An App for Tracking Your Children’s Ailments

Finally. For years, Melanie and I have bemoaned the lack of an app to help parents track their children’s sicknesses over time, like heir temperatures and what medicine you gave them and when. It’s especially difficult when you’ve been up all night and you have multiple kids sick at once. And then you’ve both been giving out the meds.

It looks like Feevy is the answer.

The app lets you track a child’s temperature on a graph over time, so if you take their temperature every few hours, you can go back over all of your recent readings and see if their temperature is holding steady, trending up, or trending down at a glance. You can also add things like medications that you’ve given them and when, so you make sure not to give them too much in too short a time period, and add notes about how your child is feeling at various intervals.

It lets you sync the data with someone else as well! It’s $2 right now. iPhone and iPad only.

Mac Menu Bar App Massive Review

Mac Menu Bar Apps

Among the most useful and most overlooked of Mac software applications are Menu Bar Apps. These are small, often single-purpose applications that reside in the top-right part of your Mac’s menu bar, usually behind a small icon. Apple includes a couple as part of the standard system software, like the Spotlight magnifying glass, the date and time, the wifi menu, and the volume menu. But there is a world of others.

In my ongoing efforts to share my own Mac setup with the world, I will document my Mac menu bar apps and perhaps you’ll find some useful ones too.

bartendermenubar

Bartender

I should start with Bartender ($15) because this little app does one thing and does it well1. Bartender keeps your menu bar apps from filling up your menu bar until they jam up against the menu items coming from the left. This is especially a problem on MacBooks with their smaller screens, but even 27” iMacs can benefit as well. The basic operation is simple: Bartender creates a second menu bar below the standard one and then you just tell it which apps should appear on the standard menu bar and which on the second. You can even tell it to move app icons to the main menu bar when they’re doing something, like Dropbox indicating that its syncing files, and then moving it back when it’s done.

CleanMyDrive 2

CleanMyDrive 2 (Free on Mac App Store) keeps your external drives free of the sorts of invisible files that both macOS and Windows can leave laying around on drives. It’s also an easy way to eject a disk quickly.

Fantastical

I wrote about Fantastical ($50 direct or in the Mac App Store) in my More Must-Have Mac Apps post. You can read the reasons why I use this calendar software there, but I will add that this is one of the few menu bar apps that win a place on the standard menu bar because I use it so much. A quick click of of the icon and then I’m typing in a new calendar event.

Fruitjuice

Fruitjuice ($10 in the Mac App Store) is designed to keep your MacBook’s battery in top shape. The way laptop battery technology works, it’s bad for it always sit on the charger. It needs to be exercised. Fruitjuice helps you do that by intelligently determining how long each day your laptop should be on battery based on the way you use it. And if your batter is in rough shape, it will suggest a maintenance cycle. It’s the sort of thing that should be built in by Apple.

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More Must-Have Mac Apps

Mac apps

After posting my previous blog post on my Must-Have Mac Apps, a number of friends and readers suggested even more apps that they must have, and I had to admit that I could add many more to my list. And so here are even More Must-Have Mac Apps.1

Alfred

This one should probably have made it on the first list. Alfred is such a natural part of my workflow, I often forget it’s there… until it isn’t. Alfred is sometimes described as an app launcher, which it is, but it’s also so much more. If I hit the option-spacebar key combination a blank rectangle appears in the middle of the screen. If I type a few characters, a list of matching applications appears beneath for me to select. Or it may be a folder. Or the name of a contact. Or some text in a file. Or the title of a document. And if it doesn’t match any of those, it offers to search Google for the entered text, or Evernote or Amazon or Wikipedia.

But that’s not all it does. If I type “itu” and select “Show me the iTunes mini player” from the resulting list, I can play any song, artist, album or playlist from iTunes without launching the app first. And by using my left and right arrow keys, I can navigate through the hierarchy of iTunes content very quickly.

Another favorite trick of Alfred is to highlight a file or folder in the Finder and then hit the Option key twice. A box pops up with several options, such as Open, Delete, Email, and my favorite, Move to…. I use that to quickly file away documents that are cluttering up my desktop or work folders. So, I select a file, tap Option twice, type “Mov” to select Move to…, type a few letters of the folder I want it to go to, use the arrow keys to select the proper folder from the list that appears, and hit return. Instantly, I’ve moved a file deep into my hard drive without touching the trackpad or navigating through a series of windows and folders.

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My Must-Have Mac Apps

Mac apps

Update: For more must-have Mac apps, see my follow up article where I give you six more apps.

As a known Mac geek in my social circles, I often hear from people who are switching to Macs or iPhones or iPads and asked my advice for how to get started. They want to know what Mac apps they must have and how they can learn how to use them.

For the learning part, I recommend a few resources, including the video podcast ScreencastsOnline, the audio podcasts Mac Power Users and MacGeekGab, and the web site iMore, especially their How To section with straightforward guides to accomplishing basic tasks.

As for the software, I would start with Apple’s own software. Of course, a brand new Mac comes with a lot of basic Mac apps pre-installed, including Mail, the Safari web browser, Photos, iTunes for music, Calendar, and Contacts. All work well for most people, although I have chosen third-party alternatives for some of them.

Apple also provides some optional software you can download through the Mac App Store, which exists as an application on your computer. You can download the word-processing and page-layout software Pages, the Numbers spreadsheet software, the Keynote presentation software, and the Garageband music composition and recording software all for free. While Pages and Numbers are good basic alternatives to the more-full featured Microsoft Word and Excel, Keynote surpasses Powerpoint in features and still costs nothing.

But what is my essential third-party software?

