Stop Googling Lyrics with Strophes

When given the choice between a native app and a web app, I will invariably choose the former. I don't see the appeal of opening my browser, navigating to a website, and logging in instead of just tapping an icon on iOS or launching an app with Alfred in OS X. Native apps reduce friction.

Take Twitter, for example. I very rarely use because I can launch Tweetbot in two seconds with a tap or keystroke. Logging into is cumbersome by comparison.

However, there is one task for which I've always had to rely on my browser, and that's searching for lyrics.

I love music, so I look up lyrics on a regular basis. Fortunately, Alfred removes considerable friction from this task: ⌘ + Space to bring up Alfred, type "[name of song] lyrics", hit Enter, and boom — instant Google search.

But, I still have to wait for my browser to open, and then I have to click on one of the search results. And really, that's way to much work for 2012.

Enter Strophes.

Strophes is a lyric reader for your Mac.

Why do you need this? Because it loads the lyrics automatically. That's right; no searching required.

Open Strophes, and the lyrics to whatever song is playing in iTunes, Rdio, Spotify, or Radium will automatically be displayed. Changing the song changes the lyric. You don't have to do a thing. If Strophes can't find lyrics, you can click a button to search Google instead. You can also search for lyrics within the app, and it offers bios for the artist you're listening to.

Strophes has a few preferences, including three themes, the ability to translate lyrics into five languages, and a Safari extension you can use to display lyrics for YouTube videos. The selection of typefaces is poor (Noteworthy, Bradley Hand ITC TT, and — fortunately — Helvetica), but I'm willing to overlook it because of just how handy Strophes is.

Launching the app is faster than searching Google, and if you frequently find yourself looking up lyrics, you'll love Strophes.

See Federico Viticci's review for more.

Get Strophes for $4.99 on the Mac App Store.

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Favorite Apps: Dark Sky

People care a lot about weather apps. We know this.

I was using Fahrenheit for a long time before I decided that a dedicated weather app wasn’t worth the home screen real estate. Notification Center’s forecast widget gets the job done just fine.

Plus, I wondered how imperative it was for me to know the weather all the time? Has the forecast ever prevented me from doing what I was going to do anyway, barring a severe snowstorm? Here in New England, we have four distinct seasons, and people have survived for thousands of years without up-to-the-minute forecasts. Just saying.

I haven’t missed Fahrenheit all that much, and Notification Center provides plenty of information when I do need to know the temperature or the forecast.


I’ve been using Dark Sky for several weeks, and it’s incredibly handy.

Dark Sky isn’t your typical weather app. Rather than offer the usual ten-day forecast, it uses GPS and radar to tell you whether or not it’s going to rain in your area. That’s it.

When you open the app, it’ll tell you if it’s raining right now and if it’s going to rain in the next hour. You can also swipe up to see if it’s going to rain in the next three hours, overnight, and the following morning and afternoon. There’s a radar map available too.

You might be asking yourself, as I did, how useful could this possibly be?

The answer, of course, surprises. Here’s why I find it so helpful.

It’s hot in the summertime, and I’m a man who will always roll the windows down instead of putting on the air conditioning in my car. I also compulsively lock my doors and rarely leave my windows open after I park. This is problematic in the summer because my car gets extremely hot with the windows up.

The proper solution is to outfit the vehicle’s windows with weather guards, which allow you to keep the windows cracked even during torrential downpours. I used these on my first car (a 1995 Buick LeSabre), and they work great, but I’ve yet to spend the money to outfit my current vehicle.

My car has a sunroof, and when it’s hot, I often think about leaving it open or cracked. But I fear that a freak summer thunderstorm will strike as soon as I’m away from my car and subsequently soak the interior.

Dark Sky to the rescue. Whenever I park and leave my car for any period of time, I check Dark Sky, which automatically detects my location and tells me if it’s going to rain in the immediate future. If not, I know I can leave my windows cracked safely, which is a boon when the temperature hits triple digits.

In my experience, Dark Sky is remarkably accurate. It rains when the app says it will rain, and it stops raining when the app says it will stop. Literally. Down to the minute. It’s the only dedicated weather app currently on my iPhone, and I recommend it. Try it out this weekend. It comes in handy far more often than you’d think.

For more, read Ben Brooks’ extensive review.

Buy Dark Sky as a universal app for $3.99 on the App Store.

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Solving a Music Workflow Problem

In the spirit of this week’s episode of Crush On Radio, wherein we discuss how we listen to music, I thought I’d write up some additional thoughts, as well as detail a new component to my musical workflow.

I keep all of my music on an external hard drive. I have 13,791 songs in my iTunes library (up from 12,170 after the great iTunes purge). This amounts to 125.85 GB of music, which I don’t want weighing down my three-year-old 15” MacBook Pro.

The downside to this setup is that I have to have my external hard drive plugged into my Mac if I want to listen to my iTunes library. Normally this isn’t a big deal because my MacBook Pro is my only computer, and it’s usually relegated to my desk anyway. I have a TwelveSouth BassJump 2 Subwoofer (which I adore), so my music sounds great when I’m working at my desk/in my room.

However, inconvenience arises when I take my MacBook Pro away from my desk. I can’t cart the BassJump around with me, so I’m left with comparatively wimpy laptop speakers. I could — and usually do — use headphones in these instances to improve sound quality, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of my iTunes library being back at my desk on my external hard drive.

Take this scenario, for example. The other night I decided I wanted to do some writing on the living room couch instead of at my desk. This is awesome because the couch is right in front of the TV, which has been newly outfitted with my dad’s gorgeous Mirage speaker towers. An ideal listening experience.

BUT. My music is still upstairs on my external hard drive.


Previously, I’d been getting around this issue by streaming music from my iOS devices to our Apple TV, which is a decent, but less than convenient, solution. My entire library is in iCloud via iTunes Match, which is great, but it means I have to download music to my iOS device before I can listen. That means I have to go to Settings, switch on Show All Music, and navigate my entire library via my iPhone or iPad. Given the size of my library, it’s not the smoothest or fastest setup.

So, I need my iTunes library on my Mac without actually having my iTunes library on my Mac.


Services like Rdio and Spotify aim to solve this problem by offering streaming music subscriptions. I never gave them much thought because I like having ownership over my library, and I didn’t like the idea of paying a monthly fee for my music.

But, as I sat on the couch with my MacBook Pro on my lap, periodically tapping around on my iPad to stream music to the Apple TV, I knew there had to be a better way. If I’m working on my Mac, controlling my music via a second device is cumbersome. I don’t want to have to take my fingers off the keyboard.

I remembered Shawn Blanc being a big Rdio fan, so I search his site for articles about the app and found this great tip. Shawn uses Rdio in conjunction with Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil to stream music to his Apple TV.

It sounded like the perfect solution, so I signed up for the $5/month Rdio subscription and downloaded the desktop app. I also bought an Airfoil license from Rogue Amoeba for $25.

This setup works flawlessly.

Rdio’s selection is very good, and the desktop app is well done. You can even match your iTunes library with Rdio’s to build up your music collection, which I wasn’t aware of. (Note: Rdio was able to match only about half of my library, but still more than enough for my needs.) Suddenly, I had access to a good chunk of my music — plus much more — on my Mac without having to overburden my hard drive or be connected to my external. Excellent.

Rdio can’t stream directly to Apple TV via Airplay like iTunes can, so that’s where Airfoil comes in. Airfoil is a simple utility that lets you send music from your Mac to a wide variety of devices. It works great.

I don’t know if I’ll move to Rdio full-time in the future. It doesn’t have every song I have in my iTunes, although I’m sure they’re expanding their selection every day.

Right now, I’m happy to pay the $5 a month to have this flexibility in my music workflow. If you keep your music on an external drive, but wish you could access it from your Mac without fiddling with iOS devices, I highly recommend Rdio + Airfoil. Special thanks to Shawn Blanc for bringing this solution to my attention.

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Back to OmniFocus

I’ve been using Dropkick as my task management app for quite a while. Although, as I mentioned in my review, it’s not really a task manager at all. It’s just a way to create utilitarian lists and sync them across your devices. Dropkick isn’t the prettiest or most feature-filled app, but it’s good at what it does.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is OmniFocus: the behemoth of GTD/task management apps.

I’ve mentioned my distaste for OmniFocus several times. I bought the iPhone and iPad apps a while ago and used them for some time, but ultimately, the app’s cold personality and steep learning curve caused me to pursue other options. I was also in no mood to shell out $80 for the Mac version.

