Home Screens: Jaco Muller

This week’s home screen post features Jaco Muller (Twitter). Jaco is a MacSparky reader and Mac Power Users listener. Jaco is also the guy that wrote this script to use my TextExpander script in Outlook. So Jaco, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Overcast must be one of my current favorites. I subscribe to 9 podcasts, most of which have episodes longer than 80 minutes. Before Overcast I couldn’t get through all the podcasts in a week’s commute time, but now it’s a breeze. I also use Mail, OmnifocusEvernote1Password and Whatsapp many times during the day.

I also think Wunderlist is absolutely fantastic. It does one thing only - managing list(s) - but does it very well. My wife and I use it for a shared shopping list and it does the job much better than Evernote. The key is that each entry on a list is being synced as a separate item, as opposed to an entire list being synced. The result is that individual entries made from different devices are updated immediately without sync errors.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

TwitterReddit and Facebook, but they’re not on my home screen because they are distracting and time consuming. I also check into Meerkat and Periscope from time to time, because I believe they can possibly evolve into apps that can change how breaking news spreads in future.

What app makes you most productive?

I use Omnifocus mainly to view the current list of tasks and to tick them off once completed. However, the simple process of adding a task into Omnifocus means that I can ‘forget’ about it and focus on the task at hand. This simple ability to add something ‘on the go’ and trust the system behind it is probably the single item that adds most to my productivity. I rarely use it for more complex purposes like reviews, adding context or details etc. to tasks.

Drafts is a close second. The ability to open it and start typing immediately works well in real life situations where one’s focus is supposed to be on something else, i.e. during a conversation or on a phone call etc.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

Workflow. I know it has the potential to eliminate a lot of mundane tasks, but I haven’t sat down and spent time with it to understand it well enough. Perhaps some basic documentation or an FAQ would help - i.e. I have some unanswered questions about how variables are passed on during a workflow.

What is the app you are still missing?

Not an app, but a feature that I think may make iOS more user friendly to me, is the ability to ‘auto arrange’ apps, based on usage, time of day, etc. Of course one should be able to pin a few apps to remain static, but at the same time leave a few spaces available for dynamic auto arranging of apps. I’d just like apps that are being used more, to gravitate towards the home screen by themselves.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

I work in an office on a mac, but whenever I get up to walk somewhere, I grab the phone and catch up on social media etc.

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

It would be great if Apple could somehow use their purchase power to loosen the grip that content owners have on the distribution and licensing of content outside of the US. For those of us living outside of the US, it makes less and less sense that a movie or series is being released in the US while we only get to see it (legally) much later. In many cases it’s not even available to purchase online at all. For example, a proper online music streaming service like Spotify wasn’t available in South Africa where I live until Apple Music became available with the release of iOS8.4. I’d like to see the same happening with movies and series.

Thanks Jaco

TextExpander Script for Recipient's Name in Outlook

Awhile back, I wrote this post about how to automatically add a recipient's name to an email. Reader Jaco Muller (Twitter) liked the idea but uses Outlook. Jaco re-wrote the script to work with Outlook. Okay Outlook users, here you go. Thanks Jaco.

tell application "System Events"
    tell process "Microsoft Outlook"
        set theToRecipient to (value of static text of text area 1 of scroll area 1 of splitter group 1 of window 1)
        set theToRecipient to theToRecipient as string
        if (count words of theToRecipient) is greater than 0 then return word 1 of theToRecipient
    end tell
end tell

Apple Music Early Report Card

Every time Apple releases a new cloud-based service, technology journalists and early adopters sit around with bated breath. Apple seriously damaged its reputation a few years back with the MobileMe rollout and it still is accepted wisdom that Apple is lousy at cloud services.

While I’d prefer to not open that particular can of worms today, I would like to report in on my experiences with Apple Music now that we’ve all been using it for awhile. 

My family music library was approaching 25,000 tracks. When Apple Music released, I switched my wife and two daughters over to Family Sharing and signed up for the trial period of the Apple Music family plan.

