Category Archives: Productivity

Still here!

So, it’s been awhile. Almost a full year since my last post here. But really, that’s just the way it goes. Interesting, looking at my last two posts from Late March and April 2020 explains why I’ve not posted here in a year which is to say that not much has changed that was really worth posting about. There are plenty of websites in the world sharing the details of Apple related news. Lots of sites discussing using Apple tech. This site is my journal of sorts where I’ve enjoyed sharing my work or my tech journey as it evolves and over the past year it has been steady-state. It’s been a fantastic year but with no new developments in how I’m using my iPad or other related Apple gear. Looking at the last two posts made me laugh because as I sit here writing I realized why I’d not posted: my set-up is exactly the same.

My iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard Portfolio and the Magic Trackpad 2 in a scene that is nearly identical to the second image in my March 31 post which was captioned:

“My current set-up changes all the time. Sometimes used with a keyboard, mouse and monitor on a desk, other times outside on the porch or under a tree. It changes based on the task.”

And in that context, it’s true, my set-up changes based on my location but it’s the same iPad, a keyboard and if at my desk the Magic Trackpad. I’m still doing the same work with mostly the same apps and it’s all been fantastic. If anything, I would just offer that I’ve had another successful year getting work done on my iPad though with Covid it was less work, it was enough to get by.

I suppose I’m posting today just as a check-in. To re-affirm that I’m here and still actively, happily using my Apple tech. But generally speaking, I’m not inclined to post just for the sake of posting.

But there is Apple-related news on the horizon that might be worth commenting on. Well, there’s been some of that over the past year for sure, most notably the M1 Macs, the new and widely acclaimed Magic Keyboard for iPad (which I surprisingly did not purchase), and the usual fall operating system upgrades. All significant but none of which were enough to prompt a post here as I wasn’t using the new hardware released and the software changes were, as expected, incremental.

I’m a little antsy about the possibility of a new iPad Pro being announced and I still ponder the purchase of the Magic Keyboard for iPad but given how well my current set-up works I’m not sure I’ll buy anything. My 2nd Apple Smart Keyboard Portfolio is showing the same wrinkling and bubbling that the first one did before being replaced under warranty. Eventually I’ll need to replace it with something. And in the 2+ years of use I’m definitely seeing degradation in the iPad battery. I’m just not sure it warrants replacement yet because for the tasks I use it for it remains a very fast and capable computer. So, ¯(ツ)

What I‘m hoping to see is currently rumored USB C with Thunderbolt which might also come with an iOS update allowing for better external monitor support similar to what we saw last year with the big mid-cycle release of trackpad support. If I were able to have a second desktop on another display (not just the mirroring that we have now) that took full advantage of the full screen width without the black bars on either side, well, that would likely be enough for a purchase. Add to that the faster processors and 5G (in my area I‘m getting excellent 5G thanks to Sprint/T-Mobile) and that would be a very solid upgrade. Though I‘m still not sure what I‘ll do for a keyboard.

iPad and a Magic Trackpad 2

Last week marked the 10 year anniversary of the release of iPad and I shared a few thoughts. In it I mentioned the recently released iPadOS 13.4 update which added cursor support. At the time I posted I’d been trying it with a Bluetooth mouse and found it fairly helpful though lacking in a few things, namely the swiping gestures that are so integral to using an iPad as a tablet.

For the past day I’ve been using Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 with the iPad and as many have pointed out, it’s pretty fantastic. Of course, interacting with text on a screen for editing is great but, more importantly, the Magic Trackpad 2 fully supports all the gestures that make the iPad a great tablet. For the first time ever it’s now possible to use the iPad in an elevated stand without reaching up. In the past I worked around this by using keyboard shortcuts which works pretty well. Apps like Pages and Numbers are greatly enhanced with the new cursor and trackpad. LumaFusion is another great app that’s working very well with the cursor-trackpad combination. I’m sure many other apps work great as is or will be enhancing what is possible.

About the keyboard, it is often still faster for some tasks than using the trackpad and cursor. For example, app switching via touch on the trackpad is nice but often is much faster via Command-Tab on the keyboard. An even better example, Spotlight, which I use constantly, is faster via keyboard because it works from anywhere. With the trackpad the two finger swipe down to activate Spotlight only works from the home screen.

