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Desktop Clutter: How Hazel can clean things up automatically

Posted on by Mike Evans

I've been using Hazel's automated features for years but I am the first to admit that I merely scratch the surface of this deeply capable application. So I was all eyes when I saw that Harry Guinness at Tutsplus has produced a detailed guide to getting Hazel to tidy up my the desktop of my Mac. As he says:

Hazel is a great app for automating file management in OS X. You can assign certain folders for Hazel to watch and then perform specific actions if the files within meet set criteria. Hazel can automatically put videos in the Movies folder and audio tracks in the Music folder. It can also, as you’ll see, do a whole lot more. In this tutorial I’ll demonstrate how to create the ultimate workflow for keeping a Mac clutter free—or at the very least, keeping the clutter organised—using Hazel and a dedicated Inbox.

Armed with Harry's step-by-step instructions I shall be commanding Hazel over the Christmas holidays and hope to start 2015 with a pristine, uncluttered desktop. I plan to make just one tweak to Harry's sage advice. Instead of putting the Inbox in my computer's user folder I will place it in Dropbox. I keep all my current data on Dropbox so that it is available wherever I am and on either of my two Macs (MacBook Pro and MacBook Air). 

Read the full guide to uncluttering your desktop here

If you are not already familiar with Hazel, try this guide first

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Kids react to typewriters: Feel sad for people who had to use them

Posted on by Mike Evans

I feel old. Having spent most of my life bashing away on typewriters, I now find modern kids don't even know what they are. As you see from this Kids React video, they feel sorry for those of us who had to use the infernal machines. "They couldn't even do FaceTime or send messages. How bad is that?" or, "I just hope there is a copy and paste button". 

And it isn't just on typewriters kids have some sensible views that could put their elders to shame. Watch them talk about gay marriage....

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Jack of All Apps: Master a few and benefit

Posted on by Mike Evans

Joe Kissell:

Every time I read about a new Mac or iOS app in a category I use, I think to myself, “Oh, cool. That could save me some time and effort.” I download the app and try it out, but more often than not, I quickly conclude that my previous solution was just as good, and leave the new app sitting unused. From then on, whenever I see the app, I feel a vague, low-level anxiety. But still I accumulate more apps, and the cycle repeats.

I regularly fall into this trap, especially when it comes to new productivity or writing apps. Rumour of one new killer feature and I'm there, pressing the BUY button even though I know I have a dozen similar programs that have served me well. Most times I am disappointed although, very occasionally, a real gem slips through and I am rather glad to have been tempted. Eventually, though, most of these newcomers get shunted off into a purgatorial folder which will never again be visited. 

The best bet is the nuclear option: Ruthlessly delete unused apps from devices so you are no longer presented with a choice. This cathartisis is good for the soul. It allows us to focus on what needs to be done rather than on how we do it. For me, the telling moment comes when I remember a particular app and want to try it again. It doesn't happen often but, fortunately, the App Store is kind: Deleting an app from the device does not delete it from your store account. At any time you can go back and reinstall a discarded app if you have second thoughts.

Meanwhile, I have kept my desk clutter-free and focused on getting things done in the most efficient way. Along the way I became master of the few apps that have my blessing rather than a Jack of all apps.

Via Macworld

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iThoughts: Now for Mac, fully syncing with iOS apps

Posted on by Mike Evans

Organising your thoughts can take many forms,from simple lists to complex outlines and project management systems. My favourite brainstorming format is mind mapping which gives a very visual overview of ideas and makes planning and remembering much simpler. And for that reason I have long been a devotee of Craig Scott's iThoughts application for iPad and iPhone. Creating mind maps with iThoughts is extremely easy and the results are visually superb. Synchronisation between iPhone and iPad (iThoughts HD) via Dropbox is rapid and reliable. Up to now, however, there has been a big hole in my workflow: The lack of a complementary Mac application.

There have been workarounds, involving exporting and importing into existing Mac applications, including the creation of outlines in products such as OmniGroup's Omni Outliner, but this is no substitution for instantaneous synchronisation. Now the problem is solved with the introduction of iThoughtsX from toketaWare, Craig's little one-man business just outside York. iThoughtsX is almost wholly compatible with iThoughts and iThoughts HD in terms of features, but is fully compatible in terms of synchronisation between all versions.

