Otto’s Antenna and Remote

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There’s an interesting new combo of apps out called Otto’s Antenna and Otto’s Remote (Official Site). Otto’s Antenna sits in the menu bar of your Mac and you give it AppleScripts, shell scripts and Automator workflows to manage. That’s all. Otto’s Remote, on your iPhone, can remotely trigger any scripts in Otto’s Antenna’s scripts folder. Anywhere. You don’t have to be in range of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It works over iCloud (and surprisingly well). That’s nifty, but even niftier is that Otto’s Remote using geofencing to trigger scripts automatically. You can set these up with multiple Macs, with any script that Otto’s Antenna knows about, and can be set up to fire when you enter or leave a location.

Ottos

Otto’s Antenna costs $3.99 and Otto’s Remote is free.

Questions from WWDC 2013

IOS 7 calendar app

Will the iOS 7 calendar support natural language input?

The new iOS 7 calendar app looks pretty and all, but I wonder if it’ll support natural language input. If it doesn’t, then all the fancy graphics won’t make a difference. I’ll keep using Fantastical because its language parsing makes adding calendar events a breeze.

Is the weather app still using the same weather backend?

I’ve grown to love Forecast.io and I want to continue to use it, but I’m gonna bet Apple ain’t using it.

Will the new Siri voices be available for OS X?

You can download Siri’s voice, Samantha, for OS X. Will the new male and female voices be available for OS X McCain/Palin ‘08 as well.

How secure is the new iCloud keychain?

Will you have to unlock the keychain when you want to access your passwords or are they going to be opened up after just your four digit pin code is used to unlock the screen?

Can the iCloud keychain store other info like software licenses and attachments to notes?

Can the iCloud keychain replace 1Password? I use 1Password to store software licenses and other secure notes (with attachments) and I’m betting iCloud keychain won’t do those things.

Finder Color Labels

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I’ve gotten into using Finder color labels again lately. I played around with OpenMeta tagging (and still use them in a limited capacity), but I’ve found that for most purposes, color labels are my best way of adding a bit of metadata to a file. Tags are great, but they don’t create the visual pop that color labels do. If you’re looking at a folder-full of files, color labels immediately show you something about the files. I use color labels in a very GTD sense.

Color Meaning
Purple Inbox Item
Orange Next Action
Green Processed
Blue On Hold
Yellow Starred
Red Problem/Delete
Gray Reference

OpenMeta tags (for me) had two purposes. On one hand, I tagged them depending what kind of file it was and what needed to be done with them. I have a lot of Hazel rules that auto-tag files based on what kind of files they are, so that they can be categorized and searched more easily, I find that actions that need to be done with files work better when I can see them quickly and Spotlight can recognized color labels and I have smart folders in my Finder sidebar for quick access to inbox items, next actions and other GTD-related lists. They function the same as a small set of OpenMeta tags, but the colors trigger a response in my brain, that tags don’t.

If you don’t use color labels all that much, I’d recommend integrating them with your GTD workflow and also match your OmniFocus color schemes in a similar way. The uniformity between the two can be useful.

OmniFocus and Energy

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Omnifocus Needs An Energy Field

For me, the one thing missing from OmniFocus (as of 2013-01) is an energy field. You can give a task a start/end date, a context, a project, a time estimate and set it to be repeating, but you can’t set an energy level for it. One for the criteria David Allen suggests that you base priority of tasks on is energy. You can’t do something if you don’t have the tools for it. You can’t do something if you don’t have the time for it. And you can’t do something if you don’t have the energy for it. Don’t get all “You have to push yourself!” on me. Sometimes, you just don’t have the energy to do certain things. Writing a blog post is not really a low energy task. You have to be in the mood for it, or at the very least, be “up” for the task. On the other hand, things on my daily checklist includes flossing, taking a multivitamin and logging cash transactions in Koku. Those things aren’t mentally or physically taxing. Writing a blog post might be sometimes. Running a couple miles is. Those things are “high energy”.

Faking An Energy Field With Omnifocus 1.9

When OmniFocus 2.0 gets unveiled this month, it might have an energy field, but until then (and possibly even after), you can fake energy fields by adding “High Energy” and “Low Energy” as sub-contexts. I have contexts for “House” and “Mac” and each of those have high and low energy sub-contexts. Luckily, if you sort those tasks in OmniFocus, all of the “High Energy” tasks get lumped together, so it’s easy to quickly see which ones are high energy-only. Of course, you can also create perspectives based on these, and I do have a “Low Energy” perspective that I switch to when I’ve got time but I don’t have much energy to get stuff accomplished. Perspectives don’t update automatically, so if you create more energy sub-contexts later, be sure to update your energy perspectives accordingly.

Getting (Your Files) Organized

What is Organization?

