Learn Pixelmator Free

pixelmator

One of the multitude of things I love about Macs in general, and my retina MacBook Pro in particular, is the photo editing application, Pixelmator.  For many years I was a semi-dedicated Photoshop user.  But Photoshop is expensive, and I have a natural dislike of pay-as-you-go applications.  A few months ago, I decided to dump Photoshop and go all-in with Pixelmator.  Like any good geek, I looked around  for a series of tutorials to get me started.  Drippy Cat has an excellent series of Pixelmator tutorials, freely available on YouTube.

Here, for your and my perusal and reference, are links to Drippy Cat’s excellent Pixelmator tutorials:

Save your Photos from Yourself: The Pixelmator Tutorials 1 and 2
An Overview of Photo Enhancing : The Pixelmator Tutorials Parts 3 and 4
Balance up Your Colors :The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 5
Cure Jaundice with Hue Shift and Saturation: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 6
What you need to know about Curves :The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 7
The Big and Beautiful Guide to Selections : The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 8
Zap Those Spots and Cure your Redeye: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 9
Clone Those Mistakes Away: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 10
Why Layer Masks are Fab: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 11
Back to Black and White plus Spot Colors: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 12
Dodge and Burn: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 13
Why You NEED Layer Modes!: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 14
Flawless skin – Not just for Hollywood: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 15
Getting that old Polaroid Effect: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 16
Best Pencil Effect Tutorial in the World Ever: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 17

I was surprised by how powerful Pixelmator is.  It can do everything I need and more.  You can even import and open your existing Photoshop files.  In short, unless (and even if) you are a professional photographer, I see no reason whatsoever to rent Photoshop monthly, when you can buy Pixelmator for only $30.

Pixelmator also has an iPad app.

The Only Backup Plan That’ll Walk the Line

computercrash

Katie Floyd, co-host of one of my two favorite podcasts (Mac Power Users; my other favorite being Mac Geek Gab), has a very well-written and informative post on creating a backup strategy for your computer.  I agree with most of Katie’s plan, but like a lot of things I think backup strategies can be over-thought and overdone.  Like much of life, the secret to a good backup plan is making it easy enough to do regularly, and powerful enough to give you the results you need.

Before I describe the backup strategy I have settled on (after trying many, many others), let me add my voice to the chorus of those who believe that virtually any backup plan is better than the most common plan: none at all.  As you will see in a moment, I don’t think you need to backup every single piece of data on your computer.  But I do think that most people have some precious things on their computers (photographs, family videos, etc.),  as well as work product that would not be fun to re-create.  Backing up data is a lot like wearing a seat belt.  You don’t need it, until you do.  And if you haven’t used it by the time you need to, it’s too late.

There are two parts to my backup strategy.  First, figuring out what really needs to be backed up, and what doesn’t.  For example, I don’t think you need to backup your entire operating system.  In the event of a total computer failure, you can take the opportunity to do a clean install of the current version of your operating system, which will give you a cleaner, leaner and likely faster computer at the end of the restoration process.  Additionally, I don’t think you need to backup every single application.  On Macs, almost all applications can easily be re-downloaded from the App Store.  Those that were purchased directly from the vendor can almost always be obtained from the vendor’s website.  The exception would be those few applications you rely on that have been deprecated or are no longer available.  I keep installation files for those in a special “legacy applications” folder, which is backed up (more on that below).  It is important, of course, to keep your serial numbers and associated documentation with respect to legacy and directly purchased apps.  That information can be kept in a local file or in the cloud.  I keep this information in a Google spreadsheet.

What does need to be backed up are the files use with your operating system and in your various applications.  This includes your photographs, your videos, your music files (I long ago moved mine to Google Music, where they reside in the cloud and are accessible to me from almost anywhere; I do, however, backup the local copies of my mp3s), and all of your various word processing, spreadsheet, and other similar files.  The secret to making this approach work is both simple and important- you must establish and strictly maintain a folder system on your computer, so you will know which folders contain the files you need to backup.  Choose whatever works best for you.  My folder structure consist of five parent folders (documents, pictures, videos, music, and data files) with assorted sub-folders located thereunder.

