Tag Archives: mac

The Calendar Conundrum

calendars

I’m a devoted Mac user, with interconnected (via Google Drive and Back to My Mac), backed up (via Time Capsule and via Arq backing up to Amazon Glacier), and secured (via multiple, redundant means) iMacs at home and on the farm.  These beautiful, powerful devices communicate and interact beautifully with my Macbook Air, iPad Air and iPhone.  It all works beautifully, and elegantly, except for one little problem.

I have a job.  Where I am forced to use a locked-down Windows computer.  A committed Apple-loving geek being forced to work on a walled-off Windows machine all day is a recipe for disconnected frustration.

lockeddownThere are shortcuts, hacks and workarounds for most of my workflow.  I use Google Drive, IFTTT and Hazel to move documents around, and to keep them in their desired locations.  After years of managing a single contacts list via Google Contacts, Google’s insistence on jamming my contacts into Google+ and Hangouts and my desire to have a small, manageable personal contacts list led me to separate work and personal contacts, with my work contacts located inside the Outlook prison on my work computer and my (very limited) list of personal contacts residing in iCloud, and my various Apple devices.  I used to think having two separate contacts lists would be burdensome, but the increasing integration between Apple contacts and various apps-and my desire to avoid inadvertently sending personal content to work contacts- made me a believer in separate contacts lists.  In other words, my inability to sync my Outlook contacts with my iCloud contacts (and thereby my various Apple devices) led me to embrace a better, separate solution.

As an aside, I think work contacts are going the way of newspapers and record labels.  I almost never resort to my work contacts list.  Rather I search my emails (instantly via X1) to find the email address or telephone number I need.  If that fails, I Google it.

I have always had separate work and personal email addresses and accounts, which has been and will always be preferable.  Again, my inability to access my Outlook email via iCloud or my Mac has never been a problem.  After all, both sets of email and both contacts lists are easily accessible via an iOS device, even if not be via a Mac.

Such is not the case for my calendar.  Unlike email and contacts, I very much desire a single, unified calendar.  Also unlike email and contacts, accessing multiple calendars via an iOS device alone is not a happy solution for me.  For years, I kept my calendar on Google, and pushed (not synced) my Outlook calendar entries (consisting mostly of accepted meeting invites) from Outlook to my Google calendar via the recently deprecated Google Calendar Sync.   Sadly, this no longer works and there is no acceptable substitute.

Which leaves me with the Hobson’s choice of having two separate calendars or having to manually enter every single Outlook calendar item in Cloud or the calendar application on my Apple device.  The latter is simply unworkable, given the large number of calendar entries I have.  The former is extremely unsatisfactory.  There is just no answer for a Mac-loving geek forced to work on a locked-down Windows computer.

Until I find a better solution, I am currently using a less than ideal workaround, via which I repurposed two of my old iPads as dedicated calendar devices, each hung on the wall in each of my offices, and each displaying my combined calendars, via Fantastical.  Because Fantastical can display multiple calendars, at least I have a unified calendar to look at, without having to pull out my iOS device each time.  This is horrible solution, but it’s the one I have.

I wish there was a better way to solve my calendar conundrum, but for the time being this is the best I have come up with.

What I really wish is that Macs had infiltrated corporate America long ago, so that I could use a Mac at work.  This is probably never going to happen- and will certainly not happen in my lifetime- so the best I can do is keep looking for some hacked up workaround that will allow me to live semi-efficiently within the frustrating digital walls I cannot climb.

I welcome any other ideas.

Four Mac Apps to Instantly Boost Your Productivity

I’ve already talked about my most useful IOS applications. Let’s move to the desktop and discuss a few apps that materially add to my flow and efficiency.  These apps increase my productivity and make my life easier, and they can do the same for you.

nobifLet’s start with one app that’s already on your Mac. Automator, which can be found the Applications folder, can automate repetitive tasks and save you a lot of time. For example, I created a process in Automator that automatically monitors a specified folder for image files, renames them to the convention I use for my blog, and resizes them to the desired size. Another service I created in Automator automatically combines selected PDF files with a right-click. Far too many people don’t use-or even know about Automator. That’s a shame, because it is possibly the single biggest timesaver on my Mac. And you don’t need to be a programmer to use it. You can set up all kinds of time saving processes by dragging and dropping.

A related app that I rely on heavily is Hazel, the automation program from Noodlesoft. While similar to Automator, Hazel is even more powerful and can automate an almost infinite number of tasks (it can also incorporate Automator into its actions). For example, as part of my paperless filing and storage system, Hazel monitors my Document Inbox folder for PDFs, converts them to searchable format, renames them based on their contents, and moves them to the appropriate folder. In other words, all I have to do to file my papers is scan the file, and Hazel does the rest.

