Do you backup?

I just read an email about an author from Port Elizabeth who has lost over 200 pages from a book that she is busy writing after her laptop was stolen. These are over 200 pages of the only draft!

While I feel sorry for her, I hear this kind of story almost every week. How simple is it to really backup your files? I am sure that right now, she is thinking that perhaps she should back up on a more regular basis.

A hard drive drive costs less than R1000, and a memory stick less than R99, so there is no excuse for loosing your data. Hey, I even sometimes make a dirty backup backup by simply emailing changed documents to my gmail account. It is free, effective and reliable! And of course entry level Google Drive and Dropbox accounts are free.

So, please learn from this and backup your files!

Schrodenger’s Restaurant

Isn’t it interesting that as soon as you find a quiet, out of the way restaurant, everybody starts going there. You know what I mean, the sort of place that is reasonably priced, serves really fine food, and has a fine ambience. Then everybody hears about this place, and before you know it you have to book weeks in advance. And then when you finally manage to visit the restaurant, its full, noisy and impersonal. Everything that you liked about it has gone. Why are all of these people visiting YOUR spot?

What is interesting is that the very act of you visiting the restaurant changes the ambience in a very subtle way. Similarly, the act of all of you visiting the restaurant changed it in a larger way. Many people doing this creates a critical mass, and that is when the small, subtle changes become far more pronounced.

Hence, the best way to not change the restaurant is to not visit it at all, which is pretty self-defeating. What’s also interesting is that everybody else is feeling exactly the same about THEIR spot.

What can you do about it? Not much really. You can continue to visit your favorite spots, and hope that the critical mass takes its time to accumulate, or that (hopefully) it does not accumulate at all, and the restaurant continues to satisfy the trickle of people passing through.

Ulysses – markdown editing

Before I tell you about Ulysses and why I think it’s a great piece of software, a quick primer on markdown.

What is markdown?

Markdown is an easy way to create rich documents using a plain text editor (with bold, italic, etc), and it is particularly useful to create HTML content. Markdown makes it easy to create blog posts without having to worry too much about the formatting, but you can still perform powerful formatting in a text editor. For example, you can create:

A headings

Or you can create

More headings

Or if you want a list it easy easy. Just use a *

Most modern text editors provide some sort of markdown support. But there is a single feature that Ulysses gets right. Even though markdown is simple, it is easy to get confused and mess up the formatting.

Ulysses shows you how your document is going to look in the plain text. You don’t need to switch to a markdown preview view. This makes it super-fast to write web content.

Simple markdown

If you look at the below screenshot, you can clearly see what I wrote, and this formatted blog post is of course how it appears. Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 2 59 24 PM

Sample markdown screenshot

Commands

While markdown only requires you to learn a handful of formatting commands, you don’t even need that! Your traditional CMD-B will turn test into bold, or CMD-I for italic etc. Or you can use the simple dropdown pallet for a shortcut of the main commands.

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 2 59 50 PM

Command list

Word count

Ulysses gives a nice view of word coun,’ as well as an estimation of page reading time, and you can set goals and see your progress towards that goal.

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 2 59 58 PM

Read time

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 3 00 46 PM

Goal progress

Creating articles

Ulysses is good for creating ideas and draft articles; since everything is stored in a single notebook you don’t have to keep on creating and saving draft files; you just add a new page and start typing. This feature is very similar to Onenote and Evernote (except they don’t support markdown). In my workflow I create a group for articles, which is broken down into:

  • Ideas
  • Draft
  • Complete

Articles roughly move from ideas to draft then complete as they move through the writing and editing process.

Not just for web

While the main benefit of Ulysses is to rapidly creat HTML, since it is just rich text, you can easily use it for print formats as well. Ulysses allows you to export to docx (Microsoft Word), PDF, epub and text. You can also publish directly to a WordPress blog. Here’s a quick example of the PDF export (you can fully customize the PDF).

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 3 42 30 PM
PDF export

Other features

I have just touched on a few features of Ulysses, there are a ton of other features, including:

  • tagging
  • powerful search and filters
  • attachments
  • automatic sync across devices
  • automatic backups
  • Dropbox sync
  • Styling

Is Ulysses for you?

If you aren’t interesting in learning or using markdown, then no I wouldn’t bother using it. But if you already using markdown, or see it as a potential tool to create online content then I strongly recommend it. I have been using it for about a month now, and its great. It was easy to create markdown or HTML articles, the grouping and tagging allows you to use whatever workflow you want, and it has a powerful search capability.

Unfortunately for Windows users, it is Apple only (Mac and IOS) You can find out more on the Ulysses website.

Finally the disclosure. I was provided with a free copy of Ulysses for this review, and I used it to create this review. But I am finding myself using it more and more as a general note-taking application, and for creating and managing my blog posts.

Day One review

Dayone2 logo

If you use a Mac and keep any sort of journal this is an app to look at. If you are a Windows user this is one more reason to make the switch.