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I have been using iThoughtsX for the past few days and was initially amazed to find all my existing mind maps from the iPad appearing in all their glory on the screen of my MacBook Pro. At last I have a complete system on all platforms that I can rely on. I shall be reviewing the full iThoughts suite in the future when I have gained further experience. However, even on first impressions, I have no hesitation in recommending iThoughtsX to any existing iOS-version owners. And if you have not tried any of Craig's mind-mapping apps I think you will be delighted. Try out the iPad or iPhone version first and you will get a very quick and easy overview of the capabilities. You now have the confidence to know that once you are hooked you have a ready upgrade to the Mac version.

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iThoughtsX is available direct from toketaWare for £39.69. It's a pretty hefty cost but well worth it if you are devoted to mind mapping.

Read David Sparks's review before making a decision. David is a long-time iThoughts user and has had the opportunity to try iThoughtsX in beta for the past month. David's review goes into considerable detail which I have not mentioned here.

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App Store: Some rotten apples in the barrel

Posted on by Mike Evans

When we talk innovation we tend to think only of hardware. Yet Apple's App Store concept has changed the face of computing, mobile and desktop, perhaps more than any other single development. The app stores have been a runaway success and, by and large, the control exerted by Apple is beneficial for the vast majority of consumers, particularly those who struggled previously with downloads, installations and licence management.

That said, the controlled eco-system is not without its problems and the lack of a software upgrade policy is one of the most obvious. In the old days when we bought our applications direct from developers it was commonplace to be offered a discounted upgrade whenever a major new version was introduced. This cannot happen in Apple's walled garden and everyone has to pay full price for upgraded software. When the package cost is modest, a few pounds or dollars, there is little to complain about. But if you have paid, say, £50 last year and are asked for another fifty for the upgrade it is infuriating and totally unfair. Even worse if you buy this week and then find the upgrade arrives next week.

 Buying OmniFocus from Apple's App Store is a big mistake. When you want to upgrade to the latest version you will be faced with paying the full price again, even if you purchased only a few weeks before the release.  

Buying OmniFocus from Apple's App Store is a big mistake. When you want to upgrade to the latest version you will be faced with paying the full price again, even if you purchased only a few weeks before the release.  

 Buy direct from the developer, for a similar price, and you are eligible for upgrade discounts. Apple loses out on its sales commission, you benefit. And as you see here, if you buy now you will get a  free  upgrade when OF2 arrives in the near future.

Buy direct from the developer, for a similar price, and you are eligible for upgrade discounts. Apple loses out on its sales commission, you benefit. And as you see here, if you buy now you will get a free upgrade when OF2 arrives in the near future.

Last week OmniGroup, publishers of, among others, the successful OmniFocus project management system, thought they had a way round the impasse. They produced a quick OSX utility, OmniKeyMaster, which would scan systems for existing purchases and then make it possible to obtain discounts on upgrades from the Group's online shop. It was a good idea but it lasted for only a day or two before Apple squeezed the pips. Omni had to withdraw the helpful little app. This means that if you purchased OmniFocus from the App Store (current price £54.99) you will be faced with another big bill when you want to upgrade to the new version which will be released later this year. In my case, I bought direct from OmniGroup so I will be eligible for an upgrade price. If I had been foolish enough to have bought it from Apple the upgrade would be at full cost, just like buying a new product.

Ken Case, CEO of OmniGroup had to apologise to customers following the rap over the knuckles from Cupertino:

I’m afraid we will not be able to offer upgrade pricing to our Mac App Store customers after all. So long as we continue to sell our apps through the Mac App Store, we are not allowed to distribute updates through other channels to apps which were purchased from the App Store. We still feel upgrade pricing is important for customers purchasing serious productivity software, since the initial value received from purchasing an app like OmniGraffle or OmniPlan is much different from the incremental value of upgrading that app from version 5.0 to version 6.0. We will continue to ask Apple to support upgrade pricing in the App Store, and I would encourage others to do the same—but until that happens, upgrade pricing will only be available to customers who buy our apps direct from our online store.

Apple is being bloody minded about App Store upgrades and I believe the company will have to reconsider sooner or later. Apple takes a commission on every sale through the store but will lose income if buyers of higher-priced packages realise the pitfalls. As far as I can see there is currently absolutely no advantage in buying OmniFocus or similar premium packages from Apple. Buy from the developer instead and look forward to a hefty upgrade discount price when version two appears. Perhaps, if enough of us do this, Apple will get the message.

