Category Archives: Software

Simplenote revisions, you SAVED us!

Last week, I created a new item to document notes, ideas, and tasks for the move to our new place. I’ve shared it with Amy so she can refer and add to it.1

Yesterday, she got distracted, selected all the text by accident, and typed some gibberish — wiping out all the text about our new place.

(I estimate the damage was worth writing and brainstorming for a couple of hours.)

Fortunately, Simplenote — like most excellent products and services — includes revision history.

Yay! :)


  1. I think it’s time to split things up into separate notes. 
About these ads

Mac menu bar minimalism with Bartender

I bought a copy of Bartender for these features:

  • “Show an app in the menu bar when it updates.”
  • “Menu bar apps still work the same.”
  • Minimalism.

It’s also easy to adjust its settings.

I hope Apple acquires them for direct integration with OS X. (Yes, Windows XP had some of these features.)

Fifteen dollars to help me focus? You got it. I should’ve tried it sooner.

Disclaimer: This is an unsolicited post, and I purchased the app with my money.

How Things makes me even more awesome

Things 2 screenshotAround nine months ago, Isaac Keyet persuaded me to try Things for Mac by Cultured Code. I usually prefer plain text, but that’s too simple for the stuff I jot down.

With keyboard shortcuts galore, I quickly fell in love with this app. It costs $49.99 for Mac, $9.99 for iPhone, and $19.99 for iPad — and it’s worth every penny. I’ll explain how I manage tasks with Things.

At work

At Automattic, we communicate internally through IRC, private P2–themed sites, and Skype. However, I do receive email notifications regularly because it helps with my workflow.

At the beginning and end of each shift, my routine consists of processing my email (new post or comment notifications), and reviewing IRC or Skype messages I missed when I was offline. I skim messages, open batches of five to ten browser tabs, and delete the corresponding emails.

When I come across a post that requires more digging (i.e. longer than a minute), I press Control–Option–Space bar to use Quick Entry, which automatically inserts a link in the notes. That item gets saved to Things. (Inbox, by default.)

Without moving my hands from the keyboard, I can enter a title and tags for the item. When I’m done, pressing Return saves the item in Things and the Quick Entry window disappears, leaving me where I left off.

If there’s a block of text that’s perfect for the notes, highlighting it before pressing the Quick Entry with Autofill keyboard shortcut adds it to the notes after the link.

I also sort my Inbox items into Next or Scheduled after processing email. (This might be against GTD methodology, but I equate the Scheduled focus to my digital tickler file.)

If I have an idea that isn’t linked to a webpage or email, or if someone pings me and I can’t get to them right away, I can press the Quick Entry keyboard shortcut (Control–Space bar) and jot it down in seconds.

It’s exhilarating to know that I’m not missing anything as long as it’s in Things (or my calendar, of course).

Pro tip: Read through the keyboard shortcuts a few times, or print it as a reminder. I’ve been using my trackpad too much.

Not at “work”

Away from my desk, I can write new items or ideas quickly with Things for iPhone. I add items from the Things home screen, saving to the Inbox by default.

When I get home, I add additional context (tags, notes). If I’m browsing a site or Twitter, and something piques my interest, I’ll take the extra few seconds to copy the URL in my clipboard to paste in the item notes.

I used their mobile app with local sync via Wi-Fi (before cloud sync), and I think it’s superb now that cloud sync works perfectly.

Wading through tasks

I’m infatuated with tags, making sure I assign the correct one for each item. By doing this, my Next screen is super focused, allowing me to ignore stuff I can’t handle at the moment. Here are a few examples:

  • At work, my Automattic tag allows me to ignore errands and tasks I need to do at home. (Tag management side note: computer is a parent tag, while Automattic is a child tag since I’m in front of a computer when working.)
  • My home tag removes items I need to do at home and away from a computer.
  • My errand tag focuses my view to tasks when I’m out and about.

