Glad I Brought the Laptop

A few weeks ago I wrote about my little nerd-crisis as I prepared to go on a trip. It was largely a trip for fun and I was hoping I could get by with the iPad but I had a few things cooking at the day job that made me ultimately decided to bring the laptop along. I thought I'd report back on that.

I got by just fine with a 9.7 iPad Pro for most of the trip. It's an excellent computer to use on an airplane and combined with the smart cover, I can type pretty damn fast on it. Moreover, despite my constant grumbling about file management on iOS, I got a significant amount of work done between Microsoft Word, Apple's Pages, and Numbers. Likewise, the day-to-day management of email and OmniFocus was just fine.

As expected, as I tried to rely on the iPad, I found a few areas that could use automation improvements and the experiment resulted in a couple clever new Workflow recipes.

Overall, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself about not needing the Mac … until the last day. 

On the last day a client contacted me with a new contract that they needed to turn around quickly. In the law game, most contracts are provided to you in Microsoft Word and sometimes even Apple's Pages. The real rare snowflake is a contract provided to you as a Google document. Lawyers just haven’t adopted Google documents very much. Its track changes features (which Google calls “suggestions”) are fairly recent and still a little clunky. Something I didn't know until the fateful day is that the Google Docs app for iPad doesn't include support for Google document change tracking. You can see other people’s suggestions. You can even accept or reject them. You just can’t add your own. If you go to the Google website they explain that the way to suggest an edit on the iPad is to “open a document, spreadsheet, or presentation on your computer.” That’s right. If you want to make suggestions with your iPad the trick is to put it down and open the file on your computer. 

So on the last day of my trip I was forced to pull out the MacBook and do some work. My grand experiment was struck down by Google.

That's the thing about trying to get by with your iPad alone. It works great until it doesn't and then it doesn't work spectacularly. Over the years the percentage of work you can complete and iPad has steadily increased. I'm at about the 90% range. That doesn't mean I can work just as fast on iPad but I can work on an iPad. The trouble is, however, that last 10%. It's not a simple problem that Apple can fix with a single software update. In this case, it was Google's delay in adding a feature that is common on every other platform for their software except the iPad.

I don't know how long it's going to take us to travel that additional 10% but I expect it's going to be an uphill climb for a while. As much as I'd like to have the freedom of using my iPad only on trips, for the time being I'm still going to have to bring a laptop. That won’t, however, stop me from continuing to try.

Using Workflow with Multiple Apps

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I have so many Workflow recipes, which prompted several emails asking me to share. I already shared quite a few of them in the Workflow Video Field Guide but since publishing that I've added several more. Over the next couple months I'm going to share some of the more interesting ones.

The Home Screen Post Workflow

I occasionally post the home screen of interesting readers and friends on this website. Setting up those posts require several things. First I need to send the questions to the home screen guest along with some instructions (like requesting for headshot). Next I need to set up the publication task and OmniFocus. Finally I do all the edits and preparation of the post in Ulysses.

After doing this manually for what seemed like the millionth time, I finally got wise and created a Workflow automated process. The Workflow steps are in the screenshot below.

The Email

If I start this process on my Mac I do with a TextExpander snippet but since I'm going to be using this workflow to also create an OmniFocus and Ulysses project, I decided to combine it all in workflow on iOS. The workflow asks for the name of the person and any additional text I want to add to the email. It saves those two items as variables and then opens a body of pre-written text and drops in the name and additional text data I just captured. It then combines all of this into a third variable for the combined text.

I appreciate that using Workflow's Magic Variables, I don't need to necessarily declare variables anymore. Nevertheless, this one was prepared long before they added magic variables and I've never bothered to change it up. It works fine as is.

Next I take the variable containing the combined text and drop it in a new email message. Because I know that this is going to be an email about a home screen post I can even insert the subject line in the Workflow. All I need to do when the workflow activates is pick a recipient and the email fires off.

The OmniFocus Task

Next the workflow opens up OmniFocus and creates a new task to publish this home screen post using the variable for the person's name. The beauty of this is I'll have to type their name and once and it gets used in several applications. (Note this does not create an OmniFocus Project. I’ll show that one off in the future.)

The Ulysses Sheet

Finally, I create a new text file with the name of the post, dropping in the name variable one last time. I then use that text to open up a sheet in Ulysses to hold the text for the home screen post. Having that text file ready in Ulysses is a nice reminder for me and when I receive the responses from the home screen guest, I simply drop them into Ulysses and work from there. You'll note there is a long string identifier for the group name in Ulysses. This is how Ulysses knows to put the text file in a specific location in my Ulysses hierarchy where I'd expect to see these posts.

