Setapp: Mac App Subscription Service Adds Dropzone

Setapp Dropzone.png

Setapp, the mac app subscription service, has added another of my favourite utilities to their collection. I mentioned Dropzone in one of the earliest posts on this site, and it continues to be one of the handiest automation tools I have on my Mac. I use it every day.

Setapp mac app subscription
I use Dropzone as often as I use my Mac, to trigger automated tasks and more

At its most basic, Dropzone extends the drag and drop powers of your mac. It can do much more than that, using customisable actions that are bundled into ‘dropzones’ that act as triggers. It is once of those apps whose usefulness cannot be fully appreciated until it has been put to work. Which brings to me to the usefulness of Setapp more generally.

The Value In a Setapp Mac App Subscription

I have been meaning to do the math on this for a while, but it doesn't take much to recognise the value I get from Setapp. Looking at the growing list of apps I have installed from the service, it has become an integral part of the way I use my Mac. I have over forty apps installed from Setapp now 1 Many of the apps I use daily basis, or at least every time I use my iMac. Admittedly, I already own Dropzone, so it could be a stretch to include it on the list.

 

Others Mac apps, like Ulysses, Marked, Forklift, and Taskpaper have become critical to the way I run this site. Then there are the apps that hold my Mac together, like iStat Menus, Gemini and Clean My Mac. And, probably the most overlooked value of Setapp, having a subscription allows me to use apps I might otherwise hesitate to buy, for how little I use them. For example, I have been playing around with API requests lately, using Paw. For my amateur twiddling, I couldn’t justify the US$50 to buy that app outright. Setapp means I don’t have to.

It is a point worth contemplating. Take Dropzone, it might not be expensive, but it is the kind of utility you need to tinker with to get the most out of it. Trial versions never last long enough to gain a full appreciation of an app, and I for one never treat a trial version like I would a first class citizen. If anything, Setapp creates the opposite problem for the software tinkering procrastinators of the world.

Setapp Subscription for Education

Setapp mac app subscription
The growing collection of apps for study, research and writing, make Setapp ideal for education users and students

I have made this point before, yet it bears repeating. For a lot of people, the software necessary for studying at university — or if you call it college — is practically redundant once school’s out. Dedicated apps like Studies for organising your learning, the wonderfully designed lab notebook app Findings, or the power user mind mapping tool iThoughts X.

Education users are eligible for a 50% discount, so I’m paying US$49 a year for Setapp at the moment. Half of that covers Ulysses alone, and the rest would be easily accounted for when even a single one of these apps receives a paid upgrade.

I bang on about Setapp every chance I get. I don’t want it to go away. The service saves me being pecked to death by a dozens of separate subscriptions or paid upgrades. We are in shallow waters with the new app subscription situation. I fear some developers are getting it wrong with pricing,2 where it is working for others. This strikes me as a better way to do things. The collective aspect of it appeals, and with apps like Dropzone being added all the time, Setapp continues to get better and better.

If you want to check it out for yourself, you can download a trial for full access to the collection. Don’t for get to apply for the discount of you’re an education user.

Setapp | Mac App Collection

  1. It’s true I like to write on my iPad, however, I still make good use of my Mac.
  2. $40USD a year for a Pomodoro timer is ridiculous

DEVONthink and Notebooks: Alternatives to Evernote

Alternatives To Evernote Logos

Rumours of Evernote’s demise come around ever so often, but the recent ones appear to have more to them than usual. It seems a bunch of senior staff are heading out the door. If privacy concerns, and proprietary database weren’t concern enough, the future of your data should be. I would be especially concerned for academic research. If you are looking for the alternatives to Evernote for Mac and iOS, I humbly submit a couple of options I have written about on this site, DEVONthink, and Notebooks. You may even find room in your workflow for both.

DEVONthink, the Power User’s Alternative to Evernote

I have written at length about DEVONthink for iOS, but DEVONthink's real power still lies on the Mac. In fact, it is one of the remaining reasons I still use macOS. There are rumours of a major overhaul to DEVONthink on the Mac. I certainly hope to see those rumours come to fruition. For all its wonderful power, the interface has aged. Nonetheless, beneath that interface you will find the most powerful software available for information management and research. The AI heuristics and advanced search are some of the best study and research tools you will find in any form.

If aesthetic reasons have stopped you using DEVONthink in the past, I would urge you to download a trial and see if you can’t get over that. I wish had earlier than I did.

OCR and Web Clipping with DEVONthink

I know many users come to rely on Evernote’s OCR and web clipper. Both of those abilities can be found in DEVONthink. 1 The OCR engine in DEVONthink Pro Office is as good as it gets. Between that, and the peerless AI engine you can see why DEVONthink has become the endpoint for all my research materials. The web clipper can clean a web page, and save multiple formats. It might be stripped back compared with the Evernote clipper, but it does an admirable job at capturing what you need. The best part is, it speaks Markdown.