Relevancy

This process allows me to batch tasks. I’m not constantly changing gears between P2s, Trac, updating support pages, helping people using WordPress.com through email/forums, processing photos, or writing posts (like this one).

I’m also not worried about forgetting the context of an item. I add just enough notes to describe what needs to be done.

Conclusion

If you work on a Mac every day, you should check out the 15–day free trial. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it.

Thank you, Things, for keeping me sane. :)

Switching to wireless delivery from Instapaper for my Kindle 3G

For months, I’ve been using Wordcycler (Windows, freeware) to manually sync individual items from Instapaper to my Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi via USB cable. Now that I have a smaller number of articles to read, I’m going to try receiving new items via Wi-Fi through Instapaper.

I’ll also start trying Instapaper’s Send to Kindle bookmarklet for immediate delivery (Account > Manage My Kindle Settings).

If this works well, it’ll be fantastic not having to connect my Kindle to my computer every few days. I’d only need to worry about charging it.

Pronto writing in six steps

I don’t like hand writing as much as typing simply because I’m a slow writer. The faster I write, the less legible my words become.

It’s incredibly easy to get going with a MacBook Air (Oct 2010), especially since it wakes up from sleep so quickly.

Mac OS X on my MacBook Air

  1. Open lid.
  2. Enter password.
  3. Press Command + Spacebar to activate Spotlight (or whichever keyboard shortcut used to activate Quicksilver , LaunchBar, or Alfred App), type “Bean” or whichever text editor/word processor you use, then press Enter.
  4. Frantically type whatever thoughts are spewing from your mind.
  5. Command + S to save your document, then Command + Q to quit your text editor program.
  6. Close lid.

Windows 7

You can type the program name after pressing the Windows key.

Once you’re done writing, Control + S to save your document, then Alt + F4 to close the program.

Software

Which programs do I use to write? The following are essentially free simple text editing programs, designed with minimal features so you can focus on writing. If you like any of them, please donate to the developers.

I save these small text files to a dedicated folder within Dropbox[1. Affiliate link to Dropbox. "For every friend who joins and installs Dropbox, we'll give you 500 MB and your friend 250MB of bonus space (up to a limit of 16 GB)!"] only for text files, with a specific prefix to help me find it later. (e.g. BP means blog post in “BP – Pronto writing in six steps.txt”.)

Why not use Microsoft Word, Apple iWork Pages, or OpenOffice.org Writer? If you’re only working with plain text, you don’t need the extra features and bloat.

If you don’t know the HTML tags for post formatting, copy your text[2. Select All for: (Windows) Ctrl+A; (Mac OS X) Command+A], paste it[3. Paste for: (Windows) Ctrl+V; (Mac OS X) Command+V] into your blog post, then format and/or add links accordingly.

Hello, MacBook Air (and Mac OS X)

After much consideration, I finally bought a MacBook Air. It’s my first Mac.

I chose the 11-inch model with a 1.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of memory, and 64 GB of SSD flash storage.

PowerMax got my money, not MacMall

I almost bought my Mac from MacMall. But, when I got to the payment step, the math wasn’t correct. The MacBook Air, USB ethernet adapter[1. I bought the USB ethernet adapter just in case.], shipping, and tax didn’t add up to the estimated subtotal (which was six dollars more).

Next, I stumbled onto Oregon-based PowerMax. Their site was visually much more pleasant. After over an hour of reading through their company information about pages, warranty information, and plenty of good feedback, I made my purchase.

Another bonus: I saved on sales tax and opted for free shipping.

After two days of processing and six days in transit, it finally arrived. Thanks PowerMax!

By the way, I finally heard back from MacMall. It took four business days (six days total). While I explicitly stated I did not want to order over the phone, the MacMall Account Executive replied:

If you call my extension I will be able to place the order for you with the correct price.

Wow. No explanation about the math error. That’s a shame.

Setting it up

Opening the box was an elegant experience. I wasn’t rushing. I couldn’t help but snap a few photos.

