​Google Gets Creepier

ProPublica published an article (that I found via Daring Fireball) about recent changes in Google's terms of service. Traditionally, Google has kept web-browsing information segregated from your personally identifiable information. Not anymore. As ProPublica explains, "... Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct."


As I continue to tilt at the privacy windmill, I'll continue to get the critical emails and tweets telling me to just get over it. I'm not trying to sound like the tin-foil-hat brigade here but what happens if Google gets new management next year that decides to use that data for evil or some foreign (or our own government) hacks that data to use for some nefarious purpose? It seems to me that is conversation we should be having right now.

Sponsor: SaneBox

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox. Email is hard and if you’re going to have any chance against it, you need some powerful tools at your back. That’s where SaneBox comes in. 

The SaneBox robots are like having my own email personal assistant. SaneBox sorts my mail as it comes in so when I look at my inbox I just see the seven most important emails instead of three hundred emails with those seven important ones buried in there … somewhere.

That’s just the beginning though. SaneBox also has a great anti-spam service called SaneBlackHole. They also have a reminder service that can send you automatic reminders when people don’t respond to your email.

Best of all, it’s server-based so it can work with any mail client. I’ve been a paying subscriber to SaneBox for years and am a very satisfied customer. If you need help with email, check out the below video and give SaneBox a try with this link to get a discount. 


MPU 346 - Workflows with Casey Liss

Casey Liss is a podcaster and app developer. He's also a class act. This week he joins us on Mac Power Users to discuss his best tools and workflows to get things done. Casey, as a fairly recent dad, also explains the current state of baby technology. This one was a lot of fun to record.

Sponsors Include:

  • The Omni Group They're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. 
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap Helps You Live a More Productive, Efficient, Paperless Life. 
  • Sanebox Stop drowning in email!
  • MindNode MindNode makes mind maping easy.


The Wirecutter – an Internet Success Story

Five years ago Brian Lam left Gizmodo to start up The Wirecutter where they research the crap out of tech products and make recommendations. I've had such good success with their recommendations that it's now become the default place I go when I'm getting ready to buy some bit of gear I don't have much experience with. The site has grown and added some of my favorite writers like Jacqui Cheng and Dan Frakes. They make money from the affiliate links.

The thing about The Wirecutter is that it was a good idea brilliantly executed. It was already an Internet success story but today it became even more so when the New York Times purchased The Wirecutter for $30M. Let's just hope the Grey Lady doesn't screw things up.

Relay FM Sticker Pack

In case you missed it, downloading the Relay FM app now puts a set of Relay FM stickers on your iPhone and iPad. In addition to all the other Relay shows and memes, there are stickers for both Mac Power Users and Free Agents. If you figure out a way to use them in conversations with your non-geek friends, you get not one, but TWO gold stars.

Table Flip

A few weeks ago indie developer Christian Tietze released a new app called Table Flip that simplifies the process of making tables in Markdown. A few days ago I was working on a project where I had an excuse to use the app and it's great. Table Flip replaces a poorly written script I was using to make Markdown tables that felt like it was held together by rubber bands and scotch tape. Now I use Table Flip. My only gripe is the text size, which is too small. I understand that's getting fixed soon.

I know that Markdown, by its very nature, shouldn't require an app to create but for those of us on deadlines, having apps like Table Flip and Marked sure helps.

Siri vs. Google Assistant

The below MKBHD video compares Siri and Google Assistant. It’s interesting to see how Apple and Google are approaching several common-type questions to their digital assistants. My overall impression is that they are pretty close except Google is better at follow-up questions. Apple needs to work on that. I think Google pushing the envelope with their own digital assistant is going to be great for Siri users. Apple’s at its best when there’s healthy competition. 

This is one of those emerging areas of technology that will be fascinating to watch.

October 27 Mac Event – It's Official

Since posting this morning Apple made it official announcing its "Hello Again" event. As Stephen Hackett explains, the "Hello Again" moniker has been used before to announce new Macs. I expect the reason we're getting it here is the much rumored newly designed MacBook Pro. I know a lot of people that have been waiting to upgrade their MacBook Pros. I suspect they'll be happy next week. 

