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Guest post: 10 Productivity Apps to Help You Organize Your Lesson Plans | Midnight Music

This month I wrote a guest post for Midnight Music, an awesome blog and website designed to equip music teachers with technology knowledge and resources.

The post includes a about 10 of the productivity apps I use to create, organize, and collaborate on lesson plans in the music classroom. The list covers some of the web tools and native iOS/Mac apps that are most indispensable to my work as a teacher.

Click the link below to head on over to Midnight Music and read the whole thing.

10 Productivity Apps to Help You Organize Your Lesson Plans | Midnight Music

Everyone likes to organize themselves differently. Teachers prefer different tools, organization methods, and preference over how much of their workflow is digital. Whatever your approach, there are a handful of great apps that can help you create your plans, search them, group them, and collaborate on them. The following apps are some of my favorite tools for managing lesson ideas, plans and resources.

Many of them have similar features as one another, but all of them have unique strengths. My philosophy is that there is always a better and more specific tool for the job.

App of the Week: PDF Expert 7

Readdle Launches PDF Expert 7, Free Update for iPhone & iPad

Today we are incredibly excited to launch PDF Expert 7 — our vision of what the ultimate PDF experience for every iPhone and iPad should be.

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This week’s update to PDF Expert secures it as my favorite PDF app on iOS. The one and only problem I have been having with it for the past year or two was its lack of integration with the iOS document browser, which shows you the same interface as the Files app when selecting which PDF you want to work with. I wrote about this last week with reference to the OmniGroup’s apps getting support for the native file browser this fall.

Accessing the the document browser is a tap away at all times. A ‘recent documents’ option is also one tap away. This is helpful because PDF Expert does a great job of integrating different options for managing your PDFs. It has Dropbox and Google Drive support. It also allows you to store PDFs locally within the app. This is useful for me when I am creating new PDFs or temporarily making copies of them for the purpose of editing the order of pages, the text of my documents, etc...

The PDF Expert 7 interface. ‘My Files’ are locally stored documents which do not sync to iCloud. They can be viewed in the Files app through the PDF Expert file provider.

The PDF Expert 7 interface. ‘My Files’ are locally stored documents which do not sync to iCloud. They can be viewed in the Files app through the PDF Expert file provider.

I like my ‘one true’ copies of my documents to live in iCloud. I will often take a scan of a stack of concert band parts, drag it into PDF Expert, extract the individual pages into separate parts (Flute 1, Flute 2, etc.), and then save these parts back to iCloud. I don’t want any of the extra files generated during this process cluttering up my documents folder, so its nice to have a quarantined area of PDF Expert where they can live.

The old PDF Expert interface.

The old PDF Expert interface.

The PDF Expert file provider, accessed through the Files app.

The PDF Expert file provider, accessed through the Files app.

These local files can also be accessed from the native Files app as PDF Expert is a file provider.

Furthermore, PDF Expert gets its own iCloud folder where you can store documents by default. This is becoming less necessary because of how easy it is to access the Files interface, regardless of where your PDFs are stored.

As mentioned above, the ‘recents’ option makes it more streamlined to find what you want, no matter which of these methods you have used to store documents.

I am focusing a lot on the file workflow here because PDF Expert 6 already had the best feature set of any PDF app I have used on iOS. A clean interface, great editing tools, the ability to edit the text and images of a PDF (for real!) and more. These features are now all free. PDF Expert 7 introduces some pro features that come at the cost of 50 dollars a year. Some of these features include converting to PDF from Word or Excel files, and the option to customize the look and feel of the editing tools at the top of the screen. I am glad PDF Expert chose these features to put in the paid tier. It is just enough that it will be worth it for some users, but all of the good stuff is still in the free version.

I will probably try the one week free trial but will most likely stick with the free version.

These PDFs are stored inside of iCloud Drive, inside a folder called PDF Expert. Though this is becoming less necessary now that the Files app is integrated more directly into the app.

These PDFs are stored inside of iCloud Drive, inside a folder called PDF Expert. Though this is becoming less necessary now that the Files app is integrated more directly into the app.

The new PDF Expert interface puts the iOS document browser. In this screenshot, I can directly access PDFs that are stored in my musical Scores folder, which is in my iCloud Drive.

The new PDF Expert interface puts the iOS document browser. In this screenshot, I can directly access PDFs that are stored in my musical Scores folder, which is in my iCloud Drive.

