Monday, July 18, 2011

Tio and Due for the iPhone

At the moment I'm taking a lot of medication and performing a lot of tasks while recovering from a serious chest infection. A couple of iPhone apps have been incredibly useful.

The first is 'Due'. This tiny app allows you to quickly turn on a timer or a set a reminder. I use the timers constantly. After gargling to wash out my mouth and throat after taking either my Ventolin or Symbicort I've been advised to not eat or drink for ten minutes - a few seconds with 'Due' and I have a timer. I also have to wait half an hour after taking my twice a day throat lozenge. Another quick timer. I don't use the Reminder function often, but it is easy to use when I do. It will even sync across your iPhone and iPad if you want.

The second app is 'tio'. This tiny app just allows you to log an event by entering a time stamp into an even log. The free version allows you three different events, the 99 cent version allows nine. I use it to log taking medicine and pain killers so I can quickly figure out if it's OK to take some more. I also use it to log each cigarette I smoke for two reasons. One, when I feel a craving coming on I can check the event log and tell myself "No, it's only been an hour since your last one." It also allows me to count the number I smoke each day, making it easier to ration and cut back. The app will email you the event log. Well worth the dollar.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Productivity on the iPad

Recently I found myself in hospital and once again my iPad was a godsend. Yes, it allowed me to watch some TV and movies and read a book or two but it also allowed me some pretty good productivity.

So what tools do I need? What tools are useful and what tools are nice little frills?

The Essentials

The two essentials were Dropbox and Evernote. I have a huge Dropbox folder and an Evernote database full of useful files and information. (So the Specialist wants to know exactly what medication I take, when was my last hospital admission, what’s my GP’s address and how have my peak flows been for the past month? Guess where that information’s stored? I even had a copy of my last discharge summary.)

I’m a coding junkie, I just can’t help myself. Never a week goes by when I don’t find some excuse to write something, an AppleScript, a shell script or a bit of Python. I’ve even been known to play around with HTML, CSS and JavaScript to write little web apps. So bored in hospital was the perfect time to play with those. How? I’ve found a great little text editor that deserves a big wrap. Textastic is almost perfect as an iPad editor. It will sync files between itself and Dropbox or an FTP site and even comes with a built in WebDAV server so you can easily get your files to and fro. It even remembers the path to the file and will sync it back with a single touch. To help with your coding you get syntax colouring for more than eighty languages, including all I ever use with the exception of Logo (nothing seems to offer syntax highlighting for Logo). You get next line auto-indent and adjustable tab stops. Even more useful when you don’t have your Bluetooth keyboard along you can set it to add an extra row of keys along the top of the iPad built-in keyboard that include quotes, brackets, parentheses and a tab key. The feature list goes on further.

I could use Textastic for writing my prose and journalling, it does support Markdown syntax  and offer a soft wrap but Pages is not that expensive and is, of course a fully featured word processor so I’ve got a copy of that.

The other thing I like to do is diagram. Well, like might not be the right word, I do find myself doing it a lot and doing it by hand looks atrocious so I do it on the computer. On my Mac I have Eazydraw, a fairly well featured piece of software. On the iPad I use TouchPad, which cost me less than ten dollars and has more features than you can poke a stick at. It has layers, libraries, figures, bezier curves, freehand tools, alignment tools and more. It is  more than I’ll ever need - I couldn’t recommend it more. I actually find myself doing diagrams on the iPad rather than my Mac as shifting things with my finger seems easier than the mouse.

The Useful

The first of these is TextExpander Touch. Cheaper than the Mac version, which I also own, it allows for quick entry of text snippets in supported applications or in its own little note pad. It is supported by Textastic and Plain Text at least. From its little notepad you can Send By Email or send the note to Twitterific. I don’t use  it a lot on the iPad since the snippets don’t work everywhere as they do on the Mac but it is still handy.

Then we get to lists. It doesn’t matter if it is a task list or just an item list, I like to have them. I also like them as an outline so that items can have sub-items. For this I have CarbonFin Outliner - this excellent outliner even syncs to a website so that you can edit the outlines on your computer. It supports outline items as checkboxes so that you can make a to do list and if an item has a number of children the dot turns into a circle filled in according to the amount of the tasks completed.

On the “keeping up with the world” front there are the three essentials. Reeder, my favourite RSS reader, the new Zite news application and Instapaper for all those long form articles I come across while browsing and want to get back to.

I like the interface for Reeder, it is clean and simple, and the ability to sync with my Google Reader account is nice so that’s my RSS reader of choice.

Zite is amazing. A news aggregator that seems to find a good selection of interesting articles every time I open it. When it was first installed it asked to have a look at my twitter feed and Google Reader settings. from that it made some intelligent guesses as to the categories of news i might be interested in. I then added a few others. Since then I have made a point of marking the articles I liked and now it does a good job of finding things I want to read.

