Category Archives: Productivity

Keychron K2


My favorite keyboard in recent memory has been the Logitech K811. I bought it reconditioned from Amazon seven years ago. It’s no longer manufactured and mine is beginning to fail. It no longer pairs reliably and at least one key has stopped working. I’ve got at least one other similar Logitech keyboard that can be used but I often have issues with it and the iPad Pro. I’m not sure why. It seems to cause conflict with the Apple Trackpad which I like to use if I’m using the iPad with a separate keyboard and a second display.

So, I decided I’d look for a new keyboard that could connect via Bluetooth and usb as well. And, while I was at it thought I’d finally take a look at mechanical keyboards. I type a lot and have heard lots of good things about mechanical keyboards. This past summer my nephew had one so I had a chance to give it a go and it was very nice. After looking at the less expensive options I settled on the Keychron K2. It seemed reasonable at around $80 and has great reviews. It arrived a few days ago and boy-howdy is this a nice typing experience!

First, I like the fact that it is Mac/iOS first. They include extra key caps for switching out 3 or so keys of you prefer the Windows specific symbols. As I’m running the iPadOS 15 beta which now makes great use of the globe key I’ve got the caps lock re-mapped to the globe key. It’s superficial but I wish that key had a globe icon. Yeah, that’s silly but whatever.

I plugged the keyboard into the iPad with the included and very nice braided USB cable and away we went. I’ve also paired it with the Mac via Bluetooth. I’ll pair it with the iPad Pro as well but with the iPadOS beta Bluetooth is currently somewhat buggy so I’ll wait till that get’s fixed.

I ordered the keyboard with the brown switches from Amazon but was sent the blue switches which are, as I understand it, the loudest of the three options. It’s not a problem as I live and work alone and they’re not that much louder. Many of the reviews mentioned that the keyboard, being quite tall, is best used with a wrist pad. I have lots of scrap wood boards that I save for projects and found a piece of cedar that was the perfect width and height to match the keyboard. I gave it a light sanding and it’s perfect. Actually, adding this a few days later, I went with a piece of wood that was both deeper, wider and taller than the keyboard. The larger and taller plank provides a platform for my entire forearms rather than just my wrist and hand. I’ve got it covered with some soft flannel and it’s very comfortable. I’m still experimenting with the best position for the trackpad.

The two things that come to mind when describing the typing experience on the K2 is that it is comfortable and efficient. By comparison, the last keyboard of this type (large, deep keys) was the keyboard that came with the iMac G5 from 2006ish. I still have that keyboard as my usb back-up for the occasional Bluetooth issue. But it’s horrible to type on as it really requires effort. There’s nothing enjoyable about the key action.

Another, more relevant comparison, would be my various recent Logitech keyboards that are much thinner and much more similar to Apple’s scissor switch keyboards used on the Magic Keyboards. Which is to say, fairly quiet to type on and with shallow key action somewhere between bouncy and mushy but not too clicky. They’ve always worked well for me. With the K2 each key press results in a fairly satisfying click and a clicky sensation to match the sound. Not at all hard to depress and with a firm bounce back. I suspect that once I’ve gotten used to this keyboard, perhaps another day or so, my typing speed will be back up to the norm with no problem. (Edit a week after initial writing to add that yes, I did get used to it and it’s even better a week later!)

The only thing I’m not quite used to yet is the slightly different positioning of the arrow keys in the bottom right corner. They’re only off a bit to the right with a somewhat smaller shift key but it’s been enough to confuse my fingers a bit. I don’t doubt that I’ll get used to it.

Experiments with Markdown Editors, Saving Content and Obsidian

Background

This post began as a post over at this thread at the Mac Power Users Forum. I started with Obsidian a couple months back but a funny thing happened. Because I do most of my computing on the iPad and there was at that time no Obsidian mobile app (it‘s in beta now), I started with my trusted iA Writer for the back-end editing of files but it does nothing with Wiki links. So I moved to experimenting with a couple of other Markdown apps, 1Writer and Taio as they both do well with wiki links (more on these two apps later). I figured I’d just hop onto the Mac occasionally to use Obsidian. A couple months in and I’ve hardly touched Obsidian but I’ve been much more proactive in writing of daily notes (a new practice that I’d long pondered) and more writing generally as a result of starting the day with daily notes.

Another result is that it’s got me thinking more actively and critically about what/how/where/why I save files. In yet another post at Mac Power Users, the topic of saving web pages as html rather than pdf files also got me thinking about file format as it relates to what I do with stored files. As a part of considering my intent, I’m also considering the saving process and the information I actually want to save. To put it plainly, I’m trying to be very deliberate about my accumulation of information I may never need. Be it whole files, text, or images embedded in pdfs, etc. The deliberation and a slightly different process adds a bit of friction but that’s good in this case. I’ve generally been pretty good about not saving everything just because I have the thought this might be useful someday. It’s a trap a lot of people seem to fall into.

