Replacing Social Media

I joined both Facebook and Twitter many years ago, when they were technical ideas, as opposed to advertising machines driven by algorithms.

Part of the reason for joining in the first place was for me to reserve my namespace. Just like gold rushes of old, it’s always important to claim your username before somebody else jumps in before you and puts their stake in the ground. While Twitter and Facebook took off, I also had my namespaces at long-forgotten sites like Pownce, Myspace and Technorati.

The Halcyon Days

Over the following years, my engagement with Twitter and Facebook increased. Facebook was great for retaining connections with people I knew IRL while on Twitter I built a list of followers that I didn’t know, but whose insights and commentary I enjoyed. This ultimately revolved around my two greatest hobbies: basketball and the Apple IT ecosystem. From around 2011-2015 really were the salad days of these two services.

The problem for them (not me), however, was that I wasn’t paying the bills. Nor were any of the other users. We know how this story goes. As per the trope, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. There was a realisation that I was certainly the product – being sold as advertising fodder by these services that needed revenue to keep the lights on, and investors invested.1

Addiction

Over time, these services added dopamine to my day. The nefarious social engineering tweaks they built to maintain my engagement were difficult to defeat. Likes, comments, shares, retweets. All these things built in a way that tries to make you feel like you are valued by your audience, but which are all just further measures to build an advertising profile of each of their human products. But it kept me coming back.

My usage continued to grow until a series of events made me question what the hell I was doing. Firstly, most of the Facebook people I realised I either saw in real life — which was much more satisfying — or I never saw them, and didn’t have space in my life to genuinely care about them. The algorithm would occasionally surface them to my feed, then they would bubble down again to be forgotten. On Twitter, there was growing awareness (and evidence) of the hate, vitriol, bile and mistreatment of people, both inside and outside my personal feed.

Downfall

As the services became politicised, they became weaponised. Intolerance grew, they became echo chambers, and the value of what was being expressed was minimised. From link bait to listicles and lame videos, both services were serving up nothing but empty calories. I realised that I was using my most valuable resource — my time — on two services that were giving me nothing back in return for my investment.

Hence, the decision to withdraw my namespace claims. I have deactivated Facebook. I have deleted Twitter.

Reversion

What is great is that I don’t feel I have lost anything. I feel just as informed, and I actually feel calmer. I don’t have this buzz in the back of my brain, like an itch I can’t scratch, knowing that I need to check my feeds. It has freed up the time to do more productive things. I’ve been reading actual books again. I have watched TV shows and movies with full focus.

It’s been great to have more free time to invest in activities that provide mental nourishment, rather than the fast food diet I had become used to with social media. Ironically, I think I had it more right 10 years ago, before the age of social media, where this is exactly what I would do. I would read, learn, converse. I didn’t like, share and tweet. But I think, on balance, I was all the better for it. I’m enjoying this rebalancing I’m going through now, and I hope that it continues.


  1. If you want evidence of just how much you are the customer, be sure to download the document from Twitter that shows just what information they have on you, and how you are linked with a range of brands and services for marketing towards. It’s kind of chilling. 

Deprioritising Facebook

A few months ago I stopped using Facebook. I deactivated my account, deleted the Facebook apps from my iOS devices, and went cold-turkey. I have subsequently had to reactivate my account because of the need to engage with some groups that exist only on Facebook, but I continue to ignore my timeline.

It has been a great change for the better. Facebook adds a huge weight of nothing. It’s empty calories. It uses up time that could be better spent elsewhere. I haven’t missed any news; I don’t feel less engaged with the world. To the contrary, actually. I feel more engaged. I don’t crave the little dopamine hits of likes and comments. I’m still writing and recording aspects of my life, but now they are feeding content that I own, whether it’s on my own microblog, or in my Day One journal, or (heaven forbid) through one-on-one conversations.

It surprised me just how easily I was able to ‘kick the habit’ of using Facebook. I thought I would miss it. As if to emphasise just how hollow the platform is, I’ve not had any of my myriad followers reach out to check if I’m still alive since my departure! That point highlights the disconnected connectedness Facebook promotes. Sure, you ‘like’ somebody’s post, but do you remember it 30 seconds later? Would you notice if it were not there? The evidence would suggest not, and that spot in the timeline would just be filled by something else.

If I could dump the Facebook platform entirely I would. As it is, I will use it as little as possible, and only as required for specific functional tasks. I am not willing to gift my attention to Facebook, for it to leverage into profit. My hours on this planet are too valuable to give you them for free.

Sisyphus’ Notetaking App

I am always searching for the perfect notes app, and the best way to integrate that into my workflow. I’m not sure I have found the former and I haven’t achieved the latter, but I keep trying. It’s ultimately a Sisyphean task, because there’s always another note taking app just around the corner which will constitute a new way of working with it. Nevertheless, I try.