Making Just Intonation Play Along Tracks for Your Performing Ensemble (Using Tonal Energy and GarageBand)

There are a few things that would be helpful to know about my music teaching philosophy before reading this post.

1. I believe that tone production, intonation, balance and blend are central to teaching performing musicians. I prioritize them much higher than fingering technique, rhythmic precision, and even reading comprehension.

2. The way I structure my band classes starts with, is focused on, and always revisits those core ideas.

3. I have accumulated a vast variety of tools and teaching strategies to meet my goals of having superior tone quality, intonation, balance and blend. One of the most essential tools I use is the Tonal Energy Tuning app.

Tonal Energy Tuner

What is Tonal Energy? A hyper charged, power-user app for musicians that has many advanced features, including...

- Tuning drones that can be triggered polyphonically

- Feedback as to how in tune a performer is, which includes a delightful happy face to depict good or questionable intonation

- Drones and feedback can be adjusted to different temperaments

- A metronome (with more features than nearly any alternative on the App Store) that can be used separately or at the same time as the tuning drones

- Analysis tools that depict amplitude and intonation on an easy to read visual graph 

- Recording and play back practice tools for musicians to listen back to their performance

- Automated metronome pre-sets that can be sequenced 

See the video below. I will first depict the tuner playing a Bb drone, then I will show how it can model a Bb major triad all at once. Then I will turn the tuner to just intonation mode, and you will hear that the third and fifth of the chord are appropriately adjusted so that they are in tune with the Bb root. Next, the video will demonstrate how the metronome can be used in combination with these drones.

Imagine now that a student is playing a scale along with Tonal Energy. By leaving the tuner in just intonation, and centering around the key area of Bb major, every note of the scale that I touch will resonate accurately with the Bb, giving the student an accurate reference to blend into.

Developing An Inner Ear for Diatonic Intervals

Much of music is made up of scales. For a student to learn how to most accurately tune different intervals and chords, I have the drone running in the background during most of my teaching in whatever key area we are working in. I then move my finger to the correct notes of the melody to model and reinforce what good intonation would sound like. See below for an excerpt of a song my beginning students might play.

In the video below, watch as I play this song by dragging my finger along to the melody. This happens with a metronome to reinforce the beat. I like that TE has the option to speak counts out loud. In my experience, this really reinforces a concept of strong beats, weak beats, where in the measure the performer is. Other tuning apps have the counting feature as an option, but the sounds in TE sound more natural and less computerized.

Making Play Along Tracks in GarageBand

As you can imagine, I am doing a lot of dragging my finger along while students play for me. This gets tedious. I also want my students to be able to hear these pitch relationships when they practice, so I have begun recording them into play along tracks. How do I do this?

Inter-App Audio Apps and Audio Extensions in GarageBand

In the iOS GarageBand app, audio input is usually performed using either software instruments or by recording audio directly into the device with the microphone. But what you might not know is that you can also create a track that is based on the audio output of a third party audio app. If you have ever used a DAW, think of Inter-App Audio Apps and Audio Extensions like plugins. Once launched, you are kicked into a third party interface (much like using a reverb plugin from Waves or a synthesizer from Native Instruments) which then adds to or alters the sound of your overall project. In a more recent GarageBand update, Apple categorizes Inter-App Audio and Audio Extensions under the External option when you create a new track. 

Audio Extensions are effects that alter your tracks like reverbs and EQs, while Inter-App Audio captures the audio of a third party app and records it into its own track in GarageBand. You can browse the App-Store for Audio Extensions that work with GarageBand. 

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Recording an Inter-App Audio App Directly Into A GarageBand Project

Watch in the video below as I set up an Inter-App Audio App track with Tonal Energy. What I am going to do next is press record, and record my justly in tune play along of Lightly Row into my GarageBand project. I will do this using the euphonium sound. The euphonium drone is one of the roundest, darkest, and fullest sounds, while also containing a great range, so it is effective for most instruments to play along to while also modeling a rich, full, resonant sound.

Accurate Note Input with MIDI Controllers

In this video, you can really hear how sloppy the transition from one pitch to the next is when I drag my finger. Notice also that I did not play repeat notes. It is difficult to play the same pitch twice in a row without Tonal Energy changing itself to that key area. One way around these challenges this is to set up a portable MIDI keyboard with Tonal Energy. The one I have settled in is the CME X-Key with Bluetooth.

