Sixteen-year-olds Connor Koehler and Max Greenwald wanted a stop watch that could start, stop, and reset without them having to look at their iPhone screens. So they built one. The app doesn't look like a high school project. I'm hearing increasingly from young developers. As an old guy I'm always impressed by the gumption required to create a product when you are in high school. I'm equally amazed how it is even possible for a few teenagers to have a good idea and get it in front of a global audience.
The latest patent attack is against podcasters. A patent holder is claiming that any distribution of episodic content requires a patent license and is now enforcing that against podcasters. I can tell you from experience that podcasting is something you do for love, not money. If producing a podcast starts meaning you are going to have to deal with patent litigation, a lot of good podcasts will go away.
If you enjoy podcasts, please skip your next meal out and contribute to the EFF. I just contributed quite a bit more than a meal.
What are some of your favorite apps?
From a dog food eating perspective, it's got to be on my home screen.
This is a really nicely designed app and a pleasure to use. I use it like a private Facebook. I try to add one entry per day (usually with a photo) to act as a simple diary. What I'd really like, however, is the ability to add a short textual comment to pictures in my standard photo library - then have them sync back to iPhoto etc. Once in iPhoto (or Apple TV) the text comments would appear with the photo in slideshows. There you go Apple - you can have that one for free.
Who would have thought it would be so useful to have a torch with you all the time?
I spend a lot of time ferrying my kids to various after school clubs and sitting around waiting for them. Trashy novels help keep me sane. I try to avoid having techie books on my iPhone. Not sure what side of the brain stories use - but it's different to the logical techie side I use most of the day and it needs exercising!
The de-facto secure storage app. Not keen on the actual app design, but I love the fact that I can sync it via Dropbox with my Mac version and have access to all my stuff. Previously I used Yojimbo but they wouldn't support data entry via their iPhone app, so I had to jump ship.
BBC iPlayer (Link not available for US)
On the odd occasion that I get sufficient 3g coverage then I may try to catchup on some TV. I still feel guilty streaming video over 3g even though I don't have a data cap - it just feels wrong - like I'm using up some finite fossil based resource!?
Which app is your guilty pleasure?
I have two - the first is Reeder. It started out as a time SAVING thing, to reduce the time I spent trawling through my favourite websites. Trouble is, it saved me so much time I decided to include more websites in my list. Google killing their RSS feed thing is probably doing me a favour. My other guilty pleasure is the TED app. I can justify this on the grounds of it being educational - but it sure can eat up an afternoon.
What is the app you are still missing?
I can't really think of one - but that's more down to my lack of imagination than anything else. I can still remember arguing with my friend about how pointless it was to put a camera in a phone and how music downloads would never replace CDs. I'm not a great barometer for the future of innovation...
How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?
Sad though it sounds, it's the first thing I look at in the morning and last thing at night.
What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?
Physically, I guess it's the camera - it's the only one I use nowadays. From a software perspective I really appreciate the consistency of the UI and the visceral feeling that the OS and apps strive to achieve by way of animations etc.
If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?
Tricky one since a lot of the things that bug me about Apple are what makes Apple, Apple. However, if I had to pick on one thing then I'd argue that they need to rethink their whole approach to files. They seem to want to remove the whole concept in order to keep it simple for users. Personally I believe that files and folders are a perfectly good 'metaphor/abstraction' which also benefit from having real world counterparts understood by everyone. Their current approach (keeping information siloed within apps) is not good - it drains much of the value from that information. It also results in services like iCloud... </rant>
Anything else you'd like to share?
Am I the only person who would like an iPhone5 with an iPhone4 sized screen?
Thanks to David for asking me to do this - it's been fun.
"Productivity" is such a loaded word these days. I even wrote an article about it. It is really easy to spout off tips about how to print faster. I do it here all the time. There is something much deeper to this productivity schtick dealing with underlying gut-level motivations and emotions. For the last two weeks, I've been working my way through Kourosh Dini's new book, Workflow: Beyond Productivity, and this book is the real deal.
Kourosh Explains it best:
"What you will not find is a series of quick fixes or how-to lists. However, you will find an in-depth examination, from basic concepts to an advanced understanding so you can build the secure foundations needed to truly develop meaningful work."
Kourosh writes with a patient voice that is perfect for this material. The book is $30. That is an introductory price that goes up on June 1. I encourage you to go download the preview and decide if it can inspire you as much as it did me.
Mike Rohde, author of the Sketchnote Handbook and recent MPU Guest, just released the font he created for his book. In my opinion, 99% of all "handwriting" fonts look terrible. Mike's font fits in the 1%. There is even a web-friendly Typekit version. I plan on putting this font to use as well. For instance, this font is perfect for a Keynote presentation that I want to make feel informal. I'm also not beyond printing out a note card with this font and signing it, as if my printing were this good.
