Some thoughts on Substack - Yeah...it's okay

Greg Morris asked for my opinion on Substack as I have been using it for my newsletter Learn Create Share. I started to type a response but when I wrote “Substack review” as a subheading, I knew it was a blog post. So here it is.

TLDR - yeah, it’s okay.

“I’m using it because I had set it up (I moved from revue as [Substack] has no subscriber limit for free) I like it but think I may move but I’m trying to focus on doing the newsletter and not think too much about the tool) it’s so easy to get into tool mindset and so avoid creating.”

Substack’s philosophy

Substack is different from a lot of email services in that it’s not really an email service. It’s a way for writers (and content creators) to get paid by dedicated fans. Substack makes money by taking a cut off payments to its users. Users get these payments by offering benefits to subscribers or simply asking. Substack encourages exclusive content as the way to encourage payments but doesn’t make it mandatory, you could just ask. In exchange, Substack gives its users a free platform with email, that’s also hosted online on a .Substack.com subdomain and even throws in a beta feature of podcasting. It’s worth noting the way they make money as that influences substack’s approach and services.

Substack really wants you to charge for your email

To get some custom header features, you need to accept payments. I’ve considered setting up optional payments just to get this feature but…

Substack wants you to charge a proper amount

I tried to make a dollar amount plan, Substack said no. It had to be $5 a month or more, with a minimum of $30 for a year plan. Both are entirely reasonable price points and also probably show how Substack gets charged on credit card payments and so smaller amounts may cost it too much. At this price, some people may support out of the goodness of their heart, but really, you’ve got to offer something extra.

Exclusive content.

What’s Substack like as an email service?

It’s good. It does the job. You have basic web formatting with h1, h2, strong, em, and all that jazz. You can add links, you can make buttons, insert images and videos too. There aren’t any web embeds of content (which can cause issues if you copy and paste embedded content from a notion embed preview) but you can certainly make a good looking email.

Is Substack a blogging service or a email service?

It’s… complicated. Unlike most email services which provide you with iframe embed forms, possibly landing pages and in rare cases web versions of emails that subscribers can view, Substack has a web archive on your Substack domain. In fact, you could use Substack as a blog which emails new posts to your subscribers. Unlike other blogging services, Substack provides very limited customization. You can adapt your about page, the description of benefits, some limited colour options, and set a custom subdomain. That’s basically it (I’m sure I’m forgetting something though).

There’s Podcast stuff?

I think I’m right in saying it’s still in Beta and I certainly haven’t tested it yet. Just like the email and blogging features, it’s completely free though. Unlike the email features, I have no idea how easy it would be to move to a different podcast host. Still, the potential is that you could run a media group who puts out articles, emails and podcasts all hosted for free and with multiple collaborators.
The price is building on someone else’s platform and the heavy encouragement to follow the exclusive content model.

What else is different about Substack

There are some other differences between Substack and other email service providers. - There is mo segmentation other than paid/free (no target email marketing for you!) - Substack has a real community about it including resources for writers, their own newsletter and even grants to support creators. - Substack has a leaderboard showing the most popular newsletters and publications from the week. This can help new subscribers to find your newsletter…but you have to get enough likes to get on the leaderboard…so the biggest newsletters profit the most.

Do you like using Substack

Hummmm. I don’t really know. I love how generous Substack is. You literally never have to pay to use it in exchange for Substack taking a cut of paid subscriptions. I don’t like how I feel like I have to offer a paid version of my newsletter and that I can’t set it up on my own domain nor customize the look and feel more. I think a premium version with those options would be very interesting but I understand that this is the monetization model they have chosen and it’s all about building their name, getting more users on, profiting off the ones who do build an audience who will pay.

Some aspects of creating a newsletter in Substack are really fantastic, but…other aspects are only okay. The editor is solid, but Ghost probably has a better one. It’s easy to create a newsletter with interesting links from the week like Learn Create Share, but Revue is probably better. The real distinction is the website articles but I would like to have more options over how they look.

So are you going to move email service provider?

