Listen to Simply Apple: Our New Podcast!

September 25th, 2011

Simply Apple PodcastI wanted to let the 2.5 people that still read this site know that I’ve started recording a podcast called Simply Apple, dedicated to all things Apple with the excellent Mark Degen of AppleHits.

Our initial concept was to look at Apple and Apple products from a business perspective (both Mark and I run small businesses which solely run on Apple machines), but we’ve since branched out to discuss just about everything in the Mac and iOS world.

Although we didn’t have a name for our podcast for the first two episodes that we recorded, that’s all changing with this week as we’re revealing our new podcast name: Simply Apple!

To subscribe, add this link to your favorite podcast app or to iTunes. We should be listed on iTunes shortly. On iOS, I love and use an app called Instacast to manage my podcast subscriptions. If you’re on your iPhone or iPod Touch, you can click here to subscribe to Simply Apple.

Below are links to the individual episodes for play in the browser and download.

Episode 1: The MacBook of CEOs
Episode 2: Their Best Chops

Let me know what you guys think!

Textastic: iPad Web Coding Simplified

May 1st, 2011

TextasticI’ll say up front that this post is aimed at those looking to do web coding/design on their iPads, which is a non-trivial problem and is solved very well by a great app called Textastic. Here’s my experience with it:

Whenever I travel for longer than a few days, I generally keep an daily online journal of my adventures not only for the friends and family back home but also for my own personal reflection later on. For years I’d have to have my MacBook with me, dragging it from stop to stop and dealing with the fallout of a damaged laptop on the road. Recently however, I’ve been content to travel simply with my iOS devices, first traveling with my iPhone and writing journal entries from there and now with my iPad.

Since the days leading up to my trips are quite hectic, I do very little to prepare my site for another online journal, opting instead to do the backend WordPress theme coding on the road. In order to do it on my iPhone, I used an app called FTPontheGo, which was a pretty clunky and limited solution. On my most recent trip however, a very talented developer named Alexander Blach provided me with a promo code of Textastic, an advanced text editor for the iPad. As someone who has tried to do coding in plaintext on an iPhone, I can personally speak to the merits of Textastic’s highly useful syntax highlighting, which made editing my WordPress PHP a breeze.

In addition to connecting to my site’s FTP server, Textastic also allowed me to connect to Dropbox, which served as an intermediary between the photos on my phone and the iPad. Textastic has a wide variety of different connectivity options and is highly customizable. My only complaint is that the connectivity window is a bit difficult to find at first, but once you’ve found it, everything works without a problem (its the little globe in the bottom left hand corner).

But the best part of Textastic is how well it integrates within iOS – it is so well implemented and so well designed, that it almost looks like a native application, particularly with the paned views and animations. Although I just used the app once I got it, the Textastic manual can be a great resource for learning about all of the features.

So if you need to do some coding on the go, I highly recommend Textastic for iPad.

Three Steps to Securing Your Passwords

April 6th, 2011

1PasswordAfter a friend emailed me today saying her PayPal account was hacked to launder money, I finally decided to write down my recommendations for password security. This is very important topic, and luckily one that can be addressed in three relatively easy steps.

My friend recalled that I had mentioned 1Password when a similar thing had happened to her in the past, and I still highly recommend 1password, but it is only the third and final step in locking down your online identity.

The first step is to realize that in order to be more secure – ironically you can never be too secure or completely secure – you have a different strong password for each account/website/service that you use. That is absolutely vital because if you only have one (or even a couple) passwords that you use, then when (not if) someone somehow gets that password, you’ve just given away the key to the city. As time goes on, this will become an ever increasing problem online and in general – so the earlier you switch to different passwords for different accounts, the better.

Having a different password for each account can obviously become an evil game of Memory quite quickly, so the second step is to come up with a simple system to generate and then recall your passwords. The ideal system consists of a baseword and a few rules to modify that baseword for any given account. So if your baseword is the Japanese word “masago” – foreign words written with Latin letters increase your security – you can develop rules to modify that word when you need a password for your Google account for example. There are lots of potential rules – see this excellent Lifehacker article with a few good rule examples in it – but the idea is to end up with a rule system that has the following qualities:

  1. You can easily generate the password in your head – (without any computers, pens, or papers)
  2. Baseword is at least 6 characters
  3. The resulting passwords are at least 8 characters
  4. The resulting passwords contain letters and numbers
  5. You have a rule when sites require passwords with non-alphanumeric characters (spaces, symbols, etc.)

