inShort Review

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The last few months I've been interested in apps that set new categories. With the ability to share data and have a touch interface, some productivity developers are creating entirely new widgets and that always excites me. inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store) is just such one of these apps.

I am a self-admitted process nerd. I think reducing projects to a process is one of the best ways to make sure the project gets its intended results. It is process-oriented thinking that makes bridges that last for 100 years and assures you will never lock your keys in your car again. (You systematically check your pocket ... right?)

inShort Diagram View

inShort Diagram View

inShort is an iPhone/iPad/Mac application that I've come to look upon as my own process building toolkit. It is part diagramming tool, part project planner, part resource tracker, and part hierarchical diagramming tool. It may be that last part about hierarchical diagramming that is most interesting. You can take any task and embed inside it a separate diagram. This principal of diagrams within diagrams lets you see things simultaneously at the macro and micro level. It really is a new paradigm for project and process planning. In my day job, I am using it to plan some rather complex projects and clients love the PDFs I'm sending them showing how much I've dialed everything down. (The app also exports to OPML)

The program can then take that planning and process information and seamlessly turn it into an attractive Gantt chart. You can track individual components of you project and the application integrates with your calendar.

inShort Gantt chart of above diagram.

inShort Gantt chart of above diagram.

This developer embraces the Theory of Constraints philosophy and built specific tools into the application for this purpose including the ability to automatically trace the critical path through a diagram or project, placement of time buffers, and related techniques. The developer has a PDF explaining where he's coming from.

I'm now experimenting with inShort for planning complex litigation plans and I'm not sure where this is all heading but I wanted to share it now as I dig in. I love it when developers push boundaries. inShort does just that.

Solar Battery Review

In a recent episode of the Mac Power Users, I explained how I was interested in solar chargers but needed someone to explain to me what the best solutions are and why. Listener Francine points out that OutdoorGearLab already did this. If you are thinking about a solar charger (and living in the land of earthquakes I definitely am), you should start with this excellent review roundup.


Let.ter: Email Writing App on the Mac

I recently discovered a $4 Mac utility, Let.ter, that gives you a clean little interface to write and send emails in Markdown. There is no email interface, no inboxes to clear, and none of the other trappings of email. Just write a message and send it. In its current iteration it only works from one email account but I really like the idea of sending out email without having to deal with (or even see) all of the other correspondence the world is sending my way.

Sponsor: LIFX Smart Lightbulbs

This week is sponsored by LIFX Smart Lightbulbs. LIFX is a smart lightbulb that gives you previously unheard of control of your lighting. Each bulb is Wi-Fi enabled, controllable from your smartphone and can produce millions of colors, they are also 4 times more energy efficient that traditional bulbs. 

LIFX bulbs only consume 18 watts of power, yet produces the same level of brightness as your standard 75W bulb. Control the brightness, colour, and a range of cool effects is easy on your smartphone. Each LIFX bulb is rated for 27 years at 4 hours per day which is equivalent to 40,000 hours. You'll probably move house before you need to change the light bulb again.

The LIFX bulbs support both standard Edison screw and Bayonet connectors and will work at all standard voltages around the world. The LIFX bulbs have a developer-friendly development kit which means that if you can think of a great way to control them, you can go out and build it on whatever platform you like, right now!

LIFX bulbs are shipping right now worldwide. Buy from this link and use coupon code “MacSparky” for 15% off the total cost.  

Home Screens: Larry Port

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I first met Larry Port (Twitter)(Website) at the American Bar Association TechShow. Larry is deep into technology and good design. So much so that he has been taking on (successfully) the most slow-to-change industry on the planet, the legal profession, with his revolutionary Rocket Matter service. So Larry, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?


I know it sounds weird to chose Camera.  I love taking pictures and video with my iPhone.  I was a photojournalist before I got into software, and I can’t get over the quality of the photographs the native iPhone camera affords.  Also, I recently edited our first home movies using exclusively iPhone video content.  The representation of my family life as depicted through these videos is so much richer and accurate than the videos created with a dedicated camcorder, since the iPhones are constantly in hand.  The camera is my favorite app period.


Typically I view my iPhone and my iPad as consumption devices, not tools for the creation of data or information.  However, my usage of Evernote’s mobile tool is more creation the consumption oriented.  I record audio notes, take pictures, and constantly capture information.  When I get to my computer, this information is already there, ready to go and synched.  Occasionally I look something up I’ve saved on mobile Evernote, but more often I look things up on my MacBook Air, where Evernote is open all day long.