Alternatives To Evernote Webclipper
The DEVONthink web clipper is a capable alternative to Evernote

As far as alternatives to Evernote go, DEVONthink is a significant upgrade. Not only is it smarter, but your data remains private and secure. Moreover, you have options for how you use DEVONthink. In short, where Evernote imperils your data, DEVONthink keeps it safe.

Migrating your data to DEVONthink is trivial, as it can connect to Evernote directly to pull everything across with a single click. What’s more, with the DEVONthink Education Discount you can buy DEVONthink Pro Office outright for the cost of one year of Evernote.

 Alternatives to Evernote
DEVONthink can import data directly from Evernote

If you happen to be an iOS only user, DEVONthink to Go is also an excellent app. And, with the help of Workflow migrating you data on an iPad is not as difficult as many would have you believe. I have even setup some workflow shortcuts to help with the process. See my post on migrating Evernote data.

Notebooks: A Plain Text Alternative to Evernote

 Alternatives to Evernote

In many ways, Alfons Schmid’s Notebooks App is the antithesis of Evernote. It avoids all the pitfalls of a web based, proprietary system by building a stack on plain text. Not only is Notebooks a clever app, it is lean and your data remains future proof. If you want to avoid ever falling into the Evernote trap again, I would give this a serious look.

I recently did a deep dive on Notebooks, but I'm still uncovering some of its tricks. I have just started putting the ability to extract tasks automatically to good use. Notebooks can be set to extract tasks from a line in any note, by nominating a special character or phrase to indicate a line as a task. In practice, this means I don’t need to interrupt my own work when I have something to follow up. I have set Notebooks to extract tasks from any line that begins with two asterisk, so while writing I simply type a new line with ** followed by whatever I need to be reminded of. 2 Like so,

** follow up on citations for Science of Logic

That's it, I'm done. Notebooks will now extract the task from the text, and set a reminder. This is ingenious. It also opens up all kinds of possibilities with Siri Shortcuts,  using Notebooks  Siri integration.

Mac and iOS users have options for alternatives to Evernote. Apple’s own Notes app has developed into a solid solution. It has everything an everyday user might need, right down to document scanning and shared notes. I can also understand why Bear has become so popular, the interface is a delight. At the same time, both of those apps are built on a database that ultimately obscures the notes themselves. 3 With Notebooks, you can avoid that problem altogether, and you get an app that is much better suited to an academic workflow. For more on Notebooks, see links to my recent posts below.

Notebooks Coverage

Note Taking Automation with Notebooks, Workflow etc

Note Taking, Research and Organisation with Notebooks iOS

Elements of a Note Taking and Research Workflow

If you’re wondering how these apps might work together, it is straightforward enough. I keep all my current notes and project materials in Notebooks, but archive everything in DEVONthink. DEVONthink can mange note taking well enough, but it doesn’t have the greatest interface for composing notes — or for writing in general.

On the other hand, something DEVONthink excels at is indexing data. This means you don’t need to store data in a DEVONthink database to make use of its intelligence. Instead, you can index any folder, anywhere on your Mac. Because Notebooks stores data in native file formats, which are accessible directly from the file system, DEVONthink and Notebooks are very compatible.

As Notebooks files are stored in the native file system, I can easily keep my notebooks indexed and make use of DEVONthink’s search super powers. This works well for the simple fact that both these apps work with the files system, instead of against it. Believe it or not, this means I can even use my old favourite plain text utility, nvALT, alongside both these apps. I will leave that workflow, however, for another time.

What about handwriting? On iOS, I use GoodNotes for handwritten notes. And like everything else, those notes pass through Notebooks and eventually end up archived in DEVONthink.  While wither one of these apps is a wise investment, they play well together.  Notebooks is available on the App Store for both macOS and iOS, and DEVONthink is available directly.

DEVONthink Education Discount

Notebooks on the iOS App Store

Notebooks on the Mac App Store

  1. You will need the pro version for OCR
  2. You can set the task indicator to anything you like 
  3. I’m talking about Notebooks. But yes, I understand DEVONthink keeps material in a database. It doesn’t have to though.

Students, get our Mac apps for 40% off until September 16th | Devonian Times

Devon Technologies is offering their customary back to school discount  for DEVONthink on macOS. I have been writing a lot about iOS lately, but I haven’t forgotten the Mac. DEVONthink remains one of the most compelling research solutions available on the Mac, and a singular argument for using macOS for study or academic work. The more information it has, the smarter at gets at making connections.

Our software is created with this in mind: DEVONthink helps you collect and organize your knowledge on your Mac, iPad, or iPhone. DEVONagent Pro finds information on the web no matter how deeply it is hidden, and DEVONsphere Express does the same on your computer.

We give 25% educational discount all year long but we want you to have a great start into the new term. So, students and teachers get our Mac apps for an exclusive 40% discount until September 16th, 2018. If this isn’t the best time in the year to get prepared for school, then when is?