It has a sleek look, is very small, and has low key travel. It has buttons for pitch shifting and octave jumping. And Tonal Energy adapts to it in just intonation mode! Watch in the video below. As I change which chord I am playing, TE automatically snaps the third and fifth of each triad in tune, relative to the root. For my Lightly Row performance, I can now hold a Bb drone on in one hand, while playing a melody in the other.

Embellishing The Track with Other Instruments

The resulting play along track is alone pretty useful for students. Let’s make it more fun by adding a drum track.

We can make it even more fun by embellishing with bass and other instruments. I like to change up the style of these play alongs. Sometimes I don't even pre-record them, I just improvise along with my students to keep things fresh. Be careful though. These software instruments are NOT justly in tune, so too many of them can defeat the purpose. I try to combat this by having the drone be the loudest thing in the mix. Notice in this recording I have tried not to create any motion in the accompaniment that interferes with the consonant intervals in the melody, so that the listeners ears can remain focused on the drone for their reference.

Conclusion

Well, that's it! I can trigger these in rehearsal, sectional, and even share them with my students for home practice. Regular practice with tuning drones has really turned around my band's sound, and gives students the foundations for long term ear skills that will help them to HEAR what is in tune, not just respond to the commands “you're sharp!” and “you’re flat!”

Spending Time with iPadOS 13

I have been running the beta of iPadOS 13 for almost a month now. iPadOS 13 ships this fall and is the first version of iOS that Apple is branding iPadOS because of its focus on features unique to the iPad. At first you might think this to mean that Apple is adding ‘desktop’ features to the iPad, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the iPad is in many respects growing into a platform with its own unique set of strengths. Here are my favorite features so far.

New Home Sceen!

The first thing I really love is the new home screen. You can fit way more apps on it now, and they stay oriented the same way in both landscape and portrait because it is a 6x5 grid in either orientation. This wastes way less space on the screen and allows you to cram a lot more apps into a smaller space for extra productivity!

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Also useful is that you can pin your widgets to the left of your apps. I can now see my OmniFocus tasks, upcoming calendar events, recently accessed Files, and notes, every time I return to the home screen. For OmniFocus, I have it showing my Priority perspective, which shows all due items, soon to be due items, and flagged items that are tagged ‘Today.’ This is one more tool to help make sure I don’t let stuff slip through the cracks. The same could be said of the Calendar widget. Having the Files app display recently opened files on the home screen sure does feel a lot like being able to treat the home screen the same way I do my Desktop on the Mac.

desktop safari

The thing that is surprising me the most is how much the new Safari update transforms the way I use my iPad. Safari now runs like the desktop version. This means that websites operate as you would expect them to on the Mac. No more taking out your MacBook for those few websites that just never quite worked right on iOS. For me this is going to change the way I use a lot of my school district’s mandated learning management software, which would often not work correctly, or as reliably, on my iPad.

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But what is really great is that I can now access the full versions of Google Docs and Squarespace from my iPad. Google’s apps on the App Store are still a little nicer, but they have never had the full feature set of the web apps, and now this is nearly a non-issue. Apple and Google need to find out some way to better let users choose if a document opens in Safari or Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, but I expect that to be eventually ironed out.

Even more exciting is that I can finally use the full toolset of Squarespace to update my website on the iPad (just one of the few things that would keep me taking my Mac out of my bag). So far, Apple has already done a nice job with these features, and they are not even ready for public release yet. There are some issues and unexpected behaviors, but not nearly as much as I expected. Desktop Safari has turned out to be the biggest productivity boost of all the new features. And did I mention there is now a download manager!?

multitasking and pencilkit

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There are also some improvements to multitasking. Notice above that I am using two apps open side by side with another one floating in what Apple calls Slide Over view. iOS 13 now adds the ability to manage multiple different apps in Slide Over at once. The implementation is great. It works like multitasking on an iPhone X or higher. You can swipe the little handle on the bottom of the app left and right to page through recent apps, and you can swipe it up and to the right to see all recently opened Slide Over apps. This makes it much easier for me to manage the few apps I am using often in this mode: apps like Tonal Energy Tuner, Messages, and Twitter.

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I now also appreciate that you can have more than one instance of the same app open at the same time. Notice above that I am viewing two notes side by side. When I mentioned that iPadOS is growing into its own specific identity, the pencil tools on the right side of the screen are what I was thinking about. They have been brilliantly updated. And Apple is releasing them for use by third party developers in an API called PencilKit. Here’s to hoping that it is widely implemented so that using the Apple Pencil feels more consistent across apps.

