Week 8: John Carey, Patrick Rhone, Joseph Linaschke

John Carey's One Year video

John is the photographer behind 50 Foot Shadows. A few days ago, he published a video with all the photographs he took in 2013. And he does mean all. Here's how he explains it:

In the process of finding nice enough photos of my life to share there were plenty that did not make the cut. Piles of photos that theoretically would never be seen by much of anyone at all unless you happened to be looking over my shoulder as I scroll though my Aperture libraries.

The thought crossed my mind toward the end of the first year of the project that maybe some of you would be interested in seeing the uncut version of my photographic output from 2013 so this is exactly what I have prepared in the most chaotic way possible, at 24 frames a second in a quasi stop motion video.

The video includes 8,212 frames and looks great. It gives you a glimpse into his thinking process when he's behind the camera. It's also a great way to look back on a year of memories.

John is a talented photographer. Last year he created a new site called Yesterday was only where he shares photographs every day. I took inspiration from him to start posting a photo a day of my own.

Patrick Rhone's new book

Patrick published his new book titled Some Thoughts About Writing. He calls it a "collection of back pocket wisdom for those who wish to be successful writers". If this sound interesting, head over to his website and check out the preview with some excerpts from the book. Patrick is the man behind Minimal Mac amongst other things.

I just purchased it (it's only US$5) and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Aperture Expert Live Training News

You can now get the Live training series as a bundle for only US$30. It includes all 25 sessions. It's good value and a great way to learn Aperture. Even if you're already familiar with it you will learn a few new things. I finally understood Aperture's Places and geotagging in Aperture through session 17, which is all about Places.

Some of the videos were recorded with versions 3.0 to 3.2 of Aperture, and the interface changed a bit with version 3.3, so Joseph is also planning on starting the series again soon.

Week 3: Writer's Block, Evernote and The Passage of Time

Jerry Seinfeld on writer's block

Jerry Seinfeld did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) chat on Reddit last week. The whole thing is interesting and he was very candid with his replies. But what I really loved is his answer when someone asked him how he deals with writers block. He said:

Writer's block is a phoney, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.

Gotta admire the guy. Perfect response.

The Overwhelming Evernote

Tim Stiffler-Dean wrote an article on Medium called The Overwhelming Evernote in which he explains how to avoid getting overwhelmed when you first start using Evernote. He includes a few good tips on how to use the service.

I'm a big fan of Evernote, but that wasn't always the case. I tried it many years ago and it didn't stick. Back then, I threw everything at it under the idea that it was an "everything bucket" and very quickly it became an unmanageable mess, so I just gave up. It wasn't until I read Evernote Essentials that it all made sense. Tim's article is a good introduction.

London in 1927 & 2013

This is just awesome. Producer/director Simon Smith describes it thus:

During the 1920s, cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene travelled across the UK with his new colour film camera. His trip ended in London, with some of his most stunning images, and these were recently revived and restored by the BFI, and shared across social media and video websites.

Since February I have attempted to capture every one of his shots, standing in his footsteps, and using modern equivalents of his camera and lenses. This has been a personal study, that has revealed how little London has changed.

WriteRight Review: A writer's text editor

I love writing with the iPad. In fact, right now I'm in the balcony with my iPad, bluetooth keyboard, and a cup of coffee writing this in WriteRight, an iOS text editor I've been using a great deal for a couple of months.

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The App Store has no shortage of writing apps. I should know. I have a bit of an obsession with them and have tried way too many over the years. I don't even want to think about how much I've spent on them.

To my mind, there are 2 types of text editors. First are notes apps, where I keep a lot of small notes like quick thoughts, reference material, lists, and other things I want to have easy access to. I don't do any "real" writing on these. The most important features are quick entry and robust search. Apple's Notes and Simplenote/NVAlt are good examples.

Second, and more important to me, are writing apps. These are where I do long form writing (as opposed to jotting down short notes). For these, the writing experience is key. Things like good organisation features, word count, markdown support, preview, and full-screen mode are crucial. And because I spend so much time in these, the user interface is a big factor. Of course, sync is essential for both types.

WriteRight is unmistakably a writing app.

It has all the features I expect from a writing app, and then some. It's a universal app that looks beautiful in both iPad and iPhone.