I have been a user of Day One version 1 for several months, and it is an excellent tool for journaling. They pay attention to detail in both the design and the features. It has a clean and beautiful interface, and it’s super-easy to use. The MAC and IOS apps play nicely together, and sync is easy to setup and just works!

Day One recently released a new version with the somewhat confusing name of Day One 2.0. I have been using this version for about 2 weeks now. Here’s my review.

What’s new?Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 11.51.19 AM

There are two big new features:

  • Firstly support for multiple journals. This is perfect for me because I can now store my personal and work entries in the same place, but in separate journals.
  • Secondly, in the previous version you could only have a single photo per entry. Now you can have multiple photos. At first I wasn’t really interest in this feature, but I find that I am using it more and more – especially for documenting my travels.

Should you upgrade?

Well that depends on your needs? To upgrade both the Mac and IOS versions will set you back $49.98 (at the moment you can grab the Mac app for $29.99 and the IOS app for $4.99). If you do a lot of journaling, want multiple photos per entry and support for multiple journals then yes it is an excellent application and worth the price.

But if you are happy with a single journal, then aside from a mildly slicker interface you are not going to gain too much additional value.

Of course if you are not yet a user and are looking for a journaling app, this is one to check out.

Wishlist

While the app is great, there are a few things that I think would make it amazing:

  • Basic customisation of the styling in the posts using my choice of fonts and colours
  • Ability to export entries for a date range, and for the PDF export to show the images full-width, and to be able to select the fonts and colours
  • Applescript support would be amazing

But it’s a great app. It is easy to use, and makes keeping an electronic journal really easy.

You can find out more and get App Store links from their website.

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary review copy from Day One

Free resources from Udemy

The folk at Udemy have put together good collection of youtube videos focusing on public speaking. The videos are short, and give good examples and advice on become a better speaker.

Udemy also has a several online public speaking courses for sale. But like many learning sites you may have to look around to find the one that best suits you (hint: click on the courses and check out the table of contents).

They gave me a enrollment of one of the courses, and I got video, downloadable PDF supplementary material and external links.

Personally I think that nothing can compare to getting up and giving a speech in a safe environment (such as at a Toastmasters meeting), but if you are looking for some fast-track information or want to supplement your training,  there is some good stuff to be found.

On a side note I have used Udemy for technical training as well, and they have lots of very good courses on a variety of topics. They are worth checking out.

DEVONThink or Evernote?

I have been a paid user of Evernote for a couple of years and have always found it to be a very good service. However I have become recently more and more frustrated in it, in particular changing the MAC interface to a complex and unintuitive interface, and the reliability of the sycing between the cloud and the IOS app. So I have been looking for an alternative, and I think I may have found it in DEVONThink pro.

Since both DEVONThink and Evernote are used to store and find pretty much anything stored in notebooks (e.g. notes, documents, images, PDF etc), they pretty much do the same thing. In some ways DEVONThink does it much better than Evernote, but there are a few limitations as well.

Here is a feature comparison (this is not an exhaustive list of all the features, just what I consider to be most important for me), and some general comments after. While I have tried to keep this feature comparison as objective as possible, it is based on my own experience. Versions compared are Evernote v5.0.6 (MAC) and DevonThink Pro v2.5.1.

Feature Evernote DEVONThink
Platform Cross platform Mac and iOS only
Groups Notebooks can be stored in a single group (Evernote calls them stacks), but they cannot be nested in multiple levels Notebooks can be stored in groups, and groups can be nested.Notes can also be replicated and stored in multiple folders. EG I have a single list of items I need for photoshoots which is stored in both my photography and my travel folder.Smart groups allow for documents in different folders to be visible in a single place. For example I can view all WIP documents in a single place.
Tagging Tags supported Tags and labels (WIP, completed etc) supported
Browser plugins Yes Yes
Email notes directly to a notebook Yes No
Mobile Sync Over the air Over the air (mac to mac), but only via wifi for IOS. Note that version 2 of IOS is due soon which will support over the air sync. Of course the wifi sync is super-fast (since only the local network is involved).It is easy to select which notes or notebooks to sync (just replicate them to a “mobile sync” folder).You can also sync to dropbox and webdav
File formats Evernote; propriety format with limited export ability. Notes are all regular file formats (pdf, jpg, rtf etc), so it is easy to get the notes out should you wish to migrate the notes somewhere else
Search Saved searches supported. Search is slow Saved searches supported via smart groups. Search is super-fast
3rd Party support Lots of 3rd party applications that connect to Evernote, as well as apps created by them (eg Hello and Food app) Applescript support allows for extension of capability into other applications.
Editing internal editor Limited Since the files are stored in the file system, you can use any external editor (e.g. Textedit for RTF, preview for images etc). However the internal editor generally good enough.
Sharing Yes and very easy Yes but a little more complex
Note templates No Yes (eg: new agenda)
Size limits Limits depending if you have a free or paid package, but very generous limits. Since the files are stored on the computer, no limits
Costs Free and paid versions (annual fees) Pay for s/w, but no subscription costs, but it will take about 3 years to break even in cost compared to Evernote
Mobile version offline access (iPhone) Supported, but I never could get it to reliably work (at last check it told me that I had about 100tb used when I actually had about 100mb used) Supported via wifi

And now for some subjective comments.

