December 31, 2015

Permission to Fail

This post by Michelle Wetzler at her startup’s blog resonated with me for many reasons, none of which I want to share at the moment. Here, too, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but if I had to pull one out, this would be it:

To give yourself permission to fail, you have to untangle your ego from your work. Having your ego tied up in your work is a handicap. You can’t think strategically or take risks when you and your personal well-being are on the line.

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September 15, 2015

Disrupt Yourself

Readers of this blog should already know I’m a big fan of Horace Dediu. This episode of his podcast was even better than what regular listeners like me have come to expect.

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July 23, 2015

Kiwi for Gmail: A Review

In Gmail in a Box, I mentioned having bought Kiwi for Gmail. This review will first cover the app itself, and an optional appendix at the end will detail my initial experiences as an early adopter.

Kiwi for Gmail Logo

Background

Zive Inc. launched their Kickstarter campaign for Gmail for Mac” on November 15, 2014, dubbing it the true desktop email client for Gmail”.1 The project was fully funded within six days, and by the time the pledge ended, Zive had raised $42,200: more than two times their initial goal. The app’s name was changed in May after Zive were approached — politely they say — by Google.

Kiwi for Gmail launched on June 23 and costs $10 on the Mac App Store.

Two Kiwis

A free version — Kiwi for Gmail Light” — can also be found on the App Store. Contrary to the full version, Kiwi Light lets you add only one account, and does not support shortcuts, important-only notifications, do-not-disturb mode, or Gmail plugins.

Setup

The setup process is very simple. A tutorial is presented on first launch, after which you’re taken to a standard login window, and then to your inbox. Two-step verification is supported, so there is no need to create an app-specific password for Kiwi.

Preferences

Once you set up your first account, up to five more can be added through the accounts” tab in the preferences pane. There, it’s also possible to change various account-specific settings: notifications, sounds, and colors.

Kiwi for Gmail Screenshot

There are three other tabs besides accounts” in the preferences pane:

General: where you can set Kiwi to launch on login, and supposedly make it your default client. Supposedly, because this box is greyed-out for Yosemite users. Zive says this is a bug” that affects all email clients, and that the only way to set one as the default is via Mail.app’s preferences. However, to merely access those preferences one first needs to have an account authenticated in Mail.app. Annoying.

Notifications: set global settings for notifications and sounds, and choose whether the unread mail badge is shown on the dock, menubar, or both.

Shortcuts: Kiwi supports several of them, but only the new email” shortcut appears here. Press ⌘ ⌥ ⌃ M anywhere and a new window opens with a list of your accounts. The list’s item order corresponds to the keyboard’s numbers, so typing 2” would select the second account. There isn’t a way to choose a default account to compose from.

Inside the app, ⌘ ⇧ and [ ] are used to switch between accounts. To cycle between active windows, you can press ⌘ `.

I was puzzled to see no shortcut for simply bringing up Kiwi’s window. Adding shortcuts is relatively easy in OS X, but every email client should ship with a default, configurable one.

Design & User Interface

Kiwi’s menubar item comes in the shape of an envelope (no kidding!) and displays the total count of unread items.2 A neat menu opens when you click on it, featuring individual counts, as well as buttons to start composing for each account.

Kiwi for Gmail Screenshot

A thin, colored strip is visible right below Kiwi’s title bar. Envelopes — each in its designated account color — are horizontally stacked from the right. Switching from one account to the other will update the address on and the color of the ribbon on the left. Other than these, there aren’t any noticeable aesthetic differences compared to the browser experience.

Kiwi for Gmail looks as nice as a web-view” app can. Zive can’t control Gmail’s own interface design, but they have done their part of the deal.

Features Overview

Multi-account support: Zive promised 100% fidelity and zero friction for Kiwi’s biggest selling feature. And the execution here is flawless. I’ve set up three different accounts in less than ten minutes, and switching between them is instantaneous. For those with more than one Gmail account, the benefits here can’t be overstated.

Drive support & attachment handling: Seems to work great but asks to you switch to the older look because your browser (which is actually the new window opened inside of Kiwi) is old and unsupported”. A killer feature for those who use Drive regularly.