And yet, here I stand to tell you that I’ve decided to give OmniFocus another go.


Amidst the excitement of WWDC, the Omni Group graciously put OmniFocus for Mac on sale at half price (still is!). I decided to pull the trigger. I now own the entire OmniFocus suite, and I hope that the addition of the Mac app will help me put OmniFocus to better use. Quick input for ubiquitous capture on the iOS devices is OK, but it can’t hold a candle to the Mac version’s quick input keyboard shortcut. In addition, Launch Center Pro’s OmniFocus input is quite fast, particularly with this tip by Robert Agcaoili.

I was waiting for Things to support cloud syncing, but it seems development is destined to remain slow and unreliable. My esteemed Crush On Radio cohost, Richard J. Anderson, has abandoned Things after being a dedicated user for sometime. It’s sad, but I still hope to be able to give Things a try in the future.

There’s no doubt that OmniFocus is an amazing and powerful piece of software. I have much to learn about it, but I’m willing to give it an honest effort. I want to like OmniFocus. I really do. Mac Power Users just put out the third installment of their Workflows with Merlin Mann saga, and Merlin offers a lot of good tips that I’m hoping to implement.

So there you have it. Back to OmniFocus. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Dropbox Camera Uploads

In their never ending quest to simplify your life, Dropbox has added the ability to upload photos directly from their iOS apps.

This is awesome for several reasons:

  1. Backing photos up to my computer is much easier. Rather than periodically plugging my iPhone into my Mac and using Image Capture, I can just open the Dropbox app, and any new pictures will be automatically uploaded to my Dropbox. I can then move them anywhere I like.
  2. Getting photos onto my computer is much easier. Instead of emailing them to myself, my photos can now be everywhere almost instantly. This is especially handy when I need access to one particular photo on my iPhone.
  3. You can earn more free space just by using Camera Upload. Try it once, and you get an extra 500 MB. For every subsequent 500 MB of photos you upload, you earn an additional 500 MB. You can earn up to 3 GB of free space this way.

Even in the age of iCloud, Dropbox is still one of my most valued services. I keep all of my writing in Dropbox, and Crush On Radio runs almost entirely via our shared Dropbox folder.

When I put something in Dropbox, I immediately stop worrying about it. I know it’s safe, secure, and backed up.

If you use this link to sign up for a free account, we’ll each get an extra 500 MB of space.

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Favorite Apps: Quotebook

Capture is an important part of my workflow. I use Instapaper for saving articles I want to read later, and Yojimbo for bookmarks and archiving.

But what about saving quotes for future reference?

Hello, Quotebook.

Quotebook is a notebook for capturing and organizing the quotes that matter for you.

Like many of my favorite apps, Quotebook does one thing, and it does it very well. When you add a quote, you can include its author and source, as well as rate or tag it. You can view all of your quotes chronologically, or by author, source, or tag. You can also full text search your entire collection with ease.

The iPhone app is great for quickly capturing quotes, but with the release of Quotebook 2.0 a couple of weeks ago, the app is now universal and sports a wonderful iPad interface.

The iPad version’s textures and typography are beautiful, and it’s specifically designed to display quotes in all their splendor. Of course, the iPhone and iPad versions sync via iCloud, so you’ll always have all of your quotes with you at all times.

You can easily share quotes right from the app via email, iMessage, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Quotebook also features auto-detection, so if you have a quote copied to your clipboard, it’ll automatically ask if you want to import it into your database.

I’ve been using Quotebook since it was released (via Patrick Rhone), and I currently have 332 quotes in my database. I even used it to look up inspiration for yesterday’s post. Its reliable, useful, and super pretty.

If you like quotes — and who doesn’t? — you need Quotebook.

Get it for $2.99 on the App Store.

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Favorite Apps: Recollect

I love music, and I love Twitter, so naturally I love to share music on Twitter.

The thing is, you can’t just tweet a lyric, because people won’t know what song it’s from, and they won’t get to hear it in the context of the song, which is often what makes a lyric great. For me, as per Crush On Radio episode 4, it’s often not the lyrics themselves, but how they are sung. People need to hear your music if there’s any hope of them liking it.

With that in mind, the most effective way to share music on Twitter is using a song preview.

I’ve tried a few different apps for tweeting song previews, including Soundtracking and Path. Both apps do music fairly well.

But I’ve found a new favorite.

Recollect bills itself as “the best way to recommend and discover new music on Twitter”, and I’m inclined to agree.

Unlike Soundtracking, Recollect is beautiful, and unlike Path, it’s specifically designed for tweeting music. It does one thing well. In short, “choose a song, write a brief recommendation, and tweet it.”

Recollect has a news feed where you can view everyone’s recommendations, featured users, your friends, or trends in list or shelf views. These feeds make it very easy to discover new music, and you can “collect” (similar to a Facebook Like) any song to bookmark it for later. Recollect also lets you flip through any user’s recommendations in a record bin style view, which is well done. You can also retweet and reply to people’s tweets, or buy the song in iTunes. Your own profile shows your recommendations, collected songs, and your friends and followers.

At any time, you can compose a new recommendation. There are three options for doing so: search for any song by artist and title, use the song currently playing on your device, or choose a song from your device’s library.

I usually tweet the song I’m currently listening to. If you don’t have album art for the song, Recollect will offer several options and let you pick the best one. Finally, you can include a message, or just use the buttons to automatically input the artist, album, and song. Tap Send, and you’re done.

Besides its speed and ease of use, what makes Recollect so great is the web page it uses to present your recommendations to others. It displays high quality album art, all of the songs information, your message, plus the preview and “Buy on iTunes” buttons. It looks wonderful in mobile view, as well as on the web. I haven’t found an easier or more attractive way to share music on Twitter.

Overall, Recollect might be my favorite app in a long time. It’s beautifully designed, fast, easy to use, and does one thing well. I wish there was a desktop version so I could easily tweet music from my Mac, but that might be on its way.

Recollect is free on the App Store, so there’s really no reason not to check it out. Go get it.

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Favorite Apps: Saver

As you may recall, I’m tracking all of my expenses for the month of May.

For the past week, I’ve been using Saver for iPhone.

Saver lets you set budgets, input your expenses, and view your spending history in graph and list views. It’s beautifully designed, and the aesthetics remind me a bit of Tweetbot, only with a lot more black.

The budget view is simple, but functional. Saver lets you select a monthly budget and then shows you a progress bar displaying how much money you have left for the month. The default view shows you what you’ve spent today, but you can easily swipe between days, or tap the calendar icon to jump to a specific date.

A central component of the app is the input screen, where you can record any and all of your expenses. Saver gives you fifteen categories of expenses, such as Utilities, Auto, Vacation, Payments, Wardrobe, and more. Within each of these categories are six sub-categories. For example, if you double tap on the Payments category, you can select Rent, Subscription, Taxes, Insurance, Mortgage, or Education. If none of those work for you, you can swipe to the left to add your own category. In addition to the category tags, you can add notes and photos to each expense.

Once you’ve input some data, the graph view shows you your expenses in a lovely, color-coded chart. You can tap on a specific type of expense to see all of your spending in that category, and swiping between week, month, and year views is easy.

Saver comes with a handful of useful settings, my favorite of which is the ability to choose your startup screen. For me, 90% of the time I open the app, I’m looking to record an expense, so I set my startup screen to always open with the input view. You can also choose from what I believe is any currency on the planet, and you can set a pass code for added security. Saver also offers its own personal automatic data backup to their servers, although I haven’t bothered to try this feature yet.

The only thing I’ve noticed Saver lacking is the ability to input income. That’s not a concern for me right now, but it may motivate me to check out other apps in the future.

All in all, though, I don’t feel compelled to try any other finance apps right now. Saver is beautiful, simple, functional, and intuitive. I recommend it.

You can buy Saver for the discounted price of $1.99 on the App Store.

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Favorite Apps: Ritual

I came across an app this week that makes a perfect companion to the Seinfeld productivity method.

It’s called Ritual.

Ritual helps you commit to your New Year’s resolutions, establish new habits, and keep track of your weight, spending, working hours, and more.

The app features a beautiful split-pane interface. On the left is a sort of linear calendar. On the right is the daily view, where you input the habits you want to track, like “Take vitamins”, “Eat healthy”, or “Exercise”.