If you’re an education user on Mac, the discount is available until 16th September 2018

Private and Secure File Transfer with Dropshare

Send Large Files Secure

On Mac Geek Gab recently a listener was looking for a secure solution for transferring files. The question was how to send files securely without the need for the recipient to install anything at their end. Although between the show and geek community, there were some great solutions, I thought I would share my own here. If I ever need quick and easy file sharing, particularly to send large files, I use Dropshare with Backblaze B2 for storage. For extra security, Dropshare can create password protected URLs to protect your file transfers.

Using DropShare to Send Large Files

Dropshare is essentially an open alternative to CloudApp or Droplr. The idea is a quick and easy method to bypass email for transferring files. To risk stating the obvious, email has never been an ideal for transporting anything other small files. Even allowing for limited file size, there are too many moving parts to ensure it is secure, and it can be slow and unreliable. Most people get around this with more generic cloud storage, like Dropbox, but using a purpose built solution is faster and more convenient. File transfer services were built from the need for fast sharing of image files and videos direct from the desktop, and have evolved from there.

 

The crucial difference between CloudApp or Droplr, and Dropshare, is where your files are stored. Like the first two, Dropshare has its own cloud service 1, but not only does it support numerous other connections, but users can setup multiple locations to choose between. That means rather than paying a monthly fee and dealing with usage caps and so on, you can buy the app outright and set it up how you like. Supported connections include Rackspace, Azure, Amazon S3, Google Drive, or any custom S3-API connection, which means using Digital Ocean and others. You can even set it up to use your Synology NAS, or to use SCP over SSH.

Then there is the connection I’m pushing, Backblaze B2. Backblaze gives you 10Gb of B2 storage for free. Not only is that more than enough storage for my needs, but I already use Backblaze for personal backup. Enabling B2 storage requires a tick box in one’s user account, and setting up storage containers is dead easy. In. short, its secure, free and easy. 2

Private and Secure File Transfer with Dropshare

With Dropshare, the workflow is literally drag and drop to have an SSL link attached to your clipboard. If you want further security, you can create an access-restricted URL that adds a password and expiry date to the link. You can even add link tracking, and Dropshare can randomise the file name if you don’t trust yourself to name your transfers carefully 3. You can do similar things with Dropbox and other cloud services, but that almost always requires a paid account.

The way link privacy works is Dropshare acts as a proxy, so the actual URL for the file isn’t revealed. There are a couple of things to be aware of here, first this means the file will pass through a Dropshare server to be downloaded. Dropshare doesn’t save the files or keep any logs, but you are still trusting a third party. Second, this shouldn’t be confused with encrypting files. If you have truly sensitive material you want to send, you need to encrypt the files separately. For a simple solution, an app like MacPaw’s free Encrypto can do that for you.

A Host of Other Cool Features

If a simple customisable, and private workflow isn’t enough, Dropshare has a number of other nice features. Like CloudApp and Droplr, there are tools for capturing screenshots and video on the fly. You can do the same with text by composing a note directly, or better still use the builtin Markdown translator to post an HTML document that can be opened in the browser from the link itself. Setup a custom landing page, shorten URLs, or mirror an iOS device. It even has a command line tool. The list goes on.

Where to Get DropShare

Dropshare is yet another gem that comes with a Setapp subscription, or you can pick it up direct for 24,99€. An full featured iOS version is also available.

  1. Based in Germany, a decent choice given Germany’s privacy laws
  2. The one caveat is B2 limits downloads to 1Gb per day. Anything over that will cost the princly sum of $0.01 per GB. That’s right, one cent.
  3. The file name is revealed even in a restricted link

Quick Fix: Mount Encrypted APFS Drive with AppleScript

automatically unlock an APFS volume with AppleScript

To supplement last week’s post on automatically mounting an external drive to create a clone, here is a quick tip for doing the same thing with an encrypted APFS volume. Ideally, you should be encrypting your backups. If you’re running macOS 10.13 High Sierra, or the impending macOS Mojave, then you will be cloning your system to an APFS volume. If that’s the case, you’ll need to no how to automatically unlock APFS volume with AppleScript.

Automatically unlock APFS volume with AppleScript

There is a little more work involved here, but none of it difficult. The file system might be new, but diskutil is still the command line program doing all the work managing volumes. There is simply a couple more commands involved. This assumes you have already encrypted the drive with Disk Utility.

To mount, or rather unlock an encrypted APFS volume with AppleScript, we need the following information:

  • APFS volume ID
  • Cryptographic user ID
  • The encryption password

The password is the same one you used when you formatted the drive. Here is how to get the other two pieces of the puzzle.

