Creating more than you consume

I’ve hammered on financial radio host Dave Ramsey before, but I’m impressed with his mastery of his show. I don’t listen to it, but I have in the past, and I know a lot of people who do listen to it. The gist is:

  1. Don’t ever go into debt.
  2. Pay off any debts you do have.
  3. Invest in mutual funds.

There’s more detail to it, like the percentage of money you should invest and so forth. But the simplicity of his message distills to “Don’t spend money you don’t have and earn more money”. It makes for entertaining radio.

I was thinking about his format this weekend because the “earn more” bit is grating. A person with $150,000 in debt and a $35,000 a year income will call in and he’ll tell them they have an income problem. They do, but the way to get into a better job never comes up much. That’s for the caller to just figure out.

It’s always about finding a better job though. Ramsey rarely encourages people to go into business themselves. That could be self-selecting because callers looking to go into business often have a bunch of other financial or personal problems.

Here’s the funny thing about all this, though: his advice to grow wealth is tied to the stock market. “Invest in good growth-stock mutual funds” …and wait 60 years. I get that for a lot of people that’s the safe, tried-and-true way. But did Dave Ramsey make his millions investing entirely in the stock market?

No, he did not.

Dave Ramsey made a business out of selling other people advice he wouldn’t settle for. If he called his own show 20 or 30 years ago he would have told himself to “Find a better job, chip away at debt, and invest.”

That’s not bad advice. But what did Ramsey actually do?

  • He wrote a book that simplifies a complex problem on an issue that impacts millions of people.
  • Started a series of talks and classes in churches (soft targets for people to speak about anything to a captive audience) to push that book and his name.
  • Published that book and worked into the syndicated radio show business to finally expand his reach to millions of people.

That’s all very impressive. I’m genuinely impressed at his ability to grow that and keep reinventing the wheel to expand into all kinds of different markets. He’s in the business of lecturing at middle and high schools, writing children’s books and faith-based books, plus podcasts, web series, and designing financial planning services that compete against Mint.

You have to do something else

If I hosted a competing radio show, I’d be telling callers another hard truth on how to achieve wealth: you must create more than you consume.

What you create must be able to scale up and reach millions of people (this is the fundamental flaw with my business).

My three steps would be:

  1. Turn off the TV and video games and spend that time building, writing, drawing, cooking, or creating something.
  2. Ensure what you’re creating can be reproduced or consumed by 10 people or 10,000 people.
  3. What you do consume should be related to your craft (like books on the subject).

This is somewhat antithetical to the notion of getting a job. People who grind at a job all day don’t have much mojo left at the end of the day to work on a book or a wood lathe. It can be done, but realistically most people just don’t have that ability. There’s also something to be said for “all work and no play” making people into dullards or worse.

Ramsey’s advice is an indication of another uncomfortable truth: the path to wealth in American is less and less through a job unless you’re in a highly credentialed field (law, medicine, etc.). It’s more through creation of your own business where you own the means of production.

In a capitalist society the whole thing would fall apart if everyone was a company owner. Eventually you require laborers. Creating a business is always a huge risk for people, too.

Just as Ramsey’s advice is to never go into debt and “make more money”, mine would go above that: “consume less and create more world-class stuff.”

Indianapolis landscapers should be considered hellscapers.

The funny thing about Indianapolis is how you can bump into people in ways like you might think of in a small town. I guess it’s not impossible a person in Chicago or New York might randomly see someone around town in the course of a day’s errands. But I think it happens more here.

To give you an example I met a guy for coffee one afternoon. I can’t even remember where or why I extended the invitation, but it was probably Facebook. After seeing this guy’s name in a few circles about some website work I figured it was worth a chat. I make it my business to know people in my business.

We meet for bad coffee and service at Mo Joe’s and we talk about the usual niceties. He’s from El Paso, Texas. Works for a local shop that makes websites for high end service groups. In both cases he’s simultaneously more southern and more webby than me. Which is annoying.

Before we go he mentions his boyfriend was at the table right behind me the whole time. Not coincidentally, of course, but we took a few moments to talk about his work. Turns out he’s interested in freelance architecture design that’s more approachable and affordable for average people.

We part ways and a few weeks later my ash tree in the front lawn dies. Those two facts aren’t related, but I also have no proof they aren’t.

And in the funny way Indianapolis ticks, I saw these two guys a couple more times. Once on my bike on the way home. Then again twice in one weekend at two distinctly different places miles apart from each other.

The whole time my ash tree continued its slow death slide into being a literal stick in the ground.

In pursuit of finding a guy to cut down and replace the tree I discovered that the people who cut down trees aren’t the people who put them in the ground. Those seem like obvious lateral business moves to me, but I’m not a lumberjack or a landscaper.