All that said, having the new cursor is a great new option and it works perfectly with the trackpad. This configuration, a raised iPad or an iPad with an external monitor with a Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad, is going to be a really useful set-up.

A last thought about the upcoming Magic Keyboard for iPad. I’m going to pass for now. It’s the perfect device for the iPad and exactly what I’d love to have. But I’ve already got the Smart Keyboard and I’m just not sure about how much work I’ll have given the current Covid virus situation. I opted for the Magic Trackpad because it will give me the option to use the cursor in an efficient way for a lot less money and has the added bonus of working great when I’ve got the iPad in a stand.

Busy on two wheels!

Way back in December I wrote a nice (and predictable) 10 year of iPad thing. Never quite got it finished. From this point on this post is not in the least bit about the iPad or Apple or computer tech.

You see, dear reader, back in December I also purchased an e-bike. My first bike in 20 years! I was expecting to use it to ride a couple miles a day to visit with my folks who live nearby. Instead I found that my 20 year old knee injury (my reason for being off bicycles which is are one of my favorite things in the world) had, seemingly, healed over time.


My first day of riding I took it out on a county road and peddled a bit. My knee felt good. I kept peddling until I rode the 6 miles to town. I had a coffee and happily returned home. I did it again the next day. And the next. Since December 22, 2019 I’ve ridden about 1,200 miles, in daily 20 to 35 mile rides. I’ve peddled all over my county and into a couple of nearby counties exploring the countryside via back-country roads.

So, you see, aside from work related computing I’ve spent most of my free time on a bike or walking my dogs! The time I have spent on the iPad that was not work related was spent reading about bikes or writing about them for my other blog! Of course I’m not abandoning this blog it’s just that my current obsession involves another kind of tech that has enabled me to return to something I’ve long loved and missed! I’ll be around again soon.

Frictionless Posting

I’m in search of a better posting process for my two Word Press blogs. Really, it’s not that difficult. I usually post from iA Writer, sometimes the app, sometimes from Apple Notes and lastly, sometimes via the built in Share Sheet in iOS. Again, not really difficult. Just more taps than I’d like.

Apparently I am extremely lazy.

Improved Blog Posting from the Notes App with Shortcuts

This past October I posted about blogging from the Notes app
In that example I was just sending my post straight to the WordPress Share Sheet which works fine too.

I generally use iA Writer for blogging but it’s also nice to be able to post from Notes. That said, I’d also like to have a copy of all my posts as text files. Enter Shortcuts! I’ve made a shortcut that will post to WordPress but also makes a text file that I can save into the appropriate blog folder in my iA Writer documents.

With the shortcut I’ve also added a step for making rich text from markdown which allows for me to write in markdown.

Only four steps!

Trip Cost Estimate Shortcut

I don’t travel much but I’d recently pondered the idea of a road trip and wondered about the cost. In just a minute or two with the help of Apple Maps I had it figured out. But it occurred to me that this would be the perfect use case for a Shortcut so I put this together:
Trip Cost Estimate

It asks for you to choose from your Contacts for an address or to enter an address manually. Then it will ask for your car’s estimated MGP then the cost of gas per gallon. Siri will then read you the results and offer you the option to share the text with a link to the map in Apple Maps which can be shared to Apple Notes or any other text app with a Share Sheet extension.

Trying Workflow Again

As I've transitioned to the iPad for more of my work, specifically client website updates, my process has been a bit in flux. It's an ongoing experiment. I won't dig into those details here but just wanted to mention it because as a process in flux I find that I'm actively looking for ways to streamline the process.

One particular area is adding new images to a site. For example, every month or so I get images for flyers for Marquand, Mo. More often than not it's a mix of jpgs and pdfs. If I were working from my Mac I'd open the file up from Apple Mail into Affinity Photo (or Photoshop though that is increasingly rare these days). From there I would save it for the web into the appropriate folder for the site on my central store of files on DropBox. Then I open Coda, the site and the file. Update the html and upload the new version along with the image.