See below also. Swiping from the lower left of the screen with the Apple Pencil allows your to quickly mark up whatever you are looking at. And if you are in Safari, you can now clip an entire website, not just what fits into the screenshot. You can highlight, annotate right from this screen and then send it somewhere like Apple Notes where you can search the article by text.

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For me it is becoming clear that PencilKit is a feature that is going to widely shape and define the iPad as a particular tool for certain jobs that a Mac or an iPhone is not as useful for. Apple is bridging the gap a little by introducing a feature for the Mac called Sidecar, where you will be able to send windows of Mac apps to the iPad to be able to take advantage of the same pencil precision editing tools.

Conclusion

Overall, iPad OS is shaping up to be an awesome release. I didn’t even mention half the features here. And even some of the ones I am most excited about will not reach their fullest potential until third party apps take advantage of them (like PencilKit) or until more people are on iOS 13 (like iCloud shared folders). If you are an iPad user you have a lot to look forward to this fall. If you want to try the beta, you can go here. It is pretty risky though, and I am admittedly very unwise for doing it.

A Blogging Experiment

Yesterday I posted The 7 Best Apple Home Devices on this blog. In part this was an effort to condense some of my intense study on the subject of home automation over the past four or five years so that someone could benefit from a broad-stroke overview of how I set everything up.

But this post was also 50 percent an experiment. Two summers ago, I posted The 6 Best Automation Apps for iOS. Strangely, this has become the most popular blog on my entire website, by far. This is despite it not really being about music or education, and despite the fact that blogs like MacStories pump out articles 100 times better on the subject, regularly.

My second most popular post is a video about indexing large PDFs using the musical score app forScore on iPad. It is far less popular from the post on automation, but still far more popular than anything I have ever posted. I feel like it represents my niche pretty accurately.

I did some thinking on what could have made my automation blog post so popular. Was it that the title is concise? Bold? Simple? Was it that it had a bite-sized, concrete, number of apps in that same title? Or was it that I successfully tagged the post so that it shows up in a lot of web searches? I tried to replicate a little bit of that format in yesterday’s home automation post, while still writing about something I am passionate about. We will see how well it does.

And please do tell me if the home automation post was helpful to you in any way.

The 7 Best Apple Home Devices

I keep promising myself that a larger dive into my home automation workflow is coming to this blog. And it is. But I thought that I would first take a moment to outline the top seven apps and devices that I am using in combination with the Apple Home app. These get special attention given that their HomeKit integration allows me to conveniently manipulate them all from within the Apple Home app and command them with Siri. 

All of the devices in this post are also compatible with the Amazon Echo. I only buy home devices that are equally compatible because I use Alexa in my house as well. Furthermore, the home automation space is still very young and fragmented. The more open a platform is, the more flexible it will be now and in the future. 

Philips Hue Lights

Be careful. These WiFi connected light bulbs are the gateway drug of home automation. With them, I can now turn on every light in my house with my phone or voice. For my small house, the bulbs work just fine, but I would recommend the light switches for larger homes for convenience and to save money. Check out the image below to see how these lights appear in the Home app. I can control them individually or group them together. I can automate them by time or location in the Apple Home app. It's really nice to have the lights gently dim around bed time, and gradually wake me up with a gentle red hue an hour before work in the morning. Because my iCloud account also knows who and where my wife is, I can set up an automation that turns off all the lights once both of us have left the house, and another that turns them back on when one of us returns. 

Check out Philips Hue lights here

The Home app aggregates all of my various different home automation devices.

The Home app aggregates all of my various different home automation devices.

The Good Morning scene is automatically set to run at 6:30 am on weekdays and at 9:30 am on weekends.

The Good Morning scene is automatically set to run at 6:30 am on weekdays and at 9:30 am on weekends.

This is the set up screen for my Good Morning scene.

This is the set up screen for my Good Morning scene.

Ecobee Thermostat 

The Nest thermostat was the first home automation device I ever bought. It doesn't work with Apple HomeKit though. So when it unexpectedly died last year, I jumped at the opportunity to try something new. Ecobee thermostats are the best around. Speaking into the thin air "Hey Siri, I'm cold" to turn up the heat is a modern day dream. Of course, I can automate temperature in all of the same ways I can do lights. And I can even group these devices into "scenes" in the Apple home app to streamline frequent actions. For example, the "Arriving Home" scene turns on the air and the lights. This scene is not only triggered by button or voice, but automatically runs when my phone is within close proximity to my house. 

