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Month: April 2013

Apps for Fever Update

Apps for Fever Update


Last week I published a post on the State of Play for Fever RSS and Apps, providing an overview of the iOS and OSX apps available to support Shaun Inman’s brilliant, self-hosted, RSS system Fever.

After a long period of little development on the app front, this last week has seen some exciting developments. I hope these new developments are a sign of things to come. I plan to review each of these separately over the next week or so, but thought a quick update would be worthwhile.

Fever Apps for Mac OSX

ReadKit – OSX (US$4.99)


ReadKit is a wonderful tool for Mac OSX, providing support for browser based reading and sharing services like Instapaper, Pocket, Pinboard and more, in a native app. It has already been an important part of my workflow for sometime, and the addition of support Fever in the beta of version 2 is an exciting development.

Whether you’re a Fever user or not, ReadKit should be a part of your reading workflow.

Fever Apps for iOS

Sunstroke – iOS Universal (US$4.99)


Sunstroke has displaced Reeder as my go-to Fever RSS app on iPhone, and since the release of version 1.4 last week, on iPad. Sunstroke has support for a wide range of social sharing and read later services (almost as wide as Reeder), and it has a gorgeous UI and a UX (user experience) that works best with my workflow.

At US$4.99 (A$5.49), Sunstroke is well priced as a universal app [1] and I suggest that this is the one iOS app for Fever, at this time. The developer is extremely responsive on App.net and Twitter.

Ashes – iOS Universal (US$5.99)


The Ashes app has been (re-) released as a universal app for iOS devices at an introductory price of US$5.99 (A$6.49). According to the website, it will increase to US$8.99 from 9 May. Ashes fully supports all native features of Fever, and has an elegant design. It is visually pleasing to use, and seems very stable.

At US$5.99 Ashes is appropriately priced for a niche product that supports both iPhone and iPad, and makes a good choice for someone wanting an all round app for Fever. The developer is actively talking to users on Twitter and App.net.

Reeder – iPhone (US$2.99)


Version 3.1 of Reeder for iPhone was released during the last week. This added support to the iPhone version of the app (which already supports Fever) for Feedbin.

Clearly the developer is focused on iPhone and Feedbin at this time, and so we will have to wait a while longer for iPad and OSX support for Fever. With apps like ReadKit and Sunstroke, this is no longer the problem it was only a week or so back.


  1. In the State of Play article, I mentioned that I thought Sunstroke was overpriced. Compared to Reeder as an iPhone only app, that stood. But for a universal app for iOS, the price is just fine!  ↩

Notetaking Symbology

Notetaking Symbology

Note Taking Symbology

Patrick Rhone today posted about his Dash/Plus System for taking notes. It is an elegant approach to capturing ideas, discussions and other items that might come up, and then working out whether they are an action (open or closed), a “waiting for” item, a delegated item, etc. I suggest you take a look at his post.


Patrick’s system is not unlike an approach I use when in meetings, or otherwise taking notes. Particularly “back in the day” when I managed a diverse group of people, it was important for me to quickly move from meeting to meeting, capture items that I needed to action, or that my people needed to action (because I was ultimately accountable for their action completion), and swiftly ensure those were “in a trusted system” and move on.

It’s important in these situations to ensure that your notetaking system is leakproof (as much as possible), and that you can quickly reference back to check on the status of an item.

In my case, I use(d) the following:

  • Square – a next action
  • Triangle – a project (in the GTD sense)
  • Inverted triange – a someday/maybe type of future project
  • Circle – a waiting for item (i.e. something that someone else might be responsible for delivering)

Any of the above with a cross through it simply means that it is “done”. Of course, it is important to capture who is responsible for a waiting for (delegated) item, and when they might need to deliver it.

I post this as a bit of a quick response to Patrick’s Dash/Plus System, but you may have noticed that I stated that “I use(d) the following” above. I think Dash/Plus is a little more elegant, and I think I’ll give that a go. There are two things I like about it

  1. First and foremost, separate items can be “captured” without “processing” on the fly. This means you can come back to the items at the end of a meeting, or at the end of the day, and process them into your organisation system.
  2. The separation of “waiting for” and “delegated” items. My first response was why, but I quickly realised the power of this. Waiting for means others are wholely responsible to deliver. Delegated means your team is responsible, which means that you continue to hold ultimate responsibility.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has a system for note taking symbology, like what I used, or the Dash/Plus System.

