Your Mac is ringing!

At least 97% of Yosemite users will want to stop their Macs from ringing off the hook, am I right? I would enjoy taking calls on my MacBook or maybe on the rare occasion at my iMac, but I most certainly do not want them to ring every time I have a call.

Turn off the ringing Mac with the guide at OSXDaily.

How to Clean Install OS X Yosemite

I wouldn’t recommend everyone, or that even most people, should perform a clean OS X install these days, but my older iMac seems unusually sluggish. I’m eager to identify the cause. If I perform a clean install, and this Mac doesn’t appear to speed up in the slightest, then I’ve eliminated several of the possible causes.

If you think you might find yourself selling your Mac in the next year, or if you would simply enjoy the experience of a Mac that’s 'like new' for some other reason, then save this link.

(Via The Loop)

iPads Can’t Beat Macs

Jean-Louis Gassée at Quarts:

In earlier columns “The iPad Is a Tease” last April and “The Sweet Spot On Apple’s Racket” in August, I tried to separate the merits of the tablet genre, which I see as established and durable, from the unreasonable expectations that arose from the sense of liberation from PC obfuscation. If you see the tablet as a one-for-one replacement for a PC, you’ll be disappointed, and the falling iPad sales will look like an inevitable skid into obsolescence. I flirted with membership in that camp when I accused the iPad of being unsympathetic to “ambitious” users. (My column was “iPad and File Systems: Failure of Empathy“; in my defense, that was in early 2013—eons ago in tech time.)

I’ve since recanted. Instead of a hybrid product as promoted by Microsoft, the sweet spot in Apple’s business model seems to be a tablet and a laptop, each one used for what it does best, unencumbered by hybridization.

As CEO Tim Cook noted last week, Mac sales (laptops, mostly) grew 18% in the last reported quarter. This time, contrary to earlier expectations, it looks like the Mac is cannibalizing the iPad…not a bad “problem” to have. And it’s nothing like the evisceration of iPod sales after the iPhone was introduced. With the advent of the iPhone, the music player became an ingredient, it was no longer a standalone genre.

There will always be good and unique use cases for iPads, iPhones, Macs, and watches. But the market for each isn’t equal. Phones are the most handy. Macs are the most useful for professional content creation. iPads are perhaps the best for relaxation and passive Internet digestion. The watch could facilitate the individuals’ mindfulness.

Reminder: You Should Read MacStories and Buy Bartender

One of the e-newsletters I actually read is MacStories’. If you aren’t already a subscriber, shame on you. You don’t know what you’re missing out on.

In today’s issue, Graham Spencer wrote about one of MacStories Favorites: Bartender for Mac. This is also one of my favorite third party apps. It collects apps that overflow your Menu Bar and puts them into a drawer, of sorts, that you can open and close. Graham:

If you are anything like us, you probably have a lot of menu bar icons - perhaps an excessive amount. If you're using a small 11" or 13" MacBook it can quickly become a little ridiculous. That's where Bartender comes in handy: it lets you hide some of those menu bar icons so that you only see them when you want to. This is great for those apps that don't let you hide the menu bar icon or for those that you use only occasionally but don't want to completely remove.

Here’s the kicker: If you were subscribed to MacStories newsletter, you would have been offered a promo code for Bartender that gives readers 33% off the regular $15 price of the app.

Check. And. Marked.

If you thought that productivity apps were a small market of the App Store, or if you thought the reports that ‘to-do apps are in vogue’ was exaggerated, then take a look at this horrifying screenshot:

Those are all list-making apps, my friend. They are checkmarked icons — the whole lot of them. Are there duplicates in this collection? Maybe, but not many even if there are.

Two thoughts. 1) I’ve never heard of 98% of these. 2) people aren’t going to be very productive if they try much of any of them out, for review purposes, to discover which works best.

(Via @alexvanderzon)

Drafts 4: Using Notes on iOS Made Easier and More Powerful

Tomorrow, Apple’s fall iPad event starts at 1:00 pm EST. Since whatever they announce will overshadow other news this week, I want to tell you about the new release from Agile Tortoise today, while it is relevant to iOS productivity-minded users. If you write anything with your i-device, you will find this app useful.

