Home Screen Post: Captain Airshack

Recently, I've been corresponding with listener and reader Captain Airshack (Twitter) ("AirShack" on Instagram), a pilot on a major airline and a geek who must remain anonymous. Anyway, the more I talk to Captain Airshack, the more I get interested in how he is getting things done. How does someone that spends a great deal of time in the air and on the road organize his iPad and iPhone? Captain Airshack was kind enough to explain. So Captain, show us your home screen.

Since I travel around three days a week, I’m interested in apps which keep me connected, informed, and entertained. You never know when the next thunderstorm is going to roll in and create another two hour delay before takeoff. I must always be prepared for the unexpected in this business. 

As far as packing goes, I get one standard roller-bag to pack for a three or four day trip. As you can imagine, I don’t want to carry: books, exercise DVDs, flight publications, notepads, a journal, newspapers, magazines, coursework, lesson plans, etc. 

Gone are the days when I had to decide which form of entertainment I’ll pack. These days I have everything I need for cognitive stimulation stored in my iPad. It’s amazing really. Once, back in Desert Storm, I packed all the items listed above plus a short wave radio. Now it’s all on my iPad/iPhone!. Technology has clearly liberated me!


Flipboard has replaced newspapers for me. I use it at home as well. When mated with Pocket I’m able to build a daily newspaper and upload the stories to Pocket for reading while I’m waiting at the airport or commuting to my next assignment. Most often I read in the back of the aircraft or hotel van. IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not use Pocket to read while flying. Please keep me in good standing with the FAA by presenting this fact.

I use Audible to listen to audio books during daily workouts or whenever I’m too tired to read. Listening to music bores me on long runs. I prefer audio books as I feel I’m exercising my mind as well as my body. Slipping on a Bose noise canceling headset and firing up an audio book is one guilty pleasure after a long day of piloting. I’ve been an Audible listener since 2007.

1Password helps me keep in touch with all of my online activity. Back home I’ve dispensed of the multiple post-it-note password security system. It’s always nice to know I have access to banking and finances on the road. In case I experience a lost or stolen wallet, I have all of my credit card and membership information stored in this handy virtual wallet. 

lynda.com is my virtual classroom. The Lynda iPad and iPhone apps work to provide me with a chance to educate myself anywhere I can find an internet connection. Nothing against Midland, Texas; but lynda.com has transformed the experience of spending twenty hours of any day in Midland.

Kindle keeps me from carrying magazines, books and newspapers. Last year after the Superbowl, I downloaded the major newspapers from both Seattle and Denver. The two takes on the game provided solid entertainment. This technique can be used for any major world event. How great is it to have access to so many books and all the world’s newspapers? I travel with a virtual library. What a luxury to read whatever I want, whenever I want. This is probably the most valued app on my iPad. I find the iPhone screen too small for enjoyable reading.

Hey Captain, what about iBooks? I know there are a few good books exlusively in there. -D

Overcast is a new podcast player. I prefer it to the others because of its clever Voice Boost feature. I’m often listening to podcasts along with conditions producing lots of background noise: aircraft cabin noise, loud music and televisions in gyms, city traffic sounds during runs. This Voice Boost feature helps me hear the podcasts clearly in noisy environments.

8tracks is my go-to music streaming app because it’s free and I love discovering new music. To me, unless it’s The Beatles, it gets stale quickly. This app is my modern era version of that buddy whom makes me mix tapes for whatever mood I’m in. Legal mix-tapes! With this app one can become an amateur DJ and share mixes. IMHO 8tracks is strong on social and discovery.

Tweetbot is what I prefer for twitter. 

DayOne is my favorite journal app. It’s simple and fast which makes it more likely for me to use. Also, this app constantly nags me to write in my journal which is, in this case, a welcome annoyance. Whenever I have emergencies (not often) or deviations due to weather or mechanical issues, I journal the details for future review. It’s just so handy as a note taking app. Also, I like how I can easily incorporate my photos into my journal. 

MyCloud is a Western Digital app that actually doesn’t suck. On the road I have access to all of my stored movies, documents, etc; via my own virtual secure cloudspace. MyCloud talks to my WD 4TB Personal Cloud Storage -NAS. Guess what? It actually works well with Macs as well as with my Xbox 360. I can stream movies at home or on the road effortlessly.

Pages is my default word processing app because I’m not interested in a subscription model.

Fantastical is easier and prettier than iCal. Easy and Pretty are good.