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Editorial for iPad: The new app of excellence for writers

Posted on by Mike Evans

I have huge respect for Federico Viticci of MacStories. When he tells me that a new iPad Markdown editor is revolutionary I take notice. When a clutch of other respected writers tell me the same thing I am tending to be convinced. Even before downloading Editorial I knew I was going to love it.

Not only has Federico reviewed Editorial, he has produced one of the most comprehensive reviews of a new software product I have ever seen. This is not just a review, it is a full-blown manual with no fewer than 41 sections devoted to every last feature of Editorial. Surprisingly, a similarly comprehensive and enthusiastic test has been published by Gabe Weatherhead at MacDrifter. With two such recommendations, Editorial is likely to be the text editor to beat in future months.

This story is my first experience of using Editorial but I look forwward to making it an integral part of my daily workflow. But Editorial is much more than simply a new tool for writers. It is an example of the sort of innovation in iOS software that is turning the iPad into a first choice for productivity. On the other hand, innovation in Mac apps is sadly lacking. The focus of attention has turned to the iPad and to touch computing. I cannot think of one Mac editor that even approaches the sophistication, feature list nor ease of use that has been incorporated in Editorial by Ole Zorn of omz-software.

Editorial is currently selling in the App Store for £2.99.

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Bento: Farewell old friend, you will not be missed too much

Posted on by Mike Evans

Bento, Filemaker's Japanese lunchbox of a database, is no more. I am sad to see it go because it was one of the first Mac applications I bought. In the early days I invested much time in crafting systems for a variety of record keeping tasks. Bento was straightforward, easy to use and pretty. Without doubt my favourite feature was the ability to link with Calendar and Contacts to enable extra fields and statistical information to be added, thus permitting a manipulation of data that is absent from the native applications.

The first blow came last year when Bento abruptly ceased support for Calendar and Contacts integration. My databases were abruptly terminated. All the old stuff was still there but updating had ceased. I had to scramble around for alternatives--there are none--and ended up making more use of the notes fields in both applications. This unstructured information is far less useful and lacks any form of data manipulation. It will have to do until I can find a better hole.

Now Bento is dead and users are being encouraged to migrate to the full-blown FileMaker Pro by the carrot of a discount. However, FileMaker Pro is so expensive that only those with a real need for database systems will swallow the pill. Bento's demise is a symptom of the current lack of interest in customisable databases. Overwhelmingly the trend is towards dedicated storage within individual applications. The proliferation of small, fixed databases seems to have removed the desire to experiment and construct custom systems. We are still using databases, of course, but they are hidden behind the user interface of a thousand popular apps, not forgetting the ubiquitous Calendar and Contacts. Of course spreadsheets such as Excel and numbers are really programmable databases, they just have another name and a different methodology.

Thirty years ago the database was a primary application on any PC. I cut my teeth on dBase II and it is still one of my all-time favourites from the old pre-Windows days. It was very easy to program, even for a dumbo like me, and I was able to automate many functions in the office, from contact records to invoicing. If I could buy dBase II now I would snap it up and have it singing within hours. Unfortunately it was never updated to run in Windows and died with MSDos.

In the past two years I have had little use for Bento. I did keep a few databases current, one to track storage locations of archival material (aka In The Loft). It would tell me to send the minions to the heights to retrieve Box C inside Big Box 2. It was also useful for packing lists and other such record keeping. But my extensive Contacts enhancements and Calendar manipulations had fallen by the wayside. In addition to the shrinking list of abilities and the glacial pace of upgrades, Bento suffered from lack of proper synchronisation between Mac and iOS versions. I had hoped for cloud sync but this never came.

All is not lost, however. I was able to export the records from my Bento databases and then open them in Numbers. Numbers is not quite as flexible because it cannot offer the same data viewing abilities, nor forms, that a good database provides. But, considering my shrunken requirements, it is better than nothing.

Given the apathy of Filemaker, I am not sorry to see Bento disappear from the screen. Yet I do still have a hankering for a programmable database, particularly one that offers reliable cloud synchronisation and an OS X and iOS presence. I hope there is one out there and I just haven't discovered it yet.

