tech, simplified.

Ever gone to sign up for a price only to see a "Starts at $X" or "Call for pricing" tagline and wondered what the app actually costs? Or tried out an app and gone to pick a plan, then puzzled over which plan your team actually needs?

Software pricing is surprisingly confusing. Either it's hidden entirely with more enterprise focused tools, or it's obscured between a range of similar plans or metered pricing for something you can't quite tell how quickly you'll use up.

So as a first part of building a new software community, my new team at Capiche is helping make software pricing transparent. If everyone shared what they really pay for software, it'd set baselines, help us all know what to expect to pay and how to negotiate to get the best pricing. It'll help us all pick software better—just as flight searches help you navigate pricing options and pick the airlines that makes the most sense for your trip.

“This startup wants to turn the cloud software business on its head.” ~Business Insider

We'd love to have you join and share your software pricing stories!

Apple Watch: Watch Everything

A review of the Apple Watch Series 4, after eight months of use

You’re running late, or so you fear. You instinctively raise your wrist and see the minute hand hovering near 10. You’re good. You’ve still got a few minutes left.

You might not notice the date or even the hour. They’re there, but the date doesn’t matter right now, and you can visually confirm the hour without thinking much about it. It’s the minutes that matter.

That’s how watches have worked for decades. And that’s essentially the Apple Watch experience, too, only with more bits of data—more complications, in horology-speak.

Feel like it’s surprisingly hot? Glance down and, oh, it’s 37°C, no wonder it’s so hot. Need the time in another city, your next flight’s gate, the current air quality index, or the next task or appointment on your agenda? Those and more are also just a glance away, depending on how you set up your watch. The same way you quickly see the time on a traditional watch without paying attention to the date or other complications, on Apple Watch you can get the weather or any of dozens of other bits of info in a quick glance without noticing the other stuff. Seems crazy, but over time it seems your eyes and brain know where to glance to get the info you need, and when you glance down wondering what the weather is, that’s the main thing you’ll notice. You might check the temp and not notice the time. And when someone mentions it being hot, you'll look at your wrist instinctively like watch wearers already do for the time, and feel like something’s missing if your watch isn't on your arm.

It doesn’t pull you in quite like a phone screen with all of its apps and longform content luring you to keep tapping. The Watch only shows bits of actionable data so you can go on with your real life.

Apple Watch context switches based on what you’re doing, which is where apps feel the most immersive. If you go for a run or swim, for instance, you can track it with the built-in Workout app (which will notice if your exercising and offer to log the workout even if you forgot to start the app first) or a 3rd party app like Nike Run Club or Strava. Then you’ll run as normal, forgetting the watch until you are wondering your pace or how much further you need to go. Glance down, and there’s the info you need, the distance in one corner, your average speed in another, and so on. The time is ever-present in the top right of the Watch, too, if you need.

Walking somewhere? Use Apple Maps to find the best route, then glance down to see how much further you have to go, or rely on vibrations to know when it’s time to turn (with slightly different vibrations for left and right turns). Listening to music or a podcast, even one you started from your phone? Glance down to see the track details, playing time, and large pause and skip buttons, perfect to see the artist’s name or jump to a next track. When you’re doing something immersive, an app turns your Watch into a different gadget built around the data you need right then, for what feels like the closest thing to augmented reality for your real life.

Of which, notifications are another part, the third core part of the Watch experience. Any app that can send you notifications on your iPhone can pass them to the watch, where they tap your wrist, let you see the full notification and reply to it if possible (such as with chat apps) or take other actions (such as deleting an email message from the notification). See the notification, quickly reply with dictation, and go on with your life without opening the full app. If the notification came from an app that supports the Watch, you can tap the notification to see it in the app (especially helpful to get the full context on a conversation in chat). But even without a Watch app, you can still reply to many notifications directly from the Watch, as I often do with those from Slack.

Notifications are annoying enough on the phone. On your Watch, they'll drive you mad if they're not notifications you want. I've restricted mine to the ones I find most valuable: Chat and important emails, finance for payment notifications, calendar to get reminded of upcoming events, and transit apps to know when a Grab or Uber has arrived. Each of those are helpful enough to want something poking you on the wrist when they come in.

