Well, the last ten days or so have been eventful.

Laurie had a few days off between semesters so she took off to Reno and took in some games with the Aces. That gave me a few days of bachelorhood where I could do stuff without needing to work around her schedule. And so I did…

We’ve been in this house since 1994, owned it since we bought it off the estate in 1997. In that time we’ve done various projects to it, but it’s needed some TLC and a coat of paint for a while, and one of the things we’d decided to do this year was to get going on those projects — we had a long conversation about where we wanted to settle in for the next phase, and ultimately decided it was here, so we need to get this place ready for our next 20 years here.

And while we’ve worked on much of the infrastructure of the house — furnace and AC, water heater, etc — this place still has it’s original, 1956 era electrical fusebox, which I’ve known for a long time needed to be upgraded. So a lot of delays to work around the house has been stuck on before I do this, I need to get the electrical upgraded, which was always followed by and I know that’s going to get complicated.

After a long look at bringing in a general contractor and having them manage everything through a remodel, I decided that was (mostly) overkill. There’s work to be done in the kitchen and a bathroom seriously needs a refresh, but we can bring in someone to oversee those projects when we’re ready, and there reality is, we’re not close to ready to put ourselves through either of those tasks yet, and I don’t want the rest of the work to wait.

So last week, after having spent some time researching vendors and figuring out who to bring in, I brought in the electricians to do some of the simple work like replacing sockets and switches in the old part of the house and to scope out and price/schedule the service box upgrade.

And things were going along surprisingly well until we went to replace a broken socket in the wall between the old and new part of the house. Then…

I’d always had a feeling that the wiring in the addition was going to prove to be a problem, and I was right; the socket announced its retirement with fireworks, literally. No injuries, no significant damage other than a couple of singe spots on the to-be-replaced carpet and I think I owe one electrician a new set of pants.

And so starting today, the house is getting a new, modern 200 amp circuit box, a full safety upgrade, new grounding wires, and other stuff we’re still figuring out. An interesting side effect of this is that it turns this into an emergency safety problem, which means homeowners will cover it (minus deductible), which the electricians are managing (even better).

And this is, of course, exactly why I put off opening the hood on this little circus (complete with fireworks), and also why I probably shouldn’t have. And it’s all going to turn out fine — except for about 15 minutes of crazy — but it’s a good reminder that when you’re starting to look at working on your place, you may want to focus your time and money on cabinet styles and paint colors, but it’s really important to make sure the guts of the house are solid first.

By the way, having someone pounding holes in the stucco of the house next to your office makes it hard to concentrate on writing. Just saying.

The format of these posts

Think of them as email newsletters, but on the blog so neither of us have to go through the hassle of subscriptions and managing more stuff.

Not everything deserves its own post or 1,000 words, and what I’m trying to do is write more in an essay form where I can set a tone, and in all honesty, I find blogs that get really chatty with lots of postings a day more annoying (most of the time) than interesting. I feel I write better and express my ideas more clearly if I slow down and do fewer but more thoughtful pieces.

FWIW I think this is one reason why Medium has succeeded in becoming a center of attention in the content stream: it’s consciously changed the mental model for publishing content away from the post first, post often that blogs ended up with to more of a post thoughtfully, and the longer forms allows you to do that. The early days of blogs, I think, ended up getting overly focussed on attention and mutated the content to support the technology instead of the other way around, and Medium seems to be re-inventing this in very nice ways.

If I was interested in building an audience I’d likely create two or three mailing lists and foster some of this essay work there instead and use this site to promote and archive those lists; oh, wait. That’s what I did with the three dot lounge experiment. And I really like that model, except I’m at a point where I’m not that interesting in building an audience any more, so instead of putting the time and energy into marketing this stuff, I’m going to write this stuff instead, and let it find the audience it finds….

Which is an amazingly liberating concept, if you think about it.

Workflow updates (and shifting to Markdown)

I’ve taken advantage of this time off and the lack of deadlines to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while: rethink all of my workflows and tools.

To some degree I’m always considering ways to make my time more efficient and my working better and more effective, but changing out the tools you depend on is disruptive and takes time, both to learn how to fit them into what you’re doing and to change your habits so you’re comfortable with the changes. Because of that, it can be intimidating to decide to, say, change out your email client or completely revamp your note-taking, because your productivity goes to hell and nothing feels right for a while until it all settles down again.

But doing so can be more than worth it. I’ve made a number of changes to how I’m managing what I do and I wanted to share some of that with you:

  • Notability
  • Ulysses and markdown for blogging
  • BBedit for CLI-based text editing and for HTML markup cleanup
  • Wunderlist (now owned by Microsoft)for todo and task list management

Big key: everything needs to sync to cloud and data has to be where I am, on the tool I am: Mac, IOS, and Web.

I started out working with Scrivener, since i know an IOS version of that is in beta and seems to be close to release. But I found two things annoying about it: it has this tendency to change my screen resolution on me occasionally based on some trigger I haven’t identified, and when I click out of it to my browser, it seems insistant on capturing some events even though it’s been made the background app, so if I switch over and hit command-L instead of activating Safari to search for something, I find myself tying that into a dialog box in Scrivener. Both are somewhat rare, but when they happen, truly annoying rough edges in the app.

So when a friend suggested I look at Ulysses instead, I did, loved it and switched over to it on both IOS and Macos. The interface is clean and works well, the Markdown support is solid, and the syncing between devices is painless. Even if Scrivener’s IOS was out there, unless there’s an update to Scrivener that fixes some of the UI rough edges in great ways, I’d still want to switch.

The only thing that Scrivener did that I wish Ulysses let me do is title individual postings. I’ve solved this by simply making sure the first line of any file is what I’d title it so it shows up in the status/summary boxes. Otherwise, I can’t think of much missing from the App. Very nice tool.

So I’m now using Notability to take notes and manage my research into topics, and in fact I’d had a large set of links in my Safari bookmarks on various topics that are now being moved out into Notability as well. I use Ulysses for my draft writing. And to keep track of short term todos and tasks, I use Wunderlist. Those three tools cover my text/typing oriented needs pretty well, although when I need formatted text, I still fall back to Microsoft Word, and to be honest, the Office 365 versions on the Mac aren’t bad; I’ve stopped using Apple’s tools, except for Keynote.

One of the nice things about the sabbatical is I can slow down and put the time in needed to learn new workflows and adopt new tools without feeling like I really have a deadline I should be worrying about. I’ve always told people they need to make sure they find time to invest in themselves and their skills, but even as someone who’d profess to be doing that, I’m finding things I have been putting off because I was too busy — learning Markdown was one of them, and now that I’ve done that and built some new workflows around using it, I’m really happy I did.