Google debuts music subscription service

It’s called YouTube Music Key and that feels to me like a cobbled-together name but then I often think Google hurries things out. Sometimes I think they hurry things away too, including times when I’ve relied on their services which get switched off.

Anyway. I am still pursuing music and vacillating between iTunes Radio and Spotify but now there is Google YouTube Music Key. Here’s an unhelpful video. (Isn’t that the definition of YouTube?)

It’ll cost you £9.99 in the UK. Details from Google. Note that it’s a beta release and while that’s becoming a meaningless term – didn’t Gmail stay in beta for a century? – in the short term it means not everybody will get access to it. But it’s rolling out, it’ll be available to you in the next few days or at most weeks.

Shrug. Might work. Music to be productive by

I don’t know. The other day I got into a right Kate Bush mood – it happens to us all – and I did find that I was incapable of playing her music while I worked. Couldn’t let it be playing, I had to listen hard, I simply could not concentrate on anything else.

Naturally, then, I switched her off and went to my old Discoveries playlist. (Don’t click that. It goes to a confessional piece with a long list of music and I am still holding on to the hope that you respect me.)

Allegedly, apparently and reportedly, there are alternatives to music you like. There is music you don’t listen to.

There’s a joke there, but I’m not reaching for it.

Music to be productive by. You can tell I’m not sold. But see what you think: if it works for you, I’ll give it another go.

How to get a refund on the iOS App Store

If you blow a whole 69p on an app that end up not using much, live with it. If it’s a few pounds or dollars, come on: the coffee you drank at lunchtime cost more than that and you ain’t getting the money back from that.


It is possible to buy apps by mistake. It is also possible to be misdirected into buying an app that isn’t what you thought.

So when you do feel the need for a refund, this is how you do it.

1) Go to iTunes on your Mac or PC
2) Go to the Store
3) Sign in and click on Accounts
4) Click on Purchase history
5) All your purchased apps are listed in lines grouping them together by date
6) Click on the arrow next to the one that includes the app you want a refund for
7) You get a detail page for the apps on those dates plus a Report a Problem button. Click.

This is easy to miss. The page with the Report a Problem button changes to a new page that is almost exactly the same: close enough that you can believe it hasn’t changed. But now next to each app on the list, there are the words “Report a Problem”. Click on that.

8) You get to choose one of the common reasons for a refund and there is space for you to write your reason.

Hit Submit and away off it goes to Apple.

Six months with iTunes Radio

It’s still not available in the UK but it’s coming and what we’ll get here is a tried-and-tested version. I’ve been listening here in the UK since about December – I have both US and UK iTunes accounts so I can legally tune in – and the service has developed even in that short time.

Primarily, it’s added more ads.

You know that it’s an ad-supported service. Every few tracks, you get an ad. Interestingly, they’re usually video ads so while I often have iTunes way in the background behind a lot of other documents, there’ll be a corner visible and suddenly it’ll start moving. Very distracting.

But it’s become more distracting because at first there were so few ads that you noticed how few there were. Now you notice how many – and at times you notice how often the same ones are played. For a while there I could tell you every line of a Macy’s advert.

We can expect that the same thing will happen in the UK: it feels less that Apple has a plan for how many ads it will ramp up, more that it depends how many it gets. A few firms will try it out at first and then it’ll take off it won’t.

But now it also looks as if there will be more programmes, more actual non-music programmes. Right now it has none whatsoever. But US sources – you think that means rumour sites and it does, but – say that Apple is going to stream the World Cup over iTunes Radio.

Exit William.

I do recommend iTunes Radio but it depends on your starting choice. The way it works is that you type in the name of a song, an artist, a genre or perhaps a decade and you get a station. That station might start with the particular song, it might start with that particular artist, or it might not.

After very, very many different stations, I plucked “4 Non Blondes” out of the air because I like What’s Up. And it’s been a great find: I’m sure I must’ve heard What’s Up on it some time but generally I love everything it’s played me as well.

Sometimes I’m iTunes Radioed out and in principle I like the idea of spoken-word shows but I keep coming back. I just want to see what happens when Apple absorbed its new purchase, the Beats subscription service.