Setting up Family Sharing was easy. Because we previously used a shared account for iTunes purchases, my account still connects to that shared account for purchases and my personal iCloud account for calendars, email, contacts, and similar data. My wife and daughters now use their personal iCloud accounts for both purchases and data. In some ways, their set up is easier than mine. However, we still need that legacy account attached in order for them to get access to all that music, television, and movies we’ve purchased over the years.

The last time I attempted Family Sharing, things went poorly. I chronicled all the problems at the time but in summary, Family Sharing broke app updates and lost data and generally had my family sharpening knives for me. With this new attempt things have been working without complaint. The list of sins in my above linked post seem to be largely resolved.

That’s not to say that Family Sharing isn’t still a pain at times. When my wife and daughters want to download something from the other family accounts they need to go to the “Purchased” button and then switch to the appropriate user and find the media from there. This should be easier. Once everyone understood how to get at each other’s data, however, everything worked. 

One interesting bit in relation to music is the convenience of downloading with Apple Music. When we first started this journey, I put all of our iTunes library music on a portable hard drive and explained to my wife and daughters they could copy any files they wanted from our legacy library into their own accounts from the hard drive. Interestingly, after weeks, nobody has taken me up on this. I looked at their iTunes libraries a few days ago and it appears that rather than copy files from the drive, they’ve just re-downloaded much of their music from Apple Music.

They haven’t just stopped at music that was already in my library. My entire family has built out their libraries with a lot of music we don’t own. I’m no different in this regard. I went on a Dexter Gordon binge yesterday that would have cost hundreds of dollars. Conservatively, we’ve downloaded over 2,000 tracks that we didn’t previously have in our library before Apple Music arrived.

One advantage that Apple Music has is it’s integration with they prior library. I’m constantly rating music that is interesting and have built a series of smart playlists around those ratings. With Apple Music I can continue to rate the tracks I’ve added to my library and tie them into existing playlists. I’ve been an iTunes guy for so long that integration with my existing library and smart playlists is a big feature for me. Competing services can’t do that.

I was a Beats subscriber for over a year before the big integration and I enjoy the service now more than ever because it works with my iTunes library. (Beats on the Mac up until last month was a mess. It required a Flash enabled browser. Yuck.)

I know there have been problems but at the Sparks house, Apple Music has been a huge hit. Based on our aggressive downloading of tracks, I expect the $15/month will be a no-brainer.

Ultimate Raiders of the Lost Ark Commentary

Nobody can change my mind that Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest movies ever made. I was having this conversation recently with geek-authority, Jason Snell, who told me to watch the movie again and pay attention to the shadows. Mind blown.

Anyway, Jamie Benning has put together the ultimate commentary track for Raiders of the Lost Ark. I found out about it from Jason Kottke. I've watched the first 10 minutes of this and I'm in. I liked it so much that I'm planning my viewing for a time when I'll have no distractions.

Fantastical 2.4 - Draft Events

Today Flexibits released Fantastical version 2.4 for iPhone and iPad. The big new feature is draft events. You can now save an event as a draft in the middle of event creation and then come back to it later to finish it off. I frequently have need to consult my calendar after I start creating a new event and this feature is really useful. I liked it so much, I made a screencast demonstrating how it works.

MPU 269: Emergency Preparedness for Geeks

Episode 269 is up and live. Katie and I spent this show talking about emergency preparedness for  geeks. The show just doesn't talk about what to do with your tech in natural disasters, but we also talk about the subject in references to personal emergencies, illness, and death. 

Keyboard Maestro 7

Keyboard Maestro released its new version 7 yesterday. This new version adds several usability features that give this Mac automation tool even more power. You can now trigger macros just by changing window focus or even pressing the same key multiple times. It also features in-line help, auto completion of variable names, and a lot more macro triggers. I’m still wrapping my head around what I can do with these new features and will be publishing more on it here soon but for now, I just want everyone to know that it’s available.

Tembo 2

The developer of HoudahSpot has a somewhat lighter version, called Tembo. Tembo isn't quite as powerful as HoudahSpot but also takes more of a guiding role in helping you find your files. For a lot of people it will be just right for improving search on your Mac. This week, they've released Tembo 2.0. The application is on sale for $6.99 (usually $15) until the end of the month and worth picking up. There are versions of Tembo 2 in the Mac App Store and directly from the developer's website. This is one where you are going to want to be sandbox-free so pick it up from the developer directly. 