Another efficiency boosting app is Bartender. It allows you to manage your Mac menu bar, and to arrange the resident applications in your desired order. The ability to reorder menu bar applications is well worth the $15, without consideration of all of the other useful Bartender features.

Probably my favorite new Mac app is Unclutter by Software Ambience Corp. Unclutter places a virtual storage shelf (they call it a digital pocket) at the top of your screen, where you can store clipboard contents, files and notes. Dropbox and iCloud integration allows you to sync this content across your various computers. This has become my go-to way to share individual files between my iMacs.

And, as a bonus app, there’s Dropbox. While Dropbox is awesome, just as a way to back up, sync and share files between desktops, laptops and mobile devices, its true power is its integration with and/or use beside other applications.  This allows you to create a lot of extremely powerful automations. For example, bills and other documents scanned at the farm are scanned into a folder monitored by Hazel. Upon receipt, Hazel moves the files into a specified Dropbox folder, where they are synced to my home computer. When they reach my home computer, the Hazel app on that computer performs the searchability, renaming and moving functions described above, to place the files in their permanent folder. Mostly all I do is scan them. I say mostly, because sometimes Hazel has a hard time figuring out what the document is, so it can appropriately rename it.  In that case, all I have to do is rename the files, after Hazel converts them to searchable format. Dropbox also integrates with the wonderful IFTTT, which allows a ton of automated flow.  For example, I use a combination of Dropbox and IFTTT to place automated farm rain logs, photos, locations and other entries in my DayOne journal.

All of this is like a giant erector set for adults.  Jump in, build something, create some free time.  I about to watch the Walking Dead with some of mine.

Tell me some of your favorite time savers.

Napkin is the Best Image Capture and Annotation App

I’ve used a ton of image capture and annotation apps, from Evernote web clipper, to various Chrome extensions, to Snag-It and beyond.  Today, while reading my feeds and trying not to freeze, I read about Napkin, via iMore.

I was a little skeptical, especially given the $40 price tag.  But after reading up on it, I took a chance.  I’m really glad I did.  In sum, it does just about everything you could ever need a capture and annotation app to do.  I made and shared this in about 60 seconds.

Napkin makes image annotation easy

Here’s a video showing some of the features of an slightly older version of the app.

Oh, it’s Mac only.  Just like you should be.

Cult of Mac Doubles Down on MacKeeper Craziness

My once favorite blog, Cult of Mac, has responded to the predictable outcry over its hawking of the extremely controversial MacKeeper software.  Did they respond by actually installing, using and (this is important) trying to uninstall the program?  Nope.  They just did some Google searches and concluded, mostly, that it’s all good.

Except it ain’t.

As I noted before, I’ve never used MacKeeper and I never will.  I don’t need to test my suspicions about it, because the marketing strategy alone (pop-unders, ripe for abuse affiliate program, etc.) tells me all I need to know.

Here’s MacKeeper’s PR manager’s explanation for that strategy:

We believe that we have a great product and we want people to know about it and the only way to do this is to explore every medium of advertisement.

What they want is to make money.  Cash.  Bucks.  A desire they seem to share with Cult of Mac.  If the program is so awesome and this is all about informing the unsuspecting masses that their Macs are in great danger, there would be no need for sketchy marketing and ineffective uninstallers.  It’s not even about whether MacKeeper is good or bad; it’s the way they go about it.

But I don’t really care about MacKeeper.

What I care about is the fact that I can no longer trust Cult of Mac.  If I have to wonder whether every app or service I read about on Cult of Mac is a great benefit or disguised malware, Cult of Mac is useless to me.  If Cult of Mac’s response to that question is a Google search and some second hand anecdotal gibberish, in lieu of first hand analysis, then it’s not just useless- it’s dangerous.

I hope Cult of Mac made a butt load of money selling MacKeeper to its readers.  Because they paid a big price in the process.

 

How Cult of Mac Went From the Top of My Reading List to the Bottom in a Single Post

It would be hard to overstate how much I have historically liked the website/blog Cult of Mac.  Simply stated, I have long felt it was the single best source for Apple-related news, reviews and videos.  I usually read it first when I open up Google Reader to consume my news of the day.

Until this week, when I saw a post entitled MacKeeper is 911 for Your Mac.

mack911-300x219

Until that moment, I assumed Cult of Mac was a clearinghouse of sorts with respect to all of the things (apps, websites, etc.) that apear in its stories.  The inescapable problem with the above post is that a lot of people- and I mean a whole lot of people- not only disagree that MacKeeper is a good app, they think it is somewhere between unnecessary and nefarious.  Need some examples?  Here’s a thread from today on the Apple Support Community message boards (the first stop for Apple-related questions and troubleshooting).  This is not an isolated response, and it’s not limited to the Apple Support Community.  Here’s a page that goes to great lengths to warn users away.