I’m constantly trying to be organized. I’m sure that word means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some guy, it may mean that everything has a specific place. For another guy, it might just mean that he kinda knows where things are. For something like a computer, it should be a relatively easy thing to accomplish…being organized. The problem is not that we can’t be organized, it’s that there are too many ways to be organized, and geeks being fiddly types by nature want to play around with their organizational systems all the time and ultimately their need to fiddle with everything in hopes of finding the be all, end all organizational system leads them to being less organized.

The number one goal of organization should be that you can find the things you need…fast. The number two goal should be that finding things should be easy. If you can’t remember how to find something, your system is broken, at least for you.

Folders

So let’s look at the oldest way of organizing files. Folders where how you organized things. It was the only way. Before you could search for things, you had to stick things somewhere. Folders exist on computers because they were all we had (have) in the real world. Imagine being at your desk, and searching for a single document from a single giant pile of everything. That’s how Google thinks you should manage data. Just search for it. On a computer it’s doable. In real life, it’s impossible. But just cause you can do something doesn’t mean that you should, right?

The good thing about organizing your files in folders is that everything has a singular place that it lives. If you put your credit card statements in a “Credit Card Statements” folder, you’ll always know where those PDFs are. You’ll never have to search for them. You’ll know that they’re all there, in that folder, and you can see them all in a list of just credit card statements.

The downside of organizing files in a purely folder-based system is that files only exist in one context. If you’ve got a PDF of a receipt from your doctor, where does it go? Does it go in a receipts folder or a health folder? How granular should your folders be? If go too granular, your folder hierarchy goes nuts and searching for a file turns into Alice venturing down the rabbit hole. If you don’t get granular enough, then you’ll probably have trouble finding your files because you’ve got a giant mess to wade through. Try finding a receipt from your eye doctor when it’s sitting in a general receipts folder and you’ve also got receipts from your family doctor, dermatologist, orthopedist and your ear, nose and throat guy and you’ve been going to these guys for ten years and you wanna find a bill for a very specific visit that you can’t remember when it took place. It quickly becomes a nightmare.

Tags

Tags are generally the perferred way of organizing data post-Web 2.0. I think Gmail had the biggest influence on this. Labels and tags let you organize data without committing that data to a specific “place”. You can have a piece of data that sits everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but you can find it and all other related files based on any number of different tags. Going back to the doctor’s visit receipt, you could tag that PDF as “receipt”, “doctor”, “bloodwork”, “vd” and you could find it based off of any or all of those criteria.

There is no real standard for tags. OpenMeta tags exist on OS X and work between the file system and play well with apps that support them, but Apple could kill these in some future update to the OS. OS X has keywords but don’t work across all apps. And neither of these work on other OSes. You can’t take your OpenMeta tags over to iOS, and your OS X keywords aren’t going to work in Windows.

Search

While Google may have created a tag boom, their real goal is to get us to just search. With a purely search-based system, you don’t worry about folders or tags. You rely on meta data and the contents of files for finding things. It’s why Gmail just has an archive. Emails never get deleted. Why delete things that don’t need to be. Space is almost unlimited and if you’re not bothering to organize data, what’s the point of cleaning it out of the system. It’s better to keep it around.

While that may work for Gmail, hard drive is finite. Your MacBook Pro will run out of space if you never delete an email or save every photo you ever download. So data management is a necessity.

Smart Folders

The best thing that ever happened to search was the smart folder. Smart folders and saved searches allowed you to take the best parts of folder-based organization and tagging and put them together in a way that let you keep data in a specific place and apply various types of classifications at the same time.

With saved searches you can have a “smart folder” that looks at just your receipts folder, but also only show you PDFs tagged “doctor” and “flut” and restricts the parameters of that smart folder to just PDFs created in the past year.

What’s the Best System?

It’s like they say about cameras. The best camera is the one you have with you. You have to make an organizational system that works with how your brain works. If one big pile and search works for you, have at it. If you need a strict folder-based system to manage your neurosis, then that’s what you should build. For me, I need data to be in a specific place, but I love tagging for its ability to insert a ton of searchable variables. Saved searches and smart folders are what I should be using and I’m going to make an effort to use them more in the future.

What I use the most for finding my files is Launchbar from obdev. Launchbar excels at finding things fast with just a few keystrokes. If you’re reading this you’re probably already familiar with Launchbar (or Alfred or Quicksilver). Launchbar can find things from all the metadata that is index by Spotlight and is great at quickly opening up directories. You can even assign abbreviations to files or folders you often access by pulling them up and typing ⌘⌥A. Try that and make Calendar.app’s “iCal” or Contacts.app into “Add” and see how nice it feels. :)

Day One and Logging Everything

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Day One has become an important part of my data ecosystem. It’s always been a fine journal app. Then, back in July, they added photos and location data to what you could save in your journal. Then, and this is what really turned it into an important piece of the puzzle for me, Brett Terpstra released Slogger. Slogger runs on your Mac once a day (I use the default 11:50pm) as a launch agent. It runs a ruby script that scrapes Twitter, Pinboard, Pocket, Instapaper, Last FM and maybe a couple other ones and saves the data collected that day from those sources to your Day One database in Markdown. There’s also an additional image script that you can have Hazel/Folder Actions invoke when an new image shows up and that image gets added to Day One as well. Combine IFTTT.com with that, and you can suck in photos from Facebook or Instagram and now you’ve got a truly automated diary of all the things you’ve read, said or photographed.

