Home Screens - Stephen Grassie

This week’s home screen features Stephen Grassie. Stephen pays for his shoes helping attorneys with courtroom technology but he also played a hand in the Brain Fuel Cookbook (made with iBooks Author) about eating better. So Stephen, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

I find that the apps I value the most are the ones that make my life easier. I can’t decide if that makes me smart or just lazy!

Pinbox is one of those simple apps that does one thing so well it feels frictionless. I enjoy researching plans before a trip, but I don’t like deciding on a specific itinerary of when to do things once I arrive. Pinbox lets me skip the itinerary by creating a custom map with as many location marker pins as I want—I just drop a pin on my hotel and then on any other location I might want to visit. At any point during the trip, I can open Pinbox and see a map of places I’ve saved compared to my location and decide what to do next. The app is quick and intuitive, but I hope the developer will add a few features like iPad optimization and map sharing.

Chronicle reminds me of upcoming bills in the era of paperless billing. Using it is so quick that I don’t find myself putting off adding new bills or updating balances. When a due date approaches, the app uses the standard red notification badge as well as notifications to make sure I don’t forget anything. (It also has a great Mac companion app if you prefer paying bills on your Mac.)

Paprika makes the process of cooking at home much easier. I really wasn’t much of a cook when I began working on the iBooks version of Sam Anderson’s cookbook, and I found myself struggling with the process of deciding what to cook and then figuring out what ingredients I needed. Even worse, when I forgot to plan a meal or to buy an ingredient, I’d end up wasting a lot of time going to the store again. Luckily, after adding my favorite recipes to Paprika, the process of deciding what to cook for the week and what ingredients to buy became so quick that I now often do it while sitting in the parking lot at the grocery store right before I walk in. It even exports your grocery list to the built in Reminders list.

Squarespace’s Blog app was a bonus I wasn’t expecting when I signed up. The app itself is unabashedly simple without being limiting.

Idea Bucket has a confusing name—it’s more like a pro/con list on steroids. When I am having a hard time making a decision, I’ll add the options to Idea Bucket and then add a few pros and cons to each. The app is different because it uses weighted slider bars rather than a standard list. Once I’ve gone through the process of entering the data, I can usually tell right away which option makes the most sense. I don’t use this app daily, but when I do use it I’m glad I have it.

iCam lets me use standard webcams as home security cameras and lets me check the cameras and recorded motion events from anywhere. I use it to check on the dog and see if I closed the garage door. It can even send you a push notification if it detects motion.

SimpliSafe is a modern DIY home alarm system. Shortly after installing it, we were on a cruise and couldn’t remember if we’d set the alarm. I pulled out my phone and armed it from the middle of the Caribbean and felt pretty darn cool. We even have a sensor in our mailbox that sends a push notification when the mail is delivered.

iBooks, of course! I greeted iBooks with great skepticism when it launched because I just couldn’t see myself reading full-length books on my iPad. Luckily I stumbled upon Paperless (by you know who!) and my eyes were opened to the cool new type of books that were possible on the iPad. These days, the first place I look when I need to learn something new is the iBooks Store.

Filemaker Go blows me away. I have always found cool uses for Filemaker on the desktop, but the iPad version has reached the point that it almost seems like magic.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

An oldie but goodie is Voices 2, a voice changing and recording app. It probably takes the award for both the oldest iOS app I still use as well as one of the most beautifully designed. It is so much fun to open Voices and pass the app around to kids and adults until everyone is laughing at all the different ways it can change your voice. I keep hoping that the developer will release a version for the iPad one of these days, but I should probably give up hope at this point!

I also enjoy the Amazon Windowshop iPad app. Its my go-to when trying to find a gift for someone without knowing exactly what I’m looking for. Using Windowshop reminds me of browsing in an actual retail store, because it is easy to stumble across something cool that I didn’t know existed.

What is the app you are still missing?

Not an app, per se, but I’m still holding out hope for a more useful lock screen. I haven’t really found my stride with Notification Center, and notifications in general seem intrusive and distracting. A customizable lock screen would be a huge boon for me.

And of course, Scrivener for iPad!

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

I have purchased every single iPhone so far on release day, but I recently made the big switch from a iPhone 6 Plus to a very simple feature phone that doesn’t even include a camera. The iPhone is incredible, but I started to notice that it was taking away about as much (or more) from my life as it was adding to it. Fast LTE internet access in my pocket made it far too easy to squander time, and being so connected made it hard for me to be alone with my thoughts. After 7 years of near-constant smartphone use, giving it up has been surprisingly easy (so far).