The comments to the post as well as on Cult of Mac’s Facebook page evidence the controversy.

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A couple of important things, in the interest of fairness.  One, Cult of Mac is not alone in recommending MacKeeper.  Two, I have never tried MacKeeper, and have no first hand knowledge of whether it is the greatest thing ever, the worst thing ever, or somewhere in between.  My problem with Cult of Mac is simply this: if you are the premier source for Mac news, you simply cannot toss up a post recommending MacKeeper (or any other controversial app) without addressing the significant anti-MacKeeper sentiment that pervades the internets.  Especially when readers might think (rightly or wrongly- I have no idea) that you are getting a cut of sales driven by said post.

If MacKeeper is wrongly maligned by these other websites, then gut it up and tell the readers why.  Debunk the criticisms, but don’t just willy nilly recommend the app, without comment.  Users at least need to know there is a vigorous opposing view.  I would like to be able to trust any app I see recommended on Cult of Mac, but if they don’t want to do the work to give us the full story, I can’t and won’t do that.

MacJournal as a Blogging App: So Much Potential, So Much Frustration

macjI continue to keep Parallels and a Windows 7 installation on my iMac, solely so I can use Live Writer. Lately, however, I’ve experienced a lot of unexpected Windows restarts and other (Windows-related) crashes. This adversely affects my joy and greatly increases my interest in finding a decent Mac blogging app, so I can uninstall Parallels and rid myself of the last remnant of Windows.

So I was immediately interested when I came across MacJournal today.

It’s not specifically a blogging app, but it has blogging features that are noted in the write-up and in the user manual. It is clearly a powerful app, that does a lot of things very well. It has good ratings, and seems to be beloved by many as a journaling tool.  But as a blogging app, it has issues.  Some of them are serious.

Need an example? How about the fact that this is the fourth time I’ve written this blog post- the first three tries via MacJournal were lost to a spinning beach ball of lockups. This one is being written in good ol’ Live Writer.  I wish I was raving about the many good features MacJournal has to offer.  Instead, I am  ranting about the lost potential.  And the fact that I can’t yet rid my iMac of Windows.

Let’s take a look at the very good and the very bad.

The good:

1. It is designed to interface well with a self-hosted WordPress installation. Setting up the blog connection is as easy as adding the URL, name and password for your blog.

2. It’s easy to add links, though the app needs to paste any URLs on the clipboard into the URL box. A small thing, yes, but a real time saver.

3. It is generally easy to add and manipulate photos and videos. There needs to be an easy way to resize a photo to a specific width, etc.

4. Categories and tags are supported.

5. I think it would be easy to create time saving templates.  When it comes to adding content and media, the app is very powerful.

Adding photos is as easy as a drag and drop, or you can browse through the included media browser to find media on your Mac.

Adding YouTube videos is even easier.   Paste the iframe code into your post, and MacJournal does the rest. This is very handy.

You can also record audio and video entries right from the app.

You can quickly import audio and video files from your Mac.

The bad:

notresp

This happens a lot. It’s a deal stopper for me.  The problems seem to arise mostly when I try to publish a media-rich blog post. Problems also arise when I try to open an existing unpublished entry to edit it.

loading

Forever loading. Loading. Forever.

I was never able to successfully publish a media rich blog post via MacJournal.  My initial test post, containing just a photo and a YouTube video published quickly and easily, and looked great.  I could even edit it and republish it.  After that, when I tried to do a full post, with a photo, a YouTube video, several links and a short voice recording, nothing.  Just this.

nopublish

There are some quirks in the editing window (the cursor jumps to the top when you try to resize an image below the fold; I don’t see an easy way to make links open in a new tab or window, etc.), but those are minor annoyances that don’t outweigh the app’s obvious potential. That is, if you could actually post to your blog.

Granted, I am focusing on one aspect of what is, essentially, a journaling app.  But that is the one feature I want, and the only reason I would pay $30 (wow) for the app.

The local journaling features may work fine, but as a blogging app, MacJournal is frustrating, to say the least, and possibly broken (if these issues I am experiencing are widespread; I hope they are not).  The lockups and inability to open an existing entry are huge problems. The worst part is that MacJournal clearly has a ton of potential.  But for now its greatest potential is to frustrate those looking for a native Mac app to replace Live Writer.

Hopefully someone will create a decent Mac blogging app at some point.  I need to get Windows off of my iMac.  Soon.

Where I Come From They Call ‘Em Painters

ml

I was going to tell you all about the forthcoming OS X Mountain Lion release, but this is way better.

I wonder how many more mammals we’ll get before Apple goes to birds?  What with the cloud and all.

I’m already using the Messages beta.  It’s clearly a work in progress, but it is very nice to have iMessages on my Mac.