Welcome to the lab.

Make friends and influence nerds with the Lab’s new tee

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Introducing the latest shirt available from my Teespring shop! It’s bold and beautiful and reasonably priced. And by wearing some humane text syntax on your chest you’ll garner immediate respect from other Markdown fans and find fun opportunities to explain nerdy topics to new people at parties and on dates. Especially on dates.

The shirt is available in 3 colors and in men’s, women’s, and tank top versions. There’s even a little **BOLD** sticker you can add on for your laptop or forehead.

Buying my shirts is a great way to support The Lab, as well as adding to your collection of humorous nerd shirts. The t-shirts from the Rock Paper Wallpaper collection are available, too, and I’m still quite proud of my Black Flag/Sex Pistols/Ramones mashup shirt.

All of the shirts are available in the new and improved “The Lab” shop at Teespring. The campaigns are now automatically renewing, so as the goals are met and shirts are printed, the campaign will continue to be available. Plus, I get a cool address like “teespring.com/stores/lab”. Go check it out and support The Lab (and me by proxy1)!

  1. Or would that be transitive property if the lab == me?

Web Excursions for January 23, 2017

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This week’s web excursions brought to you in partnership with Udemy. Learn Anything.

Markdown To Medium
A quick way to publish a Markdown post to Medium. Includes the ability to detect code blocks and create gists so you can get Medium’s syntax highlighting.
How to customize the small control strip of the macOS touchbar even further
A cool tip for further customizing the Touch Bar on a MacBook Pro by editing PLIST files.
WebSlides: Create Beautiful HTML Presentations
One of these days I’ll get around to sharing my reviews of the plethora of HTML presentation slides (and all of my Markdown->HTML Deck scripts), but for now I’ll just link the latest coolness. Lacks the presenter notes I love so much, but WebSlides is amazingly powerful for as simple as the markup is.
Find a Remote Job
Given the fact that if I ever decide to return to the workforce as part of a company, I’ll absolutely want to work remotely (because who would want to leave MN in the middle of January?), this Product Hunt collection of apps for finding remote jobs is handy to have bookmarked. That was a really long sentence even without the parenthetical. Sorry.
Opera Neon – The future of web browsers?
Opera’s vision for the future of desktop browsers. Split screen mode, quick image capture to a scrapbook with return links, pop-out video player, and a neat take on tab management.
Commits.io
I never love my code enough to memorialize it, but this service will take your code and create a good-looking poster you can hang on your wall. I like the idea, anyway…
MacScripter / GUI scripting information
I know AppleScript is slowly dying, and GUI scripting is, like, the worst part of automation with AS, but this script is a godsend even if you’re using JSX. It takes any running app and creates a hierarchical list of every menu item in it, making it easy to script choosing them.
Speedtest by Ookla for Mac
I’ve always liked Speedtest by Ookla, especially on my iPhone, and having it in my menubar is handy. And it’s free.

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Best of 2016: Mac apps for nerds

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Welcome to part 3 of my “Favorite Apps of 2016” series. This installment focuses on Mac utilities and developer tools. If you’re not a power user or a coder, there will probably be fewer apps of interest to you, but there are quite a few that are great gateways for intermediate users to start making more of their Macs.

Check out the previous lists, too: Mac Productivity and Mac Creativity.

Utilities

The list of apps I use every day that I think get mentioned enough that I can save some word count on describing them…

