• iOS,  macOS,  Software

    Ulysses Supports Family Sharing

    I’ve only recently begun to look at Ulysses again, and start using it. I got my current copy of Ulysses via SettApp, which provides access to hundreds of macOS and iOS apps via a single subscription. Ulysses is beloved by many writers, particularly for its support of Markdown, its easy syncing between iOS and macOS, the built in support for publishing to Medium and WordPress, and Ulysses’ distraction-free approach to writing.

    Today Ulysses announced support for family sharing via Ulysses purchases from Apple’s App store.

    Please note: Family Sharing for subscriptions requires the currently latest OS versions: macOS Big Sur 11.0.1 or iOS 14.2, respectively. For new subscriptions, Family Sharing should be activated automatically. However, if you’ve already been a subscriber, you’re likely to have to turn it on manually.

    See the blog post for full instructions.

    This post contains affiliate links.


    Buy me a Coffee! If you find this post or this site interesting, and would like to see more, buy me a coffee. While I may actually buy coffee, I’ll probably buy books to review.


  • Accessories,  Apple,  Hardware,  iOS,  Review

    Apple HomePod Mini

    I used an Amazon gift card to buy a DOSS SoundBox portable Bluetooth speaker in 2017 when I realized I would be away from home and my stereo for an indefinite time. It’s worked really well, a charge lasts me almost a week of a few hours of daily use, and it’s easy to set up. But the sound quality isn’t much of an improvement on the speakers on my Mac.

    Space gray Apple HomePod Mini

    In November I used an Apple Gift card to buy an Apple HomePod Mini. It arrived today. You need to have an iOS device running iOS 14 to set up a HomePod Mini, but it took me less than 5 minutes, including unboxing. You unbox the Mini, plug it in to the AC adapter, connect the adapter to an outlet, unlock your iOS device, and hold it near the HomePod Mini. The iOS device screen instructs you to hold the iPhone so that you center the top of the HomePod mini in the camera’s view; you set up a room location (living room, etc,) with a tap in the iOS Home app,  the HomePod gets your WiFi and Apple account data, and you’re good to go (though you can tweak Siri via the Settings on your iPhone).

    The HomePod Mini takes up about as much space as a navel orange on my night stand. You can turn off Siri if you want, and just use your iPhone to send audio to the HomePod Mini. The top glows when Siri is active, and there’s a touch sensitive + and – to use as volume controls (or you can use Siri). Tap the flat area on the center top of the HomePod to toggle between pause/resume audio, double-tap to skip forward, triple tap to skip backwards. A long press puts Siri in listening mode (an alternative to using Hey Siri to signal Siri that you have a request).

    The HomePod Mini sounds amazing. No, it’s not like listening to my stereo, or even high-end headphones, but it’s much better, richer and with much more range, than my Bluetooth speaker or computer, and Siri works surprisingly well. I’m delighted.

    I’ve been exploring what Siri can do with a HomePod that I’ll find useful. I’ve added the Home.app widget to my Control Center. You can set options for room control and smart devices in the app. You can also play audio on the HomePod from your iOS device in several ways, including turning on BlueTooth and holding the iOS device near the HomePod to transfer currently playing audio to the HomePod, or vice versa. I should note that I have Apple Music, but you can also play music and podcasts you have purchased or downloaded on your iOS device (pod casts default to Apple’s Podcast app).

    Things You Can Do with Hey Siri:

    Play [Bruce Springsteen’s] latest album.

    Tell me a joke.

    What time [day, date] is it?

    Play [RSVP] podcast.

    Ambient Sounds

    Play Night sounds

    Play Rain sounds

    Play Ocean sounds

    Play Fireplace sounds

    Play Stream sounds

    Play Forest sounds

    Play Whitenoise

    Set up a Sleep Timer

    1. Start a track, playlist or ambient sound playing (Hey Siri play [Ocean Sounds Playlist]
    2. Ask Siri to set the timer: Hey Siri set a sleep timer for [45 minutes]

    Siri will play the audio for the specific duration, then audio will fade out.

