MPU 323: Clayton Morris Talks Tech

This week Fox broadcaster Clayton Morris returns to the Mac Power Users to talk about the technology he's most excited about. Topics include using Apple Notes for research, the utility of Clayton's Apple Watch, the emergence of iOS, and how to save your WiFi and your marriage all at once.

Sponsors include:

  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. 
  • Sanebox Stop drowning in email!
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I/O Envy

There are a lot of rumblings in the Apple community arising out of the recent Google I/O conference. Google continues to push forward with artificial intelligence and machine learning as they added additional features to Android making it easier than ever for the operating system to think and act for us.

As a fan of voice technology and digital assistants, I couldn't help but be impressed. For some people in the Apple community, this is a warning shot across Apple's bow. If our portable technologies are heading in this direction, Google is flaunting its superiority while Apple seems to linger each year with minor improvements to artificial intelligence, Siri, and the whole principle of getting our phones to think more for us.

One argument why Apple lags at this is because they don't have the types of cloud data that Google does. Because Apple feels so strongly about protecting consumer data, they don't have access to much of it. That impairs their ability to use "big data" to improve their services.

I'm not convinced that's a good enough reason however. Even though Apple may not have "big data", they do have plenty of access to user data on device. Moreover, the microchips in the modern iPhones and iPads are plenty smart to take a look at what's going on with your data and act upon it. We got a little bit of that with iOS 9 and I generally am impressed how apps show up now about the time I usually use them.

I don't feel as if the sky is falling over this issue. To me, it seems a lot more like Apple's standard playbook, where they let new technologies percolate for a bit and see what really sticks before finding a way to implement it. In the past, they capitalized on coming in once the technology becomes more useful to the masses and packaging it in a way that non-nerds, can take advantage of it. A similar recent dominant technology was cloud sync. Just a few years ago Google was legitimately the only company capable of pulling it off. I've been running an experiment on iCloud Drive the last month with 5 GB of data and it's actually pretty good. Not only that, smaller companies are now syncing data reliably too. I can't help think there is something similar to Moore's law for cloud based technologies.

To me, the real question here is that by not using "big data" or even taking better advantage of the data on our mobile devices, is Apple putting itself so far behind that it can't make that leap frog when the technology becomes more feasible?

The answer to that particular question is not easy. Apple doesn't tell us anything. For all we know, they have a skunk works project with 1,000 engineers working on this problem right now. Just as easily, however, they could have two guys in a broom closet. We'll not know until the big "unveiling" some day in the distant future. We speculated for years about the iPad and Apple ultimately delivered. Will they do it again with better AI and digital assistants?

I would like nothing more than for Apple to jump into the fray on this with both feet. I'd love for my iPhone or iPad to handle the tedium and give me more time to create things. I remember watching the movie *Her* and thinking, "I want that." (Well ... at least parts of that.) Maybe we will get that far in my lifetime. Regardless, if Apple does not announce its own AI initiative, I hardly think they are sunk. We are still several years from mass adoption of artificial intelligence in our mobile devices. Just look at voice dictation, which is prety good these days, but hardly used. If people aren't ready to use their phone to type for them, do you really think they're ready to have their phone booking appointments and flights for them?

On Analog Writing …

Joe Buhlig posted a thought provoking piece on how he's switched to writing out anything significant using longhand. Not only does he explain his own experience, he also cites to some compelling research about how our brains behave differently when we're writing with a pen and paper (or presumably Apple Pencil and iPad Pro) than with a keyboard.

I've heard this from many readers and listeners over the years but I don't see myself ever doing any significant amount of analog writing. Part of it is because my hand writing is so terrible. (Don't believe me? Watch this.) The biggest hangup for me though is that it is simply too slow. With the sheer number of words I want to get out of my head, the idea of slowing down to write longhand would make me crazy. I've known this in my bones for a long time, which is why I'm much more likely to tip over into dictation than get hung up on fancy artisanal notebooks.