What sort of app is Drafts?

Drafts is one of the apps all the smart geeks talk about. That said, the first few versions didn’t appeal to me. I appreciate an app with as many features as Drafts has, but I disliked the interface about as much as I could.1 The app’s design was in the right direction, but it seemed incomplete and unrefined. It was so unusual that I didn’t get the knack for it. It always took me longer than what felt right to write and process text.2

Yet Drafts has always been the notetaker that was known for features first and its novel design second. Over the years people have complimented the design because it accomidates so many features. So maybe I am in the minority of nerds that took a disliking to it? Maybe, but Drafts 4 can make us all happy, because I am impressed with its design overhaul. The layout hasn’t changed very much, but the navigation is infinitely improved over Drafts 3. So, cheers!

Here’s what the app is known for: You type some text — anything from two characters long to the length of a 600 word article (or longer) — then using various actions built into the app, send it to another app of your choosing, or perform some other action with your text. A few examples of the outputs, for the uninitiated:

  • Copy to clipboard
  • Email
  • Text message
  • Tweet
  • Post to Facebook
  • Create a Calendar event
  • Convert into a list in Reminders
  • Save to Dropbox

These are actions that when you tap them, Drafts will perform them. Yeah, Drafts excels where it counts.

These are not all of the possibilities either, but they should be enough to make my point: Drafts is a powerful app. What makes Drafts more than just a Notes.app alternative are these extensions. Write anything in one app and process it very quickly. All of these automators take a tap or two once you are ready to process your text, and then the deed is done. All from the comfort of one interface that, once you get used to it, accelerates notetaking and processing on your iPhone or iPad.

Should I get Drafts 4?

Well, I wouldn’t be writing about it if I didn’t think it was useful. I don’t take advantage of all the features, because some are made with programmers and the ultra tech savvy in mind. But there is plenty about Drafts that make the iPhone a better tool for everyday journalists, bloggers, and notetakers.

Yesterday, Agile Tortoise introduced Drafts 4.3 This new version introduces new features as well as a significant redesign. It is the redesign that makes all the difference.

Open the app and you are presented with a new empty note ready for quick capture of what you would like to type. For context, you are viewing a note in Drafts’ text editor on the startup screen. Since the app’s speciality is plain text with or without Markdown syntax, it is a sparse editor that focuses on the text you type. And since the design of Drafts 4 feels right at home on iOS 8, I have no trouble making my way around the app and getting things done.

Yeah, I say getting things done because I think it’s true. Drafts helps you accomplish things with your notes. Stop typing notes that you later forget about and collect in an app you have no intention of archiving. Make some good use of the notes. If you think this is a good idea, that you should add value to what you write, then Drafts is really the way to go.

Can’t I do these tricks with a combination of other apps that are already on my iPhone? You should ask this question. Yes, you can do all of these note-sharing tricks with other apps. What you don’t understand yet is that Drafts is one app that does everything you might want to do with a note. You don’t need to have multiple note apps to perform different tasks. If you need more than one, then you don’t need all of them handy (like, say, on the home screen). Tuck them away in a bin somewhere on your springboard, and keep Drafts available on the home screen to quickly manage all the notes that go to different apps.

For example, if you were to type out something in Evernote, you would have to find Evernote on your phone. Then, wait for Evernote to sync your account and data. Then, choose what sort of note you want (text, audio recording, photo…). Then, choose a notebook. Then, type the note. Then, tap Save. This all takes time, and before you know it, you experience fatigue writing that note that’s very similar to the monotony of writing an email message. It taxes the bandwidth of your mind. You’re spending some of the limited amount of brain cognition you have available today figuring out the format and organization of your Evernoted note.

But if you had processed this note in Drafts, it would undoubtedly take noticeably less time and brainpower. Open Drafts. Then, type your note. Then, look at where you can send the note. Choose Evernote. Boom.

Here’s another workflow that I like for Drafts. Lets say I want to update my social feed. Facebook and Twitter have noisy streams of communication, so if I visit those sites via an app,4 I’ll most likely be distracted. If I write my Tweet or post in Drafts, I then send them to my social feed without opening the social network’s app. This saves time when I’m on the go, and more importantly, it is easier to concentrate on whatever I’m doing next that has nothing to do with a social network.