I’ve been following the directions and suggestions from “How to Switch to the Mac” by Tao of Mac. To minimize any botched accounts, creating a standard user after creating the first Administrator user was stated several times in the article. Once I got that out of the way, and skimmed through the booklet, I was ready to get going.

I updated from Mac OS X 10.6.5 to 10.6.6, plus a slew of other updates, totaling 529 MB. That took about 40 minutes. After rebooting my Mac, an iDVD 7.1.1 Update (36 MB) also needed to be installed.

Another security measure for working at public WiFi hotspots is to configure PPTP VPN to connect to my DD-WRT router at home. (See DD-WRT PPTP Server Configuration for Mac OS X. I needed to force encryption on my router. I should probably update my router firmware, then use OpenVPN.)

Third-party Software

I’ve installed the following:

  • Bean – My current alternative to Q10, a freeware minimal text editor for Windows.
  • Dropbox (referral link) – Now I really need to keep my Dropbox folder tidy, especially since I have a smaller amount of space than my desktop PC
  • F.lux – “It makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.” I’m a long time user.
  • Google Chrome
  • OpenOffice.org – It’s been fine not using Microsoft Word, and I don’t see the need to try iWork at the moment.
  • Synergy and SynergyKM – Allows me to use my keyboard and mouse on my PC to control my MacBook Air.
  • Thunderbird – I didn’t want to try Mail, and I’m used to Thunderbird from Windows.
  • Tofu – Column-ize text to make reading on a widescreen easier. It might come in handy when I’m not reading from Instapaper or Google Reader.
  • VLC
  • StartupSound.prefPane – So I don’t annoy the class with the Mac startup sound if I have to power on or reboot my Mac.

Performance

The boot and wake speeds are ridiculously fast:

  • Cold boot to login screen: 15 seconds
  • Log in to desktop: 7-8 seconds
  • Go to sleep: 2-3 seconds
  • Wake from sleep: 3-5 seconds

With Google Chrome, OpenOffice.org, Bean, Stickies, iCal, and Activity Monitor open, my system is using 1.66 GB of memory, leaving 2.34 GB free. I would be usually running Thunderbird, too, and possibly iTunes. The best part: the system feels incredibly snappy. (I don’t think it’s just cool and new to me. Honest!)

Easter Egg: If you’re on Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6), try holding Shift while clicking a stack or folder in your Dock for some slow, smooth opening action.

Other odds and ends

  • Copy my address book from Thunderbird on my PC.
  • Setup printing to my USB-connected HP LaserJet 1020 that’s shared from Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
  • Try MediaRover to sync my iTunes library. I’m not sure if I want to do this, but it depends on the size of my music library. I think it’s under 15 GB.

Why?

I wanted a MacBook Air since it was first released January 29, 2008. With the switch to SSD, it was even more tempting. I don’t need a lot of storage space this laptop won’t be my primary computer.

With a few textbooks, my messenger bag was already heavy. I didn’t want to carry a separate bag for my laptop, nor did I want to lug around one huge bag.

Furthermore, I’m not necessarily biased toward PC or Mac. I see strengths in both. While you can get a PC for much less than a MacBook Air with similar or better specs, it’s not all about specs. It’s a beautiful feeling to put my laptop to sleep in a couple seconds or less, then to jump back into my work much later without missing a beat.

The last six days

After reading Marco Arment’s thoughts on the 2010 MacBook Air, then trying the 11” MacBook Air at the Apple Store, I felt pretty confident that sacrificing screen size wouldn’t affect my usage. I love that it has a full-size keyboard.

So far, I’m extremely happy with it. I write, read (Google Reader or Instapaper), and check email. Speed isn’t a problem. Even right now, I’m typing this blog post from Bean while relaxing on my couch. The screen brightness is set at “4” and I can see everything on my screen pretty comfortably.

As I get accustomed to Mac OS X, you’ll probably start seeing related posts in the near future, so I’m stoked for another layer of diversity here.

If you have any articles for new Mac users, recommended software, or other usage tips, please leave them in the comments.