Apps are a core part of the Watch experience, ever present in complications, notifications, and as full-screen apps when needed. You can also run apps on their own from the home screen, helpful say to check your bank account balance or to dictate a new note. They’re good for scratching an itch, when something comes to mind and you want a quick bit of data. They're not like iPhone apps, where you would waste time scrolling through feeds, or like iPad and Mac apps where you would sit down to work. They're instead good at bits of data, telling you something small or logging data for you to expand on later.

A great example is the V for Wiki app. On an iPhone, it's a nicer way to read Wikipedia. On a Watch, it's a quick way to see what's nearby. Walking around a city and wondering what important things are in the area? Tap V for Wiki on your Watch, tap the Nearby button, and discover things around you. It scratches that itch of wondering what's around, in seconds, without pulling you away from your surroundings.

Or take Drafts. On iPhone it's a detailed writing app with tools to automate your text and use it to start workflows. On Watch, it lets you read recent notes, or dictate a new one to save for later. Less features, but exactly what you need to remind yourself of something you wrote down recently or to log something new so don't forget it. To-do lists are another perfect fit for the Watch, of which Things lists things that need done, and Streaks lists the routines I need to do daily (read a book, work out, and more)

The Watch includes two other helpful features, both of which only make sense if you live in an Apple ecosystem. You can have the Watch auto-unlock your Mac, to keep it secure without typing in your password every time. And you can use Apple Pay to pay for stuff from your wrist. Both nice extras, but not critical.

The critical thing is the watch face, with the time and other complications (including one on many of the more decorative watch faces, and up to 8 on the Infograph face on newer Watches). You can customize watch faces to the style you want, then swipe between them to quickly go from the productive Infograph face to the fun Mickey Mouse face to the more dressed up Numerals or Chronograph faces, depending on the occasion. Fit them to your mood or outfit, or to the bits of data you need from complications that fit particular timeframes.

The same goes for Watch straps: I use the platinum Nike sport band that came with my watch for workouts and more active days, and a “midnight blue” standard sport band otherwise. Apple’s sport bands feel quite nice, and even though I’ve always preferred leather bands in traditional watches, the sport bands fit the spot for me for now. But if you want something nicer, there are plenty of options available, all easy to swap in seconds, making the Apple Watch easier to match to outfits than almost any other watch (aside from a large square screen not perhaps fitting into any formal attire, regardless the strap).

It’s a watch—a thing to watch all the little bits of data in your life, not just the time. And that’s pretty handy.

How to Use a Mouse With iPad

73 years after the invention of the mouse, and a dozen years after the iPhone made touchscreens feel like the inevitable future of computing, the mouse is back. Not that it ever fully went away, mind you, but Apple’s iPad always pushed in a different direction, first with a finger-focused touch interface, later augmented with the Apple Pencil.

And now, you can use a mouse on an iPad.

With iPadOS, the iPad-focused version of iOS 13, there’s a mouse option hidden under iOS’ Accessibility settings. It’s the real deal. You can connect a bluetooth or USB mouse and click and tap to your heart’s content. Anything that works with your finger works with a mouse; you can select text, drag pages to scroll or use the scroll wheel, and click and swipe up from the bottom and sides of the screen as you would with your finger.

Here’s how to get it working.

What Do You Need to Use a Mouse With an iPad?

You first need iPadOS 13, the latest version of iOS for the iPad. It’s in beta right now, so unless you have a spare iPad for testing and love having software crash all the time, it’s best to wait for public release sometime this fall.

Any iPad that supports iPadOS works with mice—so an iPad Air 2 or newer.

And you need a mouse, either a Bluetooth mouse (not one with a wireless USB dongle) or a wired USB mouse and a USB adaptor for your iPad. Apple’s magic mice and magic trackpad work with iPad over USB, but not wirelessly (I'm using a Microsoft Surface mouse; many on Twitter reported using various Logitech mice).

How Do You Connect a Mouse to iPad?

It’s a bit more tricky than just connecting your mouse.

First, open your iPad’s Settings, tap Accessibility, then select Touch and AssistiveTouch. There, turn AssistiveTouch on in the setting on the top. That will show a black rectangle on your screen, similar to the “fake” home button often used on older iPhones to prevent home button wear-and-tear. Tap that button to go home, or to do other actions on your iPad.

