I love Due.app

July 2, 2015

For simple tasks and reminders, there’s probably no better app out there than Due. It delivers a delightful experience and some genius implementation for entering and “snoozing” notifications.

Seriously: genius. I’ve found no other app like it. When it comes time for Due to remind you of something (via push notification), the notifications continue to pop up every five minutes (you can adjust this amount of time) until you do something. It’s a foolproof way to ensure that it gets done or gets rescheduled, and I wish every todo app out there implemented this feature. Conveniently, you can act on these notifications from the lock screen; a swipe on the notification allows you to Mark Done or +1 Hour without having to even open the app.

It’s not perfect for everything, such as what you might put into Omnifocus or your app of choice. I use it for small, menial tasks that I tend to forget about but need to do: brushing my teeth before heading to class, taking this or that pill, checking the mail, calling someone. In the real world, most things just need to get done at some point today. The effortless scheduling + snoozing workflow offered by Due accommodates this perfectly.

The app was recently redesigned; it’s now Due 2, and it’s super pretty and elegant to use. A swipe down brings up a bar that doubles as a search bar and a new reminder input box. When creating a new reminder, you can use natural language input, and it’s parsed excellently, reminiscent of Fantastical and Todoist (natural language input is another feature that I think every app should have.) Due is largely gesture-based, which is ideal these days, and rarely requires extensive button-tapping or other tedious ventures. Also, timers.

Long story short: the whole app is lightning fast, simple, and effortless, and I love it. It’s been on my homescreen for years.

Instapaper vs. Pocket

June 23, 2015

In general, when I find an app or service that “suits me,” I tend to stick with it. This is, however, untrue regarding two types of apps: productivity suites, and read-later services.

Since it’s 2015, anyone who even remotely enjoys reading a variety of online content probably uses (or has used) Instapaper or Pocket. The two are at constant odds of being the read-later “industry leader,” and I have gone back and forth between them probably more than anyone else out there besides Justin Blanton himself.

I’d like to detail a few pros and cons for each. (It should be noted that 90% of my use occurs on iOS, so these are basically reviews of the apps, not their web counterparts.) I’m currently using Pocket, and always seem to go back to it. Why?

Pocket handles “media” infinitely better than Instapaper does.

I also use read-later services as bookmarking services, and send more than just articles to it—often, my Pocket queue contains podcasts that I want to listen to, videos to watch, and websites to check out later. For these purposes, Instapaper doesn’t stand a chance. It’s easier to open one of these links in Pocket and jump straight the website, watch the video, or whatever action I want to take. Opening a link to a webpage or a Youtube video on Instapaper feels like I’m confusing the app.

Instapaper is much better for reading.

Instapaper as a whole is just prettier, and lends itself more to a pleasant reading experience than Pocket does. Instapaper has more fonts to choose from (and more customizable typography in general,) and the light/dark themes both seem very “designy” and reader-friendly. When I want to read a long-form article and plan to be there a while, Instapaper is much more appealing. Pocket, on the other hand, can feel too utilitarian.

Pocket feels faster, and Instapaper can sometimes feel cumbersome.

Articles are just quicker to load in Pocket, whereas Instapaper often feels slow and awkward when trying to open and parse longer or more-complex articles. Instapaper is not slow by any means—Pocket, for my uses, is just much nimbler.

Instapaper is updated much more frequently.

It seems like every couple months, Instapaper has released a fun new feature, whereas Pocket always seems to lag behind. Instapaper has more features in general, with TweetShot being a huge selling point for me. In fact, I can’t remember the last time Pocket was updated (and if it was recently, it must’ve clearly been a rather bland update.)

I simply can’t afford Instapaper Premium

This isn’t truly a fault of Betaworks’. However, for a fully-functional Instapaper (like search, for instance), one needs to dish out $30/year, which isn’t a horrific price to pay for such features, but it’s just well outside of my budget. I’ve always been able to get full functionality out of Pocket without feeling the need to upgrade.


There are perhaps a few other things to bring up, but for the most part, the above covers my primary concerns with each.

Why do I keep coming back to Pocket, then? The biggest points, for me, are the perceived speed differences between the two and the “mood” each app brings. In Instapaper, every article feels so serious and heavy, whereas in Pocket the queue feels lighter and a lot easier to manage. The other selling point for Pocket is how it handles videos and other forms of media, which Instapaper still needs some serious work on. These key things keep me coming back to Pocket, though every month or two I still find myself trying out Instapaper to see if something else clicks.