My Must-Have Mac Apps

1Password

I will start with 1Password. I’ve written about 1Password before, especially when I’ve been discussing the importance of unique and difficult-to-guess passwords for individuals and institutions. While there are other password management solutions out there, I’ve used 1Password for years now on my Mac and iOS devices, but recently it’s become even better. For one thing, it now syncs using the built-in iCloud. Now when I start a new Mac or iPhone or iPad, the first thing I do, after logging into iCloud as part of the setup, is to download 1Password and then have immediate access to my hundreds of passwords.

Even better, the developers have recently introduced a new product, 1 Password for Families or for Teams. The main difference between the two is price and some administrative features. With 1Password for Families, we pay $5 per month for a family of 5 and everybody gets 1Password for Mac, Windows, Android, or iOS included, which separately cost between $20 and $65. It’s a great deal and by subscribing you can ensure that your spouse always has access to the bank accounts, for example, and everyone can get the Netflix password.

Dropbox

My next must-have Mac app is Dropbox. Most everyone has heard of Dropbox by now, but in case you haven’t, Dropbox is a cloud solution which lets you store files in the cloud, but they appear on your computer like all the other files and folders. It allows you to keep anything in the Dropbox folder in sync with your Dropbox account on other computers and smartphones and tablets. It also lets you share folders or files with individuals or the public. And it works with a number of apps as a way to synchronize files or settings. In this way, Dropbox becomes a central hub for your work, making it available where and when you want to work. I remember the bad old days when all your data and software were confined to a desktop computer, and if you wanted to work with it on a laptop or another computer, you had to copy it to a floppy disk or thumb drive. This is so much better.

The way I use it, I have four primary folders: Inbox, Action, Incubate, and Current Projects.1 Inbox is where all new files go first, whether email attachments, exports from other programs, or the like. These will get sorted at a later point, at least once per day ideally. Action is where I keep files that I’m working on right now. As soon as I’m done, they get moved to their permanent home. Incubate is where I keep files that are awaiting some action, usually by someone else. This is reviewed regularly to see if further action needs to be taken. Current Projects is the permanent home of currently active projects. Once those projects close or are finished, they get moved to Archive, which I keep in a separate location outside of Dropbox.

Evernote

Evernote is also a must-have for me. I know that it’s trendy right to look at Evernote alternatives, especially since they’ve had a rocky time lately with one of the founders leaving the company. Some have wondered if they really will be a 100-year company as they planned to be. And some of the other options look promising. But none have the complete set of features that Evernote has. I’ve been using this product since March 2008 and it’s steadily improved since then. It has become my second brain, the place where I stash stuff I want to remember and/or must be saved. Every receipt and statement, every record of travel, every article I clip, every set of meeting notes, every product manual, every scrap of paper I can scan goes into Evernote. Every business card I’m handed gets scanned. Every restaurant receipt, likewise. Every blog post and every social media update gets archived in there as well.

Evernote’s web clipper is a big part of that. I can clip just a relevant part of an article or web receipt from my web browser so easily and because of the intelligence in the product, it gets automatically tagged and filed based on the content. They also provide mobile software on a bunch of platforms, including iPhone, iPad, Android and more.2 It also hooks into many web services like IFTTT, for many more options. It really is indispensable, which is why I pay for the premium product and why the idea of it going away scares me so much. Nothing else does everything Evernote does as a complete package.

Omnifocus

Omnifocus is another indispensable Mac app, but it might not be a universal option for everyone. If Evernote is a second-brain filing cabinet, Omnifocus is a second-brain to-do list. But it’s so much more than just a to-do list. This is yet another piece of software I’ve been using almost from its beginning, having got in during its first beta period.

Omnifocus was built-around the Getting Things Done philosophy of David Allen, but you’re not required to follow GTD, either strictly or loosely, in order to use it. In fact, my GTD implementation is somewhat loose, but here’s basically how it works. You have Projects and Contexts. Projects are any multi-step activity with a goal. Think of making a sandwich as a project: you have to get the bread and fillings and condiments, you have to assemble the items in order, you need to get a plate, etc. In the end you have a sandwich to eat. Meanwhile, contexts are the places you do things, whether literally or figuratively. I have contexts like “office” and “home”, but I also “errands” and “making calls” and “writing”. Then when I’m making phone calls, say, I can make all the phone calls at once, whatever project they’re in. Most people work in contexts, not in projects.

In addition to Projects and Contexts, there’s the InBox. This is where everything goes. As soon as I have something that needs to be done, I put it in my InBox. It doesn’t need to be put in a project or be given a context yet. It just needs to be recorded. This is the biggest de-stressor in my life. I know that if I have stuff that needs to be done, if I’m afraid of forgetting it, I stress out. I tell everyone in my life, “If you don’t see me write it down/put it in Omnifocus, then it’s not going to happen.” About once per day, I go through the InBox and give each item a project and context and, when appropriate, a due date. Omnifocus also hooks into many other software and services, so that I can instantly send new InBox items from my email or web browser into Omnifocus.

The final part of Omnifocus is Review. As part of making sure I don’t forget anything, I have to regularly review my open projects and my open items to make sure they’re still relevant, that nothing’s getting overlooked, or that I’m not missing anything. Ideally, this occurs once per week.

Omnifocus has both a Mac app and iPad and iPhone versions. Here’s the downside: It’s not cheap. The Mac app is $40 for the standard version and $80 for the Pro. The iOS version (it’s an iPhone and iPad universal app) is $40 for standard and $60 for pro. What’s the difference? Pro gives you some customizations and, on the Mac, the Focus view as well as Applescript support. I don’t think most people need those, at least not at first, but I grandfathered into them.

Carbon Copy Cloner

I am obsessive about backing up my data and a key element in that process is Carbon Copy Cloner3. I documented my backup strategy in 2012 and it continues to hold true to that method, although I’ve since switched to Carbon Copy Cloner. For real peace of mind, you need to back up your data, not once, not twice, but in three places, using at least two different kinds of medium (e.g. hard drive and online backup service).

