What's in Your Mac's MenuBar?

A MenuBar is that bar at the top of your Mac's screen. Sometimes, apps like to stick shortcuts and helpful tools in the MenuBar to help you access features faster or see relevant information at a glance. It's super-Mac-nerdy, but here's a look at some apps and utilities that I'm using in my Mac's menubar.

First off, a disclaimer. My Mac's MenuBar never looks like this. This is far too cluttered and long for me, so I use the excellent Bartender 2 to make my MenuBar look like this:

Bartender allows me to have a pullout "drawer" with a keyboard shortcut so I can have easy access to some of my apps and utilities without having to have my entire MenuBar cluttered.

F.lux. First from left to right is F.lux, a free utility that changes the temperature of your Mac's screen, a lot like the new Night Shift feature for iOS 9.3 which just shipped last week. Basically, it eases strain on your eyes at night time by removing the blue light that's emitted from the screen. Blue light is the light that signals your brain to wake up in the morning, and the orange-red sunlight is the light that signals your brain to tell you that the day is done. Theoretically, F.lux should help you sleep better if you do lots of late-night work. I know Night Shift on iOS has helped me sleep better for sure.  

Screens. Screens in popular VNC client that I use to access  several computers and work remotely on them from my main Mac or iPad. Screens is excellent at this, and let's you connect remotely to those computers in a fast and easy way with great design on the app. I do lots of video compression that takes a long time sometimes and it's nice to be able to do that on another computer that I don't have physical access to. If you need to use multiple computers, Screens is the way to go. 

StatsBar. This is a cool little app that allows you to see a myriad of into at a glance. I can see my machine's memory, disk usage, and CPU usage all in one little pane, just like a pretty version of Activity Monitor. Similar apps like Menumeters do the same thing, but I've found Statsbar to be the one I stuck with. 

Adobe. Adobe's icon is pretty useful, but only when you need to update your apps in your Creative Cloud. 

Transporter. I have a File Transporter sitting on my desk - it's basically like your own private Dropbox for syncing files. 

Unclutter. This is a neat utility where it lives like a drawer coming from the top of your screen. Simply go up to the top of your screen and scroll down with two fingers on your trackpad like you're scrolling down an internet page, and you are presented with a helpful drawer divided into three sections: Pinned Files, Clipboard History, and Notes. Very helpful in switching between apps as well. 

Droplr. In the battle between file sharing and URL shorteners, Droplr is the king. It won out over CloudApp for me because of its feature set. I've paid for the premium plan for over a year now and love it. I pay $99/year and can have uploads up to 2GB in size, have custom domain branding and a custom downloads page. If you find yourself sharing big files on a regular basis and needing to share them with others, Droplr is for you. 

Copied. Not pictured (because I don't have it as an icon in the menubar) is Copied, a very helpful utility that functions a lot like Droplr except just for text and images. Their iOS apps are also pretty great. 

1Password. Couldn't live without this password manager. I manage a bunch of websites for people, and I have all of my sensitive information and passwords locked inside of 1Password. I've never found anything comparable, and I would highly recommend it. 

ItsyCal. This is an older calendar utility - but I just love it. Lots of people swear by Fantastical, but IstyCal works great for me. 

Dropbox. The linchpin of my entire operation. Couldn't do work without it. 

NoSleep. There was a time when I hooked my 13-inch Macbook up to an external monitor, and NoSleep helped me keep my Mac on while the lid was shut. Simple and free. 

System Icons. The rest of the icons in my menubar are system-level ones that I keep handy to get info or make changes quickly. I keep AirPlay there because I'm usually always listening to podcasts or music through my Bose Soundlink, as well connecting to Apple TVs here at the church building to present in classes and such. I keep the Keyboard icon there because I'm so often looking for special characters. Sound is self-explanatory. I still use Time Machine as a secondary "easy" backup but still make images of my entire computer every month using SuperDuper. I keep Bluetooth up there to keep connected to my Apple Wireless keyboard that I love typing on as well as Bluetooth speakers. I keep my Clock on military time because, well, that's the only way a sane person would do it. 

So I hope this has helped - I hope you'll share your MenuBar with me as well and have it featured here on the site. Cheers!

 

A Month With Simplenote

simplenote_thumb_icon-225029.jpg

Simplenote is an app that I've loved for a long time, but several design choices like small text on the iPad, unreliable syncing, and too simplistic of a design with mobile apps has made it unusable in my opinion. 

Until now. 

Simplenote, in late August, unveiled a complete redesign of their mobile apps for all platforms, including iOS for iPhone and iPad and also for Android. I've been teaching and preaching from it for the last 30 days exclusively. 

I was very excited about Editorial for iPad, with it's great interface, configureable buttons and layout, customized workflows and Markdown support, and I had purchased it and began using it when the new Simplenote came out. Needless to say, I was impressed. 