I love both Pandora and Spotify.  Very little of my music consumption takes place via my iTunes music collection anymore.  Who has time for synching?  I prefer Pandora to Spotify because I am too lazy and musically uninspired to build playlists and discover new artists.  I love how Pandora plays stuff I just like, whether I know the song or artist or not.


A small cup of Starbucks coffee contains 250mg of caffeine.  For a frame of reference, espresso tops out at about 75mg.  Let’s face it:  Starbucks sells a drug I am addicted to.  And their app allows me to pay for my addiction easily and rewards me with a free vial - I mean cup - of coffee every so often.  I also get free apps on the iTunes app store.  


I try to listen to a dozen business books a year.  I listen to them instead of reading because I don’t find reading business books any fun at all, but find listening to them very stimulating.   I queue up Audible for my car ride to and from the office, knocking off about 30 minutes of “reading" a day.  Right now I’m "rereading” Good to Great, Jim Collins’ classic.  Audible is vastly improved in recent years if you haven’t tried it lately.


Rocket Matter is a distributed company with workers in different locations.  We synch up regularly to stay in alignment with daily stand ups, weekly management meetings, and monthly reviews.  We’re always using GoToMeeting to communicate.  It’s important to see faces as well as hear voices when you’re remote.   Even though I’m in our HQ most of the time, I travel frequently and meet with clients so I don’t want to miss an important meeting when I’m out.

Rocket Matter

We manage our business through the software we created.  Rocket Matter, while in reality a legal practice management solution, is actually a very good project management program as well.  I use the app to keep track of my current projects (which are really matters), view my calendar, and track my expenses.  In the software business, using your own product is often referred to as “eating one’s own dog food.”  I prefer the more elegant “drinking one’s own wine."

Google Maps, TripIt, Yelp, and Uber form my traveling swiss army knife. Google Maps stays on my home screen because, in addition to travel usage, I use it locally as well. It’s how I look up local telephone numbers.  I don’t LOVE this app, but then again, I don’t love the phone book either.  It’s just a utility that works amazingly well that I use frequently.


Netflix, believe it or not, is critical to me staying in shape.  I am able to survive the boredom of 30-minute elliptical workouts by binge watching TV shows.  Right now I’m going through season one of Star Trek - the original series.  I haven’t used Netflix on my iPhone in any other context.  I don’t have a bus or train commute and can’t think of another instance where I would want to stare at a small screen for video.


I am very selective about what news I consume, especially when it's push, not pull oriented.  Marketplace, which is broadcast on my local NPR station, makes the cut.  The show is somehow able to make business and economic news highly entertaining.  No one is rude, no one interrupts one another, and no one is brash or stupid.  Instead, you get thoughtful, nuanced, and clever reporting.  Since I'm rarely in my car at the right time to listen, their podcast app keeps me tuned in and informed.

Lose It!

When I track what I eat, I maintain my correct weight.  It’s that simple.  Lose It! is an incredible tracking app, which ties into my primitive human urge to set and track my progress toward goals.  The UI is terrific, as is the web interface.  I keep it on my home screen to remind me to enter my consumption and physical activity and shame me when I haven’t been tracking.  Plus, I’m a sucker for cool icons, and they have more cute little icons for different foods and forms of exercise than I could wish for in my wildest fantasies.


We have an Apple TV which we use constantly.  We lose the tiny little remote it came with once a day.  The Remote app mitigates this problem by allowing us to control the Apple TV from anyone’s iPhone, iPad, or iTouch.  It’s also much more helpful for searches, since you can type with a keyboard instead of selecting letters one at a time.  I never thought I would appreciate the iPhone’s keyboard, but compared to spelling things out character by character with the native Apple TV remote, the app is a breeze.


We are total data heads at Rocket Matter.  We’re always analyzing numbers critical for our business.  One of the most important drivers is the health of our web traffic, so I use Analytiks, which has a beautiful interface for Google Analytics.  Analytiks allows me to quickly see how the traffic is doing for our Rocket Matter and Legal Productivity sites.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?


The cool thing about StubHub is not just that you can get decently priced last-minute tickets to events, but when you travel you can get your pulse on everything that’s going on in the city.  In Nashville for work?  Wanna see if you can catch a Titans game or see one of the zillion of concerts going on in the city?  StubHub.

What is the app you are still missing?