My wife and I have some really exciting ideas about Learn Create Share. In fact, we hope to announce something that will really embody the name and ethos in the next edition of the newsletter, but I’m not making any firm promises yet. We probably could use Substack for that purpose but I have a Sendfox account that I may start using for this purpose. That would provide us with a couple of extra options (some limited segments) and we’ll have more control over the webpages and sign up forms etc. Sendfox has a pretty great pricing model too: there’s a limited free option, 5000 contacts for a $49 one time fee, and then an extra $10 a month for every additional 1000 contacts and to get extra features like no branding. Sendfox isn’t perfect either (sendfox branding unless you pay a monthly fee, even after the one time fee. Not as great an editor, etc) but it feels like the right choice for us now.

Regardless, one of the best things about email services is that it is easy to export a CSV file and then switch service. This really helps with ownership even if a service dies.

5 MicroBlog plugin ideas

I’m not a developer and I suspect that some of these might not be possible/easy to do, still here are some ideas for the better developers who use MB.
1. Hide post under 280 character from the main page 2. Sharing of some sort (I was thinking like the typical WordPress share sheet but options for read later or quotebacks, medium style highlighting etc would be cool.) 3. Third party commenting systems (I guess some people might like that. I wouldn’t really but I’m struggling to think of ideas) 4. Gated content (why not add a Ghost feature for kicks) 5. “Clapping” I kind of like this idea from Medium, it’s a fun interaction.

Hell Yes I'll buy Derek Sivers New Book

Derek Sivers new book — Hell Yeah or No — is now live on his site. You can only buy it through him and it’s $15 for the ebook and audiobook, or $19 for the paperbook as well as the digital formats. Last year I read and enjoyed [Anything you want] by Derek so buying this book was an easy, hell yes.
I love that he has the ability to publish this way, and the options here. DRM free digital versions, and you get them included with the paperback. I’ve wondered why Amazon doesn’t offer some sort of upsell of kindle and/or audiobook versions of a book when you buy a paper or hardback.

The never ending quest for the best note system

There are three note applications and systems on my mind at the moment.

1. Evernote

Old faithful. Despite some dark times, Evernote is still solid and reliable as it always has been. I’ve been on the beta recently and there are some good changes coming soon. Evernote still does a few things extremely well. - Capture (from webpages and other services) - Sync (I rarely have conflicts and notes show up almost instantly) - It’s everywhere - it’s easy to start with But, it doesn’t have some of the latest ideas like the two other apps I’ve been playing with.

2. Notion

Notion sucks as a note-taking/data storage app. The apps are slow web views and it never feels like you are working with text. Exporting notes isn’t easy and there is a steep learning curve… BUT - The organising tools are amazing - Collaboration is great - The whole idea of Databases is extremely cool - You can have notes and project management tools in one place I hate capturing data in notion, but I’ve been using it to organise writing my newsletter and it works so well for this. There is a web capture tool but it feels a bit awkward which sums up a lot of Notion. It’s cool but awkward.

3. Obsidian

Roam research, but local and using markdown files. I was just writing a note in Notion and wanted to make some relational notes as you can in obsidian. Unfortunately, Notion doesn’t work that way. I started using obsidian on my Work PC, with an iCloud folder so in theory, I can add markdown notes anywhere (using drafts on my iPhone) and I’ll get all the benefits of obsidian. but…
- obsidian doesn’t have a tool to save webpages - obsidian doesn’t have a mobile app (so it’s all just plain text on iOS) - obedian doesn’t connect to third-party services for easy imports I could probably save webpages as PDFs and then link to those files, but that isn’t quite the same.

So… what do you want to do?

