Podcast #196: The September Preview

We’re only a few weeks away from Apple’s annual September event and I’ve not really taken any time to talk about what I’m looking forward to there. Today, that is rectified.

Metal Gear Solid 4 Retrospective: Part 1

I’m almost halfway through the 2008 Metal Gear game, Guns of the Patriots. Check out the video above to see how it’s going so far.

Hey Siri, How Does One Regain Trust?

John Gruber on the fact Apple has human listening to a random assortment of Siri requests:

Apple literally advertises on the basis of its user-focused privacy policies — but apparently the billboards should have read “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone, except for some of your Siri recordings, which we listen to.”

This story broke while I was on my semi-summer hiatus, so I haven’t really weighed in on this yet, and frankly I think it would be a disservice if I didn’t. Not because my voice needs to be heard or anything, but because you can damn well be sure that I’d bring it up if Amazon or Google were doing it1. So what do I think?

I think that John is absolutely right here. Apple sells themselves on being the company that cares about privacy and they betray that promise by listening to my Siri conversations and not telling me clearly, nor by letting me opt out if I don’t want to be included in making Siri better. Apple has of course said they have discontinued this practice, but trust is built around actions, not responses to bad behavior when you get caught.

I completely understand that Apple needs to have humans involved in the voice recognition process, as do all other companies in this space. Computers can do amazing things, but it often takes a human being to figure out what went wrong when it does.

But just because this is an essential step doesn’t mean I think Apple did it the right way. As many others have suggested, if Apple gave me a button to manually send them a Siri interaction that didn’t go how I wanted, I’d do it basically every time. I want Siri to get better and am happy to opt into sending them data when it could help them make a better product. Hell, I might even agree if they asked when going through the new phone setup steps whether I’d like to share a small percentage of conversations with them. But not making it clear that this would happen is not the right move.

Now have I turned off Siri on my Apple devices and punted my HomePods to the curb? No, partially because punting a HomePod would probably break my foot, but also because while I’m not happy about this, I’m not upset enough to quit Siri. I don’t want humans listening to random conversations I’m having in my home, especially on accidental Siri triggers, but I’m fairly confident that Apple is not using this data to build a profile for me and market specific products to me like Amazon, and to a lesser extent Google, are. I take Apple at their word that this program was to make Siri better at understanding my words and returning useful results.

But again, I trust Apple because of their history of building up that trust. This incident is a bump in the road, and if there are more stories about Apple mistreating user data in the near future I’ll be more inclined to get off this road. The problem of course being that Google is really the only other road and I don’t love Android, nor do I think they’re any better on the privacy front. Microsoft is actually pretty good when it comes to privacy, but I’m not going to start using Windows and Cortana unless we are indeed near the end times.


  1. Spoiler alert, they are. 

Other Uses for Night Sight Photos

I’m a big fan of Night Sight mode on the Pixel line of phones. Qualms about it being a separate mode or making scenes look different from how they look to the naked eye are fine, but as an additive mode to all the normal photo modes on Pixels, I’m still a fan.

But one thing that comes up a ton is the fact that a lot of these comparison shots people like me do to show off the mode are unrealistic, so today I have an example of Night Sight improving a real life photo. I was sitting on the couch last night with the lights off and Sherman, my dog, was struggling to stay awake, so I snapped a photo with my iPhone XS.

He was sitting pretty still, so I carefully reached for my Pixel 3a and took the same photo with Night Sight.

You can probably see the difference already, but let’s zoom in on each one to make sure you can see the difference.

Here’s the iPhone:

And here’s the Pixel:

The Pixel 3a took a much better photo with far more detail. Neither of these photos are amazing or anything, but the Pixel got a markedly better shot than the iPhone and it reminded me again that I really hope Apple has some serious low light improvements in a future iOS version.

My OmniFocus Setup

After years of bouncing between task managers, I always end up coming back to OmniFocus. In 2019, after finally reading Getting Things Done and having it really click with me, I don’t see how I could use anything else in the near future; OmniFocus is just so damn amazing.

Today I want to take you on a quick tour of how I use OmniFocus to get my life in order.

Overview

I use OmniFocus for personal and work items, and the app has a few tools that make it much better at doing this than any other GTD app I’ve used (skip to “Perspectives” for details on this). I also really like that the app gives me the ability to customize the look and feel to design the sort of task manager that I want, and hide most of the stuff I don’t care about.

I’m also in love with how you can tell The Omni Group cares deeply about building top-notch iOS and macOS apps as each version of the app works extremely well.

This all adds up to an app that has enough control to let me structure my tasks well without adding friction which could discourage me from dumping all of my “stuff” into it.

Tags and Projects

I could be more detailed here, but for me I really only use tags and ignore projects almost entirely. Tags, as I use them, are simply used to separate my work into the different parts of my life. I have the following tags set up:

  • work
  • personal
  • birchtree
  • freelance
  • shopping
  • reading

These 6 tags let me quickly filter my stuff into the major parts of my life. The first 4 are pretty normal, while “shopping” is my shopping list and “reading” is my reading list, something I’ve addressed at length already.

Perspectives

These tags are the main tool I use for my custom perspectives, and these perspectives are what really make OmniFocus work for me.

My usage: I only want to see my work tasks when I’m at work and my personal tasks when I’m at home. OmniFocus lets me do this with perspectives.

Without getting too into the details, perspectives let you set filters for what tasks you want to see in a view. You can save as many of these as you want, with the idea being that you can view similar tasks together. For me this means a “Work” perspective that only shows me things I can do at work. When I get home, I no longer care about work, so I have a “Home” perspective that only shows things I care about in my personal life. If I’m looking to work on this website, then I jump in the “BirchTree” perspective and look at blog post and podcast ideas.

And because OmniFocus has lots of customization options, you get very deep control over how these perspectives display. You can have them in 3 different task layouts and have them sorted and filtered however you want. Here’s what I have going on with my “Work” perspective, for example:

And here’s what I have for “No Due Date” which is a perspective I use to look at items that have moved beyond my inbox but don’t have a due date yet. I find tasks like this have a tendency to get lost, so reviewing this perspective every now and again is very useful.

Inbox

One of the key tenants of GTD is having an inbox that you can easily add things to and then triage at a later time. OmniFocus is very good at getting things into your inbox, whether it be on iOS or macOS. On iOS it simply has a share sheet item that can save pretty much anything from a file to a website. It’s a little less universal on the Mac, but there is a Chrome extension, as well as a system share extension for Safari and other native Mac apps.

The Mac also has the benefit of being able to set up a keyboard shortcut (I use Cmd + Ctrl + Opt + Space) to bring up a quick task entry pop up from anywhere. I use this all the time for adding quick things that come up through the day, and this also makes it easy to tab through things like projects, tags, notes, and due dates to set all of that right away. You can see this in action here.

I think Todoist does a better job at letting you add tasks with more info (their natural language parsing is great) but OmniFocus more than gets the job done for me.

The Forecast View

In addition to the custom views allowed by perspectives, I really like the Forecast view in OmniFocus. This view simply shows you what’s next. Forecast only cares about due dates, so this mixes projects and tags, but often this is a good view for me.

I really like that if I decide I am not going to get a task done today, I can just drag the task to another date on the calendar and it’s immediately changed to that day. No other task manager I’ve used has made it so easy and tactile to move tasks around. And of course this works on iOS and macOS.

Conclusion

This is by no means a complete explainer on how to use OmniFocus (for that the MacSparky Field Guide is a great resource), but I hope I’ve given you an idea of how I use OmniFocus.