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 woudn'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. 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

Some Brief Thoughts on Things 3 vs Todoist

Things 3 better than Todoist

Everybody’s talking about Things 3. Now that I’m on the bandwagon, here is my take on what makes it presently the best task manager for macOS and iOS — for me at least. Inevitably this mean comparison with what I turned over along the way. Running pathological optimism means I’ve tried them all, but Todoist got left behind this time round. I’m not here to run that app down, it remains excellent for many reasons — maybe even better in ways that don’t matter to my workflow. But, should you be wondering, is Things 3 better than Todoist, perhaps this will be useful.

Todoist or not Todoist

I‘ve only been using Things 3 for a few months. In truth, I’m generally suspicious of trends, so I tried to avoid it while I still had good reason to. Even if I’m only making excuses, I need more than new and shiny. Thankfully, a genuine reason presented itself when my Todoist subscription was up for renewal. The cost of renewing that sub wasn’t much less than buying the Things 3 suite outright. Between the annually recurrent cost, and various Todoist annoyances, it was worth kicking the tyres. As it turned out, a trial on macOS convinced me to jump.

Initially there were two features I missed from Todoist. I’m over them both already. First, the API allowed me to use Zapier, and/or IFTTT for various automations. Second is the natural language parsing for task entry. At least I missed that until I realised it’s either a bonhomie for laziness, or an easy way to fill up a task list with lots of nonsense you’ll never do. Never mind that with a keyboard the difference in keystrokes is minimal. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to see better natural language support added to Things 3 — it does include some basic date parsing abilities — but it doesn’t come close to being the show stopper I thought it might. If anything, the relative slowdown — minimal as it is — helps add a little more deliberation into the process.

 

best task manager for macOS and iOS
Things 3 includes very basic natural language parsing for dates

To the first point, with native automation Cultured Code has made significant inroads to mitigate some of the abilities lost by not having an API. By all accounts, the recent addition of a deep, and flexible URL scheme is just the beginning, with other innovations on the way.I would argue that inter-app automation is not just as useful, but in some ways more relevant. The automation I used most would automatically copy editorial tasks to Trello. I was able to create an analogue of that on iOS, using Workflow.  Anyone who complains about the ‘extra step’ of pushing a button could look out the window once in a while.

Native inter-app automation breaks dependence on the web. In the process it cuts back the surface area of data-sharing with third-parties. More than that, there is an immediacy to working locally that allows for sharing rich data. Being able to delineate notes, mind maps, or outlines into actions opens up all kinds of possibility for continuity.  Particularly for a writing workflow. This makes a lot of sense for academic work, research, and writing. Or for any other kind of work that includes creative planning.

It’s true the barrier to entry for URL based automation is a little higher than web automation. It’s not that it’s difficult to grasp, more that building the links themselves can be tedious. Cultured Code appear wise to this, having created a link building tool on their website. With nothing left to miss, one can enjoy all the benefits delivered by clever design choices, and opinionated simplicity. Ironically, my biggest concern over both those features was the possibility for double handling and time wasting. And yet, Things 3 is both an app I would rather spend time using, and one I don’t have to.

Subtleties

Things 3 better than Todoist
Subtle design elements make Things 3 a pleasure to use

While these new automation features are getting all the attention right now, it’s a couple of subtle, but significant design choices that make Things 3 so effective. I found the flexibility of Todoist equal parts powerful and beguiling. Getting the most from it requires one to configure projects, labels, and priorities to facilitate query filters built around those different pieces of metadata. If you get it right you can contextualise your workload with extremely specific queries. This is a major strength if you need that kind of detail, however, with so much configuring, and fiddling to get it right, it can also be a headache. I never felt like I had it configured very well, so the temptation to reconfigure always hovered.

Things 3 is completely different. I'm not going to run through all of its features, there are better places for that. For my money, what makes Things 3 worth recommending is a couple of subtleties that mean I spend less time managing my task list.

The first touch is indicative of the user experience in general. The way Things 3 handles the inbox. Processing is simple, a task only requires one touch for removal from view. If all you ever want to do is put due dates on your tasks, Things 3 will consider them processed and essentially remove them from view, until the day they require actioning. If you’re wired to slowly disintegrate when faced with growing clutter, this is priceless. Most task mangers have some kind of filtered view to show you only the tasks you need to see, but they all require a lot more interaction. Things 3 is designed to cut back on over-processing by making it extremely simple to get a hold on what needs doing. In that way it’s the opposite of Todoist, but that doesn’t mean it is without flexibility.