I guess I could … - Use multiple apps, each for its own strength… But using one app would be simpler. - Settle for just Notion, not have relational notes (maybe they’ll come later?) and deal with the other issues. - Settle with Evernote and use a task manager (todoist?) for project management - Use Obsidian and be a cool tech guy who does everything in plain text…and maybe use PDF version of saved web pages…

Or maybe there’s another app like DEVONThink…but that’s an Apple exclusive…

🔗 The forgotten political roots of Bridge over Troubled Water - BBC Culture

The forgotten political roots of Bridge over Troubled Water - BBC Culture

Simon talked about using the primetime opportunity as a Trojan horse for “a home movie about where he thought the nation was”. Directed by actor Charles Grodin, Songs of America used the duo’s hits to soundtrack footage of riots, marches and the war in Vietnam, much to the horror of sponsors AT&T, who demanded their $600,000 investment back.

More after today’s post on Bridge over Troubled Waters.

The Transfiguration Sketchnote

I’ve been taking an intro to the New Testament class for the last couple of months. During that time we’ve been learning how to read a text in terms of textural, cultural and historical context using the transfiguration in Matthew as our reference point. Basically, the aim was to read the text as the author intended their audience to. On Tuesday we presented our text and our professor expanded on some points we hadn’t mentioned. This is a #sketchnote I made as he was speaking and describing how the climax of the transfiguration text and how it contrasts with the voice at Jesus’ baptism saying “listen to him”. Before the transfiguration the disciples say he is the messiah but don’t get that he must suffer, after they are distressed that he must suffer and die. Made with paper by we transfer on the iPad Pro.

The Easiest to Use

I’m weighing up three different email newsletter services.

I realy can’t choose.

And then I had a thought: > “When you can’t choose between two options, go for the one which is easier to use. The easier it is to use, the more you will use it.”

Suddenly, that decision doesn’t seem so tricky anymore. I suspect this principle would work for other tool decisions too.

P.s. Yes, I know there are times when you need “more power” and so the simplest isn’t the best. But you can only need more power if you’ve started using something, so start with simple.

That's Not My MacBook

I was reading my daughter “that’s not my owl” and started to wonder what a version for adults would look like. Now I’d like to present the ATP “that’s not my MacBook” bed time story.

Welcome to beta season, where all we can talk about is the beta

I really hate that the next couple of months of Apple podcasts will be almost completely about unreleased features and the beta. I get that there is demand for this content (doing for the clicks) but it just feels kind of pointless. Especially with the condescending advice that you shouldn’t download the beta (unlike us experts) but here are all the things you should wish you had. Then again I find the endless speculation to also be kind of pointless. I really enjoy the podcasts where you learn what you can do with the technology you have and not endlessly dream and complain about what you don’t have.

WWDC Hopes And Wishes 💻

Dear Tim Cook Clause, This year I’d like…

iOS updates

  • Fix whatever the hell happened to editing in text fields with mobile safari
  • A ‘Worktime” feature to compliment “Downtime”
  • Adding start dates to reminders
  • iMessages on windows (I have to use windows at work…so this would be like a glass of water in hell)
  • a bit more refining of how to search through photos (It can be really tricky to get to the right photo and you never want to accidentally go to the start of your photostream)
  • Siri improvements (I too can use Google…it’s not that impressive Siri)

iPadOS updates:

  • Improvements to “desktop class safari”
  • some new homescreen improvements (widget stuff?)
  • Keyboard short cuts for multitasking windows
  • Keyboard shortcuts to trigger shortcuts
  • FinalCut for the iPad
  • A magical fix for the dead pixel in my iPad screen

WatchOS updates

  • More faces
  • 3rd party faces (that don’t majorly drain the battery)
  • Sleep tracking built in
  • more rings (Like a mindfulness one and a sleep one)

Mac Updates

  • stablity. Sorry, Bug fixes and performance enhancements.
  • ARM Macs

Hardware

  • ARM Macbook air type thing
  • Homepod Mini
  • Homepod with screen
  • Apple watch 6 with new sensor

Thank you Tim Cook Clause Here are some cookies

p.s. The thing with Hey sucks. Don’t be that guy.

Not good Apple. Not good at all.

I honestly can’t believe Apple’s attitude to Hey. I really hope this is one or two people in Apple who’ve misunderstood certain policies but that’s happened before. While there are many areas where Apple appears to set the standard that other tech companies follow, this is not one and is horrifically anti-competitive. It seems utterly crazy that this should all emerge when Apple is rumored to allow the ability to set non-Apple apps as the default. I wonder how this will all shake out…in the meantime, maybe I ought to look at companies like fairphone again.