Instapaper is another great idea. As  I browse the incoming news stream from both Zite and Reeder I can quickly mark the longer articles for later reading. Instapaper also looks good, often making the articles easier to read.

The Others

Then I need a calculator. A spreadsheet would be overkill but a calculator with a tape is fine for almost everything. since I like to have hex and binary on my calculator you just can’t go past P2. Not that dear and it has every function you might ever want and a nice list of constants.

I also use iSSH, a nice SSH terminal client. Not everyone needs a terminal client but if you do want one then this is inexpensive and fully featured.

I would also like to recommend Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard. I carry mine around in the box it came in and it doesn’t weigh much or take much room. When travelling it can go in your check-in bag easily. I find it can even slip into a corner of my briefcase.

All those apps taken together turn my iPad into an incredibly useful and productive platform. What are the apps that allow you to be productive on your iPad? Drop me a note and tell me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Still loving the iPad

I just had another short spell in hospital and my love for the iPad just deepened. I'm writing a longer post on the apps I found useful there but the short form is that it made life a lot more pleasant.

Apart from being lighter than a laptop it is useful to have a device that can be recharged from the same gadget as your phone. It also has better games for hospital than any laptop - including a Windows laptop. You really want light entertainment and the ability to keep in touch with people. My iPad connected via 3G was just the thing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In love with my ScanSnap 1300

Recently I purchased a ScanSnap 1300 and I have to tell you how much I love the little device.

It sits on the edge of my desk occupying less room than a sheet of A4 paper. It uses a neat little application called ScanSnap Manager that runs all the time (Activity Monitor tells me it uses less than 102Mb of RAM.) I insert up to about 8 sheets of A4 (it depends on thickness) or anything smaller such as a cash register receipt or a business card and press the little blue glowing button on the right hand side and away it goes. Since it is a duplex scanner it will do both sides of a sheet in one pass and doesn't care with a one sided sheet if you have it down or facing. If you want to be a perfectionist it thinks that the face down side is before the face up side.

ScanSnap Manager then turns it into a PDF with searchable, selectable text. I then have it set to save the scan in a folder called "Scans" in my Dropbox and send it to Evernote as well (you can change that to any software that will cope with being told to open a PDF.). By default it gives the scan a name derived from the date and time but I changed the preference and I just get a name "Scan" followed by a three digit reference. One funny thing, if you rename the files then it loses it's count; the software obviously looks in the folder to see if there is a "Scan001.pdf" and so on. You can also set it to send to email, send to Excel  or send to print among others. You can also set it to ask you each time, though if you do that you seem to not be able to specify a non-standard application such as Evernote.

The entire process is so easy that I now scan each piece of mail and every receipt I get. I also scan all those bits you get with a new piece of tech; the warranty, the quickstart guide and so on.

Oh, it's compatible with that other popular operating system, too.

Highly recommended. I can't remember how much it cost me but it was worth every cent.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bynkii on a post XServe world

So we are now into February and as a result you can no longer buy an XServe from Apple.

All us Server addicts had a momentary pang of hope when Active told us they were announcing a new product - after all one of those guys designed the first XServe. They gave good news for theXSan people - a replacement to an XServe as a controller, but no Mac OS on it.

Is this going to be a problem?

John C. Welch (known as bynkii on his blog.) sums it up for me perfectly here.

To be truthful, if the Mini had two NICs then I'd never have bought an XServe. The last time I bought two I'd have preferred buying eight Mini Servers and a really smart switch - the problem would have been convincing the powers that be to let the little beasts into their data room. This may well be the middle ground for Apple. Give us a slightly better Mini.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why I could not recommend Acrobat Removals

Dear Larry,

I thought you might like to know why I find myself not only unable to
recommend your firm, Acrobat Removals, but to positively discourage
anyone from using your services.

My complaints start on the day your company packed up and moved the
contents of my house and garage.

If you remember you visited my house and gave me a quote for packing
part of the house and moving my goods to Sydney. I then, on Monday,
gave you a chance to revise your quote as I was unable to pack part of
the house that I said I would. So you had two chances to have a look
at the amount of goods to that had to be moved. On Monday you also
told me that the men would be able to complete the packing by 1 PM to
1:30 PM.

My problems started when I realised on Tuesday at around 12 that there
was no chance of your men completing by 1:30. This was unfortunate
since I had to leave shortly before 1 to ensure I could have my cat to
the cattery in Sydney before 4PM, leaving my partner Sonia to
supervise the completion of packing and loading.

Imagine how I felt when at around 2PM I received a phone call from an
upset and stressed partner who told me that your men had said they
woiuld not be able to fit everything on the truck and what of the
unloaded goods were a priority. I got this phone call while I was
driving through the Central Coast on the F3 in heavy traffic and rain

Then when you arrived at the loading I thought there might be some light.