After finding a bunch of quotes from landscapers and tree removers in the range of $500-$1000, these were all far higher than I valued such a service. So applying a process I call “encouraging people to do it for less”, I managed to get a guy to do it for $375. Henson’s Landscaping did a fine job of chopping down the tree and grinding out the stump. I just wish I could have gotten them to give me ideas on the “landscaping” part of their name. But they never returned my call. Like about a dozen other places in town. It was starting to become a vast hellscape of broken promises. I wasn’t indicating anything other than “I have a house. I’d like some landscaping.”

So I turn to calling all kinds of places for quotes on landscaping. All the ones that showed up in trucks with logos on them were immediately out of the running. Too pricey with too much overhead. I know how much guys like me cost, and someone has to pay that logo designer.

And in step with Indianapolis’ modus operandi, these two guys I met for coffee popped in my head. “I bet they know people who know things about trees.”

Turns out they know things about trees. Joey Ponce and Brian Burtch, both operating under the banner of “City in Green” came out to the house and gave me 100% more than at least a dozen other places around here would: in that they actually came to the house and gave me a quote. No other landscaper seemed to bother giving me the quote or showing up when scheduled. Brian’s a licensed architect with his firm NEON Architecture, so the quote even had schematics of my house and property lot. Which was both helpful and creepy.

I like hiring people who operate at small scale. They care more and are way more affordable, but are the hardest to find. I got lucky bumping into these guys.

Brian and Joey gave me an estimate, they stuck to it, and we were able to split things into phases to meet the seasons and my budget. This weekend they came out and replaced the death hole in my front lawn with three new trees. A red maple, dogwood, and eastern redbud. They’ll grow quickly, look good, and they’re not ash trees, so they stand a solid chance of not being eaten alive by supper.

City in Green's first project

Next spring we’ll throw down phase two: a mulch bed off the front of the house with native grasses and plants. And by “we” I mean them while I stand around remembering how much I don’t like to be dirty and Jeremiah makes dinner.

As it turns out this was their first landscaping project. You should be their second. Because this is how Indianapolis works and and stays looking nice.

This is what Indianapolis and Indiana will look like in the year 2036

Indy’s Plan 2020 is getting a lot of attention. I tried looking at their site, but almost every link I encountered said nothing or was broken. From what I hear, it’s a lot of zoning and land re-use plans that everyone is holding up as “the key to the city’s future”. I rarely believe that sort of stuff because Indianapolis, like most cities, doesn’t have any money to turn effort into momentum.

Doug Masson is doing an excellent job of summarizing Indiana’s history in his Indiana Bicentennial series.

Given Plan 2020 seems rather lofty and best-case-scenario for the future, and Doug has the State’s overall past covered, I thought it might be interesting to think about what Indianapolis and Indiana might look like in 20 years. That seems like a reasonable amount of time for gears of government to work enough to induce some noticeable policy changes at the state and local levels.

In 20 years this puts Indianapolis in the year 2036. Most millennials will now be somewhere in their 40’s. A new generation will have graduated out of K-12 education.

Indianapolis Neighborhoods

Broad Ripple will experience an overall suburbanization effect. As present-day millennials age and decide they want to hang near work and decent schools with their new families, Broad Ripple is going to look more like an old-school suburb.

Which means all the nightlife, music, and other noisy stuff will continue its trend and firmly supplant itself in Fountain Square. The current colony of artists and other industries that rely on extremely low-rents and low-cost spaces will now be setup around Garfield Park. The Cultural Trail will have extended south to Garfield Park, and East through the New York St/Michigan Street areas. However, we’ll be buzzled as to why all the growth will take place near Garfield Park and not so much on the near east side.

The 16th street corridor will continue its growth just north of Downtown and is likely to grow into something we’ve not seen much before in Indy. I think it’ll become a sort of “uppercrust young people with money” corridor. College students that have wealthy parents, Downtown workers with well-paying jobs, but with a taste that eschews the sort of shiny all-glass all-chrome aesthetic that defines Fountain Square’s new developments today. A new aesthetic of urban, gritty, classical-architecture is likely to take shape here.

The City’s continued investments in new roads, sidewalks, transit corridors, and trails will continue to expand primarily on the north side, north of Washington Street, east of Michigan Road, and west of College Ave. Nothing new here.

Lafayette Square and Washington Square malls will drag down everything around them like a collapsing star. They’ll kill spontaneity, aesthetics, and drag down safety and drive up costs in transportation. Best case is the city will work with Simon to demolish the properties and replace them with a dense node of mixed-use residential and commercial that is affordable and pushes the boundaries of quality, low-cost, office and retail space for entrepreneurs and super small businesses. “Mall to Small” we’ll call it.