Read more about iTunes Radio on Apple’s site

Turn up the music, I want to work

Penny Anne O’Donnell of Relaxation Direct came to one of my The Blank Screen workshops and in the Twitter nattering that’s followed since, we were in a conversation about the use of music while working. Her advice:

It depends on the music, learning style and ability to focus. Baroque and Mozart are conducive to focused attention


Right now I’m listening to Hallelujah by kd lang from Hymns of the 49th Parallel and – no, wait, now it’s Useless Desires by Patty Driffin. I have an iTunes playlist of music that I especially love. Just single tracks that have got in my head and stayed there, that I have played so often and so much on repeat that I can hear every instrument in my head. I call it Discoveries and there are current 146 songs in it, apparently the lot lasts me 9 hours 34 minutes. Very often now I will start that playlist on shuffle and get to work.

Sometimes it makes me concentrate tremendously, sometimes it doesn’t. (Like now when I’m very conscious of it all because I’ve said to you what’s on. Currently Four Leaf Clover by Abra Moore. Some years ago I discovered Lilith Fair and there is a lot, I mean a lot, of music from that in this playlist.)

When it stops me concentrating, I’ve recently turned to iTunes Radio. You can currently only get this in America but I have both a US and a UK iTunes account so I can swap to it and listen away. At first it was tremendous but lately there’s ever more ads in it and I could get those from commercial radio here. For some reason I can take spoken word, I just can’t work through an ad. I used to listen to BBC Radio 4 all day but it got strange. I’d not consciously realise I’d heard a minute of it but I’d go switch on the TV news and know every detail of every story.

I’d like to now take you through my every musical thought – I’ve started skipping just so I can tell you that next up is You, Me and the Bourgeoisie by The Submarines and then Monday Morning by Liz Lawrence and I Know I Know I Know by Tegan and Sara – but there has to be a better way. A more statistically useful way. And by chance, Lifehacker this week decided to look back into its archive for exactly this purpose:

This week, we’re reviving a particularly old post listing some of the best music and sounds for productivity, as crowdsourced by the Lifehacker commentariat of 2009.P

Does Music Really Make You More Productive? The answer falls somewhere between “Listening to Mozart makes you a genius” and “Just be quiet and work.”P

The most often cited study into the question of music’s effect on the mind involves the so-called Mozart effect, which suggests that listening to certain kinds of music—Amadeus Wolfgang’s classical works, in particular—impacts and boosts one’s spatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to think out long-term, more abstract solutions to logical problems that arise. The Mozart effect has been overblown and over-promised, and even outright refuted as having “bupkiss” effect, but that doesn’t mean a great mind-juicing playlist can’t be created.

The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done – Lifehacker

Check out the full article because it might be a bit inconclusive about the answer to whether you can work better with music, but it does have a lot of links out to different types you can try.

I’m now on Mississippi by Sheryl Crow, incidentally. Want my complete Discoveries playlist? You’re mad. But here it is:

Across the Universe (Fiona Apple)

Afortunada (Francisca Valenzuela)

After All (Dar Williams)

Ageing Superhero (Newton Faulkner)

Another Green World (Brian Eno)

Answer Me (Barbara Dickson)

Backstreets (Bruce Springsteen)

Because the Night (Patti Smith)

Been It (Cardigans)

The Bell & the Anchor (Catherine Feeny)

Better Love Next Time (Caryl Mack Parker)

The Big Bang Theory theme (full)

Bitch (Meredith Brooks)

Boom Boom Boom (The Iguanas)

Born to Hum (Erin McKeown)

Brand New Day (Ryan Star)

Breathe (Alex Murdoch)

Brilliant Disguise (Bruce Springsteen)

Brimful of Asha (Cornershop)

Broadcast News

Building The Barn (Maurice Jarre)

By Way Of Sorrow (Cry Cry Cry)

Change of Time (Josh Ritter)

Dance Me To the End of Love (Live) (Leonard Cohen)

Dance The Night Away (The Mavericks)

Devils & Dust (Bruce Springsteen)

Don’t Come Around Here No More (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

Don’t Let Your Feet Touch Ground (Ash Koley)

Don’t Look Back (She & Him)

Dry the Rain (from High Fidelity) (Beta Band)

Dulce (Francisca Valenzuela)

The Enterprise (Star Trek) (Jerry Goldsmith)

Everywhere I Go (Lissie)

Fall At Your Feet (Crowded House)

Fall to Pieces (Avril Lavigne)

Find The River (R.E.M.)