WriteRight Features

In using WriteRight, it became clear the developers thought about every feature from the point of view of a long form writer.

Many of the features in WriteRight give you a little bit more, or are slightly different than typical, in a way that favours your writing flow. For example:

  • Easily move through your document: Tap on the margins to move the cursor one character at a time. Long tap to move by word. Swipe up or down with two fingers to instantly go to the start or end of the document. And if it's a long piece, moving your finger along the margins activates fast scrolling.
  • Undo/Redo: Select the arrow icons next to the keyboard or just swipe with one finger. No more shaking the iPad like a caveman.
  • Change font size: You don't actually pick a size, you pinch in or out (like with a photo) to make the text larger or smaller. And it remembers your choice in the previews.
  • Search and Replace: I recently changed the name of a character in a short story and this was a huge time saver. Without it, I would've had to wait until I was back at the desktop or do it manually. Again, like a caveman. You can choose to make search/replace case sensitive, use whole words or even ignore accents.
  • iCloud and Dropbox: iCloud syncs files and folders between iPhone and iPad. With Dropbox, you can import a file and save back to Dropbox, but you can't choose a folder (or series of files) in Dropbox and keep them in sync (see "what's missing" below).
  • Markdown Support: WriteRight is built for Markdown. Like many writing apps, it includes an additional keyboard row with often used Markdown symbols for easy access. But they take it one step further with additional options via clever popups that make fast typing easy and enjoyable with the device's keyboard.

These are fine features that once you get used to them, they're difficult to live without.

However, the biggest value in WriteRight is in the following:

English and Spanish dictionaries

WriteRight includes a vast dictionary in both English and Spanish. The developers are the guys that do Word Magic dictionaries and translation software, so you know they're serious about this.

According to the help file in WriteRight, the dictionary includes:

  • In English: 345,000+ meanings, 275,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,708,000+ synonyms, 358,000+ antonyms, 165,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

  • In Spanish: 282,000+ meanings, 242,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,280,000+ synonyms, 441,000+ antonyms, 148,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

And they keep adding more. The latest update added 68,000+ new English words, 560,000+ new English synonyms, 29,000+ new Spanish words and 320,000+ new Spanish synonyms.

Linguistic Tools: Synonyms, Antonyms and Phraseology

Selecting a single word gives you synonyms, antonyms and of course, definitions. I don't know about you, but when I write on the Mac I keep the Dictionary open and I often command-tab back and forth to use the thesarous. With WriteRight, I have it right there in the iPad as well.

The best feature though, is phrase or expression change recommendations. Tapping on the cog icon activates it and little blue cogs appear throughout your text to indicate WriteRight has an alternative available. Tapping on these shows you the suggestions.

You can just tap on one and it'll replace your word or phrase with the selected one. What I found even more impressive is that WriteRight will recognise conjugated words, tense, person, and gender, and replace accordingly.

Previews

When you want to see your document in it's final stage, you can preview it with Markdown rendered. But WriteRight has three different preview options:

  • Continuous: Shows you your document in one long continuous page formatted with Helvetica Neue. This is what most other text editors do.
  • US Letter and A4: Shows you your document in actual pages (either the standard US Letter or the European A4) with page numbers using Georgia in size 12.
  • Manuscript L and A4: Shows you your document in pages using Times New Roman in size 12 with a spacing of 1.5 and margins studied to contain between 1800 and 2000 characters per page.

Export

The export options are comprehensive:

  • Copy: Text, Text with format, HTML Code, link to share documents in iCloud or Dropbox.
  • Send by mail: Text, Text with format, Attach Text, Attach HTML, Attach PDF, link to share (iCloud or Dropbox).
  • Printing document: Text, Text with format, selection of number of pages to print.
  • Open with: Any text editor that accepts .TXT and .MD formats.

What's missing

I really like WriteRight. However, there are a few things that are missing:

  • Dropbox sync: WriteRight can access your Dropbox account and import a file. It'll create a local copy which it'll save back to Dropbox when it has Internet connection. However, it doesn't really sync. You can't, for example, choose a folder to sync where WriteRight keeps a copy of all files locally. It's only one file at a time.
  • Font options: I'm a typography nerd. I'd like to be able to pick a different font for writing. Menlo is good, but it would be awesome if I could import my own like Daedalus Touch.
  • Text Expander support: Personally, I don't mind this one. I use Text Expander in notes apps, but not for creative writing. But I know many people need it.
  • Mac App: Full sync via iCloud with a WriteRight for Mac would be awesome. Currently, I use Ulysses III on the Mac for almost everything. The files I want to edit in WriteRight are saved in Dropbox and pulled from there.