The De-Google-fying of my online life…

The De-Google-fying of my online life…

My Retreat from Google

A few weeks back I posted about my Return to Google following my move away from it in 2012. I have been growing increasingly wary of Google’s creepiness, especially relating to its free offerings and the fact that it is collecting enormous amounts of data which it uses to filter search results, and to sell to advertisers.

At the time, I had decided that I was perhaps overdoing things a little, so decided to allow Google back into my life in some areas, while spreading out my data. And using paid Google services where possible. Just 4 days later, Google announced the closure of Google Reader, along with discontinuation of several other services/products. I, like many users, was disappointed with this.

Inspired at least in part by Ben Brooks’ post You Can’t Quit, I Dare You, written in response to Marco Armant’s post Your favorite Thursday sandwich, I have taken on the challenge of De-Google-fying my online life to as a great an extent as is feasible. Marco made the provocative statement:

Want to really stick it to them? Stop using Google. All of it. Search, Gmail, Maps, the works. Delete your account and start using Bing. Ready?

Yeah. That’s the problem. You won’t. I won’t. Nobody will.

Now I would have to agree that it is virtually impossible to completely remove Google from your life, because they are ubiquotous and deeply embedded into so much of the online culture. But I think it is important that we pay careful attention to where we store our data, and what information we give freely (perhaps in return for a free service) to any single company or organisation.

For me, that means that I am de-Google-fying[1] to a large extent. Here’s where I am at so far:

Search


My preference is to use DuckDuckGo wherever possible due to its well regarded privacy policy. I have made it my default search in both Safari and Firefox. Firefox makes it easy to do so, by way of an extension. With Safari I had to edit the hosts file to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine.

My iOS devices now use Bing as the default engine. I have also installed and use a DuckDuckGo action for Drafts, and use the DuckDuckGo app for iOS.

Email

All of my email (from multiple domains) redirects into my Fastmail account – a paid service. As my Google Apps subsriptions expire, I will direct the domains directly into Fastmail, and bypass Google altogether. I no longer use Google for a front end. I also use the CloudPull app to grab all my historical data down from Google.

I am using Airmail as my front end email client on OSX, and the native iOS Mail app.

Calendars and Contacts

All have moved back to iCloud. I look forward to full 2 factor security for all iCloud data, along with all other Apple ID related services.

Documents

I wasn’t a huge user of Google Docs, at least in recent times, and instead use Dropbox and, to a lesser extent, iCloud. CloudPull has ensured that I have my historic documents.

RSS Reader

I have moved back to my own Fever installation. I had been using Fever for a while, but moved back to Google Reader due to the limited number of front end apps for Fever, particularly on OSX and for iPad. I am using the excellent Reeder app which supports Fever on iPhone[2], and I am using the browser interface on OSX and iPad for now. Rumour has it that Ashes app is being rebuilt to support Fever on all iOS devices[3].

RSS Feed Redirection

I have moved all of my website RSS feeds away from Feedburner to Maxime Valette’s uri.lv service. I’ve taken on a Premium account for the additional services, and so that I can support the developer.

Maps

Another easy one for me, at least on my iDevices. I’ve gone back to Apple Maps. They’ve improved in many areas, and it’s up to users to keep using and providing feedback so they continue to improve. I don’t use maps on desktop that much, and will probably use Google for that wherever needed. I’ll reconsier if and when Apple comes out with a true alternative.

Google Earth

I love this app, and do use it some of my training activities. I’ll probably keep using it. As a standalone app, it’s not really that connected to the big picture view of the data stream coming in.

Social Networking

I am not a big fan of Google+. In some respects G+ represents the essence of the so-called creepiness factor about Google. My social networks of choice are App.net and Twitter, and I rarely use Facebook or Google+, although I do have accounts.