Eye-Fi is an app to wirelessly download photos from my aged Nikon camera’s Mobe Eye-Fi SD card. This card transfers files to my Macbook as well. It’s ingenious really. A wireless router inside an SD card! This is completely independent of wifi so I can use it to transfer photos from my camera to the iPad/Macbook - for editing - wherever I happen to be.

Flickr Studio is simply the best way to manage and enjoy your Flickr account on an iPad. Much has been made of the latest Flickr app which, to me, seems like an instagram clone. Flickr Studio has a powerful all-inclusive feature set. 

ink Cards is an app to transform digital photo images into super high quality postcards. I’ve used many of the competitors apps (sorry Bill Atkinson), and I always come back to ink Cards. Why buy postcards at the airport? With this app you can send a fabulous custom postcard for a reasonable fee. This is a great way to stay in touch of those you’re thinking about while traveling.

Jepp-FD Pro replaces a hefty lawyer-sized briefcase full of instrument approach plates and manuals. Pilots love the zoom feature which makes these documents more readable under nighttime lighting conditions. I’m now able to hook a cooler full of nutritious food to my roller bag in place of the old “pubs kit.” This helps improve my quality of life on the road. 

FlightTrack PRO was my favorite flight tracking app but I’ve recently discovered the new UI is unpopular with many users. I’ll stick with the outdated version as it suites my needs. 

MyRadar is the best app to figure out if you’re going to have a bumpy flight. I use this app to brief my flight attendants and passengers on expected conditions. This MyRadar application provides real-time turbulence reports and associated warnings with a few in-app purchases. 

YouNeedAMap Trust me! Get this for your iPad and fire it up on your next flight. You’ll never fly over another unknown: US city, river, lake, village, road, point of interest such as Indian lands, buildings, county lines, state borders, road names, etc; without knowing EXACTLY what it is your looking at. This way you can let the commuting pilot, in that seat next to you sleep for a change. Everyone should download this GPS enabled app before boarding an aircraft!


The iPhone/iPad app which tells the wifi searching feature of OS X to stop looking for wifi stations if I’m above 10,000ft and forgot to turn my phone off! This has resulted in many a careless aircrews (even passengers) phones to arrive at their destinations dead. 

How many time a day do you use….?

Pilots and Flight Attendants are out of touch with the world during flights. We’re not permitted to use the wifi as our passengers are. Therefor, we activate our cell service on our phones in between flights for mostly: email, finances, Facebook, and much texting. Of course, we pilots are using the iPads in the cockpit constantly for route navigation - GPS/no wifi. Many of our manuals are available on the iPad as well. Also, during commutes -in the back- we manage our flight schedules via our iPhones and iPads. Trip trading is a popular activity amongst the aircrew to enhance quality of life.

What’s your Favorite Feature?

When I began my aviation career in 1987 people used calling cards at phone booths to communicate with their wives and children. Now we keep up constantly with: FaceTime, Facebook, Skype, Instagram, and Twitter; to name a few sources. Thankfully, my two daughters find it necessary to document their lives using social media. The ability to check-up on my family before crashing to sleep in a hotel at 2am is my favorite feature. It’s nice to have the technology keep us close while I’m away.

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

I’d defer to Tim Cook. This company does so much right. Back in 1982, I left my Apple ][+’s modem plugged into a power outlet. I lived in Texas which is the home of the giant thunderstorm. Of course, over time a thunderstorm hit a transformer near my home which created a modem killing zap! Kill my modem it did. 

I boxed the modem up and wrote a note to Apple stating that I failed to follow the users guide directions which clearly stated I should remove the modem from the wall outlet between uses. Additionally, I told them I couldn’t afford to buy a new modem since I was in college - the truth. I asked them if they would fix it for me. Two weeks after sending Apple my modem with attached pathetic plea, a package arrived. Inside the box was a brand new Apple modem. Customer and loyalist for life. 

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I usually have a relaxing seasonal photograph as my background wallpaper. Right now it’s a nice water/beach shot. 

My lock screen wallpaper is more functional. Before each pairing (a series of flights I’m assigned over a multi-day period) I’ll take a screenshot of my schedule and set that as my lock screen wallpaper. That way I always have quick access to my schedule with a flick of my iPhone’s power button. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

That last Apple story is one I haven’t told in a while. Their generosity saved me countless drives to the computer lab which was 30 minutes from my home. 

Oh Yes! One last thing… I have a secret dream to someday produce a podcast of my own.

