Nerd’s Eye View: Byword for iPad

I mentioned on Twitter a few minutes ago—as I write this—that I wasn’t a big fan of Byword for iPad. Here’s the exact toot since they can now be embedded in web pages (which is pretty sweet):

Some folks wondered to what, specifically, was I reacting when I wrote that. Welp, Imma tell you.

(And, yes, I recognize that I very recently railed against evaluating slightly-different solutions to problems that have already been solved. Mea culpa.)

  1. The show/hide gesture for the list of files and folders on the right is incredibly janky. If I’m not extremely careful to swipe in a perfectly horizontal motion, the gesture is interpreted as a vertical swipe and it scrolls me away from where I was writing/reading. Super annoying.

  2. I have no idea what Byword calls this feature (or if they even have a name for it in their feature list), but it does the thing where it tries to guess what character you mean to type. In the thing I was writing a few minutes ago, I had a parenthetical statement inside another parenthetical statement, like this: (I’m in (double parentheses!)). When I tried to type the second opening parenthesis, it kept inserting a closing parenthesis. This may seem like a niggle, but I hate software that tries to be smarter than me because, most of the time, it’s not.

  3. At some point in the last 48 hours, Byword ceased being able to open any of the files I had in my Dropbox folder (including files created and edited using only Byword). I got some cryptic error message about the file not being available. Getting everything working again required me to quit and forcibly kill the app. Yes, this is another nit-pick, but I’m in the middle of a list here and it was just another straw my camel had to carry.

  4. It does zero Markdown highlighting. The desktop version of Byword does this, but the iOS app does not. I don’t know why this is.

  5. If you want to configure it to sync with a specific subfolder within your Dropbox folder, you have to type in the path to that subfolder by hand (instead of browsing through the folder hierarchy and choosing the folder you want).

I realize lots of people love this app and that’s totally cool — use what works for you. I just found the combination of the above annoyances to be ample reason for me to stop using it.

Enough – The Book

My good buddy Patrick Rhone is, this very day, launching his second book; a collection of essays entitled Enough. Grab the ePub or the the Kindle version.˛

Click here for more info.

How OmniFocus Can Make You a Better Person

OmniFocus makes me a better person because it reminds me to do things, even if they need to be done at a date and time considerably later than when I realize they need to be done.

Some examples:

  • Last July, a friend of mine told me that there was a possibility that some of her artwork would be featured on a popular television show. Thing was, the episode would air sometime in the first part of 2012 (6-8 months later, in other words). I added a task in OmniFocus to hit her up about it starting on January 2 and, sure enough, I saw it and I asked her about it.

  • My son told me in August of 2011 that he really wanted a slot car track for his 7th birthday (in July of 2012). I just checked OmniFocus and there’s a task that will become active on June 1, giving me plenty of time to shop around (and find out if he’s even still interested in the idea).

  • By and large, our family abstains from eating out during Lent. I’m a pretty social guy and regularly meet friends for dinner or drinks, so I have a handful of tasks that describe the people with whom I have tentative plans to meet. They’ll all become active the Monday after Easter.

  • Our trash gets picked up every Monday morning. So, every Sunday afternoon, OmniFocus reminds me to roll the trash cans down the driveway to the curb so they’re ready for emptying the following morning. This is a simple one, sure, but I can tell you that my wife is pretty damn happy that this gets done with consistency and regularity that it does.

“Ok, smart guy, I kinda see your point, but aren’t you being a little extravagant in saying that this app makes you a better person?”

I don’t think so, honestly.

It helps me be thoughtful. Or, perhaps more accurately, it helps me act on thoughtful gestures, regardless of when the occur to me. The things listed above would have very little hope of happening if I just tried really hard to remember them when they were supposed to happen. Could I do the same thing with a regular calendar? Not really; if the thing I want to remember has multiple tasks associated with it that need to be performed in a certain order, then the calendar simply won’t work (or it will be incredibly clunky).

I appreciate that people use simpler tools for managing tasks and such. For me, though, the only way the process can truly work is when I can put absolutely everything inside it and know that I’ll see it when I need to — even if it’s something as benign as a garbage cans or as important as delighting my boy on his birthday.

How Evernote Made Doing My Taxes a Total Breeze

For those of us living in the old U.S. of A., the dreaded tax day is quickly approaching. For some, it’s a matter of filling out a simple form and sending a check to—or receiving a check from—the IRS.