  • iOS,  Productivity,  Software

    TextExpander

    I’ve written about TextExpander before, because I’ve been a constant user for a little more than seven years. And now, with TextExpander 5, it’s even more useful.

    Recall your best words. Instantly, repeatedly.Smile Software’s TextExpander is a macOS and iOS utility that saves keystrokes by expanding a short abbreviation that you type, with whatever text you have previously associated with that abbreviation (a TextExpander Snippet). When you type the abbreviation, TextExpander automatically expands it to a short phrase, a date, a name, a paragraph or or pages of text—whatever Snippet you’ve assigned to that abbreviation. You can even create Snippets that manipulate or format text from your clipboard before you paste the copied text to a document. You can share Snippets between your macOS app and your iOS apps.

    I use TextExpander all the time for email, for Web pages, for HTML and CSS and for creating templates for various kinds of notes and glosses. I use ddate, for instance, any time I want to insert today’s date in a document, and TextExpander inserts the current  date for me. I write a lot html; while I use BBEdit for most CSS and HTML, when I’m writing blog posts in particular, I rely on TextExpander to quickly insert tags. TextExpander is particularly helpful in terms of short cuts for CSS I and tags like cite or blockquote that I use a lot. I type ,blockquote or ,cite and TextExpander expands the abbreviation to the paired tag, with my cursor right between the open and close tags, so I can easily paste the quotation or or the book title that I’ve previously copied.

    TextExpander is a core part of my workflow, for writing of all kinds. I use TextExpander to add closings and sigs to my emails, letting me quickly customize the closing to suit the occasion without taking my hands off the keyboard to reach a menu,  and for the body of emails that I send frequently. I also use TextExpander for boiler plate paragraphs and URLs that I frequently need to send to people. I particularly like that I can rely on TextExpander for names of products and publishers, and be sure that I’m using the canonical name every single time. I have a group of snippets for words that I frequently misspell or mistype. TextExpander inserts the correct spelling for me. I also use TextExpander for templates for documents I create frequently. I have a review template, HTML templates for several kinds of Web pages, a proposal template, and, perhaps most importantly, an invoice template.

    I send a lot of emails that are essentially the same, except for the name of the addressee, and a few variables. TextExpander makes that much more efficient and saves me time and keystrokes. Let’s pretend you’re thanking someone for a donation to a charity you volunteer for. Type the abbreviation you assigned to the form letter Snippet, and TextExpander creates a popup form. You enter a name, the amount of the donation, choose a category that the donation will go to from a list, and click OK. TextExpander generates the letter, places it on your clipboard, and you can paste it in whatever document you want, in whatever word processor or email app you favor. The new “Snippet Creation Assistant” (see below) walks you through creating similar Snippets yourself (In fact I stole this example from the Snippet Creation Assistant).

    Snippet Creation Assistant

    One of the new features in TextExpander 5.x is a Snippet Creation Assistant. This interactive tutorial walks you through creating your own Snippets—and it’s available at any time via the Help menu in TextExpander. The Snippet Creation Assistant walks you through adding several particularly useful groups of Snippets: Auto Correction, which automatically corrects commonly misspell and mistyped words, like that for that; a group of words that strictly speaking require accents, for instance, correcting crêpe to crêpe; and a group of CSS and HTML Snippets that will even create paired tags.

    Shared Snippets

    Other TextExpander users have created snippets that they share; you can download and install shared snippets, or, if you’re using the subscription version of TextExpander, shared snippets called Public Groups can be added to your TextExpander account.

    TextExpander saves me time and keystrokes. At this point, I wouldn’t want to write without TextExpander. I even use TextExpander Touch on my iPhone and iPad. I have access to all my Snippets on my Mac, my iPhone and my iPad via DropBox syncing. With a yearly subscription, you can keep all your snippets (and share them with friends or the public) on TextExpander’s servers.

