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Category: Productivity

Use Alfred 2 to mimic Drafts cool Append to Dropbox function

Use Alfred 2 to mimic Drafts cool Append to Dropbox function

Greg Pierce from Agile Tortoise (the developer of the fantastic Drafts app for iOS) shows us how to mimic Drafts’ "Append to Dropbox" using Alfred on a Mac.

the example I’m providing here mimics the default “Append to Dropbox” action in Drafts. In it’s current setup, you trigger Alfred with it’s hot key, type “j”, space, then the text you want appended to the file and hit return. The text is then added to the a file at “~/Dropbox/Apps/Drafts/Journal.txt” along with a timestamp

This looks cool and I’ll try it out as soon as I get back to a Mac…

From: Agile Tortoise Blog

New MacSparky Field Guide for Markdown

New MacSparky Field Guide for Markdown

Since the dawn of this weblog, I’ve undertaken different approaches to my writing. I’ve used different content management systems (it’s currently a self-hosted WordPress blog, but I also have Squarespace and Scriptogr.am sites), and I’ve used a variety of tools and apps to making writing for this blog easier. Although I have a reasonable handle on HTML, I am not a coder, and hate writing in it. It’s a poor format for editing, and an even worse format if I want to re-use my writing for other purposes.

My current writing process involves Multimarkdown Composer and Mars Edit on OSX and Byword and Poster on iOS. I could just use the WYSIWYG interface on MarsEdit or Poster, but find that I like to write first in plain text so that I can edit and re-use. Frankly, the HTML rendered through most WYSIWYG tools is pretty clunky.

The “glue” that binds these disparate sites and apps together, however, is John Gruber’s Markdown syntax, which makes writing easy, regardless of whether I start in Drafts on iOS or nvAlt on OSX and then continue in Byword/Multimarkdown Composer, or start straight in Byword/MMC. Every time I start, I start in Markdown.

Markdown is quite easy to learn, but it is still a little “geeky”. It is also cool because most non-geeky people could read a text document in Markdown and get it. And it renders well in a variety of outputs – HTML obviously, but it also works nicely for written publications.

David Sparks of MacSparky and the Mac Power Users podcast has published his latest MacSparky Field Guide – this one being the MacSparky Markdown Field Guide, co-authored with Eddie Smith. It follows on from his wonderful Paperless Field Guide, which is one of the best resources for Mac users (in particular) who want to move to a paperless lifestyle.

I saw David’s post today announcing the release of the new Markdown Field Guide. I immediately downloaded it from the iBooks store (it’s also available as a PDF book) and will start reading it today. I may review it in detail later on, but if my experience with the MacSparky Field Guide’s and Markdown is any indication, this is one that any writer (particularly for the web) will want to download today.

The MacSparky Markdown Field Guide is available for A$9.99 from the iBooks Store, or from the MacSparky website.

Wishful thinking with the Dropbox-Mailbox merger

Wishful thinking with the Dropbox-Mailbox merger

Perhaps its wishful thinking, but I wonder if I am alone in hoping that following the acquisition of Mailbox by Dropbox, perhaps Dropbox will launch email hosting as part of its suite of offerings[^1] .

I love Dropbox – it’s a vital tool in my personal file management, and I am proud to have been a paid customer for several years. I have implemented many features – shared folders (I have many of them), 2 factor authentication (one of my must-have features in an online service) and integration to a variety of iOS and OSX apps.

I must admit, one of the things I like about Dropbox is the fact that I am customer. Being a paid service, Dropbox benefits out of maintaining my business, which means providing me with a stable product that best meets my needs, and not using me and data they glean about me, to sell advertising (or sell to advertisers).

I’ve been enjoying using Mailbox on my iPhone, and it provides me with some features that are great – easy ability to clear my inbox down to what’s important, then make it zero by clearing those things out. It also has a way of making things come back later, perhaps when I am in a better place to deal with them.

But there are one or two things that bugs me – Mailbox is effectively an extra point of failure between me and my mail. If their servers are down, I can’t get my mail through the app – although at least I can get the mail through normal Gmail means. It also relies on Gmail, and like many people I am nervous about relying on gmail following the GReadier debacle. It’s also a free app, so I’m nervous about trusting it – but at least I have workarounds.