With Drafts, you fill your mind with less distractions. You’ll just get the update posted and move on. That’s… almost unbelievably straightforward in a world that seems to make everything complicated.

Hence, Drafts is great. If you value a streamlined process, and you type on your iPhone daily, then this app is for you.

Drafts’ New Interface

At the top of Drafts 4, you are presented with the menu. To the far left, there is a paper document symbol. This takes you to the view of all the separate notes you have in the Drafts’ Inbox, Archive, Flagged and All categories, which are organized into a row of tabs.

Back in the top menu, next to the notes button there is a plus sign. Tap it and you are starting a new note no matter where you are in the app. The new note will be added to Drafts’ Inbox.

On the right of the plus sign, there is a new info icon. The familiar circle shape with the letter ‘i’ inside of it gives it away. Press the info button and see details like when the note was created, last modified, and the actions that were performed on the note in the past.

On the right in the top menu, there is a character and word counter. Lastly, but most importantly, on the far right is the Drafts app button that presents the output options. If you rather let your notes live in Drafts, you can. If you would like to send one somewhere else, go for it. The app doesn’t care, but it serves many potential workflows with flying colors.

Another added feature for Drafts 4, as described in the App Store description, is the “Fully customizable extended keyboard row, with support for simple text snippets and Javascript-based keys make everything from quick entry to powerful string manipulation with Regular Expression possible. Find and install ready to use keys in our directory!” If the added row weren’t good enough, the keys are customizable. There are undo/redo buttons, along with everything else we nerdy typists favor.

Yet another feature, one of my favorite, is the Web Capture share extension. Open Safari. Tap the Share menu button in the bottom menu of the browser. Swipe the row of apps to the left to get to the More button, then tap it. Once in the More Activities menu, turn on the Drafts share extension. Once you’ve activated the extension, you can save URLs, titles, and selections of text from webpages directly to a new note in Drafts.

What Others Say About Drafts App

You now know that I like it, but if you are still wondering if it is worth $5 to get the new version, you need to know that Drafts 4 bests every previous version. And here are what people have said about it.

At The Sweet Setup:

Greg Pierce, developer of Drafts, describes it as “where text on iOS starts,” and he’s right. Basically every email, note, article draft, or idea I (Jeff) want to write down starts in Drafts. From there, I can send the text to whatever app I want to continue with. The custom workflows and powerful sharing options provide so many useful ways to use your plain text. With a recent update to version 4, now is a great time to grab this app.

At MacStories:

With a refreshed UI that irons out many of the kinks that had manifested in earlier versions, a newer and more accessible interface for creating powerful chained workflows, an amazingly useful Share extension, and impressive advanced automation techniques such as JavaScript support, an enhanced URL scheme, and a custom extended keyboard, Drafts 4 is an amazing update to a classic app. Drafts 4 shows us all that it’s ready for the future, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

At The Spark Journal:

Drafts 4 is a $5 paid upgrade for existing users, which I hope I never see a complaint about because Greg works hard to keep the app up-to-date and relevant. This is an app I use all the time, and I’m happy to support him again.

At the moment, Drafts 4 has 20 App Store reviews averaging a rating of 4.5 stars.

Upgrading from Drafts 3

If you want, you will have to migrate your notes and custom actions in Drafts 3 to Drafts 4 with a few manual steps. If you are experienced with Drafts and you like customizing the menus, actions, and managing your notes within Drafts, then you will unquestionably want to take the time to migrate, which is an altogether trouble-free process.

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Drafts 4 is technically efficient, user-friendly, and feature-rich. I can understand why some writers or notetakers would rather stick to other apps. I’m just now adopting Drafts into my workflows. It isn’t the easiest app to understand because it does so many things.

What’s important though — the reasons it is so smart — is that it does most things with excellence. The simplest actions of all, like typing notes and organizing them, are effortless. And then it is just as effortless to share the notes you create practically any way you might imagine.

If you want to learn more about the new features, read Alex Guyot’s review at MacStories.