    Suggested Snippets

    A new feature of TextExpander 5 and later are “Suggested Snippets.” TextExpander watches in the background while you work, and when it notices you using the same phrases frequently, adds the phrase to a list of “Suggested Snippets.” You can choose to turn Suggested Snippets off of course, but it’s useful to leave it on for a while. You might be surprised at how often you use the same phrases, and Suggested Snippets makes it very simply to turn those repeated used phrases (and sentences) into a Snippet that can reuse with a few key presses.

    I occasionally turn Suggested Snippets back on when I start working on a new book or project, and it makes creating project-specific Snippets a breeze.

    Take Control of TextExpander

    Purple cover of Take Control of TextExpander bookThe built in Help (via the TextExpander Help menu) is quite good, as are the user guides for the macOS and iOS apps, but I got a lot more out of TextExpander after reading Take Control of TextExpander, which is organized so that you can skip around and use the specific parts you need at any given moment, if you don’t want to read Take Control of Text Expander cover-to-cover. It also covers TextExpander Touch for iOS.

    This post uses affiliate links.

  • iOS,  Software

    Brett Terpestra’s iOS iTextEditors Resource Page

    Brett Terpestra, the developer of the very useful OS X Marked app (a previewer for Markdown files), has created a page listing and describing iOS text editors.

    As Brett Terpestra notes:

    The information was compiled by the web community on an open Google spreadsheet. I cannot vouch for its current accuracy, but will be verifying everything as I’m able. It’s meant to help you find the most useful way to write, code or take notes for your personal needs. Every editor is geared toward a slightly different purpose, with their own strengths and focus.

    There are a bunch there that I’ve tried, and many that are new to me, but the way Brett has created a chart comparing features is really helpful. There really is an iOS text editor for everyone, and his detailed chart makes that clear.

    Comments Off on Brett Terpestra’s iOS iTextEditors Resource Page
  • iOS

    New iOS 8 Keyboard Features

    I have another article over at my publishers, Peachpit on the new iOS 8 keyboard features, including the ability to add third-party keyboards.

    One of the innovative aspects of iOS in its initial release was the way the onscreen digital keyboard and multi-touch combined to make a large number of characters available within limited screen space. Since that first iOS release in June 2007, Apple has improved the onscreen keyboard enormously. In iOS 8, Apple also added a special keyboard for Emoji (smileys), a new typing feature called the QuickType bar (see Figure 1), and support for third-party onscreen keyboards from the App Store.

  • iOS,  Software,  Writing

    Markdown and Me

    As part of my determination to come up with a cleaner less keystroke-intensive workflow for all my writing, I’m taking a hard look at Markdown.

    Dustin Curtis' Markdown MarkI first heard about Markdown back in 2004. I’d been blogging for a few years, and and hand-coding HTML. I came to HTML with surface familiarity with SGML in a library and deep familiarity with WordPerfect and WordStar. I’d been following Dean Allen’s development of Textile, and using Brad Choate’s MT-Textile plug-in for MovableType. John Gruber of Daring Fireball (one of the blogs that introduced me to blogging) created Markdown (with assistance from Aaron Swartz) as a way to format text for the Web without having to delve into HTML. In 2004 Gruber wrote about Markdown:

    Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).

    One of the virtues of Markdown is that it is easy to use, and easy to remember. In Markdown, you use *for bold*, _ for italic_. Headings are marked by a leading *for the largest heading, **for the next size down, ***for the next level. The tags are easier to remember and shorter than those for HTML. They’re minimalist, and less likely to obscure text and slow down writing or editing.

    John Gruber thoughtfully provides simple to understand Markdown syntax documentation.

    When I discovered that Gruber’s Markdown Perl scripts worked with MovableType (this blog ran on MovableType then), I installed it and used it for a while. When I moved from MovableType, I stopped actively using Markdown, but I remained interested in both Markdown and Textile (and even used TextPattern Dean Allen’s CMS bases on Textile). But recently, I became much more actively interested in Markdown for a couple of reasons.