Sponsor: SaneBox

I'm pleased to welcome SaneBox as this week's MacSparky.com sponsor. I've been using Sanebox for years and it still saves my bacon every day. There are so many great benefits to SaneBox. First and foremost is filtering. SaneBox looks at all of my incoming email and filters it for me to appropriate mailboxes. That way, the first thing in the morning I see are only those emails that are most important.

However, SaneBox can do so much more. I used to make fun of email deferment until I started using it with SaneBox. Now I use it all the time. When an email comes in that I don’t need to deal with for a couple days, rather than giving myself the extra work of scheduling a response in OmniFocus, I just defer the email two days. It disappears and then shows up again in my inbox in two days and I can deal with it then. SaneBox is highly customizable so you can set defer periods in hours, days, and weeks.

Because SaneBox is a cloud based service, it works in the email client of your choice, including Apple Mail. There is also an ingenious reminder system where you can blind copy an email to 1week@sanebox.com and the service will remind you if you don't get a response to the email within one week.

There is a lot more to SaneBox. If you get a lot of email, the service can really help. You can learn more at SaneBox.com. Note the links in this post will get you a discount when you subscribe. 

Home Screens: Brett Kelly

This week’s home screen features my friend Brett Kelly (Website)(Twitter). If you use Evernote and want to get better at it, Brett has written the Evernote book, Evernote Essentials, which has sold 45,000 copies and just received a really nice update. Brett’s an avid iPhone user and agreed to share his home screen. So Brett … let’s see it!

What are some of your favorite apps?

My most-used apps are:

  1. Drafts; I have this little jewel wired to do all sorts of things (add items to my grocery list, create new projects in my task manager, publish updates to Twitter and Facebook, just to name a few). Mine is primarily a text-based world and a non-trivial amount of the text I generate begins its life here.
  2. Tweetbot; though my Twitter use has waned a bit in recent months, I still lurk fairly often and, for my money, Tweetbot provides the best Twitter experience out there. It’s the perfect blend of delightful user experience and utility.
  3. Spotify; along with its OS X counterpart, there aren’t many times throughout the day when Spotify isn’t playing something from somewhere and my phone is usually the “somewhere.”
  4. Evernote; of course, we can’t forget my beloved Evernote. The vast majority of my data lives there and always having it with me has saved my bacon more times than I can count. On my iPhone, it’s mostly used for reference: I don’t do a ton of heavy addition or editing in Evernote (other than checking off todos periodically), but I tap the elephant kind of a lot.
  5. Spark; my relationship with email is very much of the “love/hate” variety. I write as little email on my iPhone as I can get by with, but I get a ton of email and Spark lets me do quick inbox triage when I’m out and about.

Honorable mentions include: Workflow, 1Password, Day One, Pinterest (for finding things to cook), and Fantastical.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Facebook, I suppose. While I do sometimes use it for work-related things (monitoring a few groups to which I belong), the majority of my Facebook time is spent keeping tabs on friends and family. I probably use it more than I should, but as a guy who mostly works alone, I like having the ability to spy on those I love. That sounded creepy.

What app makes you most productive?

Drafts, hands down. A couple of months back, I set aside a few blocks of time to really dial it in and that investment has paid dividends. It’s position in the dock is quite intentional: it’s the easiest app for me to reach—I mostly hold my iPhone in my right hand—and I have several actions, a few of them custom, that help me capture, communicate, and create while I’m not at my Mac.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

Launch Center Pro. I know how it works and I can appreciate its power, but other than a small handful of actions I regularly use, I hardly open it. To be honest, at this point, it mosty serves as a way for me to trigger Workflow workflows based on time or location. I suspect I’ll give it the “Drafts treatment” soon and spend an afternoon really thinking about how I can use it more effectively, but for now I mostly keep this particular Cadillac parked in the garage (which bums me out).

What is the app you are still missing?