The emphasis in the Things 3 user experience is on aesthetics. As a method for task management, it leans on visual organisation. Elements like headings, tags, and manual ordering, can be employed in the myriad ways. They can even constitute productivity systems favoured by nerds. On the flipside, Things offers enough customisation to avoid forcing users into an inflexible, or totalising system. Configuration requires little fuss if simplicity is your thing.  Or, the various organisational delimiters apply to whatever bespoke version of getting things done you run with.

Data Security

With this app being written about so much, I might surprised to have hardly seen security mentioned, if it weren’t for the fact this is an area that very little light is shined on in general with task managers. Given I was using Todoist, it would be a little rich to take Things 3 to task over security holes. I would argue that Todoist does the minimum required for data security; they could do more. While the mechanics are similar, it's a fact that  Things 3 is better than Todoist on security. Cultured Code use better encryption, and provide better insight into what they are doing. Nonetheless, the proprietary syncing would be dramatically improved with client side encryption.

From a personal point of view — and this was the same stance I had with Todoist — should anyone hack them, my own task list would not be the most exciting or revelatory reading. Unfortunately, in taking this stance I’m part of the problem, as it overlooks the importance of data security in general. Users so commonly make these kinds of compromises, we excuse developers from making improvements. Who can blame them for focusing on the squeeky door? A little more noise would go a long way to ensuring security standards are improved more generally.

Cultured Code suggests they may add client side encryption ‘at a later time’, I would add that it is on users to ensure they do that by making clear it is necessary. This remains an opportunity for them, especially considering the OmniGroup are setting the standard for end-to-end encryption in their software. Which means, if you cannot afford to compromise on security at all, I would recommend using OmniFocus. With all the changes coming this year, OmniFocus is worth keeping an eye on. Should they drastically improve the user experience, the security factor will have me sorely tempted to jump again. In the meantime, if you’re using Things 3, know that your data is pretty secure, but not that secure.

Is Things the best Task Manager for macOS and iOS?

That seems to be the question everyone wants answered, but changing your task manager for the sake of it is madness. Unless it’s your hobby, in which case I can’t help you. 1 If you have something that is working well for you nEverybody’s talking about Things 3. Now that I’m on the bandwagon, here is my take on what makes it presently the best task manager for macOS and iOSow, I’m an advocate for the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ adage. On the other hand, if you’re struggling with an unnecessarily complex setup, or software that ends up being another thing to manage, you could do a lot worse than give Things 3 a look. It is being talked about with good reason. 2 If you have never used a task manager before, choosing the right one can be confusing, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to new users.

For my own purposes, right now Things 3 is the best task manager for macOS and iOS. While not perfect by any means, it manages to walk the fine line between simplicity, and customisation. Again, my aim is not to deride Todoist, nothing has stopped it bearing the standard for cross platform support, collaboration, and web automation. But, if you’re already half way out the door, in many ways I have found Things 3 better than Todoist.

For macOS users, a free trial for Things 3 is available, or you can pick it up on the Mac App Store. Unfortunately, the iOS app is not universal, so you do have to buy seperate apps for iPhone and iPad. Although, that does mean if you want to try it out on iOS without going all in, you can purchase the cheaper iPhone version to get started.

  1. Unless I can recommend a good book
  2. For one thing, it is the first task manager that hasn’t found a way to truly annoy me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Safari Browser: Improving the Web with 1Blocker

best safari content blocker

Beyond the ruckus around content blockers to iOS, you will find plenty of legitimate reasons to employ them. Let’s face it, these days the internet is cesspool of malware masquerading as legitimate technology. Take one look at the doublespeak around intelligent tracking protection in Safari and you will get a sense of what is at stake. I won't delve into those arguments here. If you read this site regularly, you have a pretty good idea of where I stand.

No, this is not about tracking, but one of the internet’s other most beguiling annoyances. Since the advent of Webkit blocking, projects like Better by ind.ie have tried to work admirably at balancing the blocking of invasive web trackers, and other nefarious practices, with understanding the struggles of independent publishers.1 Yet, as the results are still opinionated the blocker decides what will be let through, and that is that. There is only one content blocker I know of that gives me the kind of control necessary to be considerate, while blocking out elements I'd rather not see. I’m talking about the dumpster fire of opinion found in most comments sections.

What I didn’t expect when I started using 1Blocker, was an interpretation of internet annoyances that dovetailed with my own. Out of the box 1Blocker blocks comments on websites. It’s not perfect, the mechanics of webkit blocking mean if you block comments, it blocks them everywhere. You’re guaranteed to find some of the most base, vulgar, and offensive baiting anywhere on the internet in comments sections. One way or another I would find myself reading comments, then trying to mitigate the ugly feelings I have about the world thereafter. Since installing 1Blocker , the internet hasn’t been nearly as irksome.