Once I know what I need to back up and where it is located, we move to step two of my backup strategy: how and where to back it up.  I do this in two ways (complying with Katie’s redundancy rule).  One, via my Mac’s built-in Time Machine application, backing up to an Apple Time Capsule (in the interest of accuracy, this process does backup my entire computer, including the operating system, however in the event of a loss I would only restore the hard drive in its entirety via Time Machine if my second backup process (see below) failed).  This process is extremely easy to set up, and will work on any local or network attached storage-  it is not limited to Time Machines.  In addition to providing required redundancy, this approach allows me to open the Time Machine application on my Mac and find and restore individual files and documents that may have been inadvertently deleted.  In other words, I don’t have to restore the entire computer to recover data and documents.  I can go into the Time Machine application and grab the ones I want.

My second backup process consists of backing up the specific folders identified above to Amazon’s Glacier service (which is incredibly inexpensive) via the application Arq.  Stated simply, the folders described above are automatically backed up, every hour, to Amazon via Arq.  I backup to Glacier, but Arq supports numerous cloud locations.

Arq is a wonderful application, and does all of its work in the background.  An added benefit of this approach is that I can, if needed, access and restore files located on one of my Macs from another Mac, using the Arq application.  One caveat: one of the reasons Glacier is so cheap is because it is not designed for frequent storage and retrieval of files.  When you need access to a file, it can take several hours for Amazon to make it available.  This is both intentional (because Glacier is designed for backup) and a small annoyance to withstand, given how inexpensive Glacier is.

As an aside, I also currently backup my iPhoto file to Glacier in this matter.  It appears (and I deeply hope) that Apple is about to make this process unnecessary, by storing all photos in iCloud via the upcoming iOS 8 and the forthcoming Photos app.

So, let’s recap.  You need to back up some things, but maybe not everything.  There are many ways to do it, and the key is to pick a process that is both simple, redundant and reliable.  Unchecked, however, the process of backing up data can take a burdensome life of its own, which often results in people performing irregular backups or abandoning the process altogether.  Approached correctly, a backup process can be virtually invisible to you on a day by day basis, while acting as a digital seatbelt to protect important documents and data in the event of a digital accident.

Do it.  Now.  Here’s some music to enjoy while you do.

 

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.

My 10 Most Important iOS Apps

bestiosappsLike a lot of people, I have come to rely more and more on mobile applications, and less on desktop programs.  I still love my iMac, but the list of things I use it exclusively for (video editing, songwriting, maybe one or two other things) continues to shrink.

One of the by-products of this has been a simplification of my iPhone and iPad app use and flow.  Rather than a hundred apps on my devices, stashed away in folders, I have moved towards having many fewer apps easily accessible from the screen.

iphonescreen

Here are the 10 apps I use the most.  For purposes of this exercise, I’m not going to count the pre-installed apps, like Camera (95% of my photos and videos are now taken with my iPhone), Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Messages and Phone.

Swell

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I’ve already covered this great app in detail, so I’ll just restate that I use it all the time, and more than any other app, including the pre-installed apps.

Life360

life360

Largely because Find My Friends, an Apple app for crying out loud, is so completely unreliable, this has become our family’s default and oft-used “where the hell are you” app.  It’s not perfect, but it works.

Dark Sky

darkskyapp

I’ve tried many weather apps, and this one comes the closest to the balance between minimalist information and useful data.  I never use the map, which is what got it on the app map initially, but I like everything else about it.  It’s been my weather app of choice for a good while.

Facebook

facebookmeme

While not pre-installed, this is the functional equivalent of a pre-installed app.  I’m not a heavy Facebook user, but it has all the people and they aren’t coming to me.  It’s the virtual water cooler where one must go if one wants to interact with others.  I hate, with a passion, the way Facebook keeps jacking around with my news feed (for example, by changing it back to top stories rather than most recent), but there’s not much to do about it (except immediately change it back).

Fitbit

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I am a big fan of the Fitbit One.  I’ve worn it for over a year, and I check my stats multiple times a day.  Seeing that you’ve got your miles in before the last workout of the day (would otherwise occur) is like waking up at 4:00 in the morning and getting to roll over and go back to sleep.