Honestly, there isn’t much I wish my iPhone could do that it doesn’t do already. Now, I have plenty of thoughts about how things could work differently, but that’ll be for another time.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

My iPhone comes out of my pocket dozens of times per day. My iPad, on the other hand, is gathering dust; my kids use it to play games and watch Netflix, but that’s about it. I’m all Mac and iPhone these days.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

This is another area of iPhone functionality that’s mostly lost on me. Several utilities are sitting in the Today view, but I rarely use most of them. For me, the Today view tells me what’s on my calendar for the day and how to dress based on the weather.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

Probably TouchID. Mine is an iPhone 6—equipped with the comparatively slower sensor—so it’s not as speedy as its 6S counterpart. That said, using it still feels like magic to me and it makes performing many tasks on my iPhone quick and pleasurable instead of a giant pain.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

First and foremost, I’d give Siri a lot of attention. Other than setting the occasional timer or reminder, it’s unreliable enough that I don’t use it. Plus, the fact that it can’t do what seem like simple tasks is a source of friction for me. For example, it’d be great if all of these were possible:

  • “Email my most recent photo to Jimmy.”
  • “Copy Billy’s phone number to the clipboard” (or “Send my work address to Susan”).
  • “Remind me to start the crock pot five minutes after I get home.”

Maybe I’m all wet, but those kinds of things seem eminently doable.

Second, I’d love to be able to customize Control Center more. I hardly ever use Airplane Mode, the calculator, or orientation lock, so the ability to replace those buttons with other things—like, say, a button that launched Drafts—would be excellent.

Finally, let me change the default mail client.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

I do indeed. I use the Modular face because, in my opinion, it allows me to fit the most information on the screen while keeping the data that’s important to me—the time, date, and weather—visible at a glance.

The only third-party app I use with any regularity is Drafts; capturing quick notes for later is easy, especially when I’m driving or otherwise encumbered.

For the most part, my Apple Watch is a little thingie that notifies me of what appears on the phone that’s in my pocket. It’s handy for reading text messages, email notifications, and directions using the Maps app, but anything that requires the watch to talk extensively to the phone is a non-starter because of how stupid long it takes apps to launch and collect whatever data they need. It’s just faster to pull out my phone.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

On my lock screen I have a picture of my lady because she’s really pretty. My home screen wallpaper is one of the stock dark wallpaper (in the “Stills” collection). I’ve found that pictures of waterfalls or people on the Springboard makes this needlessly difficult to read, so I stick with the simple option.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Just that you’re awesome, David. Awesome.

And so are you Brett … so very awesome.

The Hazel Video Field Guide

I'm pleased to announce the release of my latest Video Field Guide. This one is all about Hazel. For years, Hazel has been one of the best kept secrets on the Mac. Using Hazel, anybody can automate large portions of their work. The thing I love about Hazel is the way it can turn mere mortals into automation gods. Anybody can do this. You don't need a lick of programming knowledge.

The Hazel Video Field Guide assumes that the viewer has no knowledge of Hazel and starts with the basics but by the end ramps up to advanced techniques including home automation via Hazel. One of the workflows, for instance, shows the viewer how to automatically lock their Mac when they leave their home or office using a combination of IFTTT, a simple AppleScript, and Hazel.

The Hazel Video Field Guide is a two-and-a-half hour video screencast with 35 separate chapter markers that teaches you everything you need to know about Hazel.  You can start the screencast without knowing a thing about it and by the end of the screencast you'll be using Hazel to automate everything from filing your bills to having your Mac play some of your favorite music as you arrive home. There is a lot you can do with Hazel and this screencast explains it all including:

1. MASTER OF DOCUMENTS

Hazel will manage your documents for you. Not only can Hazel help you name and file documents, it can also reach inside documents and look at their contents and then use that data in naming the file and putting it in the right place. Hazel is a document management beast and both more efficient and reliable than having a human manage electronic documents. Hazel is also an excellent copilot as you start tagging files. Some of the workflows in this Video Field guide explain how to automatically apply tags to categories of documents so you have the benefit of tagging without the work of creating them. 