Last week Smile released version 2.0 of TextExpander touch, which I really dig. Yesterday Smile gave me five free download codes to give away for the new app. I put the word out on Twitter to send in favorite snippets for codes and got some really great ones. In fact, I got too many and feel bad about leaving some people out but here comes the winners. Thanks everyone for playing along.
1. MultiMarkdown? Yes thank you.
Sayz Lim submitted a MultiMarkdown snippet to maintain a figure tag in MultiMarkdown. One of the things I like about this snippet is the way he uses the same fill-in snippet twice. I do this often too and I'm not sure everyone knows you can do that.
![ [%filltext:name=Figure Caption%] ](%clipboard)
[%filltext:name=Figure Caption%]: %clipboard
2. Let Me Know
Trent sent in this simple yet useful script.
ppp = Please let me know if you have any questions.
3. The Breakfast Club Special
Reader Oscar is an educator and needs to send out notices for students that get Saturday detention. He uses this in conjection with an AppleScript that pulls a list of names from a Dropbox text file and works its magic.
The following students have zeros in %fillpopup:name=Classname:Physics:Aquatic Science:default=Forensics% for the week of: %@-9D%m/%d/%y:
They need to be assigned to Saturday D-hall on %@+3D%m/%d/%y.
4. Testing, Testing
Michael has a snippet that looks very useful for testing stroke victims. It uses pop ups and several other features. This may not be useful to you but I'm betting there is something in your life that would get easier if you made your own snippet like this one.
NIH Stroke Scale %snippet:.date% %snippet:.time%
1a. Level of Consciousness:%fillpopup:name=1a.:default=0 (Keenly responsive.):1 (Arousable with minor stimulation):2 (Requires strong stimulation):3 (Comatose)%
1b. LOC Questions:%fillpopup:name=1b:default=0 (Answers both questions correctly):1 (Answers one question correctly):2 (Answers neither question correctly)%
1c. LOC Commands:%fillpopup:name=1c:default=0 (Performs both tasks correctly):1 (Performs one task correctly):2 (Performs neither task correctly)%
2. Best Gaze:%fillpopup:name=2:default=0 (Normal):1 (Partial gaze palsy):2 (Forced deviation)%
3. Visual:%fillpopup:name=3:default=0 (No visual loss.):1 (Partial hemianopia):2 (Complete hemianopia):3 (Bilateral hemianopia)%
4. Facial Palsy:%fillpopup:name=4:default=0 (Normal):1 (Minor paralysis):2 (Partial/Central paralysis):3 (Complete paralysis)%
5a. Motor Left Arm:%fillpopup:name=5a:default=0 (No drift for 10 seconds):1 (Drift without touching):2 (Some effort against gravity):3 (No effort against gravity):4 (No movement):0 (Amputation or fusion)%
5b. Motor Right Arm:%fillpopup:name=5b:default=0 (No drift for 10 seconds):1 (Drift without touching):2 (Some effort against gravity):3 (No effort against gravity):4 (No movement):0 (Amputation or fusion)%
6a. Motor Left Leg:%fillpopup:name=6a:default=0 (No drift for 10 seconds):1 (Drift without touching):2 (Some effort against gravity):3 (No effort against gravity):4 (No movement):0 (Amputation or fusion)%
6b. Motor Right Leg:%fillpopup:name=6b:default=0 (No drift for 10 seconds):1 (Drift without touching):2 (Some effort against gravity):3 (No effort against gravity):4 (No movement):0 (Amputation or fusion)%
7. Limb Ataxia:%fillpopup:name=7:default=0 (Absent):1 (Present in one limb):2 (Present in two limbs):0 (Amputation or fusion)%
8. Sensory:%fillpopup:name=8:default=0 (Normal):1 (Mild to moderate loss):2 (Severe loss)%
9. Best Language:%fillpopup:name=9:default=0 (No Aphasia):1 (Mild to moderate):2 (Severe aphasia):3 (Mute or global aphasia)%
10. Dysarthria:%fillpopup:name=10:default=0 (Normal):1 (Mild to moderate):2 (Severe dysarthria):0 (Intubated or other)%
11. Extinction and Inattention:%fillpopup:name=11:default=0 (Normal):1 (To one modality):2 (Profound loss)%
5. The Moxy Award…
… goes to Barry for this.
NTET = Need TextExpander Touch
Are you still waiting to check out TextExpander touch 2.0? Shame on you. You should be watching this clever video.