I still use my iPad a few times a day, but it is much easier to manage how much of my attention I give to the iPad since it doesn’t fit in my pocket and go everywhere with me.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

Hands down: Siri’s voice dictation. Typing on the iPad isn’t bad, but not having to type is great!

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

I would slow everything down (just a little). I used to trust that when Apple released something, it would work as described – and beautifully! I feel like software updates have been coming so quickly for the last few years that Apple is having a hard time keeping up with the changes. I’d much rather wait on a polished product than have something that is almost ready (or full of compromises). A recent example: I couldn’t believe the convoluted words coming out of my mouth while I tried to explain to a friend why they should not activate iCloud Drive.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

The grass texture is one of the original wallpapers included with Mac OS 7.5. A while back I booted up an old Mac and experienced instant nostalgia from the desktop pattern alone, so I took screenshots of a few favorites and have been rotating through them. (By the way, repeating patterns really make the Perspective Zoom feature pop.)

Anything else you’d like to share?

The best part of being a Mac user is the community. My sincere thanks all of those who figure out awesome ways to accomplish things and are willing to share their techniques with the world!

MPU 223: It's So Choice

Got some downtime this weekend? MPU 223 is out. In it Mike Rohde joins us to talk about his new book, the Sketchnote Workbook. We also discuss my fancy new iMac, academic workflows, goal setting, security, and share listener tips and answer questions.


iPhone JD Likes Word for iPhone

My congratulations go to Microsoft for embracing iOS this year with versions of Office for iPad and iPhone. If there is anyone you'd want to see review Microsoft Word on the iPhone, it'd be a lawyer and nobody is better at these stress tests than Jeff Richardson. Jeff's conclusion are two thumbs up. I have a feeling that in my day job, using Word on my phone is one of those things that will make me wish I kept the big phone.

iCloud Drive Stumbles

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a post it in development concerning iCloud Drive and document syncing. Through the beta process for both Yosemite and iOS, I had varying degrees of success with synchronizing documents through the iCloud drive, by which I mean it rarely worked. 

Apple made a lot of changes under the hood with these most recent releases and I understood that this was going to be difficult for awhile and I was going to face the host of evils that come with running beta software. However, I also expected that when these products shipped, everything would be sorted out.

I am under no illusions that Apple can magically become the masters of cloud sync overnight, especially when they’ve been behind competitors like Google for so long. I was prepared for a few rough patches as the software released but I was not prepared for the problems I faced when Yosemite finally hit the streets and iCloud Drive was a real thing and no longer a beta thing.

Originally, my ability to sync through iCloud Drive was crippled. My iPhone, iPad, and Mac all had different versions of documents on them despite numerous attempts to reset the system, including logging out of iCloud entirely, switching my .Mac identity to an “iCloud” identity, and even nuking my iPad entirely and starting again from scratch were all fruitless. The most frustrating part is that these failures were not only with third parties using iCloud drive, they were happening with Pages, Numbers, and Keynote as well. How are people at Apple not seeing these problems with their own apps?

For a few weeks, it just didn’t work for me. Sometimes I could get one device to sync with the other temporarily but then a few hours later it would stop. I spent way too much time trying to troubleshoot it and ultimately concluded the problem was probably something server-based or software-based and entirely out of my control. I was like a tribesmen trying to forestall a solar eclipse by looking at chicken bones. I knew at some level that all of my attempts to sort things out was pointless yet I couldn’t stop myself because I needed these documents to synchronize for my work. That whole thing I’ve always felt about my Apple products just working for me and letting me get on with my work went out the window and it drove me nuts.

The version of this post that I wrote a week ago, was a lot less generous than the one I am now posting. The reason for that is about a week ago things started to sort out for the iWork apps. At first, things would start syncing but just take a long time to do so. I’ve got a 20 MB numbers file. It took about 10 minutes to synchronize between my iPad and my Mac. They didn’t allow for simultaneous work but at least I knew I had the data available to me when I needed it. Since then the speed has increased even more. We’ve had a few updates to the iWork apps that have significantly improved iCloud synchronizing speeds as well. It still takes longer than it should to synchronize documents and I expect this is largely server-based. Also, it still is not perfect. I updated a Numbers spreadsheet last night on my Mac and then started working on it this morning on my iPad but realized, about 5 minutes in, that I didn’t have the changes synced from the Mac so I now had two inconsistent versions of the same document. Ugh.

