Bastille Networks ran an experiment where they tried to intercept transmissions of some wireless keyboards. This would let the bad guys capture a user’s keystrokes from a remote computer and even inject their own keystrokes on your device. It all comes down to poor encryption. They’ve got a list of keyboards they were able to intercept and it’s pretty spooky. Apple’s not on the list but there are several recognizable vendors.
Speaking of Jason Snell, his Six Colors website did a bang up job on coverage of Apple's quarterly earnings call today. Not only does Six Colors make pretty charts, Jason's knowledge and vast experience covering Apple make his commentary some of the best there is. It's nice to see iPad results improving. I hope this translates into Apple putting more muscle into iPad productivity.
Today I'm launching a new podcast with my friend Jason Snell called the Free Agents. As the show description explains:
David Sparks and Jason Snell spent their careers working for the establishment. Then one day, they’d had enough. Now they are independent workers, learning what it takes to succeed in the 21st century. They are… free agents.
This show is all about how to pull off being an independent worker in the modern world. Since going out on my own, I discovered I like it … a lot. It is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying and I love every minute of it.
I enjoy being indie so much so that I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make this work over the long haul and continue supporting myself and my family as an independent worker.
One of my best friends on this journey has been Jason Snell. For years Jason and I would get together for meals while I was working in the law firm and Jason was the editor of Macworld magazine. We shared our experiences and eventually came around to the idea that maybe we’d be better off on our own. For a long time, we would prop each other up give each other a shove in the right direction and then get back to work. Eventually both Jason and I managed to successfully get launched as independent workers. So when the idea started percolating about making a podcast about being an independent worker, it seemed only natural that I would do it with Jason.
So today we launch the Free Agents podcast on the Relay Network. Free Agents is a podcast for people who work independently or are thinking about working independently. The show will be a mixture of topics and guest interviews dealing with the challenges and joys of working independently.
The first show, The Temptation of Yes, deals with the issue of scope. One of the challenges you'll have working independently is deciding when to say "yes" and when to say "no". It's hard. Jason and I share our experiences and advice on how to limit scope while still keeping the lights on. We have a whole list of topics like this and this show will have a lot of useful content. We are also going to do occasional interviews seeking insight from people who have gone independent or are thinking about going independent.
Our goal is to keep the content shows to about 30 minutes and the interview shows to about 45 minutes and we’ll be releasing new episodes every two weeks. It’s been a long time since I launched a new podcast and I hope you’ll subscribe and enjoy the Free Agents.
I’d like to thank SaneBox for sponsoring MacSparky.com this week. Connecting SaneBox to your email account is like giving it super-powers. SaneBox adds a host of additional features to any email account and works with exchange, Google mail, or IMAP accounts. Because it’s all server-based, you can get the benefits of SaneBox no matter which email clients you use.
There is a lot you can do with SaneBox to tame your email. One of my favorite features is SaneVacation. The SaneBox vacation filter is something you can turn on when you go on vacation. Then SaneBox snoozes your emails until you return. When you turn it off, SaneBox does its usual bang-up job of putting your email where it belongs
Learn more about all of the features of SaneBox over at SaneBox.com. If you sign up using the links in this post, you get $10 off. If email is giving you trouble, give SaneBox a try. You won’t regret it.
Neil Tyra does an interesting podcast where interviews entrepreneurial attorneys called, appropriately, The Law Entrepreneur. Neil has a great interview style and makes it easy to talk. I was please to be asked to guest on episode 26, which is now live. In it I talk about getting started as a solo attorney. There's a lot of inside-baseball stuff in here about the practice of law but also a bit about my lawyer origin story if you're interested.
It's remarkable to me how I do nearly all of my photo processing these days on iPad. Along that theme, the Pixelmator team just released a nice update with a focus on selecting objects.
Quick Selection Tool
Just swipe over an area to select it. This works better than you'd think. There's a video below.
Got an hour this weekend? Why don't you master the Drafts app? I did an entire series of screencasts on Drafts and it is a really handy app. Drafts let's you quickly capture text on your iPhone and iPad and then perform actions on that text with just a tap. There is nothing else like it and Drafts replaced the paper and pencil I used to always carry in my pocket. Anyway, below is the introductory video and you'll find the rest of the series (15 videos!) at the Drafts website. It's like getting a MacSparky Video Field Guide for free.