Development on the south side will likely cease in this period. The south side will be waiting another 20 years (40 total from today) for suburban counties to struggle with their over-development and sprawl. Their costs will skyrocket, their residents will leave for newer exurbs, and taxes will increase. This will put Fishers, Avon, Plainfield, and Greenwood on a similar tax rate with Marion County. Thus, new development will in-fill on the south side of Marion County to at least get benefits of proximity since costs are equalized.

Shelby and Hancock Counties will benefit from that south side growth in 50-60 years from today as they become the new affordable suburbs.

Families and adults looking to flee from the City will setup shop in Westfield, Whitestown, Lebanon, New Whiteland, and Franklin. These places will resemble Fishers and Carmel today. Danville may also enjoy some exurban growth. Brownsburg will miss this boat because of a lack of vision and planning today. This will be their “lost generation”. Greenfield and Shelbyville will grow once that aforementioned south-side infill occurs.

Greenwood, Avon, Plainfield, Fishers, and Carmel will look like present-day Beech Grove and Lawrence, in that order. Carmel seems to be attempting to avoid this fate by investing heavily now, but heavy debt loads on a fickle population of residents may be their undoing. Greenwood, Avon, and Plainfield are likely unable to avoid this fate and will become old, expensive, and unsustainable once their water, sewer, road, and school systems start requiring immense repairs – all at around the same time. As property ages and becomes less valuable, they will see revenue shrink even more.

It could be that Carmel grows into an urban center unto itself, and between Indianapolis’ core and Carmel’s core the northside of Marion County becomes something else entirely. I think Carmel’s gambles today are likely to be dangerous long-term with debt. Debt is everyone’s undoing.

Indianapolis will maintain healthy bond and debt levels throughout this time, barring an emergency, and resemble our current “slow and steady” conservative approach to growth. But I can imagine a scenario where Indy’s “sports strategy” starts to show some cracks. The Colts are likely to be in negotiations for another new stadium. The Pacers will maintain shop here. The Speedway is going to see a decline in viewership, advertising, and attendance. Baseball, hockey, and soccer will continue to be such minor-players residents will loudly lament the expense of maintaining such expensive hobbies for the City. Particularly as investments in actual quality-of-life issues on the northside incenses people on the east, west, and south sides that don’t see those same amenities, but do see millions pouring into new stadium discussions.

Beech Grove and Lawrence will collapse and be folded into Indianapolis-Marion County government. They will be mere neighborhood names like Nora and Mars Hill conjure up today. Speedway may hang on, but only so long as Allison Transmission is around.

IUPUI will continue to expand east into Downtown for residential and healthcare work. Expect them to push west big time once they have a large enough plan to quickly take over the black neighborhood that’s there now. They’ll eschew growing “up” because of costs in taller buildings, preferring to keep things nice and cheap just over the river.

Indianapolis’ economy

Indianapolis’s economy will continue to be Indiana’s economy, and even more so, despite what state lawmakers will want to recognize, like today. I do not, however, think technology will be Indy’s future savior. I think our economy is likely to look a lot like today.

Salesforce will continue to expand in Indianapolis until the tech bubble bursts and their lack of profits for the sake of growth will cause total collapse of their workforce. Or, Salesforce will continue to expand in Indianapolis until a larger, actually profitable, company (like Microsoft or IBM) comes along and buys them out. That buyer is likely to have no allegiance to Indiana and we’ll enter a period of attrition as they move positions elsewhere. This will cause an undoing of Indy’s tech sector. Many will leave the city for the coasts in job relocations, but many will stay and reenter the workforce as solo entrepreneurs and freelancers. This is going to have a heavy impact on Indy’s income and sales tax revenues, but is likely to even out 10-15 years from then as the market sorts itself out. It’s hard to say which of these two things happens first. They’re racing neck-and-neck with each. What’s clear is that a select few on Wall Street and in San Francisco will be huge beneficiaries while everyday workers and the City wonders what happened and why.

Indianapolis will likely maintain most of its employment stability in government, retail, and biomedical industries (Lilly and Cummins will still do extremely well). Expect healthcare to take a dive as Boomers die and the echo-boomers age into middle-age with relatively modest healthcare needs. In another 50 years healthcare will likely tick up again as Millennials age further.

Indianapolis will continue to be a convention town, as another Convention Center expansion will have happened. Indianapolis will now regularly host large conventions for political parties, the NRA, and the sort of events we view as “just slightly” out of our league today from a capacity and hospitality stance. New hotels will continue to flow into Downtown.