Some illogical camera upgrade thoughts

I really want a new camera…I really don’t need a new camera but I want one. Features I -need- want that I don’t have - weather sealing - 4k video - more pixels (because why not) - the new fuji film simulations espeically acros

Camears I want: - Ricoh GR iii (has non of the features I listed but has IBIS and I do love my ricoh gr) - Fuji X100v (the obvious choice. I REALLY love my x100t…but price) - Fuji X pro 2 (lacks some of the features of the V and is bigger…) - Sony A7 of some sort (I don’t know why I want this one…but I do)

I really should think about x100V… but all the others are so tempting.

30 Creative Prompts — activities to get you exercising your creative muscles

I didn’t feel like sharing this earlier in the week with everything going on but I made a little ebook and course of 30 creative prompts. These are fun little challenges to get you thinking differently and exercising your creative muscle so you can be creative on demand. It was a little creative challenge from my wife and was suppose to take me a month to do…well, life happened and it took a few extra months to actually put it together and get it up, but draft one is here. In the future, I hope to add more prompts and perhaps show some examples. It’s normally $10 but for Micro.Blogranauts, I have a special discount where you can get it for $1 (plus tax). Just use the code MICROBLOG.
Enjoy!

Twinkies don't exist (spoiler, it's not about twinkies)

I’ve never seen a twinky, so they can’t exist. Sure, sometimes one appears on TV in a fictional series or on the news but that doesn’t mean they are actually real. Many of my friends have never seen a twinky either and I suspect those who say they have seen a twinky really saw something else. Even if twinkies were real, which they are not, just because there are some twinkies doesn’t mean all food is a twinky and I’m definitly not a twinky eater. And really, even if there are some twinkies out there, that doesn’t mean I should do anything about it. After all, I’m not a twinky eater. The real problem is those anti-Twinky advocates and protestors. They are the real twinkey eaters and if only they’d shut up about twinkies, maybe we could finally live in a world without twinkies… In summary, twinkies don’t exist.

Not to speak is to speak.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I refuse to stay silent and I choose to act. I don’t have a perfect plan but I can start. I’m volunteering for a local refugee group, I’ve ordered “so you want to talk about race” and I’m looking at some other measures.

I’m also sorry for times even within the last year where I haven’t challenged racist comments. I stayed safe within my privilege while others suffer from these ideas.

Great focused device / Great distraction device

The iPad is both a great focusing device — it heavily favours one app at a time — and a great distraction device — the perfect couch device with all those games, comics, videos, and more.

Increasingly, I find that the later is interfearing with the former.

Maybe I need a work iPad and a couch iPad.* *my wife would not agree.

Okay, I'll try speed reading.

My wife has a growing interesting in speed reading and related rapid learning techniques. I was really interested in accelerated learning about seven years ago but came to two conclusions. 1) There’s a lot of rubbish out there 2) I was unsure if it led to long term learning. Speed reading was a perfect example. It promised a method to read many times faster and remember everything. I questioned these statements as they usually seemed to focus on short term memory performance and not long-term memory. So I just wrote the whole thing off. But my wife’s interest has re-kindled my own, and I want to do a little experiment. I mean, If I could read three times faster, that would mean more books. So I’m giving it a go, I’m sceptical, but I’ll report back on what I find.

Micro May Challenge Book Recommendation 1: Celebration of Discipline 📖

Celebration of Discipline is Richard Foster’s classic look into the timeliess Christian Disciplines. He covers a the inward, outward and corporate disciplines looking at different traditions, the mindset and goal behind each and with suggested practices to start exploring the traditions. It was a hugely influencial book in my early adulthood and I have been rereading it this last year. Shop your local indie bookstore

Being a Non-Expert in a World of Gurus Rocks!