New features include:

  • Actions: rename, tag, or trash files from search results
  • Sharing: send files by Mail, Messages, Facebook, etc. 
  • File Info window: easy-to-read overview of important file properties
  • View options: font size, date format, grid of icons or previews
  • Menu bar button and global keyboard shortcuts
  • Up to 10,000 results in each group (up from 2,500)
  • Collapsible groups: hide seldomly visited groups
  • Option to hand a search over to HoudahSpot


I knew that 49 Billion had nine zeros but I had to write it down to appreciate it. That is, after all, a lot of zeros. Either way, today Apple announced that last quarter Apple had $49.6 billion in revenue in a slow post-holiday quarter. Do you remember when Apple was legitimately on the brink of extinction? Not anymore. 

Six Colors has some pretty charts that summarize all the details.


Home Screens: Matt Alexander

Matt Alexander (Twitter) was one of the most impressive guys I met at WWDC this year. In addition to the fact Matt is a geek, he's also an entrepreneur. Most recently Matt started a few companies: Need, that specializes in curating collections of men's clothing, accessories, and lifestyle products; and Foremost, that sells limited-run, American made clothing. Lots of people have big dreams. Matt just keeps making them happen. So Matt, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

I tend to live in Fantastical, Tweetbot, Reeder, Mailbox, and Slack.

(All of which feel very obvious and dull in retrospect.)

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Snapchat or Facebook.

On the former, I feel like I'm perpetually ten years too old to be using it so frequently. I do love it, though. (And, as a side note, it's a really great tool to use as a brand.)

On the latter, it's gross and everyone hates it, but I just can't quit. I've been a member since 2005 or so and, as such, have cultivated a great deal of connections — in England (where I grew up) and the US (where I live and went to university) — whilst it has also captured a huge amount of my formative moments.

I also have the Dominos app. Which is an app for ordering Dominos pizza.

Which is bad.

What app makes you most productive? 

Well, that's rather difficult.

In many respects, I suppose, I could say Mailbox. After all, that's where I deal with the vast majority of my correspondence.

Truly, though, I think Slack is my most productive app.

We run all of Need and Foremost in Slack — and we rarely email within the company any more — so it's become my go-to mechanism to check in with the team and ensure we're on the right track.

I've got a number of our tools (e.g., Braintree, GoSquared, and ZenDesk) setup to report directly into Slack, too. So, when I'm out and about, I can quickly glance at a private channel or two and get an immediate understanding of what's happening with the company.

Fantastical also ranks highly, but I just don't rely on it as much as I do the unique characteristics of Mailbox and Slack. It's more of a much better solution than it is something entirely different.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

OmniFocus and Things are always installed. And I know I ought to be using one of the two a lot more. (I'm aware that many are yelling in favor of OmniFocus right now, too.)

Nonetheless, I struggle with staying on top of my to-do apps.

I tend to keep most of my day-to-day tasks on track without much of a system. I know people are probably shuddering, but my mind is always with me and up-to-date. My apps, on the other hand, are not.

Which is, admittedly, my fault. I'd be lying to myself, though, if I thought I'd suddenly change my habits drastically in that regard.

What is the app you are still missing?

Apps for Need and Foremost, of course.

I'm kidding. I'm not that terrible. (Although we are working on both. Hint.)

Seriously, I'd love an app that allows me to manage both of my companies a little more seamlessly. Where Slack has obviated email and brought my team much closer together, I'd love to see someone take on the broader workplace.

All of our documents and services live online, but I'd love a quick glance dashboard to gauge our traffic, sales, tasks, and so on.

Many such services exist on the desktop — Grow is a good one — where all your disparate metrics and points of interest are collated.

On my phone, though, I move between a wide selection of apps, many of which I simply ignore.

Equally, I'd settle for an app for GoSquared.

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

I live on my iPhone throughout the day. It'd be impossible to count.

With regard to the iPad, I have an iPad mini 2, but its usage is limited to reading and playing embarrassing games on the sofa.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

In order, I have Launcher at the top as a quick launch directory for Weather, Google Maps, OmniFocus (which is fittingly embarrassing), and Uber. 