It's been nine years since I launched MacSparky and I figured it was about time to have an official shirt. So here it is for a limited time. Studies indicate that wearing this shirt will make you more attractive and smarter. You can get it either as a T-shirt or baseball shirt. It's a short campaign so get in there if you want one.
What About That Potty-Word on the Back?
There's a bad word on the back of this shirt, "Badass". I know that some readers have children or just don't want to wear a shirt with that word on it. If that's you, I understand and don't mind. The reason I'm including it is because when I self-published my first book, the Paperless Field Guide, I explained that the purpose of the book was to turn readers into "Badass Wielders of Technology." It was fun putting that in a book after having been at the yoke of traditional publishing and it still makes me smile. So this shirt gets a "Badass".
In searching the archive, I found my first review of Scrivener on MacSparky in 2007. That's right. … 2007. Scrivener was my original “White Whale” app for the iPad. Within an hour of using my first iPad, I remember thinking, “Now I need Scrivener.” How badly did I want Scrivener? So much so that I acted as errand-boy for the Scrivener developer and bought an iPad (with his money) and mailed it to him. (At the time, the iPad wasn’t available in the UK.) I was hoping he’d get addicted to the iPad and immediately put all effort into developing an iPad application. So I guess you could say I’ve been looking forward to seeing Scrivener on iOS for awhile now.
To be honest, that’s not entirely true. Initially, I had all sorts of bizarre workarounds where I could edit and work on my Scrivener files on iPad ranging from weird partial text syncing to VNC but none of them were really that good and as the years went by and Scrivener did not show up for iPad, I moved on. I’ll call those my wild years.
During the wild years, I started using several alternative apps that are iPad friendly. Most notably is Ulysses, which is similar to Scrivener but also different. While Scrivener is once again my weapon of choice for big writing projects (particularly those including research), there are still some projects for which Ulysses is the right choice. I'm currently outlining an episode of Mac Power Users on big writing projects and we’ll be comparing and contrasting these two apps so stay tuned for more on that.
The story behind getting Scrivner on iPad could probably be the subject of its own interesting novel but this week, after so many years, my beloved Scrivener found its way to the iPad and iPhone. I’ve been using it and syncing my book files between the two platforms and it sure is nice to be home again.
So why do writers get so excited about Scrivener? I’ve written about it before but Scrivener is the first application that I used as a writing tool, as opposed to word processor. With Scrivener, I can take on big writing projects in a way that I simply couldn’t before. It lets me organize blocks of text and it keeps track of my progress. One of its killer features for me is the ability to hold my research data in the same file as my scrivenings.
Scrivener can take just about any file type you throw at it (including PDFs, images, and Word documents) and make those available for review while working inside the application. So when you are working on a big project, using Scrivener you can have all of your research in the same file as your words. This is really handy as it saves you the trouble of digging in the Finder, Evernote, or wherever else you use to keep support documents for big projects. This convenience is even more notable on iOS where getting documents out of cloud storage isn’t alway easy.
Now that Scrivener is on the iPad, I can show up at a coffee shop and work on my latest legal brief or book and know confidently that I have access to all the resource documents I need for the project. That’s the magic of Scrivener. It not only allows you to write and organize your words for your big writing project, it also holds your research as well. And now Scrivener is on the iPad and iPhone.
You can get Scrivener in the iOS App Store for $20 (App Store)(Website). The application is universal and works on both iPad and iPhone. One of my big concerns about creating a version of Scrivener for iPad was striking the right feature balance. There are a lot of features in Scrivener for Mac. The question was how many of those features need to get over to the iPad to make the application useful while at the same time not making it overwhelming. Scrivener for iPad and iPhone does nicely in striking this balance. Indeed, I was a little surprised at how many features did make it over for the first version.
Research, which is one of my most important features in Scrivener, syncs over just fine. That, for me was going to be the make-it-or-break-it feature in bringing Scrivener back into my life. I will acknowledge, however, that's a relatively low bar but the developer got it right. You can put both research and text on the screen at once and I've been writing legal briefs and working on a new book in this new version of Scrivener with no problems.