2. TAMER OF FILES

Hazel can do a remarkable job of cleaning up after you on your Mac. Hazel can keep an eye on any folder on your Mac, including your downloads folder and your desktop, and keep things nice and tidy. Set your rules once and never have a messy computer again. 

3. MEDIA AUTOMATION

Sorting and filing your media is a pain in the neck. Hazel can take this burden on for you. Using Hazel, you can have your images automatically filed in the Photos application or you can have Hazel automatically sort and organize folders full of images by their date. You can even use a Hazel to automatically rename your images while you're organizing them. Hazel can also manager music for you. Hazel has the ability to automatically import new music into iTunes so you don't have to.

4. REMOTE CONTROL

Not many people realize what a powerful tool Hazel can be for automation. Hazel is always watching. It will jump into action with something as simple as a new text file being added to your hard drive. Moreover, once Hazel kicks in, it can do just about anything on your Mac. One section of this Video Field Guide demonstrates how you can use AppleScript and services like IFTTT to easily create automation scripts for your Mac. One of the sample Hazel workflows will automatically lock your Mac when you leave your house. Another will play your favorite music when you arrive home. Once you understand how these work, and I demonstrate every step, you can alter the scripts to make your Mac do just about anything you want at anytime you want.

5. Manage Your Trash and Smart App Deletion

Another common pain point for Mac owners is managing the trash. If you're not watching it, your Mac's trash can fill up your hard drive. Hazel takes care of this problem for you with the ability to automatically empty the trash after a set period of time or when the trash gets to a predefined size. The settings are easy and completely remove this problem from your life. Likewise, Hazel can also take care of deleting and restoring applications from your Mac. Hazel doesn't just delete the application but all those obscure resource files that are scattered over your drive.

INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY

Hazel does the tedious work so that you can do the important work. This lovingly crafted video is just shy of two-and-a-half hours. There are 35 chapter markers and the video covers every aspect of this super-powerful Mac application. Who doesn't want to wield super-powers over their technology?

Get the Hazel Video Field Guide today for $19.99.

Want a peek? Here's 30 minutes of the Hazel Video Field Guide.

The U-Turn Podcast

Today the U-Turn podcast published an episode all about me. In it, I talk with Eric Jorgensen about my journey from "firm" lawyer to solo and how much I like being MacSparky. The episode came out great and if you are into the hippie side of things, you'll enjoy this. I've been binging on the U-Turn podcast since recording the episode and Eric does real nice work of getting guests to open up.

The Apple Pencil for Navigation

The last week or two I've been using the Apple pencil increasingly for navigating around the iPad Pro. I know I'm a little bit late to the game and a holy war has already been fought with Apple to retain this ability. At the time all of that went down, I thought it was silly and didn't foresee myself using my Apple Pencil to scroll, swipe, and otherwise tap on my iPad. Somehow, nonetheless, I ended up trying it out and to my own surprise, I like it.

One of the reasons pencil navigation is nice is because of the length of the Apple Pencil, I can easily scroll through lists and check off boxes with very little movement of my hand. This workflow is particularly useful for the morning sweep through OmniFocus and email. Strangely, I never find myself using the Apple Pencil on the springboard or otherwise navigating between applications.

If you own an iPad Pro and have held off on the Apple Pencil, I'd encourage you to give one a try. You can pick them up at the Apple Store and they have a two-week return policy so if it really doesn't work for you, you're not out any money.

I think Apple made a mistake with the initial launch of the iPad Pro with all the emphasis on using the Apple Pencil for fine art. While obviously it's good for that, I find a lot of uses for it that have nothing to do with art.

MPU 321: Geeking Out with TJ Luoma

Geek, preacher, and all-around-nice-guy TJ Luoma joins us in MPU 321 to talk about using an off-site Mac mini, rolling your own backup, workflows for preachers, and TJ's new secret project that will update your Mac software for you.