If Dropbox were to build a new email system from ground up, and use the front end features of Mailbox as a guide to the “UX” (user experience), this could make for interesting days. I’d love to see it as a paid service, part of the Dropbox Pro offering. Obviously the ability to map your own domain would be a necessity, but could be for a further premium.

This may be speculative and wishful, but it makes more and more sense as I think about it. I would move off Google Apps in a heartbeat if there was another offering that was similarly feature rich, but without the creepiness factor.

Get PDFpen and PDFpen Pro for Mac for half price – 48 hours only

Get PDFpen and PDFpen Pro for Mac for half price – 48 hours only

One of my must have apps on both iOS and OSX is Smile Software’s PDFpen – an elegant, iCloud supported PDF tool that allows you to truly manage PDFs on both platforms. The app allows you to easily create forms, correct and redact text and even sign PDFs on-the-go.

Smile has announced the release of version 6 of both PDFpen and PDFpen Pro for OSX with a bunch of new and improved features, including the ability to turn PDFs into Word documents and many enhancements to the look and feel of the user interface.

To gain iCloud support, you must purchase PDFpen or PDFpen Pro through the Mac App Store (MAS). With the lack of upgrade pricing in the MAS, Smile has released both versions today at half the normal price. I’d suggest that all Mac users take advantage of this offer, which only lasts for 48 hours.

PDFpen is an incredibly important part of my PDF workflow on both OSX and iOS. Having only played with it for a short time, I can honestly say that version 6 of PDFpen Pro for OSX is a major upgrade that will likely bring new possibilities to my workflow.

My return to Google

My return to Google

In June of last year (2012) I posted about how I was concerned about how Google was becoming “creepy”. At that time, I decided that I didn’t want any one company to have all my data. This would prevent Google (or anyone other company) having a complete picture of me, and also it would mean I wouldn’t be too exposed if any one company was to go away.

I was also concerned that as a user of Google’s services, I was more of a product than a customer. This may be the case for the free versions of those services, but as a paid Google Apps user, I may have over-thought this a little!

To achieve my move away from Google, I moved my email, calendar and address book to iCloud, and I moved my RSS feeds to a self hosted Fever installation. I also started playing around with alternative search engines, including DuckDuckGo and Bing. I thought’d it be interesting to check in with how that process has gone.

Let’s start with search. I found DuckDuckGo and Bing to both be excellent – I was particularly surprised by Bing, which I didn’t think would hold much chop. At this time, Bing is my default search engine on my iPhone, while Google plays that role on my iPad. It’s not possible to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine in iOS, but I do use the app, and have made it the default on my MacBook. All are good, but in general I do tend to find that Google continues to excel in giving accurate, fast and relevant search results. I’d say 70%-plus of my search goes to Google.

As for RSS, I continued to happily use Fever for sometime, but the lack of choices for quality apps, particularly on iPad and OSX continued to grind. Navigating the web interface on iPad was bearable, but clunky. Reeder for iPhone was and is an excellent choice, but interestingly Reeder for iPad and OSX has yet to be updated to include Fever support. In the meantime, other apps were released to support Google Reader, but none have Fever support.

Notably, MrReader became more and more recommended by many power users, and my curiosity grew. In particular, it’s support for URL schemes made it compelling. So around New Years, I made the call to switch back. It was nothing to do with the excellent Fever platform, but with the lack of quality front end app support. I may well switch back if app support for Fever takes off. 1

The most recent switch back has been to move all my email, contacts and calendar back to my paid Google Apps account. There were three things that gradually became show-stoppers for me with respect to Apple’s iCloud:

  1. The lack of ability to host your own domain with iCloud. I don’t want a me.com or icloud.com email address when I have my own domain. I want my contacts and calendar fully integrated with my email, so they all travelled together.
  2. iCloud calendar sharing outside iCloud is difficult, at best. I want to share calendars with colleagues easily. Google App’s systems are generally more open.
  3. Security. I am of the opinion that any online site which I use for storage of personal, sensitive, business-in-confidence or confidential information needs to have more than simple password security. A minimum of 2-factor security is my requirement, especially since the security attack on Evernote.