If you complete your ritual, you check the box next to that habit. As time goes on, the calendar on the left gets filled with checkmarks to show you how many days in a row you’ve done your habit.

After you’ve been tracking for a few days, you can tap each habit to view graphs and charts of your progress.

When adding new habits, you have the option of making them “Yes/No” habits or “Number” habits. The Yes/No variety is self-explanatory: Did you work out today? Check for Yes, leave unchecked for No.

If you use a Number habit, you input the value for whatever your habit is. Say you want to do push-ups. Ritual lets you track how many you perform each day. You can also use this feature to track your weight or spending over time.

Ritual is pretty sparse in the settings department, but you can set reminders, and you can export your data via an email spreadsheet.

I won’t be using Ritual to track my expenses, as I prefer the functionality of a dedicated finance app. However, it has earned a spot on my second home screen as a way of staying focused and doing my habits every day. I was using a desk calendar for this purpose last month, but Ritual allows me to track my habits on-the-go, and I can add as many as I want. It’s simple, beautiful, and useful.

You can get Ritual for $1.99 on the App Store.

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App Review: Dropkick

Like my note-taking system, I’ve grown dissatisfied with my to-dos/task management on my Mac and iOS devices.

OmniFocus & Things

I’ve had OmniFocus on my iPhone and iPad for a while now, but as I’ve said before, I don’t like it. OmniFocus is incredibly powerful, but I don’t enjoy using it. The app feels cold and utilitarian, and every time it reminds me to do something, I resent it a little more. Too bad, because I love the icon.

Contrary to the typical story of “Apple nerd switches from Things to OmniFocus and loves it”, I’ve been contemplating the opposite transition. Things seems to be much simpler and more friendly than OmniFocus, but Cultured Code has received much criticism for taking years to implement cloud sync, which has only recently reached public beta. I’m sure it won’t be in beta forever, but I’m reluctant to invest in any app that isn’t consistently updated, and right now Things’ release cycle feels too sporadic for my liking. Those who love Things love it with a passion, and I hope cloud sync comes out of beta soon. I really want to try it, but I don’t feel it’s time yet.

I Have Needs

But how many?

OmniFocus is feature-laden, and while you can use as many or as few as you’d like, I can’t help but think I don’t need such a professional grade task manager. Hence, my leaning toward Things.

While I’m a proponent of GTD, I’m not at a point in my life where I need to manage multiple projects, meetings, and deadlines.

The modesty of my task management needs has led me to Dropkick, upon Federico Viticci’s recommendation.

Enter Dropkick

Dropkick is a to-do list app that syncs across all of your devices.

And that’s pretty much it.

The app is very minimal and monochrome. (If you ask me, it could use some color and personality.) It has no preferences. The icon is decent.

Dropkick lets you add lists, tasks, and nothing else. What really stands out, though, is its cloud sync. Using a free Dropkick account, your lists and tasks are synced very quickly across all devices within seconds.

One slight annoyance is that there’s no quick input on the Mac version. You have to switch to the app, bring the window to focus, and hit CMD + N. It’s not bad, but it does create a bit of friction when you want to quickly add a to-do.

I don’t have much else to say about Dropkick. It does one thing well. The apps are free for up to ten tasks at a time, and in-app purchases grant you unlimited tasks. You can buy the entire suite for $12, which is exponentially less than Things or OmniFocus.

As I try out Dropkick, I find myself wondering if it strikes the right balance between features and simplicity. OmniFocus is too intense, but Dropkick might be too sparse. If all you’re looking for is a way to sync to-dos between devices, though, Dropkick is inexpensive, fast, and reliable.

Check it out.

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A Place for Pop

I’ve been dissatisfied with notes on my iPhone lately.

As an iPhone user, I feel obligated to have a brilliant note-taking system that syncs with my iPad and Mac. I used Simplenote for a long time before switching to Notesy. Simplenote requires a yearly subscription for full functionality, while Notesy does not. I also like Notesy’s Markdown support and customizability. Still, something wasn’t quite right.

Most recently, I had Drafts on my home screen for a couple of weeks. It’s a robust app with plenty of features for exporting and manipulating text. I’ve transferred a few of my notes from Notesy to Drafts, but I never seem to find myself wanting to open the app. Maybe I just don’t want to tap on its less-than-pretty icon.

Despite their intended usage, note-taking apps are often quite complex. They have folders, and search, and fonts, and sync, and a host of other wonderful features.

But these features can also feel burdensome. You have to wait for the app to open. You have to wait for your notes to sync (and risk encountering a gut-wrenching sync conflict). You have to navigate back and forth between notes. There’s friction. Not a lot, but it’s there.

Which brings me to Pop.

I mentioned Pop in my Ubiquitous Capture Roundup. Pop’s main feature is its lack of features. Open, read/write, close. Copy and paste if you so desire.

I shouldn’t like Pop. Like Shadoe Huard, I didn’t intend to use it. It doesn’t let me write in Markdown. Though universal, it doesn’t sync with its iPad version. It doesn’t have Dropbox support. I can’t hook it up with Notational Velocity. It doesn’t even let me create notes! It’s just a white space with a cursor. An iOS enigma.

But for some reason, it feels really good.

I downloaded Pop mostly out of support for Patrick Rhone’s new company, Minimal Tools, and to see the app’s featurelessness for myself. (It’s true; there aren’t any.) I put it on my second page of apps.

Then, by chance, I had a reason to use it. My mom told me what she wanted for Mother’s Day. I opened Pop, jotted it down, and closed the app in seconds. No watching the app load. No waiting to sync. No searching for my “Gift Ideas” note.

Pop is making me think that — just maybe — this is all I need. As I browse through my handful of notes in Notesy, I see that none of them have been updated in at least a month, nor can I remember consulting any of them. Maybe a digital scrap of paper is all I need.

Now, there are some notes that I do update monthly, and Pop doesn’t really meet this need. But I believe that’s by design.

As Patrick says, “Pop is step one.” In the case of my mom’s Mother’s Day present, I wrote it in Pop and will delete it after I buy it. If I come up with a brilliant idea, I can capture it quickly, and then Pop will force me to process it later on, at the very least out of my compulsion to keep the app clean and beautiful.

I’m not sure how my relationship with Pop will progress, but for now, it’s taken up residence on my home screen. And it feels good. My iPhone’s home screen is populated with apps that fulfill my foremost needs: to communicate, to read, to listen, to write. I’m going to let Pop try its hand at the writing chair, or perhaps the “capture” chair would be more appropriate.

Pop feels like an oasis for ideas. Once captured, my thoughts reside in Pop, patient and pristine, until I decide what to do with them. What more do I need?

You can get Pop for $0.99 on the App Store.

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Ubiquitous Capture Roundup

Ideas can vanish as quickly as they take shape, so the ability to capture them right away is a critical part of both one's creative process and overall productivity.

I've tried many ubiquitous capture systems (a key component of David Allen's Getting Things Done), but I've yet to settle on just one. As such, I'd like to explore the pros and cons of several systems here.

Note: This article is about capturing ideas and thoughts. It is not about bookmarking things on the Internet or saving articles to read later. I have separate systems for those things. (See: Yojimbo and Instapaper, respectively.)

On My iPhone

Many capture tools are iPhone apps. My iPhone is always within arm's reach, so in many ways it's the ideal ubiquitous capture device. These are the capture-capable apps I currently use, with varying degrees of frequency.

  • OmniFocus: The powerhouse of to-do apps, OmniFocus features an omnipresent quick capture button. This feature allows you to add an item to the app's Inbox at any time, even when syncing data. As I mentioned in my home screen app roundup, I don't love OmniFocus. It's loaded with features, but its utilitarian design and lack of personality make it feel very cold. It's not fun to use, although I know many can't live without it. I suppose they would argue that a task manager isn't supposed to be fun, but regardless, I rarely feel compelled to open the app, even to capture an idea. I've thought about switching to Things, but its update cycle makes me hesitant, and I'm not sure I even need such heavyweight to-do apps at this point in my life. App Store: $19.99

  • Mail: I keep my inbox at zero, so if there's something in there, it means I have something I need to take care of. Sending myself an email is a decent way to make sure I don't forget about an idea because I look at my inbox throughout the day. But, emailing myself is a cumbersome process: tap Mail, tap Compose, type email address, type subject, type message, tap Send. Too clumsy for my taste.