Statewide policy

Indiana’s Legislature will have finally moved on from social issues like gay marriage, but will still be fixated on abortion and immigration. Indiana will likely continue to slide in the direction of less regulation and low taxation, but will compensate by raising more fees and use-taxes. Expect an increase in the gas tax by a bunch, likely within the next 2-5 years from today, and tied to inflation as Speaker Bosma has proposed. Just as electric cars take over more. I’d expect the gas tax to go up in 2-5 years and then a special “electric surcharge tax” will be placed on electric car charging to make up the difference going forward.

Indiana’s Legislature will continue to exert heavy control on Indiana’s municipalities, much to their chagrin. There will also be a push towards improving quality of life, noting that it’s not enough to be good for business if no one wants to live in your state. But this will focus heavily on communities with money. Expect Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Evansville to do well here, plus Hendricks, Hamilton, and Boone Counties. Rural decline will continue to heavily decimate the Hoosier hinterlands, placing them in America’s new ghettos: rural, lacking in services, and priced out of useful healthcare, transportation, and high-paying jobs.

Mitch Daniels in his return third term in 2020 will be able to stem the tide for a while, but by 2030 we’ll view rural residents as burdensome and unable to deliver value for the State.

Higher education will continue to be a sore point for Indiana as Hoosiers will still be priced out of it. I don’t expect changes in the pricing of higher education for another generation.

Places currently in economic decline will be largely abandoned. Muncie, Tipton, Seymour, and the like will resemble present-day Gary. Anderson and Kokomo may be able to stem this tide by throwing transit subsidies into Indianapolis’ orbit. Westfield’s gain in residents, for instance, will be Kokomo’s gain in industry.

Very rural counties today, like Cass, Washington, Greene, etc. will decline even further into a barely-self-sustaining entity that is mired in drug abuse, prostitution, underemployment, and anger.

The overarching conclusion: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

A Mac user’s thoughts on Windows 10 and the Surface Pro 4

If someone told me 5 years ago I’d be typing this on a PC running Windows, I would have punched them in the face. But, here we are.

A couple weekends ago someone lent me a spare Surface Pro 4 they had. It was new, in the box, and the Core i5/8GB of RAM model. Within 4 hours it crashed so hard it required a complete re-installation of Windows. It was like 1999 all over again.

But I’ve done my research and I know things take some time sometimes. I used that Surface, Microsoft’s take on the tablet that shrinks a lot of laptop into a smaller space, with some success afterwards and went on to pick up my own Core M (fanless) version that I’m using right now. And I think I want to keep it.

The iPad, iPad Pro, and iOS

I have to get this out of the way first. At home I have an iPad Pro sitting on the coffee table. I use it to read tweets, send email and text messages, and sometimes move some files around with Dropbox. For all of Apple’s work in making great hardware, my workflow is not iOS friendly. And I wish it were. But it’s not.

I need to move files around like the dickens. And I need Adobe’s suite of products. Their iOS counterparts are borderline useless. I know people can create stunning art on an iPad. But I make business cards and websites and brochures and logos that need bundled up as format-friendly .eps files and printer-friendly CMYK InDesign and PDF packages. iOS has no mechanism for handling these files at all. Believe me, I’ve tried. Before you say Pixelmator, nope, I’ve confirmed with their support that it doesn’t do CMYK on iOS (it does on the Mac).

I also play some games. Namely, SimCity. To me “gaming” is just SimCity. I don’t really do much else. SimCity, like a ton of games on iOS, is one of those shitty nickel-and-dime In App Purchase games that basically wants you to pay a bunch of money constantly. SimCity on iOS is not designed to play like I want to play, where I sit down and say, “Ok, I have a few hours to relax. I want to play a game.” SimCity BuildIt, as it’s called on iOS, is all about producing little virtual products like seeds and lawn chairs and drills and wood. It’s designed to play for a few minutes at a time. iOS has a bunch of great casual games. But when you want a game, you want a game.

Every time I sit down to use my iPad for “real work”, I’m disappointed. And I’ve read all the think pieces. I know a lot of people can do “real work” on iOS. I’m just not one of them yet.

Which doesn’t change the fact that as a Frugal Hoosier, I am not excited about having $3,000 worth of hardware just to go through my day. I want one device that can do work and play in a variety of environments.

Enter the Surface Pro 4

I know Tim Cook has routinely called a Surface a “toaster fridge”, explaining that you can’t possibly put the two together and expect either to be good. But I kinda think he might be wrong.

Microsoft has built their Surface line like a mix of Microsoft and Apple. They’re building the hardware and software, like Apple. But they’ve also taken a few years to get it to be pretty good, a classic Microsoft move.

