Tag Archives: Office

iPad Journal: Using Numbers

One of the best apps on the iPad is Numbers. For anyone that needs spreadsheets it is essential. I've been using it since it was first introduced on the Mac and then as soon as it was available on iPad. I suspect that, based on some interactions I've had with acquaintances, Numbers is one of those apps that could benefit from some Apple iPad promotion. People seem to be unaware that it exists or, if they are aware of it, do not know what they can do with it. As David Sparks wrote in a recent article about iPad :

If Apple wants to see an increase in iPad sales, I think the answer is making them more useful and getting the word out. Apple should get serious about adding features to iOS that allows users to be more productive in getting their work done. On top of that, Apple should start demonstrating to the public with some its clever advertising how lots of normal people are getting work done on the iPad. I'm not talking about videos of people taking the iPad deep-sea diving but instead how people use it to make spreadsheets, write documents, and all the other work that most of us do to pay for our shoes.

A great example of putting Numbers to work is a client that recently needed some updates to labels for her hand-made soaps and lotions as well as updates to the order form her sales rep uses. As it turns out her order form had been put together by a previous designer using Illustrator. While it looked nice visually it was a mess to edit and was only functional when printed on paper. In conversation with her it became apparent that she would like for her sales rep to be able to enter the data right on her iPhone or iPad so that they could be quickly and easily emailed immediately after the order. The obvious choice was Numbers.

Within an hour I had a Numbers spreadsheet that looked nearly identical to the pretty form created in Illustrator but now she had a form that worked on device, would auto-calculate the total for each line item then calculate the total for each section and, finally, calculate the total amount of the order. No more hand writing and scanning. The whole process is easier and faster for both the sales rep and my client. Even better for my client (not so much for me), she can now update the items in the Numbers spreadsheet herself rather than hire me to do it.

This is the sort of easy to set-up and use workflow that the iPad is perfect for.

Another example would be a Numbers document I created to track my utilities usage. My tiny house shares a utility line with a cabin owned by my sister and her family. I'm a full time resident and they are part-time visitors on weekends. I've got a spreadsheet set-up that allows for easy entry of monthly usage, amount paid and various calculation fields do the work of sorting the payment amounts. I've also used it to keep track of all sorts of data for projects and interests including the membership roster for our local astronomical society, astronomical observing lists, a list of NASA missions and the Periodic Table of Elements.

Numbers is a great way to get started with spreadsheets. It may not be as powerful as Excel but I've found it meets (and exceeds) all of my needs and works great on the iPad. Like all iWork apps it also comes with some great templates that are often a great way to get started on a project. For folks that might need a larger feature set, Excel on the iPad may be the better way to go though I can't say much about it as I've not used it.

One way I hope to see Apple improve Numbers might also require an iOS change and that is to allow for two Numbers windows in split screen mode. I'm sure many would agree that there are times when having two spreadsheets open side by side would be very helpful. For example, I can easily imagine a business owner like my client mentioned above compiling a monthly report of sales in which case she might easily want two Numbers documents open at the same time.

I don't doubt that Apple has plans for such improvements and I'm looking forward to them.

Work at Home: My Setup

After years of using only Mac laptops, the most recent being a 2011 MacBook Air, I made the decision in the winter of 2014 to transition to a desktop Mac. Kaleesha was writing her first book and needed a better laptop so I took the opportunity to make the move. My reasons were for choosing the MacMini (late 2012): price and my decision to begin sitting and standing rather than working in a reclined position. I’d tried this with the laptop but it just didn’t take. A MacMini would leave me no choice but to be at the desk.

I’d been using an iPad since the first iteration in 2010 and was pretty confident that it would serve well as a laptop replacement for my off hours browsing or any tasks that didn’t require a Mac. This has been the perfect set-up for me.

Most of my work on the Mac is either graphic design or html/css coding. All design work is taken care of with the usual Adobe apps and the web work via Panic’s excellent Coda. Other usuals: Safari, Mail, Wunderlist, Fantastical, Byword, iBank, Paperless, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Oh, and iTunes which not only serves me but the whole house.

On the iPad 3, recently upgraded to the iPad Air 2*, my main apps are Feedly, Transmit, Byword, Drafts, Twitter, Numbers, Fantastical, Wunderlist, Scanner Pro, Kindle and iBooks. As an amateur astronomer SkySafari gets alot of use along with Numbers for recording observations with the iPad that are later transfered to FileMaker Pro on the Mac.