I know that there are other options for hosting my online world, but with a paid Google Apps account with 2-factor security enabled, I believe this is the best option for me, going forward.

As for my documents, these are for the most part in Dropbox. I have a small number of files in iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud service. These are a small number of iWork and specialised documents for which I really appreciate the fast and seamless syncing. But since most of my writing is in plain text using several different apps for iOS, OSX and the web, these best live in Dropbox. I am not considering using Google Drive for these.

Any choice of services utilised is a fine balancing act, considering a range of factors, including security, open-ness and functionality. At this point in time, Google offers the best options in the email, calendar, contacts and RSS for me. I also consider Google the primary option for most search requirements.


  1. Update on 2013-03-14: Google announced the closure of Google Reader, effective 1 July 2013. I will definitely be moving back to Fever between now and then, probably as soon as either Reeder or Mr Reader supports Fever on iPad. 

Brooks Duncan reviews doo

Brooks Duncan reviews doo

A week or two back, a new productivity app called doo popped up in the Mac App Store. Tagged as a way of accessing "every document of your life" wherever they are, in seconds, doo is a document organisation system that appeals to me as part of my quest for a paperless lifestyle.

I’ve been using Evernote as my primary document repository, but I have been growing increasingly wary about storing everything online in a third party system that stores documents in a proprietary format. Following the attempted hack on Evernote user data, I’ve made the decision to move any personal or business data that would be sensitive or confidential in nature back to a local database. I would prefer to be able to access key data on-the-go, so have been looking at systems like Yojimbo, DEVONthink and now doo.

I had installed doo last week with the intent of playing around with it a little, but since Sunday I’ve been gradually moving all the sensitiive Evernote data back to it. So far, it looks like a very powerful system that makes going paperless quite straightforward.

Today, Brooks Duncan of DocumentSnap has posted his initial review of the doo Mac OSX app. He gives what I think is the best description yet of doo:

You can think of it as a combination of Evernote and Dropbox, but unlike Evernote you can completely use the software without ever having to touch the web service, and unlike Evernote your documents do not get moved inside the application, and unlike Dropbox there is a nice local application to help you organize and find your documents

Right now doo has an OSX app and a Windows 8 app (interestingly, the Windows 8 version was launched several months ago, well before any other versions). In development are iOS and Android versions, as well as versions for other systems, including "legacy Windows".

doo is free for local storage, and has a range of plans for their optional doo Cloud backup and sync services. There is a 30 day free trial of their 25GB sync plan.

It’s fair to say that doo is in its early stages. Although not a beta release, I think that as the mobile apps come online, and as additional features are added, doo has the potential to become a very powerful organisation system, and could well be my flagship app for my paperless document management system.

Day One for iOS gets a huge update with PDF export and more

Day One for iOS gets a huge update with PDF export and more

Day One appOne of my absolute most used apps is the journalling app Day One, available for iOS and OSX. The iOS version this week received a major update, going to version 1.10, where the ability to export entries (single or a range) to a PDF file was introduced.

This is a terrific enhancement that allows the user to extract key data, perhaps sorted by tag (introduced last year to the iOS version) to a standalone PDF document, or perhaps to a PDF document that might then be stored in a system such as Evernote or DEVONthink.

Other updates include:

  • Custom date range- Tag filtering
  • Send PDF to iBooks, Dropbox and other apps
  • Export will run in background
  • Quick single entry export via Send menu
  • Historical weather increased from 3 days to 30 days
  • New reminder sound
  • Added Sanchez font option
  • Improved header and HTML styling

I love the direct Day One is taking, and look forward to these updates (and previous ones like tagging and geo-location) being introduced to the OSX version, soon (please)!

My iPad On The Go Setup

My iPad On The Go Setup

Anyone who has ever seen a scuba diver knows that diving is an activity that is intensely reliant on equipment. As a scuba instructor-trainer, I know that there is an important rule of thumb in how much gear to carry on any given dive – as much as you need and as little as you can get away with! I generally don’t need twin large tanks for a shallow reef dive, but these are a necessity when doing a “tec dive” to 50m.
When using a minimalist productivity solution – like iPad – this rule of thumb is equally important. It’s easy to forego a laptop computer, and then find yourself carrying around so much stuff that you lose most of the benefits of minimalism but you also need to make sure you’ve got what you need.