For others, it’s the kind of situation that will send the weak spiraling into a vortex of sheer madness.

Since I now have a little side business in addition to my day job, the situation is a hell of a lot more complicated than it was just a couple of years ago. Essentially, I need to deal with many other forms (whose names and numbers I couldn’t even tell you), keep track of all sorts of expenditures and—most importantly—I needed to hire an accountant. And, thanks to my good buddy Chris, I was introduced to an absolute crackerjack named Andrew.

Earlier this week, before I went to my early-evening meeting with Andrew, I went through and collected all of the receipts I had captured using Evernote over the 2011 calendar year (each tagged with “receipt”, “2011” and “tax-deductible”, naturally). Anything that could be deducted got it’s mugshot taken and a brief description added to it. These expenditure were tallied in Numbers and that spreadsheet (saved as an Excel workbook, of course) was dropped into Evernote.

Which, incidentally, also contained every single tax form I’d received from anybody over the last year: W-2 form for my day job, 1099 forms for the little bit of freelance work I did, records of the handful of donations we’d made, etc. Every one of these forms was scanned and added to my “2011 Taxes” notebook within a day of it arriving in my mailbox.

Anyway, I shared this notebook with Andrew a few minutes before grabbing my iPad and heading over to his office.

When I arrived, he had the notebook already synced with Evernote on his computer and was ready to start plowing through the information. He was doing his dance: grabbing numbers, completing forms and flying around whatever weirdo software accountants use to do people’s taxes.

A handful of times, he needed information that I hadn’t added to the notebook before I showed up. This wasn’t a problem since all of the banks with whom I do business online offer the ability to grab PDFs of recent statements and account activity. So, I saved a small handful of PDFs to Evernote using my iPad and dropped them in the notebook where we were both working. A minute or so later, they were available for Andrew to see and use.

As our meeting wrapped up, he generated all of the various tax return forms that we’d need to sign and mail as well as a bunch of payment vouchers and other such like, then dropped them into the same notebook. By the time I got home, they were there.

But, wait! We had a problem! Houston!

Turns out, I had neglected to mention a few key figures in our 2011 financials and, as a result, just about every form he had generated for me was now incorrect and would have to be rebuilt. “No problem,” he said.

From his computer, he deleted the outdated forms, made the new ones and dropped them into Evernote. No joke, all of this fix-it business was wrapped up within like 20 minutes. Hiccups like that one would mean that one of us would be driving back and forth just to deliver or pick up a slightly different piece of paper. This is next-level stuff we’re talking about here.

First thing tomorrow, I need to complete a couple of signature pages (which I can easily do using my trusty PDFpen) and get them back to him.

I’ll give you one guess as to how exactly I’m going to do that.

(Hint: I’m going to digitally sign the documents with PDFpen and send them to my accountant using the same notebook we’ve been using for this entire exercise.)

Yet another way Evernote has proven its worth.

Oh, and if you have small business questions or need to hire an accountant of your own, get in touch with Andrew on Twitter or check out his blog, Business is Simple. I sleep so much better knowing that I’ve got a real expert in my corner keeping an eye on my stuff (sounds goofy, but is absolutely true).

The Buyer’s Guide for Minimalist Writing Apps

Stop fussing around and pick one.

Then, don’t look at any others until one of the following has happened:

  1. Your chosen app breaks or becomes unusable for some reason.
  2. You’ve used your chosen app for six months.

The more time you spend dicking around with these apps is time you’re not making something. It’s super easy to split hairs about which app is best and which one is the most minimal or whatever, but this is such a solved problem that spending more than a few minutes thinking about it is a complete waste of time.

Here’s how you figure out which one to use.

  • Figure out where (and if) you want it to sync (Dropbox, iCloud, etc.).
  • Figure out which additional features you need (search, Markdown support, TextExpander integration, HTML export, etc.).
  • Figure out how you can quickly easily pick up where you left off on a different computer/device (sync is crucial here).
  • Buy one that meets all of these criteria.
  • Use it.

That’s it. Your search is over.

Of course, you have oodles of options.

I use Notesy on my iPad and iPhone. It has all the features I need and it works just fine. Ben prefers iA Writer and (the other) Brett likes Byword. If you’re in the market for such an app, any of these would be fine places to start.