For the longest time, my workflow included plain text editing with Elements on iPad and iPhone, syncing with Dropbox, and I would actually preach and teach from within Elements. But Elements, at least for me, started getting buggy, even with regular updates. (I'm sure it's been fixed, but 1 or 2 crashes while I am speaking to 300+ people is 1 or 2 times too many.)  So I stopped using it and turned to Nebulous Notes.

While syncing with Dropbox offered some flexibility (like seamlessly offering my lessons as .txt files for download on my website, copying and moving files, and making backups easy), I found that it was a few too many steps. I would compose a text file in my Mac text editor of choice (usually Textastic), save it as either a .txt or .md file if I wanted limited styling, make sure it was in the correct folder in Dropbox, then search for that file under my Elements directory to pull it up on my iPad for teaching. 

With Simplenote, I write my lesson in the Simplenote app for Mac (which is incredibly nice by the way), and my changes are automatically pushed to my devices. All I need to do is load the app on the iPad and whoosh - it's there. And syncing with SImplenote is incredibly fast. 

Another thing that helps is local note caching. All my notes once synced will be available for edit and viewing whether connected to a network or not. I've had lots of speaking engagements where there is no connection whatsoever - even through a cell network - and my notes, provided I synced before I left, are there. No having to worry whether or not that 7th revision to my sermon synced to the correct folder and file in Dropbox. Dropbox doesn't append the file (unless you're using specific programs), it re-uploads the entire file if one letter is changed. I know text files aren't that big to begin with, but when you're out in the middle of nowhere with little or no data connection, every byte is hard to come by. 

Simplenote Mac app. Click for larger. 

I mentioned it before, but what helped push me over the edge was the Mac desktop app for Simplenote. You can see for yourself that Simplenote really lives up to its name with its very spartan and minimalist interface. The changes are almost instant - I can type and sentence on the desktop and watch it be pushed to the iPad app seconds later. It's great. 

I love Editorial, plain text, and Markdown, but to tell you the truth, I don't need any of that. All I need is text, and the new redesigns for the mobile apps make the fonts much easier to read and far better to compose in. And if a worst-case scenario happens and I lose all my devices, including my Mac, my notes are all backed up on Simplenote servers. I can log on to simplenote.com and edit and back up my notes from there. 

If you're looking for a simple, elegant solution and don't want all the fuss with saving file and formatting, look no further than Simplenote. It's free and it's wonderful. What do you have to lose?

 

Using Reading List in Safari

My confidence and trust in free services is at an all time low. Like many other geeks and early adopters, I’m focused on using services that I’ve paid for and for whom I am the customer and not the commodity... So in the arena of read-it-later services, I’ve been thinking about options where I would be considered the customer.
I realized that one company that I do trust, for whom I am the customer, offers such a service. But it’s one I never gave any consideration since it launched, I suppose because I was already enjoying some other service at the time. This company is Apple and the tool is Reading List.

Great writeup from Chris Bowler on Safari's Reading List, a service that no one uses (yet), but is right under Apple users' noses.

Big Updates for Big Apps

There were two big updates to two big apps that I use everyday released in the last 24 hours.

The first is an update to Textastic, a great text editor for OSX. They have added tab support so now instead of having multiple windows open with my text floating around, I can have them in one big, unified window. Although I love this feature, I wish they would enable the hiding of tabs if there's just one file open in the window. Otherwise, a great update.

The second is an update to Drafts, now version 3.0. The two most notable additions to this already-wonderful do-anything text app are the addition of Actions Backup and tabbed tasks. 

Actions Backup is exactly what it says it is - it adds the ability to make a manual backup of all your actions so you can restore them to any other device running Drafts. For instance, I have lots of different lists that I append to, and I don't want to have to manually add those on my iPad. Enter Actions Backup. I just back up the actions on my iPhone, then go to my iPad and Restore from Actions Backup over there. Viola, they're all there, safe and sound. 

The second is tabbed grouping of tasks. Very simple interface - when I hit the share button, I now have little Roman numbered tabs for my task groups. You can arrange how you want them in Settings. For example, all actions in Tab I I have all my Dropbox actions. Tab II houses all my searching actions, Tab III all my email and messaging, and Tab IV is for Evernote actions. 

Overall, a great update for these two apps. If you're not using either, you should give them a try. They're both fantastic and have changed my Youth Minister workflow for the better.

Drafts: My Go-To iOS App

As a youth minister, I take lots of notes. I jot down emails and phone numbers. I send emails. I write articles, lessons and sermons. I make lists, and lists of lists for planning projects. 

All of that involves text

As I am an uber-nerd, I use plain text for pretty much everything. As I type this now, I'm using Textastic on the Mac. But I store everything in plain text, and I'll briefly tell you why. 