Scrivener for iPad and iPhone isn't a simple port. A lot of effort went into determining what features work best on iOS and where accommodations need to be made. The iOS keyboard adds additional rows with Scrivener-specific features and the interface is much cleaner than Scrivener on the Mac. Indeed, I prefer the interface on the iPad over that of the Mac even though it doesn't have every bell and whistle you find on the Mac.
While there were some features cut, Scrivener on iPad is fully functional for the hard work of moving the cursor on big writing projects. The text editor is absolutely up to the task and you can organize your buckets of text on Scrivener on the iPad and iPhone just as you would on the Mac. I was particularly impressed with the keyboard shortcut support, which makes sense because a lot of people will use this tool with an iPad and external keyboard.
One feature that made it over from the Mac is color coding document sections. This is easy to implement for a writer and super-useful. Color coding makes it easy for going back later and making edits or re-writes.
When you're done, you can synchronize your data back to your Mac using Dropbox. Synchronization with Scrivener for iOS, however, deserves some further discussion. Scrivener documents are, in essence, package files that hold the research and various bits of text that you're preparing. Scrivener does not use iCloud but instead Dropbox. (I don’t know for certain but am guessing this has something to do with the synchronization of the research files.) Either way, you save your Scrivener file to the Dropbox destination of choice and then you can access it from Mac, iPad, or iPhone.
When you first boot up Scrivener on your iPad or iPhone, you are asked to synchronize data with your Dropbox folder. Then digital wheels grind and synchronization takes place. When you're done editing your document on your iPad or iPhone, Scrivener again prompts you to synchronize back up to Dropbox. (You can also manually trigger synchronization.)
This system works. The only time I was able to break it in testing was when I was deliberately trying to by opening files too soon (before Dropbox caught up with me). Nevertheless, the whole process feels a bit fragile. I'm not sure if there is a better way given the different types of data Scrivener synchronizes but I will warn you to be deliberate about syncing when using Scrivener on iPad and Mac at (or around) the same time.
After hacking my way into Scrivener from iOS for so long, it sure is nice to see the Scrivener icon on my iPad home screen. This is exactly what I was looking for so long ago when I started using my original iPad.
Over a year ago I was talking to my pal Victor Cajiao and he told me he was making an album. From a lot of people I'd hear something like that and smile and wonder if he truly knew what he was getting himself in for. With Victor, I immediately knew that not only would he finish the album, he'd make it great. Victor delivered with Surrender. It's a fusion jazz album extremely well done. You can get the album at CD Baby. I really enjoyed reading Victor's description of the tracks as I listened. Of course you can download the album in MP3, but you can also download in FLAC if you like because Victor's a nerd just like the rest of us.
This week MacSparky is sponsored this week by inShort. inShort is a project planning and diagramming tool like you’ve never seen before. The application has a unique interface that lets you see a project from the 20,000 foot view and then, with just a few taps, drill down into the details. For example, in the below project plan, you can click on the individual boxes to get further details on any specific component.
I like the way this application handles Gantt charts to include schedules for the work and material resources, as well as places.
inShort is a serious project planning and diagramming application but it could be used for so much more, like planning out a dissertation, creating a lesson plan, or even your own personal goals. It's always under active development with new features in the pipeline.
inShort is easier to use than ever with a clever tutorial that show’s off the power of the application and teaches you how it works at the same time. There are versions for both the Mac and iOS. To learn more visit the inShort website and check out the User Guide. My thanks again to inShort for sponsoring MacSparky.com.
I've used every iteration of the Glif iPhone tripod mount and the new one looks to be the best yet. They just launched the newest version with a Kickstarter campaign and it's already fully funded but not too late to get in on the early pricing.
Mac user, collector, and … yes … YouTuber Stephen Hackett joins this week's episode to explain essential cloud-based services used to run the Relay Network, his growing collection of Macs, and his photo and video workflows.
- Hover: Simplified domain management. Use code AUTOMATION to get 10% off your first purchase.
- The Omni Group They're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad.
- Automatic The connected car company that improves your driving and integrates your car into yoru digital life. Enter code MACPOWER to get 20% off your purchase.
- Fracture Bring your photos to life.
I've been getting most of my photo editing done these days on iPad with Apple Photos, Pixelmator, and Snapseed. Camera+ just released version 2 for iPad and it is now firmly in the rotation for me. As the name implies, Camera+ gives you lots of control over the iPad camera but what I really like about the new version for iPad are the photo editing tools.
