Jazz Friday: Buddy Rich's Channel One Suite

Buddy Rich (Wikipedia) got started playing drums on Vaudeville when he was 18 months old. They called him “Traps the Drum Wonder”. Buddy Rich was an amazing drummer. To this day many drummers of all genres cite to Buddy as one of their primary influences. Buddy was, first and foremost, a drummer.

Buddy was also hot-tempered. He’d go on rants against his band that became legendary when one of his musicians started recording them. I knew that they existed but never actually heard them until the Internet became a thing. You can listen to them here but be warned, they are very explicit. Jerry Seinfeld enjoyed the tapes so much that he took several lines and added them verbatim to Seinfeld scripts. There are a lot of former Buddy Rich band members that defend Buddy, explaining while he was prone to throw a tantrum, he could also be generous. 

Setting all of that aside, long after big band jazz went out of vogue, there was Buddy Rich. He had one of the best touring big bands up until right before his death in 1987. His band played like a barely contained explosion. They could play a note together in a way that would make you feel like you just got slammed against a wall. It was glorious.

The best Buddy Rich big band song (in my opinion) was The Channel One Suite. This may be the apex of big band jazz music. The only way to get the song in iTunes is to buy an entire album, but in fairness it is a pretty great album. You can also just watch it on YouTube.


In Defense of iWork

The general consensus since the 2013 update to the iWork suite for Mac (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) is that it’s useless, or nearly so. I’ve heard this from a lot of geek friends. Nevertheless, I keep using the suite to get work done. 

As a little bit of history, the last major update to iWork on the Mac before 2013 was 2009. It is now clear the Mac version was given a backseat while the iWork team developed the apps for the iPad, and then the iPhone.

In hindsight, I suspect it was not that they were ignoring the Mac apps so much as they were pedaling hard on the iPad and iPhone versions and they realized that in order to make them work best with the Mac, the Mac versions were also going to require major re-writes to bring them in line.

That’s exactly what they did with the 2013 updates. While the iWork suite then had a shared code base between the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, that parity required several feature sacrifices on the alter of compatibility.

In 2013, iWork users weren’t happy. Out of character, Apple publicly explained. Now that Apple had everything on the same code base, they would start building back features that were left behind. Apple has made good on that promise with a steady release of updates, each bringing back old features and adding a few new ones. As things stand today, the Mac iWork apps do not have every feature we had with the 2009 version. There are also still problems including a pretty big one concerning file support, covered recently in the ATP podcast, that prohibits users of the current version to open iWork documents created in older versions before 2009.

Despite these issues, I disagree with the notion that iWork is of little or no value. I use all of the applications frequently to get work done and have come to rely upon them in their new incarnations.

I use Keynote for every presentation. I’d like to think my presentations are pretty fancy and the new version keeps up just fine. At this point you’d have to pull Keynote out of my cold, dead hands.

I also use Numbers every day. I use it to track billing in my day job so at any time I’ve got a Numbers spreadsheet open that gets bigger and bigger as we move through the year. My current billing Spreadsheet has approximately 250 separate sheets with many links and calculations between them. This is not a complicated spreadsheet, but a big one and I rely upon it to sync across my devices. I also have built little app-like spreadsheets that I frequently use in the day job. One of those spreadsheets is a type of database that I use to track documents, facts, and issues in ongoing litigation. Those can get really big and Numbers handles them fine. I also use Numbers to track money, sponsorships, and other details on the MacSparky and Mac Power Users end. Numbers 2013 delivers all of this utility to me. 

Pages is a bit of an oddball for me. I write just about everything in plain text but when it comes to page formatting, I prefer Pages over Word. I think the user interface elements make a lot more sense. I also prefer the way it displays change tracking and I find it more stable. Nonetheless, I work in an industry where everybody uses Word. To the extent I use a word processor, I use Pages for all of my personal stuff and probably about 40% of my day-job stuff.

I know that I am but one user and I also know that if you relied on a feature that simply doesn’t exist anymore, the app will cease to serve its purpose. If, for example, they pulled change tracking out of Pages, I’d have to stop using it entirely for legal stuff. 

My point is that I am somewhat of a power-user and I’ve found, by and large, this new generation of iWork to be up to the task. Moreover because I am that guy that frequently is on the road with an iPad or iPhone, I find the cross-platform sync to be enormously beneficial. It was my inability to sync iWork documents that largely led to my rant against iCloud a few weeks back. (Things have, thankfully, improved for me with the most recent updates.)