  • Noted: This app solves the problem with using Mail for ubiquitous capture, which is a lack of speed. When you open Noted, you're presented with a blank text field. You type, hit Send, and the message automatically gets delivered to your email address. That's it. Noted does one thing very well. Currently, I keep Noted in a folder on my third screen, so it's not the easiest app to access. I could move it, but I question how necessary it is for my capture system to involve email. App Store: $1.99

  • Notesy: A beautiful and feature-rich notes app, Notesy replaced the default Notes app on my iPhone long ago. It syncs via Dropbox, and it's very reliable. I use it to keep running lists, or to take notes if I ever find myself in a meeting. Notesy opens in the same state you left it, so if that's somewhere you don't want to capture your idea, you'll have to back up a screen and select a different/new note. App Store: $4.99

  • Clear: A beautiful, musical, and innovate to-do list app, Clear is quite wonderful. It occupied a spot on my home screen for a while, but I've since moved it to screen two. List items in Clear can only be a handful of words long, so it's not great for capturing complex ideas, but adding things to lists is quick and easy via its gesture-based UI. I use this app for running lists as well, such as books to read and gift ideas. It's better suited for capturing brief to-do items than it is for remembering complicated thoughts. App Store: $1.99


In the last week or two, a few new capture apps have come onto the scene.

  • Drafts:. Like Noted, Drafts always opens to a blank note, which lets you start typing right away. Several smart folks (including Dave Caolo, Stephen Hackett, Ben Brooks, and Federico Viticci) have all had positive things to say about Drafts. After watching the video on their website, I have to say Drafts looks mighty useful, particularly due to the array of actions you can take once you've captured your idea. You can tweet, email, and copy text easily, and it supports Markdown syntax, previewing, and exporting to email. I don't love the icon, but I must admit Drafts seems like a great app, and one that was specifically designed for ubiquitous capture. It doesn't have sync yet, and there's no iPad app, but I might be willing to overlook those shortcomings. App Store: $0.99

  • Pop: The first offering from Patrick Rhone's brand new development team, Minimal Tools, Pop is like Drafts, but without all the features. That's not a bad thing, as the Minimal Tools philosophy is: "Feature number one should always be as few features as needed to perform the primary purpose." I dig that mindset. Write, Read, and Copy All are the only features you'll find in Pop. It truly is a digital piece of paper. Plus, it's got a ballsy icon. App Store: $0.99

  • Dropkick: A simple and elegant to-do list app, the full Dropkick suite for Mac, iPhone, and iPad will only cost you twelve bucks. It syncs over the Internet and looks like a great, few-features to-do system. Again, it seems better suited to capturing tasks than ideas, but it could be a great option for those who just want lists of tasks with checkboxes. App Store: Free, with an in-app purchase for full functionality.

Old School

Sometimes, it feels good to write with a pen and paper. Despite my atrocious (and worsening with age?!) handwriting, I keep a pen and scratch pad on my desk so I can scrawl ideas, thoughts, and to-dos immediately while I'm at my computer. This works very well, because when I get an idea, I don't have to wonder about which app I want to use to capture it. I just jot it down and go back to what I was doing. I highly recommend keeping a blank notepad next to your computer for this reason.

I've also just recently started carrying a small notebook with me at all times, for when I feel like writing something down by hand.

There are two components to capturing ideas longhand:

The Pen

At my desk, I prefer writing with the Pilot G2 0.38mm in black ink. (I don't acknowledge blue pens.) I used to use the 0.7mm, but my handwriting is too messy for such a thick line. The difference between the two is drastic. Obviously, the 0.38mm has a much thinner line, but it also has a scratchier feel, which I wasn't sure of at first, but I've grown to love it. However, my yoga studio uses the 0.5mm, and I always love writing with it, so I might try a happy medium in the future.

The problem with pens is carrying them in your pocket. While I often have a backpack with me, I don't always, and so into the pocket the everyday-carry pen must go.

I'm wary of putting anything extraneous in my pockets. I throw out most receipts immediately, and spare change always goes into my piggy bank or my car's center console. If I'm going to disrupt my pocket-carry system (iPhone front-left, wallet back-right, keys front-right), it better be because of something awesome.

The Fisher Space Bullet Pen is pretty awesome. Designed by Paul C. Fisher, it promises to write anywhere and everywhere, even in zero-gravity, underwater, or in extreme temperatures. When closed, it measures just 3.75 inches — perfect for a pocket. When open, it's a standard 5.25 inches. Despite its size, it has an impressive weight to it. That's what she said. The Fisher Space Pen writes very smoothly, although not like the Pilot G2. It feels more like a (shudder) Bic pen to me, but I might not be used to it given the scratchiness of the 0.38mm G2. The Fisher Space Pen is refillable, and people claim to go a full year on a single ink cartridge. I think the pen comes with the medium point by default, so I'm going to try the fine point for my first refill to see if it makes a difference. Special thanks to Patrick Rhone for introducing me to the Fisher Space Pen via this post on his daily pens.

The Paper

Obviously, you can't carry a full-sized notepad in your pocket, and I'm reluctant to put a napkin in my pocket (gross) regardless of how brilliant an idea it may contain.

When it comes to pocket-sized notebooks, the two frontrunners are Moleskine and Field Notes. I have limited experience with Moleskines, and while they look very nice, they seem too thick and heavy, and too fancy to get beat up and sat on all day in a back pocket.

Field Notes, on the other hand, are made to be used and abused. You can get a three-pack for $9.95 (less than the price of one Moleskine), and they come in blank, lined, and graph paper varieties, as well as special edition colors and more. Field Notes are thin; they have just forty-eight pages, which is plenty for jotting things down. Field Notes are also made in the USA, which feels good.

I ordered a three-pack of lined Field Notes a while ago, and I still haven't filled them up yet. I think my next pack will be graph paper, as it allows you to write both horizontally and vertically. Not that my handwriting adheres to lines of any sort, but you know.

A Perfect Ubiquitous Capture System?

Together, the Fisher Space Bullet Pen and Field Notes make a great on-the-go capture system. I've only been carrying them for a few days (pen front-right, paper back-right, for now), so I'm going to stick with it and see how it goes.

At the end of the day, I still haven't decided which ubiquitous capture system I'm going to use longterm. But, it's great to have options, and hopefully this has elucidated some of them for you. If and when I settle on one, I'll be sure to update you.

The ability to capture ideas quickly and without friction is very important. If you've never thought about developing your own ubiquitous capture system, I highly suggest you try it. Your brain is full of stuff; don't trust it to remember all of its brilliant ideas.

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Favorite Apps: Fitocracy

In the spirit of April, I want to tell you about an awesome new app called Fitocracy.

As its name suggests, Fitocracy is all about fitness. It’s part social network, part roleplaying game. You sign up for a free account, join some groups related to the types of exercise that interest you, and then get to work. As you log your workouts, you earn points, complete quests, earn achievements, get props, and more.

The app is highly social, and you can connect it to your Twitter and Facebook accounts to find friends and share accordingly. Fitocracy features a strong sense of camaraderie, and your news feed is always populated with interesting fitness-related discussions.

Central to the app are points and levels. Every exercise you do earns you points. For example, 50 push-ups = +75 points. After you’ve earned enough points, you gain a level. The concept of leveling up applied to fitness is brilliant, and this feature alone makes Fitocracy motivating and highly addictive. It makes you want to exercise more because you want to earn more points. I’m much more likely to bust out ten pull-ups on a whim knowing that I’ll earn +65 points for doing so.

Beyond the points-and-levels concept lie Achievements and Quests, for which you can earn hundreds of bonus points. Achievements are generally related to specific numeric goals, i.e. “Perform barbell bench press for at least 1.3x bodyweight”, or “Cycle 100 km (62 mi) in your lifetime”. Achievements push you to break personal records and workout harder than before. For example, I earned the “Top of the Bar” achievement by performing five pull-ups in a single set, so now I really want to earn the “I Prefer Being Off the Ground” achievement by performing fifteen pull-ups. (Almost there!) Fitocracy rewards progress. It’s a great motivator.

Quests are a bit more fun and elaborate. For example, the “As Seen On TV!” quest is as follows:

  • Perform at least 100 jumping jacks
  • Perform at least 30 crunches
  • Perform a set of 5 push-ups
  • Perform planks for a set of 30 seconds
  • Perform bicycle abs for at least 20 reps
  • Perform bodyweight squats for a set of 10 reps
  • Perform bodyweight lunges for a set of 15 reps

Each of these exercises can be completed at any time; they don’t have to be done in a single workout. There are a ton of quests, and just flipping through them inspires you to get cracking. You want those bonus points!