This is what you see when you open the ecobee app.

This is what you see when you open the ecobee app.

Once you tap on a thermostat, you get more detailed controls.

Once you tap on a thermostat, you get more detailed controls.

This is my Arrive Home scene. The door unlocks for me, the thermostat turns on a good temperature, and the lights on the main level of the house turn on.

This is my Arrive Home scene. The door unlocks for me, the thermostat turns on a good temperature, and the lights on the main level of the house turn on.

Schlage Sense Door Lock

My Schlage Sense allows me to unlock my door with the tap of a button. My teaching studio is in the basement of my house and the door is upstairs. It is disruptive to a lesson to constantly be answering my door, so now I just tell my Apple Watch "Hey Siri, unlock the door." It authenticates through contact with my wrist and completes the task. Of course my Arriving Home and Leave Home scenes also unlock and lock the door, in addition to all of the other actions I mentioned above. Having my front door unlock for me when I arrive home makes me feel like I am living in the future. Having it automatically lock when I leave gives me peace of mind that my house is safe. 

Logitech Circle Camera

Of all the HomeKit devices out there, cameras are the hardest to shop for. I have found the Logitech Circle to be the best out there. Nest makes some great cameras but their lack of HomeKit support has driven me away. I have the Logitech set up in our dining room, facing down the primary hallway in my home. It is plugged into an iHome smart plug which is also HomeKit enabled so that I can turn it off and on remotely. This plug is automated in the Home app to turn on when neither my wife and I are home and turn off when one of us arrives home, therefore working like a security camera. When it detects motion it turns on our dining room and kitchen lights. It has a two way microphone so you can chat with someone in your home if you need to. And what I love about it most is that the camera feed shows up right in line with my other smart home controls in the Apple Home app. 

The interface for the Logi Circle 2 app.

The interface for the Logi Circle 2 app.

Eve Sensors

Sensors need no introduction. These things can trigger any other home device to act when they detect motion. Most of mine are set to turn on the lights in a given room when I walk into them. But they can also trigger thermostats and smart plugs. My favorite sensors on the market are made by eve. They are easy to set up and work reliably. Eve also makes a number of other interesting HomeKit products. 

Sensors appear as ‘Triggered’ in the Apple Home app when they have detected motion.

Sensors appear as ‘Triggered’ in the Apple Home app when they have detected motion.

In Apple Home, I can make an automation that turns on the upstairs light whenever my eve sensor is triggered upstairs.

In Apple Home, I can make an automation that turns on the upstairs light whenever my eve sensor is triggered upstairs.

The eve app makes a great alternative to the Apple Home app for controlling all your devices.

The eve app makes a great alternative to the Apple Home app for controlling all your devices.

iHome Smart Plugs

I like using smart plugs as an all purpose way of turning on and off the things in my house that are otherwise not “smart.” In addition to the camera workflow I mentioned above, I also have these plugged into other devices throughout the house. For example, my bedroom fan is plugged into one. I can now turn it on and off in the middle of the night without getting up. “Hey Siri, turn on the fan.” A lot of brands make smart plugs but the iHome is the easiest to set up and use in my experience. 

Apple HomePod

I was hesitant about the HomePod at first given that it shipped with incomplete software and relies entirely on Siri for voice commands. Still, the device offered some compelling features. When iOS 11.4 brought the features that were missing from release (AirPlay 2 and multi room audio), I scooped one up while Best Buy was running a 100 dollar off deal on them, refurbished. 

The HomePod fulfills a lot of the same purposes as the Amazon Echo. It is distinguished by linking into the Apple ecosystem, allowing me to command Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and all of the home automation devices mentioned above. 

Control of the HomePod exists inside the Apple Home app where it appears as a speaker device. The recent addition of AirPlay 2 allows my two Sonos One speakers to show up in the Apple Home app as well. 

The HomePod is first and foremost a good speaker. But it can also command your other speakers in the house and even the audio output of your Apple TVs. Simply command “Hey Siri, move this music to the living room,” and listen as your music is magically transported from one speaker to the next. You can output your Apple TV audio through to this handy speaker and speak playback commands to your tv and movies with statements like “pause,” “stop,” and “skip ahead 50 seconds.”