The “Obvious” List

The Standouts

CleanMyMac 3
I fell in love with this one in 2016. It covers all the bases that Cocktail did for me, plus disk scanning for large files, extension and launch agent management, and more. Again, not to be confused with MacKeeper.
HoudahSpot
I love Spotlight. I love HoudahSpot because it makes complex Spotlight queries easy while adding even more power. Recently-added Smart Folder export makes it helpful to me even outside of the app.
As a side note, I built this series using HoudahSpot to find apps opened within a date range and export the list with just the app name and category columns as a CSV file. Then a little manual curation and a ruby script to sort the list into posts by category.
Hammerspoon
This utility takes a lot of fiddling, but for adding keyboard features and other customizations, it’s pretty amazing. Finally a valid reason in my workflow to learn Lua.
Default Folder X
It’s taken some time for Default Folder X to regain full functionality since El Capitan, but it’s there now and I’m glad to have it back. If Save and Open dialogs make you crazy, this is the solution.
Droplr
Droplr continues to be my favorite way to quickly share screenshots, animated gif recordings, and Markdown/Code notes. It’s fast and well-integrated, and I love being able to use custom domains (ckyp.us, my Beastie Boys tribute of a domain name), sort my share history, and track analytics.
Smart Sync
Not pretty, but for the price the best folder-syncing solution I’ve found for my needs.
Keyboard Maestro
In 2016 I finally got serious about learning Keyboard Maestro. I always knew it was amazing, thanks to bloggers like Gabe Weatherhead (MacDrifter), Patrick Welker (RocketInk), and Dr. Drang, but now I’m actually starting to use it and realize the full scope of what it can do.
Fileloupe
This one is a bit pricy ($20) for my needs, but worth it in the end. Browse folders of files with split previews, metadata inspection, sorting, filtering, and flagging, video playback, and more.
Monity
When my other system monitoring solutions fell behind the times or ceased development, I tried out Monity and it’s fit the bill nicely. It’s a Today widget that gives me all the CPU, disk, and network info I need.
OmniFocusColors
Here’s a random and free tool for creating OmniFocus color themes.
NetSpot
A WiFi scanner and analysis app. Great for solving wifi network issues and improving coverage.
Arq
My favorite backup app. I use it with SFTP, but also love the integration with Amazon S3 and Glacier. The speed boost this year was significant, too.
LaunchControl
LaunchControl has kept up with the OS changes, and is still the most solid and complete tool for managing (and creating) background daemons and agents for macOS. Even if that doesn’t sound interesting to you, trust me, it makes running scheduled and repeating tasks easy. You’ll thank me later.
Jettison
This disk ejecting app from St. Clair Software is my top choice in its bracket. I can eject all (or specific) external and network drives with a keystroke, and automatically eject them on sleep.

Developer Tools

Xsymbolicate
Need to read and understand symbolicated crash reports easily? This is the tool that helped me make sense of them.
Hyper
I use iTerm 2, but Hyper (as well as Black Screen) have taken some serious strides in the realm of highly-customizable (via HTML/CSS/JavaScript) terminal apps.
RegExRX
I know, there are a ton of better looking RegEx apps with very cool features. RegExRX keeps drawing me back, though, with great highlighting, error reporting, and the ability to import and export a pattern converted to whatever language/syntax you’re working in. It can even generate code for initializing and executing regex objects in each supported language.
Feeder
I use Feeder primarily for Sparkle appcasts, but it has excellent features for bloggers and podcasters as well.
Kaleidoscope
Kaleidoscope hasn’t updated since 2014, but it’s still the best diff/merge tool for my needs. A hefty price tag, though ($70), so you might prefer Xcode’s FileMerge and something like Patch Viewer.
PaintCode
Import PDF, SVG, PSD, AI or EPS documents or draw your own with built-in vector tools and output generated code in Swift, Obj-C, Java, C#, JavaScript or SVG, ready to use in your app as fully-scalable, code-driven graphics. It’s awesome, and there’s a Sketch plugin available.
SwitchUp
I’m going to offer a strong recommendation of SwitchUp for developers, but with the caveat that it’s long been abandonware. It’s perfect for testing applications with multiple sets of preferences and cache files, though.

Next up will be my favorite iOS apps from the last year!

Web Excursions for January 12, 2017

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This week’s web excursions brought to you in partnership with Udemy. Learn Anything.

Tettra - A wiki for Slack Teams
A simple internal wiki built for Slack teams.
Hyper
An HTML/JS/CSS terminal app for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Pretty sweet feature set.
Zazu
A new open source launcher for MacOS that is completely (and obligatorily) hackable. No built in integrations, extensible through a plugin architecture.
PaceCoach - Pace your Music
PaceCoach optimizes your songs to match your running cadence by automatically adjusting the tempo of your music to match your pace. Works with Spotify playlists or local music.
The Type Snob - And how to turn into one
Well-written and fun read from Pablo Stanley, discussing the basics of typography, typeface pairing, and designing for screen. Also see Typography tips for a better user experience from Studio Function.

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Best of 2016: Mac creativity

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Welcome to round two of this year’s top picks from my own workflow! The last one was for productivity apps, and this one focuses on creative apps, encompassing audio, video, design, brainstorming, and writing.