I don’t often make an effort to manually enter data into Day One. However, all my memories are getting added to it everyday and if I wanna go back and see what I was thinking about or doing on a given day, all I have to do is fire up Day One and it’ll have everything there for me.

Updated: 2012-09-28

I would like to add that if you’re using Day One for Slogger, I recommend Dropbox over iCloud. iCloud seems to choke on syncing the large amount of entries Slogger produces. Dropbox handles them no problem.


Buy Day One for OS X here in the Mac App Store.

Buy Day One for iOS here in the App Store.

Vitamin-R: Kinda Getting Things Done

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Can it help you get more done?

Vitamin-R is not going to help you plan better. It’s not a GTD app the way that Omnifocus is. You’re not going to be building project lists and adding contexts to help you figure out when and where you can get work done. It’s not going to make you work harder. Simply put, if you’re not willing to do the work, no software is going to make you do it. Vitamin-R’s app description states that it will help you actually get things done, but I think that’s a false statement.

What can it help you do?

So what can it actually do for you? Vitamin-R can nudge you in the direction of getting work done. It can hide apps for you (although you could easily switch back into them), it will run a timer, and let you know when your allotted time is running out.

That’s all fine and dandy, but I think the real value in Vitamin-R is in its logging ability. Every time you start a task, you enter in the objective you want to accomplish and then the time you want to work on it. When you complete it, you can log it as a success or whether the objective was completed. You can also rate your level of focus. For example, “I wasn’t focused”, “I was highly focused” or the stupidly named “I experienced ‘flow’”. After your objectives are logged, you can then check your statistics and see what time of the day you had the best and worst levels of focus. I suppose that if you were on a regular working schedule, you could use those charts to see when you should be doing intense work and when you should do work that requires less intense focus. Inversely, you could also see where you need to make an effort to work harder at certain times of the day, or just certain days of the week. You might notice that you work harder on Tuesdays instead of Fridays.

Is it necessary?

Do you need Vitamin-R? No.

Could you find it useful? Sure.

If you like the idea of logging your productivity and like the idea of an assistant that keeps track of work time for you, Vitamin-R is a worthwhile investment.

Buy Vitamin-R in the App Store here.

Mindnode Pro for OS X: Affordable Mind Mapping

Screen Shot 2012 07 11 at 3 59 10 PM I’ve been wanting to get into mind mapping for a while now. I really wanted to try out Mind Manager, but it’s ungodly expensive. When I saw Mindnode Pro on sale in the App Store for half price, I jumped on it. Mindnode Pro is normally $20 but I snatched it up at $10. It’s been $10 well spent too. I’m extemely happy with Mindnode Pro.

Mindnode Pro may lack the staggering number of features that Mind Manager has, but Mindnode Pro has enough for most people. You can create multiple main nodes and then go crazy with all the sub-nodes. You can make the branches up to six different colors, and it really brightens everything up. Drab, it isn’t.

You can adjust a lot of the keyboard shortcuts easily to customize Mindnode Pro’s behavior to your liking. Mindnode Pro feels very lightweight. I’ve never had any hangs with it in a couple months worth of usage, on both my three year old Macbook Pro or my 18 month old Macbook Air.

If you have any existing OPML files from another application (including straight up outliners), they’ll work fine. You can also export your mind maps into plain text, OPML, PDF, image, or Free Mind formats.

If you happen to need the ability to create and edit mind maps on the go, the developers, IdeasOnCanvas also offer Mindnode Touch for iOS.

Even at $20, Mindnode Pro is a great value. You get 90% of the mind mapping abilities you probably need at 1/20th of Mind Manager’s price.

Toggle WiFi with a Hotkey using Keyboard Maestro

I came up with a little Keyboard Maestro macro that will Toggle WiFi on and off. It pulls up the network preference pane, waits until the front window is “Network” and then an If/Then/Else action presses the button “Turn WiFi Off”. If that button isn’t available, it presses “Turn WiFi On”, effectively toggling WiFi. The only thing you need to be mindful of is that “WiFi” needs to be the top listed network connection in the network preference pane.

Super Simple Text File Task Management

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If you’re looking for a super simple task manager that’s ultraportable, check out Atea. It’s a Java runtime that sits in your menu bar and gets all its data from a single text file. If you put the file in Dropbox or Notational Velocity’s data folder and sync with Simplenote, you can have a copy on all of your computers and your iOS devices. Just update the text file that Atea’s reading and the tasks in the menu bar applet will change as well. Add ‘[]”s to make something a project and just delete the row of text to delete the task. It’s lightweight and very cool. And it’s free.

Download Atea