Bartender

Bartender is another Mac app I consider indispensable, especially because I spend so much of my computer time on a laptop. You know all those little icons on the right side of the menu bar at the top of your screen? For most people, there’s just a few icons, mainly the ones Apple supplies to control various functions like volume. But for people like me those icons quickly multiply such that they disappear beneath the menus on the left side of the screen.4 The icons represent quick access into many different apps, some small one-trick ponies and others big multi-purpose apps. What Bartender does is create a second menu bar beneath the first in which to stash all the extra items you don’t need to see all the time, but which need to be accessible. Then the Bartender bar disappears until you summon it. That’s it. It’s so simple and yet so useful.

I think I could go on here and list another half-dozen Mac apps that I use all the time: Alfred, Hazel, Keyboard Maestro, Ulysses, Airmail, Slack, Fantastical and so on. Maybe they’ll make it into a second post. But for now, it’s the ones I’ve listed above that make my list of apps I must install first on any new Mac and that makes them must-haves.

Update: For more must-have Mac apps, see my follow up article where I give you six more apps.

  1. I could probably narrow it to just Inbox and Current Projects at this point, but re-jiggering and fiddling with my workflows doesn’t lead to productivity. ↩︎
  2. Despite some rocky days in the past, these mobile versions have matured into stable and speedy tools. ↩︎
  3. I’ve also used and liked SuperDuper, but CCC had just the right features for me. ↩︎
  4. Look for a future blog post where I list all the different menu bar apps I use and what they’re for. ↩︎

Apple, the Apple logo and iPhone are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

Mac software I use: Geektool releases your inner geek

I recently posted a screenshot of my MacBook Pro’s desktop on the Google+ community for the Mac Power Users podcast. Someone had been asking for people to post the image and list the menubar apps they had running. But I got several people asking me about the Geektool stuff visible on the desktop.

Geektool is a fun Mac app that lets you place a web image, the contents of a text file, or the results of a shell script–what the program calls “geeklets”– on the desktop, on top of your selected wallpaper, but under all your open applications and documents. Here’s what the geeklets look like when the program is open.

geektool-full

And when the program is closed and they’re operating normally underneath.

geektool-running

What might you want such a program to do for you? For starters here’s what I have on my desktop:

geektools-explained

Four separate geeklets make up the date and time block. Five more geeklets provide current temperature outdoors, high and low for the day plus brief forecast, current weather, and extended 7-day forecast. The next geeklet provides a list of top RAM processes, the 10 applications using the most memory, which lets me see at a glance a bit of what my computer is doing under the hood, as does the next geeklet that show the top CPU processes, the applications using the central processor. You can’t see it in the screenshot, but on this one, if an application reaches a certain threshold it turns yellow and then red, providing a visual warning for me.

CPU load gives a single numeric indicator of how hard the computer is working. Under normal, idle load it sits around 1.50, but when I’m encoding a video or doing other intensive work it jumps into the 50s or more. What the exact number indicates isn’t all that important. It just provides a relative indicator, just like you don’t have to understand what the RPM gauge on your car represents for it to tell you how hard your car is working.

Finally, the last one provides several details, including the number of unread mails (when Mail is running), space free on the hard drive, current wifi network, whether the Internet is reachable, and various CPU stats including the amount of time since the last restart of the computer, how many users logged in right now, and more CPU load averages.

So what’s under the hood of these geeklets. Most of them are either the results of Terminal commands[1] For example, the ‘Month’ geeklet that displays “July” is the result of the Terminal command date +%B, which means “show me the month formatted as a word, as opposed to a number.” That’s the simple one. Other Terminal commands are more complicated like the one that shows the CPU load: uptime|awk '{print $(NF-2)}'|grep -v average.

Now don’t be impressed at my awesome Terminal and grep skills. In fact, all of my geeklets are based on stuff I’ve found online, usually through simple Google searches for “geektool geeklet” and copying or downloading what other generous and smarter folks have shared.

In addition to the Terminal commands, there are also scripts, where Geektool references a file on the Mac that runs in a programming language, like Ruby. The RAM and CPU process geeklets as well as most of the weather geeklets all work off of Ruby scripts written by the prolific Brett Terpstra. Find all his Geektool posts here.

All of those so far, have been of the “shell” variety, but what about “file” and “image”. Image is useful if there’s an image file on your computer or on the Internet that changes content, but not name. For example, one of our local TV stations provides a graphic of the seven-day weather forecast (I know, I know, the weather again. I’m obsessed with the weather.) That image file doesn’t change its URL from day to day: http://radar.cbslocal.com/wbz/WBZ_7DAY.jpg. So, if I put that on my desktop and set it to refresh, say, once per hour, I should get the updated 7-day forecast every day. You could do something similar with your favorite webcomic if they also keep the image name the same from day to day.

I don’t find myself using the “file” geeklet very often, but I’ve seen other users talk about keeping a to-do list in a text file and then using Geektool to display that on their desktop.

The uses for Geektool are only limited by your imagination and you aren’t limited to the utilitarian stuff I use. I’ve seen some very creative people make very dynamic computer desktops with Geektool.[2] Some even take advantage of the desktop wallpaper to interact with the geeklets, such as putting geeklet text on top of the image of a notebook as if it were written in it.

I’m always on the lookout for more cool geeklets so if you’ve come across any, be sure to let me know.


  1. The Terminal is a program on the Mac that provides access to the command line, a means of controlling the computer through typed text commands. The command line on the Mac gives access to the original, underlying UNIX operating system that lies at the heart of the Mac operating system and is extremely powerful.  ↩
  2. A few examples: AppStorm: Over 46 Powerful Geeklets and Scripts for the Geek Within You  ↩

Automating your Mac with Keyboard Maestro

Keyboard Maestro
Keyboard Maestro

As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of automation; specifically I’m a fan of automating my computer to streamline my workflows for efficiency. One of the newer tools I’m using on my Mac is Keyboard Maestro.