  1. Here’s more about Drafts 3 in review at App Storm, if you care to learn more about the older version.
  2. There is a possibility that the problem was me, and Drafts was not at fault for my inability to appreciate and make good use of the app. I will admit that I have been slow to adopt workflows where I write much on the iPhone, because I found it difficult to type on with my large hands. So I’ve always held myself back; never gave into typing anything of great import on iOS. When I installed iOS 8, something just clicked, and since then I have typed a great deal more on my iPhone. And now, I find typing in Drafts to jive with my thought processes.
  3. Drafts 1.0 was released a few years ago. I first heard about it about a year and a half ago.
  4. My favorite Twitter app is Tweetbot 3. For as long as Twitter allows third party app support, I’m using Tweetbot.

How to Take Tech Inventory

I can tell you what I do, then you can see whether there are practical tips that would be applicable to your use cases.

I keep a running list in my head of all the gadgets and their accessories floating around the house. What it looks sort of like at the moment:

The list goes on to include our televisions and the like, but it’s the computers I’m wary of. It is easy to end up with too many devices and to use these devices too much of the time simply because they are readily accessible. Then, either you shelve some and never get around to “recycle” them, or you hand down your older tech to younger members of the family so that eventually everyone has at least one of everything.

Either of those scenarios are unacceptable in my household. We are serious about rotating the stock of everything in our home to reduce clutter and hone the simplicity of our lives.

For example, I can argue that I don’t need a computer except to work. I get along fantastically wielding an iPad and iPhone when I’m off the clock. My workflows demand the Mac for graphic design and writing. There are just too many compromises required to get work done on portables.

Hence, I stopped keeping a computer around for personal use in 2011.

The Past and Present

2012 seems like such a long time ago now, but at that time, my iPhone was mainly a music player and phone/text messager. I used many apps for a variety of reasons, but the iPhone 4 didn’t outperform a Mac. But, wow, things changed since then.

The iMac (late 2009 model) sitting on the desk in the corner of our family room is under-used. It has become our media library, where we let the children play games online, at like ABCmouse.com. The rest of the time, our iMac houses our music, photos, videos, and i-device backups. A powerful Mac Mini would suffice, if there were one that handled a large number of files without fail. We probably have two more good years from our iMac, but even now it seems incredibly slow compared to our MacBooks with SSDs, what with its elderly internal hard drive.

My MacBook is "docked" because most of the time it stays on the desk. A larger external monitor is my preferred way to work.

What’s not very surprising, here in the fall of 2014, is that our iPhones get the most use outside of our professional lives. Only three years ago, we would be on our MacBooks in the evening outside of work. The Mac was still a great place to check email, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Hulu. And now, the iPhone is just as good. Because it is the computer that’s always with us, it gets to handle most of our interests. My wife routinely uses hers to purchase air tickets and create a multitude of appointments and calendar events. I, on the other hand, like my phone for music, podcasts, Twitter, journaling, photos, video capture, to-do lists, email triage, and even a substantial amount of reading.

When is enough too much?

So, when do you know you have too many devices? And how much time on tech throughout the week is too much? These are the tough questions. These days, you can easily spend eight hours a day on the Mac at the desk or in the coffee shop. And then you can be on the iPhone every other waking moment you aren’t driving.

It varies for each of us, but it is good to know just how much time we spend on the devices. A few years ago, I was easily using a gadget for one thing or another about 10 hours a day — whether that was my Mac, washing machine, or car depended on the day or the week. Now, It is about 11 hours that I find myself using a machine, or more specifically an Apple device.

As we use devices continually, I often examine what do we need and how should be use our time.

A much greater concern in my mind is what we use our tech tools for. We hardly play games. We work or socialize with family and friends via our Macs and iPhones, mainly. Are we happy in how we use our tech? So far, I’m not concerned about an imbalance or unhealthy lifestyle. Even though we are using the devices for more time than we are sleeping every 24 hours, I appreciate the value added to our work, relaxation, and quality time.