G+ has some fantastic photo sharing capabilities, and some wonderful groups for photographers. With that said, Flickr is still my preferred photo sharing site.

The thing I do like about G+ is the hangouts. So I keep it around mostly just for that.

Youtube

I surf Youtube. I have a paid Vimeo account for hosting and sharing my own videos.

Browsers

I use Safari and Firefox as my browsers of choice. Neither are logged into any Google account. I use Chrome exclusively for Google, Google+ and Youtube.

Authenticator

Google provides an excellent app called Google Autheticator, which allows you to establish and access 2 factor passwords for a variety of services. At this time, I haven’t found an alternative that I feel comfortable switching to. Since I don’t have to logon to a Google account to use the app, it’s a standalone island on my iPhone. So I am not uncomfortable using it, as I don’t believe Google to be likely to gather or maliciously use this data.

AdSense

Played around with this some time back on a couple of my sites. I’d rather do selected, targeted promotions of offerings I like and use through referal programs and/or sponsorships.

Analytics

My sites are on Squarespace or are self-hosted WordPress sites. I get all the analytics I need from the built in Squarespace tools or the Jetpack analytics on WP.

AdWords

I have used these on occasion for my Karate Dojo in Sydney and my scuba instructor training courses. I probably will again.

Conclusion

It’s still early days, but I have already moved substantially away from Google. I feel comfortable that my data is more distributed, largely amongst service providers who are committed to providing quality products, at a fair price and with an appropriate level of security/privacy.

I am not trying to “stick it to” Google. For many years I was a major Google advocate, and in fact encouraged others to adopt Google services. I don’t regret this – it was the right choice at the time. But times, people and organisations change. They continue to do a lot of good things, but some fundamentals have changed, causing me to reconsider my own stance.

Gabe Weatherhead expressed his reasons for his move away from Google beautifully in his post Getting Off the Google Juide:

Why go to this effort? Is this a conspiracy? No. Google is just being true to their mission: provide ever increasing information to advertisers so as to increase adverting revenue. I just don’t feel like being part of that. I’d rather pay for anonymity and data privacy. Google has not earned my trust and Apple, DuckDuckGo and Wolfram have.

I am simply (and similarly) taking ownership of my own data and online identity. In so doing, I want to to support providers who support users, and who have “earned my trust”. I hope others will consider these factors and make appropriate decisions. For those that choose free products, from Google or any company, I would encourage them to consider the true price of free.

I’d be interested to hear your views – are you de-Google-fying? To what extent? What apps/services have you adopted to replace Google services? Let me know in the comments.


  1. I am not trying to create a new word using a Google trademark. I’ll leave that to the Swedes
Quick Site Update

Quick Site Update

Just a couple of quick notes about the Des Paroz On The Go website.

  1. Firstly, I’ve moved the site over to Squarespace. I have been planning to do this for a while, and finally bit the bullet. This is the third site I personally have on Squarespace, plus I manage two others hosted there. It’s a very integrated service, and the native Markdown support is certainly a bonus. This is my first live site thats on Squarespace6. SS6 certainly provides a lot of additional flexibility and functionality, but does take some getting used to. I am getting to like it a lot.

  2. I’ve killed the old RSS feeds that were using Feedburner. I’ve moved away from the free Google offering to a paid offering at uri.lv. Looking good so far. All old feeds should be redirecting seamlessly. Let me know if you get any issues in the comments.

  3. I am moving my link blog back to a simple Pinboard setup. I have the latest 5 links in the sidebar here, or you can visit Des Paroz on Pinboard

Anyway, just some housekeeping, but hope it’s of interest.

Backing Up – Securing Your Files for the Present and the Future

Backing Up – Securing Your Files for the Present and the Future

Backing Up – Securing Your Files for the Present and the Future

In an increasingly paperless world more and more of our data is being digitised. While offering many opportunities, there are (at least) three challenges presented by this:

  1. Backup of data in case of loss or destruction of the host system;
  2. Accessibility of the data by others in the event of your inability to do so yourself; and,
  3. Usability of the data into the future (i.e. future-proofing).