If you don’t already know, Webkit content blockers work differently to classic ad-blockers. Using something like uBlock Origin might give you the same results, but it won’t work on iOS, and it can’t offer the performance of a Webkit content blocker. In their own words,

While most other extensions block content by filtering elements of already downloaded page, 1Blocker uses native blocking technology to tell Safari in advance what should be blocked. This vastly improves efficiency and saves battery life.

Elements and Rules

There are places, albeit very few, where comments are still useful and engaging. Chances are, if you happen to frequent such a site, you may be amenable to adding it to the whitelist. Or if you would prefer to work the other way around, you can use 1Blocker’s hide element tool — which works on macOS and iOS — to block elements on a case by case basis. I have chosen the nuclear option, and not just because it defaults to no comments.

I’m using the example of comments, but internet annoyances don’t end there. 1Blocker recently started blocking crypto-mining scripts by default. If you’re happy digging in the inspector, you can build your own custom packages to block anything you want. You can only create rules on macOS, they will sync to iOS automatically.

best safari content blocker
1Blocker includes a powerful custom package builder that allows users more control of their browsing experience

I don’t run ads on this site, in fact I have been woefully inadequate at encouraging more support of the site. 1  However, there a numerous sites I frequent that include some form of relatively subtle advertising. I use the free Disconnect browser extension to visualise the trackers set by sites, if I’m happy the site is not doing anything nefarious I can whitelist it in 1Blocker. The result is an internet experience that doesn’t make me want to scratch my own eyes out.  As a considerable bonus,  it allows me to support people doing what I consider to be the right thing.

1Blocker is available on macOS, and has both a free and premium version on iOS

The Appademic is giving away 5 free copies of DEVONthink to Go for iOS. Find the details here

 

  1. Something I will have to address soon, if it is to live on ↩︎

 

Integrations: A Surprisingly Unique Text Editor and Secure Email

Canary Secure Ios Macos Email Client

A little down time can pique all manner of curiosities, especially at this time of year. As folks start reeling in the list of promises they’ll probably never keep, workflow changes are usually in the picture. I'm no different, and much as I'd like to pretend I am. I sometimes like to look in on projects I have either passed by, or promised to come back to. The following are a couple of apps that fit that profile. Canary Mail is an alternative secure email client for iOS, and macOS, while Typora is a cross platform, markdown text editor. The thematic connection between the two is the interesting integrations they both have, Canary with PGP, and Typora with Pandoc.

Alter Secure Mail Client that Isn’t Ugly As Hell

Secure Alternative Email Client
The rapidly improving Canary Mail is worth a look if you need a security focused email client

Everybody hates their email client. It’s a difficult problem to solve, but it remains a necessary evil, so we have no choice. Some time last year some time I was invited to participate in the Beta for Canary Mail . At the time I opened it up, thought it looked promising but remained under-developed, then I mostly forgot about it.

I thought of again when I found myself in a discussion about the terrible options for secure email, so I took another look. I was immediately surprised at the pace of development, there is a lot to like. Such rapid development is not always desirable, in the context of email clients you only have to look at the plague of problems faced by Airmail to see that sometimes slowly but surely is a better approach. 1 As for security features, you will find any number of hideous looking, obscure email clients featuring strong encryption, but it is usually shoehorned in as an afterthought in otherwise well designed apps. In fact, believe it or not, security is one of the more compelling reasons to stick with Apple Mail — if you know what you are doing to make it work that is.

This is where Canary stacks up well. If you’re looking for a secure alternative email client, Canary is balanced and feature rich, with PGP encryption built in using the MIT and key base servers. Obviously including encryption is not all that interesting in itself, but making it user friendly is. The best part is how responsive the developers are, early adopters have been actively engaged in the support forum, and rewarded with the fast adoption of features. I can’t remember ever seeing a project work so well, the result is an app that keeps getting better. It still has some raw edges, but if you want to look at something that is bucking the trend of data grabbing applications, it is worth a look. At the very least, it is an app to keep an eye on. Canary is available on macOS, and iOS

Integrating Pandoc with a Text Editor

Pandoc Markdown Text Editor
Typora's features include Pandoc integration with the GUI, and a Markdown outliner

There is no shortage of well designed, minimal text editors for the Mac — or for the iPad for that matter. If you’re a developer with your heart set on building such an app, you really need something different. For example, as an expression of typography focused, opinionated design, iA Writer is stunning. Ulysses, on the other hand, has somehow found the sweet spot between text editor and word processor to carve out an unlikely niche.