I’d originally used KM years ago and gave it up because of its then-limited functionality. It automated a few of the interface functions of particular software, but I couldn’t fit it in my way of working. But after hearing a recent episode of the Mac Power Users podcast in which they talked about all that KM could do today, I determined to give another try. I’m glad I did.

At it’s essence, KM waits for a particular condition to occur, or trigger and then takes an action or series of actions and this combination of trigger and action is called a macro.

The variety of possible triggers is astonishing.

  • Hot Key: for example, ⌘A
  • String of text: for example, any time you type, “Dom is awesome”.
  • A specific application launches, quits, is brought to the front
  • When you login or logout
  • When the computer wakes
  • On a timer or at a specific time
  • When a volume (hard disk, USB stick, CD/DVD, network drive, etc.) is mounted or unmounted
  • When a particular USB device is connected (or powered up) or disconnected (or powered down)
  • When connecting to a particular WiFi network
  • Even if you play a particular key on a MIDI keyboard
  • And more!

The variety of actions is even more impressive and I won’t go into all of them because it would take too much space. It would be better to give examples of the macros I’ve created. But first, to round out the basic feature set, KM makes it easy for you to share and get new macros from others. You can export and import individual macros or a whole macro library, which is a brilliant marketing move on Stairways Software’s part because it has created a rabid community of online users finding ever more amazing ways to use their product.

Examples

My personal macros range from the simple to the complex. One of the simplest is a macro that is triggered at the same time each morning to eject all my hard drives connected to my MacBook Pro before I leave for work. I have several drives for backups, clones, and network storage and it can be time consuming selecting each one and ejecting it and waiting for the computer to do its thing. Instead, about 15 minutes before I need to leave, the computer takes care of this for me. Likewise, at work, near the end of the day, all the drives I have there are automatically ejected.

I call another macro “Hotspot mode”. When I’m away from home or the office and I want to connect to the Internet through the hotpost feature of my phone, I don’t want to waste my data allowances on data transfers that can wait, like Backblaze backups, Dropbox updates, and the like. So I have a macro that detects when I connect to the wireless network called iPhone and then quits Dropbox, Tweetbot, Creative Cloud, Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, Transporter Desktop, and Backblaze. Then when the wireless network is disconnected, it restarts them all up again.

Another simple macro detects when my document scanner is turned on and then launches the scanner software. It quits the software when the scanner is turned off. Another detects when I’ve connected to the wireless network in the radio studio and mutes my Mac. There’s one that appends whatever I have selected anywhere on my computer into the currently selected Evernote note, very useful when I’m doing research.

I often use two different browsers, Safari and Chrome, and would like to see the current page in the other browser. I hit a keystroke combination and the currently open web page opens in the other browser.

Sometimes applications hide useful functions deep in the menus without keyboard shortcuts. KM lets me quickly create shortcuts. And if I’d like to combine the function of two different menu items, I can create a macro that does that.

Another useful aspect is that you can limit macros to only activate inside certain applications so you can use one key combination in, say, Mail, and the same combination in Safari to do two different things. It’s really very flexible and powerful you’re mainly limited by your imagination.

Resources

There are some very active communities of Keyboard Maestro users online. The first is KM’s own official Yahoo group, but my preferred is the slightly broader focused Mac Automator community on Google+. If you have questions or an idea, post it there and you’re sure to get some help or encouragement.

Keyboard Maestro is a powerful tool and it can be a bit confusing to learn at first. Don McAllister offers a screencast video that walks you through the interface and shows the basics of how to create a macro. Or you can find several more videos by others on YouTube as well.

My 10 Tips and Tricks for Using Evernote

hero_evernote

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Evernote, the web service with mobile and computer software for recording everything. I’ve been using it for about six years now and it really has become my second brain, storing everything from receipts to articles clipped from the web to every social media update I post.

Here are some of the ways I use Evernote. I won’t claim to be using it the most efficiently or that there’s some secret mojo here, but maybe I can give some ideas to others.

1. Your secret email address

Every Evernote account comes with a unique secret email address and anything sent to that address gets saved to your notebooks. I often add it as a BCC for emails to people with whom I’m working on a project.[1] Or I forward emails to it that I want to save like receipts or emails about projects.

2. Keep your Inbox at the top

When you set up Evernote you specify a default notebook where notes that don’t have a designated notebook end up. I choose to name mine Inbox, but I go further by putting ‘@’ before Inbox so that it sorts to the top of any alphabetical listing.

3. Takeout history

I have a notebook called Takeout Orders that I share with Melanie. Whenever we order takeout from someplace, this is where I record our order. On the one hand, it’s a handy place to jot down what we want and if I’m picking up the order I can refer to Evernote on my phone to make sure we got everything. But it’s also very handy as a record of what we’ve got so that when Melanie says, “What did I get last time that I really liked?”, I can just read it off to her. It’s also a record of how often and the last time we ordered from any particular place.

I also use this notebook to store scanned takeout menus as well as the receipts for our favorite Chinese restaurant’s reward points system so we know if we can get that free appetizer this time.

4. Appliance manuals

We used to have a file cabinet drawer nearly full of product manuals for every appliance and consumer electronics device and other products we owned[2], but it was an undisciplined mess and a waste of space. It turns out that with a little Google-fu you can find PDF versions of nearly every product’s manual on the market today, which I download and place in an Evernote notebook cleverly named Product Manuals.

If I can’t find the manual online, I tear it apart and feed it through the document scanner and save it as a PDF.