On third party apps, things are still a mess. There was apparently a problem with 8.1 that makes iCloud Drive document sync cause apps using the service to hang up and, generally, break. Several of my favorite third party apps that use iCloud Drive are practically unusable at this point. I’m told the impending 8.1.1 update fixes this but I have to wonder how it got this far. 

I don’t know what to think about Apple and the cloud at this point. I think this is really important to Apple’s success (and my ability to get the most out of their products). Nevertheless, they keep stumbling. I know what they are doing at this massive scale is hard. However, Apple’s secretive nature combined with these obvious problems makes it appear they just don’t care, which I don’t think is true but nonetheless frustrating when it interrupts my flow. I suspect the truth is that the iCloud team is pedaling like mad and don’t want to publicly acknowledge these problems but instead just fix them. I sure hope they do. I’ll be reporting back on iCloud Drive and hope things get better. For now, you can hold on to your Dropbox account.

You're Mac

I’ve been doing some speaking over the past few months. They’ve been small corporate-type gigs about technology and productivity. Two events in particular, both at large law firms, are worthy of note.

1. The Vanishing Function Key

As you might guess, I’m pretty thorough in preparing for a presentation. I even have a TextExpander snippet that requests, among other things, a picture of the projector inputs. So I usually have everything sorted out before I arrive but in this one case, I could not get my Mac to output to the projector. Everything was plugged in. All systems were go. It just wouldn’t display and I was running out of time. 

So my host calls in the IT guy. He walked in, looked at my set up and said it:

“Oh. You’re Mac”

Those were his exact words. He delivered them dripping with judgment. He didn’t say I was using a Mac. He said I was Mac.

This irritated me and it probably showed. I didn’t need attitude. I had a room filling up with people and I needed my brilliant slides behind me. I explained how things weren’t working and he then shares another pearl of wisdom:

“You need to press Fn-F2. That always fixes it.”

I then explained that my Mac doesn’t have a Function + F2 key. My computer automatically detects when it is plugged into a projector and doesn’t require some silly keyboard incantation. Then he said it again:

“You’re Mac”

It was interesting because this time his inflection implied my situation was hopeless. It was like a Microsoft-approved version of “I am Groot.” One phrase. Infinite inflections. Clearly, he’d had a lot of practice at saying it.

While this conversation was ongoing I kept watching more people come in and sit down. I was seconds away from shutting down and going without slides. However, since this presentation was how to make better legal briefs with PDFs, I really had no clue how I would pull that off. Then I asked him for the projector remote. He got defensive.

“The projector’s fine. You’re Mac.”

Then I channelled my mother. I stuck my hand out and looked at the ceiling. I was surprised to feel the plastic slap into my palm. (My mom was smart!) I started futzing with the projector inputs and found one had been turned off. It happened to be the one connected to the cable sticking out of the wall that I was told to plug into. As soon as I flipped the switch, the screen lit up and I was off to the races.

He saw me connect and then said it again:

"You're Mac?"

2. The Great Cable Caper

Less than a week later I was giving another talk in another big law firm and couldn’t connect. Again the IT guy showed up and again he said the exact thing.

“Oh. You’re Mac”

I blinked. I couldn’t believe I was taking the same guff less than a week after the last guy. Is this phrase now in the manual? This guy told me very patiently how Macs don’t work on “his” projector. They’ve never been able to get one to connect and it is because Apple uses “non-standard technologies.” This time I snorted and he declined to elaborate exactly what “non-standard technologies” he was referring to. Nevertheless, he said it with so much authority that several people in the room nodded their heads in agreement. 

Again I was contemplating dumping my slides but now I was convinced the problem was his projector and I wanted to prove a point. On a hunch, I pulled my own RGB cable out of my bag. (If you want to know how much gear I carry to presentations, there is a good book you should read.) When I swapped my cable for theirs … you guessed it … the screen lit up. The IT guy looks at the screen, then my Mac, then the screen again. Then he made his declaration:

“Must be a proprietary Mac cable, right?”