I wish I had an app that automatically doubles your battery life.  How awesome would it be to have an app that has a button that says “boost battery” and automatically gives you a full charge?  Also, if my Starbucks app actually refilled my coffee cup, THAT would be impressive.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

The phone is with me constantly when I’m out of the house, whether I’m at the office or the gym. I’m always using it, except when I’m driving.  Even then I’m really using it as I’m listening to an audiobook or podcast but I don’t have it in hand. When I return from work and I’m at home, I keep it away in my pocket and try not to use it so my children do not remember me staring at a screen for the duration of their formative years.  At home I try to limit use to answering texts and using the camera.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

My life is qualitatively better when I’m on the go because of my iPhone.  I love how I can launch the Kindle app and pick up my book where I left off the night before.  I can FaceTime my family.  I have access to any document I might need because of the cloud apps I use.  I keep my travel documents neatly organized.  I can navigate a new city on foot, order an Uber car, find an awesome restaurant, and get tickets to a ballgame.  The iPhone makes traveling for work so much more enjoyable.

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

They really need to resolve the issue with the short battery life. My iPhone cannot survive a day without my Mophie case, which extends battery life by 100%.  If I use the iPhone the way I use it, for audiobooks, phone calls, web surfing and maps, the internal battery will be exhausted before 2pm.

I would like a button that says “no notifications, ever, in any shape or form” instead of having to wade through so many configurations for them, which never seem to work.

I would also like to add home screen buttons that call contacts without having to jailbreak the phone, run a third party app, or do some sort of convoluted solution.

I would like the back of the phone to blow out little streams of air so that it could glide across a table like an air hockey puck.

What's your wallpaper and why?

Currently my lock screen is a picture of Marty Feldman.  This is an unusual situation, because my son and I have been on a big Young Frankenstein kick and he reset the lock screen when I wasn’t looking.  I thought it was hilarious so I’m leaving it that way for a while.  Normally I try to use photographs that I’ve taken from nature with the phone’s amazing camera.  Every one in a while I download a stunning image from the Subreddit “Earth Porn”, which has really beautiful and mind-blowing stuff.

Anything else you'd like to share? 

I use a Mophie case to extend battery life.  Also, as much as I love my iPhone, I need to disconnect from it.  I love being connected, but I hate being over-connected. I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my iPhone because I found that I was compulsively checking them and it was more annoying than fun.

Thanks Larry.

Sponsor: Rocket X1 and Free Ebook

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Rocket X1, Internet marketing for professional services. The Internet is the future for all businesses but can be an intimidating place if you don't know your way around. Rocket X1 puts you ahead of your competition with a combination of top-notch web hosting and design, assstance with social media, search engine optimization and public relations. 

Forget about vague concepts and ideas, Rocket X1 brings real world answers and quantifiable results. Look no further and put your professional service firm on the Internet with a elegant imagery and polished messaging.  Maintain your sleek identity across the web, social media, stationary, and print materials. 

This week, Rocket X1 is offering a free book, Internet Marketing for Professional Services. Go get your copy and check out Rocket X1.

Jazz Friday: Salt Peanuts at Massey Hall

There are very few live recordings of the bebop jazz titans in the early days. That's why the May 1953 Massey Hall concert is especially loved by jazz fans. The band included Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. It was the only time these five played together and it is the last recording of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie together. (Charlie Parker shows up in some liner notes as "Charlie Chan", because he was contractually prohibited from recording on the label.)

A further bit of interesting backstory was that this event was never planned to be the epic recording it became. The event was planned as a fundraiser for the Toronto Jazz Society but there was a prize fight the same night and the turnout was much lower than expected. The musician's checks bounced and they decided to release a recording so they could get paid.

Nevertheless, we end up wbith this great little time capsule of bebop and it is a great listen. I'd recommend buying the entire album but the best track is Salt Peanuts. It starts out with Charlie Parker introducing the song by his "worthy constituent", Dizzy Gillespie. Then, once the song gets rolling and Bird (Charlie Parker) starts playing his solo, Dizzy Gillespie started throwing handfuls of peanuts at the audience while screaming "SALT PEANUTS". Finally, Max Roach delivers a stellar drum solo at the end. It all comes out on the recording and makes me smile every time I listen to it. When my kids were young, we used to drive around listening to this track screaming "SALT PEANUTS" at the top of our lungs. I bet I could still get my kids to do it.

iTunes only sells it as a full album but the remastered version sounds pretty good. If you just want to listen to Salt Peanuts, it is on YouTube.

FX Photo Studio Updates with 200 Filters

The most recent version of FX Photo Studio is out, now with 200 photo filters, which is a pretty impressive feat. The image below is one I took on a recent hike following application of a few FX Photo Studio filters. Apps like this are going to be so interesting when iOS 8 extensions arrive. Can you imagine having 200 filters right in the Photos app? I can too.