In addition to Achievements and Quests, there are also Challenges, which are special quests created by your groups. You have to sign up for Challenges manually within your groups.

Fitocracy also has detailed statistics and leaderboards, so you can see how you’re progressing individually, as well as how you’re stacking up against your friends.

Fitocracy helps you log everything via its website and brand new iOS app. It knows pretty much every exercise you can think of, and adding reps and sets is a breeze. You can also view graphs of your progress and keep track of personal records. Fitocracy is much more fun than logging your workouts in a plain old notebook.

The iOS app is very well-done. It has a ton of personality, and it’s a lot of fun to use. Fitocracy has already taken up residence on my home screen. You could consider Fitocracy yet another social network/thing-to-check, but I think the health benefits far outweigh any potential distractions the app may present. It’s a matter of signal-to-noise ratio. If the app works for you and inspires you to workout, then it’s worth it. If you don’t exercise and just spend time reading comments, then obviously it’s not.

Fitocracy has been in private beta for a while, and the app was just released to the public last Friday. Since it’s only about five days old, it’s not without a few minor bugs, but nothing that will prevent you from enjoying and benefiting from the experience.

If you’re not an iPhone user, the Fitocracy website is equally robust. A very active online forum is also available, which gives you the sense of joining a community. That’s where I believe Fitocracy is leagues above other fitness apps. You’re not logging your workouts all by your lonesome. There’s a sense of achievement, progress, and friendly competition. You want to earn more points, hit that next level, and complete quests before your friends do. It’s a lot of fun, and it works.

You might scoff at the idea of earning achievements in an iPhone app, but they’re merely a motivator. The real benefit is of course the exercise itself, and Fitocracy inspires you to do a lot more of it and have a blast in the process.

You can get Fitocracy for free in the App Store, and/or sign up online at

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Andrew Marvin's iPhone App Roundup: The Second Screen

My iPhone’s second screenLast week, I wrote about my iPhone’s home screen. This week, I’m going to talk about the secondary apps that live on my second screen. These are apps I use regularly, but perhaps not daily.

I keep the App Store on my second screen because I regularly check for app updates and periodically browse for new apps. I keep the App Store and Settings apps in the upper left- and lower right-hand corners, respectively, because I feel like that’s where system apps should go.

I use 1Password for all of my login needs. It helps me maintain a very high level of security across all of my online accounts. 1Password generates random passwords and remembers them for you, so all you need to remember is your Master Password. Once you start using it, you’ll wonder how you ever surfed the web using the same password for every account. Read more about why I use 1Password here.

Pastebot is a great utility from the makers of Tweetbot. It’s a clipboard manager that gives you much greater copy-and-paste functionality, including the ability to copy-and-paste to and from your Mac. Very handy. Watch the demo on Tapbots’ website.

Clear is the latest craze in the to-do list app market. It features a beautiful and innovative design and allows for quick list creation and management. I use it to keep track of books I want to read, gift ideas, and to-dos for this website, among other things. Read more about Clear in my review.

Guitar Toolkit is my pocket guitar tuner. I’ve tried a few different tuning apps, but I always come back to this one. In addition to the tuner, it features a chord library, scale diagrams, a metronome, and more.

Instapaper. I’ve written about it before. It changes the way you read by allowing you to save webpages to read later. My love affair with Instapaper has only deepened since I began integrating Yojimbo into my online reading workflow. Marco Arment, Instapaper’s creator, just realized version 4.1, which features exquisite new fonts. Get on it.

I love my Kindle, and having it sync with the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad is very convenient. Unlike iBooks, I can read Kindle books on my iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Kindle, and my reading position syncs over Wi-Fi. Most of my reading time is spent on the Kindle itself, but the iOS apps are great for squeezing in a few pages on-the-go.

I love Instagram, and I’m sure you do too. Not much to say about this one. I keep it on my second screen only because I don’t share every picture I take on Instagram. Hence, Camera app on my home screen, Instagram on screen two.

Quotebook is a gem you may not know about. It’s a quick and easy way to keep a database of quotes, and you can also share them directly from the app. You can tag, rate, and organize your quotes as you see fit. I currently have 314 entries in my Quotebook, and I haven’t found a better option for cataloging little bits of wisdom.

Byword is my text editor of choice on the Mac, and the new iOS apps allow me to write seamlessly across all of my devices. It’s reliable, functional, and super pretty. See my long-winded review here.

Maps. I use it to go places. I kept Maps on my home screen for the longest time and only recently decided to move it to screen two, but it feels right so far.

I peruse Settings semi-frequently for various reasons, none of which will interest you. Most often I use it to toggle the Show All Music option for the Music app.

And that’s my iPhone’s second screen. You may climb down from the edge of your seat. My third and final screen consists mostly of folders containing apps I only use occasionally. If I decide it’s worth your time, I’ll write up another post next week detailing some of those apps.

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Byword: Love at First Type

As I tweeted yesterday, I have always written everything for Quarter-Life Enlightenment in Byword.

The fine gentlemen at Metaclassy just released Byword as a universal iOS app yesterday, so I thought it time to pay my respects to my favorite text editor.

Regarding Preferences

The minimalist writing app market is incredibly rich, but for me, Byword has always maintained just the right balance of features and simplicity. There are preferences, but there aren’t that many. Choose your font, column width, and whether you want a light or dark background, but otherwise, you won’t find much to fiddle with here.

Ben Brooks, however, disagrees:

I don’t dislike Byword for any one reason — I dislike it because it doesn’t work for me because of the fact that I am a tinkerer and using an app that I can tinker with, when I want to focus, is a truly bad idea.

Of course, having options doesn’t make Byword a bad app, and I know that’s not what Ben is saying. It’s the responsibility of the writer to have the self-discipline to “set it and forget it” when it comes to preferences. Ben’s text editor of choice, iA Writer, famously has zero preferences. For him, no preferences is best because it helps him do the work.

I, on the other hand, love going through preferences. Usually, the first thing I do when trying a new app is look for the Settings button. I like to customize the app to my liking, and when it comes to text editors, I think there’s value in being able to choose, for example, your font size. If I find an app aesthetically and functionally pleasing, I’m more likely to use it. Preferences allow me to tailor an app to my needs, thus increasing its aesthetic value or functionality for my experience using it.

Once I’ve set my preferences, I generally have no problem forgetting about them. Once in a while I’ll try a new font or something, but otherwise, I set it and forget it. But, that’s just me, and some may find Byword’s modest preferences to be too much.

My Writing Workflow

As of this moment, I’ve done very little long-form writing on my iOS devices. I have no desire to type hundreds of words with my thumbs on my iPhone, and while I can type at a pretty good clip on the iPad, I encounter friction when it comes to managing my documents. Allow me to explain.

I write articles on my Mac in Byword using Markdown syntax. Once an article is ready to be posted, I log into my Squarespace account and copy and paste the text into a New Post field. Then I schedule the publish time and date, hit Save, and I’m done.

Everything I write gets stored in Dropbox. QLE posts are all saved in the QLE folder. This way, I have everything I’ve ever published in one place, and it’s all safely backed up via Dropbox.

When trying to write on an iOS device, the friction I’ve encountered heretofore stems from knowing where the document is and getting that document into the QLE folder. On my iPad, for example, if I write a post in PlainText, it gets saved to my Dropbox in the PlainText folder. I then have to move the file to its proper place whenever I get back to my Mac, assuming I remember to do so.

Now, yes, most apps with Dropbox support allow you to change the Dropbox destination folder. But, some don’t, and they might rely on iCloud or some other syncing service.

My problem with writing on iOS is that I’ve never felt like I had a good sense of where my document is. For example, in Phraseology for iPad, my documents are in the Phraseology app, and to get them out, I need to export them, or email them to myself, or… something.

I’m not saying these apps don’t offer solutions to my consternation, but they’ve never “just worked” when it comes to my writing workflow. They’ve never fit perfectly right out of the box. They’re all great apps with great features, for sure, but the thought of using them to write usually makes me wince rather than tap and start writing.

Until Byword.

My Desktop Workflow on the Go

I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you about Byword’s features or interface. (See Shawn’s and Viticci’s excellent reviews.) It’s simple, clean, and beautiful, with just enough options to make it your own. I love how it looks and works on my Mac, and the new iOS versions are no different.

Byword for iOS has created the mobile writing workflow I didn’t even know I was looking for.