The HomePod is the core of the Apple Home experience. Of course, you could just as easily control every device in this post from an Echo. However, as an Apple Music subscriber, and frequent listener to podcasts in the kitchen, having a HomePod makes sense for me to own.

It looks like the investment is going to pay off. This fall, iOS 13 will be adding even more features to the HomePod and Home app. For example, the HomePod will be able to distinguish between my voice and my wife’s. This way, when she asks it what is going on today, it will read from her calendar instead of mine. iOS 13 is also introducing speaker automations for scenes. So my Good Morning scene in the Home app will now play my favorite breakfast playlist in addition to turning on select lights and changing the temperature.

And finally, HomeKit automations and Siri Shortcut automations are going to be better tied together, and will be able to be triggered automatically. For example, doing something like stopping my wake-up alarm will both run the Good Morning scene and automatically run this Siri Shortcut that tells me how I slept, delivers a weather report, and opens a meditation in the Headspace app.

In iOS 13, HomePod play controls show up right in the Home app.

In iOS 13, HomePod play controls show up right in the Home app.

In iOS 13, music playback can become part of your scenes.

In iOS 13, music playback can become part of your scenes.

The new Siri Shortcuts app on iOS 13 integrates home automations and personal automations. It also allows them to be automatically triggered by time, location, opening a particular app, and more! In this example, stopping my wake-up alarm triggers my I’m Awake Siri Shortcut, which sets the Good Morning scene, reads me the weather, tells me how I slept, and starts a meditation.

The new Siri Shortcuts app on iOS 13 integrates home automations and personal automations. It also allows them to be automatically triggered by time, location, opening a particular app, and more! In this example, stopping my wake-up alarm triggers my I’m Awake Siri Shortcut, which sets the Good Morning scene, reads me the weather, tells me how I slept, and starts a meditation.

Favorites of 2018 - Things

These posts will never happen if I don’t make it fuss free. So here is it! With little introduction or fanfare, the ‘stuff’ that made up my year. My favorite albums, live shows, apps, and ‘things’ of 2018.

The final installment features the most tangible and miscellaneous. My favorite things! The stuff that didn’t fit into any other category but that brought me joy this year.

Things

Prepd Lunch Box

This modular lunchbox helps me to better plan my lunches throughout the week. After mass prepping on Sunday night, I slam all of my meals into a weeks worth of these containers and then easily swap them out at the end of each day. This lunchbox is slim enough to fit in my backpack. There is a companion app that has recipes for meals that easily fit into the containers.

Series 4 Apple Watch

Of all the Apple products I own, this is the one that I take the most delight in. My Series 4 watch has this new watch face that allows me to slam a ton of information onto it at a glance. My current version of it I call the 'status circle' watch face. It keeps track of my progress on activity, sleep, water intake, and tasks, while also helping me stay on top of alarms, timers, and calendar events.

Rx Bars

If you are what you eat, I am a coconut chocolate Rx Bar. These energy bars are delicious, and most importantly, they are substantial. I can sub one of these out for breakfast or have it as a late afternoon snack. It carries me through. And there are tons of delicious flavors, all made with a minimal list of natural ingredients.

Rx Bars come in diverse flavors.

Rx Bars come in diverse flavors.

The Prepd lunchbox.

The Prepd lunchbox.

Hidrate Spark Smart Water Bottle

This water bottle reminds me when to drink. It automatically senses how much I drink and displays my progress on my Apple Watch. It even remembers the last location it was connected to my phone in the event that I loose it (like yesterday...) This water bottle is a big motivation for me to drink more water. I love it.

My Apple Watch Series 4, with my ‘status circle.’ watch face. When I am not taking screenshots at 2 am, the blue status ring on bottom represents the water I drink in the Hidrate Spark water bottle.

My Apple Watch Series 4, with my ‘status circle.’ watch face. When I am not taking screenshots at 2 am, the blue status ring on bottom represents the water I drink in the Hidrate Spark water bottle.

You read that last caption right! This water bottle automatically logs my water intake. And much much more.

You read that last caption right! This water bottle automatically logs my water intake. And much much more.

Ableton Live Hoodie

My wife got me this last Christmas and I love it. Everyone loves it. I feel a little bit phony wearing it because Ableton is not an app I use much anymore. But it carries with it the general spirit of an audio editor. And some bright colors! I am down with that.

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Nintendo Switch

Over a year into owning this thing and I am still amazed that I can play the latest Mario game the same way on an airplane that I can on my living room TV. Our latest craze is Overcooked 2. It’s the most addictive local multiplayer I have experienced in a long time.