Imagine how my unhappiness increased when it was almost 4 PM when
Sonia told me that your men had finished but despite your assurance at
around 2:30 PM that they had not been able to load everything and she
was having to take some things to her mothers before she could at
last start the almost three hour drive to our hotel. It was at this
stage that your men asked me to change the arrival time at my new
Sydney home from the agreed and contracted time of 8:30 AM to 6:30 or
7 AM. You may understand my reluctance to shift it, though I did agree
to half an hour earlier.

My mood dropped even further when my tired and emotional partner
arrived at the hotel and broke down into tears after the stressful
afternoon she had coping with the unprofessional manner of your staff.

I thought it was impossible but I became even more unhappy when I
discovered that the six wheel trolley I bought a few weeks ago to make
it easier to re-organise before moving and after moving was one of the
things that had not been packed onto your truck.

Now my problems continue. Your men unloaded the truck.

While the packing and loading was going on I had stressed that it was
important that in Sydney I would need to be able to have the TV, the
Foxtel box, home theatre and their wiring by 12 as the Foxtel man was
arriving between 12 and 5. While the TvV and the boxes were unloaded
early it was after 11 and no sign of the wiring, which I had
personally disconnected, packed and placed in a bag on top of the two
boxes. It took me losing my temper before a 15 minute search unearthed

When they were about 4/3 through unloading they started saying they
would not have enough room to put all the boxes. I suggested they
unload my dining room table and sideboard and put boxes on top of
them. I was told they were too far back and when I suggested they put
boxes on my verandah until they could be unloaded one of your men said
he couldn't do that as he didn't like putting things down and picking
them up again. The young man is lucky I didn't say what I thought of
his reluctance and where he could put it.

It was around this time that I heard the other man make two rude
comments to my partner. Not a wise thing to do. Once again I bit my

Now we come to my discoveries as I started to unpack last night and
today. One of your packers had carefully removed and collected into
one spot all the shelf pins from my four adjustable bookshelves. I am yet to find

While the unloading was going on I said that my new garage downstairs
was to hold everything from the garage in Broadmeadow and everything
marked storage. I now have at least five boxes upstairs that should be
downstairs. While one of the men was unloading I saw him with a box
that contains my snare drum. I said, "that box you've got with 'Tama'
written on the side needs to go in my study." It is now half way back
in my garage.

I now have at least six boxes that came from my kitchen that are
marked with "Kitchen - bits and pieces" and one marked "Kitchen -
miscellaneous" with no more information than that such as what part of
the kitchen they came from or a clue to their possible contents. So
that I could have something to eat off I thought I would unpack a box
that was labelled "Kitchen - plates, bowls and glasses", it contained
no bowls and only four glasses, the rest was plates. One of the two
boxes marked "Kitchen - pantry" contained a great deal of food and an
open bottle of ant poison (which wasn't in the pantry in Newcastle
thrown into the top. Saucepans and their lids have been thrown into
boxes in any manner and without and wrapping or padding. All I can say
to that is that I haven't found the copper bottomed large boiler my
mother paid $250 for when she gave it to me for the my last birthday
before she died but heaven help you if there is so much as a scratch
or a ding on it - I expect to pass it along to my daughter just as my
father passed on to me the high quality, copper bottom saucepans now
almost forty years old your employees threw around with abandon.
Fortunately, apart from a loose handle I fixed with a screwdriver, the
ones I have found so far are no worse off. I guess your employees are
lucky my father bought quality cookware.

So that is why I cannot recommend your company and why I will not be
using them to move the goods I have in storage in Newcastle to Sydney.

I should also advise you that a copy of this letter is being posted to
my weblog and on my Facebook page. You may if you wish reply but I am
afraid I find myself totally unable to listen to any excuses or
argument - if you can come up with a solution to the problems I now
find myself in that means I can avoid an extra trip back to Newcastle,
an hour or two shifting boxes from upstairs to down, hours attempting
to organize my new kitchen without a clue and returns to me the $50 I
spent today on a new trolley (not as good as the one sitting back in
Newcastle) and new shelf pins so I could do some organising and
unpacking then I am willing to listen.


Tony Williams


I sent this last week and have yet to receive any reply.

I have since discovered further examples of damage due to haste and unprofessional packing. Despite being assured that pictures would be wrapped I've found many unwrapped glass covere...d photos shoved into boxes. The person who disassembled an Elfa draw frame bent two out of six cross bars. A roll of vintage Apple posters was shoved down so hard into a box it crumpled all of them and tore two - the box was then closed down on them so hard the other end was crumpled - the list goes on.

Feel free to spread my letter as far and wide as possible.