Sunlight and the circadian rhythms in your skin

Anecdotally (or so I’ve heard), skin cancer frequently develops in places not regularly exposed to sunlight. If true, this flies in the face of the dogma which goes something like this (Tl;dr): ultraviolet light from the sun penetrates into the nuclei of skin cells and damages DNA; if the right [wrong] genes are altered/mutated and the mutated cells proliferate, it can develop into a tumor (gross oversimplification).

So, what might explain the discord?

Interestingly, Bill also cites a 2003 study that concluded “lifetime sun exposure appeared to be associated with a lower risk of malignant melanoma.”

I’m really only sharing this article because it’s summer, hot out, and everyone out there is probably worrying about sunscreen. I’ve never been convinced. Sun does a lot of interesting things to/for us, perhaps most importantly vitamin D production, which (ironically), a deficiency in is linked to many cancers.

It’s probably not the sun that’s giving us all melanoma; instead, it’s probably a lack of sun combined with too much artificial light at the wrong times. (And diet, and exercise, and the rest. It’s never that simple. The point here is that if the sun was killing us, our species wouldn’t have made it this far.)

Stop icing your sore muscles

June 16, 2015

Earlier I posted some goofy photos to Twitter showing me applying severe compression to my lower legs after some strenuous running practice. Accompanying the photos was a bold statement, “Compression > ice, in almost every situation.” This sparked some interest, so allow me to explain.

If you’ve spent much time in athletic fields, you may have heard of the mnemonic RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation. The term was originally coined by Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who rescinded the recommendation in 2014 with an article called Why Ice Delays Recovery. It’s worth reading; when an authority declares something as the best and then later retracts that advice, you know something’s up. He goes into plenty of gruesome detail in the article, and cites plenty of sources, so realize that my post will be purposefully brief and simplistic in explanation. If you really want to understand more, go searching. Mirkin’s article is a fantastic overview.

“We all know” you’re supposed to put ice on something when it hurts or is swollen, just like “we all know” that whole grains are good for you and you shouldn’t squat below parallel. (I’m being sarcastic.) The chief issues with icing to me are that it impairs blood flow, the lymphatic system, and principally the inflammatory response. Most of us think of inflammation (and swelling, etc.) as being bad—the NSAID industry is booming, and we all seem to take ibuprofen at the first sign of any discomfort at all. The opposite is true: the inflammatory response and immune cells associated with it are critical in healing damaged tissues. Anyone who has passed a basic human physiology class can tell you that inflammation is an integral part of the healing process. Let me be clear: slowing down inflammation slows down healing.

So I’ve kicked the NSAIDs and I’ve kicked the ice. Both can be resorted to during severe, acute bouts of pain. Indeed, ice works well if something needs to be numbed because it’s that bad. But it’s not that bad, and that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re discussing your achy knees after a long, hard run, or your back after mowing the lawn. Icing these pains and then going out running the next day and doing it all over again is akin to stubbing your toe on the same table every day. Just move the damn table, people.

If you are severely injured, get medical attention. Ice it if it’s that bad. You could even take pain medication. But to treat sore muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc., I use movement, compression, and elevation.

Move what you can, when you can. If it’s sketchy, you probably shouldn’t do it, but resist the urge to just lay down and assume it’ll all get better. When you do move, try not to limp. The goal should be to use and move your muscles and the associated tissues, get blood flowing and lymphatics working, and expedite healing.

“Compression” can range from compression socks to voodoo floss bands (I hate the name, but they’re ridiculously effective, and they’re what I prefer.) The act of compression helps with a couple of things: prevention of swelling, and the facilitation of the lymphatic clearing of extracellular waste, blood flow, tissue perfusion, and so on.

Elevation works alongside compression via similar mechanisms, encouraging the lymphatic system via the assistance of gravity, and again preventing swelling.

Rest, in general, would be discouraged, since movement facilitates a large part of the healing process. Certainly, take a day off from the gym, lest you risk making the injury worse, and don’t flex a broken bone. But if your ankle hurts, I would expect you to walk on it throughout the day as best as possible. If it’s your knee or something, some good bodyweight squats might be in order.

Ice, however, is out. Do you really think that your body’s natural inflammatory response is a mistake?

On iOS badges and information density

Invariably, every time I post a screenshot of my iOS homescreen to Twitter, the @replies roll in fast and furious regarding the badges on many of my icons. The comments range from “Wow, how can you stand all those badges?!”, to “Wow, you’re so behind on x, you should just give up!”. Nonsense, all of them.