  1. Find the APFS volume ID for your clone drive. You can see this information clearly in Disk Utility. For every volume listed there is a table of information, the device field has what you are looking for. It is some variation of disk1s1. Or if you prefer, with the drive already mounted you can run a terminal command to have the information of all your drives listed, like so:

diskutil apfs list

That command will take a moment, then print a whole lot of information to screen like below. Look for volume you intend to clone your system to and note down the APFS Volume Disk.

Automatically Unlock Apfs Volume With Applescript
You can find the APFS volume ID in a couple of places, if you know where to look
  1. Once you have the volume ID.  In the terminal run the following command (replace ‘apfs_volume_id’ with your disk)

diskutil apfs listcryptousers /dev/apfs_volume_id

You will get something that looks like this:

+-- B4BA200D-B0B7-4AB2-A48C-BDE9FFA7E3BA
	Type: Disk User
	Hint: 1pw

That long alphanumeric code is the Cryptographic user. Copy that code and you have everything you need to make your AppleScript work.

  1. Create the AppleScript to automatically mount your encrypted APFS volume. The script looks like this:
do shell script "diskutil apfs unlockVolume [name_of_your_drive] -user B4BA200D-B0B7-4AB2-A48C-BDE9FFA7E3BA -passphrase [enter your passphrase here]" 

Naturally, you will enter the name of your drive, and replace the user code with the one you copied above. Make sure you remove the square brackets.

  1. Find a way to launch the script when you need it. There are a bunch of options in my previous post. My preferred option is currently Keyboard Maestro, but an Automator Calendar Alarm, or Lingon X work just as well.

Congratulations, you can automatically unlock an APFS volume with AppleScript.

 

Photo by Patrick Lindenberg on Unsplash

Enable Safari Hidden Features with Debug Menu

I found Safari Browser to be a nightmare in its cross platform days. It says a lot for its progress that has become my preferred browser. The modern version is fast, efficient with resources, and proactive about tracking protection. Recent announcements also suggest that protection will continue to improve.  Using 1Blocker for iOS and macOS , I can manage my browsing experience across Mac and iOS without weighing the app down with extensions. Add to that recent additions such as iOS type privacy settings, and the already excellent continuity features like handoff, and reading list. Put simply, using Safari is easy.  It might not be as extensible as Chrome or Firefox, but like those browsers, Safari has a number of hidden features.

Enabling Safari Hidden Features

Finding Safari hidden features requires enabling a couple of menus that are disable by default. The easiest one to enable is the Develop menu. To do that, open preferences, advanced, and simply tick the box: ‘Show Develop menu in menu bar'. Restart Safari and it will appear, giving you new options to do things like disable Javascript, clear caches, or change the user agent among other things.

Safari Browser Hidden Features
Enable the Develop menu in the advanced preferences

The other hidden menu is the lessor known Debug menu, which requires some basic terminal foo to reveal. The intrepid and curious will have a range of new preferences to tweak

  • Open Terminal: If you’re a mouse jockey click on the Go menu in Finder, and select Utilities. If you’re a keyboard warrior hit ⌘ + Space and start typing Terminal.
  • Once you have the Terminal open either type, or copy and past the following command:

defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeInternalDebugMenu 1

  • Press return, then restart Safari. Presto, you have a new menu.

Safari Hidden Features to Enable

Macos Safari Browser Hidden Features
From the debug menu users can disable inline video altogether

Until recently, this was the only way you could disable autoplay video on annoying sites. Thankfully, Safari will now allow you to set site specific preferences , content blocking, and so on. It doesn’t always work the way it should in my experience, but setting a global flag in the debug menu takes care of it. Under Media Flags, enable ‘Video Needs User Action’, or ‘Audio Needs User Action’, depending on your needs. You can also disable inline video altogether.

Other handy features include the ability to disable some of Safari’s energy management. If you have attention madness like I do, you might find your open tabs getting out of control. Rather than creating epic memory leaks, Safari will suspend background tabs that aren’t being used. The browser is smart about how it does this, but it doesn’t suit everybody. For some users, having to reload a suspended tab can be a real nuisance. For instance, if you do a lot of research you might want to keep all your tabs live. If this is you, the option to disable background tab suspension is under miscellaneous flags.

There are a lot more flags, some more useful than others. To state the obvious, you can break stuff by playing with them, but that’s half the fun.

Creating Smart Reading Lists on iOS with Notebooks

Ios Workflow Notebooks Tasklist Reading

If Notebooks isn’t best note taking app for iPad, it is definitely the most underrated.  If you're looking for a markdown notes app, a writing app, or a document storage container with a few unique tricks, you won’t find many better. Part notebook, part storage locker, and part GTD task management system. That might sound like a janky combination, but not only does it work well, it looks pretty too. It has been around for a while, so in lieu of a comprehensive review, I want to highlight a particular feature I haven’t seen anywhere else. The ability to turn notes into tasks.