For a long time, syncing files was a huge pain. It involved portable disks of one sort or another and lots of walking and fiddling. Then a few years ago cloud syncing services showed up and Dropbox quickly became the solution to most of our syncing problems.
Then Apple jumped in with iCloud and the idea that documents could just sync across multiple devices without opening the Finder and endlessly pressing "Sync" buttons.
Around the time that iCloud first showed up, I spoke with Ken Case, president of the Omni Group, about syncing between the Omni Group apps on my iPad and the Mac. The Omni Group did not jump on the Dropbox or iCloud bandwagons. As Ken explained it to me, the Omni Group prides itself on providing the best experience to their customers and if they were going to start syncing data between their apps, they didn't want to rely on anyone else. Specifically, they didn't want to be on the phone with a customer only to say, "Sorry. The app is working right. Your syncing problem is Dropbox or Apple." The Omni Group wants to own your experience with their apps soup to nuts. Now they do.
The Omni Group built its own sync engine. It's called OmniPresence and it is great.
On the Mac, OmniPresence installs to your menubar. When you first set it up, it adds a folder to your Mac, just like Dropbox. (Though don't locate your OmniPresence folder in your Dropbox folder. That's like crossing the streams.) You can drop any OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle, or OmniGraph Sketcher file in that folder and it immediately gets synced up to the cloud. The icon animates with three dots when there is network activity and clicking on it gets you quickly to your OmniPresence folder.
Then when you install the app on your other Macs, those same files get synced to your magic OmniPresence folder. Because this is just another folder on your Mac, the OS X Versions and Auto Save features just work.
The Omni Group has also built in OmniPresence syncing to the current builds of the OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle, and OmniGraph Sketcher iPad apps. Those apps also see the files in your OmniPresence folder.
Using OmniPresence you can have a file open on your Mac and iPad at the same time and changes made on one platform automatically populate over to this other platform. This part is just like iCloud.
They even made a clever video.
That's the thing about OmniPresence. It's Dropbox and iCloud all rolled up into one. And then when you have a problem you can call Omni and they control all the pipes to make it right.
The Omni Group also has a more extensive tutorial that is worth the three minutes it takes to watch.
The whole thing is baked right into the Omni Group's Omni Sync service. That's how I use it. However, if you want to install it on your own server and keep your data private, you can. OmniPresence works with any properly configured Apache server, which means you can host your own data without having to install any special software from Omni. It even works on HIPPA-compliant services like SwissDisk. The Omni Group has also open sourced the syncing code for iOS apps at github so expect other app developers to start using it too.
Ken Case explains this best. "OmniPresence is not yet another proprietary syncing solution just for syncing Omni apps. On the Mac, it's designed to work with documents from any other OS X app that supports Auto Save and Versions--such as OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, OmniGraphSketcher, or even Apple's built-in TextEdit app."
There are many nice little touches to OmniPresence. For instance, you can sync multiple folders to different accounts so you can keep your work and personal documents separately.
While OmniPresence is just at version 1.0, I think this is going to become a big deal. It offers a legitimate third options to users and developers to sync data between devices. Its combination of syncing in real time without having to press "Sync" buttons and simple folder accessibility on the Mac make it compelling.
You can learn more from the OmniGroup. If you already have an Omni Sync Service account (you should), I encourage you to log in and enable OmniPresence and check it out for yourself.
I'd like to thank Hoban Cards for sponsoring MacSparky.com this week. I've been getting attention lately when handing out letterpress business cards. It shows people that I have got my act together. Evan Calkins at Hoban Cards makes my letterpress cards. There are several templates to choose from or you can work with Evan to make something custom. (In addition to being a master at his 1500 lb. 1902 letterpress printing machine, Evan is a graphic designer.) That's what I did and I love the results.
There is a video of Evan in action at the website. Use the offer code "MacSparky" for free shipping.
If you'd like to share your products and services with the MacSparky.com readers, drop me a note.
This week Ethan Schoonover joins us to talk about his workflows. In addition to creating amazing things I use, like Solarized and, a few years ago, Kinkless GTD, Ethan is smart, curious, and charming. In this episode, he talks about how he gets work done as a professional graphic designer and how he has tricked out his home using a Mac mini to create an entertainment and security system. Enjoy.
Happy Memorial Day everybody.
I have to admit that in addition to obsessing on geeky MacSparky-ish things, I also love grilling. A few years ago I ditched my gas grill for a Weber charcoal grill. I love it. I know the dig against charcoal is that you have to heat your coals but is it really all that bad? I use a chimney and light up the bottom of it with some crinkled up newspaper. Then I go spend twenty or thirty minutes preparing my meat while the chimney heats my coals. The end product just tastes better, noticeably so. Moreover, a Weber grill only sets you back $150, which is a lot cheaper than most gas grills.