An example, a few nights ago I happened upon a recipe and considered whether I wanted to save it. Recipes are a new thing for me to bother with but I am starting to save a few. Rather than just save to pdf I used a shortcut to save a markdown/text file to Files in my 1Writer folder. I hop over to 1Writer and open the new document, clean out any cruft and tag it both in the text and also in the Files app. Within just a minute or two I have a very tiny, tidy, portable text file that works in 1Writer and Obsidian and also fairly easy to find in Files/Finder. I’ve since created a Shortcut that outputs nice, clean markdown via reader view which I’ll mention later.

So, rather than dive into DEVONthink (which I had been considering) as a catch-all tool my plan is to go the opposite way. It’s also got me looking at how I use Apple Notes… largely, I’ve been far too lazy and sloppy in throwing stuff in there and not cleaning up after myself when notes are no longer needed. So, avoiding the trap of over-collecting via DEVONthink, cleaning up Apple Notes, and now…

Markdown Editors

Gah!! I consider this useful fiddling but I try to keep app jumping to a minimum as that seems to be a huge time suck. That said, I’m experimenting just a bit. As I mentioned, iA Writer is the app I’ve been using for the past couple years. Love it for compiling podcast transcripts, writing and blogging. But it falls short on Wiki links. So I did a little poking around and found Taio and 1Writer. Here’s how they compare.

Overview

  • In general, I prefer the Taio interface as it always shows the sidebar of files. If I want to go full screen I can but I like seeing the files all the time.
  • Taio does nothing with hashtags for searching whereas 1Writer recognizes tags and a click to a tag brings up other files with that tag, showing them in the sidebar as an auto-populated search which is fantastic.
  • Search in 1Writer is generally much better as it also searches file content. Search in Taio is nearly useless as it basically searches titles.
  • When it comes to editing vs previewing Taio creates a mess of tabs along the top of the document window. Open a file to edit then switch to the preview and you get a new tab showing that preview. Tap on a link in that preview to another document? New preview tab of that document. Want to edit that document? New tab. Now you’ve got 4 tabs open! It can get out of control quickly. By comparison 1 Writer does everything in one window. Much tidier. And if I want nearly real-time html preview with clicking to other files I can bring up a second window of the file I’m editing and put it in preview mode. Works very well.

Exporting

Both apps offer a variety of export options though with a very different interface. With Taio I’m presented with a simpler interface to export files to markdown, pdf, html, Docx, RTF and web archive or by copying text to clipboard as markdown or html. After selecting the standard share sheet interface comes up.

1Writer has a preconfigured set of export options with similar formats:

  • Copy plain text, formatted text or html
  • Email plain text, formatted text, pdf attachment or plain text attachment
  • Print as plain text or formatted text
  • Open in plain text or pdf which then goes to the standard share sheet

Nearly equal but Taio offers Docx and web archive, neither of which I need but might be useful to some. 1Writer allows for creating new actions for sharing but I’ve not explored what’s possible there.

Shortcuts and automation

Taio is much better in this regard! It offers a variety of actions to the Shortcuts app as well as it’s own built-in shortcuts like action editor. It’s not even close. 1Writer offers 1 action for Shortcuts which is to create a new document. Better than nothing! Taio offers 11 actions. Most important of these in my use thus far, I’ve got a shortcut that takes a web page I want to save, generates cleaned up markdown with a link to the page at the bottom. The Taio version of this shortcut results in an actual file containing content. The 1Writer version creates a new file for me with the text copied to my clipboard. All I have to do is paste it in. But it seems silly that there’s no way (that I know of) to create the file with the content already intact.

The built-in action editor in Taio seems very powerful. I’ve not explored it much just yet but I did create 1 automation to create a daily log file with a pre-populated template and ready to go. I’m looking forward to using it a bit more.

Extras

Last, Taio offers an interesting clipboard saver. I’ve not used it much and I’m not sure I will but it’s there and might prove useful. I’m not really prepared to offer any thoughts yet.

Both of these are excellent markdown apps that will create a folder or folders of markdown files that will play well with Obsidian. Not only are they feature rich in terms of editing they are excellent for viewing, interacting with and exporting documents. For the moment I’ve currently settled on 1Writer and expect that to stick for awhile.

All this to say that it’s great that we have so many apps/tools but I’m recognizing how easy it is to get lost in them, jumping from one to another looking for the perfect tool with all of the exact features we need or think we need. It’s easy to focus on the new shiny tool rather than actively engage with and use the information in a meaningful way. I suppose that’s one of the pitfalls of being a geek.

I guess that was a bit of a sidetrack but I think in looking at the bigger picture it can be helpful to ask what it is we’re hoping to do with apps. I expect I’ll get around to actually using Obsidian more often and it’s feature set will prove helpful when I need them. But for the most part I’m currently just enjoying the focus on writing and more active engagement with information processing for a more tidy and deliberately curated set of open, accessible files.

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.

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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 Micro.blog 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.)