1Password is the third step, because it essentially creates a very very secure database for all of your different passwords (and their respective accounts). Once installed on your Mac (or PC), 1Password can automatically fill in login forms for you, as well as ask you to remember new passwords. There is a whole lot more to 1Password (it can securely store your credit card information for autofilling, secure notes, etc.), but mainly it just makes it much easier to not have to remember all of your passwords. There are even iPhone & Android apps which work great too.

1Password’s name comes from the fact that access to your encrypted 1password database is secured by a single password. This single password shouldn’t adhere to your rules above, because it needs to be much more secure (its literally the key to the city). That’s why I use and recommend a passphrase for 1Password access, such as a short poetic verse, lyric, quote, etc, including capitalization and punctuation – Weezer’s “I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon” is a great example (if only for its obscurity).

So there you have it – three steps to a significantly more secure online identity. I recommend them to everyone I can because data breaches can be horrific in terms of the depth, breadth, and duration of consequences, and they are an unfortunate reality of technology today. It is also important to remember that no password system, rule, or application will keep you totally safe, but learning more about online threats and staying careful online will go a long way to improving your security.

Finally, I want to mention that I did not come up with these three steps on my own, but rather they are the result of countless articles about online security and passwords (the venerable Lifehacker has covered these subjects extensively). I have benefited greatly from their wisdom, and I hope that all of you do too.

3 Reasons To Use Dropbox

March 15th, 2010

DropboxToday, John Gruber said that “the only people who aren’t using Dropbox are those who haven’t tried it,” and I have to agree. Dropbox is an ingenious application that syncs your files with just about anything or anyone. I’ve been using Dropbox since it was a closed beta, and it has quickly become one of the most useful apps on my Mac. It’s difficult to sum up all of the amazing things that Dropbox does in one short post. Instead, here are my top 3 reasons to use it:

  1. Free, Reliable Backup: Dropbox gives you 2GB of space to sync your files to your online account, your iPhone, and any other computer you wish. Change a file on one computer, and the changes are reflected everywhere else.

  2. Simple Sharing: Dropbox lets you easily share entire folders with other Dropbox users, and files with anyone else. Place a file in your public folder, and Dropbox will give you a public link to paste anywhere you like.

  3. Painless Revision Control: Dropbox keeps old versions of the files in your Dropbox folder for up to 30 days. Open a file in your Dropbox and save it. Each time you change it and save it, Dropbox will store a the old copy for you, just in case you want to revert back.

There’s a whole lot more you can do with Dropbox, but those are the three main reasons I swear by it. So go sign up for a Dropbox account today, and if you’d like to get an additional 250MB on top of your free 2GB, use my referral link.

Cinch Makes it Easy

March 8th, 2010

CinchThere are very few applications these days that completely change the way I use my Mac, but Cinch is definitely one of them. Cinch lets you resize your application windows to be fullscreen or half-screen, just by dragging a window to the edge of your monitor.

Drag a window to the top of your screen, and it becomes full screen. Drag it to the right hand side of the screen, and it takes up the right half. Very simple, very straightforward. Although it doesn’t work for all applications (including Parallels windows in Coherence), but Cinch does work for most.

The other amazing thing about Cinch is that it’s actually based on a Windows 7 feature called Snap. It’s hard to believe that such a great usability feature would come from such an unusable operating system.

So go download Cinch – it has a free trial but it’ll be $7 well spent.

Google Wave Notifier

November 4th, 2009

Screen shot 2009-10-26 at 10.26.33 PMI have been back and forth in my opinion about Google Wave, one day hailing it as the future and the next day dismissing it as overhyped bloatware. Regardless of the day however, more and more of my friends are starting to show up on Google Wave, so I have been trying to use it pretty regularly to see if it really is as amazing as some people tout.

If you ignore the current slowness, bugs, and usability issues, the remaining problem with Google Wave is that there currently is no simple way for you to be notified that there is a new wave in your inbox. Hiroshi Saito is working on a simple menubar notifier for Google Wave, but I have yet to get it to work. Waveboard, the first major Google Wave app was released a while back, but it is little more than a unique browser window which loads the Google Wave webpage. The little more however, is significant, because Waveboard includes Growl, Dock, & menubar notification of unread waves in your inbox. This means that those of you who are looking for a Google Wave notifier can look no further. [update: the new version (0.9) adds some very useful new features].