Since this post has already completely gone off the rails, here is the recipe for my Memorial Day Bratwurst.
1. Johnsonville Bratwurst
2. A bottle of beer
3. A jar of sauerkraut
4. A few green apples
5. Suitable rolls or buns
Slice up the apples and put them in a tin pan along with the beer, sauerkraut, and bratwurst. Put the pan on the grill and shut the lid for 20-30 minutes. When the brat starts looking like it's cooked, pull them out and put them on the grill. Remove the tin pan and drain the beer. Just grill the brat for a few minutes then serve on buns with some spicy mustard, the sauerkraut, and apples. Delicious.
This has to be one of the most used apps on my phone. I have started logging my life for last year now and I have about 500 entries. I use Terpstra's Slogger tool and even make hand-typed entries twice or thrice a day. This one is for the lifetime.
Kind of a no brainer for everyone. I wrote my whole Masters thesis in this app and managing documents has been so much easier. A hat tip to Evernote Essentials from Brett Kelly too!
Perhaps the easiest to use music manager for my huge music library. Always on on my MacBook Pro.
The best App.net client out there. Developer Bill Kunz is almost always present on App.net and is a nice guy. Plus the experience of the app is super sleek.
The mandatory weather app on the home screen! I actually like their interface and multiple location handling. Plus hour by hour forecast is all I need so this one is fine.
Did someone roll\ his eyes? Yes I still keep Simplenote on my phone because it's fast, their sync is not bad at all even though those problems in the past. Also, it works perfectly with my huge nvALT notes database on MacBook Pro.
For all those little chores that might get slipped through the cracks and who do not deserve the prestigious OmniFocus project/task status.
I recently started using Pinboard.in and I love it. The tagging feature, speed of use and it's support across the apps is just amazing. Using it on iPhone is made simple and easy by this app.
Mail: I use FastMail for my personal email and have ditched Gmail over suggestions from Marco Arment and others. FastMail only offers IMAP and not a lot of apps support FastMail at the moment. I have decided to stick with the native Mail app from Apple. It works great and serves the purpose.
1. What are some of your favourite apps?
I love to listen to podcasts and I get my source of weekly nerdery from there. That is why I love Pocket Casts - my favourite podcast manager. Another one of my favourite has to be Reeder. Lovely interface with continuously enriching functionality and easily the best source of news for me every morning.
2. Which app is your guilty pleasure?
I think Flipboard has to be the one for me. That is why it's hidden in the news folder there. If I see it, I have to open it and I just get lost in the flow of content that is available inside. Sometimes it's too much. But I still love it.
3. What is the app you are still missing?
I publish my blog via Squarespace. Their apps are not up to the mark. When I see the polish of the apps for WordPress publishing (e.g. Poster), I really miss that functionality in Squarespace apps. They are not bad but they do not offer everything. I have at times lost whole blog posts due to draft syncing issues. They could work on it a bit. So that is the app I miss the most.
4. How many times do you use your iPhone?
I am writing my thesis at the moment. I do that in Evernote. I get my news through RSS and Twitter/Flipboard. I listen to podcasts (almost 2 a day) and I communicate via WhatsApp etc. I manage tasks through OmniFocus and Due. So you can say I have my iPhone with me all the time. Apart from when I go to take a shower of course!
5. What is your favourite feature of your iPhone?
My favourite feature of my iPhone has to be the amazing touch experience while typing. I have used Android and BlackBerrys but have never experienced the same level of polish on the touch screen. This almost works silently in our daily lives but saves us countless hours on mistypes and double taps.
6. If you were in charge at Apple, what would you like to change?
I would make the cross-app integration of data/files much simpler and easier. That would immensely increase the value of the apps and attract the developers to integrate more and more sharing services in their apps.
With Adobe's new subscription model, a lot of people are asking if they should switch to something less expensive. I've been using Pixelmator for years and it has a lot more firepower than I need. Since you can buy Pixelmator for $15, which is just a few months of an Adobe subscription, Pixelmator's looking even better. Michael Cohen at TidBITS did a nice article looking at this very question and came to the same conclusion I did: For most people Pixelmator will get the job done.
Occasionally, I have sensitive things on my Mac's screen and occasionally I leave an office, or conference room, or courtroom and forget to shut the lid on that Mac. While I've got my Mac set to lock itself down after a few minutes, I thought it would be nice to have a way to force the issue. Mac Power User listener Mariusz wrote me about Polish Mac Geek Milosz Bolechowski who pulls this off with Drafts, a Dropbox File, and Hazel. I thought it was pretty clever so I duplicated it tonight.