But you didn’t want AssistiveTouch, you wanted a mouse. So turn on your mouse, and make sure it’s not connected to any other devices. Then scroll down that AssistiveTouch settings page, select Pointing Devices, then Bluetooth Devices, and finally select your mouse from the options.

Voilà. Your square AssistiveTouch button will turn into a round oversized cursor, and you can finally use a mouse on iOS.

How Can I Customize My iOS Mouse?

The default iPad cursor is huge and round

There are a few settings to tweak to make your iPad mouse a bit nicer to use:

The new, smaller, autohiding iPad cursor

Then get back to work, and use the mouse like you would use your finger on the iPad screen. Click and drag up from the bottom of your screen to open your dock, open multitasking, or go home. Click and drag from the right of the screen to bring in the floating multitasking apps. Click and drag down on the home screen to open search. Click and drag to select text, or spreadsheet cells (perhaps the most useful reason to add a mouse to your iPad workflow.

The iPad’s still best for finger-driven interaction, and you’d likely be more productive with an external keyboard and keyboard shortcuts than a mouse. But hey: It’s nice to have it as an option, if a bit surreal to use a real mouse on iOS.

Updated July 3, 2019 with new mouse features from iPadOS Beta 3.

On External Limitations, Continuous Improvement, and Blame

The internet’s an easy thing to blame. Faceless, ethereal, piped to our homes and offices by bureaucratic corporations better known for ever-increasing bills and unreachable customer support, it’s the obvious target when something goes wrong on the computer.

You can’t hear someone on a call, or the video freezes in a meeting? The internet. The movie pauses to buffer? The internet. You miss a move in a game? Definitely the internet.

Instead of optimizing and improving, finding ways to eke performance out of the unoptimized, the scapegoat allows us to relax in mediocracy. If only someone else would fix the internet, everything would be right in the world. Far easier it is to assume everything would just work if everyone else did their job than to learn and improve your own systems.

External limitations are convenient excuses for the status quo. They overshadow other issues, turn them into a speck in the eye to analyze and critique, somewhere else to place the blame.

You didn’t leave late for the meeting. It’s the traffic’s fault; “you know how rush hour is,” and with an eye roll and a flick of the hand, personal responsibility is absolved. It’s not that your ceiling could use more insulation, or your car better maintenance; “the sun is so crazy strong here” or “you know how the salt eats the cars” and we nod our heads and chime in with our own anecdotes of similar misfortune.

Until, that is, the external limitations are stripped away. The construction’s finished, the traffic dissipates, yet your arrival time is still uncertain. Gigabit fibre comes to your neighborhood, the speed improves, and the WiFi coverage is still spotty. All along, the internet speed was to blame—as were the pipes and concrete and raw space separating you from your router, the technical limitations of 2.5g WiFi, your frayed cables and cluttered shelf of random electronics. Everyone else resolved their issues. The ball’s back in your court.

There’s a balance to be had, sure. For as soon as your improve your network, a faster network will be available, and you’ll have joined another mini rat race of keeping up. Maybe your speeds are fast enough, your house warm or cool enough, maybe you’ve reached your equilibrium. Zen, calm perfection.

Or perhaps this is where continuous improvement comes in, where products and projects are never fully completed, only gradually improving, approximating every more closely the perfect curve. The lifelong push and pull of better and best, where today’s best is all too soon tomorrow’s better and the next day’s merely ok. Kanzen, continuous improvement in search of perfection.

Either way, the focus isn’t on the external limiting factors. Perfection is to be achieved within the limitations presented. You can’t optimize a car into a rocket, and a car engineer railing against the limitations of gravity at every turn would be delusional at best. You instead perfect what’s at hand. And when the job’s done well enough, you step back and consider what’s next, what other process could be improved, what external limitation could be removed to continue down the improvement path. Otherwise you accept the limitations as they are, neither using them to excuse inaction or blaming them for limitations you’ve discovered that cannot be removed.

Blame not external limitations. Use them instead to frame your optimization strategy, as a guide to perfect what can be. You might not be able to get to the moon thanks to your external limitations, so instead of wasting time and thought cycles on wishing, you can focus instead of what can be achieved.

How to Run Windows on iPad With Amazon WorkSpaces

What’s a PC? It’s just another app.

Need to run Windows on your iPad? Amazon has a workaround for you, with an app that is almost as good as running Windows directly on your iPad.