But, let’s just agree that endlessly evaluating these types of apps is a textbook case of fiddling.

(I’m honestly not trying to pick on anybody, but the above post was inspired by this post).

Why I’m Not Buying the New iPad

After the new iPad was announced just a short while ago, I had essentially decided that—like so many other Apple enthusiasts—I’d be buying one. I’ve changed my mind and here’s why.

When the iPhone 4 came out, it was a complete redesign of the iPhone. It had the Retina Display, a much better camera, faster guts, the whole nine yards. When the 4S came out, it had an even better camera than the iPhone 4, the ability to shoot true HD video and, of course, Siri. With both of these models, I was excited and willing to upgrade because both of them represented dramatic improvements over their predecessors that would appreciably improve how I used and interacted with the device.

For me, the new iPad doesn’t include any such “must-have” features.

Of course, I’m excited to get my hands on one and see how the Retina Display looks and I’m sure it’s a total screamer in just about every respect over the iPad 2 (which I’m using to compose this post, coincidentally), but those two features simply aren’t enough to get me to abandon my current iPad. At least, not yet.

There’s an entire movement surrounding the idea of “last year’s model”; the basic gist is that just because a new device arrives on the market doesn’t automatically mean you should buy it. The thing you’re currently using, while no longer the newest/fastest/whateverest option available, is probably just fine and maybe you should save your money. (There’s also a whole environmental angle to it dealing with waste and such, but that doesn’t really resonate with me because I’m an entitled white American male or whatever). But, I think they have a point.

For me, my iPad 2 has settled into a fairly narrow set of uses: writing, (very) casual gaming, light task management and reading. While there may be a persuasive argument to be made for the new iPad being a damn sight better at one or more of those things than my antiquated iPad 2, I simply don’t find such an argument compelling enough to get me to part with several hundred dollars. Yet.

The X factor, of course, is if/when apps I use frequently begin being optimized for faster hardware or a higher-resolution screen that I don’t currently own and, subsequently, begin to perform poorly on my iPad 2. I don’t see that being a big problem since I can’t really imagine many of the apps I use “growing” into such requirements, but it’s still a possibility. But, that’s not an immediate concern since all of my apps run just fine.

Among the nerdier set of people who enthusiastically purchase new gadgets with much greater frequency than regular people, it’s easy to fall into the habit of buying the new one each year. Hell, that’s what we do, right? We write about Apple on the Internet! Of course we’re buying the new [phone/tablet/whatever]!

It’s the reflexiveness that I don’t like.

That said, I’m all in favor of people making such purchases when they have the means and it truly is a function of their livelihood. For me, though, it’s not. The iPad 2 is a tool, and one that I use a good bit. But I need to remind myself that:

  • This particular bit of tech cost me over $700.
  • I paid said monies to Apple less than a year ago.

I think there a few miles left on my iPad 2. And, just as a CYA measure, I will say that it’s entirely possible that I’ll take one look at the new iPad and forget all this malarky and plop down my money on the spot. But, I’m going to try my best to evaluate this decision like a freaking adult and not just slide my credit card because that’s what I’ve trained myself to do.

Evernote Tricks for the Uninspired New Evernote User

(If you’re brand new to Evernote, you might want to see this, too.)

You’ve heard all the hype.

Your friends and colleagues—even Internet wonks like myself—will not shut up about what a fantastic service Evernote is and that you should totally be using it, Ed.

So, you heed the advice; you install Evernote on your phone, your computer and maybe even your tablet.

You make yourself a user account, login and then you sit in front of it for a few minutes and wonder, “so, what the hell do I do with this thing?”

You’re not alone. Lots of people install Evernote then stare at it for an hour wondering for what purpose, pray tell, should they actually use it.

It’s not unlike deciding that you’d like to write something (but you’re not sure what), sitting down at your computer and opening up your favorite writing application… and just staring at a blank screen.

Being the guy who wrote the book on Evernote, I’ve got a few ideas for how you can get started because, and I mean this sincerely, Evernote is fantastic solution for oodles of problems.

Think about the mission

No, not the De Niro flick from forever ago; I’m talking about the problem Evernote purports to solve.

“Remember Everything” is how the app is pitched; it’s apropos, I think.

So, with that in mind, think about the kinds of things you want to remember, but currently don’t. These can be things as benign as how much money you spent at the Apple store last month or things as meaningful as when your oldest kid lost his first tooth.