New Macs Next Week?

Except for the MacBook, the entire Mac line is overdue for an update. We've been hearing rumors about new MacBook Pros and other goodies now for close to a year but suddenly things seem to be happening. Recode reports that Apple's going to have an event on October 27 where, among other things, new MacBook Pros get released. I'd not be surprised if the iMac, MacBook Air, and even Mac Pro  get updates as well. Either way, if you were thinking about buying a Mac this week, put your wallet back in your pocket and wait until the 27th. If that event happens, I'd guess the Air Pods will go on sale that day too. I really like those Air Pods.

Whither Apple Car?

Once again Mark Gurman delivers an Apple scoop, this time explaining that Apple’s automobile plans are getting scaled-back. There have been rumors for some time now about layoffs on Apple’s car project. Some day there will be some great stories about the early days and revisions to this project. I imagine there are a lot of reasons why Apple has backed off on its never-announced car project but I'm certain that at least one of them would be the tremendous amount of attention it would take (away from Apple's other products) to launch such a thing. I also can't help but think that it's too early for Apple to get into the car game. Everything is turning over right now and the laws haven't even been written yet for self-driving cars. Apple usually shows up after the market has had awhile to mature and they can see a way they can improve upon existing products.


Sponsor – MindNode for Delightful Mind Mapping

This week MacSparky is sponsored by MindNode. By now you’ve probably heard repeatedly how useful mind mapping can be to help you brainstorm and organize your thoughts. The trouble is, mind mapping applications are–as a breed–generally frustrating and complicated.

That’s not the case with MindNode. MindNode has a simple, easy to use interface that makes creating mind maps a breeze. It uses iCloud to sync your data across all of its platforms so you can use the application on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I love using MindNode to brainstorm. When I’m getting ready to start a new book or presentation, I create a mind map for in MindNode. Then, as ideas come to me I constantly update the mind map, whether I'm sitting at my desk with my iMac or taking a walk with my iPhone. You’d be amazed at how many problems your subconscious mind can solve if you keep a mind map to hold your ideas as they percolate to the surface. This little practice is super-useful and anyone can do it.

Why don’t you turn MindNode into your own secret weapon? Head over to MindNode.com to learn more. They’ve even got a series of videos (by yours truly) that walk you through the basics of creating mind maps with MindNode. Below is the introductory video just to whet your appetite. Thank you MindNode for supporting MacSparky.

MPU 345 - iCloud vs. Dropbox for File Storage

Starting in March I began running experiments with using iCloud vs. Dropbox for cloud-based file storage. This week's episode of Mac Power Users reports in my findings. We're also joined by David Chartier, who recently switched from Dropbox to iCloud. I could tell you which service I ultimately chose but where's the drama in that?

Sponsors include:

  • TextExpander from Smile Type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.
  • Fracture Bring your photos to life.
  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘MPU’
  • Squarespace: Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

The Siri Complaint Department

alt Mossberg wrote an article over at Recode, Why does Siri seem so Dumb?. In it Walt points out several failings.

It seems to me that Apple has wasted its lead with Siri. And now Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and others are on the march. Apple has made excited announcements each time it added knowledge domains like sports and movies and restaurants to Siri on the iPhone. But it seems like it hasn’t added any major new topic domains in quite a while.
— Walt Mossberg

I understand that Apple has fixed several of these issues since the article posted but that’s actually part of the problem. Why does it take an article by a popular journalist to get these things fixed? I feel as if Siri needs more attention. I don’t think the underlying technology is as bad as most people think but it is these little failures that causes everyone to lose faith. Siri is a cloud based service and needs to be upgraded and improved every day. While things are better, the rate of improvement needs to accelerate.