Fine (Julia Fordham & Paul Reiser)

Fools Rush In (She & HIm)

Four Leaf Clover (Abra Moore)

Hallelujah (k.d. lang)

Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys)

Handy Man (James Taylor)

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her (Mary Chapin Carpenter)

Hero (Regina Spektor)

Ho Hey (The Lumineers)

Hounds of Love (Kate Bush)

How Deep is Your Love (Sharleen Spiteri)

I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) (Stevie Wonder)

I Don’t Wanna Be The One (Patricia Conroy)

I Don’t Want A Lover (Texas)

I Know I Know I Know (Tegan And Sara)

I Turn My Camera On (Spoon)

If Anyone Falls (Stevie Nicks)

If I Can’t Have You (Sharleen Spiteri)

If You Could See (Lucy Kaplansky)

In Demand (Texas)

An Innocent Man (Billy Joel)

It’s Sonata Mozart (The Kids from Fame)

It’s Too Late (Carole King)

Jack and Diane (John Cougar Mellencamp)

Jive Talkin’ (Ronan Keating and Stephen Gately)

King Of The Mountain (Kate Bush)

Kiss Me (Sixpence None the Richer)

Let Loose the Horses (The Rescues)

Life Boat (Miranda Lee Richards)

Linger (The Cranberries)

Linus and Lucy (Vince Guaradli Trio)

Living Next Door to Alice (Smokie)

Love Is Everything (k.d. lang)

Mary’s Prayer (Danny Wilson)

Memories Of East Texas (Michelle Shocked)

The Men Below (Latin Quarter)

Michael And Hope’s New Baby (W.G. Snuffy Walden)

Mississippi (Sheryl Crow)

Monday Morning (Liz Lawrence)

Moonlighting Theme – Al Jarre (Al Jarreau)

Muredete la Lengua (Francisca Valenzuela)

My Freeze Ray (Neil Patrick Harris)

Never Coming Back (Lynn Miles)

New Soul (Yael Naim)

New Year’s Prayer (Jeff Buckley)

Ocean and a Rock (Lisa Hannigan)

One and Only (Mary Black)

One Small Day (Midge Ure)

Ordinary People (Chantal Kreviazuk)

People Have the Power (Patti Smith)

Queen of Hearts (Dave Edmunds)

Radio Radio (Elvis Costello and the Attractions)

Railroad Man (Eels)

Real Gone Kid (Deacon Blue)

Rise Again (The Rankin Family)

Runaway (The Corrs)

Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)

Rush Hour (Jane Wiedlin)

Sad Eyes (Bruce Springsteen)

Sanctuary (Donna De Lory)

Self Control (Laura Branigan)

She Will Have Her Way (Neil Finn)

Shine Silently (Nils Lofgren )

Simon & Simon (extended)

Simple Song (The Shins)

Sleep (Texas)

Soak Up The Sun (Sheryl Crow)

Soda Jerk (Buffalo Tom)

Somebody That I Used to Know (Gotye)

Somebody That I Used to Know (Parody) (Key of Awesome)

Someday We’ll Be Together (Vonda Shepard)

Something New (Tanita Tikaram)

Space 1999 Year Two extended

Speaking With The Angel (Cry Cry Cry)

St Elsewhere (full theme) (Dave Grusin)

Stargate Universe

Stay (Cyndi Lauper)

Stay (Lisa Loeb)

Steppin’ Out (Joe Jackson)

Stop! (Erasure)

Summer in the City (Aztec Camera)

Sweetest Decline (Beth Orton)

Theme from Mission: Impossible (Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen)

The Thief (Lucy Kaplansky)

Thieves (She & Him)

(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long (Weird Al Yankovic)

This Woman’s Work (Kate Bush)

Trouble in the Fields (Nanci Griffith)

Truly Madly Deeply (Savage Garden)

