Simplicity, Clutter, Compassion, & Love

Many regular readers know that, when it comes to simplicity and clutter, my wife is quite my opposite. Her idea of organization is generally to sort piled things into more piles. These piles then sit right where they are waiting for something to happen and that something is generally a mystery that results in nothing happening. Then, there is also the matter of a three year old little girl who’s belongings are strewn about as well and… Well…

Thus, it is not unusual for one to walk into the home of Mr. Minimal Mac and find things not so minimal at all. 

That said, it is a real struggle for for me that I largely keep inside. Because, getting any cognitive or creative work done in such environs is very difficult for me. I have become pretty good at ignoring it for a time or finding a little spot in the house where I can keep some semblance of order (or ignorance). But, even that becomes beset on all sides and impossible to contain eventually.

It is at this point where I finally snap, reach a fever pitch, and spend all night cleaning. This happened just this past Saturday night. After a long day out and about and a very enjoyable evening with friends I came home and realized that I could not even answer a single email, let alone start another full week, with the clutter that had slowly begun to consume every surface. And since the burden appears to be one I bear alone in my household it is generally I who must lay said burdens down and put them in their proper places.

Now, to those in a similar situation as mine, please keep in mind that to those others in our life, the clutter may have cognitive value to them in the same way simplicity and order do for you. For instance, those piles may represent a sense of belonging and place to them. Seeing all this stuff they have makes them feel comfort in knowing it is not lost or missing. It actually may be a representation of how productive they are. So productive in other areas of life that they don’t have the time to clean and organize. It may also be overwhelming to them as well, so much so that they are paralyzed by it. 

All I’m saying here is that our goal of uncluttered simplicity is likely just as strange and wrong and foreign to those who are the opposite as they are to us. Compassion and acceptance are required on both sides. The (often imperfect) path I attempt is to allow my wife to see that it is I who is willing to take responsibility and ownership for my needs in this area, doing the work to see that those needs are met, while allowing her to be who she is without judgment.

This is not always easy, I know. I struggle with it daily. Then again, are these things ever easy? Perhaps they should not be. The work is proof of it’s continued worth. And, she is worth so much to me that such work seems like a bargain.

A “Real” Computer

One of the many benefits to having an iPad, an iPhone 4, and 11 inch MacBook Air is the swiss army knife of portability options at your disposal. Before leaving the house, I take inventory of my day and decide which of these tools I might need. Because of the extreme ease of portability of the options at hand, making the choice for any combination or all does not mean too much extra burden. That said, why take anything with me I don’t absolutely need?

I often leave the house with nothing but my iPhone, this is not abnormal. What is unusual is that, when taking inventory of my needs, I determined that all I really needed was a keyboard. I was going to a quick lunch meeting and then to do some writing. Sure I could bring my iPad or MacBook Air but, the only thing I really needed to get the writing done was a keyboard. So, I threw one in my bag and here I am.

Between the iPhone, the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, and Hog Bay Software’s PlainText I have all the tools I need today. I have this little plastic card stand I got somewhere (don’t remember where) that just happens to hold the iPhone in landscape at the perfect viewing angle. I’ve got the headphone plugged in to listen to some ambient music while I type. Outside of one of those folding Bluetooth keyboards I have seen, I can’t think of a more perfect fast and light computing solution.

I think it is easy to think of the iPhone (or iPod Touch for that matter) as something less that a “real” computer. That, somehow, one can’t get real work done or that it could never be a true replacement for a full size machine. I, personally, don’t believe that and often seek ways to see exactly how much I can get away with just using the iPhone. In fact, I have even written the first draft of one of the chapters in my book on the iPhone using the onscreen keyboard. Was it the perfect solution? Maybe not but it was the resource I had at hand so that made it the perfect one for me at the time.

I have heard tales that, for some households in other countries, the smartphone is the only “computer” they own. They are inexpensive, portable, easily sharable with other members of the family and perfectly capable for many tasks. While some may scoff at such a challenge, I feel it is really no challenge at all. The real challenge is overcoming our comfort, convenience, limits and pre-conceived notions.

Just more food for thought.

Welcome To Macintosh

When I encounter someone brand new to the Mac, either a new client or someone who reaches out to me via email about switching or having recently done so, this is the text file I send. I thought it would be nice to share this with the world. Perhaps it will be useful to you or those you love.

Welcome to Macintosh.

Congratulations! You are now a proud owner of one of the most elegant and powerful tools on the planet. The very beginning of your experience is the essence of the idea of minimalism – everything you need and nothing that you don’t. Each item, icon, and even the desktop background chosen equally for its function and its beauty.

