Getting just a wee bit too close to technology

Hand on heart, I don’t give a damn about technology. If you know me above a minute, you think I do because I’m dripping with Apple gear and I talk a lot about how great certain software tools are for my work. But if you are technology-minded and you know me above 90 seconds, you know I’m not in your league and I know nothing.

Specifically, I know nothing about gigahertz and processor speeds and for one example, I can’t follow why one Android phone is better than an iPhone because its processor runs at twice the clock speed yet when I hold them in my hand, the Android is slow as a dog and I’ve already finished what I’m working on with the iPhone.

That’s really my interest: the work. I could not have the career I do without all these tools and when something is that useful to you, when something has directly and measurably changed your working and your actual life, it’s hard not to get attached to it.

I freely admit I may have gone too far. But late last month my iMac got recalled by Apple because of some potential fault. They took it in, they fixed it, they returned it and they did all that for free – but it still meant I was without my frankly beloved iMac for about a week.

I did get two articles out of the experience, though, and actually I really like both of them. Consider this a weekend read and do have a laugh at how broken hearted I got. Here’s Living Without the iMac part 1 and Living without the iMac part 2 – it’s back over on

Caring for your partner with technology

Over on there is a quietly remarkable article about using and being required to use technology when caring for someone. In the last few days, Managing Editor Mike Wuerthele’s wife had a stroke. Naturally you know where he is now both physically – constantly in hospital with her – and emotionally. During these especially hard first days, he’s finding that technology and particularly iPads are a recurring feature. Reading his piece, you feel that sometimes this is aggravating as it’s another form on another iPad but other times that it’s a help, that these devices and others are helping the recovery process.

It’s a fascinatingly personal article despite his efforts to avoid being personal at all: he doesn’t name his wife, he doesn’t say which hospital they’re in. He’s written it and will be back writing more specifically to bring some attention to medical aid and hopefully let others know what is available and what it all achieves. His article does exactly that but read it to see how a partner and a carer’s pain trembles just under the surface.

Read Technology in Recovery: Out of the ER, into the fire on MacNN.

Recommended: Drafts 4 for iPhone and iPad

I keep mentioning this software Drafts 4 and often it’s entirely unconscious, more a consequence of how I write so much in it than through any deliberate plan to sell it to you. But I got the chance to expand on exactly why I like it so much when MacNN made it the topic of a Living With column. These are pieces about what something is like after a lot of use, after a long time. It’s interesting because most technology pieces are about today’s new releases and there is only so much you can possibly learn in a short review.

Whereas with a long process of reflection like this, there’s time to have discovered:

It is just a place to write. More than a text editor, less than a word processor, I have been opening it up to write down the odd stray thought for a couple of years. I’ve been opening it up to write the minutes of a meeting. To write a short story. To prepare a script for a presentation. If my brain isn’t somehow befuddled into believing I must open some other writing tool, I automatically open Drafts.

If that were all I did — open, write, rinse, repeat — then I’d be more than happy. I cannot, cannot define or explain this, but there is something pleasurable about writing in Drafts, about the physical typing of words into it, that I don’t get in Word or Pages.

Living With: Drafts 4 (iOS) – William Gallagher, MacNN (27 May 2015)

It isn’t all I do in Drafts 4. Read the full piece for more detail, more explanation and even more enthusing.

Drafts 4 is available for iOS and costs £7.99 in the App Store.

Living with OmniFocus

I’ve reviewed To Do apps for MacNN, and I’ve written books about creative productivity that recommend such apps. If it’s a To Do app that ran online or on Apple gear, it’s likely that I’ve at least tried it. Yet in November of 2011, I bought OmniFocus for iPhone, and while I have since bought five more To Do apps for myself, every one of them was OmniFocus.

There’s OmniFocus for Mac which I bought 21 days later. There’s OmniFocus for iPad, which I bought the day after that. This is not a casual investment: none of the three apps are exactly cheap, and while you don’t have to buy all three, you sort of do. Yet I used to often tell people in creative productivity workshops that OmniFocus is so good and so deeply, even profoundly, useful to me that I would pay that price all over again.

So I did.

Living with: OmniFocus – William Gallagher, MacNN (19 March 2015)

“Living With” is a series on that sees what you think after long-term testing of something. In my case, it’s over three years. That’s a bit more thorough, that’s a bit more time than you can get for any other review and time turns up things. In this case it did turn up some problems but then it turned up solutions and I turned out to be a fan of OmniFocus. Quite right too.

Do read the whole piece.

Vesper – minimalist note taking app comes to iPad

We have come such a long way from the original iPhone’s yellow Notes app with its very yellow pages and Comic Sans font. Did we mention yellow? Today’s Vesper, from Q Branch, does the same job — yet comes from the opposite end of the design spectrum with a plain, tasteful look and typography control. It’s also much faster than Notes ever was, and its syncing of individual notes is quicker than Evernote’s.