I am not an expert. I’m not incompetent in many areas either, but I’m definitely not an expert. I have so much to learn in every area of life — work, family, faith, creativity, DIY, finance, generosity — that far surpasses what I do know. Sometimes this makes me feel really out of place in a world of Gurus. When I look at what a lot of other copywriters say about themselves, it’s all boasting about how fantastic they are. It’s like all those businesses that say they are the best at what they do; someone must be lying. I’m sure there are plenty of brilliant and talented people out there. Still, there are also plenty of “fake it till you make it” wannabes who Shakespeare might say “the guru doth boast too much, methinks.”

Most of the time, I feel somewhat inadequate because I’m not an expert, but today I realized it has some advantages. - As a non-expert, I know I need to keep learning and keep growing. - As a non-expert, I’m not stuck in “best practices” or “the way it’s always been done.” - As a non-expert, I sm open to listen to other people and their experiences.

Of course, it’s not really a strict expert/non-expert divide but a scale. At times my ego is stronger and makes me less teachable and more boastful. Still, increasingly I’m trying to embrace sharing my experiments and results as well as listening to other people’s tests. When I do take that approach, everything seems better, and suddenly, many of the gurus look a lot less intimidating.

Investing in my health

I haven’t had the easiest transition in the work from home, lockdown lifestyle caused by the roller-covid-coaster. Many of the core habits for supporting my physical and mental health have fallen away and environmental factors haven’t helped me form new ones.

Even before the government mandated restrictions, I wasn’t really looking after myself well. Apart from the walk part of my morning commute – which admittedly did fulfill the advised 30 minutes of brisk walking health organization recommend – I did little in the way of exercise. With my bare minimum taken away, I’ve been left with next to nothing.

The quantifiable evidence if my Apple Watch rings which usually get to around half full for the red ring and a dot for the green ring. Although, there have been occasions like our trips to the farm where I make sure to go for a walk down to the forest at the end of field and close my rings.

Despite knowing the importance of exercise for not just physical but mental health, I’ve let it slide and the effects have been noticeable. I haven’t handled stress as well as I used to, I’ve felt tired at times and when I do meet my Apple Watch goals for the day, I feel sore afterwards, like I had gone to the gym for a workout.

The straw that finally broke the camels back was watching CGP Grey’s fantastic video, spaceship you.

I don’t know why this got through to me after I had read several articles on the topic and listened to podcasts discussing the importance of exercise during the lockdown, but it did. And I’m grateful.

The Plan

I like simple plans as they are easier to complete and so more likely to actually get done. This is what I’ve started so far, and what I hope to add soon.

1. Talked to my wife:

I needed to get her onboard as wrangling our child care arrangements has caused issues. My old habits just can’t work when someone has to take care of our daughter at certain points

2. Started a simple health challenge app

I’ve had the health mate app from withings on my watch for a long time thanks to some old devices. They have a work from home challenge where they send you advice and simple exercises to do. It’s not a full workout, but I’ve already done more exercise in the last couple of days than the previous few weeks.

3. Cut the chips, sweets and beer

The other side of health to exercise is what I’m putting in to my body. I know that sugar and unhealthy foods made me feel more sluggish and lethargic. Sometimes I justify it by my high metabolism but right now I’m burning less calories and so I’ve cut down on a few guilty pleasure.

Stuff to come

1. Trying a new workout app

I’ve downloaded the fitbod app that I’ve heard a couple of people recommend and I’m going to start trying those workouts out. They have body weight exercises so I don’t need any equipment, which is good, as I have none. I haven’t started this yet, I’m waiting for the exercise habit to stick.

2. Taking more compliant walks

Restrictions are lifting here in Poland with parks and forests now open so it’s much easier to go for a walk now than it was before. Still, I will make sure I’m complying with regulations and doing whatever else I can to minimize my risk of being exposed and exposing others.

Action

None of this matters if I don’t take action. I’ve done a few things but I need to keep doing it. It has already helped me deal with some of my physical and mental health issues and I’m sure doing more with continue these improvements.

P.s. I wrote this post this morning and did more exercise today and felt even better.