Thrive Market

Thrive sells health food items in larger than normal quantities at discounted prices. As I continue to experiment with adjustments to my diet, this service is becoming my go to for essentials like nuts, cooking oils, fresh water fish, and more!

Territory

For busy teaching weeks (like a week where my music team puts on four concerts), it is hard to manage meal prep. For those weeks I turn to Territory. Territory makes healthy, delicious, meals that are pre-made and shipped straight to my front door. The amount of diet customization you can do with this service keeps me coming back for more. 

2018 iPad Pro

I also upgraded my iPad Pro this year and gave my old one to my wife. What is there to say? I really like this iPad. It makes the Apple Pencil feel like magic. I am still frustrated by the keyboard case, and iOS is still not an OS I can get all of my work done on. But somehow, the hardware improvements to this device (larger display, FaceID, inductive charging Apple Pencil) makes it a real delight to use.

It does not fundamentally change the way the iPad works. But it also does.

It does not fundamentally change the way the iPad works. But it also does.

Skepticism about Evernote’s new announcement

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As you probably know, I have been a huge advocate for Evernote in my book, clinics, and numerous podcasts. If you know that, you might also know that I have been looking for a replacement for it for years now. 

Evernote’s future has been unclear to me for a number of years now. While they have managed to keep their apps up to date with the latest iOS features, no major new features have been added to the platform in recent memory. Yet the company has raised prices, removed features from the free tier, and had some other small missteps. 

Yesterday, Evernote unveiled this post on their site. Its a followup to this post from earlier in the year. I thought the post from earlier in the year was a load of meaningless corporate and marketing speak, but today’s really takes the cake. And don’t even get me started on the post within today’s post that goes on and on for paragraphs about redesigning the app’s Elephant mascot, amongst other things. Dropbox tried this exact kind of thing earlier in the year where they make a huge rebrand announcement that is all graphic design and marketing fluff without any meat about how it will impact the user experience. And it hasn’t changed anything about how Dropbox is actually used other than making the user interface more difficult to understand in some places.

Like, really, Dropbox. In this limited space, could you seriously not think of any more information I might want to see while playing back an audio file other than this dude dancing next to a disco ball? This particular page is even worse on the small screen of an iPhone.

Like, really, Dropbox. In this limited space, could you seriously not think of any more information I might want to see while playing back an audio file other than this dude dancing next to a disco ball? This particular page is even worse on the small screen of an iPhone.

To me, yesterday’s blog posts are further proof that Evernote does not have a clear vision for how to make their products better for users. The community has been very clear about what they want from the company. A better redesigned Mac app, markdown support, and code blocks, to name a few. But rather than disclose a roadmap of user facing product improvements, Evernote seems only committed to blowing steam through the use of fancy graphic design, photography, and web design. If only they put all of that time and money into actual features that would make users lives better. 

So I think this is the final straw. I am going to let my Evernote subscription lapse this fall when it comes to a close. The real challenge about this situation for me, and other Evernote users, is that it is the most fully featured note app on the market. Of all the things one might want from a note app, Evernote covers more of them than any of the competition. But unfortunately for Evernote, stock software like Apple Notes is good enough to do most of the things people need. And for those who want more, there is an emerging bunch of independent developers making note apps who show way more hustle, adding major features to their apps, annually (Bear, for example).

Apple Notes does such a nice job with simple text scraps, web clippings, and check lists, that the only primary use of Evernote I need to replace once my subscription lapses is the “everything bucket” use case. “Everything bucket” is the phrase I use to describe the dumping of PDFs, images, emails, and websites into a digital “drawer” so to speak, where I can later search these documents by the text within them. 

This summer I have been giving DEVONthink a try. It is a Mac and iOS app that is a one time paid purchase on each device. It is a document management app that has all of the “everything bucket" features of Evernote and more. I hope to write more on it soon. For now, I am pretty happy that I have an easy way to clip receipts, websites for later review, and emails, and have them made automatically text searchable. The DEVONthink app on Mac is hideous, and setting up iCloud sync took me a minute, but the utility of the app is worth it so far. I prefer something like this rather than to continue to support companies who string their customers along while they spend time and money on making their elephant mascot look more 2018. 

I may be wrong. Evernote could come out with a killer set of new features in the next 12 months, convincing me and the rest of the world to return to it. I’ll believe it when I see it.