Underneath It All (No Doubt)

Undertow (Lynn Miles)

Unravel (Lynn Miles)

Useless Desires (Patty Griffin)

The Valley Road (Bruce Hornsby)

Voodoo Child (Rogue Traders)

Walk On By (Cyndi Lauper)

“Walk on By (Live (Revamped)” (Cyndi Lauper)

Walk on By (Tony Moran mix) (Cyndi Lauper)

Wander My Friends AAC (Bear McCreary)

We Didn’t Start The Fire (Billy Joel)

What About Us (Texas)

What I Am (Edie Brickell)

What’s Up (4 Non Blondes)

Who Let In The Rain (Cyndi Lauper)

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? (She & Him)

The Worst Day Since Yesterday (Flogging Molly)

You Just May Be The One (The Monkees)

You, Me and the Bourgeoisie (The Submarines)

Zoo Gang (Paul McCartney & Wings)

Tell me you didn’t really read this far. Go make your own list. And stop looking at me like that for mine.

Recommendation – Mac Power Users podcast

This is just a general recommendation for the whole series. Around a year ago, I was looking into whether it was worth my buying a Mac application called Hazel and my research led me to an edition of Mac Power Users. I remember listening to that on my way somewhere and learning that it was episode 79. They're now, today, on episode 187.

I'm sure I haven't listened to all of them but without doubt I've heard more than ninety of them.

Katie Floyd and David Sparks present this weekly show about Macs, iPads, iPhones and suchforth. Typically they'll take a topic – today it's a rather general one on word processing but it can concentrate on something more specific like Hazel or Evernote – and will bat through the basics and on to tips about it all. Even if you know the topic, they tend to have found new angels on it and it is a running joke that every listener ends up spending more money than they want because we've been convinced about some new software or hardware.

The topic interests me because I am pretty fully in the Apple scheme of working and if you aren't, there is nothing here for you.

But there are many podcasts about Mac things and I've tried a lot of them yet rarely got through an entire episode. Generally they are so poorly produced that the BBC Radio man in me starts twitching. Turn up that microphone. Stop leaving dead air. Bother to learn how to pronounce your guest's name. Things like that stop me listening and Mac Power Users is far more professional than that.

It also avoids the other main thing that stops me listening to various podcasts. Floyd and Sparks are equally knowledgeable and have similar experiences but they are sufficiently different that when one of them tells the other something, you believe that other one doesn't know it. I loathe the common format where one presenter tells another some amazing fact and the second one is appropriately amazed – but I can't help thinking they mustn't have read the script or paid attention during the rehearsals.

At least two presenters are better than many. There's a type of show that used to be known in UK radio as the zoo format: many presenters all together and chatting. Invariably, they sound like they're having a fantastic time. But we're not.

So considering that I used to produce a podcast, it became rare for me to listen to any. Mac Power Users is the only one I get regularly: every Monday morning, there's a new edition and I download it.

More useful than this new habit of mine, though, is the website catalogue of all the shows, all 187 editions so that you can look up any topic and leap right to it. Plus each edition has extensive notes online with links to the many products and other points brought up in the editions.

Try one. Here's the link to the official site though you can also subscribe through iTunes or every such route.

The most boring feature of iOS 7

“Popular Near Me” on the App Store. It sounds good: wherever you are, go to the App Store, tap this button and you'll see which apps are the most popular right there. Where you're standing. Exciting.

I just tried it at home and all anyone seems to be downloading is transport apps for how to get away from here.

Maybe they're trying to tell me something.

‘Appy days 2013

I’m a bit disappointed with Apple’s Best of 2013 pick of apps. There’s no real reason I should be, it’s just a list of what’s sold best and what Apple staff seem to like, but I thought I’d find something great in there that I wasn’t already using. And I admit, I unthinkingly expected to see software that helps you be more productive. This year, more than any, I’ve leant on software to get my work done and it’s been a terribly rewarding, satisfying kind of time because I’ve done so much more in so many more areas.

So when I wrote to you about Apple’s pick yesterday, I started in the expectation that I could show you some great tools.