Design

Affinity Photo
This one has kind of amazed me over the last couple of months. I switched away from Photoshop years ago as my design needs became less, and have always found ways to replicate most of my Photoshop workflows in Acorn (and have also enjoyed Pixelmator). Affinity Photo, though, I actually find more interesting than Photoshop, and faster, and there’s really nothing from the last version of PS I used (CS6) that I can’t easily do in Affinity. Even most of my muscle memory transfers over, with similar sets of keyboard shortcuts.
Squash
An image compression app from Realmac, Squash 2 came out in 2016 and it’s pretty amazing. It’s deceptively powerful considering the “cute” interface and the absence of obvious controls. Just drag an image file on it and watch it losslessly compress with an “oddly satisfying sound.” The compression is top notch, and little gems like being able to handle RAW and PSD files into JPEGs without thinking twice is delightful.
Sketch
I’ve been using Sketch since well before 2016, but the 2016 update was a big one, and I finally got into using the community developed plugins and found it to be more amazing than I’d thought. Solid vector based tools and the ability to create automatic exports of assets at multiple sizes is perfect for web and app developers.
Sip
Sip is my new favorite color utility. I’d been using Pochade 2 to gather colors with a picker or wheel and quickly turn them into hex, RGB, or NSColor strings. Sip does all this and more, with palette creation, color history, and an unobtrusive drawer on the side of your screen for quick access to any colors you want to save there.
PicGIF
I wrote about my workflow for creating and editing animated GIFs early in 2016, and one of the standout apps I mentioned was PicGIF. I use it primarily for converting video and screen recordings to animated gifs, but it offers good editing and optimization features as well.

Idea development

iThoughtsX
iThoughts remains my favorite Mac app for mind mapping (which also remains my preferred method for brainstorming). The Marked 2 integration makes it great for blogging and writing, too.
I use the MindMeister web app set up in Fluid for collaborative mind mapping brainstorming.
MindNode also gets a mention, as the improvements over 2016 added a lot of powerful features and made it more useful for a lot of my more advanced needs.
Curio
For larger projects, Curio still offers a dizzying array of useful features set up in a creative space that allows customization to the point of utter flexibility.

I’ve also been using MindMeister for iOS, Drafts, and 1Writer on iOS a lot, and the MindMeister Apple Watch integration I posted about recently, but I’ll get into those in an upcoming post dedicated to iOS apps in 2016.

Writing

Marked 2
Over 2016 Marked’s capabilities as a writing tool have continued to expand. I’m not joking. I use it every day for everything from formatting and grammar checking to document analysis and validating the links in my blog posts. And I would do that even if I didn’t get it for free (only because I wrote it, so it’s kind of nepotism but not really).
Quip
Quip has entirely replaced Google Docs for me, and now that there’s a native Mac app (well, a web wrapper, but it adds a fair amount of native improvements) I use it almost exclusively for everything from podcast show notes to collaborative document editing and proofing.
MultiMarkdown Composer 2
While MultiMarkdown Composer didn’t see a lot of updates in 2016, it remains my primary writing app on the Mac. The beta of MultiMarkdown Composer Pro saw more attention and is looking great, and I look forward to further updates on that one.
Ulysses
I’ve developed a new appreciation for Ulysses over the last year. I love Scrivener, but the simplicity of Ulysses often suits my own needs better. Again, Marked 2 integration makes it genuinely useful for me.
TableFlip
I wrote about TableFlip after its October release. This little app is amazing if you work with tables in Markdown documents. A visual editor that integrates with whatever text editor you’re working in for 2-way sync of easily-editable tabular data.
LightPaper
I won’t say a lot about this one because I haven’t used it regularly, but it’s been exciting to watch the development of this Markdown editor. File management, nice editing features, live preview, and my favorite feature: “Real Preview”. Real Preview lets you inject your current text into an existing web page in a separate window, allowing you to see it exactly as it will appear when writing for web-based outlets.

Audio and Video

Boom 2
Boom lets me add impressive sound quality to my speaker setups on various Macs. I’ve continued to enjoy it in combination with an analog pre-amp and Phillips speakers, allowing me to use global EQ settings from my MacBook Pro to make the most of them.
STAMP
STAMP converts your playlists between Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. It’s improved a lot this year, both in speed and accuracy.
Tag
This one isn’t beautiful, but it’s solid and it’s what I’m using to add ID3 tags to my podcast files.
Spotify
I pay for Apple Music, and I enjoy it, but I just couldn’t give up my Spotify subscription. In 2016 they added new music discovery features that make it just as much fun as opening up “For You” in Apple Music, and the weekly new music playlists geared to my tastes are almost always great.
WALTR 2
I wrote about this one in October. It’s a super-fast, super-smooth way to get your audio and video files to your iOS device.

Up next, my favorite utilities and developer tools on the Mac. Stay tuned.

Best of 2016: Mac productivity

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Welcome to 2017, I hope you had a pleasant ending to a horrible, awful, very bad year. 2016 was an interesting year for me1. That said, my love of apps hasn’t diminished.