Sponsors include:

  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. 
  • Gazelle Sell your iPhone for cash at Gazelle! 
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.
  • Gemini: Duplicate files can run — But they can’t hide. Now, you can find & remove them with Gemini.

Home Screen: Ernie Svenson and Small Firm Bootcamp

This week’s Home Screen features Ernie Svenson (Website)(Twitter). Ernie and I have taught courses together at the American Bar Association and Ernie is one of my favorite teachers. This week Ernie’s just announced a new online course for lawyers called “Small Firm Bootcamp”. If you’re a solo or small firm attorney, you should sign up for Ernie’s course. When I went solo, Ernie gave me tons of advice and saved me from many self-inflicted wounds.

What are some of your favorite apps?

My “favorite” apps are probably those that I use most often without thinking about it. So they deserve more appreciation than I probably give them. Included among those would be Dark Sky, Overcast, and iMessage.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Definitely it’s Enlight, which is a photography app that’s basically like having Photoshop on your iPhone but easier to use. I use it to quickly manipulate photos in cool ways like making part of the picture black & white and leaving the rest in color.

What app makes you most productive?

Two apps fit that category in my mind: Trello and Skype. I use these apps to communicate with my virtual assistants that are located in Croatia and Romania. One of my VA’s likes to communicate by Skype and the other uses Trello. I love being out, like I was at the recent 7 day jazz music festival in New Orleans, and responding to questions from my VAs.

Not many people can say that they’re moving important work along as they sit in a grassy field listening to Steely Dan. So my “Bodhisattva” is Trello and Skype ;-)

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

OmniFocus, but fortunately I know a guy named David who has some great videos that I can watch to up my game in that department.

What is the app you are still missing?

The self-driving car app. But apparently you have to buy a Tesla to get that, so I’m working on that.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

So many times that I can’t even imagine being without my iPhone. My iPad is used sporadically because when I went to the large iPhone I basically didn’t need it much.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

I like Siri a lot now. I use it constantly, and will probably use it more as time goes on. I also like the new Notes app and rely on that a lot too.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

Make the notifications on the iPhone and Apple Watch more intuitive, or somehow easier to use.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

I do and I use the default watch face that shows me the time, date, temperature, and my next appointment.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I use the “Live” wallpaper, and love how it moves when I push on the screen. It’s the little things in life that keep me going… ;-)

Anything else you’d like to share?

I bought the first iPhone when it came out. I can’t even remember how little it did compared to the phone I have now. I feel like I could do almost anything with my iPhone now, and in some ways it’s more convenient than my computer.

Thanks Ernie.

MPU 320: Always Good Advice

It's time again for Mac Power Users Live. This month we share listener tips and feedback on a variety of topics including backup workflows, securing your technology and menu bar applications. We also answer listener questions and follow-up on the 9.7" iPad Pro.

Sponsors are:

  • PDFpen from Smile With powerful PDF editing tools, available for Mac, iPad, and iPhone, PDFpen from Smile makes you a Mac Power User.
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap Helps You Live a More Productive, Efficient, Paperless Life. 
  • Automatic The connected car company that improves your driving and integrates your car into yoru digital life. Enter code MACPOWER to get 20% off your purchase. 
  • Drobo Created by you. Protected by Drobo. Save $100 off select models using code MPU100

About the Hypothetical iPhone 7

It seems like there is enough smoke in the air to think the hypothetical dual-camera system in the iPhone 7 plus may be a real thing. Most recently Mac Rumors released drawings from an alleged Apple casing subcontractor.  If true, the 5.5 inch phone is getting a dual-lens camera system.

This could mean that the camera in the iPhone 7 Plus is significantly better than the camera in the iPhone 7. It looks like the iPhone 7 Plus may also exclusively get a smart connector. 

