Tag: apps

Details Matter

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

There have been some improvements to the paperwork involved in doctor’s visits. In the past I have complained about filling out countless forms with the same information again and again, and how wasteful that seemed. It made me reluctant to even schedule a routine appointment for fear of the paperwork under which I would be buried. A year or two ago, however, my doctors’ office switched to an app that handles most of this for you. The app has all of my current information. I can schedule appointments through it, can get lab results, communicate with my doctor, see my prescriptions. All-in-all, as a patient, I’ve been pretty impressed by it.

As a software developer and one who manages software projects, however, there is at least one thing that bothers me about it: a lack of attention to certain details in the process–and details matter.

I scheduled my annual physical late last year using the app. My physical was scheduled for early in February. On the day of the appointment, I got up, had breakfast, and headed to the doctor. I used the app to check in, saw my doctor, and everything seemed quick and efficient. But by the time I’d finished chatting with the doctor at the end, and realized he was sending me home, I said, “Am I supposed to get blood drawn for the blood work?”

He said that he’d ordered the labs, had anyone told me about it?

They hadn’t.

Had I eaten in the last 8 hours?

I had.

He seemed puzzled. I explained that I made my appointment through the app. I told him that in the past, when I called for an appointment, they told me that there would be blood work. That was followed by a reminder email the day before, telling me I should not eat after midnight of the day of my appointment.

The doctor considered this and then said that this would explain why some patients weren’t getting this notice. Apparently, if you made your appointment through the app, this reminder wasn’t happening. Details matter.

When I checked out, I made a follow-up appointment (not through the app) to have the blood work done a few days later. It meant having to trek back to the doctor’s office, paying for parking again, fasting until the appointment was over, but I did it.

Later that afternoon, the results of my blood work arrived in my app. Everything was normal. But I wonder if anyone has reported this oversight with the app scheduler that I uncovered. And I wonder for next year: should I use the app to make my appointment, or just call?

Also, later that afternoon, I got a survey to see how well my blood work appointment went.

Written on February 10, 2022.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on WordPress.com

My Favorite Tools, Apps and Services of 2021

With the end of the year just about 10 days away, I thought a roundup of my favorite apps, tools, and gadgets of 2021 was in order. I’ve done these roundups before (see, for example 2013 and 2014) and it can be fun to look back at the old ones and see how the state of the art has changed. Here, then, are some of my favorite tools, apps, and gadgets of 2021.


Field Notes notebooks

Since 2015, I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook in my pocket. On those rare occasions when I forget it, I feel the way I do when I realize I’ve misplaced my keys or wallet. I’ve subscribed to Field Note’s annual notebook subscription for 7 years now, I think, recently renewing through 2022. These notebooks serve as short-term memory for me, so it varies how long it takes me to fill them. Sometimes, I fill one quickly, other times, slowly. Since 2015, I’ve filled 32-1/2 of these little notebooks, and in 2021, I filled 4 of them. When finished, these notebooks of mine are battered and ink-stained: a testimony to how well-used they are. To protect them, I recently acquired a home for my completed notebooks.

Along with the notebook, which can usually be found in my left rear pocket, are two pens, one blue and one black Pilot G-2 0.7 gel ink pens. I’ve lost count of how many of these I go through each year, but I use them until they run dry, and I now by them in bulk (12-packs) so that I never run out.

Fountain pen

Speaking of pens, for my birthday this year I got myself a Pilot Custom 74 (black smoke in color) fountain pen with a fine gold nib. Most of my journal writing is done using that pen. For a while I switched to writing my journal in cursive, loving the smooth feel of that pen on the paper. As much as I loved the smooth feel, I found that it was difficult for me to read what I had written, and I was certain that no one else would be able to read it either. I’ve always thought that my journals might be of interest to my kids when they are older and have kids of their own. So I eventually decided to switch back to printing for clarity, but still use the fountain pen.