I don’t think either of these gents was actively trying to prevent me from connecting. I just think they have such deep seated prejudice against Apple that it would never occur to them that these problems were on their end, not mine.

Writing a post about how Mac users are persecuted in 2014 feels like it is about 15 years too late. Nevertheless, there is a slice of the Enterprise, particularly in industries resistant to change (like legal) where you still are looked at funny when you walk in with a Mac. 

Many (but hardly all) of the IT professionals serving these industries have been far too busy earning Microsoft certifications to pay any attention to Apple and they are not only unhelpful, they can actively lob hand grenades at your attempts to get any work done with your Mac.

If you are using a Mac in this environment, it’s up to you to know your stuff because you really can’t rely on any help from “the man”.

I am Mac.

Screenflow 5. 35 Bucks. Today Only

I often get emails asking how I do my screencasts. There are a lot of apps I've tried and discarded but over the years, the one application I absolutely rely upon is ScreenFlow. I've written about it before. Today Telestream released version 5 and its on sale for just $35 for one day only. (I paid $99 for the last version.) I'll be writing about my experiences with the new features soon but for now, if you have any desire to ever make a screencast, today's your day. Go get it now.


Gabe Weatherhead is, without a doubt, one of my favorite nerds in Internetland. He blogs. He podcasts. And now he develops Apps. Gabe has told me in the past how he combines his geeky superpowers with his love of good beer and now he, along with some other smart people like Jeff Hunsberger, has created an App, TapCellar, to make drinking beer even more fun. I love how they brought design elements that only serious beer drinkers could think of, like the requirement that it work great offline (because so many bars have reception) and that it be something you can use one handed ... well ... because ... beer. Gabe explains it all at MacDrifter.

If you occasionally partake in some foamy recreation, go get TapCellar. Also, if Gabe is reading this I'd just like to publicly say that another version of this app could be pretty special for tea drinkers. That is all.

The Textbundle Format

I'm behind on posting this but my pal Brett Terpstra recently collaborated with the folks behind Ulysses to create a new rich text file format called Textbundle. I, along with the rest of the Internet, have been yammering about the benefits of text files for some time. Put simply, text is timeless and so should be your words. Writing your most important words and proprietary file formats sets a fuse to your words. 

The problem with the text format is that it does not allow for formatting. The idea behind text bundle is to create a format that retains the simple text files but also carries with it formatting details. In essence, text bundle file is a folder including one file that has your words in plaintext and some other files that allow participating applications do things with that text like, for instance, tracking changes. Even if Textbundle goes the way of the Dodo, you will always be able to take that embedded text file and read it. 

I think it's a great idea and I wish him the best of luck. I hope many third-party app developers pick it up. I'm definitely going to be watching this and keeping an eye out for an application to take advantage of this file format.

Yuvi Likes his iPhone 6 Plus

I particularly like the "simulated" photo of him using it on the toilet.

People have asked me whether I miss my iPhone 6 Plus. I do. Especially when trying to read or write long documents. I don't find I miss it for web browsing. The 6 is big enough for that. I also don't miss it when using it one-handed, which I can more or less do with the 6. Does this mean I'm settled on the 4.7" size when next year rolls around? Nope. I've got no clue how big my next phone will be.


The Sketchnote Workbook

Mike Rohde is a pretty special guy on the Internet. Mike came up with the idea of Sketchnoting and has been teaching his techniques for years. I use some of these techniques in preparation for court appearances. Mike explained Sketchnoting in MPU episode 120. (Mike also prepared all the illustrations in my Email Field Guide.)

Mike recently released the Sketchnote Workbook which gives further Sketechnote instruction and includes examples from Sketchnoters of various skills (your truly included) demonstrating how they use Sketchnoting in their daily lives. 

Sponsor: inShort with Free Giveaway

This week MacSparky is sponsored by inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store). inShort is is an iPhone/iPad/Mac application that lets you plan projects and processes graphically. This brings a new paradigm to process and project planning and is absolutely worth checking out. One of the more clever features is the way it allows you to embed processes and drill down to the level of detail you need at the moment. 

inShort was updated for iOS 8, adding, among other things, a widget to the Today view and adapted graphics for the new iPhone 6 screens. Want to learn more, read the developer's PDF

This week, I've got some inShort licenses to give away for both the Mac and iOS versions. To enter, send me an email with "inShort Contest" in the subject line. I'll send out licenses to the winners Friday.