Because plain text is future-proof. I can take plain text and put it anywhere, and I can then format that text how I want it. For example - I wrote this original post on the Squarespace internet site, and I had no backup. This post got summarily deleted because of my stupidity (and maybe a bug in the Squarespace iPad app). If I would have originally written this article in a text editor on my Mac (and by the way, if you have a Mac, everyone has a text editor - it's called TextEdit - and Wordpad for Windows) all I would have had to do was copy and paste the text instead of rewriting the post like I am now. 

Plain text is powerful because computers have been using it since their inception. I could literally take this text right now and put it on an old 1982 green-screened NCR if I wanted to. Or I could use this text in MS Word 2024 if I want. Granted, you are limited in formatting with plain text, and that's why they invented Markdown. If you really need to prettify something, a Word Processor should be your app of choice. 

But I digress. 

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The reason for this post was not to tell you about the benefits of plain text, but to tell you how plain text and a little app called Drafts has changes my entire youth minister workflow. 

Drafts is a little app that does a lot of stuff, and it's highly customizable. 

The app opens ready to write - cursor blinking and keyboard ready. There's no start or splash screen - the app seems to be designed to do one thing very effiecently, and that's capture quick text when you want to the fastest way possible and send it to exactly where you want it. 

I haven't messed around with URL actions yet, but the Dropbox actions are really where I get my work done. 

I have a list for just about everything. For example, I have a text file named Log.txt and it's just random thoughts, links I've pasted in, and other stuff that comes to my mind. I open the app, type my text, hit the Share button on the lower right just above the keyboard, and I hit 'Append to Log.'

Here's the cool part: when I append a file, it simply adds that new line of text to the existing Log.txt file. I can then pull up that file on my Mac or on my mobile device and look at the list. It's incredibly helpful to be able to append to certain lists and not have to created new text files. You can create a new file, and that's what I do if I am starting an article or something. Drafts will automatically drop it into my Drafts folder on Dropbox and put a UNIX timestamp on it. It even gives you a little green bar and checkmark along with a little sound to let you know it's finished its work. 

Drafts helps me remember things so well. Riding down the road in the car, I can pull up the app, hit the Siri button, say a note, and hit 'Append to Whatever' and it's there waiting for me on the desktop when I get back to the office. I have a text file called Today.txt for my running to-do list, Camp.txt for notes regarding our summer camp this year, and a Comics.txt list that I can append to when someone tells me a great comic to buy. 

Drafts isn't limited to Dropbox actions, though. Built right in are actions to Send To services like Messages, Evernote, Elements, Email, and lots of other system apps. And by searching the Drafts Action Directory, you can find many more URL and Dropbox actions that you can install from your Safari browser. 

Basically here's what I'm saying - you need to check out this app. They have seperate versions for the iPhone and iPad, and they are $2.99 and $3.99, respectively. [App Store Link]

Try it out, and I bet you won't be disappointed. 

My iPhone Home Screen: April 2013

Click for larger

From the bottom up:

Drafts - This app is my go-to now for virtually anything involving text on my phone. I'll have more on this app in a post this week (maybe even a screencast) and you'll see that using this app for sharing any kind of text between apps is awesome. From Dropbox to Messages to searching Google, it's become my go-to app of choice. More on this great app later this week. 

In the 'Get It Done' folder

Dropbox - new UI update a few months ago makes it easier than ever to use.

Google Drive - Use for all my Google Docs, and today's update even features widescreen editing of Spreadsheets. Nice.

Cloudier - Cloudapp client for links, images, and text sharing. I use it for all my links as it's tied to my Twitter/Tweetbot.

Instashare - Wonderful too for moving files instantly from one device to another,. For example, the screenshot photo of my iPhone in this post was move by opening the app on my phone, dragging the picture out of my Library, placing it on my Macbook icon with my Mac running the same free software, and my 1.3 Mb image was transferred over Wi-Fi instantly. Great for files you would normally email to yourself.

Teambox - Great little service for teams up to five users. I use it to coordinate with Hashtag Media peoples. Project management, to-do lists, conversations - great for small teams. Paid tiers as well for bigger companies. iPhone, iPad, and web apps. Web app works great in Fluid as a dedicated app on the Mac.

Elements - My plain text repository. Where I use Drafts for quick text and lists, I use Elements for long-form text like class and teaching docs. Syncs with Dropbox and talks to Drafts as well. Anything I compose in Drafts can be directly shared with Elements. 

Mailbox - Been using the hot new mail service for about two months now. Very good. They've worked out some bugs, and the service is great for eradicating and acting on every email.

Feedly - Since Google Reader is shutting down, I just moved all my feeds to Feedly. The app has great design and will seamlessly work for you after the Reader shutdown on July 1.

Sunrise - wonderful calendar app that syncs with Google Calendar. See my previous post for a review.