Justin is 100% correct here, as far as I’m concerned. It’s common in tech circles to routinely publish our iOS homescreens (not sure why), and I too receive my fair share of, “How can you handle all of those notifications?”

My response: how can you not? I turn on all push notifications and all badges by default; in fact, I actively search for alternatives if a certain app doesn’t allow badges (Overcast, I’m looking at you.) For RSS, Pocket, Drafts, etc., badges allow me to always know how much is left in a queue of information consumption. For social networks, they let me know if someone has interacted with me. For productivity apps like Due and Omnifocus/Todoist, they let me know what needs to get done. I even enable badges for whatever calendar app I’m currently using so I can know the date without having to swipe or tap more than necessary. Unlike Justin, I even enable badges and push notifications for email, because my daily influx of email is less overwhelming than his, and I like to stay on top of it all.

It seems weird to a lot of nerds, probably because most nerds are very aesthetics-focused individuals (at least in tech-centric fields.) Their homescreens are designed to be pretty, clean, and organized—something nice to look at. Many turn off all badges by default just to keep their homescreen “clean.” To me, this is a tragic waste of space and resources. As Justin says, “The iPhone is a beautiful tool, but a tool nonetheless.”

Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain

Gokhale had a herniated disc. Eventually she had surgery to fix it. But a year later, it happened again. “They wanted to do another back surgery. You don’t want to make a habit out of back surgery,” she says.

This time around, Gokhale wanted to find a permanent fix for her back. And she wasn’t convinced Western medicine could do that. So Gokhale started to think outside the box. She had an idea: “Go to populations where they don’t have these huge problems and see what they’re doing.”

The primary focus of the article is on indigenous populations’ posture and spinal shape, which is valid, but not the full picture. Only toward the end of the article is the conclusion that a healthy spinal shape is correlative, not the direct cause, of a pain-free life. The means to this, we believe, are more along the lines of a life-long movement practice and the muscle tone and mobility that comes with it.

Some practical thoughts on suicide

These are stories I’ve kept secret from my family, girlfriends, and closest friends for years. Recently, however, I had an experience that shook me — woke me up — and I decided that it was time to share it all.

This post by Tim Ferriss extends on the theme of my post the other day. Don’t worry about me because of the title, please. I do think it’s important to speak publicly about these issues, and am happy to see people like Tim, who have huge audiences, doing so.

Cultivating health during difficult times

June 2, 2015

If you don’t keep up with me on Twitter, you might’ve missed the news that my girlfriend Kristin recently moved out. No, it’s not like that; to move forward in her graduate program, a six-month internship is required, and it just so happened that hers is states away in New York. She left Thursday morning.

I also happened to wake up that morning with a sore throat that has been lingering ever since. It was a pitiful scene: emotional distress from Kris leaving combined with physical stress from whatever “illness” was plaguing me. Plus, physics lecture was that morning, and lab that afternoon. The whole day was off to a bad start. The whole “six months living alone” thing was off to a horrible start.

I’m writing about all this because I haven’t really figured out how to get back on track.

Normally, I’m a man of habit and routine, and when my habits and routines are displaced, things are quick to fall apart. Kris and I had been living together for quite a while, and I was happy with our life together. Now things have changed, and I don’t know what to do.

I’m introspective enough to realize all of this, but not yet capable of working around it. Inspiration came from an article by Mark Sisson entitled Cultivating Health During Crisis, which I had Pocket’d months ago and had never read until today. A few lines hit home enough to inspire me to write about my situation.

The first: “Crisis can suck us into a powerful undertow of fatigue and inertia.

Anyone who feels the way I feel will immediately recognize this statement. This inertia is hard to break free from once it grabs ahold. The past few days alone have been buffed by excessive intakes of morning caffeine and evening alcohol, each acting as exogenous motivators to wake up and wind down, since finding the endogenous, self-driven willpower to do such things proves too difficult. The gym went on hold, really due to this sickness; I attempted a visit yesterday, only to cut the workout in half and go home after a usually light weight proved too heavy, and my warmup took 30 minutes too long. Worst of all is the dietary change, which is most likely spurred (comically, perhaps) by now living without a girlfriend: fast food has worked its way back into my life, and the fridge is emptier than it has been in months.

I’ve been living like this, more or less, since that fateful Thursday morning. I’m not okay with it, but I have a way of convincing myself that I feel okay with it. Writing that, I realize that it all sounds like an acute bout of depression. There’s no shame in admitting that.