    First, TidBITS, the publishers of Take Control ebooks, started  using Markdown as part of it’s work flow for creating Take Control ebooks. Next, Michael Cohen asked me to find a way to support Markdown in his WordPress Blog. He had become accustomed to writing in Markdown because of Take Control books. Secondly, publisher of The Magazine and smart tech writer Glenn Fleishman relied on Markdown format to produce The Magazine. Glenn’s enthusiasm about Markdown got me looking at Markdown much more closely than, say, learning enough Markdown to work on Wiki documents intended for internal documentation.

    Why Use Markdown

    • A Markdown file is liquid data; it’s going to be easy to convert in the future, just as it is easy now to covert Markdown formatted text files to HTML, RTF, .Doc, or .PDF.
    • Markdown means fewer keystrokes than HTML. That means less keyboarding and no reaching for a palette or button to click. The longest tag I know of is three characters in a row.
    • Markdown lets you use HTML as needed, without having to do anything exotic involving obscure technical feats or escape codes.
    • Markdown may be easier to implement than HTML when writing on an iPad. At least that’s my current theory.
    • Markdown allows you to concentrate on the text as content, rather than the text as document.

    Last year I wrote a long essay (eventually published by Boing Boing) that I initially drafted in Markdown, then hand-converted to HTML. I know, now, that there were better ways to do that, but I used BBEdit for the Markdown version and for the conversion to HTML, so it was relatively trivial to do. BBEdit not only fully supports Markdown as a language, it was one of the first applications Gruber provided Markdown tools for. The current version of BBEdit (11.0.2) has built in support for Markdown (including the ability to Preview Markdown files in BBEdit and customizable syntax coloring). And using Markdown in documents destined for the Web doesn’t mean I can’t simply insert any HTML I need that isn’t covered by Markdown tags.

    For any markup that is not covered by Markdown’s syntax, you simply use HTML itself. There’s no need to preface it or delimit it to indicate that you’re switching from Markdown to HTML; you just use the tags.— John Gruber

    If you want more BBEdit Markdown support, Watts Martin has created a nifty BBEdit Markdown Extension Package that builds on the work of John Gruber and Aaron Swartz, and adds some additional commands, not the least of which are Transformation commands to convert Markdown to HTML, HTML to Markdown, and Markdown to BBCode. There’s a catch to using Markdown in BBEdit; you have to set Markdown as a Language in BBEdit’s Preferences, and you need to use “.md” and “.mdown” as file name suffixes/extensions.

    I’m going to spend a few weeks or months deliberately using Markdown as much as possible. I’ve installed Watts Martins Markdown Extension Package in BBEdit. WordPress via a Jetpack plugin supports Markdown, and there are a number of dedicated Markdown editors for OS X (Markdown Pro from RADSense Software, Mou from 25.io, Typed from Realmac Software) and iOS (Editorial from OMZ Software, Byword from Metaclassy, and others).

  • iOS,  Software

    Managing The Holidays With Your iPhone or iPad

    I have a new article up at the Peachpit Website:

    I eagerly look forward to the holidays every year, but increasingly I rely on my iPad and iPhone to help deal with holiday tasks in ways that free me to enjoy time with friends and family. In my case, the holidays include cooking and entertaining and gift-giving, which means both shopping for gifts and creating gifts.

    There’s an app for that.

  • iOS

    iOS 7 Released Today

    Before you update, assuming your iOS device is supported, make sure you’re running the latest version of iTunes (11.1 for OS X Mountain Lion) by launching iTunes and going to the iTunes menu and choosing Check For Updates… . Alternatively, you can download iTunes from Apple. Then, connect your iOS device to your computer with the USB cable, and backup your device to your computer.

    Once you’ve updated and backed up, connect your device to a power source, go to the Settings App, then General, then Software Update to update your device.

    After the iOS update arrives, update any apps that need it, then read this excellent TidBITS article by Tonya Engst: iOS 7 Pre-flight Checklist.

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