For me, Dropbox sync is the big one. I'd love to keep a folder in sync between Ulysses III (or Scrivener) and WriteRight without relying on an Internet connection. I write a lot in coffee shops and when travelling and having access to all my text files is necessary.

The good news is the developer is aware of this and has told me they're working on it and should have full Dropbox sync in an update soon.

Conclusion

WriteRight is, as I said, a writer's app. The linguistics features are impressive and the fact that it's built for both English and Spanish is big for me since I write in both languages a lot. I'm a fan and it's earned a spot in my iPad home screen.

If you do a lot of creative writing you should check WriteRight out (website/App Store). It's available for iPhone and iPad and only US$2.99.

It might be the text editor you're looking for.

Week 49: Aperture, OmniFocus and Writing

Apple Aperture and Nik Plugins.

There's weird bug that appears when sending photographs from Apple Aperture over to a Nik Collection plug-in for editing. When you come back to Aperture, the image is either stuck or invisible (you get only grey in the viewer). It seems this only happens on Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks.

I've tried repairing and rebuilding the Aperture Library but that didn't fix the issue. Only quitting and restarting Aperture solved the problem, which isn't really a solution.

A fellow photographer posted a workaround on Aperture Expert that, while not a fix, is much better than restarting.

Learn OmniFocus

Tim Stringer recently announced a new venture called Learn Omnifocus. He describes it as "a site dedicated to supporting people in living fulfilling, productive lives with some help from OmniFocus for Mac & iOS".

You can sign up now to be notified when the site officially launches. I've done it and can't wait to see what he has in store for us.

I've written about Tim before when I shared my takeouts from the OmniFocus Setup presentations. He spoke about how to setup your OmniFocus library based on the main areas of focus in your life. I still keep my library organised that way.

How to write something true

Yuvi Zalkow's latest video shows us step by step, exactly what you must do to write something true.

iA Writer for Mac update

Last week iA Writer for Mac got an update that addressed the 2 main issues I had with this great text editor:

  1. Font size was fixed, so it looked too big on some screens and too small on others.
  2. It didn't have an HTML preview for when I was writing in Markdown.

The second point is a very welcome new feature. However, it's the first one that's really interesting because they managed to solve the problem without having to add a preferences pane. In fact, you can't really set a font size as you'd expect.

Here's how Oliver Reichenstein explains their solution:

Inspired by our deep experience designing for the web, we’ve given Writer for Mac a responsive design, changing the font size based on window width. This maintains the text’s typographic proportions, zooming in and out without reflowing the text. I don’t know why it took us so long to find this obvious solution. However, given that no one else has done it, the simplicity of this solution is perhaps not as obvious as it seems in hindsight.

This is a very clever and out-of-the-box solution. It works well and keeps iA Writer for Mac as simple as always. I really like the lack of preferences. It's always been a huge distraction for me and an easy way to procrastinate while feeling busy.

I've been using iA Writer on all my devices exclusively for the past week and it's awesome. The only other issue I had was that it couldn't copy the rendered HTML to the clipboard. I'm not sure if this is a new feature in this version or it's always been there and I just missed it, but it's there

The order of files and folders in Mac OS X

I like to keep folders and files organised and systematically arranged in my computer. It's important that they're always in the same order so I can quickly find them without having to think about it. Not everyone is as OCD as I am when it comes to this, but those that are might find this useful.

The Mac has a specific order in which it shows folders and files when arranged alphabetically, or as it's called in the Finder in OS X, "sort by name."

Obviously, any files or folders that start with a letter will be sorted alphabetically. And those that start with numbers will be before these. For example, a file named "2012-08-15 something.pdf" will go before one named "something.pdf".

However, that's not enough for me. I want some folders to always be at the top, and some to always be at the bottom. That's where special characters are useful.