Every inhabitant of the digital world needs to consider ensuring they maintain their data for now and into the future. This article addresses some of how I approach these tasks.

Over on SimplicityBliss, Sven Fechner recently outlined his comprehensive backup and emergency data access strategy for Mac.

Today I have not one, but effectively four different backups of my data. Three of them are always up-to-date, while the fourth one is the ‘nuclear event’ offsite contingency.

Sven has very ably outlined an approach that addresses the first two points in detail, and I’d suggest you read his article and digest his approach.

My own approach is not dissimilar, at least for three of the four levels described:

  1. Onsite backups with Time Machine (I use Time Capsule for MacBooks and an old Drobo for my iMac);
  2. Data in Dropbox (aff) and Evernote, protected with strong passwords and 2 factor authentication (Dropbox only for now). I am also playing with the Transporter for having my own distributed data.
  3. Cloud backup using Crashplan.

As for the third consideration – future-proofing – we need to think very seriously about whether the masses of data we’re producing daily today will be readable into the future. We have an unprecedented opportunity to capture data for future generations, but we have a responsibility to ensure they will be able to read it.

There are two aspects to this problem – the storage media and the format the data is stored in.

Try listening to an old mixtape you made on an actual cassette tape. I’d bet that most people couldn’t find a (working) cassette player in their house, so unless you drive an old car, you’re quite likely out of luck! Having as much stuff in the cloud as possible deals with at least the media part of the problem, as most cloud solutions will incrementally migrate their storage media, progressively over time. You should do the same at home.

As for the format, this is an equally important consideration. While it might be inconceivable that your current .doc, .jpg or .xls files might not be readable in decades to come, try opening an early 1990’s WordPerfect document. I dare you.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and have no idea as to what formats will be readable in the future. But my gut feel tells me this:

Storing your data in the most raw form possible gives you the best chance of being able to read it into the future

In other words, applying as few photographic enhancements as possible, or using little or no rich text formating is your best strategy for future proofing your data. If you’ve tried to “restore” an old photo, you’ll know you have more chance if you can use the original film (or negative) than if you use a print. If you’ve tried to scan old, heck, even read old text, you’ll know that the simpler the font the better.

My two main forms of data that I want to preserve are my photos and my writing.

I capture all photos in RAW format, and I keep the raw files of the keepers. Backed up.

This is also one of the benefits of having made the decision to write in plain text, using Markdown. Seriously, if you write and you don’t write in Markdown, go and learn more about it. It’s not difficult, and there’s even a great book to help you learn Markdown.

I only wish that I had started writing in plain text sooner. Some of my old writing is literally locked up on on 5.25" floppy disks in WordPerfect format. I have a project to do something about that.

We are in the digital era. Being productive in this era means backing, ensuring others can access if and when needed, and ensuring your data is available now and into the future. I urge everyone to consider an appropropriate backup startegy, including an offsite solution like Crashplan. I also suggest that you learn more about future proofing your data by using the simplest possible formats for storage, including Markdown for plaintext.

How do you backup? And how do you future proof your data?

Ulysses III: Slick new text editor from The Soulmen

Ulysses III: Slick new text editor from The Soulmen

Great new text editor from The Soulmen: Ulysses III

As anyone who reads this site regularly knows, I love writing in Markdown. It’s a writing syntax that is best described as a tool that allows me to focus on the writing, not the formatting.

For Markdown, there are a number of text editors and other tools to support. On OSX, I rely on nvALT for capturing ideas on the go, and starting an initial draft of something. I love Byword for the actual writing process, supported by Brett Terpstra’s Marked app to have live previews of the rendered code. I also like the excellent MultiMarkdown Composer, thought I do prefer the simple, clean layout of Byword.

On iOS I use Drafts and Notesy in a similar way to nvALT on OSX, and Byword as my main editor.

A new OSX app in this class called Ulysses III was released this week, and since its on sale and has had good reviews, I decided to grab a copy from the Mac App Store (A$20.99).