For those of you who don’t mind having the Waveboard icon in your dock, use the app as it is. Those of you looking for purely a notifier can remove the Waveboard icon from the dock using a great app called Dockless (which I’ve written about before). Dockless lets Waveboard run without a dock icon, meaning you get menubar notifications and Growl notifications without all of the visual clutter. [Update: The developer of Waveboard told me that hiding the dock icon will be included in preferences of future Waveboard versions.]

For the those of you who want the ultimate notifier, you can get push notifications about new waves in your inbox using Waveboard’s Growl integration and the amazing Prowl app for iPhone. There is also a Waveboard for iPhone, which works seamlessly with Prowl too.

Regardless of how you use it, Waveboard is a great sign of things to come.

Update: The developer of Waveboard, after discovering this article, has generously donated three(!) Promo Codes for the Waveboard iPhone app to the readers of this site. All you have to do to get one is leave a note in the comments of this post explaining what you currently use Google Wave to do. The promo code recipients will be chosen at random by Monday, November 9th, 2009. Good luck!

Update: Still have two promo codes left – please leave a comment if you want them!

Snow Leopard Adblock & Google Reader

November 3rd, 2009

Here are two seemingly unrelated little tips for you guys, both involving things on the web I simply cannot live without!

Adblock for Safari on Snow Leopard
Screen shot 2009-10-26 at 10.26.33 PMFor those that don’t know, adblock apps are browser add-ons which allow you to hide ads on the web. For Firefox users there’s Adblock Plus (which I’ve written about before), and for Safari there is SafariBlock, which is no longer compatible with Snow Leopard out of the box.

Therefore, those of you who used adblocking in the past were faced with a problem when upgrading to Snow Leopard – there was no real app that was compatible with the 64-bit goodness of Snow Leopard’s Safari. You could force Safari to run in 32 bit mode and use Safari Adblock, but you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the speedy improvements that Snow Leopard brought to Safari that way.

Well today I found a great new app called Safari Adblocker, which is 100% free and works with Snow Leopard’s Safari (it is actually based on SafariBlock, my old favorite adblocker). It includes subscriptions to Rick572’s EasyList (which is amazing), and is quite stable. So if you’re on Snow Leopard and looking for Adblocking, be sure to check out Safari Adblocker.

Google Reader’s Popular Items
Screen shot 2009-10-26 at 10.26.33 PMThe other tip I wanted to share was for those of you who use Google Reader (I have written about its amazing usefulness before too). Last week, the Google Reader team unveiled two new features to its amazing product: Personalized Ranking & Popular Items. Personalized ranking allows you to sort your unread items by “magic,” which is a sorting mechanism catered to what you will most likely be interested in (based on the items you marked “Liked”, and shared items). This is very useful if you use Google Reader frequently (like me).

Popular Items however, is an even more interesting feature: it provides you with popular content from around the web, sorted by the content which is most likely to interest you. This combines the “recommended feeds” and personalized ranking features, and has provided me with some very interesting content to which I was not subscribed before. Also, if you’re a big keyboard shortcut user (I use the J and K shortcuts all the time in Google Reader), you can access the newly-added “Explore” and “Popular items” views by pressing g then e or g then p, respectively.

As always, let me know what you think about these things or if you have any questions.

Quick Tips: Unsaved Indicator & Single App Mode

October 26th, 2009

Apologies for not posting in a long amount of time aside, I wanted to share two quick Mac tips:

Screen shot 2009-10-26 at 10.26.33 PMThe first one is an easy way to see if your document is unsaved in OSX – in an application like Microsoft Excel, just take a look at the red close button in the top left hand corner. If you see a black dot in the middle, you’ve made unsaved changes. While you’re at it, be sure to change your autosave setting in your Microsoft Office application preferences to something less than the default 10 minutes (due to traumatic experiences, I have mine set to 1 minute). You can find that setting under Preferences–>Save–>Save AutoRecover information after this amount of minutes. Thanks to OSXDaily for pointing the black dot out – always wondered what that was.