Say you have a PC and need to run an older version of Windows or another operating system like Linux. You could dual-boot, choosing which operating system to run when you start your computer. Or, you could use a virtualization app like VMware or Virtual PC to run another version of Windows or Linux inside an app. It’ll run slower, but you can use the main version of Windows you already have installed and the other version side-by-side.

Amazon offers nearly the same thing in the cloud with Amazon WorkSpaces. Instead of running the other version of Windows or Linux on your computer or iPad, though, Amazon runs it in their servers. As long as your internet connection is reasonably fast, Amazon Workspaces feels generally as responsive as a virtual PC. And it works even on devices where you can’t install Windows or a virtualization app, like the iPad.

First sign up for Amazon WorkSpaces with an Amazon account. It’s free to start—you can use a Windows desktop in Amazon WorkSpaces for free for the first two months. After that, you’ll need to choose a plan from $25/month for Windows (or $7.25/month plus $0.57 per hour of usage, which works out well if you only need Windows occasionally). There are also higher tiered options with more power and Microsoft Office, or cheaper options for Linux or if you want to use your own Windows license. And you can start and stop as you need—you could have a desktop this month for a project, then delete it, and create a new desktop 6 months from now when you need a PC again, to only pay when you actually need Windows.

You can choose from Windows 7 or 10 for your Amazon WorkSpaces desktop. Both are actually desktop instances of Windows Server 2008 and 2016, respectively, which look and act like Windows 7 and 10 for the most part. With Amazon WorkSpaces’ Windows 10, for instance, you’ll have the core Windows tablet features including an on-screen keyboard and the full-screen start experience if you want—both of which are reasonably nice to use on the iPad. What you won’t have are most Windows consumer features—no Microsoft Edge browser (Amazon installs Firefox instead by default), and no Microsoft Store to install apps (so you can download and install any online app, but can’t install apps from the Microsoft Store). You may possibly run into other apps that don’t run on Windows Server—but for the most part, it feels like using normal desktop Windows.

Amazon takes a few minutes after you signup to create your virtual desktop. In the mean time, download the Amazon WorkSpaces iPad app. Check your email, and once your Amazon WorkSpaces desktop is ready, Amazon will email you a link to set up your user account. Then use those credentials and sign into the Amazon WorkSpaces app.

And with that, you’ll have a nearly normal Windows desktop experience. Use your finger as a mouse—tap where you want to move the mouse, then tap again to click (or, Amazon supports the SwiftPoint bluetooth mouse if you want a traditional mouse with your fake PC). Two-finger click to right-click; drag the scrollbars to scroll. Tap any text field to open your iPad’s default keyboard, which now will show Windows command keys along the top so you can enter keyboard shortcuts (or use any bluetooth keyboard to type—though you’ll still need those on-screen buttons for keyboard shortcuts). Copy text anywhere else on your iPad, and you can paste it to your Amazon WorkSpaces PC. It’s pretty seamless.

Amazon WorkSpaces includes a small menu of extra features, too, if you swipe your finger in from the left side of the screen. That includes options to show the keyboard (handy if you’re using a bluetooth keyboard and need to enter a keyboard shortcut), a button to change your mouse tracking, a Windows key, and a power button to turn your PC off.

Your WorkSpaces PC is connected to the internet through Amazon’s servers, so open the built-in Internet Explorer or Firefox to download any software you want. Downloading apps is fast, too—my WorkSpaces PC speedtested at over 800Mbps download, making for a quick Office and Creative Suite download. Most software I tried worked as expected, though typically the versions designed for mouse worked better than the newer “touch” versions since Amazon WorkSpaces doesn’t fully integrate with your iPad’s touchscreen.

It’s not perfect, and you wouldn’t want to work all day in an Amazon WorkSpaces environment. You’ll likely find keyboard shortcuts and the slight disconnect of using a fake mouse through the touch screen annoying. But then again, it’s not that bad. If you only occasionally need PC software, and don’t have a desktop PC around to remote desktop into, Amazon WorkSpaces is one of the easiest ways to use Windows on an iPad. With a full desktop browser and the option to install any desktop apps, it’s one way to plug the last remaining gaps in your workflow that can’t quite be done from the iPad alone just yet.