Since that didn’t really work out, since the Best of 2013 became more of a curiosity than a grab bag of productivity tools, let me do what I wanted it to do. Let me show you the best productivity apps of the year.

Two very, very big caveats. One, I’m on a Mac so if you’re on a PC today then this is of precisely zero use to you. Well, not quite: there are some things here that are cross-platform. Platform-agnostic. But I’ll never have the patience to read through a list of Windows applications to find the single thing that will also run on my Mac, so if you’re in that boat, have a mug of tea instead and we’ll chat later.

Two, I’m sure some of these apps came out in 2013 but I’m never going to check. These are the tools that have made me enormously and enjoyably productive in 2013 and that includes ancient apps I’ve only just discovered and it includes old stalwarts that I have used for years. I know. Crazy. Maybe that’s why Apple’s list is more entertainment and games: maybe not much came out this year.

Enough. Here’s the list. I tell you now, it’s not as long as I thought it would be.


(Mac: £54.99/US$79.99, iPhone £13.99/US$19.99, iPad £27.99/US$39.99)

Yes, I have all three and once you’ve bought any of them, you’ll go get the other two as well. So let me add that up for you: in the UK, the triptych costs you £96.97 and in the US it’s $139.97. Prices must vary a bit as I’m sure I spent nearer £80 when I bought them but if you’ve gulped, so have I: I’m going to be buying them again in 2014.

That amuses me a little: I keep saying that this price is incredibly cheap considering what OmniFocus has meant to me and that I would gladly pay it again – and now I’m going to. Because there are new versions coming and they are all paid upgrades. I expect there’ll be a discount for existing users of the Mac one but I know there won’t be for the iPad version because there wasn’t for the new iPhone one.

Nonetheless, the second that new iPhone version was out, I bought it. Actually, it requires iOS 7 so what I did was upgrade to iOS 7 and then immediately buy OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. I liked the previous version very much but I like this even more and use it even more. I’m not entirely sure that is possible, but I do.

All of which is a lot of detail to throw at you when you may have never even heard of OmniFocus. It’s a To Do task manager. But that is a bit like saying War and Peace is a stack of paper with some ink on it. 

OmniFocus may not be for you: it is very powerful and it tends to do your head in a bit at first before you get a whole series of Damascus moments and love it. I wrote in a Mac magazine once that “first it destroys your mind, then it owns your soul” and I meant it as a compliment.

But if it’s more than you need or it’s more than you can face, then £96.97 isn’t cheap, it’s suddenly a lot of cash. So tread carefully but do tread, okay? 

While The Omni Group has not announced its plans, the fairly smart money says that the new OmniFocus 2 for iPhone will be followed soon to soonish by version 2 for the iPad and then at some point for the Mac. This makes things a tiny bit tricky. I’d like to tell you to wait but I also want you to get the benefits of this right now. If the Mac version were easier to use, I’d say pull the trigger: the odds are that if you buy OmniFocus 1 for Mac now you will get version 2 for free when it comes. No guarantees, but it’s highly likely. And that dispenses with the money concern.

But it is a concern that this Mac one is hard to use. I’m happy that I put the work in and I enjoy that the Mac one is very powerful. But I got on the beta test for OmniFocus 2 for Mac early in 2013 and have found it hard to go back. That beta has closed and it looks like whenever OmniFocus 2 for Mac comes out for real, it will look and act substantially different to the beta because OS X Mavericks has brought some new possibilities. But still, even the unfinished beta was easier enough to use that I suddenly found version 1 to be a chore.

How’s this? Right now the very best version of OmniFocus is the one for iPad. It will be updated and it will be radically updated if the iPhone is a clue, but even if you buy it an hour before a new version comes out, it’s still a fantastically tremendous application that will transform you. Not your life, it will transform you.

Enough so that I really did pay the money again for the iPhone one and I really will immediately, no IMMEDIATELY, buy the new versions for iPad and Mac whenever they come. 

Take a look at the video about the iPhone version on this Omni Group page. Then this is a longer video about the iPad version – did I mention it’s great? – and a much, much longer but very good series of videos by independent writer David Sparks about the Mac version.