The bonus is that when I need to consult the manual, I just search Evernote for “manual” and “vacuum” for example and up it comes, whether it’s part of the text I typed or text in an image.

Evernote-ProductManuals-2

5. IFTTT and Evernote

IFTTT (If This, Then That) is a web service that allows you to connect a variety of other web services in unique ways. I won’t get into too much detail about IFTTT, but I’ve created several Evernote-related “recipes”.

For example, I use the email app Mailbox on my iPhone and iPad to quickly sort through email. When I encounter an email that I want to save to Evernote, I put it in the “Add to Evernote” list, which in my Gmail account is a label called “Add to Evernote”. IFTTT is watching that label and when it sees an email there, it creates a new note in Evernote for it.[3]

Another set of recipes create an archive of all my social media updates. Since you never know when Facebook or Twitter or any of the rest of the social networks will get bought out/disable your account for some spurious reason/experience data loss, etc., you can’t rely on them to keep an historical archive of your pithy bon mots. This is not merely frivolous self-indulgence if you ever find yourself needing to prove exactly what you said and when you said it.[4] So all of my Instagrams, all my Facebook updates, all my tweets, all tweets that I’ve favorited, every Foursquare check-in. Likewise, I can send an RSS feed to Evernote and so every new post on my blog is archived too.

Everenote-IFTTT-2

6. Hello and business cards

I don’t get lots of business cards, but I get some and especially when I go to an event like the Catholic New Media Conference or last year’s Catholic Media Conference I end up with lots. In the past, those cards ended up in a drawer and if I later wanted to contact somebody, I had to go digging, but now with Evernote, it’s much more automated.

I like using the Evernote Hello app on my iPhone to quickly enter all the relevant information into the Contacts app, which syncs everywhere, and find other information about the person on social networks. You can either enter the info by hand or better, take a photo of their business card and let the app pull it apart and put it in the appropriate fields. Then it looks to LinkedIn to pull in whatever data wasn’t on the card, including profile photo, to flesh it out.

Hello is also nifty in that it looks at your current location and what’s on your calendar right now to associate the contact within a context. For example, if you’ve put a banner on your calendar that you’re at XYZ Conference and the phone locates you at the Convention Center in Anytown, then Hello will make a note on your contact that effect, helping you remember later where you met so and so. Even if you don’t scan the cards until you’re back home, you can manually set the location and event.

The contacts also end up in your main Evernote database in a notebook of your choosing, which lets you find them in searches.

Evernote-Hello-2

7. Tables of contents

If you select a whole bunch of notes in Evernote, you get several options, including an option to create a table of contents. This makes a new note that containts a list of all the notes you’ve selected which are themselves link to the original note. It can be very handy as an index, like in the old days of paper files when a list of the contents of the file would be staped to the inside of the manila folder, for example.

To make this even more useful, click the button to set a reminder on the Table of Contents note (don’t bother setting a notification date) and now a link to the TofC note will be permanently at the top of the notebook list, or at least until you clear the reminder.

Evernote-ToC-2

8. Reminders don’t have to be dated

Speaking of reminders, I use them as a way to keep active notes sorted at the top of a notebook. I have a notebook I use for planning my radio show’s topics and guests. When I’m still actively working on a show, I set an undated reminder on it so it shows in the special reminders list. Once the show is past or I abandon the topic, I clear the reminder and it’s gone from the list while remaining in its place in the notebook.

Evernote-Reminders-8

9. Public shared notebooks for clients and customers

I have a shared notebook which I use as a repository for web clippings that I want to share with folks who work in Catholic social media at parishes and ministries in the Archdiocese of Boston. I have linked to that notebook on my office’s website. Someday I would like to create a widget that shows the titles of the most recent five items I’ve added to the notebook.

10. Private shared notebooks for family

Melanie and I have a couple of shared notebooks for our household needs. We have one called Shopping that includes several notes for different kinds of shopping lists: groceries, hardware store, clothing, etc. We also put birthday wishlists for the kids in there. Another is called Household ToDo and Wishlist, which holds notes related to various chores that need to be done, projects we’d like to do, articles about home repair and DIY, etc. Either one of us can add to the notes as we see something that needs to be done or we’d like to do.

Another notebook contains various kinds of information about the kids that either of us may need to access, whether it’s clothing sizes or medical information. Still another notebook has all our favorite recipes.

So that’s ten random tips and tricks for Evernote that I use all the time, but there are many more which I may truck out in a follow up post sometime. What are your favorite Evernote tips and tricks?


  1. Only BCC (blind carbon copy) as opposed to CC because you want to keep this address secret. Any email sent to this address will end up in your Evernote notebooks.  ↩

  2. Not to mention quite a few we didn’t own anymore since cleaning out the drawer when we tossed old or broken stuff wasn’t a high priority.  ↩

  3. I do the same thing for a Mailbox list called “Add to Omnifocus”. Any email put in there gets added to the Omnifocus inbox to become part of my todo list.  ↩

  4. Unfortunately Twitter has removed the ability for outside services to access what other people tweet so the conversations it records are one-sided.  ↩

Better iPhone Audio for My Commute

iphonerammount1

I used to spend a lot more time in my car each day than I do now. When we lived further from my office, I would spend an hour in the morning and as much as two hours in the afternoon commuting back and forth to work, but now we’re just 15 minutes from work and perhaps 30 minutes when there’s traffic.

How does one stay sane while sitting in the car all that time? I know that most people listen to the radio, but I get bored by that. I prefer podcasts, lots of podcasts of many types, from economics to politics to general interest to Macintosh to productivity to, of course, Catholic. Because I have an older car, a 2000 Honda Civic, my options for playing the podcasts have always been somewhat limited. Back in the beginning, I connected my iPod–and later my iPhone–to a cassette adapter to play them through the car’s stereo. But that’s always been a second-best option and more so now since the stereo’s speakers are really going and sound awful.