Gestures: left is back” and right is next”, which is just about enough. These work inside the web-view and not for going back and forth between accounts.

Lab support: I have several lab features turned on and they all worked fine inside Kiwi.

Zen Switch: the ability to turn-off all notifications until the next day. Works as expected.

Filter by flags: I haven’t tested this one, but if works as advertised it should be pretty useful for those who do use flagging.

Gmail plugin support: coming soon” according to Zive’s product page.

Bottom Line

A month after its launch, Kiwi for Gmail does what it set out to very well. There are minor annoyances, but my Gmail experience has been less cumbersome and nicely streamlined after the Driver bug got fixed. (see below)

For me, Kiwi was well-worth its price.

Appendix: Labour Pains & How to Piss off Your Customers

I have a soft spot for indie developers, so I’ll try to proceed as gracefully as I can.

Let’s start with launch day: in one of the first batches sent to customers, thousands of email addresses were exposed because whoever sent it was careless enough to simply dump them in the to:” field. Zive were quick to respond, but the damage had already been done.3

Second, the Google Drive feature wouldn’t work during the first week. When I contacted Zive, I was told this bug was affecting some retina Macs, and that I should turn on low-resolution mode until a fix is released”. When was a fix coming? No ETA.”

I replied saying I would’ve gotten insulted. Would have”, because I’m sure Zive’s support rep wasn’t using a retina screen himself. Otherwise, this idea wouldn’t have even crossed his mind. It’s not inconvenient but usable” or a trade-off”, as he insisted thereafter, it’s impossible.

My gripe isn’t with the bug. Stuff happens, and again: if you’re a small team working under tight conditions, I can sympathize. Just don’t give me the impression I’m complaining about some minor issue, or insist I patch it with something that makes the app itself unusable. How about this instead: Sorry our app/this feature is nonfunctional, we’re working on a fix”.

The exchange that followed with Zive’s support, while polite and prompt, was quite frustrating. Several days after I tweeted about it, Zive’s founder Eric Shashoua got in touch and said he’d like to know more about how his team had handled this. More importantly, a new version rolled out on June 30, fixing the Google Drive bug.

All things considered, Kiwi is an excellent app if you want the full Gmail experience. I can’t help but feel it shipped one or two weeks too early though.


  • There’s a technical explanation on how Kiwi is different than other single-site browser apps” in the FAQ section↩︎

  • You can exclude accounts on individual basis. ↩︎

  • No, the irony of this happening to an email client developer didn’t escape me. I don’t think it’s fair to judge the app itself by this, or to give Zive more hard time than they’ve already had for it. ↩︎

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July 20, 2015

Canisbos’ Safari Extensions

I forgot how this ended up in my Pocket queue, but I finally got to it and there are some great ones in here.

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July 7, 2015

A Pond, Not a River

Alright Internet, it’s been a helluva week. My post (ostensibly) about paid apps has been read by over 13,000 people and shared by dozens. I am full of gratitude and appreciation. There’s already an outline for a sequel that is geared more towards the developer side of the app market, but that will have to wait until my RSI-like problems begin to alleviate.1

A confession: there is one phrase in the aforementioned article that I thought meant something entirely different than what it turned out to mean. Here’s the relevant snippet from my piece:

The impending yearly car test, why do you need to remember when that is? The house insurance you need to renew, the phone call you promised to make for a friend, your mobile plan expiring soon, the meeting you just agreed to. You think you don’t spend time thinking about these little, mundane bits, but they are there, accumulating brain-cruft at the back of your head, not letting you achieve a mind like water”.

Mind like water” is a simile which David Allen mentions in his book about the Getting Things Done” framework. I bought it a few days ago as I’m increasingly intrigued by Allen’s brainchild, and have been considering Omnifocus, an app that’s based upon it.

When I referred to mind like water”, I was pretty sure water” was recruited to emphasize flow. It makes sense: an unobstructed mind flows powerfully, like a river. But apparently, the karate master that coined it saw a different image. I really like how Allen describes it in his book:

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness, mind like water”: imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond, how does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact, or underreact.

So there you go, a complete opposite of the state I had in mind. And perhaps one that’s appealing even more.