I've always been a fan of Camera+'s "Clarity" filter which, as "push one button to make it better" filters go, a lot better than most. I also like the way you can use the brushes (via finger or Apple Pencil) to apply localized changes.
One gripe with this app though is its lack of Apple Photos extension support. Maybe there's a good reason but the app doesn't tie into the native Photos app so you have to make a copy of a photo into the app and then manually save the edited copy back to Apple Photos. That part feels stone-age to me. That aside, I like the Camera+ for iPad update. (Website)(App Store)
I realized what a square I've become when I kept mispronouncing Pokémon to my kids. So I decided to bone up and did so over at iMore. Serenity Caldwell has been killing it over there with Pokémon Go tutorials for several days. Next I'll be giving my kids Pokémon tips and go from being a square to a weirdo (which is my usual role in their lives).
This week's Mac Power Users is up. It's our monthly feedback show and we have lots of great content on subjects like MPU workflows on a PC, merging Apple IDs, cleaning up after being scammed, more iOS photography, and family tech support.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniPlan. OmniPlan combines the simplicity and beauty that comes with all Omni Group apps with some serious planning power including features like Microsoft Project compatibility, Monte Carlo simulations, network diagrams, and earned value analysis. OmniPlan takes advantage of the Omni Group's OmniPresence syncing service to make everything sync across to your Mac, iPad, and iPhone.
A lot of people are interested in OmniPlan but not sure how to get started. The Omni Group just released a series of videos called the "Project Planning 101" series. In it, they explain, in the context of world domination, how to easily set up your own project planning workflows. I’ve embedded the first in the series below. Thanks again OmniPlan for supporting MacSparky.
This week’s home screen features my friend John Voorhees (Website) (Twitter). John is a writer at MacStories.net, the developer of Blink, an iTunes affiliate linking app for iOS that is published by Squibner LLC, the indie iOS and Mac development business he runs with his son, Owen. John is also the co-host of a tech podcast called Ruminate. So John, show us your home screen.
What are some of your favorite apps?
Overcast, Ulysses, Tweetbot, and Telegram are my favorite Home screen apps. I commute in and out of Chicago from the suburbs every weekday, so Overcast is a constant companion, unless I’m working, in which case I switch to Apple’s Music app. Overcast’s Smart Speed is the perfect feature because it gives me what the clock can’t – time for more podcasts.
Ulysses for iOS and Mac is where I get all of my writing done for MacStories, Club MacStories, the Squibner website, and things like these interview questions. Ulysses’ unique take on Markdown took some getting used to, but I don’t see myself switching away from it anytime soon now that it has sunk in. I don’t write on my iPhone as much as I do my iPad Pro or Mac, but I keep Ulysses on my Home screen because it’s great to have handy for quick edits and note taking.
Tweetbot has been my Twitter client for a long time. I love its dark mode, multiple account management, stats, and sync capabilities. I occasionally give the official Twitter client a try, but always find myself back where I started with Tweetbot.
I discovered and fell in love with Telegram when we were looking for a way to share behind-the-scenes material with MacStories readers. Ultimately we settled on the channels feature of Telegram, which became The MacStories Lounge. I particularly like Telegram’s media-rich, in-line integration of video, audio, and links. In addition to publishing to The MacStories Lounge channel, Telegram has become the primary messaging app for many of my friends and I. It will be interesting to see if we all end up back on Messages, which is slated to get many of my favorite Telegram features when iOS 10 debuts.
What app makes you most productive?
Slack wins on the iPhone because it’s where I communicate with the MacStories and Squibner teams. Trello is a close second to Slack because it helps Federico Viticci, Graham Spencer, and I collect ideas for the Club MacStories Weekly newsletter, divvy up the work among ourselves, and track our progress.
That said, nearly every app on my Home screen plays some role in making me more productive with my writing or app development. The icon next to Ulysses is Working Copy, a GitHub client that I use for sharing drafts and edits of articles with the MacStories team. Blink, which I wrote, and the App Store app are for finding apps to cover on MacStories and generating the affiliate links that are used in the articles I write. Photos is full of more screenshots for articles than I can count. Notes collects article ideas, links to apps, lists of bugs to fix in Blink, ideas for other projects, and dozens of other bits of text. Instapaper is for personal reading, but also has dedicated folders in it for MacStories and Squibner research. Copied and Dropbox help me work seamlessly between multiple iOS devices and Macs. It’s not unusual for me to use all of these apps in a given day.