So I thought I’d share a little of how I make listening to audio in my car work today. It all starts with the iPhone and an app called Downcast. (I wrote about Downcast a couple of years ago.) I have it set to download update my list of podcasts each day automatically before I get in the car. It does it again when I leave work through the use of the iPhone’s built-in geofencing features that Downcast accesses.

iphonerammount2

Rather than leave my iPhone sitting on the car seat where it can slide all over the place when I’m driving around, I use a mount to keep it in place and at hand. There are all kinds of iPhone mounts available on the market. Some of them clip to your air vents, but I’ve found that blocks the air and you can redirect the air flow. Others go in your cup holder, but then you’re out a cup holder and plus my cup holders are in an awkward location. Most either attach to the dashboard or to the windshield via suction cups. I’ve had back luck with those, mainly because the suctions cups refuse to stay attached, especially when it’s either very hot or very cold out. But I’ve finally found one brand that works very well.

RAM Mounting Systems sells a complete line of mounting products to all kinds of customers, including police forces, and they can mount anything in vehicles from laptops to fishing rods to GPS’ to phones and tablets. There are a couple of options, but the best one is the Universal X-Grip, [Amazon link] which has two spring-loaded arms that will grip just about any phone, whether or not it’s in a case. The way RAM Mount works is that you choose the working end that holds the device and then select the other bits and pieces that make it work for your car. In my case, I got two articulating ball-and-socket arms and suction cup window mount. (You can also get bicycle arms mounts, plates for attaching to surfaces with screws, and arm that attaches to the passenger seat frame rail and more.)

I know I said suction cups have not worked for me in the past, but this one is different. This is one tough and durable and solidly built suction cup. It’s not perfect, but it stays attached long after lesser suction cups have refused to stay attached. If you haven’t experienced the fun of your phone falling off the windshield at your feet while driving on the highway, let me tell you that you haven’t lived. As long you keep the windshield glass clean under the suction cup, you’re good to go.

I keep the iPhone mounted just to the left of the steering wheel, close enough that if I reach out with my pointer finger from the place I normally keep my hands on the wheel, I can operate the phone quite easily. This has been great and keeps distraction to a minimum.

logitechspeaker

Because I don’t use my stereo for playback, I need something other than the phone’s built-in speaker to listen. I used to have a small cheap speaker that connected via a headphone cable, but the cable was so short that it made keeping the speaker in a convenient place difficult and it just didn’t sound very good. So I moved up a little bit to a Bluetooth speaker, specifically the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox, which not only works as a speaker, but also as a speakerphone. This has been a rock-solid addition. The battery life is great, going weeks before needing a recharge and setting up the Bluetooth was very easy. If there’s any negative about it, I could wish it could go a littler louder because when I’m driving with the windows open the wind noise can drown out some of the speaking voices in the podcasts.

I keep this right in front of me on the instrument cluster, in front of the tachometer. Since the Honda is an automatic, I never look at the tach anyway. And because it’s Bluetooth, I no longer have a dangerous headphone wire snaking around and through the steering wheel to potentially get tangled.

ipadrammount

Finally, I did also get a RAM Mount for my iPad. There have been times when I wished I had a larger display for, say, Maps when navigating to a new address, and so being able to mount my iPad in view is very useful. The mount I got isn’t available anymore and that’s probably for good reason since I ended up breaking the mount while trying to get my iPad in and out of it, which is better than breaking the iPad, I guess. They’ve since re-designed this style and at about $20 on Amazon it’s a good deal, but they’ve also recently added a version of the X-Grip, which should work beautifully but costs three times as much at $66 on Amazon! (There’s also a $20 X-Grip for 7" tablets. The cost of having being popular.)

As I was taking photos for this post, I had to manhandle the iPad out of the mount and this retaining pin broke off.
As I was taking photos for this post, I had to manhandle the iPad out of the mount and this retaining pin broke off.

Keep in mind, as well that you need to add in the price of the other components, so you’re looking at about $50 total for the mount. It sounds like a lot I suppose, but when you’re in your car every day, how much are you willing to pay for your sanity and for the safety of not blindly flailing for your phone that fell off the windshield or slid off the seat?

In any case, this setup make at least my comute at little more pleasant every day.

Favorite Mac OS X Apps of 2011

At the end of every year there is inevitable cavalcade of articles and posts listing “The Year’s Best of X”, where X is some category of stuff. At the risk of adding to the noise of such writing, I have been inspired to catalog my favorite software of 2011 for both Mac OS X and iOS (i.e. iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches.) This post is for OS X apps.

To be clear, this is not a list of my favorite software of all time, just those that I either first acquired this year or were released this year. All of them are apps I continue to use on a regular basis and have become a part of my normal workflow.

Mac OS X Lion and the Mac App Store

Mac OS X Lion Let’s start with the foundation. In 2011, Apple released the latest version of its Mac OS X operating system, 10.7 Lion. There were a number of improvements in Lion that I immediately adopted wherever I could use them, including full-screen applications; Resume, which re-opens the apps you last had open when you restart your Mac and re-opens the documents you last had open when you re-open your apps; Autosave and Versions, which only work in Apple’s own apps so far; Air Drop, that lets you transfer files wirelessly within your network; and so on. Of course, there were some “improvements” that weren’t so welcome, including Launchpad, Mission Control, and the removal of always-visible scroll bars. Among the biggest changes, though, was iCloud, which lets me sync all kinds of data among all my Macs and iOS devices. Likewise iTunes Match is so big, it might merit its own entry on this list. For $25 per year, I get high-quality versions of all my music for streaming and/or downloading on all my devices everywhere: home Mac, work Mac, iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, and so on. I no longer have to remember to synchronize my Christmas music playlist to my phone in December—It’s just there already!