Thanks Captain.

Battery Breakthrough

I've always been told that battery technology is the bottleneck. Until we can figure out how to push more power in smaller spaces, it will be hard to evolve portable devices to the next level. As an example, just look at all the constraints smart watch makers are facing with the amount of screen time they can be turned on and the problems with charging your watch. A team at Stanford seems to have made a breakthrough with better materials. The whole thing feels pretty science fiction to me using elements with "infinite" growth and tiny nanosphere cages to hold things together. Nevertheless, it sure would be nice if I could get a week out of a phone charge instead of a day. Do you think our kids will bore their children with stories of having to charge their phones the way we bore our children with stories of rotary dials?

Systematic 107, Nominally on Presentations

Yesterday I recorded an episode of Systematic with Brett Terpstra. It was my third podcast of the day (after a full day of work) and I was pretty punchy. We started talking about Presentations but very quickly the talk digressed to mind mapping and then Ella Fitzgerald and free range chickens. I always have fun with Brett.


Bartender's Five Second Rule

One of my favorite Mac utilities is Bartender, which allows you to create a sub-menu in the menubar. I run an ever-fluctuating set of utilities in my menubar and sometimes they end up filling up the whole bar to such an extent that they get buried under application menus. This is particularly a problem if you are working on a small laptop that doesn't have much menubar space to begin with.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.24.32 PM.png

Bartender fixes this. Specifically, it lets you choose whether a menubar icon exists in the menubar proper or Bartender's sub-menu. Using Bartender you can take control of your menubar without giving up any of your beloved menubar applications. It even, remarkably, works with Apple menubar applications.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.24.51 PM.png

An often overlooked feature of Bartender is the ability to promote a menubar application to the menubar proper when it is active. By checking a box in the preferences, you can move a menubar application to the main menubar whenever it's doing something or for a set period of time after it's doing something. This is particularly useful for applications like Transporter and Dropbox where you don't need to see them often but when they are active, it's nice to have quick access. I call it the five second rule.

If you haven't tried Bartender yet, you should. It's a simple app that brings sanity to your geeky menubar. If you have Bartender already, take a look at the preference and enable a few of your own five second rules.

MPU 205: Geek Vacation

I've been thinking a lot lately about using technology on vacation and how to maintain actually enjoy time away from work in this strange always-connected world. Katie and I covered these topics and more in the most recent Mac Power Users episode.

Little Snitch to Keep LTE Costs Down

Today I discovered several people have been writing up ways to use Little Snitch to hold down LTE data costs as tethering becomes more common. The idea is to have Little Snitch clamp down on data hogs, like Dropbox, iTunes, and online backup services, when you are tethered so you don't burn through your LTE data. Eddie Smith and Guillaume Ross have both covered the technique admirably and it is enough to get me to re-install Little Snitch after not having used it for years.

I particularly like Eddie's footnote about Dropbox and how he gets burned when people he shares folders with drop files in his Dropbox account with no warning. Having written a media rich book with Eddie, I'm pretty sure he could have changed that to read he gets burned when David Sparks shares large files with no warning. 

1Password Keyboard Shortcuts

Few software companies get blogging the way 1Password does. They just posted a helpful guide to using keyboard shortcuts in 1Password that had a few tricks I didn't know. For instance, did you know holding the Option key will reveal a password and Command-Shift-C copies the password without any pesky mousing? Follow the above link for all the details.

Incomparable Meetup

With the San Diego Comic-Con in full swing, a lot of the Incomparable gang is in southern California. Tonight they are going to do a meetup at the Stone Brewing Company in Escondido at 6pm. I'll be the one running around like a great big fan boy.

Pasting Plain Text with TextExpander

There are a lot of ways to paste text. The most common way I do it is with the Command-C and Command-V shortcuts. However, a lot of times you are working with text that is carrying a lot of formatting baggage and when you use the standard paste, the text shows up in your document unusable. Most apps that deal in text give you an option to paste and match formatting and the keyboard shortcut for that is usually Shift-Option-Command-V or some near-variation of that. The trouble is that the shortcut isn't universal and, even worse, some apps that involve text fields don't have any support for an option to paste as plain text.

TextExpander to the rescue. This is perhaps the easiest snippet I've ever posted. I just invoke the clipboard formatted as plaint text. My snippet is xpt (X-Plain-Text). This works everywhere on the Mac. (Even Microsoft Word.) I find typing x-p-t much faster than wrapping my fingers around more complicated combinations or mousing into menus.

