These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
I went ahead and download about half a dozen books from their site and loaded them on my phone, and I’m very eager to get started on them. But not yet because I feel awful today. This booster shot has messed me up today.
The above quote comes from this New Yorker article by Julian Lucas. In it, he writes about distraction-free writing tools like iA Writer, my personal app of choice. The entire article is worth a read, especially the section on iA Writer. I especially found this section where Oliver Reichenstein, the creator of iA Writer, details how he came up with the custom monospace font used in the app:
He drew inspiration from mechanical typewriters, especially for the app’s focus mode and signature font. While most books are typeset using proportionate typography, allotting each character space in accordance with its width, monospaced fonts give each character, whether a lowly period or an initial capital, an equal span. “When you write in a monospaced font, you get a feeling of moving forward,” Reichenstein said. “Even if you don’t click away like crazy, you feel that your text is growing.”
“When you write in a monospaced font, you get a feeling of moving forward.” I find that so beautiful and so true. Sometimes at work, I find myself having to write something in Google Docs, and I always felt this background hum that made me feel uneasy whenever I did so, and I wasn’t sure why. Was it all the extra chrome? The distracting buttons? The font?
“A minor literary doctrine holds that great writing should be platform-independent,” writes Julian in his closing paragraph.
Let amateurs mess around with gadgets and gizmos; Wole Soyinka wrote “The Man Died” in a Nigerian prison with Nescafé for ink and a chicken bone for a stylus. Yet the ability to write with anything and the drive to experiment with everything likewise reflect the fact that the means, no less than the matter of writing, should adapt to our selves and to our circumstances. The quest to match writer and machine may be as necessary, in its way, as literature’s unending effort to reconcile experience and expression.
“Experience and expression.” Is that not what all art is? This attempt by us to let the universe know we existed once and that our life mattered?
The standard way to digitise pages is using a flatbed scanner, such as those made by Zeutschel. They’re “the most reliable in the world”, says Boswell, “but they’re slow”. Flatbed scanners also don’t treat big bound antique volumes kindly. You have to pick up the entire volume, turn it over, flip a page and lay it back down – and the result is rather better if the spine is broken so the page flattens on the surface.
Autocar has duplicate copies of some old back issues, so treating them badly doesn’t matter so much, but there is a quicker and kinder method, which for these purposes works perfectly well. It just looks a little more basic: it’s a plank of wood with a hole in it, through which one aims the camera of an iPad. Place a volume beneath it, press the button. “Picture quality is on a par with a mid-range SLR camera,” says Boswell. That’s plenty for a magazine captured at close range.
And it’s so much quicker. Boswell’s team consists of four full-time scanners, who have taken from April time until, well, not long before now, to get through the collection. Computers do the rest. Optical character recognition software deciphers the text with “100% accuracy”, which makes the entire collection of issues searchable by keywords, and the picture is cropped and converted to a PDF automatically. Then there’s a quality-control check and, from this point, it’s all cataloguing and labelling issues by date.
Around 2010, I used a cheap flatbed scanner to scan hundreds and hundreds of paper documents I’d accumulated in my life up to that point. Ever since I purchased my iPhone (the iPhone 5 in 2012), I’ve been using these devices to digitize my life. I’m amazed that a major publication like Autocar, a magazine that has been “publish[ing] every week since 1895,” decided to digitize their entire archive using iPads. Add to it that they used “a plank of wood with a hole in it” is even more amazing to me.
It’s little things like this that makes modern life both so mind-boggling cool and scary at the same time. Scary in the sense of how fast the world is moving, how fast technology has progressed in just 10+ years. And again, add the fact that iOS 15 can automatically recognize text in all your photos, and yeah… 🤯
Hours after I posted Friday’s entry, my friend Joe texted me, “I have something you are wanting.” I was just waking up from a nap, so I looked at his text without really registering what he was saying. After a few moments I realized he was talking about my new MacBook Pro. I immediately got into my car and drove back to work, picked up my package and almost dropped it because I didn’t expect it to be so heavy. I listened to The War on Drugs—so good!—and when I arrived home, I texted the above picture to my friend Ginger.
“Woohoo!!” she replied.
I bought the space gray 16" MacBook Pro with the Apple M1 Max chip with 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine, 64GB unified memory, and 2TB SSD storage. She’s a beast. I’ve never possessed so much power in my life, and I don’t know what to do about it. After a few hours of getting it all setup—clean install FTW—I finally got around to using it, and the first thing I noticed was how beautiful the screen was. After years and years of using an iPad Pro as my main device (starting with the 2016 9.7" iPad Pro, then moving to the 11" one from 2018), I didn’t realize how much the size of a screen matters. It goes without saying, but I can fit so much on this screen. And don’t get me started on the display profiles. There’s so much power and versatility there that I don’t even know where to start.
Once I had Lightroom all setup, I started going through some photos with the Photography (P3-D65) profile set, and I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was for me to apply my edits on them. The color accuracy is unreal, and I feel like it’ll take me weeks or months before I truly realize how incredible this technology is and will be toward my workflow. Thankfully, years ago, I purchased both Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, two apps I’ve been so eager to really use and master but never quite could because I never had a machine powerful enough or comfortable enough to use to take advantage of them. Now that I do, I don’t even know where to start.
And that’s kinda the story with this machine. It’s so fast, so powerful, so unreal that I have to forget everything I thought I knew about computers and start over. Can I have 3 instances of Nova open plus Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, each with dozens of tabs open plus Lightroom and Photoshop and Photos plus Mail and Things and BBEdit and Github and Calendar and Music and Screens 4 and Reeder 5 and whatever else app I want? Sure, why not, and I don’t feel like I’m reaching the limits of this machine. That’s the crazy part.
Will I ever push this machine to its limits? I don’t even think that’s the right question. I think the question is, what can I create with this machine? And the answer to that is, whatever I want. And that’s a level of freedom I’ve never experienced before.
This machine is a game changer for me, and I can’t wait to see where I can go with it.
The one device I’ve been craving for the past year or so has been a new 16-inch MacBook Pro. I’ve outgrown my 11-inch iPad Pro from 2018, a device I thought would be my primary device for years to come. I’ve edited and managed all the photos I’ve posted to this blog on it and written every entry on it, but I’ve run Hugo and written the code for this site on my Mac mini that’s sitting on my desk at home. I want something powerful and portable to do all my work on, including things I only dabble on at the moment, like filmmaking and web design, and a new MacBook Pro would do it.
If Apple announces this device, then you best believe they’re getting all my money, and I can’t wait to give it to them.
In practice, this means developers that don’t want to sell through the App Store — such as Netflix and Spotify, which sell subscriptions to their streaming services on their own sites so they don’t have to give Apple a cut of their monthly revenue — can’t tell app users they can do so when they open the app. Instead, they have to just hope users figure out how to do it on their own.
I’ve been pretty ambivalent about the Epic vs. Apple trial, but this is one rule I never ever liked. Prohibiting developers from even breathing the fact that there are other ways of buying their products or services from within their own app always felt petty and stupid to me. If this one change does actually happen, then I think that’s a win for many people.
I’m kinda giddy that John Gruber’s favorite iOS writing app is iA Writer. It has been mine for years. I’ve tried Ulysses, Day One, Bear, 1Writer, etc., but nothing compares to iA Writer. All my writing gets done on it, and I do a lot.
The Markup and The New York Times both had stories about Amazon this morning. In 2021, I hope to wean myself off Amazon, but I fear it’ll be a near impossible feat. I live in a rural town, and there are things I can only get on Amazon. But I will try to live simply in 2021.