While there is a decided trend towards the plain text and distraction free aesthetic, making a mark in the text editor space is only going to get harder. And yet, there is still room for innovation where more specialised writing is concerned. Particularly for academic writing, there is only so far you can go before minimalism starts requiring too many workarounds for the supplementary parts of your writing. If you’re on board with plain text, this is often where Pandoc comes in. Chances are, if there is something you can’t do with a text editor, Pandoc can do it.

This is why I have been intrigued by Typora, a text editor that uses Pandoc for export and conversion. The abilities of Pandoc go way beyond what Typora is currently doing with it, although it has some other interesting features, and not everyone needs the full compliment of super powers. Notably, the editor previews the output in what Typora calls a real live preview. The result is more of a what you see is what you get workflow, much closer to a rich text editor. The app feels like what you might get if you combined Lightpaper’s  live preview with the syntax minimising aspects of Ulysses. It also has a touch of Folding Text about it, as it tracks headings in a Markdown outliner that tucks behind the main editor.

Typora is full of nice little touches. I can see it appealing to writers who want a clean interface, and enjoy the frictionless experience of writing with Markdown, but don’t want to look at the syntax at all. Ulysses will take you a fair way down that road, but Typora goes that little bit further. It might also appeal if you’re stuck working between Windows and Mac, or even Linux. Typora is one of only a few markdown text editors that is genuinely cross platform.  I know a lot of academic writers in that situation.

The Mac version is currently free while it’s in Beta. 2  You can download it directly

  1. Like everyone, I really like what Airmail wants to be, but remain frustrated by how buggy it is
  2. It has been in Beta for some time, but the app is definitely still in active development.

Apple Blows Security | The Mac Observer

I get this is old news, this is more appreciation for the Mac Observer's rounded coverage. Not much I can add. The security lapses over the past few weeks have been appalling. The Mac Observer is unusual, with so much commentary on Apple offered by fans with an almost religious devotion to the company 1, these guys are a welcome breath of fresh air at times.

This post covers the past few weeks of security blunders at Apple. Mistakes that are all the more serious for how readily we are fleeced by absurd margins to use Apple hardware. I love the tech. The business, not so much. This categorisation seems pretty accurate,

In what could only be described as the worst security blunder in the history of commercial computing, Apple released macOS High Sierra on September 25, 2017. Unknown to users, included in that operating system was that no password was required to gain super user root access. This might be likened to leaving your front door open with a sign that says “Please, please rob me.”

One can only hope they sort out their QA problems.

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  1. It can border on disturbing

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

If you want a chance to go in the draw:

  • Sign up for to the mailing list and you’re in.
  • Or, share this post on Twitter with #TheAppademic —  Tweet

I won’t spam you. I couldn’t if I wanted to, and trust me I don’t want to. The Appademic mailer will be monthly at best — for the time being. The first one is late. Opting out is easy, do it at any time. And I would rather ride a rather ride a unicycle up a pyramid with one leg than sell anybody’s data for any reason. I’m also appallingly bad at twitter — not bad in the way that could get me elected, I mean I simply don’t spend any time there.

The big idea behind this is to get the word out that this place exists. Sharing is the easiest thing you can do to support this site and help keep it around.

This will run until the 8th of December, no matter where in the world you are. Hey look, it’s the 8th of December, maybe this will help: The World Clock

The winner will be notified next Monday, the 11th of December.

Still a Chance to Win a Year’s Subscription to Setapp

Win A Years Subscription To Setapp.png

In case you missed it, The Appademic has a full year’s subscription for 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. There are currently one hundred carefully chosen macOS apps, with more on the way.

While this is an important development for all kinds of Mac users, Setapp have taken a keen interest in academics. More study tips are turning up on their blog all the time. t makes sense. I’ve pointed out how useful their service could be to students, or anyone doing academic work. Moreover, anyone affiliated with an education institution can have ongoing access to Setapp for $5 a month.

The suite includes writing apps like Ulysses, and Manuscripts. Mind mapping tools like iThoughtsX and XMind. It has one of the best task managers going around in 2Do. There are project planners in Merlin, and Aeon Timeline. Findings, the lab notebook. The Studies app. The automated time tracker, Timing. Clever plain text outliner and to-do list app, Task Paper is there. Even Brett Terpstra’s brilliant text utility, Marked. The list goes on. It even includes the cross platform digital audio workstation, n-Track Studio.

If I were a more dedicated budgeter, I would do the math on all this properly. Maybe I will. I haven’t done it to date, as I have a pretty strong inclination it wouldn’t be a close race. A Ulysses subscription alone would eat up most, if not all the budget. Not only is Setapp a really good idea, it’s a bloody good deal.