As part of my iPads of March challenge to test whether an iPad is a sufficient device for conducting my on-the-go activities, I thought it would be good for me to share my on-the-go setup.

Starting with the core, I use a iPad (3rd generation) with WiFi+Cellular and 64GB. I always max out the memory, as I store a lot of video content, and increasingly use my iPad for presentations. Although I could get away with a WiFi only model, and use Personal Hotspot on my iPhone or other available WiFi, I find that when traveling internationally not all carriers support personal hotspot, and WiFi in hotels and conference venues is often “spotty”.

When going with just the iPad, I use a Coocoon Gramercy messenger sling. This bag has room for my iPad, number of accessories organised with the included “GRID-IT” organisation system (pictured) and a small notepad (I generally carry a Moleskine for note taking). The size of this sling case prompts me to not carry unnecessary items around.

In the GRID-IT, I carry a number of accessories that I might need, including:

  • Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. I used to carry around an Apple Bluetooth keyboard in a Origami case, but the Logitech gives me a smaller profile option with overall less to carry around.
  • Mophie juice pack power station: although iPad generally gives me enough battery for a pretty intensive day of on-the-go work, you should always carry backup power. To be honest, I use this more often for my iPhone
  • Apple display connectors to connect to a screen or projector using HDMI or VGA
  • Apple camera connection kit (USB and SD)
  • Apple earPods
  • XtremeMac 2n1 stylus pen. Although I am not a big user of stylii, I love pens, and it’s occasionally handy to have a stylus at hand.
  • A small microfibre cloth

That’s pretty much it. I’ll be heading out shortly for a day of meetings and this is precisely the kit I’ll be carrying. Probably won’t use the display adapters or camera connection bits today, but they’re always handy to have on hand.

Now you know what I carry as an on-the-go setup for iPad for meetings, and general work out and about. I have additional items when traveling away from home, or when presenting or conducting training, and will cover these later in a separate post – remembering that we carry as much as we need, and as little as we can get away with.

Evernote’s password hack, and the security of your stuff in the cloud

Evernote’s password hack, and the security of your stuff in the cloud

Like all Evernote users, today I received an email (and blog post) advising that there has been an attempted security attack to their system, and that they have force-changed all user passwords:

Evernote’s Operations & Security team has discovered and blocked suspicious activity on the Evernote network that appears to have been a coordinated attempt to access secure areas of the Evernote Service.

As a precaution to protect your data, we have decided to implement a password reset.

I am a heavy Evernote user, and put a lot of stuff up there – from basic research to business records. I love that I can easily find my key information so easily. They have solid apps for OSX and iOS (although they have been increasinly buggy lately), and a good browser based system to get at my information from anywhere. I love having my stuff in the cloud so I can get at it whereever I am.

For the past couple of weeks I was teaching a PADI Instructor Development Course in Fiji and on several occasions I was able to quickly get to records that I needed but didn’t have with me through my iPad or MacBook Air. Too easy.

Lately I’ve been wondering about the wisdom of having all my eggs in one basket. I trust the Evernote team, and as a Premium User I have a paid account. But my concerns are two-fold:

  1. If Evernote ever goes away (unlikely, but still a risk), what will happen to my data.
  2. Evernote has to be ever-vigilant for hacking attempts, and they have to win 100% – hackers only have to win once in a blue moon.
  3. As Evernote’s servers are not in Australia, my data may be legally accessed by a foreign government without warrant!

So it was good to see the following paragraph:

In our security investigation, we have found no evidence that any of the content you store in Evernote was accessed, changed or lost. We also have no evidence that any payment information for Evernote Premium or Evernote Business customers was accessed.

The next paragraph, while honest and direct, certainly gave me pause to continue to consider the future of my information storage:

The investigation has shown, however, that the individual(s) responsible were able to gain access to Evernote user information, which includes usernames, email addresses associated with Evernote accounts, and encrypted passwords. Even though this information was accessed, the passwords stored by Evernote are protected by one-way encryption. (In technical terms, they are hashed and salted.)

