So when this guy was president, doctors were already becoming aware of the dangers of smoking. But they just said it so much more eloquently. Here was Charles R. Drysdale’s recommendation on secondhand smoke:

“Women who wait in public bar-rooms and smoking-saloons, though not themselves smoking, cannot avoid the poisoning caused by inhaling smoke continually. Surely gallantry, if not common honesty, should suggest the practical inference from this fact.”

Somewhere between the late 19th and the early 20th century, the mode of writing shifted to today’s simplified, less ornate manner. But just read some old Thomas Paine tracts and the writings of America’s founding fathers, and see if you don’t wax poetic.

I assume this is the result of extreme literacy moving from the hands of the extraordinarily wealthy to the basic mass literacy we have today. That’s good, I guess, but we’ve lost some of the magic. Plus, in marketing, you’re told to write to about a 6th grade level, which is teetering on the Orwellian vision of Newspeak.

If anyone has more information about this shift (books, etc.), let me know; it’s a topic that captivates me.