More proof: yesterday was my 23rd birthday. I made no big deal of it, in real life or online, though I was driven for one reason or another to publicly paint quite the depressing picture of my situation that night. Looking back, it was probably some form of cry for help. If I had posted the same thing to Facebook, where my meatspace friends reside, perhaps someone would’ve contacted me or asked to hang out. But I didn’t do that, because again, I suppose I wanted to feel crummy.

The article I linked to above discusses a variety of options for staying alive, healthy, and sane, and I am giving each a fair shot. But when we talk about this stuff, we can’t forget that inertia that makes it oh so difficult to make any progress in the right direction. Mark words it beautifully:

Upheaval of this magnitude has a way of knocking us out of our orbits. Emotionally disoriented and fatigued, we can feel out of sync, stuck in an oddly passive or at least awkward pattern. Life can feel like it’s happening around us. Even our routines can feel foreign as we navigate days with an unusual detachment.

Like most of the longer-form content I write, I will end with no real conclusion or solution. It’s not entirely a choice, after all; I just really don’t know what to do. Each day that goes by, I feel a bit better, both physically and emotionally, which is all the evidence I need to not worry too much about all of this. Kris and I both are aware that we’ll survive the long distance thing and probably come back better for it. Once this cold goes away, I’ll likely be encouraged to eat better, go grocery shopping once again, and get back into the gym.

It’s difficult, and anyone who’s been in this situation knows that. But it’s something that I have to overcome, and sooner rather than later. I think writing this and clicking publish is one of the first steps.

Dr. Kirk Parsley's TED Talk on America's biggest problem

Sleep literally affects EVERY aspect of your physiology, psychology, or any other “-ology” out there. Memories are formed, consolidated, trimmed, examined, and reinforced. Tissues repair, regenerate, and grow. Immune function is increased. Diseases are fought. Waste is removed. Neurotransmitters, cellular signals, nutritional elements, and hormones are balanced. . . all while you sleep.

It’s just over 17 minutes long and a little dramatic, but you can’t deny he’s got a point. It’s worth a watch. Spoiler alert: it’s about sleep deprivation.

(I was particularly fond of one analogy he used: your body is the same on six hours of sleep as it would be if you took a shot of whiskey every two hours. Literally. That’s kind of crazy.)

Ben Brooks reviews the Fuji X100T

If you can’t tell: I love this camera, and that’s really not a surprise. What will be more telling is whether I will be happy with it as my only camera for an extended period of time. If so I don’t plan on getting another camera for quite sometime.

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here's How.

My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Fantastic read.

(Via NextDraft.)

Personalized medicine: Time for one-person trials

Studies that focus on a single person — known as N-of-1 trials — will be a crucial part of the mix. Physicians have long done these in an ad hoc way. For instance, a doctor may prescribe one drug for hypertension and monitor its effect on a person’s blood pressure before trying a different one. But few clinicians or researchers have formalized this approach into well-designed trials — usually just a handful of measurements are taken, and only during treatment.

[…]

First, there is a growing interest in ‘omics’ assays that expose people’s unique characteristics at the molecular level. Researchers and clinicians are assaying people’s blood metabolites (their metabolome) and the microbes in their bodies (their microbiome) as well as their DNA and RNA9. Second, cheap and efficient devices that collect health data are becoming available, such as the Apple Watch, continuous glucose monitors and portable electroencephalogram (EEG) monitors. Lastly, governments and life-sciences funding bodies worldwide are increasingly supporting a more targeted approach as well as patient engagement in medicine, such as through the US Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, established in 2010.

This article primarily focuses on one-person trials in the context of drug research. Personally, I think they have just as much potential in nutrition research as well; after all, while generic dietary guidelines can be effective, the only way to truly optimize health is through individualized research and trial-and-error. These studies have been done before, which is why it’s silly to dismiss something simply because it goes against conventional wisdom—if it’s worked for one person, it can work for many.

Artificial light is a drug

Artificial light impacts nearly every biological system, and it doesn’t even take very much to have an appreciable effect (think: checking your smart phone or watching a television show on your iPad in bed at night). In this study, adding 4 hours to the usual 12 hours of light slammed the autonomic nervous system, disrupting sympathetic input into brown adipose leading to a significant increase in body fat “despite not eating more or moving less.”

Ben Brooks goes JPG only

I’ve long believed that Fuji processes images better than anyone else, and shot RAW + JPG from day one when my X100S arrived. RAW photography has its place when changes need to be made or money is on the line. For the rest, if your camera produces better-than-good-enough images by itself, let it be.

