A Chrome User Switches to Safari

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I’ve always been a multiple-browser kind of person. I used to prefer the aesthetic of Google Chrome and its angled tabs and great looking favicons in the browser. I used Firefox for website debugging and testing, but most of the time it supported nearly every standard out there.

But I was never able to really stick with Safari. Safari has always been capable, but I just didn’t prefer the design. Until Safari Technology Preview.

Safari Technology Preview is a long name for the beta version of Safari that I’ve been using exclusively on my new MacBook Pro ever since I got it in late July. I’ve always been at the least a two-browser guy, usually switching between Google Chrome and Safari, and 75% of my time would be in Chrome.

Not anymore. Safari (specifically Safari Technology Preview) has been outstanding for me. The most annoying thing for me has been resolved as well - favicons in tabs. That’s now a setting that you can toggle on and off and it also looks great on pinned tabs as well. I know it seems like a small thing to most people, but I even had John Gruber on Twitter respond to me talking about them - this was a very important visual thing in the browser to a lot of people.

Safari is fast. Granted, you can only get it on a Mac, but Safari consistently beats out Chrome, Opera, and Firefox in HTML load speed tests. There are also great privacy features as well - one thing as a Chrome user that you always need to assume is that Google is tracking, logging and even predicting your every keystroke online. Now I don’t visit any sites that I shouldn’t, so I’m not afraid of anyone tracking me - I just don’t want it. I know that Google is tracking me in other ways, but the problem is not that Google is tracking me to make my experience better, but that they’re tracking me to sell my data to the highest bidder. And when you give Google an inch, they’ll take a mile.

If it’s been a while since you took a look at Safari, I’d invite you to go back and try it. It’s already on your Mac, and if you want bleeding-edge versions of it, you can download Safari Technology Preview, now available through software update on macOS Mojave.

How to Use Ulysses for Bible Study

Chris Bowler over at The Sweet Setup is blowing my everloving mind. What he's done is exactly what I'd like to do - have my own notes and my own database all in one place, locally accessed by my app of choice, in this case - Ulysses.

It would be a lot of work to get all the Biblical text into one app (it's over 800,000 words, but it is just plain text, after all), but I think to have everything in one place would be amazing.

How to use Ulysses for long-term research - The Sweet Setup >

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!

 

Ten Years with the Mac: My Most Valuable Tool in Ministry

My first Mac - a Mac mini desktop. 2005.

My first Mac - a Mac mini desktop. 2005.

People are always asking me: "why should I use a Mac?" I get calls from youth ministers, ministers, and church workers of all types about why they should go to a Mac. There's no really simple answer to this question.

10 years ago, I decided that I wanted to purchase a Mac. My first Mac computer of my own was a Mac Mini with a half a gig of RAM, which, in hindsight, wouldn't run anything today. I was able to get it used for about $450, got my own keyboard, mouse, and monitor and set out into the great undiscovered country. And I've never looked back.

There's no simple answer to why you should move to a Mac because there are many answers.

Apple's design is unmatched. Even hardcore Windows users will agree with that. The current aluminum designs have evolved over the last ten years to produce sleek and powerful computers. Yes, Apple may be obsessed with thinness, but can't argue that they have the best designed hardware in the biz.

It doesn't run Windows. When I left Windows a decade ago, XP was going on six years old. Microsoft was clearly riding the coattails and not innovating. I know some Windows users will scoff at my supposed shot over the bow, but the Microsoft ecosystem was seriously lacking in 2005. Office was confusing, XP was old. One of the biggest advantages for the Mac was that it didn't run Windows. When you control the hardware and the software on your machines, there's a lot you can do to maximize the experience. At this point 10 years ago, Apple was iterating and innovating on OSX, and I came in at OSX 10.3 Panther. That was seven versions ago. Safari was brand new. Wow.

In my humble opinion, OSX is far superior to Windows, even the new(ish) Windows 8. Although, I must admit that Windows is coming up again, not in market share, but in public opinion. Why is OSX superior in my mind? The sleekness. The speed. The stability. The only time OSX has crashed on me was when I did something I wasn't supposed to do on the machine.

The premium price tag is an illusion. You buy $9 shoes at Target and your feet are going to hurt. You get what you pay for. Same for computers. You may buy one Apple laptop for $1200, but how long will you keep that machine in the same time frame that you would have have two Windows machines? Or three?