The second tip is an interesting productivity approach that has actually been built into OSX since its first release. Its called Single Application Mode, and the idea is that you only show one application on your screen at once. When you’re working in this mode, each time you switch from one application to another (using the dock), OSX will hide all of the other windows. This is similar to how the iPhone functions. If you’re looking for minimal distractions and have no desire to maximize your windows fully, simply enter these two commands into Terminal.app (Applications–>Utilities):

defaults write com.apple.dock single-app -bool true
killall Dock

To get rid of Single App Mode, all you have to do is run the same two commands, but change the word true to false. For more information, see this TidBITS article on the subject.

Hope those tips are useful – let me know what you think.

Top 5 Bare Mac Essentials

April 6th, 2009

applehitsBack in 2006, I wrote an article about the applications that I would install first when faced with a brand new Mac. Since then, I returned to that same subject, in a updated post for a new website called AppleHits. The introduction of that article is reproduced below.

So here you are, facing your beautiful new Mac, wondering what sorts of applications you simply must install. After being in this very situation many times myself, and helping numerous friends with their new Macs, I have developed a list of apps that I simply cannot live without.

Click here to read the rest of the article on AppleHits.

Delete Unwanted Mp3s Not in Your iTunes Library

February 12th, 2009

itunesdelete.pngI listen to a lot of new music every week, and as a result, I end up deleting a lot of music after listening to it once or twice. The problem I’ve run into is that when I’m trying to delete a song from my music library, iTunes, as a precaution, gives me the dialogue box on the right.

Now this isn’t a problem in and of itself, but for some reason, I tend to simply press return when I see this box, instead of pressing the “Move to Trash” button. Pressing return selects the “Keep File” button, which means that somewhere in my iTunes folder, I’ll have an mp3 laying around which I a) don’t want and b) forget about. This might not seem like a big deal, but as it turned out, I have over 1.5GB of these kinds of files, just wasting space on my MacBook Pro.

Today I realized that I must not be the only one with this problem, and so a routine Google search revealed that there was indeed a simple solution. There is an AppleScript called List Music Folder Files Not Added that will search a specified folder (in my case my iTunes Music folder) for any files which are not in your iTunes Music Library.

Two important notes before we go on:

  • If you, for any reason, think you removed songs/videos/podcasts/etc from iTunes but intentionally clicked Keep File in the dialogue box above, do NOT follow these instructions because your media will be erased.
  • This tip will only work if you have the following checkboxes checked in your iTunes Preferences–> Advanced: ‘Keep iTunes Music folder organized’ and ‘Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.’ I highly recommend both of these settings be enabled anyway, especially since you can simply consolidate your library.

Here’s all you have to do:

  1. Download the List Music Folder Files Not Added script from Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes (a very useful site).
  2. Double click on the DMG to mount it and then copy the “CocoaCallBridge” and “List Music Folder Files Not Added” files to the following folder: [your username]/Library/iTunes/Scripts. I you don’t have a Scripts folder in iTunes, just create one.
  3. Open iTunes and you should see a little black script icon in the menubar next to Window. Click on it and select the List Music Folder Files Not Added script.
  4. It will open the AppleScript and ask you which folder you want to compare to your iTunes Music Library. For my problem, I selected all of the folders (cmd+a) within /Users/[your username]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music. Then press return.
  5. It then gives you another dialogue box which asks where you want to save the exported file. I simply chose my Desktop so that it would be easy to find. Be sure to fill in the box where it says “Save As:” with a filename that ends in m3u. This will create a playlist of all of the songs you removed from the iTunes library but didnt delete. Press return and let it do its work (might take a while depending on the size of your library). If you’re running Leopard it might warn you about running the CocoaCallBridge application – just say yes and let it do its work – its part of the AppleScript).
  6. When the AppleScript tells you that it finished, go to iTunes and create a new playlist. Then drag the m3u file that the AppleScript created into that playlist.
  7. Now in one swoop, select all of the songs in that playlist (cmd+a), and press cmd+option+delete. It will now give you that dialogue box you see at the top of this post. BE SURE TO CLICK MOVE TO TRASH (if you press return, you’re gonna have to repeat step 6 again). Now the unwanted mp3s are in your trash. Before emptying your trash, take a look just in case at what you just erased one last time.

That’s all you have to do! It’s a great little script and it saved me over 1.5GB on my hard drive! If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll clarify anything you need. Enjoy.

items of interest
my journal

this is my technology, a collection of tips, tricks, and goodies that I find on the web.

Simply Apple
Simply Apple

Check out my weekly Simply Apple podcast, covering news, views, apps, and solutions in the world of Apple.

Subscribe on iTunes
Subscribe elsewhere