If you’ve given up on iWork because you heard how broken it is, I’d encourage you to give it a try. While I'm sure it is not for everyone, I'm equally sure it is the right solution for a lot more people than its rumored demise implies.

Lume Cube

A few years ago I made a rule that I don't back anything on Kickstarter that includes electronics of any form. However, I've thought a lot lately about getting some simple lighting I can use with my phone and camera. This Lume Cube might fit the bill. It seems to strike the right balance between price and quality for the "more than casual" consumer photographer. In other words, pretty sure I'm about to break my rule.


 

Boss Radar

I spent some time today searching through the Mac App Store for an app that would monitor the battery status of my keyboard, mouse, and trackpad and put them in my notification center. I was unsuccessful (development opportunity!) but while searching, I did stumble upon Boss Radar. Boss Radar will monitor the bluetooth signal of any device it sees and let you know when that device is close. It could, for instance, watch out for your boss's cell phone bluetooth signal. When the device gets close, Boss Radar, will do things like change wallpaper, stop music, open up documents, and change browser pages. As the developer explains, it will make it appear as if you have "god-like focus". I didn't download Boss Radar and I really don't have any need for it but the fact that: a) a Mac developer thought of it, and b) a Mac developer actually built it and now sells it for three bucks explains exactly why I love Mac developers.


 

The Mac's Success

Walt Mossberg has an interesting piece explaining what he calls the Mac's second act. He makes a lot of good points about why Mac market share continues to rise. I agree with most of his points but I also think he left a few out. The rise of Windows happened at a time when most computer purchases were made by companies, not individuals. Back then the decision was driven by people that administrated computer networks, not people that worked at the computers being purchased. That's not true any more. (Or at least not as true.) Nowadays, a lot of people buy their own computers and are more discriminating. 

Another reason for the Mac's success is that the Apple tax, is now largely fictional. Macs aren't as inexpensive as junk computers but their pricing is right in there for comparable Windows PCs. That wasn't true the first go-around.

TextExpander Signature Line Snippet

This is probably a lawyer thing but I often find myself adding signature lines to the bottoms of documents, particularly contracts. Something like this.

Dated: November __, 2014           ________________
                                                      David Sparks

I was doing this the other day for about the millionth time in my 21-year career as an attorney when it occurred to me I could automate this with TextExpander. Here is my new snippet

The first bit:

Dated: %B __, %Y            ____________________________

This creates a line with the date using the format of Current Month __, Current Year (e.g. November __, 2014). Then it tabs and and draws a line for the signature.

The second bit:

%key:tab%%key:tab%%key:tab%%clipboard

This repeatedly bangs the tab key and then dumps the contents of the clipboard.

The way I use this is to select the person's name from somewhere else in the document, copy it, and then fire off the snippet at the bottom. I use xsigline to trigger this snippet.

This is probably a lawyer-only thing but I do know a few lawyers read this site. Either way, you can download the snippet here.

iCloud Drive Syncing Improvements

A few weeks ago I wrote about my problems getting documents to sync with iCloud Drive. In response, I heard from several developer friends telling me that things were about to get better and to install the 8.1.1 developer preview. So I did. After using it for a week, and the beta going out to the wild yesterday, I'm pleased to report iCloud Drive document syncing is loads better with the latest updates. This morning I spent 30 minutes moving between my iPad and Mac on a large numbers spreadsheet and both devices were keeping up. In short, iCloud document syncing is manageable again. Third party apps, like Drafts and Mindnode, are also seeing the benefits of this update. If you've been waiting, or had a bad prior experience, update your Mac and iOS devices with yesterday's updates and give it a try for yourself.

The reason I've been so critical of iCloud lately is because I haven't dismissed it. I see real potential to using Apple's cloud solution. I like its tight integration with the operating system and since I'm using all Apple hardware, it just makes sense for me. I'm also considering going deeper into tagging and assuming that Apple tags will be better supported with an Apple cloud. I hope the problems of last month are initial stumbles. For now, I'm just happy to see the service working again as expected.

Monument Valley Update

I wrote about Monument Valley when it first released. This game really pushes my buttons. I like the puzzle nature and the wonderful visual treats of watching everything unfold when you figure it out. Now they've got an update, The Forgotten Shores. It is just a $2 in-app upgrade and worth every penny.

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!