This is part one of some standout apps and products from this last year. Some new, some updated significantly, some just so useful I can’t help mentioning them. I’ve done this every year since 2011, and they’re typically some of my most popular posts (among ones that don’t get linked from bigger sites), so I hope you enjoy them. The posts in this year’s series will include:

  1. Productivity and communication apps (macOS)
  2. Design, Photo, and Audio/Video (macOS)
  3. Utilities and Developer tools (macOS)
  4. Top iOS apps
  5. My favorite 2016 projects
  6. Probably a catch-all post for the less easily categorized picks

Without further ado, part 1: Productivity and Communication.

Productivity

I’m going to start with what we’ll call “the ‘obvious’ list.” They’re apps I love and absolutely deserve mention, but that I’ve talked about enough across my various channels that I probably don’t need to elaborate on too much. Any section in this series that contains such apps will have an “obvious list.”

The “Obvious” List

Apps I use daily and don’t function without:

The standouts:

Reeder 3
I’d been using ReadKit as my newsreader for quite a while, but ran into some bugs around the same time Reeder 3 was released. The bugs are fixed now, but I’d already switched to Reeder and and it’s been great.
By the way, I settled on Feedbin as my primary RSS sync, though FeedWrangler and Minimal Reader both have their strengths.
Spillo
I mentioned Spillo in my top picks last year as well. Despite the proliferation of “read later” services and Instapaper premium features recently becoming free, Pinboard remains both my primary bookmarking platform and my “read later” workflow. Spillo is still the best native client for Pinboard on the Mac.
Billings Pro
I’ve used Billings and now Billings Pro for all of my freelance and sponsorship invoicing for years. Last year’s addition of Apple Watch features has been very cool, but mostly I love it as a time tracking and invoice management system.
Paprika Recipe Manager
I never get tired of talking about Paprika, especially because this last year has led to some very serious culinary endeavors for me. Excellent parsing of online recipes, tagging and rating, and shared shopping lists and meal calendars make it indispensable year after year.
Brainwave Studio
This one is new to me. I’ve experimenting with binaural beats for a while. After having my ADHD meds taken away last year, I began a desperate search for ways to compensate. I found isochronic tones, which pulse at specific frequencies like binaural beats, but don’t require stereo headphones. Brainwave Studio is a $9 app that lets you build your own sessions with isochronic tones, ambient sounds, and music tracks.

Communication

Tweetbot
Twitter’s native app on the Mac has been love/hate. Ever since they started shunning 3rd party developers, the latest features of Twitter often require using it despite its shortcomings. Tweetbot has kept up nicely, though, and is my default client.
MailMate
There has been a somewhat dizzying number of elegant and reliable email clients released/refreshed this year. Nylas N1 is fascinating, Postbox has added some amazing productivity features, and apps like AirMail have made email beautiful. Despite all of this, nothing has come close to replacing MailMate for me.

Stay tuned for the next “Best of 2016” post shortly!

  1. In Minnesota, “interesting” translates as “unusual and probably bad,” so… it’s definitely been interesting, but getting better day by day. I’ll write more about this when it’s appropriate.

MindMeister and Apple Watch

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It’s not a secret that I’m a big fan of MeisterLabs, especially their cloud-based mind mapping app, MindMeister. While I could talk at length about the amazing feature set and the benefits of realtime collaborative mind mapping, this post is about a certain MindMeister tool I just recently got around to exploring: Geistesblitz on the Apple Watch.

Geistesblitz1 is a feature of MindMeister that lets you instantly add ideas to your mind maps maps. You define a default map for die Geistesblitze, then type in the idea and it’s immediately sent to that map. Your ideas immediately show up on all your devices and those of anyone sharing the map. It started out as a Dashboard widget that I used frequently years ago (when I still used Dashboard for a lot of my productivity). The API has made it possible for me to create other integrations over the years, and it became a part of the iOS apps. It’s now been deprecated there and is only available on MindMeister for Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch version, though, is proving to be the most useful incarnation of the tool ever. I open the app, tap the big lighting bolt button, and speak my idea. When I tap “done,” it’s sent to my default map instantly. I can also select a different map right before speaking the idea, and I can rapid-fire ideas at it. With my waterproof Series 2 watch, this means I can brainstorm in the shower, even without my AquaNotes (waterproof notepads are always worth mentioning, right?).

I haven’t figured out yet if there’s a Siri command for ideenfindung, but I hope to learn it or see it added soon.

I frequently recommend mind mapping as a brainstorming, organization, and even writing tool. MindMeister on the web, Android, and iOS and Apple Watch is an excellent brainstorming tool. It makes implementing collaborative mind maps a simple and enjoyable task, even when you’re bringing in people who’ve never mind mapped before. Check it out and get your Geistesblitz on.

YouTube Video
  1. German for “brainstorm”