The Quick Guide to Markdown

Want to format text? It’s insanely easy in most word processors, email apps, and anywhere else you'd type formatted text today. You type text, select it, then tap the B icon to make it bold or the i to italicize it. Need a list? There's a ☰ button for that, too.

So you're good.

That is unless you want to format plain text. Then you'll need a bit more to make your plain text less plain. You need Markdown.

Over a century after the typewriter turned handwriting into precise characters, we've collectively found the symbols and characters that work best to format plain text. That's Markdown in a nutshell—it's a simple way to format text using symbols, similar to the way you'd use symbols to add character to a typewritten document.

How to Write in Markdown

You write text as normal, then add special characters before (and sometimes after) the word or phrase to format them. Wrap a word in *asterisks* or _underscores_ to italicize it, for instance; add two ## hashtags before a phrase to make it an H2-sized title.

Here are the most common Markdown formatting characters you'll use:

That's the basics. Markdown is simple and doesn't clutter your document much. As John Gruber said in Markdown's original documentation, “Markdown is intended to be as easy-to-read and easy-to-write as is feasible.”

It does pretty well at keeping that promise.

That’s all you need to start formatting text with Markdown. You can find more details in the Markdown documentation if you want to get fancy and add tables and footnotes and more.

For now, though, practice makes perfect. Start formatting your text with _underscores_ and # hashtags and it'll quickly become second nature.

Jumpstart Writing: How to Unblock Writer’s Block

Blank pages are scary. Terrifying, even. The longer you stare at them, the harder it gets to write.

Perhaps you have nothing to say. Perhaps no one wants to listen. Perhaps, though, the only problem is that your brain’s frozen.

You can’t always make yourself be creative on demand, but there are usually some ways to jar words out of your head.

Have Deadlines

You know how you’d wait to complete college essays until the very last second? Or at least, that’s what I perpetually did. It was far too easy to do all the other, less difficult things first, and leave that most draining homework until there was literally no time left.

It worked—with far too many close calls of submitting an assignment within minutes of the deadline and essays that were not nearly polished enough.

Don’t do that. But the trick itself might still be a good idea.

Say you need to write something by Friday. It’s Monday, and your brain’s apt to want to put it off. Sure, no worries. But Friday’s a bad deadline—it’s the _dead_line, the do-or-die-trying date, the one if you can’t hit, you’ll have to work late to finish. So that’s the submit date. Set another due date for your own work.

Maybe Wednesday evening would be a better due date. Write it down, put it on the calendar, try your best to convince yourself that Wednesday is the due date. Then, best case, you can read over and revise it on Thursday then submit your best work on Friday. Worst case, you’ve got Thursday to wrap up the loose ends—not to write the whole thing minutes before it’s due. A fire under your feet really does work.

In a similar vein, when planning stuff with others, set reasonable deadlines. Maybe you could write 4,000 words today—but there’s a far better chance you’ll feel blocked and won’t be able to write even the first thousand. Give yourself a buffer, and you can set your own earlier, stricter deadline so you still have time to deliver a polished work.

Write Something. Anything.

The clock’s ticking, and it’s still not happening. Even with a deadline you’ve got to hit, you can’t get yourself to write.

Actually, you could write something. You just can’t write the thing you’re supposed to be writing.

So write something. Write a letter to yourself, pen some terrible poetry, describe your room and desk and your current state of mind. Transcribe a song, even, or some famous piece of text you’ve memorized. Retype a news article. Type random words and use autocorrect to fill in the blanks and see what you get.

Get your fingers moving, words flowing.—and right when it feels normal, switch gears and try to write the thing you need.

In the collection of weird tricks to overcome writer’s block, this has to be the strangest—but it does work for me. Transcribing songs, especially, helps me focus by thinking about the lyrics, gets my fingers typing fast enough to keep up with the music, and jumpstarts that part of my brain that doesn’t yet have enough caffeine to start writing. It works.

Rewrite Something

In a similar vein, sometimes you need to start over—for your writing’s sake, or just for practice. Take the latter first. Perhaps you’ve already written something you like, something finalized, published even. You already know what goes into it, the thesis, story, and how it all fits together.

That’s a great thing to work with. Take the essence of the thing you’ve already written, and write it in another way. Retell the story. Don’t just move words around—pick new words to tell the same thing. You might accidentally end up with something great. Just as likely, you’ll end up with some ok copy that you’ll throw away—but it’s copy that gets your brain ready to write the thing that needs written.