Overall, this is a very simple workflow but when it saves me a bunch of time. Indeed, this is one of those things that is now faster for me on iOS than the Mac because of the way all these apps can work off a few variables. Do not underestimate the power of Workflow to take one little bit of information and use it in multiple key applications. To me that is one of the application’s best features.

Sponsor: Daylite CRM for Mac

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Daylite, the CRM & Project Management app for teams on Mac, iPhone & iPad.

Daylite helps companies manage more leads and projects by organizing all your data so you can work more efficiently and gain valuable insights into your business. 

Recently a law firm in Georgia shared that Daylite has helped them grow from a team of 2 to 13 in just two years. By using Keywords in Daylite to tag how new lead and client heard about them, the firm was able to filter and uncover which methods worked best for attracting new clients. 

They also use Daylite to filter and identify which clients were referring them the wrong type of leads. By educating their referring clients about their services, they saw a big improvement in the type of leads they were getting, which led to more clients.

By using Daylite to capture important information, this firm was able to leverage that data and grow their business.

If you are managing a small to medium sized business, you can't go wrong with Daylite. It works on Mac, iPad, and iPhone and gives you and your team one place to manage tasks, contacts, calendars, email, and all those other bits you need to make your business successful. Head over to Daylite today and learn more.

Free is Never Free

The New York Times piece on Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is pretty damning. There’s a lot to consider in the article but one bit that stood out for me was this:

They (Uber) spent much of their energy one-upping rivals like Lyft. Uber devoted teams to so-called competitive intelligence, purchasing data from an analytics service called Slice Intelligence. Using an email digest service it owns named Unroll.me, Slice collected its customers’ emailed Lyft receipts from their inboxes and sold the anonymized data to Uber.
— Mike Issac, New York Times

As I read this, I had to wonder how Unroll.me users felt about their email getting harvested. Unroll.me is a free service that looks at your email for you and helps you unsubscribe from unwanted junk mail. The most important word in that last sentence is “free”.

Free is never free.

Indeed in this case, where unroll.me is owned by an analytics service, it appears that the entire purpose for the service is to get access to user email data for monetization. So apparently Unroll.me, with access to its user email accounts, collected their Lyft receipts, anonymized them, and sold them to Uber. I'm pretty sure people signing up for unroll.me don’t expect that to happen.

The Unroll.me CEO wrote a sort-of apology where he explained that the biggest mistake was not communicating to users how much unroll.me does with subscriber data. “And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.” Looking through the unroll.me website, I agree. They could definitely do a better job communicating what they're up to.

It’s often argued that you should only use web services that require payment because free services won’t be able to stay in business. However, even scarier in my book are the free services that manage to stay in business and the things they do with your data to keep the lights on.

Be careful out there.

 

Free Agents 19 - Nobody Grades You on the Scaffolding

Every independent worker will agree that being organized is important. But should you adopt an organizational system? How can these systems help you, and are they worth the investment? In this episode Jason and I detail our own personal organization systems and discuss approaches to getting more organized, as well as tools to use to help in the process.

Sponsors include:

  • Sanebox: Clean up your inbox in minutes. Sign up for a two-week free trial and a $20 credit.
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.

Apple's Green Ambitions

Yesterday Apple released it's 2017 Environmental Progress Report. The company has come a long way on this front in the last few years. They've got most of their operations working off renewable energy. They've also developed a robot that takes iPhones apart so they can better recycle. The big announcement with this latest report is the aspirational goal to, at some point in the future, make their products entirely from recycled goods. Apple wants to stop digging in the earth.

It sounds crazy, but we’re working on it. We’re moving toward a closed-loop supply chain. One day we’d like to be able to build new products with just recycled materials, including your old products.
— Lisa Jackson, Apple VP of Environment and Policy

I spent some time reading the various spins on this position around the Internet and I think it's a mistake to look at this as some hippie-lipservice from Apple. I think they really mean to pull this off and we'll see further steps in this direction going forward. Also, I don't fault Apple for stating their intention to do something they still haven't entirely figured out how to pull off. I think the fact that Apple is publicly working on this will encourage other big tech companies to do the same and maybe they'll even collaborate on finding solutions. Wouldn't it be great if they pulled it off?

A Few Rules to Avoid Getting Stung with Crowd-Funding

Three years ago I backed this project on Indiegogo that was a clever iPhone battery/cable/locator/camera trigger. At the time it seemed pretty useful and I was still in those heady days of believing that anything listed on Kickstarter or Indiegogo would necessarily ship.