I've also got one for pasting rich text from the clipboard, x-r-t, that I use much less frequently. 

I know this is a bit obvious but I showed this to a friend recently and she thought it was pretty swell. You can download my clipboard snippets below. Also, I've got a lot more snippets for download over here.

Clipboard TE Snippets

The Yosemite Public Beta

Apple is releasing the Yosemite public beta today, which is pretty remarkable. It's been a long time since Apple has opened up an operating system beta to the general public. In the abstract, I think it is a fantastic idea. Developers are, generally, power users and bugs slip through that developers may never experience but would be obvious to non-power users. Jason Snell explains the details at Macworld.

All of that said, I don't recommend jumping into this beta unless you have an extra Mac sitting around. Even then, you have to be careful. Apple is making a lot of changes to iCloud and iCloud data is very much in flux right now in the betas. There be dragons.

Fantastical for iOS 2.1

Today Flexibits released Fantastical version 2.1 for the iPhone and iPad. There are some useful features in this update including:

  • Snooze support
  • The ability to search and add contacts or locations when creating a new event
  • New event invitation notifications and app icon badge option
  • Upcoming birthday notifications
  • Event preview when duplicating and moving items
  • Keyboard shortcuts when using an external keyboard

There are more but the above features really jumped out for me. The apps are also on sale. The iPhone app is half off at $5 and the iPad app is 33% off at $10.

Delight is in the Details, Version 2

Shawn Blanc has been obsessing on creativity and released a multi-media book worth checking out. It is called Delight is in the Details and includes audio interviews, videos, and more. The books is 25% off until tomorrow. As Shawn explains it:

Average, “good enough” work is no longer good enough. Our success, our products, and our reputations all rest on the details, the delight, the intention, and the vision we bring to our work.

Delight is in the Details is packed with practical advice, tips, encouragement, inspiration, and insight. Resist the prevailing tide of “good enough” work that leads to forgettable products and a dissatisfaction in your work life. This book and interview series will teach you how to reach for excellence and find joy and delight in the journey.

Sparky's Pens, July 2014

Click to enlarge.

I’ve received several emails lately asking what kinds of pens I'm using these days. Not much has changed. I still have my fancy Pilot Namiki Vanishing Point with the  fine nib that I first wrote about a while back. I’ve had it a couple years now and still not managed to lose it. There is definitely an art to using a fountain pen and when I loan it to someone that’s not used one before, they tend to hate it. I’ve got it down and it still makes me smile to use it with my chicken-scratch writing. I know picking an ink for a fountain pen can lead to an entirely new fetish. I haven’t gone that far down the rabbit hole (yet). For now I’ve been using these Pilot black cartridges.

I have also bought several Zebra Sarasa pens. Jet Pens has them in multiple colors (my favorites are blue-black and red) and multiple tip sizes (.4mm for me). I keep these in my various desks and bags. I primarily use the Pilot fountain pen but when I need color, the Sarasa pens do the job. 

Streaming Voice Dictation in iOS 8

Apple announced streaming voice dictation in Siri, which shows you your words as you speak them, at WWDC. This feature has existed on Android for awhile and it is something I'd very much like to see on iOS. However, Apple was mum on adding the feature beyond Siri to normal voice dictation. If they've got the ability to do it in Siri, why not everywhere else too? As confirmed by 9to5 Mac, you can now stream dictation anywhere on iOS. This is a big deal for dictators, such as myself. iOS 8 just keeps getting better and better. 


Sponsor: Hoban Cards

Hoban Press is sponsoring MacSparky.com this week. I’ve heard from many readers that love their new Hoban Cards pressed out of Hoban’s 1902 letterpress machine. I sure love mine. 


Hoban Cards specializes in in minimal calling cards. This is a less expensive way to get into letterpress printing. Evan has been adding new designs and he is now up to 18 beautiful, typographic calling card templates. These are perfect for individuals or businesses looking for a unique and classy alternative to conventional, mass produced, soulless business cards. For a limited time, he has a nice discount on some of the new templates.


Hoban Press specializes in custom letterpress printed items like business cards, stationery, and wedding invitations. This is the best choice if you need to use your own logo or artwork. They also provide design and layout services.

MPU 204: Presentations

Episode 204 of the Mac Power Users is now available. In it Katie and I talk about some of our favorite tips for giving good presentations and I talk a little bit about behind-the-scenes with the new book at the end.