Macs aren't as likely to get viruses. This isn't a myth, and this isn't something touted by Apple either. At the time of this writing, Windows holds a firm 85% market share in personal computers. That means that only 13-15% of the rest of the computers on the planet are Macs. So if you were writing a virus, which platform would you write for? The one who's odds are 8 out of 10 or 2 out of 10? Simple math will tell you that's why more viruses are on Windows.

High-quality software and apps. I haven't been on the Windows side of computing since I graduated from college, so I can't speak to the quality of Windows apps. But I can for Mac and iOS apps. The Mac App Store may not get the press that the iOS App Store does, but it has had as a huge an impact on how I work just as iOS has. Apps like TextExpander and 1Password, apps that I couldn't imagine working without, aren't available on Windows. Plus, where else are you going to find a Word Processor (Pages), a phenomenal PowerPoint replacement (Keynote), and a powerful spreadsheet app (Numbers) - all for FREE? These apps, along with GarageBand (audio editing) and iMovie (video editing that borders on professional-grade) are also made available for free.

Those are my answers for why I use a Mac. I'm not an Apple elitist, I just want to use the best tools for the job that I'm doing - and ministry is the most important job there is. Other than the Word of God itself and the people in the church, my Mac is the most important tool I use in my ministry to communicate, design, and move.

Tech Resolution #1: Take Charge of Your Photos

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One of the disasters in my tech life is photos. Not neccessarily my own, but my wife's. My wife takes at least 15 photos and 3 videos a day of our little son, and that's about to get much worse with the arrival of baby number two in April. My wife loves iPhoto, but with a library approaching 25,000 photos (and topping 75 gigs with videos) iPhoto isn't stable enough to work with. What I've proposed to her (and what I've started using currently) is a three-pronged approach for management and a system for backups. 

The first application I use is Dropbox. Now before you say "I don't have enough room on my Dropbox," listen to me for a second. Dropbox is great for having a backup of important files and access to them on lots of devices, but it's not a repository for big files like photos and videos. Dropbox does have a dandy photo upload feature you can enable within the app (both on Mac and Windows), and you can use that to download your photos from your devices, whether it's an Android phone, iPhone, or SD card from your DSLR. Your photos don't have to stay within your Dropbox folder - in fact, I'd recommend you move them promptly because you'll run out of space fast

This photo-upload feature has its advantages. One, you can categorize your photos and videos based on event titles or by day/month in folders. Two, you can pick, choose, delete, and clean out as you import. Three, all your photos go to the same place. Four, you can move photos around easily, and move them to your favorite editing program or social network. 

The Loom Mac app lives in your Menubar. 

The Loom Mac app lives in your Menubar. 

The second prong in that management approach for photos is an app called Loom. Loom is relatively new but I've come to love it in the past few months. They have beautiful apps for iPhone and iPad, as well as for the Mac. That being said, the free plan is only 5GB. For me, 5GB is plenty, because I'm not using Loom as a dump app for all my photos. I'm carefully pruning my collections and keeping my most important photos in this app, and so it acts as a backup as well. 

As far as backups are concerned, you still need one (or two) no matter what apps you use. 

I sat in a nice hotel room in Gatlinburg, Tennesee a few years ago while at Polishing the Pulpit consoling my wife because she was trying to clear up space on her Mac and ended up deleting her entire photo library (12,000+ photos at the time). I resolved right then and there that if I wasn't going to organize and manage them, that at least I would have reliable backup. 

The obvious backup is to make a copy on an external hard drive. But that can't be your only backup, because what if something happens in your home like a fire? Or robbery? Thousands of photos - gone. 

What's important is to have an off-site backup. Whether that's on a server, through Amazon S3, all your photos backed up to an app or through Google (or even Facebook - eck!), it's incredibly important to have some redundancy. Hard drives can fail, natural disasters can happen. 

I use Flickr, oddly enough, for my off-site backup. Flickr offeres 1TB (that's right, 1000 gigs) of storage for your photos. They limit you to 200 photos per set though, so plan accordingly. They don't have an iPad, Mac, or PC app yet, but they do have Android and iOS apps that are pretty good. You can make all your albums private so people won't see them, but this is a great way to just dump all your photos in full resolution into a service that tied to Yahoo and probably not going away any time soon. 

There are lots of different ways to manage photos, but one of your tech resolutions for 2014 should be to manage them in a better way. What ways have you used successfully? 