Well it's been three years and I'd pretty much written off the idea of ever receiving my GOkey. A few days ago I received an email from the project organizer making it official by explaining he was out of money and unable to ship. He concluded the email:

"I feel terribly shameful for letting you down.
I am sorry."

I actually felt kind of bad for the guy despite the fact that he got my $69 and I never received anything in return. I would have been more upset about this in the past but I’ve become much more realistic about these projects in the last few years. 

The idea behind crowd-funding is a good one. Somebody has a great idea and rather than going to the bank, they get funded by their first customers. Unfortunately, you’ve got to be pretty discriminating if you don’t want to receive any emails like I just did from GOkey. I’ve got a few rules now for backing crowd-funding campaigns:

1. If it has a circuit board, don’t back it. 

It often seems to me that the biggest fails on these types of projects involved finalizing, approving, and sourcing electronics. I know that this was part of the reason the GOkey never shipped. These days I’ll only back something that has a circuit board if it is made by a company with already a proven and reliable track record.

2. Smashing success is often a bad thing.

If I'm watching a Kickstarter or Indiegogo that starts blowing up, I’ll take a step back and look very closely before I get on board. Being required to make millions of a product when you originally only expected to make thousands adds a lot of complexity and opportunities for things to go wrong. You may recall how long it took them to ship the original Pebble watch. People I talked to said a lot of this was due to them having to ramp up for so many units.

3. Simple ideas are also subject to peril.

Another problem showing up is intellectual property theft. A clever designer will come up with a new way to solve a problem and the project will get some momentum. That very same momentum, however will attract rip-off artists to start flooding the market with similar products, sometimes before the campaign even ends.

I still think the idea behind crowd-funding is a good one. If you see something you feel passionate about and you want to play a role in making it a reality, there's nothing wrong with backing it. Just be warned that no matter how good of an idea a product is, it still may never ship.

 

Star Wars Episode VIII – The Trailer, The Poster, and the Show Floor

Today was the Episode VIII panel at Star Wars Celebration and it was pretty great. The corker was a 2 minute teaser that LucasFilm is calling a "trailer". I don't see how you can call this a trailer though. It's just the barest of sketches about what's going on with our heroes and villains in the middle act of the trilogy. It's very well done and I like the fact that it conveys very little information about what to expect. The movie is still eight months away. Keep us in suspense a bit longer please.

About that Poster

I really like the new poster. Seeing old Luke so prominantly is awesome considering he had such a small role in The Force Awakens.

IMG_0084.JPG
IMG_0085.JPG

I also like the way Rey at the bottom harkens back to Luke in the original Star Wars poster from 1977. (I remember seeing that poster as a kid and not sure what to make of it. The guy holding the light saber looked more like someone out of a Spartacus movie than Mark Hamil.)

Also, did you notice how Rey's saber transitions from blue to red? The point of the middle episode is to leave us feeling our heroes are completely screwed. Between the trailer and this poster, I expect they'll deliver on that promise.

MacSparky's Celebration Multi-Media Extravaganza

So far at Celebration I've been watching panels and meeting up with friends. Today I plan to spend a lot of time on the show floor taking pictures of both the awesome and the bazaar. It's all here gang. Follow me today on Twitter, Instagram, and/or SnapChat for plenty of Star Wars content. I'll even be posting video with my SnapChat Glasses. Such a nerd.

​A Long Sunset for Workflow

 MacRumors reports that the Workflow team has confirmed in a recent customer support email there will be no further features but imply they'll do maintenance updates. Specifically, they wrote:

 "But just so you know, we have no further planned updates for Workflow. That being said we are continuing to support Workflow's current functionality and have no plans to end support, so let me know if you run across any bugs or crashes." 

We all knew this was coming. In hindsight, we should have known it was coming this soon. Whatever Apple hired the Workflow team for, it was not to continue developing Workflow. They've obviously already started on some sort of integration of Workflow-like tools in iOS.

However seeing it there, in black and white, that the app that I use repeatedly, every day, is now frozen feels pretty bad. I'm constantly writing new Workflows to automate working on iPhone and iPad. I currently have 53 workflows that I've written myself or boosted from somewhere else on the Internet.

Whatever Apple is working on, I find it highly unlikely that it will ship with iOS 11 that gets announced in just a few months. So my guess is we'll wait until iOS 12 to get the Workflow replacement, which is most likely 14 months from announcement and 17 months away from release. Will Workflow still function up until that time? I sure hope so.

PDFpen Version 9

Smile just released a new version of PDFpen for Mac. The new version adds several features including better annotations, linked files, better export options, a new "search and highlight" feature, line numbering, a new hand tool, better table of contents editing, and Asian OCR.