This is the order the Mac sorts characters (in Mountain Lion): space, underscore, dash, exclamation, question, at, star, accent, hat, plus sign, open bracket, equal, close bracket, pipe, tilde, numbers, letters, µ, π, Ω, and .

Mac OS X order of characters

Space comes before the letter "A", so do most punctuation marks. I use a space for the 2 folders I keep at the top, an exclamation mark for my "action" folders, and the @ symbol for 2 folders that hold temporary files. The other ones before numbers and letters I don't use.

For the one folder I like to keep at the bottom I use the Apple symbol .

Note that some characters are reserved by the system for specific things and shouldn't be used. For example, files starting with a period are treated as hidden files by OS X.

By the way, here's how you get those 4 characters at the bottom: µ (Option M), π (Option P), Ω (Option Z), and  (Shift-Option K)

My life is so hectic that my computer is like my haven of minimalism. And I like to keep it tidy.

Review: Byword for iPhone and iPad

Background

When I discovered Byword for Mac I was an instant fan. The application did almost everything I wanted from a text editor at the time, and it was obvious the developers had put a lot of work and care into it. The attention given to even the smallest details was remarkable. I appreciate that. And so, I used Byword exclusively as my text editor on the Mac for a long time.

However, I found that I often started something in Byword on the Mac but didn't finish in one sitting. I wanted to be able to pick it up from the iPad and/or iPhone and continue writing whenever I was away from the Mac.

Back then, Byword for iOS didn't exist and few desktop applications had an iOS counterpart to sync with. iCloud was just a rumour. So, I saved Byword's text files in Dropbox and accessed them with multiple apps from the iPhone and iPad. I eventually settled on iA Writer for iPad.

That worked fairly well, although it wasn't an elegant solution. Then iA Writer became a universal app (iPhone/iPad) and added iCloud sync between Mac, iPhone and iPad. I purchased the Mac version and loved the sync, so I used this setup for a short while, but missed a few things from Byword.

Fortunately, Byword followed suit shortly after and launched their universal iOS app with iCloud support. It's amazing. I'm back to being a full on fan.

Byword for iPhone and iPad review

Byword on iOS is a beautiful app and a pleasure to write on. It's light grey background and dark grey text works well. It provides good contrast without trying the eyes.

The developers added an extra row to the iPhone and iPad keyboard in a very clever way. It's about half the size of the keys so it doesn't take up much space. You can swipe it left and right to get to 3 different views, one with word and character count, another two with Markdown shortcuts and navigation keys.

Markdown support

Byword for iOS is clever in the way it supports markdown. The additional row above the keyboard is a real time saver. One view gives you the main characters used in markdown (brackets, parenthesis, quotation marks, asterisk). Tap it once and the icon turns into the close state. The other view gives you shortcuts for headings, links, images, and lists. Tapping the link button types the full markdown syntax for links and puts the cursor inside the brackets ready for you to type the anchor text.

Another thing Byword has is markdown preview. I find this incredibly useful and it's one of the features iA writer doesn't have.

Sync

In Byword, you can sync documents via iCloud and Dropbox.

I find iCloud very good in real life use. It's fast and it has never failed. However, with Byword you have to choose either iCloud or Dropbox sync, you can't use both at the same time. I only use iCloud, so I don't mind this, but iA Writer does let you use both simultaneously.

Preferences

Byword gives you four font options only, and I'm glad they didn't add more. With too many options I tend to tinker with them instead of getting to work. This is one area iA Writer took to the limit with no options whatsoever. Granted, the font in iA Writer is beautiful.

You can choose between the common Helvetica and Georgia fonts, and also 2 relatively uncommon ones from the M Plus family, M+ C Type-1 and M+ M Type-1. I chose M+ C Type-1 and I love it. It looks particularly good in the iPhone's Retina display. I don't have a new iPad yet but I assume it looks just as good.

Byword also allows you to turn on or off autocapitalisation, autocorrection, spell check and text expander support.

Export options

This is where Byword shines and iA Writer falls down in my opinion. To get your writing out of iA Writer you can only email the plain text as attachment or text or copy/paste it into another apps.

With Byword for iOS, you can:

  • Export to HTML: to iCloud or iTunes documents
  • Export via email: as rich text, plain text, attachment (which exports an HTML attachment)
  • Copy HTML: perfect for blog posting. I use this all the time.