I ask these questions when taking stock:

  • Am I happy with how we use our time on the devices? Is it helpful to our lives?
  • How do our devices work? What are practical considerations? Are we using them efficiently?
  • How do I feel I should be using my time? Am I using my time on my devices wisely? Is there something better that I, as an individual, should be doing?
  • Why be on the computer or handheld? What are our motivations and desires? Are they healthy ones to foster?
  • What do others in our lives think about the use of our tech? Does someone in our family feel neglected because we are serving the machine rather than each other?

After working through these considerations, I then do what I want and think is good for us. There isn’t a hard-set rule, like ‘No more than 9 hours with tech each day for us, and no more than 1 hour for the kids’. I think such arbitrary rules mean well, but they get in the way of what’s efficient and practical. While cutting out time wasted on Facebook, limiting the time spent with a tool also impedes your ability to make good use of your resources.

We use our devices like we live in one of those Apple television commercials. I wouldn’t exercise without my iPhone. I wouldn’t read without my iPad. My close friends wouldn’t chat with me if I didn’t have Messages.app. The best means to document our children growing up is with the cameras on our iPhones. It’s what you do with what you’ve got that pays off.

We don’t question the usefulness of two cars. We are a two-car family. Someday, when the kids are grown up, we will probably be a three or even four car family. That’s what is practical in so many life situations. If that’s what it takes to live fulfilling lives, so be it. And on the flip side, at this stage we don’t need a car and a van, sports car for the weekends, and a four-wheeler (to makes ourselves feel special). What’s beneficial for us is two no-nonsense cars (my Hyundai Elantra and my wife’s Saturn Sky) to get around town.

As long as any of our devices are satisfying, we will keep them around. As our needs change, we will recycle or eliminate devices in our lineup.

Ask yourself how many machines are right in your use case. What’s practical, and are you getting your money’s worth? Time is your limited resource, so it doesn’t matter what you do with your device if your using the time to do what you think and feel is beneficial.

Just remember, good is the enemy of great. On a deeper level, think about the best use of your time and devices; don’t ever settle for what’s easy. Look at what will be meaningful to your family and career.

MovieByte #108: Balanced On The Back of a Turtle

For last week’s episode of the MovieByte podcast released today, Michael Minkoff of RenewTheArts.org and I talk about Pixar’s Inside Out teaser trailer, Andrew Garfield’s Spider-man joining Joss Whedon’s Avengers, and Nicolas Cage’s pathetic excuse for a Christian apocalypse film, Left Behind.

We find most Christian films (and the broader spectrum of Christian art) to be repulsive. We discuss why this is, and what we would like the modern church to change.

‘The Maze Runner’ Review

I published a quick review of The Maze Runner, the film based on the novel by the same name written by James Dashner. As far as young adult dystopian thrillers go, I like it as much as The Hunger Games, but for different reasons.

Maze Runner doesn’t hone the hard questions about a broken society and class warfare, but what it does is entertaining, has some heart, and lets teenagers act mature in a crazy-dangerous scenario that could’ve only been inspired by video games.

Adam Lisagor Introduces The Grid

Adam Lisager’s newest video promo is about The Grid. I couldn’t resist the name, as I am a huge Tron fan.

Designing a good-looking website has never been easy and while many services promise to let you build a site without ever hanving to touch any code, you quickly reach their limits if you want to have a more advanced site. The Grid, which is launching its crowdfunding campaign today, promises to do away with all of this.

If The Grid reliably delivers an interface for adding content and viewing it publicly, this will help many content creators that aren’t design savvy. It will especially interest bloggers that want personal sites, as we see in the demo. This is not ready for businesses and independent professionals, in my opinion, but it will interest people ready to abandon other blog and social network platforms.

Black-and-white Wallpapers for Macs, iPhones, and iPads

I love the artistic and enriching qualities of desktop wallpapers. For the longest time, they have been the one sure fire way to personalize our computers. But since I spend a lot of time with computers these days, I have found it very important to add clarity to my digital workspace. I want simplicity that will match the way my mind wants to work. There isn’t time for eye-catching desktop backgrounds if I want to give my full concentration to my agenda.

The ‘Grand Teton’ Focus Collection II background wallpaper

The ‘Grand Teton’ Focus Collection II background wallpaper

As a hobbyist, I have been designing desktop wallpapers for myself since I was twelve. I’ve liked my various designs well enough but wasn’t inclined to share them because the Internet already had a gluttonous amount of wallpapers to offer. I didn’t want to add to the chaos. As it stands, I won’t bother to visit wallpapers sites anymore. They’re the armpits of online art culture.

