The Birth of the Lightsaber

There's some really great stuff in here for Star Wars nerds. As an aside, am I the only one that cringes every time George Lucas calls a lightsaber a "laser sword"?

Game Pick: Monument Valley

I stumbled into Monument Valley over the weekend and I'm hooked. This game follows a princess as she works her way through a series of intricate mazes and castles with levers, pulleys, and physics-defining ingenuity. You know those contraptions in the opening credits of Game of Thrones? It's like that but not nearly as ominous. In fact, one of the things I like about the game is that there is no dying. Just some puzzles, a princess, and the occasional squawking bird. I've been taking my time with each level and really enjoying it. You can get Monument Valley in the iOS App Store.

Sponsor: Rocket Matter

This week is sponsored by Rocket Matter. Rocket Matter is a fantastic cloud-based solution for running a law practice. You set up an account and log in and get back to work. You don't need to buy your own server. You don't need to install local updates. You just work and let Rocket Matter do all that back-end stuff for you. Rocket Matter continues to grow with some great features like billing, document storage, calendaring, and more. They even have an iPhone app that lets you accesses and manipulate all of your data.

But there is more! This week there's a free white paper about billing. If you pay for your shoes by the billable hour (even if you're not a lawyer), this is worth checking out. Go download the white paper, Houston, We Have a Problem.

Rocket Matter did some great work on this and it includes the below info graphic that I thought worth sharing. Thanks to Rocket Matter for sponsoring MacSparky.

John Coltrane, "Ballads"

Ballads is one of my favorite jazz albums. I've had a lifelong relationship with this album. While John Coltrane is best known for his more frantic stuff, this album proves just how sweetly he could play ballads. No matter how much I twist myself up, the opening riff of Say It (track 1) always unwinds me, immediately. When my daughters were babies, this is the music I used to put them to sleep.

Remarkably, all but one of the songs were recorded in one take. Crazy. I've bought it in vinyl, CD, and digital. Best of all, it's now only six bucks on iTunes. So worth it.

My Favorite iOS Dictation App - Dictate + Connect

I often get asked about what app I use for dictation on my iPhone. There are lots but my favorite is, without question, Dictate+Connect. This app has a great iOS7-y look and feel and has more features than I've had in a handheld recorder. I can easily adjust the recording quality, mic sensitivity and playback speed. It also has a voice activation mode that automatically stops the recording when I pause to think, which in my case is often. The app displays a waveform of your dictation while recording. It exports to WAV, AAC, WAV IMA4, and AIFF and there is a native version for both iPhone and iPad.

On the sharing side, Dictate+Connect lets me share my recordings via email, export, or in a separate iOS app. For example, I use the Quickshare feature to send dictations (in WAV) format to the transcription ninja at my office. I also send WAV files to Transporter (or Dropbox) to transcribe with Dragon Dictate on my Mac. I still use a physical pocket recorder but am using Dictate + Connect more and more. Because it is an app, it's always in my pocket.

TextExpander Touch 2.5

Yesterday Smile released TextExpander Touch version 2.5 for iOS. This free update includes a new iOS 7-style user interface and several tools to assist snippet management from within iOS. They spent a lot of time working on the little things and it shows. Some of my favorite new features are:

  • Reordering Groups
  • Sharing a completed snippet with the sharing menu
  • The ability to disable specific snippets for iOS
  • Gestures: three finger tap to share and two finger left swipe to copy

  • iOS Keyboard Shortcuts: 

    • ⌘+ and ⌘- increase and decrease the font size of selected text

    • ⌘N creates a new snippet, group, or note

    • ⌘Return functions as Done, or shares snippet or note

    • Escape functions as Cancel

    • ⌘T toggles between Notes and Groups

    • up and down arrows navigate through the list of snippets or notes on iPad

I use TextExpander often on both the Mac and iOS. The new URL callback method for sharing snippet groups to apps has been working fine and I'm happy to see Smile giving TextExpander even more love. Did you know I've got a bunch of snippet groups right here for download?

Fantastical 2 for iPad

Today Flexibits Released Fantastical 2 for iPad. Fantastical has taken over as my home screen calendar app on the iPhone so I guess it is only proper for it to do so on the iPad as well. I’ve been playing with it all morning and there are some nice features including half-screen and full-screen week views, that Fantastical intuitive appointment parser, floating time zone support, and TextExpander support.

My favorite feature is the way it displays week view on the top half of the screen, a month view and a list view all at once without looking cluttered. A close second is the way it builds the event while you type in the details. This immediate feedback is so useful. The slash trick from the Mac and iPhone, where you can designate an event to a specified calendar with a / in the description, also works on the iPad version. For instance, putting “/p” at the end of an event description puts the calendar event on your personal calendar. There is even a slash on the included extended keyboard, that also has numbers and symbols appropriate for creating calendar entries while entering new events.

Michael and the gang have done some great work on the iPad. It’s available now on the iTunes App Store.

The Sweet Setup Reviews Dispatch

Robert McGinley Myers did a proper job of writing up Dispatch. There is so much to like about that app. However, I don't use it as much as I used to because Sanebox already manages so much email for me. Another up-and-comer in the iOS mail racket is Boxer, that includes a lot of similar gesture based mail management tools (though not as much third-party app support). However, Boxer works on all your folders, not just your inbox.

Misty Watercolor Memories of Word 5.1

Last week at Macworld, the subject of Word 5.1 kept coming up in multiple conversations with multiple people. This was partly a result of Microsoft releasing Office for the iPad but I have to admit it is strange how much that application is universally loved by old nerds. When was the last time you truly loved a Microsoft app for the Mac? I wonder if it really was that great or if we are all just looking through rose colored glasses. I suspect that even if Microsoft wound back the clock, I'd still be spending the majority of my time in Scrivener, Byword, and Editorial (which is getting much more sticky for me lately).