What app do you know you’re underutilizing?
Day One is underutilized. I write short entries when something big or interesting happens, but I could be doing so much more with it. Making the time to write in Day One is my biggest problem, but when I do it, I often find myself pleasantly surprised that it’s helped me generate new ideas and plan out longer term projects, so I’ve been trying to set aside some dedicated time each week to write in Day One.
What is the app you are still missing?
I think a podcasting app for iOS that lets you carry on a conversation with someone over a VoIP connection like Skype, but record both ends of the discussion as separate tracks would be great. I know I’d like to do that with my podcast, but the OS-level audio APIs just aren’t there to do it yet.
I would also like to see Xcode come to the iPad. Swift Playgrounds, which is available in the iOS 10 beta, is a great first step. The special programming keyboard Playgrounds uses feels like the beginning of something that could evolve into a full-blown development environment. It’s hard to imagine writing an app with thousands of lines of code from scratch on an iPad, but it would be a great tool for editing an existing project and testing out smaller chunks of code.
How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?
I use my iPhone continuously throughout the day. My most used apps are Slack, Telegram, Messages, Tweetbot, and Overcast, though it’s not unusual for me to use as many as 20 apps during a typical day on my iPhone.
My iPad is used primarily at the beginning and end of the day, but almost every day. Coding is strictly a Mac endeavor, but my writing is split between my iPad Pro and MacBook Pro. Over time, I’ve found that the iPad Pro is getting more and more time as my primary writing tool, though my Mac is still a more comfortable and familiar environment in some ways.
What Today View widgets are you using and why?
Launcher is hands down my favorite Today widget. The first Launcher widget in the screenshot gives me quick access to Overcast and a playlist of songs I’ve marked as favorites. It also includes the Apple Wallet app, so I can quickly grab a coffee in the morning and a shortcut to my train pass. The next widget is Klok, which is a handy way to check the time in various places where people I work with live. The second Launcher widget in my screenshot is dedicated to MacStories and includes quick links to channels in the MacStories Slack, the Club MacStories Weekly newsletter Trello page, and links to access Wordpress in case I’m publishing an article on the go.
What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?
On the iPhone my favorite feature is probably its camera. The 6s Plus I have takes great pictures. On the iPad Pro, it’s the ability to work in two apps at once in Split View mode. The ability to read a web page while I’m writing or chat in Slack while I’m referencing other material has made the iPad my primary writing tool.
If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?
As a developer, I’d fix the App Store. Easier said than done, and Apple has shown some recent signs of moving in the right direction, but as I explored in June on MacStories, app discovery still has a long way to go.
As a writer, multitasking on the iPad needs work. I have a lot of apps, some of which I only use occasionally, and it’s too hard to find them in the scrolling list that comes up when you enter Split View mode. If I were in charge, I’d implement something like Federico imagined in his iOS 10 wish list and concept video article.
Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.
I rarely change my Apple Watch face. I primarily use the ‘utility’ face with a second hand and date color coordinated with whichever of my sports bands I’m wearing. My Apple Watch serves two main purposes – fitness tracking and notifications. I rarely use apps. My complications include the stock weather complication that tells me the temperature, the Activity++ compilation that I find superior to Apple’s activity rings, and the Pedometer++ complication because I like to see my step count.
What’s your wallpaper and why?
This may be the longest standing wallpaper I’ve used. It was created by Frank Towers who designed the icons for Squibner’s iOS apps Blink and Associate, and its tvOS game, King Me. The wallpaper is based on the artwork Frank did for Relay.fm’s podcast Cortex hosted by Myke Hurley and CGP Grey. I love this particular wallpaper for the iPhone because it lays out so nicely with the icon grid and doesn’t distract me from the icons themselves.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The bottom row of icons in my iPhone screenshot is empty. I have several friends who keep that row empty because they like how it looks. I keep the last row empty for a more practical reason. At any one time I typically have 10–20 betas on my iPhone that I’m looking at as potential reviews on MacStories. I usually keep a couple of those that I am testing the most in that last row. Having those betas visible whenever I open my phone serves as a reminder to play with them as often as possible.