Or grab something that hasn’t been published, a piece you’ve sat on forever since you can’t figure out how to say it. Again, don’t edit—recreate. Read just enough to refresh your mind about what you’re trying to say, then switch to a blank page and try to write it anew.

It’ll be easier to start writing—you already know in general what to say, and the stakes are low or non-existent. Before long, you’ll be in the flow, ready to write whatever you need. Or maybe you should keep rewriting. After all, the bits you were struggling to write before are likely not your best copy. Time to rewrite those same thoughts another way.

Edit Your Older Writing

This one won’t get you typing as much, but it works the same memory muscles. When you’re stuck and don’t know what to say, fix the things you’ve already said.

Your writing needs edited. Everyone’s does. It’s hard to see your mistakes and extraneous words while writing, but they become glaringly obvious if you read through them carefully.

Mistakes become more obvious with time. Somehow when you’ve first written something and the story’s still fresh in your mind, it’s easier to overlook the mistakes you’ve typed (for me, anyhow). Look over what you wrote yesterday, though, and the mistakes will be obvious. So do that. Use the time you can’t write to improve what you wrote before. Thinking through the word choices and grammar and commas will get you working on something, anything, and it’ll be far easier to switch gears and actually write.

Write Something Else

Face it: Sometimes you simply can't do the thing you set out to do. Staring at the blank screen isn't helping; writing random stuff isn't doing the trick either. Time to switch gears and do something else.

Perhaps the one thing that helps me stay productive the most is multitasking. No, you shouldn’t write more than one thing at the very same time. But you likely should have more than one writing project going on at once. You can’t be your most productive on one specific project all the time, but you likely can be productive on something all the time.

So switch things up and work on something else. Maybe you’re supposed to write a blog post today, but it’s just not happening. Switch over to your documentation and work on that instead. Email’s a distraction, perhaps, but if you have things to answer, perhaps that’s the writing you should do. Queue social posts. Outline your next chapter. Do something that keeps things moving forward in general, even if you can’t move this piece forward just yet.

Maybe it’s only this one section of the piece that’s proving troublesome. Stuck on the intro? Write the conclusion instead, or some point in the middle of the piece, or a scene you can write right now.

Or do a different task. It might be time to work on a design or dev project instead, to take the trash out and wash the dishes. There’s stuff to be done, and if you can’t do word tasks, do the stuff you can do without thinking as much.

Writers’ block is a real thing—or at least, there will always be times when you can’t figure out what to write. Your fingers could type, but it’s far easier to stare at the blank page and blinking cursor instead.

So start doing something. Type anything, and you’ll get into the rhythm of writing again. Maybe you still won’t be able to write the piece you started working on—perhaps that piece isn’t to be. But odds are you’ll get started writing something, perhaps that next great thing you’ve been waiting to write.

How to Make Google Search Always in the Language You Want

Along with delays and paperwork and jetlag, one tiny tech annoyance pops up almost every time I arrive in a new country: Google changes its language. It’s a helpful feature if you speak the local language, but a widely confusing one when you’re half asleep and want results in English or another language you prefer.

But by default, most of the time you open Google in a new country, the results will show up in that area’s language. You can select to switch to English and your browser will remember your choice—but if you use an Incognito window or a browser like Firefox Focus (which, by the way, is my new favorite way to quickly Google stuff), Google will default to the local language with every new search.

Here’s how to fix that. Open your browser’s search settings, and add a new search engine with the following URL as the search address:

The %s is what your browser will replace with your search query; the us is the region/language you want, here US English. Want results in Spanish? Replace the us with es for Spanish results for Spain. th gets Thai results, cn Chinese, and so on.

You could instead specify a language, using the &lr=lang_ modifier instead, such as &lr=lang_en for English or &lr=lang_fr for French. That changes the language, but not the region, to help you get localized results in your language. Though for whatever reason, the gl options tend to work more reliably for me.

Either way, that should get your Google results in the language you want, no matter where you are.

Find more ways to customize your URLs with Google’s full search URL modifier documentation.

Having the entire internet in your pocket is magical when you stop to think about it. But what makes it even better is that you can share that internet connection with your laptop or others around you.