Dragon Professional Individual for Mac, v6 Review

There's no secret that I'm a voice dictation fan. I know a lot of folks that enjoy fancy pens and artisan notebooks but for me words (particularly first draft words) are more something that I want to get out of my system than something to lavish upon. I started using dictation tools about 20 years ago, when they were pretty crappy.

Nowadays, however, our computers are a lot faster than those of 20 years ago and voice dictation software is quite a bit smarter. One of the leaders in this space is (and always has been) Nuance and its Dragon Professional for Mac dictation software.

A Brief History Lesson about Dragon and the Mac

For a long time, the Mac was a wasteland for dictation software. In 2008, a product called "MacSpeech Dictate" showed up and it was workable, so long as you had never used the superior Dragon Dictate on PC. (I used to run a virtual PC on my Mac largely for the purpose of using Dragon Dictate for PC.) Then MacSpeech licensed the Dragon dictation engine and things got better. A year later, Nuance bought MacSpeech Dictate outright and turned it into Dragon Professional for Mac. Since then Dragon Professional for Mac has been the gold standard for dictation on the Mac. The built-in macOS dictation isn't bad but also can't keep up with Dragon Professional for Mac on accuracy or features.

The Skinny on Version 6

Every year or two, Nuance releases an update to Dragon for Mac. Version 6 just landed and I've been using the heck out of it. The short version of this story is that dictation and usability improvements make Dragon Professional for Mac version 6 both a great product to get in on if you want to get serious about dictation and a worthy upgrade for existing users. Here come the details…

Easier On-Ramp

One of the reasons a lot of people don't get very far with dictation is the training process. It takes time to get your microphone set properly and then train the application to understand your voice and speech peculiarities. This new version  does away with much of the previously required training and instead does a better job of learning through your use of the product.

The app is also better at distinguishing your words from background noise. That makes the app more forgiving. I normally dictate using my high quality podcast microphone. However, for the past few weeks, I've been using my Mac's internal microphone to dictate words (including these). There is a small accuracy hit but it's really not that bad. A few years ago, the application was unusable with built-in microphones. Now I think you could pull this off, even in an environment with low background noise.

Dictation Speed and Accuracy

Every version of Dragon Dictate boasts improved accuracy. Nuance reports this update improves accuracy by 15%. So long as I dictate complete sentences and don't try to change course in the middle of a thought, I was already getting very high accuracy with version 5. Indeed, this is the secret to all dictation. If you give the application clear enough enunciation and context, Dragon can be extremely accurate. With a 1,000 word dictation, I normally have 5-10 corrections. Let's call it 99%. With version 6, I'm still getting excellent accuracy. I ran a few tests and I'm getting about the same numbers with version 6.

The difference, however, with version 6 is dictation speed. Put simply, the words are showing up on the screen faster, making dictation easier. I like that.

There are a couple reasons for this. One is that the engine is just faster. Another is some underlying technology improvements with the way Dragon views words on your screen. Up until now, typing and dictating at the same time with Dragon on a Mac was the dictation equivalent of crossing the streams. That's not true with Version 6. Through clever use of Apple's accessibility API, Dragon can now monitor text and edits you make on screen while you dictate. This only works in applications that support the accessibility API but Scrivener, TextEdit, and Pages are among them. New apps are getting added as Nuance verifies their accessibility support.

User Interface

While the underlying engine of Dragon Dictate for Mac has been on par with its PC counterpart for years, the Mac version's user interface has been playing catch up with the much more mature PC version. Nuance made big strides with version 6 with revamped status and correction windows that feel less … well … goofy. They also cleaned up the way the windows display commands and the preferences selection screen. These changes are a welcome face lift but they were also designed to reduce the number of clicks and scrolls required to get things done. 


Transcription, the act of extracting text from a pre-recorded voice file, used to be a separate product but got added to Dragon Dictate as a built-in feature a few versions ago. However, it always felt a bit like it was bolted on to Dragon Dictate. The new version fixes this. Transcription is now fully integrated into the application. Moreover, they've removed the need for training. Dragon instead trains its transcription engine with the first 90-seconds of your first transcription file. They've also added a batch transcription tool. I often record several small recordings and transcribing them all at once is a nice improvement.