Bonus: an excellent, actionable essay on designing metaphors.


  • I’ve been employing Siri for my reminders, and to write” this post, I’m using Yosemite’s built in dictation system. It’s less awful than what I thought it would be, but that’s for another occasion to discuss. ↩︎
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July 1, 2015

Why I Buy “All Those Apps”

Ever since my fascination with technology became known by my colleagues, I’m often asked for my opinion regarding all sorts of quibbles and buying decisions. Most of the time, I’ll do it willingly, as I enjoy talking about this stuff anyway.

There’s one type of conversation, though, that usually leaves me a bit… frustrated.

Oh, that’s very cool. But I wouldn’t pay for it.”

Who pays for apps these days?”

I don’t work hard just to spend my money on this stuff. Besides, there must be a free version that does the same thing.”

See, it’s not like I walk around, stomping my feet and mumbling grumpily; I couldn’t care less what apps individual people choose to buy.

In the abstract, though, I do. The opinions above are a symptom of a broader underlying issue: we still look at these ever-shrinking machines — our phones and computers — as harmless toys. And logically, if you think of something as wielding little influence in your life, it can neither benefit nor harm you too much.

And I care because those who under-appreciate the benefits of technology often fail to notice or take seriously the potential hazards of the march forward. We know intellectually that technology affects every single aspect of our lives, but this fact doesn’t hit home on a visceral level.1 Let’s zoom out a little.

Money

What is the purpose of money?

Why do we go to work? Why do we need money? Why do we want money? Why do we want more money? Why do we save, invest, why do we start businesses?

The purpose of money is time.

Nope,” you might say: For the poor, the purpose of money is survival.” To which I would counter: Survival is the continuation and extension of life, and life is made up of amounts of time. When you die, you have no more time.

Almost everything we buy or do with our money is a way to give ourselves more time.2

Time

What is the purpose of time? The purpose of time is self-actualization.

The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one’s full potential. Expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society are examples of self-actualization. In Goldstein’s view, it is the organism’s master motive, the only real motive: the tendency to actualize itself as fully as possible is the basic drive… the drive of self-actualization.”

Self-actualization can mean a variety of different combinations of the following (and more):

  • Living as much as you can among your loved ones
  • Becoming the president
  • Writing a book
  • Helping those in need
  • Inventing a revolutionary product
  • Buying a Picasso
  • Becoming a Picasso

In many instances, self-actualization will result in financial prosperity, but again, only as a by-product: A successful entrepreneur who enjoys innovation and business is bound to be well-off.

Time vs. Money

Time is more important than money. But why?

Because time is irrecoverable: unlike your bank balance, your time balance is always going down, no matter how you are spending it. And once it’s spent, it’s gone forever.

Because time cannot be generated: And money can. There is no mix of two or more ingredients out there that will yield you time. You can’t go to the store today and ask for two hours of life. You can ask a bank or a friend to lend you money, but they can’t give you time. You can’t make” more time in the literal sense, no matter what you do.

Because time is limited: and money isn’t.

Whatever self-actualization means to you, you need time. You might need money, but you must have time.

Today, the End, and the In-Between

In the Druze religion, it is believed that both the time of a person’s birth and the time of their death are predetermined. That’s quite an incentive to spend time wisely, if you ask me. But you don’t have to be Druze or even religious to understand that the time of your death is predetermined, in a way.

Am I forcing religion on you? God forbid! I’m only suggesting that you are going to die. Maybe you’ll live a whole century, and maybe tomorrow a car will have smashed into yours and killed you. We don’t know. But however far or near the day of your death is, you have exactly the amount of time between now and then — that unknown point in time — to live.

And so if the purpose of time is self-actualization,3 one should want to spend as much of it as possible on this purpose.

Time Now for More Time Later

The good news is that — within the remaining quota — time can be traded profitably. A profitable trade is when you invest a certain amount of time that yields you more than that amount in the long-term. Optimization, delegation, automation. This is the essence of productivity. (It’s also possible to make unprofitable time trades, like the time yours truly spends fiddling with this website’s design.)