A related piece of software also makes my list this year: the new Mac App Store. For the first time, there is an authoritative place to find and download Mac software, both free and commercial. In fact, much of the software on this list can be found there. The best part of the Mac App Store is that you only need to buy a piece of software once and the license allows you to install it on all your Macs, In addition, all upgrades are done automatically through the App Store. No more wondering if you have the latest version and scouring sites like MacUpdate for updated software. On the other hand, the restrictions Apple imposes on software in the Mac App Store prevent many very useful utilities from being able to be included. However, there’s nothing preventing such software from being downloaded independently of the App Store and installed yourself, so it’s the best of both worlds as long as Apple doesn’t change that ability.

The rest of the list is in no particular order:

Spotify

Spotify

It’s been a good year for music lovers on the Mac. Before Apple made iTunes Match available, earlier this year Mac users in the US finally got access to Spotify, a service that allows you to listen to any of the millions of songs in their library for free (with a small catch) and even create and share playlists of music with friends, on blogs, and on social networks. The small catch is that the free music is only available on Mac and Windows computers. In order to listen to music on portable devices like iPhones, iPod touches, iPads, Android phones and tablets and more, you have to buy a Spotify subscription for $10 per month. That $10 gives you access to their entire catalog wherever you go, which is nice, but if you stop paying you then lose access to all that music. I prefer to own my music, which is why I don’t have a Spotify subscription. (I buy from iTunes or Amazon MP3.)

Instead, I use Spotify as a preview for music I might want to buy and as a way to discover new music. If I hear of a new artist or song or album, I can listen in Spotify to full tracks, instead of the short previews you get in iTunes or Amazon MP3. You can also see what your Facebook friends are listening to on Spotify as well. One caveat is that like many free services, you have to endure occasional ads. These short audio ads play every fourth song or so.

Piezo

Sticking with our audio theme for a moment, a new app from one of the best Mac software developers around just came out and has already made my list. Piezo by Rogue Amoeba is a simple but elegant audio recording app, so simple in fact that it has two buttons. First, you select your source, whether it’s the Mac’s microphone or one of your apps like the DVD player or QuickTime Player or Spotify. (You might see the implications of this ability right there.) Second, hit record in Piezo and play in the source. Then when it’s done, hit the record button again and you now have a file on your computer. If you want a little more control, you can change what kind of recording it makes, but that’s about all. Now if you have more serious needs like timed recordings or autostart and stop or filters, then you’ll likely want Piezo’s more capable (and more expensive) cousin, Audio Hijack Pro.

Fantastical

FantasticalOn a more productive level, Fantastical from Flexibits has become invaluable for entering and tracking calendar events. The program lives in your menu bar and when it’s called, you start typing your new calendar event in natural language: “Meeting with Joe at Panera on Saturday at 10am.” Fantastical then parses your words and puts each piece in the correct box so that you just have to hit enter and — BAM! — you have a new entry in your calendar. Fantastical supports both iCal and BusyCal (my preferred calendar software) and even shows you a preview of your calendar events for the next couple of days or other period.

 

Moom

Moom This is a tiny piece of software, but oh, so practical. Moom by Many Tricks hardly has any visible footprint on your Mac until you hover, but don’t click, your cursor over the green zoom button in the window controls of any window on your Mac. A small translucent window pops up that allows you to both move and change the size of the current window. This is especially useful when you have multiple windows open that you want to place so that you can see more than one or copy and paste or something like that. You can either click on one of the preset positions/sizes or choose your own by clicking and dragging over the grid. It may seem a bit pricy at $5 for what it does, but use it for a few days and you’ll begin to think it’s a bargain.

Yoink

YoinkYoink (where do they come up with these names?) from Eternal Storms is another one-trick pony, but it’s a useful trick. It’s a temporary holding place for files or folders that you’re moving from one place to another. On Windows, you can copy a group of files and paste them elsewhere, but on Mac OS X, you have to drag them, which can be a pain as you navigate several layers of folders while trying not to let go out of the mouse button. With Yoink, you drag the file(s) to the translucent Yoink pad that pops up as soon as you start dragging. Then, once you’ve got the destination folder open, drag them from the Yoink landing pad.

This is much like a particularly useful feature of the massive Finder replacement app, Path Finder, which I used to use but eventually gave up on because it was a bit unwieldy and taxing on the system. Yoink yoinks this nice feature out of Path Finder and makes it stand alone.

 

 

ScreenFloat

ScreenFloatAlso from Eternal Storms is my next pick, ScreenFloat. Often when I’m learning a new Photoshop or web design skill, I follow along with a tutorial I’ve found online. Unfortunately, I will find myself having to keep swapping between programs because their windows are overlapping and Moom won’t help because I need the windows to stay large for some reason. That’s where ScreenFloat comes in. With it I can take screen shots of windows or parts of windows and then have those shots float over everything else. It’s especially useful, for example, with Photoshop dialogs where I have to set many different values to accomplish a particular effect. You can have one or many shots floating at once and the program can store them in collections (say related to a particular task) or smart collections where they are group by rule-based criteria.

 

Marked

Marked Another small and focused app (detecting a theme?) is Marked from Brett Terpstra. I do most of my writing in TextMate, a powerful text editor, using a markup language called Markdown. Rather than writing and editing everything in HTML, which leaves all kinds of difficult-to-read code and tags to wade through, I use Markdown to write and edit and then when I’m done, I use a command in TextMate to convert to HTML. Thus this …

![Marked](http://cl.ly/CjtE/Marked.jpg “Marked”)Another small and focused app (detecting a theme?) is [Marked](http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/marked/id448925439?mt=12) from [Brett Terpstra](http://markedapp.com/). I do most of my writing in [TextMate](http://macromates.com/), a powerful text editor, using a markup language called [Markdown](http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/). Rather than writing and editing everything in HTML, which leaves all kinds of difficult-to-read code and tags to wade through, I use Markdown to write and edit and then when I’m done, I use a command in TextMate to convert to HTML.