This is how it works:
I type "MB sleep" in Drafts and save it to the standard Drafts folder on Dropbox. (In my case it is located at Dropbox/Apps/Drafts.) I use "MB sleep" because I'm going to add a second one for putting the iMac to sleep.
Point Hazel at the Drafts folder and tell it to look for a file that contains the terms "MB sleep"
When Hazel sees the file, it deletes it and runs an AppleScript to put the Mac to sleep.
This is a really simple script.
tell application "Finder"
Once you set this up, open Drafts and type "MB sleep" and save it to Dropbox. Within a few seconds, your Mac goes safely to sleep.
Milosz had another great idea of using a URL scheme to further automate this. If you want to take it a step further, set up a URL scheme in Launch Center Pro as follows:
Then when you tap the button in Launch Center Pro, it opens Drafts and fills in the text "MB sleep" for you. You just need to send it to Dropbox for the Magic to happen. The below screenshot gallery gives you the details.
Extra Extra Credit
On Twitter, @Eiscik points out points out the following Launch Center Pro action performs the Dropbox upload for you with no further taps.
Craig Scott, the developer behind my beloved iThoughtsHD has started releasing a series of iOS apps that feel, to me, a lot more like iOS Automator Actions than apps. The first app, makeDoc, takes the contents of your clipboard text (including Markdown) and spits out a Microsoft Word file. The other, makeSlides, does the same thing to create a PowerPoint file. I don't have much use for making PowerPoint files. (Indeed, I have an irrational dislike of PowerPoint.) But making Word files is, sadly, a regular thing for me. Craig's little app makes it possible for me to do this with any Markdown text on my iPad.
I like the idea of these little utility apps to solve an iOS problem. I hope Craig keeps making them and other developers follow suit.
The new version of TextExpander touch is now available for download and it's fabulous. The big new features are rich text and fill in snippet support. Although this is a version 2.0, it is free for people who already purchased the prior version. The fill-in snippet support is huge for me. I use fill-in snippets every day. Federico did a nice extended review at MacStories and I made a short screencast showing off the new version. Enjoy.
Horace Dediu breaks down the Apple Store numbers to figure out Apple earns $57 for every warm body that walks through the door. ($12 of that is profit.) So how does the popular press turn that into a call for Tim Cook's head?
After 4 years, Katie and I go back to the subject of syncing data on this week's Mac Power Users episode. In it, we cover the relative merits of Dropbox and iCloud and also expand the discussion to syncing all sorts of data between Macs and iOS devices. This is also the episode where Katie threatens to eviscerate me with a Klingon pointy-sword.
HogBay Software makes some great Mac and iOS software. (I've got WriteRoom on my iPad home screen right now.) So I've been watching the development of FoldingText with some interest over the past several months. The application is now at version 1.2.2 and available in the Mac App Store for $25.
FoldingText is a simple text editor with a few tricks up its sleeve I've never seen before. As the name implies, it folds text. While this is a common feature and high-powered text editors such as BBEdit, this is an uncommon feature in an App Store editor.
Implementation is very simple. Write your text using the markdown syntax for headings (e.g.,
You can then add additional text underneath that in simple text format or make a bulleted list using hyphens or asterisks. FoldingText follows additional markdown syntax with the application of italics (with asterisks on each side of the words) or bold with a pair of asterisks on each side of each word. You're basically writing markdown.
The difference is you can tap on one of your headings and all the text underneath the heading will fold into it. If you've got a large text document, this can be really helpful. I used it last week for writing a legal brief as an experiment and I really liked it. The application uses iCloud syncing so you can share your document between multiple Macs.
There isn't an iPad or iPhone version yet and for me, that is a bummer. Because I so often write using these mobile devices, the inability to seamlessly share the information across to them will limit my usage. However, since Jesse Grosjean has already proven his ability to write outstanding iOS applications, I suspect this shortcoming is not a permanent one.
This week I'd like to thank doo.net for sponsoring MacSparky.com. doo is a Cloud based paperless management service. You can connect all of your document sources and doo does the hard work of indexing and organizing your documents for you with automatic intelligent tagging. This provides the basis for an extremely efficient search. Moreover, with cloud-based document storage, you can access all your documents no matter where you are and what device you are holding. The new version 1.2 now even includes support for external hard drives. Learn more at doo.net.
MPU Listener David Hall found a clever use for Reeder's defeault address to send link setting. He put in his OmniFocus Mail Drop address and now can send an article straight into OmniFocus without leaving Reeder. I'm in.