When I opened Byword on my iPhone for the first time, I was given the choice between iCloud and Dropbox for syncing. I use Dropbox because it lets me know where my files are: in a folder on my Mac, which is backed up to the cloud. If I need a document, I know where to go to get it. With iCloud, documents are in the app… but I feel like I can’t get to them outside of that app. They’re somewhere in iCloud, but I can’t “touch” them, so to speak. They’re isolated to the app itself, and I can only work with them there. I believe this is what Merlin was talking about when he expressed his concern about iCloud.

Now, I do use iCloud for contacts, calendars, bookmarks, and more. It’s great. But, my writing is too precious for me to not know exactly where things are. That’s just me. I do hear that iCloud sync works beautifully in Byword, and even slightly faster than Dropbox sync.


After choosing Dropbox as my sync preference, Byword automatically created a Byword folder in my Dropbox where new documents would be saved. I changed the folder to my QLE folder, and in seconds, all 259 files were visible in a clean, beautiful list. The kicker was that, by default, the list was organized by Date Modified, so I could see all of my posts in chronological order, which is so much more useful than alphabetical order. Tap on a post, and there it was, just as if I’d opened it via the Finder on my Mac.

The best part though, is that if I type a new document on one of my iOS devices, it gets saved right to my QLE folder alongside every other post I’ve written. Now, no matter what device I write on, the document goes right where it’s supposed to go. I don’t have to worry about it.

I’m sure other apps can be configured the same way, but for me, Byword just rocked my face off from minute one. The interface is gorgeous and offers just what I need — no more, no less. Byword is reliable; I feel like I can trust it. I also love being able to use the same app across all three devices. It just feels good.

No longer do I feel any friction when writing on an iOS device. When I want to write, I can pick up my iPhone, iPad, or Mac. In all three cases, I open Byword, write, and things get saved to my QLE folder in Dropbox. I feel like a whole world of mobile writing has opened up now that I always have Byword — my writing weapon of choice — by my side.

Actually Writing on iOS

Patrick Rhone has infamously been writing long-form pieces — like a-thousand-words long — on his iPhone using the onscreen keyboard. I was among the skeptical as to how it could be done, but with Byword, I can finally see it.

This entire post, which Byword tells me is currently 1,309 words, was written on my iPhone in landscape mode, with my feet up on my desk. Just my two thumbs and me.

It actually feels really good. Byword’s Markdown shortcuts make block quotes, parentheses, brackets, etc. relatively painless. The biggest annoyance is switching to Safari, going to a web page, and copy/pasting a URL you need for a link. Otherwise, it’s quite pleasant.

Will I be writing on my iPhone or iPad on a regular basis? Maybe, but probably not. I’m still much faster on my Mac, of course. Then again, the slower pace is kind of nice. Either way, it’s great to know that when I’m away from my Mac, my preferred writing environment is right in my pocket, if and when I need it. With Byword, I can definitely see myself starting articles on the go, when the mood strikes, rather than jotting down ideas in Notesy and waiting until I get back to my Mac to actually write.

Love at First Type

I get excited when my favorite apps are updated or when something new and great comes out, but I’m particularly passionate about Byword. It’s my style. It just clicks with me, and the new iOS apps are no different. I can’t wait to see how the app progresses.

I can honestly say that without, Byword, this website might not exist as it does today. Byword makes me want to write. For a writer, such an app is truly priceless.

You can buy Byword on the Mac App Store for $9.99 and on the App Store for a special introductory price of $2.99.

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Andrew Marvin's iPhone App Roundup: The Home Screen

App organization is a serious business.

Multiple factors need to be taken into consideration, including position, type, frequency of use, color coordination, and more.

I recently reconfigured my iPhone's app organization and thought you might like to hear about it.

The biggest change is that I've gone from two pages of apps to three. In the past, I put my most used apps on the home screen, and the rest of my apps in folders on the second screen. I always keep the bottom row icon-free to facilitate easy swiping and a less cluttered look. I also kept Newsstand — itself a folder that cannot be deleted — by itself on page three, since I never use it.

The problem with this arrangement is that I was digging into my folders quite often, and having an entire third screen just for Newsstand was getting on my nerves. As a result, I switched to the following configuration:

  1. Primary apps on the home screen. That is, apps I use daily.
  2. Secondary apps on the second screen. That is, apps I use frequently, but not enough to merit a spot on the home screen.
  3. Tertiary apps on the third screen. These apps are all kept in folders and are used intermittently.

My dock has always consisted of, from left to right, Phone, Messages, Mail, Safari. The reasons for this arrangement are extremely nerdy. Allow me to explain.

The iPhone is equal parts phone and computer — hence, the Phone and Safari apps on opposite sides of the dock. In the middle, you have Messages (phone-based communication) and Mail (computer-based communication). Thus, the left-to-right progression moves from phone to computer, with their respective communication methods in between. Additionally, I've become so used to the aesthetically pleasing symmetry of the apps' colors (green-green-blue-blue) that I don't think I'll ever be able to modify it.

The Home Screen: Primary Apps

My iPhone Home Screen, March 2012 I consider the four corners of the 3x4 grid to be priority positions because of the reduced odds of hitting another app accidentally. Only three apps border the corner positions, as opposed to the five or eight that surround apps elsewhere on the screen. Thus, my four priority apps:

Omnifocus, my to-do/task manager. I have a confession: I don't love Omnifocus. For sure, it's a powerhouse and the mother of all productivity apps, but I just don't find it fun to use. The app's design is very utilitarian, and while it's extremely reliable, it lacks charm and personality. I've thought about moving to Things, but I'll probably wait until its cloud sync is out of beta so I can get a better sense of whether or not its worth the investment.

Tweetbot, my go-to Twitter app. I almost went back to Twitterrific the other day (its new typography is gorgeous), but I still think Tweetbot is the best Twitter client for power users.

Path, my lovely, private social network. I wish a few more of my friends were on it, but even so, enough have joined to put it on my home screen. Plus, I love using it. I've already written extensively about Path, so I'll spare you here.

Reeder, my RSS reader of choice on all devices. I've tried a couple of others, but you can't beat Reeder's features, design, and beautiful simplicity. I'm eagerly anticipating version 3.0. Read more of my thoughts on Reeder here.

Calendar, Camera, Photos, and Music are all self-explanatory, but I'll briefly explain my other choices:

Instacast is, in my opinion, the only way to listen to podcasts. No downloading or syncing via iTunes; it's all done over the air. Just subscribe to the podcast of your choice, and listen at your leisure. I use it every day on my iPhone and iPad and love it. I've tried a similar app or two, but I don't think there's a better podcast manager than Instacast.

Articles is my Wikipedia app. I look up everything on Wikipedia, and Articles does this job very well. I'm using Wikipanion on my iPad because Articles for iPad has a skeuomorphic design, which I don't love. On the iPhone though, Articles is pretty and dependable.

Fahrenheit is my favorite out of all the weather apps I've tried, mixing just the right amount of features with a clean design. Surprisingly, I actually like the current-temperature-in-the-icon-badge feature. Having it there at a glance is very convenient, even more so than having to pull down Notification Center. I keep Notification Center's weather on the five-day forecast view, so I tend to look at Fahrenheit for the current temperature, and swipe down to see the forecast. Only if I need a ten-day outlook or more details do I actually open Fahrenheit. That being said, Fahrenheit is the home screen app I'm most conflicted about. With weather info being only a swipe away in Notification Center, do I really need to waste a spot on my home screen with a dedicated weather app? So far, the convenience of the temperature icon badge has persuaded me to say yes, but I still go back and forth over it.

Notesy is a beautiful note-taking app and text editor. I use it for running lists, ideas, and to take notes. It's backed by the power of Dropbox, which played a role in my switching from Simplenote. It's also highly customizable. It was just announced that Notesy is under new management, so we'll see where things go. Fortunately, there's no shortage of good note-taking/text editor apps.

My wallpaper is "Dust" by the exceptional John Carey.

For digestion purposes, I'll be splitting this post up. In the next installment, I'll look at my secondary apps and explain why they're great, but not quite great enough for my home screen. Be on the lookout for part two next week!

Also, if you're personally offended that your favorite app isn't on my home screen, be sure to let me know!

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Instapaper Zero

So Much Internet, So Little Time

I do a ton of reading on the web.

