T-Mobile vs. The Same Old Thing

Recorded on September 23rd, 2014

Has anyone had good or bad experiences with T-Mobile’s coverage in Richmond, Virginia?

I really want to believe T-Mobile’s claims about their LTE network and where it’s going. Verizon coverage here in Richmond is mostly OK, with the exception of some weird 3G holes in our neighborhood and inside various local businesses. But I’m really tired of the dreaded two-year contract. I know how these devices are subsidized by the carriers, rendering the $199.99 “cost” of a new iPhone as nothing more than a down-payment on a never-ending loan. T-Mobile’s separation of device cost from service cost, their wifi calling and HD Voice, and lack of an annual contract all look like factors to consider before re-upping with Verizon. Conveniently, their 7-day free Test Drive is an option for the curious. You sign up for a loaner iPhone 5S, they send it a couple of days later, you live with a $700 hold on your credit card, and see if their network really works in all the places you’d normally go. After a week, you return it to a T-Mobile store in person. I’m gonna try it.

In the meantime, I love a list:

Pros about T-Mobile:

  • Wifi calling works now. Good for calls from home and work, where 3G is iffy.
  • If HD Voice works even half as well as they claim, that would be a huge improvement.
  • Phone paid off after two years, at which time you only pay monthly for the service (until new-iPhone lust sets in again in fall 2016).
  • “Unlimited” data (well, unlimited-throttled after the first 1 GB of LTE if you choose that plan).
  • Music streaming from Pandora, Spotify and others doesn’t count against your data. That’s just crazy.
  • Can quit and switch device to AT&T if T-Mobile sucks—I guess?

Cons about T-Mobile:

Is it too soon? We will see.

Good Watches

Recorded on September 17th, 2014

Junghans Max Bill Automatic, from www.junghans.de

The Apple Watch looks like a cool thing that I’ll probably want someday, but now it’s just making me pine for a well-made old or new mechanical watch more than ever. I can’t see myself having a black blob on my wrist all the time. A watch needs a dial and needs to be able to discreetly show the time without me flipping my wrist or making any obvious movements. Plus, I like old things, or old-styled things, and I recently discovered Hodinkee, an incredible website about high-end watches. (Thanks, Put This On and Daring Fireball.) Gorgeous high-resolution photos, long articles, and tons of watch-nerd minutiae. I haven’t been at the mercy of a website this severely in a long time.

The vast majority of the watches reviewed on Hodinkee are well out of my price range. I’ve never had a “nice” watch on my wrist, but I get it, especially when I see this video of John Mayer talking about his love for watches. I see those seconds ticking by as smoothly as butter and it all makes sense. And then there’s this video of Alfredo Paramico (coolest Italian watch buyer ever) with his astounding collection. All those new brands to learn about: Patek Philippe, IWC, Audemars Piguet. Mmmmmm.

I can’t claim to be a “watch guy”, but I love this quote by Mayer in his first entry from 2012:

Being a watch guy almost never equates to being a snob. I believe there’s a great watch to be had at any price point - The $400 Hamilton Khaki Field can say just as much about you as a $5,000 IWC Pilot’s chronograph does, and I believe that every major brand gets it right at least once every couple of years.

So of course the green Hamilton Khaki Field is the one I want next. Or maybe a black one: Hamilton Khaki Field Green on Amazon

And then there’s always the chance that an old Omega or Tissot or Junghans will pop up on eBay or Chrono24 in decent shape.

I never used to care about this stuff. I always thought I’d never want a watch that cost more than $30. But I can totally get behind things that are well made, especially when they seem like little mechanical miracles. It’s baffling, not that they work so well, but that they work at all.

Using Mailbox for Gmail

Recorded on September 10th, 2014

I’ve tried a bunch of different iOS email clients—Mail.app, Dispatch, Sparrow, Gmail’s native app, and the Gmail web interface on Mobile Safari. Mailbox by Dropbox is sticking for now.

On the desktop/laptop/non-mobile interface, I use Gmail’s automatic inbox tabs to slot messages into Primary, Social, Updates and Promotions. For a long time I’ve been using that same function on the native Gmail app on iPhone, but for me I realized it doesn’t map well to mobile. I found that the nice auto-sorting was making it way too easy to only pay attention to the high/important/priority bucket and ignore the rest of the nicely organized buckets (after furtively peeking at them like a hamster pressing a lever for a pellet). I even tried starring/flagging messages I wanted to respond to later, but I have zero discipline about going back into Gmail folders later to do stuff to messages. It hasn’t happened reliably since I got a Gmail account 10 years ago and I don’t expect things to change.

I needed to get back to “making sandwiches, not just reading orders”, as Merlin Mann says on Back to Work. Except I didn’t know I had a problem. I only realized it after trying Mailbox after hearing about it countless times. I like three things about Mailbox:

  1. It understands Gmail, which uses a non-standard flavor of IMAP, so it knows about Gmail Archiving and labels and won’t get confused like regular IMAP clients can.
  2. It doesn’t do Priority Inbox or the Inbox tabs. Everything that comes in is just in your good-ol’ dumb Inbox, one message after another. This means I have a handle on how much email I really get day-to-day.
  3. It can “snooze” a message to later. This is totally not the the GTD way, where you process your inbox one item at a time, respond/delete/archive and/or create a task (somewhere) to do whatever needs to be done to each message, and you don’t skip ahead or leave stuff in the inbox to revisit later.

Snoozing a message will whisk it away to “Later Today”, “Tomorrow”, “This Weekend”, some specific or random date in the future, or a few other options. When the time comes, Mailbox will pop the message back into your inbox as if it’s new again. For those messages from friends that aren’t project-related, but that I can’t respond to right away, I don’t want to bother creating a GTD task that says “Respond to Jack about Led Zeppelin video”. That’s dumb. And I may not want to respond instantly with a long message if I’m stuck with the iPhone keyboard. Snoozing works great as a way to get the message out of my inbox until I know I’ll be able to type a proper reply on a real keyboard. That forward momentum of processing (even if some of it is effectively just stalling) keeps me moving through the stack, responding to the ones I can more quickly than I did before Mailbox.

As for the lack of auto-categorizing, I love the simplicity of not having all those Gmail buckets on the phone, where I do a bunch of email triage anyway. The emails I get are either important enough to keep getting and dealing with, or they’re not and need to be unsubscribed from. When everything is in one list, I can tell quickly if I’m getting too much to keep up with in a day.

Give Mailbox a try. I’d pay for it if it weren’t free.