Now on both iPhone and iPad, what Vesper does is offer you a quick place to write text. It’s intended for short snippets, but you could do anything — from To Do lists to articles and chapters. Open it up, tap a button to get a new document, and start typing. You can also add photographs, and the app encourages you to pop tags in too. There are no predefined tags, it’s entirely your choice whether you use them at all, and what you call them when you do. Mark this note as being Work and that one as Home. Getting Things Done fans could add a tag they call Someday/Maybe, and then never look at it again.

Hands On: Vesper 2.005 (iOS) – William Gallagher, MacNN (18 March 2015)

Read the full piece, especially as I spent ages writing it. MacNN reviews tend to start from the basis of who-is-this-software-useful-to and I really like that. There’s no attitude beyond whether it does what it says and whether there are better alternatives.

That’s true even when there’s no especially logical reason for why an alternative is superior. This review is an example of exactly that. For Vesper is very, very good and you will certainly like it and probably love it if you were to buy it for your iPhone and iPad. Yet I simply prefer an alternative called Drafts 4. I’m writing this to you in Drafts 4; it has become my automatic place to write anything when I’m on my iPad.

I could point to features it has that Vesper doesn’t – but then I could point to features Vesper has that Drafts don’t. Some of which, such as Vesper’s excellent automatic syncing between iPad and iPhone, I would like Drafts to have.

There is a risk that you can say this stuff – X software is great but I prefer Y so there – and either be irritatingly obstructing your reader or just being so wishy-washy that you’re no use to anyone. I tend toward the wishy-washy, I’m afraid. But software is immensely, just immensely more personal than technical websites and journalists admit so I love that MacNN counts the feel of an app as being as relevant to mention as its feature list.

But also, Vesper is excellent. Go read the full pieceand see me enthuse.

Citymapper app

I spend a hell of a lot of time travelling by public transport: it is the handiest thing ever, when it works and when you can find your route. You won’t be surprised to know that I try a lot of apps for this purpose and I’ve just reviewed this one for MacNN.

Actually, review doesn’t cover it: I’ve evangelised Citymapper.

Give Citymapper a round of applause: its taxi listing includes the typical price for that distance – and it does so in the local currency. If you need the convenience and speed of a taxi, this info is a real benefit.

Distressingly, it also tells you approximately how many calories you’ll burn off if you walk. Let’s just gloss over that.

Hands On: Citymapper 5.01 (iPhone) – William Gallagher, MacNN (17 March 2015)

Read the full piece.

Get 1Password and then get more out of it

You should be using 1Password. I don’t care if you’re on Mac, iOS, Android or Windows, you should be using it. I’m not a blind fan, I find fault with it, but it’s a password manager and you have to have passwords so you have to have a password manager. In my opinion, 1Password is the best of the lot. Plus, it’s free.

If you’re looking at me wondering what a password manager is and whether that’s a real job, think of the last time you bought something on Amazon. Or logged into your email. Or opened Evernote from a new machine. You have to have passwords and you can’t use “donaldduck123” any more. You also can’t use 7J8d7fdJK(** – if you use that same one for everywhere.

A password manager creates these strong passwords for you – and then it remembers them. All you have to do is click a button or press a key and it zooms you off to Amazon, say, and it logs you in.

But that’s not why I want to talk to you about it today.

By dint of what it does with passwords, 1Password is extremely useful in other ways. It’s great at being your bookmarking for websites; it is really good at filling in credit card details; and it actively helps you when you’re being good and making a note of your new software licence.

Go read all this at length on the tutorial I wrote about it for today.

All Contacts apps should work like this: BusyContacts for OS X

I’m writing about ten pieces a week for to do primarily with software and given my obsessions, naturally productivity stuff crops up a lot. I mean, a lot. I’ve had the chance to evangelise software that has transformed my working life and I’ve also had the chance to try a range of new applications I wouldn’t – to be truthful here – have been able to afford.

Of the 100+ pieces I’ve written so far, there are many standouts but a recent one that was entirely new to me is BusyContacts. It’s a Mac-only address book and it is tremendous. I don’t think it’s gorgeous, I long to change parts of its look, but for features, it’s great. In fact, it is excellent – and chiefly because of one single feature in it.

From my MacNN review:

That feature is the Activities List. Like any other Contacts app, you can look up someone’s details and get all the regular stuff, like their many phone numbers, email addresses, and so on. In BusyContacts, though, you also get Activities. Right next to their contact card, you get a list of the last emails you two have sent each other (this only works with Apple Mail at present). You also get your most recent iMessage exchanges. Their latest tweets or Facebook updates. All there, all the time and immeasurably useful.