I promise to be more concise about everything else on the list. <Smiles nicely but has fingers crossed behind his back>


Free or US$35/year for premium (gets you extra features)

It’s an app you can make notes in. There must be eleventy-billion such apps. And okay, you can also pop PDFs in there. Images. You can make a clipping from a web site and drag that in to Evernote. Okay.

But I was in a meeting, right, and suddenly needed a contract that had nothing to do with that day’s work. “Oh, yeah, that one,” I said and then called it up on my iPad exactly as if I’d been a soothsayer and known to bring it with me.

That worked and made me look very good because whatever you put in Evernote, you can get out of Evernote – wherever you are. I enter a gigantic number of notes in Evernote for iPhone and Evernote for iPad but I also use the Mac one a lot and I’ve used the PC version on occasion. I’ve been waiting in someone’s office and I’ve used their computer to open the Evernote website. And in each case, wherever I am, whatever I’m using, every single note I’ve ever made is right there.


Now free

I was on a bus going to my mother when I had an idea for a book. Because I had my iPad and it had the Pages word processor on it, I started to make some notes – and by the time I’d got to her, I’d written the first thousand words of what became The Blank Screen book. That book became a workshop that I’ve now run for individuals, students, university staff, colleges and in online seminars. And it became this blog, which is how I got to meet you. I’d call that worth the price of admission.

Mind you, I would like to mention now that I paid for Pages. It only became free toward the end of 2013 and if you think I’m narked by that, no. Fine. I think it is very undervalued but if you can get it for free, terrific. I’ve got so much out of this software already that I am completely fine with having paid whatever it was. Something preposterously cheap, I remember that.

Incidentally, I do have Word on this Mac. I’ve had Microsoft Word on every machine since the 1980s and I’ve used it on every machine. But the other day someone emailed me a Word document when I was using my MacBook. I’d had a problem with the hard disk on that and had wiped it completely, installed OS X Mavericks and got back to work. And there I was with this Word attachment, suddenly realising that I didn’t have Word.

Not only did I not have Word on there, for the first time in all those years, but I also hadn’t noticed. I’d reformatted that drive a month before and used the machine endlessly. Hadn’t noticed Word was gone.

And I didn’t have to notice now, either. Because my Mac just opened the document for me in Pages. 

I had to send that document back in Word format and Pages just did that for me too.

Adobe InDesign

Part of Adobe Creative Cloud, monthly rental cost varies

I used to work a lot on Radio Times, the website, and a bit on the magazine. There was this job where the site regularly needed some text from the mag and by chance of the schedules, it was always a bit easier to get it straight out of the magazine pages before they went to press. I leapt at it. It was a tedious, trivial and surprisingly slow job and I sped it up with some Word macros that would take the heavily formatted magazine text and make it heavily unformatted for the website.

But it also meant using the page layout program, Adobe InDesign. It is ridiculous how little you needed to know in order to do the thing I needed to do, but I would take the time to just explore InDesign for a minute or two each week. And over the years, especially since I was taking text from some superbly designed Radio Times pages, I learnt a lot. Taught myself InDesign.

To the extent that earlier this year Radio Times hired me back to work on a book specifically because I knew Adobe InDesign. And I learnt even more from doing that book work, to the extent that when I got back to my own office, I could and did design my The Blank Screen book in Adobe InDesign.

Read more about it and the whole Adobe Creative Cloud.


Now free

Presentation software. This – and the Pages and Numbers spreadsheet that I use daily – is part of Apple’s iWorks suite of productivity applications and I’m really surprised they weren’t in the company’s pick of the year. They were great and cheap, now they’re pretty great and free. This year’s new versions shed some features (that are apparently coming back slowly) and gained some others. 

For the work I do, I have barely missed any of those features, whatever they are, and I have very much enjoyed using the latest versions. So far I’ve only used Keynote to present The Blank Screen workshop once but it was a pleasure. No one has ever said that about PowerPoint.

Read more about Keynote for Mac (and the iPhone/iPad ones are the same) on Apple’s page.

Reeder 2

Universal for iPad and iPhone: £2.99

In 2012, it was for iPhone, iPad and Mac. And I used them all. It’s a newsreader, an RSS newsreader, which means rather than my going to a couple of hundred websites to read news and articles, they come to me. I’ve already messed with your head and your patience by going in to immense detail, so lemme just say that the world has changed. Right now Reeder for Mac is no longer available while a lot of work is being done under the hood.