When you first turn it on and get past the welcome music and basic setup information, what you are presented with is a completely clean desktop, a dock filled with all the applications one might need to get started, and a basic set of important status items (time, wifi, etc.) in your menubar.

Contained herein, is everything you need to create and enjoy the creation of others. To engage in conversations across space and time. To be entertained and delighted to the point of laughter and moved to the point of tears. To make the next multi-million dollar movie or write the next great American novel. To make a lasting impact on millions of strangers or leave a legacy for our children. All of this done with unparalleled ease of use in a package that fits into your briefcase or on your desk.

Of course, we don’t think of a new computer this way. But perhaps we should. Because, right out of the box, with no additional software needed, the Mac includes all of the tools one needs to do any of these things. Let’s take inventory:

  • Safari – This is one of the fastest web browsers ever made. Built on web standards, with an open source core, it takes the task at hand seriously. It is chock full of features such as tabs, advanced security, private browsing, form and user/password autofill, and bookmark management. But mainly it keeps those out of the way so that you can get online and to work as quickly and easily as possible.
  • Mail – A fantastic and modern email client with support for POP, IMAP, and even Microsoft Exchange based email. It supports multiple accounts, junk mail filtering, rich HTML support, multiple signatures, and advanced rules. It’s a powerful tool that is easy to set up and use.
  • Text Edit – This is a surprisingly flexible word processor that even seasoned Mac users don’t know the full capabilities of. It has the ability to create lists and outlines, advanced spell checking, advanced text formatting, allows for embedded images, photos and hyperlinks, and it can open and save in Microsoft Word document format including the recent “docx” format.
  • Preview – Not only a powerful application for viewing and annotating PDFs but also a nice image viewer and editor. You can do fairly advanced color correction, crop and resize, and change file types (.jpg to .png for instance).
  • iCal – A pretty good calendar.
  • Address Book – a pretty good contact manager.
  • iChat – A really decent and fairly advanced IM client with support for voice, video, and screen sharing.
  • iLife – This is a suite of applications all built around the theme of digital organization and creation. It includes: iPhoto for organizing and editing your digital photos. iMovie for creating professional looking movies from your video. iDVD can be used to create professional looking DVDs from the movies. iWeb allows you to create nice looking WYSIWYG websites. Garage Band is for performing and recording music.

The items mentioned above only just begin to scratch the surface. Your new Mac comes preloaded with all the tools most people need to get their daily tasks done or even change the world. The only thing you need to bring to it is your motivation to do so.

That said, some people do have particular needs that require more software that does not come preinstalled. For instance, many require a more robust word processor or spreadsheet program for their jobs. Some require a more professional photo editing or design program. All of these things are available to you to install if you need them. They are just a search, purchase, and download away if you need them…

Wait! Don’t move so fast there. I said if you need them and that is a very important if. Don’t just assume you need them because you think you do or because someone who does not know what your needs are tells you you do. I would argue that the majority of computer users can get by just fine with a fresh out of the box Mac.

In fact, I would argue that that easiest way to find out what you really need is to use your Mac as it ships. Do everything you need to do. Go about your daily business. When you run into something that you need to do but can’t seem to find a way to do it with the applications that come preloaded on your Mac, here is the steps to take.

  • Search online to see if there is a way to achieve your results with the tools at your disposal. You may be surprised to find out the capabilities you don’t know exist in programs like TextEdit, Mail, or Preview. Even programs I have used for years sometimes still reveal surprises. Look through the menu choices in the programs you have. Study the preferences. You may be amazed at what you discover therein.
  • If number one does not turn up what you need, then do some searching for all of your options. Need to build an image from scratch? Think Adobe Photoshop is the only way to do that? Think again. There are a half-dozen programs I could tick off that can do the same thing just as well for far less cost and learning curve. Do some research. Look around. Find the tool that is right for you which often is not the one everyone talks about.

I could go on and on about the awesome programs that I use daily and could barely live without. The problem of course is that I found these mostly through the same methods I described above and just being engaged with the development surrounding the Mac platform. All of these are also under regular scrutiny and evaluation. Just because I needed something for a particular project or task does not mean I need to keep it installed forever. That said, at this moment and on most days, I’m pretty satisfied with my Mac. I’m certain you will be too.

The idea here is to slowly, methodically, and purposefully build the perfect computer. Perfect in this case is subjective. Perfect is what is exactly right and enough for you. Just as mine is for me. The Mac is a great foundation on which to build this exciting new future. Have fun!

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