With Mavericks and iOS 7 the convenience of always in sync everything has been a fantastic feature making switching between devices mostly frictionless. It’s only gotten better with Yosemite and iOS 8 both of which have performed exceptionally for me. Practically everything seems to sync in one way or another. Some examples: Transmit and Coda bookmarks, Wunderlist tasks, iWork documents, Byword documents and practically everything else.

One possible change to my workflow: Pixelmator. I’ve used it a bit on the Mac but now with a new powerful iOS version I intend to become more familiar with it. That I can now do real image editing and design work on an iPad with this much power (and finally 2 GB of RAM) is a potential game changer. When combined with apps such as Transmit and extensions I anticipate that I now have a device which will make on-the-go web work that much easier as my ability to use and share files between apps and devices is a fantastic new feature of iOS8. For example, a photo emailed to me by a client is easily saved to photos, edited with a Pixelmator extension and then opened in Transmit for upload to a server.

Of course, having said all that, I don’t want to go back to my former portable-based workflow. I’m VERY happy with my standing desk and intend to continue working there but it is very helpful to now have the option of getting more work done when I need to be away from my desk.

Two other bits of gadgetry worth mentioning.

The iPhone 5C has been great for keeping up with email, twitter and RSS as well as reading books. Other tasks for the iPhone usually include scanning documents with Scanner Pro, remote control for iTunes and AppleTV. The hotspot feature has also been a real plus for getting things done while on the road.

My newest office kit is a Logitech K811 which I’ve only had for a few days. I think this is the best keyboard I’ve ever used. Bluetooth pairing with multiple devices was super simple and switching between them as fast as hitting a single button. The keyboard turns off automatically when not in use and turns on instantly when my fingers are placed on it. The slightly concave keys feel great and unlike the Apple keyboard (my previous favorite) this keyboard has backlighting. It’s not super light but light enough that I won’t mind taking it out with me. The iPad/keyboard combo is still far lighter and more compact than a MacBook Air. As I write this Kaleesha is creating a sleeve for the iPad/keyboard combo. Sweet.

  • A note about the Air 2. It was gifted to me by my aunt and uncle and I mention them because until the release of the iPad they had no intention of ever owning computers. Like several others in my family (my mother, grandmother, aunt, and a few others) had previously only ever used their desktop computers for playing those old school card games. For various reasons they had not used the internet at all or only very little. All of them are now daily users of the internet in a variety of forms. For several of them their iPads were their introductions to Apple and they now own iPhones as well.

Work at Home: Using a Standing Desk

This past spring, after years of working at a desk or while laying in a bed with a laptop (most recently a MacBook Air), I decided to begin standing while doing any work at the computer. I’d already transitioned from the laptop which Kaleesha was using to write her first book and had moved over to a Mac Mini at the desk full time. Two things happened shortly after this transition. The first was that the increased time sitting at the desk without the ability to move around to work led to increased back pain. This led to the second which was a bit of renewed research into the benefits of standing to work. I’d previously tried it out but had never pushed myself to make it my primary position to work and with the laptop it was too easy to just sit or lay somewhere.

In March, with increasing pain and a scale that insisted on inching slowly higher I decided to make a few changes. First was to stop sitting while working. I used a bit of extra plywood in the shed to construct a raised display shelf and, a bit lower, an adjustable shelf for my keyboard and trackpad. It took just a couple hours to put together and paint. I built it with the notion that during the transition period I might want to move the display down and sit occasionally but never did. I’ve been standing ever since. Well, I have been known to sleep on occasion and sit at the table for dinner. I also spend a bit of time lounging with the iPad on the bed or couch throughout the day but work time, 3–6 hours a day, is standing.

Six months in and I can report that I am very happy with the decision. During the first few weeks I was often aware of standing and had a little pain in my legs and feet. I could get the work done that I needed to get done but it wasn’t effortless. Today I regularly stand for 1–2 hours at a time with no thought to the fact that I’m standing. Put another way, standing has become the natural way that I work. I usually put in an hour or two between breakfast and lunch and another 1–3 hours between lunch and dinner. Occasionally I’ll need to do an hour or two in the evening. My schedule changes a bit day to day which is quite nice as it allows for some flexibility and variation between standing, sitting and reclining.

Of course it should be noted that standing is only one aspect of a healthier lifestyle. I can’t say that I’d seen any weight loss for most of this period. In fact, due to my diet I’d seen an increase over the past year which continued after I began standing. I’ve since gotten back into walking 2 miles a day and in July I began tracking my diet more closely, both practices have helped me steadily and slowly drop half of the weight I needed to drop. By January I will have achieved my goal weight and will go into the new year with the healthy habit of standing while working.