If you have a lot of reading to keep up with from a variety of sources, this is very handy. For planning and tracking big reading projects I still use TaskPaper on macOS, with its counterpart TaskMator on iOS. That system works well, with the outliner style lists making it easy to break up books, journals and so on with due dates. Using Notebooks has a distant advantage over that system, as it can collect the reading material itself. Web pages, notes, PDF documents, Word files, you can read them all directly in Notebooks. It will even let you index epub files to open in a third-party reader, like Marvin. Remember, at its core this is note taking app, while reading you can highlight text, make annotations, take clippings, and more. You can also take notes.

Notebooks Reading List Workflow

Ios Workflow Notebooks Reading List
The Notebooks URL scheme is simple to use, and does a great job of importing multiple data types

This is a simple idea that in practice will help keep track of reading lists, note revisions, or really anything text based. It’s true you can fashion a similar system by chaining apps like DEVONthink and Things 3 together. To my mind this is more elegant, or at least less confusing.

It works like this. As I collect reading material, I drop it into a Notebook that has been setup as a task list. When I’m on the clock I can setup due dates, reminders and so on. More importantly, I can tick items off as I go, meaning a quick visual guide is available to measure progress. It’s easy enough to use Notebooks’ share extension for this — or bookmarklets on the Mac — but there are two alternative methods I prefer. First, Notebooks has a very hand URL scheme which is clever about capturing all kinds of data, which makes setting up a custom action extension for Workflow trivial.

You can download the workflow here

Notebooks Drag and Drop

Notebooks Best Note Taking Ipad
Multitasking with drag and drop makes collecting articles trivial

The Workflow action above is especially handy on the iPhone, but the iPad has another option that is easier still. Notebooks has excellent support for the drag and drop feature of iOS 11. So if you don’t fancy using Workflow, you can use multitasking to simply drag links and files directly into a reading list. Or, you can use something like the excellent shelf app Gladys to hold the material you collect before dropping it into Notebooks later. Gladys now has a Mac version too, which adds some continuity to the workflow.

Best note taking apps for college
Using a shelf app like Gladys gives you a chance to triage material before it is adding to the list

Among the Best Note Taking Apps

If you follow this site, you probably know by now that all my data ends up in DEVONthink, one way, or another. Whatever passes through Notebooks still ends up there, but DEVONthink’s super power is search. It has passable editing and annotation tools, but I prefer doing the interactive work before it ends up in what is essentially a personal research database. For a lot of users Notebooks might even be enough. While the task management features were no doubt conceived for GTD nerds, they end up making Notebooks among the best note taking apps for college, or university users. The caveat being it's not a handwriting app. In fact if anything holds it back, that would be it. I would get around that by using Nebo as a capture tool myself, they complement each other well.

If DEVONthink’s not your jam, or you’re looking to replace Evernote with something private and local, Notebooks is a handsome and feature rich app. It has relative feature parity across macOS, and iOS, and a lot of unexpected touches. GTD purists could configure tickler files, and contexts until their head is sufficiently empty of all that arduous, excess thought. 1. It can even run its own local WebDAV server for private local sync. It sounds strange, but it’s really not.

  1. I’m joking, you beautiful nerd you.

Create Smarter Presentations with Deckset for macOS

Deckset Macos Presentation Software

Presenting complex ideas in a clear, and simple way is as undervalued as it is difficult to master. It doesn’t help that established presentation software is mostly dated, awkward, and time-consuming. Just as we have with writing apps, we have painted ourselves into a corner with presentation tools. Keynote can standalone as an alternative to Powerpoint. And yet, if you pressed me for a list of cool presentation tools, you wouldn't find either of those. It would be a short list, but you would definitely find Deckset 2.0 there.

Deckset is a presentation making app with an entirely different user experience. Especially if you’ve only ever used Powerpoint or Keynote. It seems Focus has become common currency in creative software of late, but Deckset delivers it in an unexpected way. Taking all the fuss, and fiddle out of presentation design by creating slick presentations from text files. With Deckset you can get back to what you should be doing, focusing on ideas.

Presentation Software or Powerpoint by default

In 2013, Microsoft estimated there were 30 million Powerpoint presentations given per day. That figure is likely to have moved on considerably. Everywhere there are presentations, there is Powerpoint. Just as Word has become synonymous with writing, and other text-based productivity, Powerpoint is the de facto byword for slide deck presentations. At the same time, Powerpoint is time-consuming, confusing and frustrating. Despite efforts to trim the product, it carries the compound baggage of an ageing codebase, run through with compromise. Like most users of Word, I strongly suspect Powerpoint users are in the application by default.

Deckset has the pedigree to follow the recent success of writing apps like Ulysses, which continue to popularise a previously niche medium. A similar user base will find in Deckset an ideal alternative to Powerpoint, or Keynote. Even if you’re a wizard with one of those apps, I’d wager you could save yourself time, and get to the point quicker if honing the words, and not tweaking transition animations.

