Upgrade and Work-Life Balance

At the end of this week's Upgrade podcast, Jason, Myke, and Greg Knauss talk about their experiences with quitting the day job. Everyone had insightful points to make. As someone that continues to have a day job and a night job, I find this topic fascinating.


 

Turkey Day App Sale

With Black Friday (Wikipedia) tomorrow, a lot of my favorite apps are on sale. While digesting Turkey today, you may want to pick up a few.

Productivity

Clarify 2 (For Mac)

Clarify makes creating simple tutorials about how to get work done on your Mac dead simple. This is perfect for web tutorials or even just having a manual for staff at the office. It’s half off right now at just $15.

Fantastical 2

This is my go-to calendar app on both the iPad and iPhone. The iPad version is half price and the iPhone version is just $2. The Mac version is also on sale for half price.

Paprika

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This app is favored heavily in the MPU episode publishing this weekend where a NASA Rocket Scientist (yes, really) tells us how he plans his whole family meal plans around it. I got so inspired, I bought the whole suite including the Mac versioniPad Version, and iPhone version. Now they are half price. Whoops.

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Soulvr

Soulver is a different kind of calculator. It is somewhere between a spreadsheet, a calculator, and a notepad, and right now the price is reduced from $5 to just $1.

Fun

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Heads Up!

Are you at a dead, boring family gathering at this moment? Head’s Up is free right now and it has saved many Sparks family gatherings. You’ll be suprised at how animated your relatives get when you fire up this app.

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TapCellar

This is a fantastic Beer app made by my pal, Gabe Weatherhead and it’s on sale for just 3 bucks.- Beer Finder, Check-In, Logging and Journaling Your Craft Brews: $4.99 -> $2.99

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Duet Game

Few games have stuck with me like this one and now it’s just a buck.

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Badland

BADLAND is an action adventure with beautiful art. This one was an App Store game of the year for 2013 and now it is a buck.

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Shadow Blade

This is a fun platformer. My little nephew and I rock at this game. Today it’s on sale for $1.

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Mikey’s Castle of Illusion (For Mac)

Want to use Mickey Mouse to jump around and solve puzzles. This game is reduced from $15 to $7 right now.

Law Podcasting Podcast

I recently guested on the Law Podcasting Podcast. I know there seems to be a lot of podcasting about podcasting lately, but I tried to keep this one practical with a few tips I've picked up over the years.


 

Monument Valley, Ida's (Red) Dream

I seem to be writing a lot about Monument Valley lately, but I really love this game. The puzzles are just hard enough and the way each level unfolds delights me. I've finished the recent Forgotten Shores expansion and assumed I'd have to wait awhile before getting my next fix. I was wrong. The developers have released a new level as part of Apple's Project (red). It costs just 99 cents, supports AIDS research, and is a lot of fun.

"Organizational Issues"

MacRumors reports on an article about iCloud suffering from  "Deep Organizational Issues". I've had my own set of problems with iCloud as of late but based on everything I've experienced with Apple, including just a tiny bit of the inside, I don't think the iCloud stumbles have been a result of untamed bureaucracy or anything organizational. Everyone I've ever dealt with from Apple is incredibly focussed.

If I had to bet a nickel, I'd say the problem is that cloud stuff between multiple platforms (even platforms you own) is really, really hard. Dropbox and Twitter started small and got big slowly and they had plenty of growing pains along the way. When Apple releases a new cloud service, it immediately has millions of users. Apple still needs to prove they can deliver the goods in the cloud, but I have a hard time believing their cloud-challenges are organizational issues. 


 

Sponsor: Sanebox

This week, MacSparky.com is sponsored by Sanebox. I've been using Sanebox for over a year now and I love it. Imagine having an assistant that reviews and pre-sorts your email for your everyday. This assistant figures out what of your email is really important, kind of important, and junk. Now imagine that assistant never sleeps. That's Sanebox.

There are so many great benefits to Sanebox. First and foremost is filtering. Sanebox looks at all of my incoming email and filters it for me to appropriate mailboxes. That way, the first thing in the morning I see are only those emails that are most important. However, Sanebox can do so much more with its Black Hole service that makes unwanted email go away, forever. There is also an ingenious reminder system where you can blind copy an email to 1week@sanebox.com and the service will remind you if you don't get a response to the email within one week.

There is a lot more to Sanebox. If you get a lot of email, the service can really help. You can learn more at Sanebox.com. Note the links in this post will get you $5 off your subscription.


 

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.