The Ecosystem

In the last year Nuance has improved the ecosystem around their dictation software. I also use Dragon Anywhere for dictation on iOS. With the latest version of Dragon Dictate for Mac, custom vocabulary words are now shared between Mac and iOS devices. If I add a new word on my iPad and then find myself dictating it on the Mac a few days later, it just works.

I use Dragon Professional for Mac every day. I think a lot of people that gave up on dictation 10 years ago are missing out. If that's you, check out the new Dragon.

Dropbox's Big iOS Update

Dropbox has long been an essential service for iOS power users but you wouldn't know that based on their app. Today that changed with the release of a new version with several substantial new improvements including:

1. PDF Signing

You can now sign a PDF document right inside the Dropbox application. It's not a substitute for a quality PDF application but in a jam, it will get the job done.

2. Messages Support

You can now link a Dropbox file from right inside messages instead of having to go back to the application for a link.

3. Widget Support

There's now a Dropbox widget so you can create, view, and upload files from the widget.

4. Notifications and Lock Screen

Dropbox supports notifications including letting you know when someone saves a new version of a file. This is another feature that will make Dropbox-based collaboration easier.

5. Picture in Picture

I've got a lot of media stored on Dropbox. I've long waited for this feature that lets Dropbox become an iOS media player.


Split Screen?

The feature I want most in iOS Dropbox, split screen, sadly isn't part of the update but Dropbox promises it is coming soon.

Edit in Place?

Another feature I'd like to see Dropbox support is true "edit in place" functionality. Currently, if you want to edit a Pages document or PDF file stored in Dropbox, it gets sent out to the third party application where it makes a copy and then you have all the shenanigans that result from multiple copies of documents. Dropbox does support edit in place with Microsoft Word documents and PDFs (if you'll edit them in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat) but that is far too limiting. iCloud actually does a better job at this part of the equation than Dropbox. Hopefully more robust edit in place support is on the horizon.

All Podcasts. All the Time.

If you've been missing my dulcet tones, I've got several new podcasts:

The Productivity Podcast with Paul Minors

Paul Minors has a great productivity minded podcast. On it I talked about some of my own personal workflows and my thoughts on "productivity" in general.

MPU 343: Workflows with Serenity Caldwell

iMore writer and artist Serenity Caldwell joins the Mac Power Users to talk about the iPad, Mac, the new iPhone, and artist workflows.

MPU 344: Hello, Computer

The "Live" show has been renamed MPU+. We discuss what to do with Macs that Sierra has left behind, the problem with "free" software, Network vs. Direct Attached storage, listeners share their feedback on Amazon and tips for using Ulysses and Scrivener. We also learn how to print to PDF from Apple Mail and much more.

Sponsor – OmniGraffle

This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniGraffle. I recently gave a presentation on, of all things, how to give a presentation. I had a few simple diagrams to illustrate my points. After the talk finished, I had several questions about my graphics. One participant asked me , “How do you find graphics that so perfectly match your points?” When I told her that I make them myself, her eyes glazed over a bit. In truth, they shouldn’t have. Anybody can make great diagrams and graphics with OmniGraffle.

OmniGraffle applies the Omni Group’s obsession for superior software engineering and design to the problem of creating diagrams and graphics. Traditionally, graphic software has been indecipherable to mere mortals without first taking a 10-day course and reading a 300 page user manual. OmniGraffle is not like that. It took me about an hour to get good enough at OmniGraffle to make custom graphics for myself. Those graphics are littered all over my books, trial exhibits, videos, and even this website. If you’ve ever had need to make your own graphics, stop goofing off and get yourself into OmniGraffle.

This is an excellent time to do so. They are getting ready to release version 7 and right now it is in a public test. That means you get an extended trial of the new version. If you’re feeling intimidated, watch a few product videos first, but either way take OmniGraffle for spin today and find out for yourself how empowering it can be to make your own graphics and diagrams.