I expect Deckset users will be largely self-selecting. Then again, I’m confident that many potential users don’t yet realise they should be part of that group. If the point is communicating ideas, then eliminating friction in the design of a presentation is paramount.Deckset’s neat trick, is to build polished slide decks from the raw material of your content, the text itself. You create the presentations from Markdown files, in a text editor. The slide deck itself literally gets out of your way while you concentrate on the message.

Plain Text is Simply Plain, Text

Cool Presentation Tools
With Deckset, you create presentations in Markdown. It comes with pre-loaded with example based tutorials like this to get your started

Despite the growing popularity alluded to above, there still exists a curious irony around the uptake of plain text utilities. Many prospective users seem concerned that plain text software will be difficult to use. In reality, the program left behind is often more complicated. Applications built around Markdown are some of the most simple and effective apps you will find for any purpose.

I was latecomer to the joys of plain text. If only I could reclaim all the years flushed by grappling with rich text, word processors, and bloated slide-deck programs. A small amount of time learning to write in Markdown can save you hours upon hours. The obvious gains are from time spent dealing with constantly shifting design elements, configuring and adjusting styles over and again. But then, there are the more intangible gains from working with words in their raw form.

Everything written about the focus of writing in plain text applies to slide deck presentations with Deckset. This is what makes it such an ingenious app. Just the same, if you’re still unsure about creating in Markdown, nothing can make this point better than a quick demonstration. The beauty of learning Markdown is you only have to see it to know how it works. It’s not code, it’s a clever markup language that translates into code. With an app like Deckset, you can simply open up the template files, and you’re away. If you want a primer this is everything you need to know to get started using plain text productivity apps like iA Writer, Ulysses, or Deckset.

Markdown in a Minute

Create headings with the hash symbol (#): 1

# Big Heading
## Slightly Smaller Heading
### And so on...

Use two asterisks on either side of words, or either side of a sentence to emphasise words in bold, like so:

**bold type**

Likewise, place an underscore on either side of a word, or sentence to emphasise in italics, like so: 2

_italics_ 

Unordered, and ordered lists are intuitive. Each line starts with a hyphen, or numeral + period, like this:


- Something
- And, something else
- Make up an unordered list


1. First item
2. Second item
3. Item number three

If you want to turn a word into a clickable link, place it in square brackets, followed by the link itself in parentheses:

[Anchor Word](www.yourlink.com)

Explaining how to format a footnote is more complicated than making one, so it looks like this:

[^1]: This is a footnote

Or, you can do the same with a name

[^Bentley-Payne, 2018]: Something Completely Different

With this, you have everything you need to get started with Markdown. There is more you can do with it, of course. There also exists a few variations on the original syntax, with flavours that support additional elements. The differences are always minimal, but the foundations always remain the same.

User Experience, and Careful Decisions

Cool Presentation Tools
Deckset has everything you need for ecuational presentations

Enthusiasts and geeks like to talk about responsive developers. By all accounts the builders of Deckset, Unsigned Integer, have taken a user-centric approach to developing their app. There is nothing more responsive than improving an app with user feedback. Much requested customisation features in the new release allow users to create and share themes, or tweak existing one to suit their needs. And, it’s not just about the nerds.

For a seemingly geeky app, Deckset is welcome respite, either as a Powerpoint and Keynote alternative, or as a first slide deck app. The user experience scales from simple automated layout based workflows to more bespoke, and sophisticated presentations — and all without sacrificing itself to complexity. One gets the impression that behind every feature lies a careful decision.

The considered approach is evident beyond the interface itself, with clarity a feature of the product on the whole. For instance, clearly Unsigned Interger recognise the relevance of Deckset to education. Among the documentation there is a deck outlining features inherently important for teaching presentations. Tabular information, equation formatting, captioned images and videos, it’s all there. As is rehearsal mode, speaker notes, and a PDF export function for class handouts. Taking the decision to leave the Mac App Store, means more flexibility in pricing. Deckset 2.0 is now available to education users for a discount.

Goldilocks and the Slide Presentation Tool

Deckset Macos Presentation App.png

Having run Deckset 2.0 through its paces, I almost wish I had more presentations to give. It would easily make my lists of current favourite macOS apps.  The revelation that slideshow software had become a sinkhole into which ideas themselves could easily fall persuaded me to all but give up on slide decks. Powerpoint is especially guilty. Although I find Keynote still has its uses, they’re mostly off-label, and fewer all the time. For the past couple conferences, I’ve gone analogue, delivering from a piece of paper to the room. Deckset has turned my head back the other way, by finally providing a happy medium.

If you want to take a look, Deckset offers a free trial. A single license is available for a one-time cost of USD $29. Or, if you’re an education user, you can request a generous 50% discount.

  1. Octothorp
  2. Sometimes a single asterisk on each side

App Highlights: Best of the Mac in 2017

Best Macos Apps 2017 Setapp

Welcome back productivity nerds. This is part two of a gripping trilogy on software highlights from 2017. In part one, I catalogued some of my favourite iPad apps from last year. The meat between the iOS device sandwich, is of course the Mac. So here we go again.