Just about every reason Ben presents for going JPG-only is a reason echoed throughout the Fuji community:

  1. Classic Chrome: this is Fujifilm’s latest film simulation mode and most of the time the colors are stunning. I shoot 90% of my shots with it.
  2. Velvia: again, another film simulation that has been replicated in many filter packs, and never as perfectly as on Fujifilm cameras.
  3. Accurate Previews: I used to spend my time editing the photos to find the colors that represented either what I am seeing, or want to see in the image. Now I can flick through the film simulations quickly and find the one that matches my minds eye. Shooting in black in white is phenomenal too, I can see through the viewfinder in black and white and therefore see exactly how my final shoot will look.
  4. Noise control: way better processing on the Fuji than I could ever get in Lightroom. Now I don’t see noise.

Plus, foregoing RAW reduces the desire to edit for the sake of editing. I myself have often deemed a Fuji JPG better than anything I’ve been able to whip up in Lightroom, yet still published the RAW shot because I was convinced that my “creative vision” was superior to the camera’s computer. I’ve since learned better.

It’s certainly worth mentioning that Fuji is the only system that’s ever been able to make me give up RAW photography. (I’ve used Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic in past lives.) I’m sure other companies do just fine, but like I said, Fujifilm has always processed images better. Its long film-based experience shines.

Neue Haas Unica

Neue Haas Unica™ is Monotype’s revival of a typeface that has attained almost mythical status in the type community. Unica® was an attempt to create the ultimate sans-serif – a hybrid of Helvetica, Univers and Akzidenz Grotesk. Designed by Team ’77 and released to great acclaim in 1980, Unica went missing under a heap of legal disputes and has never been available as a full, digital typeface. Until now.

I love this font so much that I’ve implemented it site-wide here at conormcclure.net, replacing PT Sans. This necessitated lowering the body font-size to 15px to maintain the desired look, but I think it turned out wonderfully. If something loads incorrectly, the stylesheet should fall back to Helvetica. Let me know how you like it!

A few "standing desk" best practices

April 3, 2015

The Wirecutter recently published a nice piece on standing desk best-practices. For the most part I enjoyed the article and thought it contained some valuable insights. I’d like to underscore a few key points:

To determine your ideal height for your monitor and keyboard, stand up straight and bend your elbows so that your forearms are parallel to the ground. Wherever your hands are, that’s the ideal height for your keyboard. And whatever is at eye level, that is your ideal monitor level. Create your desk around those dimensions.

It’s a little simplistic, but for the most part this will work. Standing hunched over is hardly better than sitting hunched over. Your monitor should definitely be eye level—looking straight ahead. Forearms at a right angle is a start, though I’d take it a step forward and force you to keep your elbows close to your ribcage instead of out in front of your body. Ultimately, this setup might place you a bit closer to your desk than you’re comfortable with, but it’s a tad more ideal.

Set up your desk near something that you can lean on from time to time, which will help you shift your weight around.

Yep. Standing versus sitting doesn’t have be quite such a dichotomy; leaning is a fantastic way to rest from prolonged standing without reverting to full-flexion in a chair. In our apartment, we use bar stools.

Get comfy shoes or, even better, go barefoot. If it’s not going to freak anyone out, go ahead and take off your shoes. But if you need footwear, keep a comfy pair of flats at the office that you can change into for standing.

This is correct, but backwards. Barefoot is always the best way to stand. If barefoot isn’t possible, then “flat” is the next keyword, not necessarily “comfy.” Converse and Vans are two brands that come to mind—look for no heel. If you’re a woman, standing in high heels at your standing desk is counterproductive.

Get a standing mat. They are pretty cheap and can make a huge difference in your comfort throughout the day, especially when you start standing for extended stretches of time.

I’m still not sold on the usefulness of standing mats. It’s easy to see why comfortability should be prioritized, but in reality, it doesn’t need to be; after all, your standing desk exists for better health. If going barefoot for long periods of time is uncomfortable, your goal should be to train that, not eliminate the discomfort with a mat. Put bluntly: if you can’t use your standing desk without a mat for support, you’re a wimp.


Of course, there are a couple of tips that The Wirecutter failed to mention that I am notoriously strict about. First, you have to stand (and walk, and do everything) with your feet straight. It will save your life. If you’re a duck-footed walker, fix that yesterday. Second (I know it’s awkward and we like to make jokes about it) you have to keep your butt squeezed and abs on—about 20% of “full throttle.” This serves to prevent excess lordosis and is the final forgotten step in good posture.