… becomes …

<p><img src=“http://cl.ly/CjtE/Marked.jpg” alt=“Marked” title=“Marked” /> Another small and focused app (detecting a theme?) is <a href=“http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/marked/id448925439?mt=12”>Marked</a> from <a href=“http://markedapp.com/”>Brett Terpstra</a>. I do most of my writing in <a href=“http://macromates.com/”>TextMate</a>, a powerful text editor, using a markup language called <a href=“http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/”>Markdown</a>. Rather than writing and editing everything in HTML, which leaves all kinds of difficult-to-read code and tags to wade through, I use Markdown to write and edit and then when I&#8217;m done, I use a command in TextMate to convert to HTML.</p>

However, it’s sometimes useful to preview what I’m writing to be sure it’s going to look right. I could convert back and forth between Markdown and HTML and then open it in a browser, but that’s cumbersome. TextMate has a built in previewer, but Marked is better. For one thing, it updates in real-time every time I save my document. For another, I can set up multiple custom CSS stylesheets so that the preview looks like the eventual web page it will post to.

Reeder

ReederThe final entrant on this list is Reeder from Silvio Rizzi. I’ve used RSS readers for years, most faithfully Netnewswire, which in its later incarnation synchronized with Google Reader.

But once I got an iPad, I began using Reeder for iPad, which is the best implementation of an RSS reader that takes advantage of the unique properties of multitouch-based computing. It’s a smooth and intuitive process. So when Reeder for the Mac came out, I wanted to see if that same intuitiveness translated to the Mac, whose own strengths are somewhat different from the iPad. And it did.

The process of moving through feeds and entries and folders is just so easy as is the integration with external services like Instapaper and Evernote and social networks. It’s also been optimized for OS X Lion’s multitouch gestures and full-screen view. And the synchronizing with Google Reader is fast and easy. Well, worth the price.

So that’s my list. I’ve installed other applications and utilities this year, some I continue to use and others that have fallen by the wayside, but these are the standouts. I look forward to seeing what comes next year, but judging by this list, one thing’s for sure: a lot of it will be coming through the Mac App Store.

So what are your favorite Mac apps that came out in 2011?

 

App review: Downcast podcast management and playback

Downcast playlists

I’ve been listening to podcasts on various iPods and iPhones since 2005. My first podcast was SQPN’s The Catholic Insider with Fr. Roderick, listening to him walk through the snow outside his parish church and then entering to the sound of a choir singing Bach’s Passion of St. Matthew. It was beautiful and stirring that I had to hear more and I was hooked from that moment on.

Podcasts have become one of my primary means of entertainment and education. I regularly listen to more than 20 different audio podcasts plus another handful of video podcasts. The topics range from Catholic content to self-help to humor to Mac/iOS to pop culture to news to economics and on and on. These podcasts became my lifeline when I was commuting more than an hour each way, morning and evening, sometimes keeping me sane when traffic kept me on the road for two hours. Lately, they accompany me at work and while I’m doing work in the yard.

I’ve always used the built-in, Apple-supplied apps for listening to them and iTunes to download and manage them. It’s never been ideal, but it’s done the job. But now, I think I’ve found a new app that will once again revolutionize my podcast listening.

Downcast downloading

The app is called Downcast and it’s available for $1.99. Here’s how it improves on the podcast experience.

First, I no longer have to keep any of the files in iTunes on my computer taking up hard drive space. And once I’ve listened to an episode, I no longer have to remember to delete it from the computer. Best of all, I don’t have to sync the iPhone or iPad to my computer to get new podcasts.

Downcast lets me subscribe to podcasts, either with the feed URL if I know it (perhaps copying it from an email or website) or by searching an internal directory of podcasts. That worked fine for me, finding all of my podcasts with ease. It then downloads the podcasts in the background with an option to download only over WiFi, a good option in these days of bandwidth limits by wireless providers.

Downcast will add new podcasts as they download and delete ones I’ve listened to already if I’ve set the preferences that way. Other preferences allow me to download only the most recent podcast automatically (so I don’t have to fill my iPhone’s hard drive), but also download other individual episodes manually. I can tell it to play continuously, starting the next podcast when the current one finishes; and prevent my screen from locking while the app is open so I can pause and restart with ease.

Downcast playlists

The app allows me to set up smart playlists, grouping my podcast episodes and sorting them in various ways. I have four playlists at the moment: All, Mac (for all my Mac-related shows); SQPN (for all the shows from the SQPN network); and Weekly (for all the shows that update weekly or more often and thus need to be listened to first.)

The player controls are very nice as well, allowing me to skip ahead 30 seconds or two minutes at a time (for when Leo Laporte does one of his never-ending commercials in the MacBreak Weekly podcast) or back 15 seconds or 30 seconds, if my attention has wandered and I need to hear it again. (The iPhone’s built-in player only does the 30-second back-skip.) And while the iPhone can play the podcast at double-speed (good for powering through a whole bunch of podcasts in my now 15-minute commute) or at half-speed, Downcast can play at half-speed, double-speed, and one-and-a-half-speed for those times when a speaker has an accent and double-speed is too fast.

Downcast is a universal app so it has interfaces tailored to both the iPhone and the iPad. The iPad version has a very nice layout, putting everything right in sight without drop-down interfaces or panes or menus (I’m not sure what Apple calls them) for the various functions. I don’t listen to podcasts on my iPad, but I assume it works just as well.

Downcast for iPad

If you’re a podcast listener, whether casually or as a power user, it’s worth your while to check out Downcast.