With our proliferation of devices it’s no longer enough to have a decent desktop-based notetaking process. Access needs to be ubiquitous, and that means cloud sync. While a few years ago that would limit the candidates significantly, nowadays sync is the price of entry. When the iPhone arose and syncing was hard, the best option was Simplenote. This app used its own sync engine to provide lightning fast sync. I had a large number of notes in Simplenote, but it was convoluted getting them on my Mac, which required Dropbox and NVAlt – an app which I love the concept of but it never really grew on me.

Nowadays there are an abundance of options, such as Apple Notes, OneNote, Notability, OmniOutliner, and the list goes on. The problem with this is fragmentation. Taking notes is one thing, finding them again later is quite another. If I don’t have all my notes in one location, they may as well be lost. Plus that location needs to be available wherever I am and whatever device I have to hand. Spotlight search is useful, but I want to know where that note is, and I don’t want to have to trawl through search results to find it.

For the moment I have settled on Bear for notes. It syncs reliably across iOS and macOS, it supports Markdown syntax and can export into a variety of formats. It also looks really pretty.

Despite my use of Bear, I haven’t totally solved the fragmentation problem. I continue to use Goodnotes for handwritten notes taken with my Apple Pencil, DEVONThink Pro for reference material, and Ulysses for long-form writing. So stuff remains scattered.

And so my stone rolls back down the hill…

Take Time to Breathe

Life can get overwhelming. Work to do, dinners to cook, kids to care for, relationships to tend. Trying to do it all can be fatiguing. I have found this to be particularly true over this current long school holiday break, where the presence of children and their needs are incessant, but the other parts of life still need to be managed.

Trying to balance it all is not easy, and I don’t believe there is any magic bullet that will solve it all. There are only ever going to be 24 hours in a day. So I think the best response to the pressure comes down to 3 main things1:

  1. Scheduling: maximising the efficient use of time.
  2. Accepting: there’s no such thing as perfection.
  3. Breathing: maintaining mental health through awareness of the bigger picture.

Scheduling

Planning and scheduling can ease the mental burden. By making an agreement with yourself to do certain things at specified times there is clear evidence that time is being utilised to effect and things are getting done. At these times there is no need to worry about all the other things that aren’t getting done in the moment because at least you are doing something.

Personally this year I am trying to improve the structure of my scheduling. I am establishing days as either internal or external. Internal days are dedicated to working on the tasks I have recorded in OmniFocus, following the general Getting Things Done approach to task management. I will also use this time for internal meetings, planning and the like. External days will be available for me to get out on the road, visiting clients, following up business development opportunities, and networking.

I have taken my management of External days one step further by setting up a Calendly account. This service allows me to permit clients to book meetings with me directly, subject to my availability. Calendly knows the days I have set as External, and it knows when the slots I have made available are taken up, preventing them from being double-booked. Much time and effort was wasted last year mucking about with the to and fro of trying to coordinate meeting dates, so I hope this more automated approach will ease the burden.

Accepting

I am the type of person that wants everything to go just as according to plan. Of course, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. I have to accept the foibles of humanity and roll with the punches when things don’t go the way I wanted.

This is why planning methodology has moved away from ‘waterfall’ to ‘agile’ — because nothing works as intended, so change the plan rather than pretending that perfection is about to occur.

Breathing

In the chase for productivity at the micro-level, it is easy to lose context. Really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s highly likely that none of what we are doing actually matters that much. Now, this is not me promoting nihilism, because what we do does matter to those in our circles. What I am saying is that there are going to be few times where there is not sufficient slack in the timeline to pause; to take a time-out. In this moment, breathe.

Go outside, take a walk, talk to a friend, pray, meditate — just do something different and unrelated to the task. Taking a break will freshen the mind and offer an opportunity to perceive that larger context. The thing that was causing stress may suddenly not seem quite so significant afterwards.

Ultimately, having a sound and stable mind will allow a focus on scheduling and facilitate acceptance of what can and cannot be achieved. It’s a virtuous circle.


  1. Because any good list worth it’s salt has 3 things. Not 2, not 4. Three. 

Google Wifi

Google Wifi

For months my home WiFi has been less than satisfactory. Dropouts, slow connections, complete failures to connect, router reboots required, and so on.

I have a slightly more complicated than average setup but it’s nothing so extreme that I should have had such annoying problems. I don’t live in an area with a lot of competition for WiFi spectrum and my hardware is all of the non-cheap variety.

I have tried different configurations from using my ISP provided D-Link DVA-2800 (the worst modem/router I have used in my life) as a single WiFi router, then in conjunction with the device I have used constantly for a number of years — my Airport Extreme ac (the tower one). I have variously extended this with an Ethernet backhaul to a second, older Apple Time Capsule (the one that looks like a Mac Mini) and I have tried an approach where the D-Link has operated in bridge mode with the Airports acting as the router.

No approach has been that great, and none have solved the problems I outlined earlier.