Look at common use cases

Here are a handful of applications that have become some of the canonical Evernote use cases:

  • Recipes: Create a new notebook called “Recipes” and go clip a few of your favorites from the web. Note: this is helpful if you actually cook anything, which I really don’t.
  • Bank Statements: Chances are, you have a stack of these (or some other kind of historical financial thingies) lying around that you’re keeping just in case you need them for some reason. Get yourself a document scanner (this is the one I use), scan them to PDFs and drop them into Evernote. Then kiss that unsightly stack of paper goodbye. Use it for kindling at your next cookout or something.
  • Stuff You Read and Liked: Clipping stuff from the web into Evernote is pretty damn simple no matter which browser you use. If you come across an article or blog post on the web that makes you all happy and whatnot, fire that thing into Evernote so you can read it again five years from now. Oh, and not to get all FUD on you, but web pages have a nasty habit of changing or outright disappearing as the years go by — this helps ensure that you’ll always have the original.
  • Project Notes/Resources: If, say, you’re in the process of building a new deck in your backyard or planning to launch a new website in the near future, slap all of your ideas, inspirations and other details into a notebook in Evernote. I’ve done this bunches of times and it’s still one of my favorite ways to use Evernote.
  • Meeting Notes: I take all of my meeting notes in Evernote (naturally). If you bring a laptop or tablet with you to meetings, take your notes in Evernote so a) you’ll never lose them and b) you can send them to Eric from Logistics whose dumb ass totally slept through the entire meeting. Review the notes later, making sure to handle any tasks that were assigned to you or important dates you need to put on the calendar.

I could go on, but these are just the basics. Other than the recipe thing, each of the above examples represents one way in which I use Evernote.

Share with others

My wife and I have a handful of shared notebooks that we can both access, but the one we use like crazy is the one with the shopping lists in it. Since she’s the one who cooks in our house (which is great becauss I suck at cooking and she’s really good at it), I get to do a good deal of the shopping. Instead of having to dictate a shopping list to me as we both meander around the kitchen, she just asks me to go to the grocery store and says “it’s in Evernote” as I walk out. If that sounds really awesome and convenient, that’s because it is.

I do a weekly podcast with a friend of mine and all of our plans, topics and such live in an Evernote notebook that we share. We brainstorm topics throughout the week and just stick them in the notebook whenever inspiration strikes. Then, when it comes time to record, we skim what we’ve added and see what we feel like talking about. The coolest part is we can both add stuff from any device we use (iPhones, mostly) instead of having to be sitting at our computers. Oh, and the notebook also has all of our logo files and such, in case we ever need them.

In Conclusion

The great thing about Evernote is that once you find a really cool way to use it that really helps you, you’ll almost immediately start finding other ways to use it. Before you know it, you’ll be like me (except with better hair, I hope). If you want to really get cracking with Evernote, pick up a copy of Evernote Essentials today; it’s like a warm chocolate chip cookie that you read instead of eat.

The Definitive Guide to Using Posterous Now That Twitter Owns It


If you already do, move someplace else.


Welp, if you ask me, one of three things will happen:

1. Twitter will wait a few months and then shut Posterous down permanently. I feel this is *far* and way the more likely scenario.

2. Twitter will subsume Posterous’s talent and effectively ignore Posterous the service (while letting it run to avoid user backlash). It will turn into this year’s Friendfeed: a great service, acquired then abandoned. It might stay up for awhile, possibly years, but there’s (effectively) nobody watching it.

3. Twitter will devote both resources and people to the Posterous service and apps and it will blossom into the delightful young starlet we all hoped it would be. I’ll be shocked if this happens, but it’s technically possible.

With all of the other options out there, I think staying with Posterous for longer than the next month would be the wrong decision.

Learn from history, folks, because it’s about to repeat itself here.

Cooking with Brett and Myke — Vodka Martinis

In this week’s episode of the Internet’s favorite cooking-related podcast, Myke and I discuss iPads, English witticisms and a whole bunch of other stuff!

Click here for more info.

‘Bartending: Memoirs of an Apple Genius’

Stephen Hackett:

Today, I’m happy to share that my first ebook, Bartending: Memoirs of an Apple Genius is well underway. It’s a collection of short stories from my time behind the Genius Bar.

Can’t wait.

Click here for more info.