I miss it more than I can say. And I’ve used alternatives but still Reeder and most particularly the new Reeder 2 are so well designed and just, you know, right, that I simply don’t read RSS on my Mac any more. The second it’s back out for Mac, I’m having it and I’ll get back to using it on all my machines.

Read more about Reeder and a tiny bit more about what’s happening with the Mac version on the official site.


Angela showed me this on her iPhone one day and I wondered why anyone would want such a thing as a password manager. By the end of that one day, it was on my iPhone and on the front screen too. Later, I showed Angela the Mac version and that’s now on her machine.

This is why. I need to do some financial things in a minute so I’ll press the Apple and / keys here on my Mac and it will open 1Password. With one tap 1Password will open up my bank’s online banking website, enter my account numbers, passwords and all that. It doesn’t go all the way on that site: I have one last page to go through, one last piece of security, but it’s so fast getting to that point that I use it constantly.

And then later if I am booking train tickets – I’m always booking train tickets – 1Password will log me in to and it will enter all my credit card details when I tell it to. 

I appear to have a preposterous number of websites I use that require passwords and so I have a preposterous number of passwords – an increasing number of which are generated by 1Password to be extra hard to crack. No more using the word ‘pencil’ as a password here. 

There is one thing I don’t like and it is the agony when you upgrade from one version to the next on iOS. It isn’t an upgrade, it isn’t an installer, it is alchemy. I can’t fathom how it can be so hard to do but once it’s done or if when you’re buying it for the first time, everything is so well done and easy that I can’t resist it. I know for certain that I use 1Password every single day, without fail, and I suspect I usually use it many times.

We could stop now

Those are the tools I spend my life in at the moment. I do also lean on iTunes a lot because I like telling it to play me an hour’s worth of music and then I’ll write until it stops. Plus I’ve been addicted to the new iTunes Radio which this very day also went live in the UK.

Then I came to really relish using iBooks Author to do the iBooks version of The Blank Screen (here’s the UK iBooks one and here’s the US iBooks one). TextExpander is one of those utilities that is so useful you forget it isn’t part of the Mac generally, but I’ve forgotten that it isn’t part of the Mac generally. Same with Hazel and Keyboard Maestro, both of which I’m just coming to use.

I really did expect that this would be a vastly longer list. Can you imagine that? In any average day I must surely use above twenty different software applications and I use them hard, but it’s only this set that I can honestly point to do as being the key productivity tools for me this year.

Next year may be a little different. I expect to carry on with all of these but I did a couple of projects using OmniOutliner for Mac (an outlining program from the same firm that makes my beloved OmniFocus) and now I’ve just got that for iPad too so it’s featuring more in my usual workflow. Bugger. I’ve been trying to avoid the word workflow. Ah, what can you do?

Similarly, I’m actually writing this to you in MarsEdit, the blogging tool that I’ve heard so much about for so long. I’m only on the trial version but it’s pretty much as good as advertised so I may very well continue with it. We’ll see. It doesn’t exist on iOS and I write a huge amount there so it’s not a guaranteed mandatory purchase or if it were, it isn’t guaranteed that I’ll use it a lot.

Whereas I want to give an honorary mention to some hardware. The best thing I ever bought was my 27in iMac last December: Macs do last a long time so my previous office Mac was a good six or seven years old and this new one boomed, just boomed into my working life. But then maybe the best thing I ever bought was my iPad Air as right now it is the thing I use most. I use it more than my kettle. I know.

I had thought that I used my original iPad a lot and while I didn’t regret giving it to my mother, I missed it more than I expected. And then I bought the iPad Air and am using it perhaps ten times as much as I did that original one.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I never step away from one keyboard or another and I see why you say that, but I can prove you’re wrong. By going now.

I need tea. Can I make you one?

UK gets iTunes Radio early

I’m not sure if it’s really early or whether it’s really here as in here to stay but as of this morning, iTunes Radio is available in the UK.