Just yesterday (before the email went out), I downloaded a copy of DEVONthink, an OSX app that does many of the same things – allowing you to store snippets and documents, easily find them, OCR them, etc. Using DropBox you can sync data between multiple Macs, and there is an iOS app. The latter feels a bit clunky, and looks like you need to sync via Wifi. I hope Dropbox sync is coming soon to that, because my iPad is rapidly becoming my main on-the-go device.

There has been a lot of debate about Evernote vs. DEVONthink, and there are very passionate people on both sides, with some very persuasive reasons for their approach. Evernote’s cloud based storage is both it’s greatest feature and it’s biggest drawback, depending on your perspective. I had planned to use DEVONthink side-by-side with Evernote for a couple of weeks to get a feel for which (if either) is the better approach for me. I still will, but I think I’ll move more sensitive info straight away.

Back to the security issues. I have waiting for a while for Evernote to introduce 2-factor authentication. Google has had this for some time, and Dropbox also introduced 2-factor security in 2012, following similar hacking attempts.

Evernote needs to implement 2-factor security as a matter of urgency.

While I am at it, Apple also needs to implement 2-factor security for their iCloud services as a matter of urgency, particularly if they want Documents in the Cloud to be taken seriously.

Going forward, my personal rule is that 2-factor authentication is a threshhold feature for any cloud based service that I use to store any thing I would consider proprietary or sensitive, let along confidential. I recommend you consider the same approach.

Evernote’s team made some additional excellent suggestions for security:

  • Avoid using simple passwords based on dictionary words

  • Never use the same password on multiple sites or services

  • Never click on ‘reset password’ requests in emails – instead go directly to the service

The first 2 should be an absolute given, but it’s clearly not the case. The third one has tricked most people at least once, making the first two even more important.

Most people I know have a password management strategy that consists of three passwords:

  • a simple “throwaway” password they reuse on most websites
  • a more secure one for some selected sites
  • a most secure one for banking, finance, health, etc

In all three cases, most people re-use the same passwords, perhaps with minor variations.

The hackers know this and have setup ways of “sniffing” passwords. One way is to setup a rogue site, and when users try to sign on, they take the username and password and throw that at other sites, knowing that they will often get a hit. Even if they only get 1% success, they have a starting point. Mat Honan of Wired magazine’s own case teaches us that once a hacker gets “in” at a low level, they can use that information to gradually get full access to your life.

So you need to ensure you don’t re-use passwords, and that those passwords must not be simple. When it comes to hacking and security, most hackers are way better at hacking than users are at securing.

This is where my next rule of web security kicks in – I use 1Password to generate a separate password for each and every site I visit. Of course there are a lot of sites I visited before using 1Password, so once those sites are in 1Password, I can from time-to-time go through and manually change those passwords, starting with the passwords that are least secure.

Whilst on 1Password, I’d recommend that if users want cloud access, they store the 1Password file in a Dropbox account, not iCloud, because of the fact that Dropbox has implemented 2-factor security.

I also have a category of sites that require the highest security, so I have those sorted together into a group in the 1Password app, and I change those passwords twice a year when the clocks change with Daylight Savings (an idea I got from MacSparky).

Clearly this issue has made me re-consider aspects of my own approach to information security, and has reinforced others. I recommend that everyone do the same, and take at least the following actions:

  1. Use only reputable services that provide 2-factor authentication for cloud storage of personal, sensitive or confidential data;
  2. Have a personal password management policy that includes never re-using passwords, and never using dictionary passwords. Use of an app like 1Password, LastPass or similar may help.

The “be alert, not alarmed” approach is the right one. We users need to recognise that information security is a moving target, and that balancing convenience, ubiquity and security is a constantly changing challenge. We need to reevaluate our balance regularly!

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iPads of March 2013

iPads of March 2013

My iPad main screenIn March 2012 I decided to go for a month using my iPad as my primary on-the-go device – a month I called iPads of March. My iMac in my home/office continued to be my “heavy-lifting” device for processing images/videos, building presentations, text formatting for some manuscripts I was working on and for accounting activities for my business. But I used the iPad for pretty much everything else – including researching, writing, email, task management, presentations, etc.