Before we begin, if you’re interested a number of the apps on this list come with Setapp. That is something I’ve written enough about recently, so if you'd like to read more about Setapp,  you can  do so here. The apps in question are clearly marked with the appropriate links. Remember, these are just the highlights.

Back to the Mac

Things 3

Best Mac Apps 2017 Things 3
Things 3 has everything I need in a task manager.

 

The barometer I use for organisational tools is how much time it takes to manage them. That I spend very little time in the app itself, is a good indication Things is doing what it’s supposed to. The way Things handles the inbox is better than any other task manager I have used. I don't feel like I am double handling tasks. I thought I might miss the automation of Todoist, but so far I haven't really, the email to Things feature is enough.

Scrivener 3

Best Mac Apps 2017 Scrivener 3
Scrivener's facelift, and feature upgrade improved an already excellent application

I still haven’t found the time to write this up properly, but I did give it a cursory post. While you can get lightweight versions of some features, there still nothing like Scrivener. This new version is a long way from the early skeuomorphic days. Now that the interface is so crisp, and clean, it looks every bit the modern Mac app. Further to the visual touches, a long list of new features have improved an already powerful piece of software. If you do any kind of serious long-form writing, and you’re still using a traditional word processor, I’m sorry but you’re mad. 1

Ulysses

Best Mac Apps 2017 Ulysses
Most of my day to day writing takes place in Ulysses

Ulysses also makes the charts across both platforms. I use Scrivener a little more on macOS. But as I mentioned in the iPad post, all other project based, long-form writing, and content for this blog is created in Ulysses. I now also use it for posting directly to WordPress, and I couldn’t be happier with how well that works. Setapp takes care of my Ulysses subscription on macOS, and iOS.

Highlights

Most of my reading, annotating, and editing of PDFs happens on the iPad now. I’m so used to doing that work with an Apple Pencil that marking up PDFs on a Mac can be frustrating. Despite that, there are occasions that demand more screen space, and sometime I need to extract a lot of text from a PDF. Highlights can extract highlighted text, and annotations in Markdown, which is something I cannot do on iOS — defintely not in markdown. 2 Now that DEVONthink handles all of my OCR needs, this is the only other PDF app I need on the Mac.

DEVONthink Pro Office

While coverage has focused on the iOS version, 2017 was also the year I went all in with DEVONthink on macOS. I once shared the superficial concerns of some prospective users, but even if i’d like to see the interface overhauled, I’m glad I got over myself. 3 DEVONthink is a heavyweight application, so getting the most from it takes time. The depth of functionality is perfectly suited to the archive, search, and retrieve workflows required of serious research, so that time is worth investing. I no longer have any trouble finding important documents. My records are organised with some sanity, and I know how, and where to find research I have spent considerable time gathering.

TaskPaper

Best Mac Apps 2017 Taskpaper
Taskpaper is part nerdy task manger, part super-powered outliner

I have known about TaskPaper for a long time, but never really used it properly. That changed last year. With TaskPaper’s plain text super powers, I have cobbled together something resembling a system for planning and tracking my reading, among other things. It might seem like overkill to be employing a form of task management on top of a dedicated task manager, but it helps my scattered mind no end to seperate the finer details. Setapp

Marked 2

Anyone working with text should have this in their kit. No matter what that work entails. Marked is a kind of Swiss army knife for writers. If you are relentlessly obsessive about what you do with words, you will recognise a fellow traveller in this app. It even includes features to improve your writing. Anything I write about Marked risks underselling it. It’s worth a hell of a lot more than what it will cost you. Setapp

Spillo

Best Mac Apps 2017 Spillo
Spillo is the best macOS client for my favourite bookmarking service, Pinboard.in

I archive a lot of data in DEVONthink, but I don’t use it for bookmarks. Instead I use the perennial wonder machine, Pinboard.in for archiving web pages. Spillo is easily my favourite macOS client for pinboard. Minimal, and opinionated with just the right amount of nerdiness. It’s fully scriptable, and even has its own plugin SDK. Since setting up an Alfred workflow with Spillo, I get more use out of Pinboard than ever.

Being and Nerdiness

Tower

Until last year, I hadn’t done any programming for a long time. I still don’t, but I can at least lay claim to vandalising code in my attempts to learn how to. For my humble use of git as it is, Tower is more than I need. Then again, using such a wonderfully designed piece of software can only be helpful if I’m to learn things the right way. Working Copy on iOS is currently my favourite Git client on any platform, but this is a pretty close second. Things could change any day now.