Most of what I read comes through RSS and Twitter. I subscribe to about a hundred RSS feeds from various sites, blogs, and writers. Not as many as some, but enough to make staying on top of them necessary. I use Reeder on all of my devices to manage RSS.

A hundred feeds is modest enough for me to be able to zero out my unread count each day, but there are still plenty of instances where I come across something I don’t have time to read.

The Instapaper Conundrum

The solution for this issue is, of course, Instapaper. As I’ve written before, Instapaper is a service for saving articles you want to read later. The web service is free, and it’s also available as a universal iPhone and iPad app for $4.99 on the App Store. This isn’t intended to be another praise-Instapaper article, so I’ll just say shame on you if you’re still not using it.

I’ve been using Instapaper for several years, and it’s always been a critical — and abused — part of my online workflow. You see, Instapaper is a double-edged sword when it comes to keeping my mind clear and calm. On the one hand, Instapaper’s very nature frees you from having to worry about missing out on things to read. Find a great article right before heading off to work? No problem; just send it to Instapaper.

But on the other hand, it’s easy to get carried away and end up throwing anything and everything into Instapaper, at which point the dreaded “Instapaper guilt” begins to creep in. Having hundreds of articles to read later is the same as having a stack of books on your nightstand, all of which you’ll get to “someday”. No fun.

Eventually, my Instapaper queue was overflowing to the point where I knew anything that got sent there would probably never be seen again. I thought about just deleting everything and starting over, but I couldn’t help thinking there was some deeply buried article that contained the secret to wealth, power, blogging success, and/or happiness itself. There were valuable things in my Instapaper account. That much was fact. But finding them would be like panning for gold.

I needed a solution.

What I found was…

A Holy Trinity of Web-Reading Management

I’ve already discussed Instapaper at length, so I’ll detail the remaining two apps and how they combine to form a cohesive system.

My first task was to find a way to process my Instapaper account quickly and efficiently. The web view isn’t ideal for this, and there was no way I was going to go through hundreds of articles on my iPhone or iPad. I needed keyboard-driven Instapaper processing.

Read Later: Instapaper Processing for OS X

For this, I turned to Read Later, formerly known as Read Now. As I wrote in my review, Read Later is essentially Instapaper for Mac. Its keyboard shortcuts and swipe gestures make it perfect for taming Instapaper overflow.

I fired up Read Later and downloaded all of my saved Instapaper articles (500 at a time anyway). Anything deemed unessential after a quick skim was archived with a swipe. Progress, but it wasn’t long before I found an article that I did, in fact, want to read — or at least be able to consult — later. I could have kept them in Instapaper, but that would have been counterproductive. To get down to Instapaper Zero, I needed someplace to store these articles as reference files.

Enter Yojimbo

Yojimbo is an “effortless, reliable information organizer for Mac OS X”, and it lives up to its tagline. Yojimbo is what Shawn Blanc refers to as an Anything Bucket; you can save bookmarks, notes, images, PDFs, and more, tagging and organizing to your heart’s content. You can also set keyboard shortcuts for quick input; I chose ⌘+Y. Side note: Yojimbo is $39, but sometimes great software costs money.

With the combined power of Read Later and Yojimbo, I was equipped to tackle the Instapaper beast.

The Great Instapaper Purge

In Read Later, I quickly swiped from article to article, archiving the unessential. When I came across an article I wanted to save, ⌥+C copied the permalink, and ⌘+Y brought up Yojimbo’s quick input field. Yojimbo automatically uses your clipboard when creating a new bookmark, so all I had to do was name the bookmark, enter any tags, and hit Enter. CMD+Tab back to Read Later, and repeat.

Using this system, it only took me a couple of hours to process several years worth of saved Instapaper articles. I saved about 120 articles in Yojimbo for reference and eliminated the rest.

I had done the impossible: my Instapaper account was back to zero.

Better Instapaper Habits

Now, the last thing I wanted to do was fall back into my old habits and have to repeat this process every few months. To prevent that from happening, I needed to change the way I collect and manage articles on the web.

Using Instapaper as a bookmarking service filled with hundreds of old items doesn’t work — at least not for me. Before cleaning it out, I couldn’t remember the last time I actually used Instapaper to read something. The fear of seeing all those unread articles was simply too strong.

Moving forward, I’m going to be far more judicious with what gets sent to Instapaper. By now, I’ve learned how to distinguish what’s worth reading from what seems worth reading, but isn’t. Only things I intend to actually read later that day will be sent to Instapaper, and I’ll review them each night to keep my Instapaper queue at zero and prevent overflow.

Items that I do not intend to read later, but would like to be able to reference if needed, will be sent directly to Yojimbo, where they will be tagged and readily available via search.

The Instapaper-Read Later-Yojimbo system will allow me to better consume, process, and manage articles that I can’t read in the moment. With diligent implementation, this system will help me read the web more effectively and prevent me from being inundated with read-it-later overload.

I’m feeling good about it.

Sign up for Instapaper free, and buy it on the App Store.

Buy Read Later on the Mac App Store.

Buy Yojimbo on the Mac App Store.

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Favorite Apps: F.lux

Speaking of night owls, I’ve been meaning to write about a fantastic utility that helps you see better in the dark.

F.lux is a free app for Mac OS X that adjusts your screen’s brightness depending on what time of day it is. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s actually hugely important.

The light emitted by computer, smartphone, and tablet screens is the same type of light given off by the sun. Our bodies are programmed to wake up when exposed to this light, which is why people often recommend letting sunlight in to wake you up in the morning.

What you don’t want, however, is to be blasting yourself with “wake up” rays right before bedtime. That’s where F.lux comes in.

F.lux uses your location to determine what time of day it is, including when the sun sets. During the day, your screen will look like sunlight, and at night, F.lux will adjust your screen’s brightness to a warm, soothing glow. You can even tell F.lux what type of overhead lighting you have, and it will adjust accordingly. Once you set your preferences, F.lux will do everything automatically, so you don’t have to worry about it.

This is the kind of app you don’t think you need until you try it, and then you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. F.lux makes your screen “healthier” because it will prevent your computer from blasting you with wake up light when you’re up late, so you’ll sleep better. Your screen will also be less offensive to your retinas no matter what time of day it is. It does take a little while to get used to, because your screen looks quite different without its brightness maxed out 24/7, but you’ll love it in no time.

I’ve been using F.lux for months, and it will be one of the first apps I install on all of my future Macs.

Give F.lux a try. It’s free, and your eyes will thank you.

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Favorite Apps: Clear for iPhone

If you've been on the Internet this week, you've more than likely heard the buzz surrounding Clear, the new to-do list app from Realmac Software. I'd been looking forward to Clear ever since seeing the video, and the app saw its much anticipated release late Tuesday night.

It's wondrous.

Clear is, quite simply, an app for making lists. But oh, never before has making lists been so much fun.

Most iOS apps operate from left to right. That is, when you tap something, you feel like you're moving to the right to go to the next screen. The more you tap, the "deeper" or further to the right you go. Tweetbot is a good example of this concept.

Clear takes the opposite approach, featuring a vertical structure comprised of three levels. The topmost level is the Menu, where you can access your lists, themes, and settings. The middle level is your Lists, and the bottom level consists of your List's Items. It's kind of like Inception.

Navigating the app is done entirely using gestures. There are no traditional buttons like "Back", "Next", or "Done". The app is completely fullscreen; even the menu bar is hidden. Your iPhone becomes the Clear app, and it's lovely.

Swiping down creates a new list in List view or a new item in Item view. Pull down a little further to move up a level. Tap and hold on a list or item to move it up or down. Swiping to the right completes items, swiping to the left deletes them. Swiping up moves you down a level or clears all completed items when in Item view. You can also use two fingers to "stretch" and create a new list or item, and pinch to move up a level. There are other gestures and tricks, but they're best experienced by using the app.

The whole app feels very fast. Navigating is smooth and crisp, and it's easy to enter many items into a list. I populated a list of over thirty items in a couple of minutes. You're really only limited by how fast your thumbs can type. The interface and gestures are Clear's standout features; it's really a joy to use.

Despite being a simple app, Clear still has a ton of personality. This is achieved primarily through color and sound.

Clear comes with five different themes, and list items are arranged using color to indicate priority. "Heat Map" is the app's default theme. Your most important items are at the top in a strong, vibrant red, while items in the middle gradually fade to orange, and then to yellow towards the bottom. It's very pretty.

In a brilliant move, Clear has also included several bonus themes, which can be unlocked by... doing things I cannot reveal. It's the funnest to-do list app around.