How I do it on the iPad: from AirMail (or Apple Mail) if the file is a pdf I open the attachment in Graphic and crop (if necessary). Then I share to a very simple Workflow which prompts me to resize it with desired dimensions. The Workflow then opens up a save to Dropbox dialog in which I navigate to the appropriate folder. Once saved the Workflow then prompts me to save it to my local shared Transmit/Coda file store (on the iPad). Again, I navigate to the appropriate website folder and save. Then I open Coda and the site. I update the html and upload the new version along with the image to the server. The process is nearly identical as the process when using the Mac. If the file is already a jpg I can skip the step of opening the file in Graphic and just open it straight to Workflow where the image is resized and saved. In that case it's actually a couple steps shorter than the Mac process.

When I first set this Workflow up I just had the image files being saved in Dropbox. Then I would open them in the Dropbox app and send them to the local Transmit/Coda file store. This was at least a couple of extra steps. After a few weeks of this longer process it occurred to me to check Workflow to see if I could automate that step and sure enough, it worked. I simply had not thought it through the first time around. I know that I've still not really explored the many possibilities of using Workflow but this has really drawn my attention to the potential of the automation process!

The thing about Workflow is that it really requires imagination as well as an awareness of one's work processes. It's a very powerful toolset but a toolset that really requires the user to make an investment of time and mental focus. To realize the potential it requires one to first analyze the steps taken during our workday as well as a willingness to imagine how those steps might be accomplished by the app which means spending time to understand the features of the app. Then it requires a willingness to experiment in the Workflow building process. It's not that hard but I've noticed in reading others' comments online that there is a blockage for many people. The power of the app is obvious, but the steps and ways that the app can actually be put to use is not.

Much of what I've seen written online about the app offers examples of the Workflows in the gallery. The problem with those, though many might be helpful, is that they often seem trivial on the surface. They seem too simple, too much like tasks that can just be accomplished by going directly to an app or making a request of Siri. Opposite of this are the the far more detailed examples of complicated, custom Workflows don't seem useful as they are designed for very specific tasks. I guess what I'm getting at is that this is the kind of tool that many will download but never use because they are not prepared for that initial time and mental investment. They won't get it because it will seem too simple or too complicated or both.

Managing Websites with iPad – Update

A couple months back I posted about my workflow for managing websites from my iPad Air 2. I’ve got an update. At the time I was waiting for and hoping for an update to Editorial that would allow for split screen mode so that I could split with Transmit. As of now that still has not happened. I’ve seen it mentioned that it’s currently in beta testing but it seems ridiculous that it would take this long to put out an update that takes advantage of iOS features released 10 months ago. . Editorial is great and I guess I’ll get back to it for Markdown documents but for now I’m shelving it until it’s updated.

I’d thought that Textastic might work but I didn’t care for its method for using DropBox files so I decided to look around for another text editor. I’m happy to report that I found one a week ago and thus far it’s been a pleasure to use: GoCoEdit seems to be exactly what I was looking for. It’s packed with features, many of them I’m not likely to ever use but it has most of the features and supports the workflow that I rely on.

First off, the app is updated on a regular basis and takes full advantage of the features of the current iOS. Second, I can connect to my Dropbox account (or ftp, sftp, or google drive) and easily browse all my project folders and documents in one pane of my split screen. Editing those documents is live and does not require that they be downloaded first and I can have multiple documents open with tabs. GoCoEdit includes syntax highlighting, find/replace, code completion, a variety of syntax options and a preview of documents. Oh, and the app supports oodles of keyboard shortcuts if you’re using a Bluetooth keyboard or an iPad Pro with attached keyboard.

When I’m done with an edit in my left pane I can copy and paste into the same document on the server in my Transmit document edit window. Which reminds me, Transmit for iOS is pretty damn crashy. (Side note: maybe I’m just cranky in my old age but I think Panic gets far too much praise. They seem to have this kind of celebrity thing going on in the Apple community. I don’t get it. While I do use Coda and Transmit I find them to be a bit buggy. I’d rather see updates to buggy apps than blog posts about fancy signs and other hipster goings on at Panic headquarters. Yes, your sign is cute but your app is crashing far too often. Fix it.)