Maybe One Solution Isn't The One Solution

For the last year, I have been looking, searching, researching, trying out, and tweaking what I thought might have been the one solution to my workflow woes. You see, what I want isn't hard - a simple synching solution for me to be able to compose classes and sermons on my computer (or iPad mini) and have them sync to my two other devices. I had some criteria when I began this mission:

1. It must sync to my iPad mini, because I do all my teaching and preaching from it. Additionally, it must look great and I must be able to format it in a way that I can easily glance at my notes when presenting. 

2. It must be on iOS. A companion Mac app would be helpful, but not essential. iPhone app is also not optional as I do a lot of tweaking on the go. 

3. It must be simple. No crazy layouts or unnecessary button on the app - just...simple. 

So, I narrowed my list down to three applications for my workflow: Evernote, Simplenote, and Plain Text. 

 

Evernote

Evernote seems like it's been around a long time, and that's because it has. It is a service that has never been accused of standing still. Evernote continually pushes new designs, additions, and features to its suite of apps which now include Penultimate and Skitch

Pros: Evernote is very well designed. The iPad app is beautiful on a retina iPad mini screen (and on the iPad Air as well). The apps are designed to easily do what you want to do: capture anything and everything. Evernote can capture text, pictures, voice memos, and even has embedded To-Do lists. It allows rich-text editing (bold, italics and such). It syncs fast across all devices, has a Mac and Windows app, and is also cross-platform on Android and Windows Phone as well. 

The Evernote iPad app is gorgeous. 

Cons: For me, it seems a bit too much. I don't often need to capture photos and voice memos, only text. So I end up completely ignoring those features, mostly because I refuse to pay for a premium account ($5/month or $45/year). I did have a premium account for six months and didn't use the features. While it's a great app for 90% of people, a power user like myself who wants simplicity above all else isn't going to be using it very much. Still a great app though. 

 

Simplenote

Appropriately named, Simplenote is just what it says it is - simple note syncing across devices. I was just about ready to declare this platform dead when Simplenote relaunched with a new web design and app design as well as an introduction of a dedicated Mac app. I really thought this was going to be my solution. 

Pros: Extremely simple and well designed. Fonts and text look great and a retina MacBook Pro and retina iPad mini. The app is active in development and syncs well with other devices. There is no clutter to deal with in these apps - they simply allow you to compose notes, title them, tag them, export them, and pin them to the top of your list. Composing and writing in these apps (as well as the Mac app) is a joy. 

Simplenote for Mac. 

Cons: It's almost too simple. Simplenote allows no formatting of any type and does not support Markdown editing, so if you want to style your text at all, you are limited to bullet points, numbering, and capitalizations. This sounded great in theory but I've noticed if I can't bold some text or make section headings bigger in my notes then I frequently lose my place while teaching and preaching because all the text looks the same. Tagging is great, and if tagging is your thing, you're going to love this app. If it's not, stay away, because that's the only amount of organization you get from Simplenote. All you have is a long running list of your notes, in order of what was last edited first. There's the option to 'Pin to Top' which comes in very handy.

I've run into some sync issues (as late as Oct-Nov 2013), but most of those seem to have been ironed out. The apps still crash on me frequently (once to twice a week) - I don't think a day or two goes by that the Mac app hasn't quit for no apparent reason and once the iPad app crashed on me while scrolling and preaching in front of hundreds of people (ack!). The iPhone app has a bad bug where it will crash when trying to sort changes in a note. I know developers are active on this app and I love Simplenote, I just cannot afford to use something that's unreliable. If the apps were stable enough, I might have this as my go-to platform. 

 

Plain Text

And here we are, talking about the joys of plain text once again. I really don't know why I migrated away from plain text, but it seems that my search has brought me full circle, back to where I started. 

You may read this and discount the plain text preference as an uber-nerd thing, but, in fact, it's really not. It just works. 

Pros: You can use a variety of text editors on all devices and plain text formats, including regular ol' .txt, Markdown, or Multi-Markdown. Markdown allows you to style your text how you want without changing to rich-text format. It uses simple symbols like asterisks to indicate bold and italics and hashtags to indicate headlines. Comes in handy when you get it down. The app I love to use on the iPad is Editorial, and on the Mac it's Byword. You can usually sync these apps to Dropbox and keep them in nested folders, easily categorizing what you need where you need it. Apps like Editorial, Nebulous Notes, and Byword are minimalistic and usually offer inline Markdown support, so you can see your bold and italics and headlines while writing. Best of all, plain text is future proof and my files are not tied to any platform, so I can move them around as I please. 