The hardware on the Surface Pro is great. I can’t find any reviews that poo-poo it. It’s as thin as the USB port will allow, and light enough to compete with the MacBook Air. My other daily-driver, a 12″ Retina MacBook, is what I’ve been using recently. The similarities are interesting.

They both have high resolution screens. Some compare the Surface screens to be better than some iPad models in color correctness and display of blacks. It is a great screen.

The speakers on the Surface Pro 4 are nicer. Not necessarily better, but nicer. The iPad Pro has more bass, but the Surface Pro speakers are embedded in the bezel of the screen, so they’re facing at you instead of the side. So they sound louder and clearer, and certainly better than the MacBook. To be honest, I didn’t even know where they had placed the speakers until I started really looking for the tiny slits. Jony Ive would never let this out of Apple’s design lab because it makes the screen untrue to itself, but any rational person who just wants to hear clearly will appreciate it.

The power jack is magnetic, unlike the iPad and MacBook.

The USB port is kinda nice to have. When I had that initial Surface, the i5 model, it let me restore it without a trip to the store. And about that i5 model: it was fast, but noisy. The fan kicked on a lot, and the battery life was dismal at just a few hours. Some have reported that this is fixed now through software and better manufacturing. The Microsoft Store rep I spoke to seemed to be surprised by it. But if you unplug one of the i5 or i7 models in the store, you’ll see the battery meter quickly show 2-4 hours of battery life left. That’s not good enough for me. I’d be worried sick if I had to go give a presentation with that.

The one I’m using now, however, is the Core M model. It can almost be considered a special Core i3 Processor, but it sips power more efficiently. I can easily get 6 hours of usage, maybe longer. Sometimes the battery meter shows 10-12 hours of life on it when I’m just writing or browsing the web. Microsoft claims 9 hours on the i5 model, but I can’t imagine how.

The TypeCover (which comes in colors, like this shade of red I love), is Microsoft’s way of making this laptop/tablet hybrid work well. The TypeCover is light, easy to remove, fits snugly with magnets, and has generous keys and key strokes. Plus, the trackpad is much improved. It’s just as responsive and smooth as my Macbook. The clickiness is about on par with a MacBook Air’s “chicklet” style keyboard.

One qualm with the hardware: the Core i5 and i7 models have a larger power brick, and that comes with a longer cord. The brick also has a USB plug on it, which is interesting (the charging port is like Apple’s Lightning plugs — capable of transmitting data and electricity). The Core M, however, comes with a smaller plug that goes directly in the wall. It’s also about a foot or 18″ shorter. I wish it was a little longer. Also, the charging light on the Surface charger is useless. It’s lit when it’s plugged in and stays white. It doesn’t change or show a charging vs charged status.

The Surface Pro also has a MiniDisplay port and MicroSD card slot. The MiniDisplay port is being used right now with Apple’s own, and it works fine on my Dell monitor.

The MicroSD slot makes up for the 128GB of disk space that comes in the Core M model. I bought a 128GB card for $50 on Amazon and within 24 hours had everything from my MacBook placed on my Surface Pro. For a whole lot less, too.

Get smart about cloud storage through OneDrive or Dropbox and you can really go places.

Really, Microsoft may be new to making PC hardware, but they’ve been making hardware like mouses and keyboards for decades and they’ve got a lineup of some great input devices over the years. Unlike Apple.

Windows 10

I used Windows growing up. XP was the last version I owned myself, and 7 was the last I used with any regularity since it was at the office I was working at. Since 2009, though, I’ve been OS X-only.

My biggest fear, and I’m sure the largest of any Mac user who looks at the cost of Apple’s “Own a Mac and an iPad, why don’t you? Oh, and an iPhone…” is, “But doesn’t Windows suck?” “Can I find good software there?”

The answer is largely no, it doesn’t, and yes, you can.

Windows 10 is snappy and stable. It even feels snappy and stable. Any concern that it doesn’t manage resources or memory or power or stability as well as OS X are out of date. Any notion that Windows is likely to get a virus and die at the wiff of an email is also unfounded.

Windows Defender is a built-in security mechanism, kinda like Apple’s own firewall and app-signing protocols, that keeps things safe without the need for a bloated antivirus and malware scanner. Like on a Mac, don’t be dumb and don’t click on stupid crap and you’ll be fine. But you’re more secure than ever.

Windows 10 boots quickly, encrypts data through BitLocker (like FileVault), scrolls smoothly, and launches and closes programs easily. I have no complaints.

In some ways, it’s faster. I can play the same game (SimCity, Cities of Tomorrow Expansion) on this Surface and my MacBook. This Surface does better.