Managing Websites with an iPad

Updating html with Editorial

Updating html with Editorial

One of the tasks I do fairly often that I expected would remain Mac-based is website management, specifically the updating of page content for clients. I’d tried it several times using several different apps starting with my first iPad. But it never seemed to work out. Yes, I could make it work but ultimately it was too many hoops, too much friction. I liked the idea of being able to make an emergency update should I ever be away from my Mac and only have the iPad with me. But that rarely happened. I’m not sure it ever happened.

So, every year or two I’ve made it a point to revisit this particular task and possible use for the iPad. When Panic released the first iteration of Coda for iOS a couple years ago, “Diet Coda” I was excited but it didn’t quite do the trick. Closer but still not there. In recent months as I’ve been leaning more on the iPad in daily use I figured it was time to revisit my search for a sensible workflow for the task. I’m a regular reader of Mac Stories and have always found Federico’s use of the iPad interesting. So I did a quick search there to see if this was something he addressed. He has but not in the way that I found helpful. He manages his one website and does it exclusively from his iPad. I need to manage many sites from at least two devices which means synced local files.

It took awhile but I’ve finally settled into something that works very well on the iPad. On the Mac most of my web work takes place using Panic’s excellent Coda App. I’d hoped to use the newest version of Coda for iOS and I have given it a fair shake but it’s not my tool of choice. Why? Well, I keep my source html files on Dropbox so that I can access them from any device for local editing. Coda for iOS does not offer an option for sourcing files from Dropbox. There is a pane for “local” files and server files. Bummer.

But the solution, for now, is another Panic app. Transmit for iOS. The app has a built in text editor which is far from powerful but offer’s the basic text editing I need to get the job done. Would be great if it included find and replace but it’s not a deal breaker. The big plus is that once I’ve edited a file on the server I can easily use the “Send to” function to save the file to Dropbox. Another function not in Coda.

If I prefer to start with my edits on the “local” side I can begin with Editorial which does allow for opening and saving to Dropbox. I can edit the “local” Dropbox copy and copy/paste the updated text into the file via Transmit. A little clumsy but it works pretty well. Unfortunately Editorial has not been updated to take advantage of iOS 9’s split screen mode. Not a huge deal as it’s fairly easy to just Command+Tab between Editorial/Transmit. Word is that there is a beta and a new version should be coming before too long. At that point I will split screen with Transmit. Open and edit my “local” Dropbox copy with Editorial which does have find and replace as well as syntax highlighting. An additional benefit with this that Editorial autosaves the file to Dropbox.

The two biggest downsides to the iPad-based workflow is that there is no site-wide search and replace. For that I’ll have to login via Coda on the Mac but that’s not something I do all that often. The second is that these workflows are technically only one html file at a time. In Editorial I can have all the site html files in the sidebar during editing. It’s easy enough to jump from one to another as needed like tabs. If there is a hang-up it would be clicking back and forth in Transmit to open a file on the server, then paste, then save, then close. But my usual updates are just two or three files per session so it’s not difficult to manage just not quite as easy as Coda on the Mac.

An alternative would be Textastic which is an excellent text editor on the iPad and has been updated to use split screen and has built in ftp. However, like Coda and Transmit it does not allow for using Dropbox as a “local” file store.

For images I’m using Pixelmator combined with a Workflow for changing the size, format and quality as needed. Just getting started with that and will see if it meets my expectations. So far it seems to.

Getting Caught Up

Nice View

The view from one of my many work areas.

Okay. Going to geek out for a moment. Been far too long since my last post. I’m not always the most consistent of bloggers. What can I say. Life happens. I’d like to say I’ll get more consistent but I can’t be certain. Aside from that, there are plenty of other excellent sites out there covering what I would likely cover in the way of Apple news. Well, regardless, I will continue to share occasional posts about recent projects and reflections.

So, yes, my last post was seven months ago and was just a bit of commentary on Apple’s releases of El Capitan, OS X 10.11, iOS 9 and the iPhone 6S. At the time I was expecting to do a series of projects which fell through. The 2014 rMBP that I purchased with those projects in mind went largely unused for the past 6 months. I did get some use out of it but not enough to continue keeping it. I only purchased it because circumstances at the time seemed to justify it. So, I’ll likely be selling it soon. I’ll continue on with the Mac Mini at my standing desk for much of my design work. The iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 will continue to serve for anything else. Which brings me to mobile computing with iOS.