While I usually make an effort to completely avoid the April Fools posts, I can't finish this post without making reference to the near-legendary TidBITS April 1, 2011 post about Word 5.1 on the iPad. People wanted to believe that one so badly.

USB to Lightning/Micro USB Combo Cable

One of my favorite finds at Macworld this year was the Skiva combo Lightning/Micro USB Cable. This doesn't require much explanation. It is a standard USB cable on one end and the other end has a Micro USB plug with an attached adapter that can turn it into a Lightning cable. It provides both power and syncing to my iPhone and a way to sync/charge my Micro USB devices. Where once I carried two cables, now I carry one. I love that. You can find it on Amazon (affiliate link).

Sponsor: Middle Davids Artisan Candles

This week I'm pleased to introduce a new sponsor, Middle Davids Artisan Candles. Dan and his team at Middle Davids understand the use of rituals to help with productivity. We all like our good coffee (or tea!), our ergonomic chairs, and our clean work surfaces, but what about scent?

I burn candles while I write and I always feel that the ritual of lighting the candle is a way to tell myself "it is on" and get to work. After I've worked a few hours, I blow out the candle and take a break. You'll be surprised how well this works. My favorite is the Northwoods scent, that smells like a fir tree. We don't have native fir trees in Southern California and I love it.

Dan, the proprietor, is a candle geek and obsesses on candles like I do productivity apps. The candles are 100% botanical soy wax, not paraffin (which is a petrochemical) and the wicks are cotton woven (no metals).

Middle Davids has a subscription plan that gets you two candles a month with 40 hours of burn time. That's two hours of focus a day. You also get a box of wooden matches, and a sample of the next month's scent. Give it a try. You'll surprise yourself. Use the code "MacSparky4" (or "macsparky4") for 10% off.

Macworld Photo Stream 2

Here are some of my photos from Macworld on March 29, 2014. The show wrapped up today. It was another great Macworld leaving me charged up  and full of ideas.

Macworld Photo Stream

In the past two days I've given five presentations and attended 4 parties. Other than that, I've not been doing much. Here's my photo stream from the Macworld show floor.

The Mother Ship

I had some business at Apple yesterday and while there, decided to stop by the company store. Here's my photo roll. There really isn't that much to see. It's a store with some cool Apple branded merchandise. A lot of times people are disappointed with their visit to Apple headquarters. I think everyone expects it to be, literally, like the Wonka chocolate factory. Instead, it is a nice place full of nice people working very hard. When you stop and think about it, that makes a lot more sense than a chocolate factory.

Click to Expand the Panoramic

Macworld 2014

As I hit the publish button I’m cruising through the California central valley in the family minivan. I really love going to Macworld every year. I love all the geeky stuff on the show floor. I love the content and the parties. But most of all, I love meeting old friends and making new ones. I recently talked about Macworld with Chuck Joiner on his Mac Voices podcast.

If you are at Macworld this year and see me, please stop me and say hello, whether you are an old friend or a new one. If you are normally introverted, this is the time to put that aside and let your geek flag fly. We’re all family in Moscone at Macworld.

You can definitely find me at the following places:

Thursday, March 27

Drobo Booth, Show Floor, 1PM

Katie Floyd and I will be talking about how we use our Drobos.

Mac Power Users Workflows, 3PM, Room 133

Katie and I will be demonstrating some of our favorite workflows from five years of the Mac Power Users along with a few new ones.

Macworld Rapid Fire, 5:00 - 6:30 PM, Room 103

Imagine a room full of geeks, with each getting only 5 minutes to explain something cool. I’m one of the speakers and hoping to make my few minutes special.

Friday, March 28

Mac Roundtable, 11:30 AM, Show Floor

The Mac Roundtable is a collection of podcasters. We’ll be doing a live show on the show floor with Chuck Joiner riding heard.

Paperless, 2:00 PM, Room 123

Despite the book, I’ve never actually given a Paperless presentation at Macworld. That’ll change this year.

Saturday, March 29

App Camp for Girls, 10:00 AM

Jean MacDonald is running a 2 hour App Camp session starting at 10:00 AM. My family will be there in force with my wife and I helping Jean, my youngest daughter in the camp, and my oldest daughter shooting video.

The Incomparable Live, Computer Draft 12:00AM, Show Floor

The Incomparable podcast is recording a live session on Saturday where we’ll be doing a computer draft. This will be my first time on the Incomparable and have to admit, I’m pretty jacked up about it.

Macworld Agrees: Dragon Dictate 4 is Better

Today Kirk McElhearn weighed in for Macworld on the new Dragon Dictate. It's better. I thought version 3 was pretty good and yet version 4 is noticeably better. I've received some email from readers following my initial thoughts on Dragon Dictate 4 on two subjects.

First, I'm asked if the UI is in parity with the Windows version. It's not. The gap gets narrower with each successive release but most things (particularly voice corrections) just seem smoother on the PC version. For me, however, the ability to run it on my Mac trumps any difference.

The other subject I'm hearing about from readers is how they had such a hellish time getting their upgrade or experiencing some other hijinks with their purchase. I heard this from several people. It sounds like in most cases it eventually got sorted out but took much longer than it should have. That's no excuse and Nuance needs to get better at dealing with individual consumers. All I can say in this regard is stick it out if you want the best possible voice recognition on the Mac. Dragon's it.