Back to Work 181

Merlin Mann couldn't make Back to Work this week. Merlin is one of my favorite people. I've lost count of how many times he's stepped up to help me out. Nevertheless, I was pretty disappointed in him today. Instead of finding a top-tier guest to fill in during his absence, he brought in a low-rung hack. Poorly played Merlin. Poorly played indeed.

Act Now!

Looking through Twitter today, I discovered many of my favorite iOS apps are on sale.

MindNode: $4.99, Usually $9.99

MindNode's become my favorite mind mapper. It got a nice iOS 7 redesign and it continues to get better.


PCalc - The Best Calculator: $4.99, usually $9.99

It took me several years (and plenty of Dr. Drang posts) to finally come around to PCalc but now I can't imagine not having it on my iPhone.


Launch Center Pro: $1.99, usually $4.99

Launch Center Pro for iPad: $1.99, usually $4.99

This is another app that took me awhile to warm up to. Now it's in my dock.


Boxer: $4.99, usually $9.99

I've been playing with this app and plan to give it extended coverage in the next update to the Email Field Guide.


Fantastical 2 for iPad: $7.99, usually $9.99

One of the best calendar apps on the iPad.


Broadwell and ARM Macs

wrote last month about Broadwell’s delays and the expected impact on the release of new Macs. It appears that is coming true. The recently updated MacBook Pros just received slightly bumped Haswell chips and, as Macworld reports, the speed improvements are small.

Moreover, I’m more convinced than ever that the rumored 12" MacBook Air with retina screen, assuming it exists, will get pushed back until next year when Apple can get the Broadwell chips it needs to put a retina screen in a small MacBook. If Apple were to release a Haswell-based MacBook Air with retina screen, I’d recommend waiting.

There is also more buzz about the idea of an ARM-based Mac. The ARM chips that currently power iOS devices are Apple designed and Apple controlled. If Apple could put those in Macs, they wouldn’t be dependent on Intel for future Mac releases and wouldn’t get saddled with the problems they have with the current Broadwell delays.

The problem is that ARM chips aren’t nearly as powerful as these Intel chips and it would incur a substantial performance hit. Another downside of ARM Macs would be that they don’t run Windows nearly as easily as Intel based Macs do. (However, I have to wonder how important that is as we increasingly move to web-based services and Windows becomes less relevant.)

On the plus side, ARM based Macs would have ridiculously great battery life. When you think about it, a thin, light Mac that sucks at Final Cut but runs Safari and Mail for 24 hours on a single charge may have a pretty large audience. If Apple were to go this route, I suspect that initially they would keep producing high-end Intel Macs for people that need the power.

Yesterday, Jean-Louis Gassée (who knows more about this stuff in his pinky finger than I do in my entire body) wrote that he believes an ARM based Mac may very well lie in the not so distant future. One of the points he made that hadn’t occurred to me is that since Apple is designing the chips, they could create a separate ARM design for the Mac that is a bit more powerful and uses a bit more power. Pound-for-pound though, I suspect Apple would have a hard time matching Intel on the power end, especially now that the Broadwell chip is on a 14nm dye.

Could something like this be already in the works at Apple? To answer that question I’d state that just a few months ago Apple announced an entirely new programming language for the Mac and iOS that they’d been internally developing for years and nobody on the outside had a clue of its existence.

The Science of Star Wars

Physicist Andy Howell explains the science behind Star Wars, to the extent Star Wars follows the laws of science. I wanted so much for there to be hope and physics supporting the construction of my own lightsaber. (via Kotke)

Speaking of lightsabers, while there is much praise of George Lucas for having the foresight to keep the merchandising rights for Star Wars, he was pretty slow to get rolling when A New Hope premiered. My friends and I would have killed for toy lightsabers and they just didn't exist. Instead we had to take cardboard tubes (my best source was my mom's wrapping paper stash) and use those to wail upon each other. The trouble was that they just didn't hold up well and a few good whacks would often turn your saber into a limp, sad mess. The ironic part is that I learned a little science at the time as my friends and I perfected duct tape techniques to make our lightsabers last longer.



Sponsor: Rocket Matter and Free Remote Working Ebook

This week is sponsored by Rocket Matter, the premier cloud-based law practice management solution. The folks at Rocket Matter get how to run your business in the Internet age and Rocket Matter is the place to go when you've finally had it with the expense and pain of trying to do it yourself. This week Rocket Matter is giving away a free ebook, The Telecommuters Guide to the Galaxy. This book is full of tips and advice on how to work remotely. If you are going on vacation or just sick of spending all your time in the office, go download the book. You won't regret it.