It doesn’t look finished – the US one has a lot of “featured stations” and this UK one has none – so it might just be another blip and it’ll go away again. But I’ve been enjoying the US iTunes Radio a lot, it’s a very good service.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s like Spotify or Pandora or any of those in that it streams music at you with the odd ad. Doesn’t sound exactly headline news so far but the way you can be listening to your own music and then on a whim switch to it, I’ve been quite addicted.

But it has been disconcerting. I could try it when the service was only available in the States because I have a US iTunes Store account but there’s a geo- and chrono- kind of problem with that. I’d click on its Eighties Hits radio station and find I’d never heard or even heard of maybe half of the tracks. Pop Gold seemed more universal, or at least to have more British music.

Funny: my favourite artists – quick list, Dar Williams, Suzanne Vega, Bruce Springsteen, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Cyndi Lauper, Sheryl Crow – are all American or at least not British. So I wouldn’t expect to notice a lack of British music but I really did. I think one gets surrounded by the music of one’s time and one’s place much more than I had realised.

So I’ve enjoyed discovering that and thinking about it. But I’ve also often switched away from the featured stations like that to ones based on those favourite artists of mine. Unlike some services, if you pick a station based on one artist you don’t get a huge amount of that artist. The first track after you’ve created the station is always theirs but thereafter you’ll go quite a long time before hearing them again. Sometimes that’s fine: you get similar artists or ones that people who like your favourite have also liked and I’ve enjoyed hearing a lot of new music. 

But sometimes you do long for more of that particular artist and that’s when I tend to go back to my own iTunes collection.

Mind you, I have a thing. There will be a song that gets in my head and I love it so much that I will play it over and over and over, often literally repeating it. Play the song, let iTunes nip on to the next track – and think no, I fancy that again, tap, tap and we’re back.

I’ll play them so much that eventually I come to hate them. So over the years I’ve built up a playlist in iTunes of music that I used to be besotted with and now can’t bear. Um. Something wrong there.

Especially since I keep coming back to this playlist that I call Discoveries. (I don’t know why I called it that.) Of all the music I’ve got, I keep coming back to this list. 

Do you know those blogs where the writer lists the current track they’re listening to as they write to you? I’ve never done that. I may never again do it. But for your information, I’m listening to iTunes Radio which is playing me Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel in its Classic Rock Radio. I’m not sure you needed to know that but I appear to need to tell you.

Normally I’d now tell you where you can get iTunes Radio in the UK but if you have iTunes and you’re in the UK, you’ve got it already. Even if you didn’t realise. Open iTunes, choose Music from the drop down list of media and across the top you’ll see Radio. It’s in that line of headings Songs, Albums, Artists and so on. 

Apple says these are the best productivity apps of 2013

They don’t, actually. The word productivity doesn’t come in to it. But the company has published lists of the best apps of 2013 for iPhone and iPad – and amongst all the games, there is some tremendously useful software.

I’m not sure what the metric is for defining best: there’s certainly a heavy weighting due to the number of times they’ve each been downloaded, I imagine sales income must be a factor, but there is also an editor’s pick element. You can see the entire list, which features movies, music and TV too, here but note this takes you to iTunes automatically if you have it installed:

If you don’t have iTunes installed, it takes you to a very boring page suggesting you install iTunes. 

But while we’re talking, here are the highlights.


The language-teaching software is the App of the Year for iPhones. Interestingly, the App of the Year for iPads is less immediately obviously productive: it’s Disney Animated, a tour of the film studio’s work. None of the runners-up for iPad are work tools but the iPhone’s pick includes Citymapper, a free journey planner for London and New York. It’s good, it’s free and it’s about New York? I’m sold.

There are also further lists of, presumably, didn’t-quite-make-it items and these include some noteworthy entries. For the iPhone, there’s the calendar replacement Fantastical 2 and the iOS IFTTT app for the If This Then That service. On iPad, the list features the superb Reeder 2 – can you tell that’s the only one so far that I’ve used, and used a lot? 

But if you look away from software and into the other categories that iTunes sells, you get some notable inclusions such as Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and the particularly absorbing Letters of Note by Shaun Usher.

Seriously, though, how many links must a man write down? Have I overdone it this time?