Right from the start it’s clear that this is an app built from the ground up for Markdown. Although it is the third generation of a very successful family of Mac based text editors, the developers warn existing users to treat this as a completely new app.

They are quite confident in their product, stating the following in one of the introductory “sheets” loaded into the app:

If you’re new to this, then please enjoy what we believe is the greatest text editor the world has ever seen. A blank slate powered by a toolset of endless possibilities, limited only by your imagination as a writer.

Like Byword (and similar apps such as iA Writer), Ulysses III presents a powerful distraction free writing environment. A blank sheet that is sorted in groups of sheets kept in a library. You can show/hide columns showing the Group or the Library+Group using hotkeys or menu commands.

Writing is straightforward, and the user interface is best characterised as described by MacSparky:

Ulysses III is gorgeous. The way it renders text and iterates on the three pane view is truly remarkable.

Essentially, the app gets out of your way and allows you to focus on the writing.

iCloud support is built in and even somewhat emphasised. I am sure that Dropbox support would be straightforward, but it wasn’t presented to me as an easy option in the setup phase.

Although I’ve long loved the promise of iCloud, it hasn’t really taken hold for me. I tend to agree with David Sparks that iCloud is at its best with plain text type apps, but since I tend to work across several different apps (Byword, Multimarkdown Composer, nvAlt, Notesy, etc), I need Dropbox to allow files to move easily between apps.

Of course, the creators of Ulysses III, the Soulmen, also have an iOS app called Daedelus Touch. This app, for both iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad, integrates with Ulysses III.

This article is the first thing I’ve written in Ulysses III, and the following are my initial impressions:

Pro’s

  • Beautiful, distraction free, writing environment
  • Variety of HUDs to bring up stats, export options, links to favourites, navigation (within the sheet) and even syntax assistance
  • Simple exports (“sixport”) to txt, RTF and PDF formats
  • Ability to copy HTML, Markdown or plain text to the clipboard
  • iCloud integration (with iOS Daedelus Touch app)
  • Quick rendering of Markdown syntax, showing you most of the syntax but de-emphasised
  • Choice of style sheets to work with
  • Dark or light background options
  • The name: Ulysses Paroz was my ancestor who first brought the Paroz family to Australia!

Con’s

  • When adding links, the Markdown way of adding inline or reference links is hidden away. This makes it one step more for me to see my link, and also makes it hard for me to re-use a link
  • When doing lists (like this one), I have to type a new “-” followed by a space for each line[1]
  • No obvious Dropbox support, particularly with Daedelus Touch[2]
  • Not sure how I can get Drafts on iOS to work into the system[3]
  • Expensive

Initial thoughts

I’ll personally keep playing with Ulysses III / Daedelus Touch for some stuff to see how it goes. It grabs me as a great repository and editor, with a lot of great features. It has much promise, and if I didn’t already have Byword, nvALT, Marked and Drafts it might be a great one stop app.

But it won’t be my core app at the moment, because it’s Markdown behaviour (e.g. for links) is a little quirky, and because it would require me to change my workflow.


  1. Hitting Alt+Enter automatically brings up the next bullet point. See comment from Nicholas below  ↩

  2. Dropbox integration for Ulysses III and Daedelus Touch is quite do-able. See detailed explanation in the comment from daedalicious below  ↩

  3. As daedalicious mentioned in the comments, if Dropbox works as described, Drafts support should be straightforward.  ↩

Concussion diagnosis: There’s an app for that

Concussion diagnosis: There’s an app for that

The whole quantified self movement gains momentum with every new app and gadget that allows us to track our own health and that of others. Via Gizmodo Australia comes news that scientists have now found a way of diagnosing concussion in sports players:

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed a voice-recognition iPad app that listens for signs of a brain injury in someone’s speech, providing an almost instant diagnosis

As an instructor of a contact activity[1] I can see that it would be very useful to be able to quickly make such a diagnosis. At this stage, it seems that the app requires each player to be baselined before a match, and it will be interesting to see if one day the technology expands to cover non-baselined individuals.


  1. I teach Shorinjiryu Koshinkai karate at the Kengokan Dojo in Sydney  ↩