Instacast - There's a lot of podcatchers (podcast-catching apps) out there, but in my opinion, Instacast is the best. iPad version as well.

Tweetbot - greatest app for Twitter you'll find on iOS, both for iPad and iPhone. 

Instapaper - great service and app by Marco Arment that simply lets you save articles for reading later. Safari and bookmark extensions available as well as integration into Feedly.

ScoreCenter - ESPN has greatly improved this app from it's beginnings in 2009. Now supports the iPhone 5 and will let you make favorite teams a get push alerts.

In the Photo / Video folder:

Snapseed - this is a great little Google app that lets you do lots of simple stuff with photos. Not bad for free either.

Vine - the Twitter-owned 6-second video sharing service. Great UI. When teens figure out what this is, they're going to be excited.

YouTube Capture & YouTube - Great for capturing and uploading youth video or videos of my son for all to see.

Redbox - Redbox redesigned their app just last week, and it's prettier, faster, and much easier to use. Redbox is everywhere now and is very convenient.

Google Maps - I never actually used Apple Maps on my phone, I've always stuck with Google Maps. Improvements have made this app great in the past year.

Forecast - This is actually a web app that runs like a App Store app. If you go to Forecast.io in Safari, you can "Install" it on your device. It's a great weather app from the makers of Dark Sky. Wonderful UI with little animations and a dedicated iPad version as well.

My Current Gear & Apps

Below is what I am actually currently using for gear and apps. I hope to have other guests that highlight their gear and apps for everyday use as well.

Gear

+ Thule Gauntlet bag, $50 // This bag is amazing. It's solid, it protects my Macbook and iPad mini, and it's wonderful to carry around. They sell them at the Apple Store, so go check them out and then go home and buy it on Amazon for cheaper.

+ Griffin Survivor Case for iPhone and iPad mini, $35 / $60 // These cases are extremely rugged, and while they clash with my minimalistic outlook on life in general, they save me money because they have saved my devices many times. Military-spec tested. 

+ Aviiq Thincase for iPhone 5, $20 // When I'm not travelling or at one of our camps or retreats, I use this case as minimal protection for my iPhone 5. And when they say Thincase, they mean thin.

+ Evernote Smart Notebook, $15-25 // I use this to write down ideas and everyday notes at my desk, and I can take a picture of it with the Evernote app and have access to all my handwritten notes on the go.

+ Apple Remote$19 // I teach 2-3 classes per week, and this remote is nice and small and fulfills my needs with presenting from Keynote or Prezi (via iRed Lite).

+ Pigma Micron Archival Ink Pen$3-10, amazon.com // For marking in my Bible. Don't use a regular pen to markup a Bible...I have a Bible from 15 years ago that I did that in and it yellowed a bunch of the pages. Use archival ink only.

+ Uni Kuru Toga Mechanical Pencil, $17 // Greatest mechanical pencil that I've ever used.

+ ESV Thinline Calfskin Bible$104 // My everyday Bible. Some nerd will shun me for not going all digital, but I love the old school feel of a Bible (and other books) in my hands.

Apps

+ Mailbox for iPhone, Free // Currently my go-to Mail app for iPhone. It's new, it's free, and it's wonderful. They're currently accepting reservations.

+ Tweetbot for iOS, $2.99 // Best Twitter client for iPhone. And iPad. And the Mac.

+ Instacast for iOS, $4.99 // Lots of people like Downcast, but I like Instacast. The UI is wonderful, I can download podcasts for offline listening, and it has custom playlists for my podcasts. Wonderful app.

+ Drafts for iOS, $2.99 // Recently discovered this app. I make lots of quick notes every day, and I used to rely on the excellent Squarespace Note for that. Now I rely on Drafts. It allows me to make quick notes, and even append them to Dropbox.

+ Pocket for iOS, Free // Lots of nerds will get onto me for not using Instapaper, but Pocket is my go-to Read-It-Later service right now. Nothing wrong with Instapaper (I own it as well), I just prefer Pocket right now.

+ Elements for iOS, $4.99 // Elements is an excellent plain text editor for iPhone and iPad. I use it on both. You can edit and created text documents and save them to your Dropbox. You can sync between iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I write everything in plain text, so when I have class notes, I pull them up in Elements and teach from my iPad.

+ TaskAgent for iOS, $5.99 // A little pricey (I bought it when it was $2.99) but it syncs plain text to-do lists to Dropbox. I do everything else in plain text, so why not my to-do lists?

+ Cheddar for iOS/Android, Free // Simple to-do lists. Free apps for Android, Mac, iOS.

+ Sunrise, Free // My new calendar app of choice. Very nice and very free. 

+ Cloudier for iOS, $2.99 // App for Cloudapp, my URL, image, and text sharing service. Comes in handy with a menubar button and extensions for Chrome and Safari. 

So there you have it - what I'm using right now. Have something to add? Let's hear about it.