Evernote

While the Evernote IOS application looks really nice, it is overly complex and cumbersome to use. In other words it looks pretty but is not friendly. When sync works it is great, but it constantly seems to be wanting to update notebooks, and the updates seemed to take forever. Of course it has online sync, whereas the DEVONThink products do not (yet – see below).

The PC desktop version is great, and the MAC version was until a recent update in which it became very unintuitive. I had to do an online search to find out how to do a simple thing like delete a notebook.

DEVONThink

The DEVONThink IOS application is very simple, but it is easy to use, search is accessibly (and fast), and navigation is really fast and easy. Sync can only be performed via wifi and not though the cloud (although a new version is due this year which will support sync via the cloud).

It reminds me of using the beautiful OmniFocus interface, similar, easy to use but powerful. This is a good companion product for the GTD junkies and OmniFocus users. While both are simple and intuitive, they are powerful products and have loads of useful features. It is not the cheapest products, but after using it for a few weeks you will wonder how you ever got by without it.

It integrates into almost anything, and getting information into and out of it is a breeze. I feel less “locked in” than with Evernote.

Overall (and yes I am coming from a grumpy Evernote experience), I think that DEVONThink is the winner, it will be my product of choice.

You can download a 30 evaluation version of DEVONThink, or the free version of Evernote and decide for yourself.

Disclosure: free license for both iPhone and MAC were provided by DEVONThink for my evaluation.

Review: Cloudberry online backups

I have far too many friends that just don’t create backups, and far too many that backup to an external drive that lives next to their computers, which while marginally better is still basically useless.. Online backups are such a simple solution to this problem, but I have (until now) struggled to find a solution that really meets my needs.

In my quest to find the ultimate online backup solution, here are my requirements:

  • Compression of files before they are sent to the cloud. This saves in both upload time (bandwidth), and in storage cost.
  • Encryption of my data on my machine before they are sent to the server
  • “Trust no one”; only I hold the encryption key, and online data can only be decrypted by me
  • Versioning of files and keeping deleted files for a period of time
  •  Support of external (USB) drives
  • Robust

I have used two providers in the past (I won’t mention names), but one of them only supported internal drives, and the other deleted 50gigs of online backup because my external drive was unavailable.

So, I think that I may have finally found a product that does everything I need: Cloudberry Backup. Cloudberry have built a bunch of products that allow for connectivity to cloud storage services (their ‘S3 Explorer” is basically Total Commander for S3; a great product as well).

I have been using Cloudberry Backup for about a week now, and so far I am very impressed. Here are some of the features that impress me:

  • Optional compression
  • Block level backups (great for mailboxes)
  • Support for several cloud storage providers (S3, Rackspace, Azure and Google are just a few)
  • When using S3 (which is what I use), it gave me the option to use the Reduced Redundancy Storage, which is a little cheaper
  • Trust no one; however if I lose my backup key I will not be able to recover my files. The backup key is NEVER sent out
  • Many encryption options (AES256, DES, RC2, 3DES); file names are also encrypted
  • File Versioning (and deleting of old versions and retention of deleted files)
  • Scheduling
  • Real time backups
  • Server side encryption (s3 only)
  • Client side encryption

 

I tried to break it (by removing the external drives during backup), and it just picked up the error and waited for the drives be reconnected.

I then tested by deleting a few files and running a restore, it was a breeze. When I had a few questions, I got a rapid email response from them.

The software is super-simple to use; I will literally backuping up some folders in about 5 minutes. While it has some quite complex and technical features, anybody can use it. It is really easy to use. This is a great product which I think will be my backup solution.

I will post any updates.

Disclaimer: Cloudberry offered me a free license key, but it was only after I started my evaluation, and my evaluation is based on the 14 day trial that I am currently running. If it continues running like I expect, I will use that free key.

 

Syndicating your blog – Word Camp Cape Town

Some of you have asked for a copy of my recent presentation at WordCamp Cape Town. The organisers have loaded all of the sessions onto YouTube, so if you would like to watch my session (or any of the others, look below). If you are at all interested in WordPress and missed WordCamp , I highly recommend that you look out for WordCamp Cape Town 2012, it is going to be a fantastic conference. Here is the YouTube video.

And here are the slides…

Use your customers to improve your product

I have been using Microsoft Office 2010 for a few months now. When I closed Word the other day, the following dialogue appeared on the screen. Basically Word had made a list of words that I commonly use that are not in the Word dictionary, and gave me the option of uploading them to their spell check database.

I am sure that they are using the community-gathered information to add new words to the dictionary to make for an ultimately better product.

This is a simple and elegant way to make a better product, and to have happier customers.

  • What are you doing to make your products better?
  • How are you involving your customers?
  • Is it easy for your customers to provide feedback?