Post-It flags

About halfway through the year, I began using Post-It flags to mark passages in books I had highlighted or annotated, to make it easier to find those passages later when I want to collect my reading notes. I bought several packs of these Post-It flags to stay ahead of the curve. They’ve proven to be very useful.

Mac Mini

At the beginning of the year, I bought myself a new Mac Mini with the M1 chip. It had been years since I had a desktop computer. The MacBook Air, which I bought in 2014 is still working, but very slow in comparison and so I thought the Mac Mini was a good balance between price and performance. For nearly a year, I’ve used it daily. I love how fast everything is on it. I’ve written the bulk of the 440+ posts for the blog this year on the Mac Mini. Software like Photoshop is lightning fast. Compared to my old MacBook Air, this machine is wonderful.



I first subscribed to Audible’s service in 2013, after being dubious about audio books. I haven’t looked back since. Audio books are still my primary source for reading material. I subscribe to the Audible Premium Plus service, so I get 2 credits per month in addition to other features. Frequently I will buy the audio book and either paper or e-book so that I can follow along and take notes. But I still love the fact that I can listen to a book anywhere, filling even the most dreary moments (washing the car, emptying the dishwasher) with interesting reads. In the 9 years (inclusive) that I’ve subscribed to Audible, I’ve managed to acquire 1,150 audio books. 182 of these titles I added in 2021.

I am currently listening to Life Itself by Roger Ebert, which is one of the very first audio books I bought back in 2013, but hadn’t listened to until now. So far, it is fantastic.

Calm App

Back in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic was still a big unknown, I began using the Calm App for daily meditation. I did it off and on. In 2021, I got more disciplined about it, and while I haven’t meditated every day of 2021, I’ve done it far more days than I haven’t. At one point, I had a 143 consecutive day streak going.

I’m not sure how much meditation helps me, but I enjoy it. I find it useful to have at least 10 minutes each day where I set everything else aside, when there are no distractions, and I sit down and do nothing. I do think it has helped in some areas, and that is why I keep doing it. When I began using the app, I subscribed the their annual service. But I’ve enjoyed it so much that when they had a 60% off sale for lifetime access around Black Friday, I took them up on it, and I now have a lifetime membership.

Usually, I listen to Jeff Warren’s “Daily Trip” each morning. Recently, I saw that Ryan Holiday has a new series on Calm called “Stoic Wisdom for Modern Life.” I’m saving that for when I am on vacation.


Halfway through 2021, I migrated my self-managed WordPress site to WordPress.com. Everything that bothered me about the self-managed site instantly went away and my experience got better. I didn’t want to spend time “managing” my site anymore. I wanted to spend that time writing. And that’s exactly what happened. As I recently wrote, I’ve been incredibly happy with WordPress’s tools and services.

When I migrated my to WordPress.com, I selected their Business Plan, which has everything I need. The fact that I have been able to spend more time writing is there in data: From January through June, I wrote about 100,000 words on the blog, while managing my self-installed WordPress site. From July through most of December, after migrating to WordPress.com, I’ve written just about 200,000 words on the blog. I’ve been able to write twice as much because I no longer have to deal with the slowness of the servers my self-managed installation was on, nor do I need to do all of the stuff to keep the site up and running. The good folks at WordPress do that all for me and I can reclaim that time to writing.


Finally, Obsidian. I discovered Obsidian in the first week of January 2021, while searching for alternatives to Evernote. Obsidian was just what I had been looking for. Since then, I have started to migrate notes from Evernote to Obsidian. I collect all of my reading notes there. And I’ve published the first 11 episodes of my Practically Paperless with Obsidian series. I use Obsidian for all of my work notes as well. It has become the tool that I live in for much of the day, whether at home, at work, or on my mobile device. I’m looking forward to all of the new features that will be coming in 2021.

Looking forward to 2022

In addition to looking forward to new Obsidian features, I am also looking forward to playing around more with iA Writer. Distraction-free writing tools tend to be distractions themselves, given how many there are and my compulsion to try them, but I recently revisited iA Writer nearly 10 years after I first played around with it, and I think it might work for me.