Take a look at this ingenious chart from xkcd, titled Is it Worth the Time?:

is it worth the time?

To the left of the chart is the time you can save on a certain task, and above it is how often you perform that task. So, if it’s possible to save one minute from a task you do 5 times a day, you can (and should) spend six days of your life to attempt that.

You can also convert one or both measures in this chart from time units to currency and estimate whether a product or service is worth the price. It’s most obvious for freelancers, where theoretically almost every hour can be a work hour.

Money for Time

And the Jobs to be Done with Productivity Apps

Where financially possible, people also trade money for time. We hire assistants, maids, secretaries, gardeners, and babysitters. These are very common and legitimate money-for-time trades. We also buy products to save us time: microwaves, espresso machines, clothes dryers…

So why don’t we hire” apps for the same purpose? Among the people I know, there aren’t many whose time (and money) couldn’t be better utilized with a simple automation trick or a dirt-cheap app.

One obvious reason is the maturity of the industry. Applications are much younger than the products and services I’ve mentioned above.4 Even amongst younger people today, there’s still some sort of psychological block associated with paying for intangibles. If you can’t grab it, it’s not real, and if it’s not real, then you certainly shouldn’t pay for it.

Ultimately, most people are skeptical towards buying apps for utility because they perceive that the jobs to be done with apps are still limited to the entertainment and leisure categories.

This is economically irrational, of course. If we remove the prejudice and examine these icons on the screen as money-time propositions, much is to be gained:

  • I introduced Hazel to a friend of mine, a successful voice actor, just a few months ago. He says it has saved him hours on uploading, editing, and sending recordings to his clients. And Hazel costs $29, mind you, which is considered expensive for an app. In the long-term though,not buying it would have been a costly decision on his part.5
  • Fantastical saves me a lot of time arranging my calendar and maintaining a sense of control over what needs to be done.
  • Overcast, with its Smart-Speed feature, has saved me over seven hours of listening time. Why have 1 hour of Horace Dediu when I can have 1.3 hours of Horace Dediu?6
  • TextExpander makes sending a quote to potential clients a matter of seconds, not minutes; even from a smartphone.
  • Scanbot/CamScanner let you use the iPhone camera as a scanner.

Notice that most of the above have very clear (and much more expensive) tangible parallels: personal assistant, secretary, photocopy/fax machine.

Not only do they save time in the obvious sense, they also spare stress and frustration that could’ve been regarded as unavoidable. The impending yearly car test, why do you need to remember when that is? The house insurance you need to renew, the phone call you promised to make for a friend, your mobile plan expiring soon, the meeting you just agreed to. You think you don’t spend time thinking about these little, mundane bits, but they are there, accumulating brain-cruft at the back of your head, not letting you achieve a mind like water.”

I hope it’s clear I’m not blindly advocating paid apps over free ones. Here too, there are unprofitable trades (and please don’t remind me how many text editors I’ve paid for.) I certainly don’t expect anyone to pay for something if they can get it elsewhere for free. But the idea that applications can’t be worth your money just because they’re imperceptible, again: plain irrational.

If You Just Want to Win the Argument

So next time somebody says nobody should ever pay for apps, send them this article. Or, just ask them this insightful question from David Sparks7:

Imagine you’re on your deathbed and you’re told you can live another hour and that it’ll costs you four dollars. What are you gonna say?

I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’m sure not many people would answer with a no.”


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  1. Think privacy. ↩︎
  2. One rather sad exception to this rule are the group for whom money has become the purpose, even if they’ve got plenty. It’s not their sheer greediness that bothers me, it’s the irrationality. At a certain point, the amount of time spent trying to save or make more money does not yield you enough time in the long term to justify the effort. At this point, one should be spending more money buying time than time trying to make money. ↩︎
  3. Which might be a fancy term in this essay for self-fulfillment, which might be just a fancy term in for things you care about.” ↩︎
  4. The microwave oven was first sold right after World War II. ↩︎
  5. That’s another distinction people fail to make: expensive vs. costly. ↩︎
  6. Every minute spent listening to The Critical Path is self-actualization time to me. ↩︎
  7. Around the 1h:12m mark of his debut on The Talk Show” ↩︎
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