Evernote

I’m not big on entering notes from my iPhone or even my iPad.  For all its awesomeness, the Evernote apps- and even the desktop program- are hot messes of too much information on the screen and chaotic navigation.  But it has long been my primary file cabinet, and I access stuff all the time.

Spotify

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iTunes is a horrible train-wreck of an experience and probably always will be.  Spotify is the one and only music application you need.  I listen to 90% of my music via Spotify, and the rest via Google Music, which will not increase its share unless it removes the frustrating 20,000 song limit.

Here’s a short little playlist, via Spotify.

 

Yahoo News Digest

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At first, I loved the simplicity of this app.  Eight stories in the morning and eight at night.  I still use it, though I find that, more and more, I am reading things I already know.  But if you want a simple but elegant news app, this is the one.

Feedly

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Feedly is the best Google Reader replacement, and in many ways an improvement over my long-lost love.  I don’t use it much on my iPhone (the screen is just too small for optimum content consumption), but I use it all the time on my iPad.  Reading my feeds is one thing that has moved very decidedly from an iMac thing to an iPad thing.

Dropcam

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I have had more than one frustrating experience with Dropcam hardware, but it’s getting better, and I use the app daily all the time to view my various security cameras.  I pay for the cloud storage of the video feeds and I like the ability to get alerts when the camera senses motion.  As soon as they come out with the long-rumored weatherproof camera, this app will be the only security service you need.

Honorable Mention: Skype (the best way I can effectively video-chat with my teenagers from afar; I prefer FaceTime, but young people seem to prefer Skype), Hue (the hardware is way too expensive, but, you know, colored lights can hypnotize), HBO Go (I use it all the time on my Apple TV- Sopranos FTW), Instagram (last year, it would have been at the top of the list, but it’s fading fast), Kindle (if this were an iPad only list, it would be near the top).

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.

Apptic Storm: Video Camera (the App) Gives You One Stop Video Production- on Your iPhone

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I’m about to save you some time, and make your mobile videos a lot more interesting.

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If you have any interest whatsoever in filming anything at all on your iPhone, you need to buy Video Camera from i4software.  All the creativity they did not use when thinking up that name was spent making an amazingly simple but powerful app that lets you edit video while you film it, compile clips, create transitions, add music and credits and then share it with a single click.  All from your iPhone.

Here’s a test video I made within the first 5 minutes after I bought the app.

The point is not that this is a great film.  It’s not.  The point is that the film is 2 minutes long and took about three minutes, total, to make.  Then I uploaded it to YouTube, right from the app.

You can even use multiple iOS devices and combine the clips into a single project.  There are some helpful tutorials to get you started here.

Video Camera (I’m guessing the developer’s dog’s name is Dog) costs $8.00, which is a lot in app dollars.  But it’s a screaming bargain when you see how easy it is to make and share videos.

The experience is not perfect.  I had some crashes, especially when re-editing a saved project.  The audio import function doesn’t play well with iCloud (the iCloud based songs show up on the list but cannot be imported).

Video Camera will record in 1080- be sure to go to the settings and increase the quality right away.  But my video exported to YouTube in 360p.  That’s not good enough.  I could probably import the less compressed video via my iMac, but that sort of defeats the purpose.

There’s some work to be done, but for quick and easy video projects, Video Camera is just about perfect.

Dragon Express May be the App to Bring Voice Recognition to the Masses

dePrior to using Dragon [D]ictation on my iPhone and series Siri on my iPhone, I was very dubious of voice recognition applications.

However, once I experience[d] Dragon
[D]ictation and in series Siri, I realized that there may be more to voice recognition software than I first thought.

I am very excited about Dragon Express, the new $50 application for Macs. I am dictating this blog post using Dragon [E]xpress.

You can see the corrections I had to make. As you will see, Dragon Express does an excellent job of capturing my voice. This is especially impressive, given my southern drawl.

I don’t know how much I will use Dragon Express, but if these initial results are indicative of its capabilities, I expect how we I’ll use it fairly often.

I wish there was an easy way to insert URLs, or at least placeholders for links.

So far, I have to give Dragon Express in the phones a thumbs up.