It started out slow, with tethered dialup over cellular on older Nokia phones. Today's phones are much better, turning a 20+Mbps 4G signal into Wi-Fi that's plenty even to stream movies on your TV. It's how I stay productive when my home internet's down—or coffee shop, airport, and coworking Wi-Fi is overloaded—and one of the easiest ways to save money on internet when traveling.

Here's how.

Forget Metrics—Goals Are What Matter

A chapter a day adds up to quite a number of books a year—only, exactly how many I never really tracked until early 2017. I'd opened Goodreads, was prompted to add a reading goal for the year, and went back to see how many books I'd read in 2016. Lo and behold, add in paper books, and I'd likely read 20 or so volumes in the year.

I could do better than that. Suddenly I had to read 30 books in 2017.

And so I kept reading as normally, a chapter here, a book there on longhaul flights. Pages added up and the goal felt realistically achievable even without reading a crazy amount every day.

That is, until Ta-Nehisi Coates listed his favorite Civil War books—and Battle Cry Of Freedom jumped out as one I should read and add to the 25 or so I'd read already.

Great idea—only Battle Cry Of Freedom is over 900 dense pages long, enough that Kindle kindly suggested it'd take me over 25 hours to read the whole book. Suddenly the goal of thirty books in 2017 was less achievable.

Everything in life begs to be quantified. It started in the workplace, with key performance indicators and net promotor scores and daily active users being the deciding factor in every thing we do. Sure, we can talk about the things we can't measure being most important—but it's hard to live by that with the graph's trending downwards.

Smart devices and social networks brought that to our personal life to an unprecedented degree. Suddenly everything could be tracked. We knew we should stay active—but now we knew if we didn't walk 10k steps a day, and we'd try to exercise just to fill in those rings. We knew a weighty volume would take a while to read—but now we were told up front how much time it'd take (and our friends would automatically be told when we finished reading it). We hoped we were popular with our friends—but now we could see exactly which jokes fell flat, which photos people actually liked, and who was more jealous of us than happy for us.

Everything turned into a numbers game, so much that you might choose which food to order based on how many Instagram likes it'll get, or try to listen to more indie tunes to look cool. Exercising at home? Nah—much better to run at a park so you can track it and keep your spot on the exercise app's leaderboard.

It's not all bad. Exercise apps push many people to work out more than they would otherwise, social networks do make it easier to stay in touch and have helped many hone hobbies or careers, and so on. It's that the numbers aren't all that matters.

In fact, numbers don't matter at all. The goal is all that matters.

So take apart your goal. Want to read 30 books this year? Or what do you really want? Perhaps you want to learn more things, to read more from your favorite author, to expand your reading into subjects you're less familiar with. You might want to read more, read better, keep reading regularly—and the number can help. If the raw number of books is all that mattered, you could raid the kid's section of a bookstore and get your thirty books read in an afternoon. But the number's not the goal. Or, at least, it shouldn't be the goal.

You get what you measure. Strive to read a specific number of books—or to get a number of visitors to your site, or to make a specific number of revenue—and you might hit that at the loss of other metrics you're not tracking. Maybe you'll choose to read less impactful books just to read something. Maybe you'll cut back on customer services, make worse products, make false promises—all could offer short-term revenue gains with far greater long-term losses.

The Battle Cry of Freedom taught me more than most of the books I read this year. It nearly kept me from my raw number goal—but it more than achieved my unstated goals of learning more through reading, expanding my viewpoints, and reading a wider variety of content. It was well worth nearly missing a number goal for the greater good.

And so it goes in the workplace, too. Set goals and metrics at the beginning of the year or quarter—but always keep in mind the value behind the goal. Is more visitors really what you want—or would more engaged readers of your blog be more value? Is new blog posts what you need, or would your time be better spent updating the older, more valuable content you already have? Should you make a new sell, or help keep an existing customer happy?

In the end, I finished my reading goal with a little extra effort. Metrics are hard to shake off. But it taught me, as other lessons from work in 2017 had as well: Don't just make your goals numbers. Make a better goal, something greater you wish to achieve. Then stick a metric to it as a guidepost to help you know how you're doing. You might surpass the metric, or your might come up short, but deep down inside you'll know if you actually hit the real goal or not.

Such goals are harder to quantify—but far more valuable.