Sound is also a huge part of Clear. The sound effects are wonderfully musical and add a great dimension to the app. You can turn the sounds off and/or use vibration instead, but it's much better with them on.

Whether or not you're a list aficionado, it's worth checking out Clear just for the revolutionary interface. It's beautifully designed in every way, and it's a great example of what iOS is capable of.

It only took a few minutes for Clear to earn a spot on my home screen. It's simple, fun, innovative, and useful. Clear is a sensory productivity experience; it's an app that appeals to your fingers, eyes, and ears while helping you get things done.

You can buy Clear for $0.99 on the App Store.

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Greener Pathtures: Part Three

Note: This post is Part Three in a three-part series about a social network called Path. It’s also about social networks in general and which ones are worth it. Be sure to read Part One and Part Two first.

This is an important quest. We are spending more and more of our time interacting with each other on the Internet. As such, I believe we must choose the highest quality methods of doing so. But which?

Part Three: The Path to Path

Parts One and Two of Greener Pathtures dealt with the nature of Path and other social networks, respectively. In this third and final installment, I will examine the potential role Path might serve in my realm of social networks.

As previously discussed, Path acts as a sort of all-in-one app, capable of handling virtually all social networking tasks. You can post a photo or video, check in with people and locations, post a song you’re listening to, post a thought, or log your sleep and wake times. By contrast, most social networks (Facebook notwithstanding) excel in only one or two of these areas. Twitter, for instance, is primarily text-based. Instagram is entirely photo-based. Foursquare is, to my knowledge, location-based.

So, we have Path’s Swiss Army knife approach versus the one-thing-well mentality of most other social networks and apps. To determine if Path will be useful to me (and perhaps you), I will compare each of its features to the app I am currently using to fulfill that need.

Photos: Path vs. Instagram

Instagram is the reigning champion of iPhone photo apps. I use it to post photos to Twitter. All of my friends use it. It’s great.

Path’s camera feature is similar, but with notable differences. Enter the bulleted list:

  • Path has fewer filters. There are some bonus filters available for $0.99 in-app purchases, which admittedly look quite nice.
  • Path’s photos are not square like Instagram’s.
  • Path’s photo filters do not have borders.
  • Path allows you to take videos and apply filters to videos.

Both apps feature tilt-shifts, flash options, and the ability to upload an already-taken photo. Both can post to Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

One thing that surprised me was Path’s ability to take videos. I took a thirty-second video and posted it to my Path and Twitter with ease. If the app took time to upload the video, I didn’t notice it. It just hopped onto my Path like it was nothing. I could view it on both Path and Twitter. The whole process worked beautifully.

I never tweet my own videos because: A) I rarely take them, B) I don’t have a dedicated video sharing app, C) uploading videos to Twitter isn’t usually seamless. Path, however, really impressed me with this feature.

You can save other people’s photos in Path. As far as I can tell, Instagram does not let you do this.

Also of note is the fact that Path is not a dedicated photo app like Instagram. That means there is no Popular tab, news feed, or profile — at least, not in the Instagram sense. People can still comment and approve of your photos on Path, they just do it on your Path timeline. It’s similar to scrolling down your Facebook News Feed, where there are many different types of posts. This contrasts with Instagram’s feed, which is only photos.

Will Path replace Instagram for me?

Probably not. Instagram is too great and too widespread for me to abandon. However, Path’s photo features are respectable, and I can just as easily use it to share photos on Twitter as I can with Instagram. Plus, Path’s video capabilities blow me away. Instagram will probably remain my main photo app, except in instances of sharing video and when I only want people on Path to see my photo.

People & Location Check-In

I’m including this as one section because they’re very similar. “I’m with so-and-so”, “I’m at such-and-such”, or some combination of the two. Checking into places or with people on Path is characteristically fun and easy.

I need to take a timeout here to point out that many features in Path can be accessed from within the other features. Stay with me.

When you click the “+” button in Path, you get a wonderfully animated radial menu that offers you the Camera, People, Places, Music, Thoughts, and Sleep/Wake options. Selecting one takes you to that feature, but then you are always taken to the Post screen, where you can add commentary, who you’re with, where you are, or choose to also post to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Foursquare.

This seems puzzling, but I think it speaks to Path’s versatility. You don’t have to go back and forth between features when making a post. You always get the option to add People, Places, Thoughts, or post to other social networks before submitting your entry. However, you cannot, say, take a photo from the People screen, or post a song from Thoughts, if that makes sense.

It sounds squirrelly, but the more I think about it, the more logical it becomes. The radial menu has you pick your primary reason for posting, and then the Post screen lets you to add people, places, or thoughts to that post. For example, “Oh, I want to post this song to Path”, so I hit the Music button and select my song. Then, I decide I also want to tag my friend Rich, who’s with me, and say we’re at Friendly’s. The Post screen lets me add those details to my song post.

OK. Moving on.

Will I use Path for check-in services?

Again, the only check-in services I use are on Instagram or Twitter, and only if I feel it’s relevant. Path, however, makes it easy to tag friends and locations in posts, so I can see myself using these features more often. I actually already have. Again: versatility.


Posting music with Path is great. The song preview works well, and people can easily listen to what I’m listening to. I can post the song to other social networks with no problem.

I’ve been using the SoundTracking app for posting music, but I’m going to switch to Path. It’ll be one less app, and I don’t use SoundTracking’s other features enough to warrant keeping it. Path lets me post what I’m listening to, and it does it well.

And you know what? Path does everything it does well. Photos, videos, people, places, thoughts, music: it excels at all of them. Don’t think that because this app does many things, the experience of each thing suffers. If I can use Path for something, I’m likely to do so.

Thoughts: Path vs. Twitter

I can’t abandon Twitter. I love and rely on it too much. Path allows me to post virtually anything to Twitter though, including Thoughts, which are essentially tweets. This means you could use Path as a tweeting client, but not as a Twitter client because it doesn’t allow you to read your Twitter stream.

For me, it’s end-of-story: Path won’t replace Twitter, and it probably won’t for any Twitter user. Path does, however, make it easy to post additional things to Twitter. I see myself using the two in conjunction. Also note your audience with each service: you have varying degrees of friendship with your Twitter followers, but Path is reserved only for close friends. That should dictate which app you use for which types of sharing.

And now, the ultimate showdown…

Path vs. Facebook

Path and Facebook are, in some ways, very similar. Both services allow you to post virtually anything: photos, videos, links, check-ins, music, you name it. Both your Path and your Facebook News Feed will be filled with a variety of stuff from people.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

As I said in Part One, Path is a quiet, cozy living room full of great moments with close friends. Facebook is a raging house party. The dynamics of the two could not be more diametrically opposed.

On the Internet, there are people you know, and people you don’t know. Your Facebook is filled with people you don’t know. OK, sure, you “know” them, but you don’t give a crap about them.

Path is designed not just for the people you know, but for the people you genuinely care about. Well, why not just delete all your Facebook friends and start over? I guess, but the concept of Facebook has become so nauseating to me that I’d rather just leave it all behind. I don’t want to deal with the invites and the games and the ads and all the garbage. To me, Path feels like a green, idyllic pasture, free from the pollution of Facebook’s tainted, blue and white, Lucida Grande factories.

How can Path replace Facebook?

By being everything Facebook is not:

Real people instead of meaningless e-friendship.

Memorable moments instead of creepiness.

Quality instead of quantity.

Beauty instead of clutter.

Signal instead of noise.

Path needs no labyrinth of privacy settings because it does not encourage you to share your life with people who have no business being in it.

I’ve always preferred a small circle of close friends to a hundred sort-of acquaintances. Path shares that value.

So, now what?

What is to be the result of this long and arduous journey through the world of social networks? Well.

My current arrangement:

  • Twitter, for communicating and sharing with the Internet.
  • Instagram, for photos.
  • Facebook, for communicating and sharing with people in whom I (mostly) have no interest.

My proposal:

  • Twitter, for communicating and sharing with the Internet.
  • Instagram, for photos.
  • Path, for communicating and sharing with those closest to me.

Note that this new arrangement doesn’t necessarily see a reduction in the number of social networks, but it certainly does see an overall increase in the quality of my online life.

I will be leaving Facebook in the near-future, after I research how to properly save my photos, delete my account, etc.

You — and the rest of the Internet — will be able to find me on Twitter and here, at You VIPs will be able to find me on Path.

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