Another tool that I’ve been revisiting is the Reminder app that comes with MacOS and iOS. I used it to help collect all of the tasks I needed to do for our upcoming vacation and it worked pretty well for that, so I think I’ll continue to play around with it in the new years.

Do have any apps or services you’d recommend? Let me hear about them in the comments.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on WordPress.com

Some Notes on Notes

More and more I find myself trying to simplify things. Take notes as an example. I am a prolific note-taker. Wherever I go, I carry a Field Notes notebook in my pocket, along with a couple of pens. (I have ink stains on various pockets to prove this). Why carry a paper notebook when I have an iPhone in the other pocket? To keep things simple.

Over the years, I have not yet found an app that allows me to jot down notes as quickly and easily as a pen and paper. If something strikes me, I pull out the pen and paper and scribble it down. That’s all there is to it. A phone, at its simplest, involves pulling out the phone, getting through its security measures, opening the appropriate note-taking app, and typing in the note1. In the time it takes me to get through the security measures alone, I could have jotted a simple note with pen and paper.

Then, too, many notes are ephemeral. I’ll use them once and never again. What’s the point of filling up a phone with notes I’m only ever going to look at once? In a notebook, I could tear out the page, but what I typically do it just leave the note there, and when the notebook is filled, I added it to the collection of filled notebooks I have on a shelf in my office.

Of course, pocket notebooks get you only so far. If I am sitting in front of a computer, then I’ll use the computer for notes, especially notes that are not ephemeral. In this regard, Evernote would seem like a logical choice for notes. But I have resisted using Evernote for actual notetaking, preferring to partition it for use as a kind of digital filing cabinet. Instead, out of a sense of simplicity (or stubbornness, depending on your point of view), I’ve migrated toward the Apple Notes app, with one important exception2

There are a few reasons why I have settled on the Notes app:

  1. It is a simple app that is easy to use.
  2. It comes installed on all Apple devices and since I’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem, that makes it a convenient tool. I don’t have to install any additional software to access my notes on a new device.
  3. It syncs with iCloud, so notes I create on one device are available on all of my devices.
  4. It integrates with Spotlight so searching notes is pretty easy.

Item #2 above is particularly important because I keep all of my device bootstrapping-related notes in Apple Notes. These notes include, for instance, a checklist of things I do to new machines and devices (configuration settings, software I install, etc.) I have a file for every device we own which makes for easy reference.

I’ve taken to using Notes for personal development work I do. I’ve also started using notes to keep track of articles I read, copying highlighted passages, or my own annotations there. While it is lacking in a few features3, it has been able to do most of what I need. Here is an example of a HOW-TO note I have in my Tech folder:

A sample HOW-TO note from my Tech folder in Apple notes

The purist in me admonishes myself for not using plain text file for my notes, but you know what? I like being able to format my notes, into lists and tables. I like having hyperlinks, and images. True, each note is not a separate file in the file system. On the other hand, the backend is a SQLite database, which I am perfectly capable of accessing programmatically if needed.

The point is, I haven’t had a need to do so. That is the beauty of the simplicity of Notes so far. I don’t worry about tagging, or notebooks. I do have a folder structure for my notes, and it is evolving, but even there, I aim for simplicity. Being able to simply search for a term in Spotlight and see matching notes has been incredibly useful. I recently read an article in Smithsonian by Richard Grant, whose writing I enjoy. I’d created a note for that article, and so I just tried a Spotlight search for Richard Grant:

Spotlight search for Richard Grant

That’s good enough for my purposes.

I also light the lightweight feel of the Notes app. When I use Evernote today, the application feels big and bulky by comparison. Of course, it does a lot more than the Notes app, but for notetaking, I don’t need much more than what Notes can do.

  1. I stubbornly refuse to use Siri or dictation for notes, although I use Siri for other things.
  2. The exception, not worth getting into here in any detail, is my work-related notes, for which I use OneNote because it makes a lot of sense to do so.
  3. I do wish there was a way to add to the list of default styles provided.