Lucky for you, I still have a year’s subscription up for grabs.

How to Enter

If you want a chance to go in the draw, you have a few options.

  • Sign up for to the mailing list and you’re in.
  • Share this post to Twitter using the hashtag #TheAppademic — or use this: Tweet
  • Share any other post from this site using the hashtag #TheAppademic
  • If you want to enter twice, you can by doing both.

Don’t worry, I have neither the inclination, nor the resources to spam you. The newsletter will be monthly at most — for the time being at least. The first one is already late. You can opt out at any time. And I would rather scratch my own eyes out than sell anybody’s data for any reason. And, I hardly use twitter, it's not really my jam.

The idea is simply to get the word out that this place exists. Sharing is the easiest thing you can do to support this site at this point in time. By sharing, you will contribute to  keeping the lights on at  The Appademic by helping it grow. Thank you for that.

This will run until the 8th of December, no matter where in the world you are. As long as you enter by then, you’re a good chance. The winner will be notified on Monday 11th December.

 

New security update fixes macOS root bug | Ars Technica

New security update fixes macOS root bug | Ars Technica – If you came across this in the past 24 hours, or earlier even, you will be relieved to learn it has been patched. It is hard to recall a more shockingly simple bug which such brutal implications. If you ever wondered about so-called ‘zero-day’ vulnerabilities, here is a case in point.

Get on to that update…

Yesterday we learned that Apple had made a serious security error in macOS—a bug that, under certain conditions, allowed anyone to log in as a system administrator on a Mac running High Sierra by simply typing in “root” as the username and leaving the password field blank. Apple says that vulnerability has now been fixed with a security update that became available for download this morning on the Mac App Store. Further, the update will automatically be applied to Macs running High Sierra 10.13.1 later today.

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GitHub Education: Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites

Developer Tools Github Education

Prof Hacker just posted a follow up to their reminder on the Github plans available to education users. The previous link made it into this week’s Show and Tell, but that is akin to burying a note in my back yard. Coming across this latest post prompted me to dig up that recommendation and dust it off a little. The Profhacker post is essentially a summary of a more detail ‘how to’ guide from the Storybench site. Their solution is a touch esoteric — they're using the statistical language ‘R’ for its value to certain kinds of academic work. But think of it as a case study for using Github Pages, the point is to illustrate the kinds of things you can do with Github in general.

Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites

Github is useful regardless, but the student developer pack is a fantastic resource. It includes things like $50 worth of Digital Ocean hosting, credit for AWS, and a year of free Bitnami access. The GitHub part of the plan includes unlimited private repositories. Think of the freedom of not having to share your dodgy, cut-and-paste, hacked code with the world at large. Even if you’re doing little more than forking libraries and messing them up in an effort to learn (like I do), I would recommend signing up for an account.

There are some really intriguing uses for Github. One that should be of particular interest to readers of this site is using it for collaboration. It doesn’t have to be for coding either. Text is text, no matter what ends up parsing it; be that machine, or human. For example, by using Working Copy the folks at Macstories.net use Github as a weigh station for their editing process. For them, Github has been one of the building blocks of a complex iOS only workflow. While there are a couple of remaining considerations for an iOS only academic, but I see no reason that all student work can’t be done on an iPad. Github can certainly play a role, should you want it to.

Accessing Developer Tools and Building Static Sites
The Working Copy app on iOS

Github Pages as a Blogging Platform

While the Profhacker example is probably only relevant to a subset of users, there are more accessible routes for prospective bloggers. Github is growing all the time as a blogging platform. Using Github pages and a static site generator like Jekyll, anybody willing to follow a few instructions can serve a super slick plain text based website. This brings together more traditional uses of code versioning with the drafting and editing process of web publishing. Static site generators have been supposedly catching on for a while now, but they remain a relatively niche solution that attract more technically minded users. Still, I can honestly say they are not difficult to use. Platforms like Netlify simply the process down to one-click deployment.

You don’t have to go far to find examples of interesting static sites. There are specific academic tools primed for use, whether you want to use Jekyll, or another generator like Hugo. GitHub is also being used to mitigate the difficultly of using a more complicated CMS with the touchscreen interfaces of iOS, with bloggers putting Workflow to good use. In fact, the entire process can be managed from an iPad these days. But, as I say, blogging is just one use for Github; albeit a very good one.

It’s not difficult to get started. Whether its for accessing developer tools and building static sites, or glueing your iOS workflows together. Take a look at Github Education and start breaking things!