I wanted to test the idea that iPad is approaching the point when it could be a primary on-the-go device for a power-user like me. For content production as well as consumption.

Of course, where iPad leads others follow, so I know that when iPad reaches that point, we consumers will have a range of iOS, Android, Windows and other devices to help us do our work and live our lives.

I chose March last year for a couple of reasons – it was the month that the 3rd generation iPad was to be launched, but it was also a month in which I had no scuba instructor courses scheduled, as these courses are intensive on my workflows and technology (multimedia rich presentations and lots and lots of paperwork).

My findings were interesting. I found that my iPad could easily handle 90% of my on-the-go work that my MacBook Air would normally perform. In fact, there were three main things that were missing that would be a show-stopper for using the iPad as my primary device.

  1. Multimedia presentations using Keynote were (and continue to be) awkward and crappy. Many of my Keynote presentations have embedded media, and getting these into Keynote for iOS is cumbersome and results in significant quality reduction of the videos.
  2. Document scanning to PDF is pretty awful. I don’t mean low volume stuff using the iPad camera, but piles of multipage documents. I need to keep records of lots of paperwork, and to date I have not found a workable solution that approaches my NeatReceipts scanner for scanning out and about. When I am in town, I can do my scanning at home on my trusty Fujitsu ScanSnap 1500M.
  3. Business accounting software. My accountant wants me to use MYOB. I have the FirstEdge software for OSX, and there is no iOS application support.

In 2013, things are changing. While Keynote has not improved media handling as yet, there are other web/app based solutions that I am exploring. For scanning, the introduction of the iOS capabilities into the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 suggests that future versions of their mobile scanners will do the same. For financial accounting, I might upgrade to a package that would allow mobile integration. Or just live with the fact that I do my finances only from the home office.

March 2013 presents itself as another month with no scheduled courses that require rich multimedia, though I have some other courses/presentations that will allow me to test some concepts. My MacBook Air is in with the Genius Bar folks for repair, so it seems to me that I have once again the opportunity to use the iPad as my main on-the-go device. I am going to focus on making presentations work on the iPad, as scanning is on the horizon.

I’ll make two quick predictions and see how they turn out.

  1. The iPad will have made giant strides, and will be close the gap on becoming my primary on-the-go device
  2. There will be no new iPad launched in March

Keep an eye on djp.me/ides/ to see my posts tagged about my iPads of March 2013 experiences.

Now it’s time to do the work

Now it’s time to do the work

Inbox Zero: always a good feelingIt’s always a great feeling to get back to Inbox Zero.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the work is done. Just that the intrays are cleared, the work is processed into my system so I can now deal with stuff as I am best able.

The 36 starred items in the screen shot are all items lined up with items on my Next Action lists.

The in tray on my desk is also empty, I’ve cleared out all phone and SMS messages.

So Inbox Zero doesn’t imply that there’s no work to be done. On the contrary, it means that the work has been identified and organised appropriately. Now it’s time for me to get on with it!

Grant Graves Redefines Failure

Grant Graves Redefines Failure

My friend Grant W Graves has published a very interesting piece about Redefining Failure, a topic he came to think a bit more deeply about as a result of a discussion he was involved in at a TEDx Manhattan Beach salon event.

“I think we need to redefine failure and change what it means for people. I would suggest that failure is not negative at all. If you are going to change or try to do anything new, it is impossible without failure. In fact, you often learn more from failure than you do from your successes when you are trying to innovate or make changes.”

Grant’s post is quite thoughtful, and although his conclusions target actions for divers and dive instructors, the essence applies to all aspects of productivity: in order to know success, we need to understand failure.

Reminds me of an old Okinawan (karate) saying: nana korobi, ya oki, which translates as something like “fall down seven times, stand up eight”.

From a personal productivity point of view, I find it easy to get distracted sometimes. Sometimes I don’t review my lists, and I don’t achieve Inbox Zero on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean I give up. I double down, learn from what went wrong, and do better next time.

I’m going to stop writing now, and head out for a swim. I’ve learned that if I don’t get to the pool at the right time, it gets crowded. Especially on a beautiful Summer weekday.

Read Redefining Failure by Grant W Graves