Sublime Text with SFTP

Best Macos Apps 2017 Sublime
There is a reason Sublime is preferred by so many developers

I agonised over choosing a text editor for learning development skills. With growing support out there for Visual Studio, I gave it a test run. If easier to configure, ultimately I didn’t like working in it. I tried Atom, and liked the general feel, but I can’t yet benefit from its configurability — honestly it felt kind of slow. In the end, true to form, I landed where I started. Now that I have it set up properly, Sublime text has become one of my favourite applications. As for extensibility, the Sublime SFTP package is the best thirty bucks I have spent in some time.

Forklift

Another of the technical tools I require, this one has a lot of tricks. To call Forklift the best FTP client I know of would undersell it4. With a slick designed dual pane file browser, file syncing, drive mounting, keyboard kung fu, and all round excellence, these days it is always open on my Mac. Setapp

Super Duper!

The most deceptively simple looking app I own. Super Duper overcame a momentary rough patch to deliver an unbelievable improvement to an already excellent utility. With the advent of APFS, it now creates bootable snapshots. The scheduler works so efficiently, I hardly even notice. I can’t begin to express the peace of mind.

The Digital Cage

Timing

There was an intense time-tracking trend among a sub-section of nerds last year. Trust me, that’s not happening here. I find the idea of tracking every aspect of your life disturbing. I use this app in a much less pervasive way, for tracking writing projects. I gather data on how long it takes me to write certain things, so I can better understand deadlines. Whether self-imposed, or not. Timing makes this easy, as it can automatically capture time spent in particular applications. Setapp

Cardhop

A contacts app is not something that would ordinarily interest me, I have only humble contact management needs. Since contact syncing started to work properly, I have been happy to use the native contacts app and forget about it. I felt much the same way about calendars until I tried Fantastical. The Flexibits natural language engine is like magic, and sure enough they have put it to good use in Cardhop.

Utilities

Alfred

Spotlight can only take you so far. For keyboard warriors, an application launcher is mandatory. Beyond a long list of built in features, Alfred is an endlessly extensible, powerful automation tool. An active, and generous user community means there are workflows for just about anything, and help at hand if you want to hack together your own.

iMazing

This is one of those utilities I never knew I needed. It’s common knowledge iTunes is a mess. Apple’s answer is to remove things without replacing them. Whenever it seems I can no longer do something with an iOS device, the answer is iMazing. Setapp

1Blocker

I could have put this on the iOS list too. I published a post recently on how I use 1Blocker to keep me sane while using the internet. Whether you want to block ads or not, the web is often a shady place. Stopping yourself from being tracked might be a hopeless pursuit, but you can at least make it difficult. I’m happy knowing my computing resources aren’t being filched for crypto-mining. I’m also a control freak, so I’ll let through what I please thank you very much.

Radio Silence

For much the same reason as above. I prefer to know what’s dialling home. While incredibly powerful, Little Snitch is too noisy for my liking. Radio Silence is much more simple, and yet it still gives me the control I want. In short, this little firewall rules.

Bartender 3

Without this little utility, my menu bar would look insane. Version 3 was released a few months back. Instead of dropping beneath, the menu bar now toggles between your main utilities and whatever you choose to hide. A subtle, but worthwhile change. It works so well it will probably be sherlocked.

Making and Breaking

Pixelmator Pro

Best Mac Apps 2017 Pixelmator Pro
Pixelmator Pro is a powerful image editor that even a novice can understand

This is an aspirational app at the moment,  it’s probably overkill. My image editing needs a fairly simple, and most of it is done on the iPad. Especially now, with Affinity Photo on iPad Pro. However, Pixelmator has always been an app that I could grok easier than other image editors, so I picked this up in the hope that I could develop some chops. What little I have done with it so far, has been a pleasure.

Audio Hijack

Best Mac Apps 2017 Audio Hijack
If you need to capture audio on your Mac, Audio Hijack is as good as it gets

Another project yet to see the light of day led me to this audio marvel. If you have any cause for routing, or capturing audio on your Mac, this is how you do it. The modular, drag and drop, visual workflow, makes sense out of confusing audio chains. Along with all the built in audio processing, it even supports Audio Unit plugins.

  1. The idea of long-form writing seems to have taken on new meaning recently. To be clear, I’m referring to books, theses, and so on. For long blog posts, it might be overkill.
  2. Unless somebody knows an app that can do this?
  3. It could probably lose a few features
  4. Yes, yes SFTP. Of course.

Last chance for a year’s free subscription to Setapp

Year Free Setapp

In case you missed it

The Appademic has a free subscription for a year of Setapp to give away. If you don’t know what Setapp is, it’s like a curated App Store. You pay a small subscription fee, and you get access to everything. No in-app purchases, no advertisements, and every upgrade that ever ships. The apps they have are awesome, there are over a hundred now. The collection includes Ulysses, 2Do, iThoughtsX, Marked, RapidWeaver, Studies, Manuscripts. It goes on, and on.

If you want to know more about the service, here is the original post for the give-away: Appademic Giveaway: Win a Year's Setapp Subscription

How to Enter

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