What's missing from Byword for iPhone and iPad

There are a few things I hope they add to Byword for iPhone and iPad soon:

  • Focus mode: It'd be useless in the iPhone because of the screen size, but I'd like it in the iPad. iA writer has it on iPad and it works well.
  • Markdown visual representation while writing: the Mac version turns headings bold and it makes the markdown syntax elements light grey. This makes it very easy to read and I'd like to see it in iOS.
  • Dark mode: When writing at night in the iPad, the dark mode would come in handy.

Summary

Both Byword and iA Writer are very good and it's a tough call choosing between them. It's mostly a subjective choice and both do the basics well (ie. markdown support, iCloud sync, clean writing environment, good fonts). I think the extra keyboard row in Byword is much better than the one in iA Writer. And if you need preview and specific export options, Byword is the winner.

Byword for iOS review

I'm still testing both Byword and iA Writer to see which one I'll settle with. They're both amazing apps which cover the basics beautifully, such as iCloud sync support, Markdown, and Mac, iPhone, iPad apps.

I wrote a review of Byword for Mac when I began using it for most of my writing, and I thought about following that up with one of the iOS app, but Federico Viticci at Macstories wrote a great review of Byword for iOS that's far better that what I could do, so I'll point you to that.

For those interested, I recently wrote a review of iA Writer as well.

iA Writer Review - A quick look

Regular readers will know I used and praised Byword, so you might be wondering why I've now switched to iA Writer. The reasons are iCloud sync and iA Writer for iPhone, which was released a few days ago as a universal (iPhone & iPad) app.

Let me explain. My writing used to be done in Byword on the Mac and iA Writer for iPad syncing via Dropbox. However, when the developers of iA Writer announced they would support iCloud sync, I got excited and wrote this back then:

While I really like both apps and the process works fine, I've always felt it's not as elegant and effortless as it could be. For some reason, it just slightly annoys me to have to tap on the sync button in iA Writer to force a manual sync. And to have to open the files in Byword instead of them just being there.

I'd love for them to just sync automatically without me having to do anything.

The day iA Writer supported iCloud I downloaded iA Writer for Mac and gave it another shot. Sync worked flawlessly and all my documents were just there.

Another thing that changed was my computer. When I wrote the Byword review I mainly used a four year old 17 inch Macbook Pro and a 24 inch display. The font in iA Writer for Mac looked so big that I found it distracting. Now I've upgraded to a 13 inch MacBook Air and the font size is perfect.

The only thing missing was an iPhone app for those times when I have some time to write but all I have with me is my iPhone.

iA Writer Review

As I mentioned, the combination of iA Writer on Mac, iPad, and iPhone, syncing via iCloud is beautiful and effortless. There's much to like about iA Writer, but it's not perfect. Here are the highlights as I see them.

Main features

  • iCloud sync: It's great, but if you prefer it also supports Dropbox.
  • Markdown
  • Full Screen
  • Focus Mode: Slightly different than Byword as iA Writer highlights the current sentence and fades everything else. This feature is not in the iPhone version.
  • Word count, character count, and reading time: Reading time is quite useful.
  • Mac, iPad, and iPhone versions
  • No Preferences: Fire up iA Writer on any device and there's nothing to tinker with. Just get to the writing. This works except when you're using a screen larger than 13 inches though because the font looks too big. This is subjective of course.

What I like most about iA Writer

  • Font: iA Writer uses Nitti Light, a clean monospaced font that's well designed. It looks particularly beautiful on the iPhone's retina display and I'm sure it'll look even better in the new iPad.
  • Blue cursor: It just looks cool
  • iCloud sync across all your devices

What's missing from iA Writer

  • Preview HTML from Markdown: This is one feature of Byword that I really like and I hope iA Writer implements it. In Byword, you just click a button and you can see your document formatted. It's a quick and easy way of checking everything is as expected.
  • Convert to HTML: Another good feature in Byword that's missing in iA Writer. You can export as HTML, but not convert and copy to paste elsewhere without having to export a separate file.
  • Markdown preview in iPhone

Overall, I'm really happy with iA Writer. There are a few things I like about Byword that are missing, and it seems an iOS version of Byword is in the works so we'll see. I just wish they'd released it sooner.