There’s a lot more. Indeed, so much more that I made a video for Smile.

Packing the Laptop

I'm about to take a little trip. Packing for me is usually pretty easy. If I can get by on a trip with one pair of shoes, it makes my entire day. I can, however, get hung up when it comes to technology. My current nerd crisis is the decision of whether or not to bring the laptop.

For this trip I've really been struggling with this question. There's a part of me that would love to leave it at home. I do a lot of computing from the iPad and I can often go days without needing a Mac. However, some days I really need a Mac. If I can leave the laptop at home, it means significantly less gear and weight. 

There is also the intangible part of this equation. I just enjoy working on the iPad. I like the relative simplicity of it. I like being able to use the Apple Pencil when the mood strikes me and I particularly like the way using (essentially) a piece of glass as my computer makes me feel like I'm living in the future.

Finally, there's a certain degree of geek thrill from putting yourself out on the ledge like that. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and leaving the iPad at home may lead to some interesting discoveries.

Against this inclination to leave the laptop at home I always have to stop and think about what work I intend to get done and whether the iPad is up to the task. On this particular trip I'm worried because I'm still in the process of finalizing a large client transaction which means I may need to spend time with a significant number of files and some complex Microsoft Word documents. Microsoft Word is great on the iPad except when it comes to making changes to style formatting, which it can’t do. When I work on big transactions, there is lots of style formatting.

I do have the ability to remotely access my iMac at home so, in a pinch, I could perform any Mac-specific work from the road so long as I have an Internet connection.

The real problem is that we all have this list of things that are either impossible or a lot more difficult on the iPad than they are on the Mac. When deciding whether you are going to use a iPad for 10 minutes or a five day trip, we still have to go through the same calculus. Until the iPad can get closer parity to the Mac where we don't have to go through this mental journey every time we take a trip, the iPad will never reach its full potential.

As for me, because the friction points relate to client work, I’ll end up bringing the laptop along. What kills me is how close I am to not needing to bring it. If only the iPad filing system were just a little bit more robust and if only Microsoft Word were just a little bit more powerful. I hope people at Apple and Microsoft are getting the message.

 

TestFlight Improvements and the Developer Climate

Yesterday Apple released an update for the TestFlight app. TestFlight is a tool that allows developers to release beta iPhone and iPad software to testers. At any one time I'm running several beta applications on my iPhone and and iPad via TestFlight. When I saw the update come down yesterday I didn’t think much of it. 

Today, however, I have heard from several developer friends that are quite excited about these new updates. In particular, the new version allows developers to send out multiple versions of the application for testing. With the new system developers can test different versions of their app  to different users or even multiple versions to the same user. This allows for better testing and comparison. They've also extended testing period from 60 to 90 days.

Apple has made strides in the last six months in giving developers for the iPhone and the iPad better tools. In addition to these most recent changes to TestFlight, developers can now also respond to feedback, Apple is improving search optimization, and they've even become more flexible with the pricing models for subscriptions.

I would very much like to think this is foundational work to create an environment where developers are more encouraged to develop professional caliber applications for iPad and iPhone. Fingers crossed.

Sponsor: The New OmniOutliner 5

This week MacSparky is sponsored by the brand new OmniOutliner, Version 5. The new version adds several new useful features:

Saved Filters
Now you can filter rows based on different criteria: column values, status, note content, and more. You can save each filter to reference later.

Password Protection
Encrypt the documents you’d prefer to stay private. OmniOutliner can now encrypt documents with a password.

Distraction-Free Writing
Stay focused on your writing by automatically hiding the toolbar and sidebars in Full Screen mode.

Document Stats
Get a live view of statistics—rows, words, characters—as you’re typing.

Built-In Themes & Templates
A beautiful set of themes built in to the app.

There’s more including full screen improvements, dark mode, typewriter mode, and customizable keyboard shortcuts. They also have a new business model with the Pro version costing just $59.99. (I got it for half with upgrade pricing based on my purchase of version 4.) 

They also have a minimal, focussed version, OmniOutliner Essentials, that is just $9.99. Head over to the Omni Group and learn all about the new version. You may even recognize that goofy voice on the product videos.

MPU 372 – Workflows with Dr. Drang

This week our favorite snowman returns to the Mac Power Users. We discuss the evolving definition of "pro" and "power user" as well as new workflows for managing text, creative uses for Keyboard maestro, managing Apple Mail and the Doc dives into the iPad.

Sponsored include:

  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. Save up to 20% using this link.
  • The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • MindNode MindNode makes mind mapping easy.
  • Eero: Blanket your home in fast, reliable WiFi.