But iOS came along and I have seen the need to further add minimalism to our devices. Most wallpapers you can find are ugly, busy, and attention-getting. They say “Look at me, please!” so loudly that they overpower the home screen. I have difficulty focusing in the spaces where I switch apps. I have trouble using my desktop to organize files (as I do throughout the day) because the average wallpaper calls too much attention to itself.

A black-and-white background makes it easy to focus

A black-and-white background makes it easy to focus

I started the Focus Collection on September 4th. These are minimalistic backgrounds that cut out all of the distractions and leave your screen with simple gradients and a hint of grain (what photographers call ‘noise’). These images have a way of complimenting iOS 8’ design that I didn’t originally intend. Focus Collection backgrounds pleasantly draw attention away from themselves, turning users’ attention back to their apps and work.

For this new addition to my wallpapers, I’m offering black-and-white backgrounds to counter balance the barrage of color we see all the day long. Some of the most calming designs in modern living spaces I’ve enjoyed were rooms painted some shade of gray. In the spirit of enjoying a wide spectrum of contrast for its unpretentiousness, I give you Focus Collection II, inspired by and made using photographs by Ansel Adams.

I set out to find interesting photos to use as the starting point for these blurry backgrounds. Naturally, I thought of Ansel’s wide array of photos that shaped professional photography as we know it. I have joked in the past that Ansel’s photography isn’t all that special, but I actually like a lot of his photo collection. Love or hate his photography, Ansel was a one-of-a-kind creative artist. He was experimental. He tested the limits of beauty found in the limitations of three-dimensional black-and-white space. He transformed landscapes into two-tone pictures like mankind had never conceived of before.

I have always been awestruck by his photography. I have collections of his works at home. I’ve enjoyed many a wallpaper on my Mac that was one of his pictures. I could have used any image that was black-and-white, but I wanted to use Ansel’s because they have always inspired me. And for the Focus Collection’s purposes, Ansel’s photos are only the starting point.

One of the photos I used on the left, and the results for the background image design on the right

One of the photos I used on the left, and the results for the background image design on the right

I used a variety of photographs from Archive.gov to create the out-of-focus backgrounds that reflect the contrast of the original pictures but leave all the details out of focus. You are left with the mood of Ansel’s photos, but you’re free to own your thoughts as you use these wallpapers distraction-free. Enjoy beautiful black and white photos someplace other than your spring board or desktop.

The Focus Collection desktop pictures come in pixel sizes that match all Apple devices, including iPhone 6 and Plus dimensions and even the iPhone 4’s. Download just a few of the wallpapers individually. Or, for your convenience, download all of them in the size that matches your device with just a couple taps (or clicks).

I have put a lot of effort into creating these pages on my site for the Focus Collection so that you can quickly find the images that you want and download them at your leisure. I hope you enjoy them.

Squarespace 7

Anthony Casalana at Squarespace:

For more information, including how to gain access to Squarespace 7, please visit our launch site at www.squarespace.com/seven. For specific questions, see our Squarespace 7 FAQ www.squarespace.com/seven/faq

Very cool. Keep in mind it is publically available in beta at this time.

New Tools and Toys

Shawn Blanc on Tools and Toys announcing the site’s new design:

As fun as it is to geek out over the latest and greatest stuff, at the end of the day, there is much, much more to life. Our self-worth is not tied to how fancy our gear is nor how often we upgrade it.

Cool new stuff is cool and new, but let us also be mindful and intentional of our consumption habits and our lifestyles. Let’s consider what’s most important to the improvement of our lives and workflows, let’s celebrate craftsmanship and well-made products that are built to last, and let’s be content with not upgrading everything we own all the time (even though we want to). Let’s find inspiration in the march of technology, art, and creativity that is always around us. And let us not be primarily confident in the gear we use, but rather in the values we hold which inspire us to make better and do better.

It’s not your average tech review site. I love Shawn’s standards for quality. Reminds me of Squarespace’s “A better web starts with your website.”