Neither device has a fan inside (the i5 and i7 do), but my Surface runs cooler when maxed on games. The Surface’s 2.2 GHz processor is twice as fast as the 1.1 in the MacBook and it shows, even if OS X is efficient at making it feel otherwise.

Installing fonts is a lot easier today than ever before. It’s just like OS X: double click and install. Done. Still no Helvetica, though.

I was even worried about screenshotting, since I do that constantly with Cmd+Shift+4 on OS X. I’ve found that the OneNote Clipping tool works great for this. Maybe even better since it can be set to copy to the clipboard for use later, as opposed to junking up my desktop with screen shots.

Windows Explorer is almost exactly the same as always. Mac users perennially complain about Finder’s dated behavior, too, so this is clearly a cross-platform complaint. Explorer lacks tabbed windows, but it shows previews and details just as the Finder does. I have no complaints there.

In many ways, Microsoft has closed the gap with Apple on the OS that I think Windows 10 and OS X are on-par in ease of use, stability, security, and features. At this point they’re just volleying and stealing ideas from each other. Windows had split screen first, before El Capitan late last year. I find it works better and easier on Windows than on OS X. So it’s 6 of one and half a dozen of another. Skype and Facetime. Expose vs App Switcher. It goes on.

Also of note: it’s not ugly! In fact, Microsoft has been doing what Apple users have wanted which is to stop pushing updates with new features once a year and just roll them out like a service. Just last week a Windows update came in that lets you check a box to “match Windows to your background image”. Here it is making my Rolling Stones concert photo even cooler:

Windows 10 Matching Desktop Background

Tablet Mode

Things get interesting when you pull the TypeCover off (and you should really buy it with the TypeCover). Windows has a “Tablet Mode” that is borderline useless. It just makes windows big. I never use it.

Instead, I just tap on the screen. Touch targets are small, but I don’t struggle with it. I can imagine older eyes, or really really fat fingers might struggle. But I appreciate that Microsoft is making inroads on that. Where they’re moving from the top down, Apple is moving from the bottom up. They’re both striving to get to the same spot in the middle.

Long term, I think Apple will come out ahead here. I think. I think Apple’s playing a very, very, long game. I know people complain that the Surface and iPad Pro should be treated like two different things, but I don’t. I think Apple’s working to make iOS desktop-class, while Microsoft is working to make Windows tablet-friendly. It’s already desktop-class.

Strikingly to me, Adobe has touch-friendly controls in Photoshop and Illustrator. The claim they can’t make their apps on iOS seems more like, “We don’t want to” or “That’s a reallllly big job, maybe someday…”.

And as high-performing as the A9X chip is in the iPad Pro, it’s still a long way from Intel’s line. Apple will get there, eventually, but I’m here today and I need something that can work today.

This is where most people say, “Well just use a Mac”. That’s Apple’s line. And that’s not wrong. But dang it, I can’t justify $3,000 in hardware lying around so I can read on this and write on that and play on this and work on that.This is 2016 and I’m not made of money.

The “just use the Mac” trope is fine, except, I spend a large part of these cold winter nights and frosty winter weekends sitting on the couch. I have a cat that wants to sit on my lap and all I really want to do is read Kindle books or browse the web. I’m in consumption mode.

The iPad is great here, but so, too, is the Surface Pro. I pop that keyboard off and it’s exactly what I need, *exactly* where I left off. It pops the keyboard up when I need it, if a little inconsistently in some apps that haven’t been updated, but it works nicely.

And I can read without having to shoo the cat off the keys or sit more upright to make the track pad accessible.

Microsoft is where Apple wants to be on this. But Apple’s taking more time to get touch-friendly software in place and shedding the 30+ years of desktop cruft.

For me, today, the Surface Pro handles this better. I mostly work, sometimes play. I suppose if I were any number of other people who has a laptop or desktop at work, like a banker or something, the iPad would be great. Because the iPad does feel more fun, but this does work nicely. And the battery life and chassis heat isn’t any worse than my 12″ MacBook.

Microsoft is likely to make more headway here, and I think faster than Apple can move the other direction. There are gestures, for example, but only when activated by the trackpad. Without one attached, you can swipe left and right from the screen to get notifications and switch apps, just like iOS, but that’s it. You can’t close apps with a 5 finger pinch, for instance. And you sometimes have to “call” for the on-screen keyboard which sits by the clock in the task tray. But I almost prefer that vs. iOS where it guesses I want the keyboard correctly about half the time anyway.

Moving from or between iOS, Mac OS X, and Windows

Barring some keyboard shortcuts you’ll have to get used to, they’re all there.