I have ESPN for football scores. (The football with feet, rather than the American one with hands.)

Stocks. Because I have two companies and need to make myself feel like I know what I'm doing.

I then have Swarm, Fantastical, and MailChimp. The former two are obvious. The latter I use very simply to watch our subscriber growth each day.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

It's been said before, but I'm genuinely able to run my businesses from my iPhone.

Regardless of where I am in the world, I can rely upon my phone (for the most part) to enable me to run the day-to-day components of the company.

And that's really an amazing thing.

A massive runner-up is iMessage. As someone who moved away from home in 2006, it was always difficult for me to stay in touch with my friends for years. And then iMessage came along and it became free, easy, and built-in. It was an enormous moment for me.

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

I'd love longer battery life.

Whenever I'm traveling, I don't have all-day access to charging cables at my desk. So, I often find myself with battery anxiety.

And I refuse to use a battery case. Or a case in general. Because I'm not an animal.

I'd also love to be able to set default apps for particular tasks. I always get a little sad when I inadvertently wind up in Mail or Calendar.

I realize that'd open a can of worms for many people — and I understand that extensions help — but I'd genuinely appreciate the flexibility.

Do you have an Apple Watch?

I do, indeed. I have a 42mm Stainless Steel Apple Watch with Black Sport Band.

I use the Utility face — sans numbers — with a red seconds hand.

It's extremely minimalistic — perhaps to the point of pointlessness — but I love it.

I've always worn minimal watches — which I miss everyday when wearing the Apple Watch — and the pared down Utility face is the closest consolation I can find.

What's your wallpaper and why?

Hoyoung Lee took a photo of three Need tie bars sitting on top of a stack of Need pocket squares during our launch party in November 2013.

It's the background on every device I own.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Thanks for having me! I promise to try to improve on the productivity front.


Sponsor: OmniFocus 2.6 and Video

I'd like to thank the OmniGroup for sponsoring MacSparky this week. The OmniFocus team has been hard at work, releasing version 2.6 this week. The new version includes some nice new features, including dark mode, swipe to flag, and push syncing. The new version is great. Don't believe me? Take a minute and a half to watch the below video and you will. Learn more at the Omni Group.

The Future of the iPod touch

Today we got updates to the iPod touch after a three-year hiatus. The updated devices are better than I expected. The entry-level device has 16 GB of storage—yes, Apple is still releasing devices with 16 GB of memory—and an A8 processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a good-looking screen for just $200. The price scales up for additional storage capping at 128 GB of storage for $399.

Expect for the next week or two lots of posts about whether or not the iPod touch still make sense in 2015. Let me save you a lot of trouble. It does. While I would agree with Apple that the device does not need a yearly update, it does need to stay relatively current.

When the iPad mini first released, I thought that it would be the death knell for the iPod touch. Specifically, so many parents buy these devices for their kids to give them an iOS device without a data plan. The iPad mini is in the same price range and has a bigger screen. However, my market survey (consisting of various kids in my life) demonstrate that their young eyes are quite sharp and they are happy with a smaller device with smaller text and smaller plants and zombies, so long as they—like their parents—can put it in their pocket and have it with them anywhere. Indeed after several years, none of the kids in my friends and family circles have said they’d be willing to trade their iPod touch for an iPad mini.

If anything is going to kill off the iPod touch, it will be competition in the cellular providers to get data plans so cheap that an increasing number of people just get phones instead of an iPod touch. While we’ve seen some progress on that over the last few years, I don’t think we’re anywhere near that time yet.

Stretching this hypothetical exercise even further into the future, it is entirely possible that we will get to a point where we don’t use cellular providers but Wi-Fi is just everywhere. In that case, the iPhone could become a lot more like the iPod touch than a iPod touch like the iPhone. 

Either way, I’m glad to see that the iPod touch finally got its update and I will not hold my breath for any further updates for at least two or three years from now. If you are in the market, now’s a good time to buy. One more thing you can count on: Long after the product is retired, people will still refer to it as the "iTouch".

Somewhat related … wouldn’t it be cool if the iPhone update in a few months got some of those new colors