If you know you’ve got to call Bert, look up his contact card — and right there is when you last emailed him. You get the date, time, subject and opening lines, so you are instantly briefed on what you were last doing together. The more people you have to juggle and the more projects you are doing, the greater and greater this feature is.

Hands On: BusyContacts (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN, 17 February 2015

That was posted nearly two weeks ago now and I’ve only come to like this app more. Here’s an example of something I’ve found useful that has previously been enough of a chore that I didn’t do it. There is one group of people I need to email from time to time. I could set a group email address but those are oddly awkward to do on Macs and the groups don’t cross over to the iPhone or iPad. It’s not that groups cross over in BusyContacts either, they don’t, but awkwardness and inability to use groups everywhere meant I didn’t bother with them at all.

I used to just find the last email I sent the group, quickly check through the names to make sure I remove a person who asked to be let out of the set, then I write the new email.

With BusyContacts, I can assign tags to contacts. As you read their address book card, type a keystroke and add a tag. It’s easy to do and as you go along merrily adding things like “Writers’ Guild” to a name, you build up a list of such tags in the app. Now I can drag someone’s name to the tag and have it applied.

I can click on the Writers’ Guild tag and only see those people who I’ve tagged with this. So far, so underwhelming, except that once this is what I see in my contacts app, I can Select All and email everybody. BusyContacts lets me send an email to everyone in that list – and it lets me send separate emails to each of them.

That plus the Activity List, it is just startlingly useful. I wish there were an iOS version, I’d be on that like a shot. Read the full piece.

Recommended: Snapselect for OS X

This week I began writing software reviews for and as I was doing this one, I thought of you. While we’re writers, we do have to be so conscious of images and graphics now plus we can’t help but have a great camera in our pockets – because our phones all have them. I think one consequence from this is that we get eleventy-billion images.

I know I did.

Years ago I was enough into photography – I’ve had some published in US books – that I invested in Apple’s professional image application, Aperture. I’d have to check this, don’t make me swear to it, but when Aperture came out, it was so new and in such a new field that nobody quite knew what to make of it. They tried comparing it to Photoshop, where it failed because its image editing is much more basic. They tried comparing it to iPhoto and it failed because it isn’t as easy as iPhoto.

Yet I believe Adobe got it, they understood. Or maybe more likely they were eying up the same issues that Aperture was intended to solve. Adobe Lightroom became the other application in this new genre of serious photo management.

I was a bit fascinated by this because it reminded me of TV drama reviews where at first everyone is criticising a show and then later they’re adoring it. In this case they were poo-pooing an entire form of software and very quickly they were using it. But then I was also a lot fascinated by how they used it and how these two applications did the same thing in different ways.

Very broadly, very crudely, Aperture was a smash-and-grab do-anything kind of application where you bunged in your photos and then you worried about them later. Whereas Lightroom required you to add them in a certain way, process them in certain steps and really go through a particular workflow. I’m not that disciplined and Aperture just seemed to suit me better, so I bought Aperture.

Unfortunately maybe I needed a touch more discipline than I have. Or perhaps Aperture did. Because I added a lot of photos and then by mistake added them again. And again. Over time there are up to five duplicates of some shots and one thing Aperture is bad at is helping you spot those and delete them.

Flashforward a few years. I’ve pretty much stopped using Aperture because it was full brimwards with these duplicates and near-duplicates from when I would over-shoot events. Also, Apple abandoned Aperture. That was a big surprise to me and I think it was a big mistake. As ever with software, you can carry on using something. Nobody comes and switches off Aperture just because Apple doesn’t sell it any more. But there will come a time when they might as well have. There will be some moment in the future when you have to choose between getting some Apple OS X upgrade and sticking with an old one to keep Aperture alive.

I will upgrade. I say this not just because I know myself but because I know that I’ll upgrade before I notice that it kills Aperture.

So I have been mentally preparing to move my images out of it and I haven’t because I’m not mentally prepared to slog through all those bloody shots. Which is where Snapselect came in. Do you remember reading the word Snapselect about five miles up above this line? I reviewed Snapselect and it did – it is doing – the job I need. It’s taking me a time to work through everything because it is slow and I am busy but every few hours I take a minute to schlep through a few images and kill off the duplicates and the bad ones.

And my telling you that tells you the story behind this paragraph from my review:

We imported a fairly disastrous Aperture library that had over 30,000 images, and took up around 300Gb. It took Snapselect 11 minutes to load it, and then not far shy of 150 minutes to produce the thumbnails — which then took over two hours to analyze. Be smarter than us: bring in a few folders at a time. Snapselect makes that easy, but we just wanted to show off.

Hands On: Snapselect photo management app (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN (19 December 2014)

Read the full piece to get some screenshots – watch for my finger in frame in one – and details of how to get it. If you don’t need it, you may not even see the point. But if you do, go buy Snapselect because it solves the day.