I’ve found the following list of adequate replacements to apps I’ve grown attached to:

  • Tweetium instead of Tweetbot or Twitteriffic. Sync with TweetMarker instead of iCloud and you can move between all devices seamlessly. I still use Tweetbot on my iPhone.
  • Chrome instead of Safari. Chrome is showing age, but Microsoft’s new Edge browser (which is all-new and not IE in the least), is really new. There are no extensions yet. So Chrome with uBlock, The Great Suspender, and Flashcontrol keeps everything in check resource-wise and I have no complaints. Bookmarks and everything else sync nicely back and forth between everything. Microsoft has said extensions are coming almost any day now.
  • Cyberduck instead of Transmit. One downside here is that Transmit Favorites, of which I have about 60, are encrypted. Transmit won’t export to anything to let you move your logins.
  • NextGen Reader instead of Reeder or other RSS reader.
  • Windows Mail is fine. I don’t love it, but I didn’t love Apple Mail, either.
  • As an Adobe subscriber, I can use Premier and Audition instead of Garage Band and iMovie. Apple gives you more free consumer-grade software out of the box.
  • Office on Windows is better, no surprise there. But Microsoft’s Office iOS apps are great. And Outlook on iOS is better than anything anywhere (really!). No one got excited about spreadsheets, but they work nicely.
  • Slack is available.
  • 1Password is available, albeit with a pretty ugly app. I was most surprised by this, though they are working on a new version. Like apps on iOS that get upscaled to work on the iPad Pro, some Windows apps haven’t caught up to PixelSense (“Retina”, or high-quality) screens on PCs.
  • Reader from Microsoft, available in the Windows Store, is a pleasure to use and replaces Preview nicely.
  • Drawboard PDF is a great third-party Windows app that even comes pre-installed on some machines. It makes use of the included Surface Pen to let you markup PDFs. Reader lets you mark up images. Edge’s one notable feature here is that it lets you markup and share webpages. For a web designer, that’s amazing.
  • OneDrive for Business is buggy as heck on OS X, though recent updates have helped. It’s better but not perfect on Windows, but also noticeably better in just the couple weeks I’ve been using it. It came with 1TB when I bought an Office license and frankly, if I’m paying that already it’s silly to keep paying $10 a month to Dropbox. Here’s to the quirks there getting figured out very soon. Because that can save some money, too.
  • iCloud photos and other bookmark, mail, and contacts data can sync nicely.
  • iTunes is here. I haven’t used it much on Windows, but honestly it looks just as dated and archaic as it does on OS X.
  • One huge omission here: no iMessage. You’re going to just have to tap out messages on your phone like an animal. Or, be like me and enjoy getting more work done.

The Windows Store

The Windows Store is full of crap. But the really good games you like on iOS, like Lara Croft, are there. The Windows Store is much more of an iOS App Store competitor than a Mac App Store competitor. You can’t find a ton of “heavy duty” applications in there, but all the usual suspects are in there. Except Google apps, funny enough. You’d think Google would hate both equally, but I guess where there’s marketshare, Google will go.

I was using the Kindle App to read a library book last weekend just like on my iPad. Cat in the lap and all.

Developers have the ability for trials, too. I know a lot of people poo-poo this idea, but dangit I tried out several Twitter apps and did buy Tweetium for $2.99. I probably would have avoided it otherwise.

NextGen Reader, my RSS reader, is running a 30 day trial. When it’s done they just stop working and ask you to pay. And you can either pay or not. Apple’s stubborn attitude on this is bad for developers. Microsoft is ahead here and seem to be working to make it easier for developers than Apple is. Apple can do this presumably from a position of power in market share. But it’s killing the iPad Pro and can’t last forever.

The Pen

It’s great that Microsoft includes the Pen in the box. It makes Apple look ever more Apple-y. The Pen, despite being called a Pen, has an eraser, a right-click button, and a tapable top button that can summon an app of your choice and Cortana.

My only concern with the Pen is that when you press down sometimes you wonder if you’re pressing too hard. You get that little “oil slick” of color squiggles if you press too hard.

Also neat: it snaps on snuggly with magnets. I really do like that and it seems an oversight on Apple’s part.

You can even “hover” with the pen, just by placing it above the screen. And Photoshop and Illustrator both take nice use of the pen. I used it early to actually erase the background of a complicated background in an image for a customer.

And speaking of Cortana, I’ve not really used it much, but maybe I’ll get to a point that I can work that into my workflow. For now, she’s there, sitting down next to the Start menu. I did use her to track a package the other day which was neat.

I still say Google Now is kicking ass in the virtual assistant space. Cortana is bringing up second place and Siri is eating glue in the back of the room. I still only ever use Siri to set timers and alarms and, recently, sometimes, to turn on my Hue lights. Which she does…sometimes.