If the rumors are true and they end up removing the headphone jacks and increasing the disparity between the normal and plus sized iPhones, people are going to go nuts when they announce these in September. Buckle in.

Automating OmniFocus on iOS

I've had my head down a lot lately between the day job and the upcoming Hazel Video Field Guide. One thing that's happened is that I've gone completely mad with automating OmniFocus on my iPad. A few weeks ago The Omni Group released a new version of OmniFocus that can interface with template files to create project templates on iOS.
 
Given the inherent limitations of iOS, it's a pretty elegant system once you figure it out, and I'm going to explain further as soon as I get done with these big projects. Now I prefer to set up project templates on iOS. I didn't see that coming.

MPU 319: Teddy Svoronos

This week's Mac Power Users episode is one of my favorites. In it, Teddy Svoronos, a Harvard PhD student and teacher in their graduate program joins us to share some delightfully nerdy workflows for presenting to groups of people and doing big-boy research projects.

Sponsors are:

  • Linode: High performance SSD Linux servers for all of your infrastructure needs. Get a $20 credit with promo code ‘mpu20’
  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘MPU’
  • Igloo: An intranet you’ll actually like, free for up to 10 people.
  • The Omni Group They're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Moving Forward with Digital Assistants

Siri’s original developers, Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, left Apple in 2011 and took a bunch of their team with them. Since then, they’ve been working on a new artificial intelligence system, Viv, that is going to get it’s first public demonstration Monday.

Right now there is a lot going on in the intelligent digital assistant world. While Apple was early to this game, Microsoft and Google are right behind and it’s clear there’s a lot of resources from a lot of big companies being thrown at this problem.

Most surprising to me has been the utility of the Amazon Echo. I have been using Siri for years but nobody else in my family does. I think it has something to do with the slight delay that exists between activating Siri and stating a command combined with the sometimes indecipherable syntax you need to use in order to make it work. There is also that thing where Siri will perform a complicated instruction perfectly only to botch things up entirely when you ask it to tell you the weather five minutes later. All of this has improved over the years but there still is enough resistance that my non-nerd family members are not interested.

The Amazon Echo on the other hand has no such resistance. I frequently witness my family turning on the lights, checking the weather, and otherwise interacting with Alexa. To me this is the closest glimpse we’ve had yet to a future with reliable intelligent digital assistants.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about why the Amazon Echo is “stickier” for the non-techies in my house than Siri. One argument is because the Echo is always on and listening (which is kind of creepy). You don’t need to push a button to get it started. I’m sure that’s part of it, but I believe the real reason is because it’s both easier to talk to and more responsive.

Amazon’s Echo does a better job of parsing the question and giving you useful information. Too often, Siri gets confused because you don’t ask the question just right. Also, the Amazon Echo has never done that thing where it seems to understand me perfectly only report it can’t answer my question because of some mysterious problem out there on the Internet … somewhere. Either way, in the Sparks household the Amazon Echo has been a clear winner for my wife and children.

So getting back to where I started with all of this, we’re getting our first demonstration of Viv on Monday. Your guess is as good as mine over what the long game is for Viv’s developers. Maybe they want to wow us so some big company throws large sums of money at them. However, they already did that with Siri.

I suspect they are more interested in making something that they can develop without the limitations that come with tying their wagon to a large corporation. Keeping Viv independent allows them to make deals easier with third parties so it’s easier to add functionality. It also lets the developers be, generally, more nimble. The downside is that it’s going to be harder to activate. One of the big attractions of Siri is that it is everywhere on iOS. If I have to go open an application to get a digital assistant working for me, I’m much less likely to use it. (I downloaded Microsoft’s Cortana app and I still only launch it for the purpose of testing Cortana.) I think members of my family would be even less likely to launch an app for a digital assistant.

Either way, I hope that Viv is a smashing success. I want there to be a lot of competition in this space and I want these big companies to duke it out. It feels like we are on the cusp of having useful digital assistants in our lives and the sooner that comes, the better.