My first iOS device was the original iPad which I purchased as soon as it was released in 2010. I used it quite a lot, probably a 50/50 split with my previous laptop, a MacBook Air. My usage remained about the same when I upgraded to the iPad 3, the first with a retina screen. With the iPad Air 2 my usage patterns remained the same. Apple nerds have spent far too much time discussing whether the iPad is something that can be used for “real work”. Along the same lines, the question of whether the iPad should be considered a real “computer”. The answers are obvious. Yes and yes.

The first is, in part, context dependent. The iPad is great for some tasks not others. But this might also be said of a hammer or a bicycle or a boat or any other object. I don’t blend with a toaster and I don’t plant a tree with a screw driver. iOS devices, be they iPads or iPhones, are suited to particular tasks just as Macs are suited for others. I suppose all the discussion stems from the gradient of usage, the overlaps that are possible with the different platforms and form factors. The introduction of the large iPad Pro only made that more interesting.

What I’ve discovered in recent months is that my three primary computers all serve to compliment each other perfectly. It’s that simple. My Mac Mini is used for projects that require InDesign as well as web site management that requires site-wide search and replace which I do with Coda. It also serves as my iTunes/Plex server. Oh, and accounting via iBooks and occasional FileMaker work. My iPhone is for tracking my diet and steps, reading books, checking email, messaging, and a bit of web browsing. Oh, and the rare phone call. My iPad is for browsing the web via RSS or browser, reading books, messaging, phone calls, typing podcast transcripts, writing anything of length, and managing websites.

Some tasks/activities are best handled by two of these together. For example, astronomy sessions are a mix of iPhone and iPad. I use the iPad for recording data into FileMaker and some searching with Sky Safari Pro. I use the iPhone for much of the searching with Sky Safari Pro because it’s small and can be easily attached to the telescope. Much of my graphic design begins with Pages or Graphic (formerly called iDraw) or Pixelmator. In some cases I can complete the task completely on the iPad in other situations I transfer to the Mac to finish. An example would be the logo for Beardy Guy Creative. I did most of that using Graphic on the iPad then exported and finished with Illustrator because I’ve got many more fonts installed on the Mac.

At this point my preferred form factor is probably the iPad. It’s the device I choose to use most often as it strikes a nice balance of portability, flexibility and power. With iOS9 and multi-tasking via split screens, coupled with the extensions released with iOS 8, I find that the iPad is often up to the tasks I ask of it. That I can use it in a stand with an external keyboard or as a tablet is fantastic. The screen as computer form make the iPad the easiest to rearrange into a delightful variety of working arrangements. Of course simplest is holding it in my hands on a couch or chair but when used with a keyboard there is great benefit to being able to put it up high or off to the side or in any kind of position I need to be comfortable. Or, at a desk/table/shelf in a stand of course if I want or need such an arrangement.

One last point concerns the importance of adoption of new features of iOS. Particularly split screen and extensions.

I’m not sure why but I initially didn’t use split screen. I tried it a few times and figured it would be handy but I never made it a habit. In recent months as I began looking for a frictionless podcast transcription workflow I went from an iPhone/MBP/Mac Mini set-up to an all iPad set-up that relied on having Pages and the Apple Podcast app, each in split view and that sealed the deal. After using that for the past 6 weeks and NOW it clicks. Split screen is, without a doubt, the best part of the iOS 9 update for the iPad. Now that it’s become the basis of my transcript process it is finding it’s way into daily use for all sorts of tasks.

Extensions are something I’d dabbled in and put to some use. Initial discovery is so obvious and adds a lot of flexibility to the iOS workflow. And yet, there’s just a bit of complexity and I suspect I’m not not the only one who has taken some time to really work extensions into daily workflows. There’s a depth to the flexibility that is not initially obvious. The more I use them the more natural they seem and it contributes to a sense that the friction of iOS is slowly falling away.