My pain points

The constant problems I faced with all of these different approaches were:

  • poor coverage, with 5GHz only working within a small radius, and failing coverage entirely at the extremities of my house and garden.
  • failure of devices to roam across two routers with the same SSID. This is a known problem with consumer grade WiFi that doesn’t offer intelligent roaming. My devices would hang on to a weak signal from one access point as opposed to switching over to a closer, stronger point. This problem was especially noticeable with MacBooks.
  • slow initial connections (again mainly with MacBooks) as they searched and connected to the best available signal. I have a feeling there is a software bug in there somewhere as well, because toggling WiFi off/on on the laptops would often then result in a speedy connection.
  • general frustrations with setting up. The D-Link interface is an abomination. The Airport software is much better, but it always seemed to take a bunch of clicks to get anywhere, and as with a lot of Apple stuff, it was short on diagnostics.

Given all these problems, I decided it was time for a change. Many of the podcasts I listen to feature ads for the Eero mesh WiFi product. This advertising is useless to me as far as selling me their product because they don’t retail in Australia. It did, however, get me interested in the idea of a mesh network, and helped push me into the arms of Eero’s competitor1.

In Australia, the best option seemed to be the Google Wifi 3-pack. I pulled out my wallet and bought a pack for AU$399. Not cheap but my hope was that lowering my blood pressure with less frustration made it a good investment.

Setting it up

In my case, the setup was not quite as simple as Google makes it out to be. This may be my own fault, because I probably overthink things, to be honest. I knew I still needed a router to transfer my NBN Fibre-to-the-Node (and then copper to the house) connection. This meant I had to keep my horrible D-Link to act as the modem. With my Apple Airport, I had the D-Link set to bridge mode and the Airport took on the task of the primary router and DHCP server. This obviated the need to ever deal with the D-Link software.

I went with this same setup with Google Wifi, but no success. It couldn’t establish a connection to my ISP through DHCP, as required.

To resolve this problem, I had to go back to my D-Link and take it out of bridge mode. I had to have it act as both a modem and a router (but disable its WiFi) and have it farm an IP address to the primary Google Wifi point. This is frustrating because it creates a “double-NAT” situation that seems unavoidable. Two devices, both creating a pool of IP addresses. The Airport wins here, as it was able to manage the DHCP connection with my ISP just fine.

Up and running

So now with this configuration my D-Link establishes the Internet connection while Google Wifi manages the internal WiFi and ethernet network. From this point it was smooth sailing. The Google Wifi app is quite good, apart from feeling very out of place on iOS due to its Android Material design aesthetic. It’s also weird to have to rely on a mobile app with no way of accessing the Wifi units through a computer. Finally, no iPad app – just a scaled iPhone app. Come on, Google, you can do better than that. While the Airport Utility looked prettier, Google Wifi gave me more control.

The network quality that Google Wifi delivers is excellent. I’ve been able to use ethernet to create a wired backhaul to the second device that sits near our TV, and I have some strategically placed switches to extend my ethernet network for fixed devices. That each Google point only has a single ethernet jack is a little disappointing, but not really surprising given the typical home market it is aiming at. I have the third device in my bedroom. This one is not using Ethernet backhaul, but leverages the ‘mesh’ approach that is the whole point of the system anyway.

Since installation the WiFi throughout (and outside) the house has been fast and flawless. I am mostly able to connect to a 5GHz ac signal and roaming happens silently and easily. I don’t notice connections slowing down or failing. Whenever and wherever I open a MacBook it establishes an instant connection, whereas it used to take ages and would still sometimes fail.

Netspot results

A Netspot signal-to-noise quality comparison may indicate I haven’t experienced much change in overall signal quality with the change to Google Wifi, other than the Google Wifi result perhaps being a little ‘smoother’ and without a single hotspot near the router.

But it’s the lack of problems with handoffs and roaming that are the real story here. That and the fact that I can more often use a 5GHz ac connection that was previously limited to inside my study.

Signal to noise heatmap with two Apple Airports
Signal to noise heatmap with two Apple Airports
Signal to noise heatmap with Google Wifi
Signal to noise heatmap with Google Wifi

You will have to excuse my variation in measuring points – this was not an entirely scientific method.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m happy with the purchase. Once I got everything set up and working correctly it’s been a hassle-free experience. The initial experience, though, was sketchy.

I’d love to know if anybody has had success having a Google Wifi setup connect to an NBN connection directly through a bridged modem like my Apple Airport could. While it isn’t really a problem, the knowledge that I have a non-optimal configuration with two NAT devices operating is annoying to me.

Would I recommend this product to others? Yes, absolutely. I also think that most other people would have a much more successful plug and play experience than me. This is the curse of the tinkerer.


  1. An unintended consequence, I would imagine. Podcasts are global, so if you are going to advertise on them, maybe consider having a global approach to retail.