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Evernote Essentials 3.0 now available

Posted on by Mike Evans

Brett Kelly's superb guide to Evernote, Evernote Essentials, has just been updated to version 3.0. If you bought a previous version you will be getting an email from Brett telling you how to upgrade. If have not yet disovered the delights of Evernote Essentials, you can buy the latest version and enjoy free upgrades in the future.

by Mike Evans, 15 March 2013

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iPad as a laptop replacement: One man's view

Posted on by Mike Evans

Is the iPad now a fitting replacement for a laptop? It’s a question I’ve puzzled over for months. Recently, I have found more and more reasons to go walkies with my iPad rather than my MacBook Air. I now enjoy writing and preparing MacFilos posts on the iPad, where a few months ago it was an uninspiring experience, often requiring post-production fiddling on the Mac. Much of this improvement is down to good writing apps such as Byword and Writing Kit.

I love about workflow opportunities on the iPad and Matt Gemmell has penned a useful insight into his customised workflow. It makes an interesting read. While I could quibble over some individual apps, the main argument–that the iPad is a laptop replacement–is supremely logical.

As a result of one of his recommendations, I decided to try Calvetica on the iPad and now prefer it to Apple’s built-in iCal application. I have been underwhelmed with Calvetica on the iPhone (where I prefer Week Cal) but the additional screen-estate of the iPad makes it a much more enjoyable experience.

Every week, it seems, there is more reason to prefer the tablet as a mobile computing platform.

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First Impressions: Byword for Mac and iOS

Posted on by Mike Evans

At last count I had a different text editor for every day of the year. While there’s no chance of boredom, there is a sense of text overload. I lust after the tranquility of having just one absolutely perfect app, an App for All Seasons and Reasons.

I’ve written at length about Writing Kit, praising the highly convenient built-in research capabilities. I love it on the iPad, less so on the iPhone. But it has one glaring omission: a Mac version.

Over the past couple of months I’ve read conflicting reports about Byword and probably that’s the reason I didn’t try it earlier. But I succumbed when I saw that there is a Mac version of Byword and that both iCloud and Dropbox are available for syncing.

So far I’m loving it. Markdown support is built in to all three versions and there is an excellent Markdown view. Markdown text can be copied easily for insertion into a blog editor.

The ability to start work on the iPad, polish the job in spare minutes on the iPhone and then finish off on the Mac cannot be underestimated.

I have been using Byword for a week and find it ideal for quick posts and all types of drafts. I still prefer Writing Kit on the iPad, but Byword has now taken over on iPhone and Mac. Fortunately, both Writing Kit and Byword can work on the same text files, so I feel I have a great workflow for the time being. I will report in more depth when I have more experience.

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Text Editors: The definitive guide to all the features

Posted on by Mike Evans

Text editors for iOS devices are ten a penny; they represent one of the most prolific categories in the productivity field. We all have our favourites. Mine is currently Writing Kit, but last year I was hooked on Notesy (which is still brilliant but lacks WK’s built-in research features).

Now there’s no need to read all those interminable reviews. Brett Terpstra has done the job for you and produced an interactive tool linking to a a composite assessment of no fewer than 38 apps, from AppWrite to Writings, via Vim and Nocs. I hadn’t heard of at least half of them. Brett will be maintaining the tool as long as he can so that users and developers can continue to add their updates.

Just look at this incredibly detailed Google spreadsheet of features and feel humble, very humble. Not only do we get a feature-by-feature summary, Brett gives us a review panel for every app, with contributions from users. If anything deserves to be called awesome, this is it.

To read the full article, and access the spreadsheet, follow the link below.

(Via Brettterpstra.com)

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iA Writer comes to the iPhone

Posted on by Mike Evans

Minimalist writing app, iA Writer, is now available for the iPhone and can be installed without charge if you already own the original iPad version. Great news for writers.

iA Writer for the iPad and Mac is a great app which allows you to focus on the text without any distractions. It has been my editor of choice on both platforms for several months, although I have to say that I have now defected to Writing Kit on the iPad because of its in-built research facilities and superior abilities with Markdown (for the inexperienced Markdown user, that is).

Fortunately, because most notes apps use straightforward text files, you can have the best of both worlds. I regularly use iA Writer when I want to immerse myself in a topic and have no need to keep switching back and forth to reference material. When in magpie mode I prefer Writing Kit. I use the same Dropbox folder for both apps so there is a seamless transition between documents. Incidentally, iA Writer allows browsing of the entire Dropbox folder, unlike many other notes apps, including Writing Kit, which are linked to just one pre-defined sub-folder.

The iPhone version of iA Writer manages to squeeze all the goodness of the iPad version into the smaller screen. Federico Viticci of Macstories has had his hands on the iPhone app throughout the beta phase and he has reviewed it at length. If you are seriously into writing, have a read.

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