Editorial for iPad. 

Cons: No simple "Compose it and forget it" syncing. Syncing is pretty painless, but requires a little bit of file management as well. Syncing isn't instantaneous unless you save your files in the app you're using. So unlike Simplenote and Evernote, you can't just sync and go. Plain text may not appeal to many people because it's not as simple to set up as other services. There's an extra added step when syncing to Dropbox, and you must know where your text repository folder is located. 

So looking at these three platforms, jumping back and forth between using them for the last year, I realized that there really is no "one solution" for capturing all my thoughts, pictures, and text (long or short). One solution is finding a small, precise suite of apps that fit your purposes. I'll use Editorial and Byword for all my writing (70% of the time), Simplenote for lists and occasional text capture (20% of the time), and Evernote for pics and logs (10% of the time). 

For me at least, one solution ends up being three solutions. 

Mac Buyer's Guide [Late 2013]

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As a guy who is in the market for a new Mac myself, I figured I would do a no-nonsense, easy to understand buyers guide for all those who may be contemplating getting a Mac. And also, since Apple came out with a slew of new stuff including new Mac and software, there's never been a better time to buy a Mac. 

If you've never used a Mac as your personal computer, you're in for a treat. You get a clean desktop experience with a great Mac App Store ecosystem to play with. Best of all, Apple said yesterday that all their apps (for both Mac and iOS, excluding the pro apps like Final Cut and Logic) are going to be free with the purchase of any new Mac or iOS device. 

That being said, if you go to an Apple Store, the clerk is going to be honest with you. They're not going to sell you a pro machine just because they want to make money. One big difference about Apple is not just their products, but the way they sell them. Sure, you could get a maxed out MacBook Pro with all the bells and whistles, but do you really need that, and do you want to spend that much money. Apple customer care is all about getting you, the customer, the right product, not the product that will help inflate profits. 

So if you've never bought or used a Mac before, you'll need to know that as of yesterday, the entire iWork suite (Apple's much better version of Office, which includes Pages for word processing, Keynote for presentations, and Numbers for spreadsheets) is now included for free. You can download them for free using your new Mac. No more buying $200 worth of software, keeping up with product keys and all that junk. You just need an Apple account - the same one you use to download apps on your iPhone or iPad - and you're good to go. 

 

Give Up Microsoft Office

These Office-like apps are a huge deal - the main complaint I get from users who want to switch to a Mac tell me, "Well, I just can't give up Office." Yes, you can. Apples iWork apps export to all Word, Powerpoint, and Excel formats. I use Pages every single day and everyone else in my office uses PCs with MS Word. I've had no problems in 4 years using nothing but Pages. People also tell me, "Well I have to use MS Word for work." Again, you can export any Pages document into MS Word format, to PDF, or into plain text, or even ePub. It's simple. 

While there is a learning curve with these apps, as there is with anything new and unfamiliar, I would venture to say that you'll have iWork apps figured out inside of 3 days. You'll wonder why you wasted so much time with Word and Powerpoint when you can use the elegant and simple Pages and Keynote. 

Below is a chart explaining some things about what machine you might get if you were buying a Mac today. 

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1. The only machines on this chart that are desktops are the Mac Mini, iMac, and Mac Pro. I put a 'maybe' here for the Mac Mini and Mac Pro because they are such small devices, especially the Mac Mini. You could fit a Mini in a small backpack and carry it around and hook it up to your different monitors if you so choose. The new Mac Pro is a great deal smaller than the aluminum monstrosities Apple has been selling for the past several years. 

2. The speed of your processor seems to matter less and less these days with dual- and quad- cores (literally extra processors to crunch your data) and RAM, SSDs and OS management have made processor speeds not so important. So don't harp on this number too much, especially with the MacBook Air. The Air was the first Apple laptop to incorporate Solid State Drives (SSDs), i.e. drives with no moving parts. This greatly speeds up your computer. All Macs now have the option for SSDs now. 

I'm going to be spending a lot of time over the next month giving you snippets of my new eBook, A Minister's Guide to the Mac, due out on November 26. The first half of the book will help any minister or professional transition to a Mac for the first time, while the second half with give you helpful apps, tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your Mac and can help even the most advanced Mac user.