Worth a switch

I think a lot of level-headed Mac users toting around iPads are likely to think highly of the Surface.

I don’t at all consider it a toaster-fridge. All the platforms are racing to the middle on these devices, but Microsoft’s Core M Surface Pro 4 model, which ably runs everything despite what seems a paltry 4GB of RAM, is a real winner to me.

Microsoft seems to care, too. A lot. They even have a built-in app that lets you submit your feedback. Call it business-y metric-driven-drivel if you want, but they’re clearly trying to measure everything they can straight from the source.

The other side isn’t an enemy anymore. We’re lucky to have a bunch of competition in this space. It’s exciting, and divergent, and plain interesting and fun to watch.

For me, maybe the Surface is the way to go. Microsoft allows a 30 day trial period with free returns online, and in the store. I have about 3 weeks left with this on my return window where I’ll keep playing with it and using it as my daily-driver.

We’re so full of white there are no jobs

So Apple rounded out the big tech companies last week with a report that basically says all our stereotypes are true: white dudes run the show and Asians are really good at math.

Remember, stereotypes don’t just appear out of nowhere, they are, technically, derived from observed conventions.

This is a complicated problem. For penis-toting white people you’re born, you go to school, get a computer for Christmas, and totally geek out and get a job later on doing geeky things.

For penis-toting black people, you go to school, maybe you sit at a computer a little bit, you probably can’t afford a computer or a very good one, or Internet access, so you go do something else.

For women it’s a whole host of different issues. We know the arguments there, and frankly, I just don’t have enough information to speak about them. I’m inclined to believe that maybe women just aren’t, in mass, as interested in technology. Women also aren’t that interested in hunting, fishing, race car driving, farting, and whittling canoes from dead trees, but no one’s stopping them from doing those things. Men generally don’t like massages, perfume, or anal sex, but no one’s stopping them or trying to push them into that, either. Insert your own gay joke here. Then call yourself a bigot.

But back to the black and white dudes with computers. The difference in these two upbringings is that one kid almost certainly went to a school with things like air conditioners and computers. I kid you not, there are schools within Indianapolis that do not have air conditioning. Computers are also not high on that list. I do not know where the seemingly endless stream of grant dollars for these things are going, but they’re not getting to the kids.

So in 20 years time you do not get to scratch your head in bewilderment why there are no black people in big tech companies.

Our national response to this is to pressure these companies to find black people and hire them. Ditto for women and anyone to “dillute” that pack of white sausages.

I’m all for the diversity of things. You get better products and it’s obvious we have been since women have taken a more active roll in the workplace. We’ve all seen how much better Sterling Cooper is with Peggy. It’s good for everyone. Just as it is for getting different opinions and thoughts from different backgrounds.

Years ago when I was working for the State there was this push for digitizing court forms. Great idea, “Except it won’t work,” I said. “Too many people out in the rest of Indiana do not have access to good enough Internet for this. They don’t have computers or the ability to get to one. There are all of 6 public computers in all of Washington County. Three of them are for Workforce Development only.” You can’t just “eliminate the paper” because until a couple more generations die off and we push for broadband everywhere, we will have this problem. I was the only one to fight this battle because I was the only person who had spent more than 6 minutes outside of Indianapolis.

But we can’t get mad at Apple for this, or Google or Facebook or any other company. It’s not their fault the pool of people to hire from is lousy with white dudes. They didn’t create that world — society did. Or, more aptly, the government. And now the government and society want them to fix it.

Does anyone believe for a second that Apple, with more money than God, would hire for a position and say, “Well, that woman is really awesome, but let’s go with the guy.” I don’t believe that. I don’t believe anyone at any of the big tech companies hire based on anything but what you’ve done and what you can do.

Turns out, though, if you can’t do much, or don’t do much, you don’t get the job. This isn’t a country club where there’s some sign out front saying “No black people” or “No girls allowed”.

But like my last post, this comes down to personal responsibility. You can, in big cities, get on a bus and go to the library and take a book about HTML out and read it. It’ll cost you $1.75. I’ll even give you the money for it if you want. That’s how most everyone working in tech today got started — no degree required.

But we do have a societal responsibility to take in kids, help younger generations learn ever more complicated code and languages and techniques, and to ensure schools get real money to spend on real equipment. We have a responsbility to treat people with respect and dignity, to understand hardship, and to punish people for their racism and bias. Even in 2014 we need laws to protect people in clearly segregated places, but I don’t think Facebook is the bad guy (at least this time, anyway). We do not have a responsibility to hire to fill some peer-pressured feel-good numbers quotient.