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


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.

Book review: The Healthy Programmer

The Healthy ProgrammerThis book is a practical guide for computer programmers (or any office worker) who want to get more fit and healthy. While the book is clearly geared towards computer programmers, it would only take a minor adjustment to call it something like “The Healthy Office Worker”. While the book uses the Agile programing methodology as a framework, (sprints, retrospectives, unit testing etc), the contents are relevant to anybody spending most of their work days sitting at a computer.

The book goes into a lot of detail, and is full of references, real life stories about programmers that have become more healthy, and practical goals and actions. While it is easy to read, it is detailed and comprehensive, covering topics such as workspace setup, diet, back and wrist pain, exercise and headaches.

The danger is that with so much detail and 19 practical goals, you may be a little overwhelmed. Having said that they are excellent goals and I think you should pick the ones that will work for you and not strive for all 19. One thing that did annoy me is the rather old fashioned notion of counting calories/reducing calories to lose weight. I personally believe that provided you eat the right calories you can eat as much you like and forget about the quantity of calories (basically high fat low carb). This approach has personally worked for me.

The book comes with a free iPhone app (I did not check it out but it is rated 4+), as well as a discussion forum on which the author comments.

Is it worth reading ?- yes most definitely (even if you are not a programer).
Is it going to improve your health and fitness? Well that is up to you.

You can buy the book here, the ebook is $24.

Disclaimer: I was given a free review copy, and I run 20km+ races on a regular basis.

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.


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.


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.

Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to publish a book

APE CoverAuthor, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to publish a book, by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

Although I would like to publish an ebook at some stage, it is not something that I am looking at doing right now, so the review copy on my Kindle sat there for quote a while before I got to browsing through it. When I eventually got to it, I read the entire book cover to cover in a single day.

This book is for anybody who has or is considering writing, publishing and distribution an ebook, and will save you hours of time and frustration. I have always thought the process of creating an ebook is pretty simple, but there is far more involved that I ever considered.

This book goes into a lot of detail describing the different publishing models, pitfalls to look out for (you will need more than 1 ISBN number), and plenty on the technical aspects of creating a functional and working ebook

There are plenty of links to online resources, including tons of free information on the book site itself (http://apethebook.com/), such as Microsoft Word templates, sample contracts and external links (there are over 350 hyperlinks in the book).

At just under 400 pages it is easy to get through, but it has tons of useful information. If you are planning on wrinting an ebook, I highly recommend you buy it and skim through it before you write a single word, and then jump into the details as you work through the different stages of creating and publishing your book.

Highly recommended, and at less than $10 for the Kindle version, a steal.

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.


Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds

mindfireThis eclectic series of short essays discusses ideas, questions and concepts that make you think. Sometimes he challenges conventional thinking (why being a follower can be good), and other times he just questions our actions (should you pray for your team to win), there is some advice. And the rest of the time it is just plain interesting.

If you are looking for new ideas, or to find a different take on old idea, you will enjoy this book. As a Toastmasters, there are some great ideas for your next speech.

Some of the ideas discussed are:

  • The cult of busy
  • Why you must lead or follow
  • The size of ideas
  • How to keep your mouth shut

Many of the essay’s are on Scott’s website, so you can check them out before you buy the book. http://www.scottberkun.com/essays/

This book is kind of a “Chicken Soup for the Philosophical Soul”, and gives you interesting ideas to consider, without being too complex or deep (most of the stories are only a page or two, but the could be expanded into longer essays or books). If I had to criticise, I would like to see some more depth to some of the articles, I feel that sometimes he is just touching the tip of some very complex idea.

But then to contradict myself, it is refreshing to read a chapter that gets my brain engaged, but is only a few hundred words long.

The entire book is just short of 200 pages, but I don’t think that I would read it cover to cover. For me it is a book that you jump into from time to time, find an interesting chapter and read it. They are the kind of chapters that you can re-read a few times. You can buy the print or Kindle version from Amazon.com for just under $11.

I’m feeling lucky – book review

I’m Feeling Lucky. The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

Doug Edwards

This book is for anybody looking for an inside view into the growth of one of the biggest brands in the world. Marketers, techies or anybody wanting to learn what it is like working at Google should ready this book. He tells a personal story, describing his own misgivings, challenges and successes as an early employee. He describes the people culture, technical and marketing challenges, and the chaotic and crazy startup days.

The book provides Insights into Google as it grew from startup to large business, and provides some valuable lessons to take into our own organisations. For example, make decisions quickly, but made key decisions.

While the book provides a very detailed and almost daily account of his work, it is sometimes almost too detailed (I sometimes felt a little like I was reading the minutes of every discussion and meeting at Google). If you just want to find out about Google, there are plenty of shorter and easier to read books. But if you are looking for a personal and detailed account for life at Google, this is a great book, and worth reading.

You can pre-order from Amazon.com

Grow your Voice to Speak with Confidence

Grow your Voice to Speak with Confidence

Dr Petro Janse van Vuuren

This book discusses aspects of public speaking that we often neglect, and that is using your voice as an effective tool to get your message across.  Instead of telling you how to structure your presentation, how to use the stage or to use body language, she focuses understanding, developing and using the core muscles required to have an effective speaking voice.

It is a little like a Pilates or Yoga course for developing your speaking voice. It is written in 6 chapters, each building on the previous chapter to help you to develop your speaking voice. The accompanying CD takes you through the physical and vocal exercise in the book. While the exercise are good for developing the core muscles (hence my Pilates comment), they are also good for general warm-up (thinking about it they remind me of choir warm-up exercises from high school).

Dr van Vuuren has plenty of experience in the theatre, and many case studies to backup her approach. The book is for sale on her website for R190. You can find out more about her book and workshops on her website.

This is a good book to compliment traditional public speaking training, and I see a place in my bookshelf for it.

Book review: Obstacle Illusions

Obstacle Illusions: Transforming Adversity into Success.

Stephen J. Hopson was born deaf but quickly learned to speak and began attending public school. At five years old, he told his parents he would become a pilot and was dismissed as being foolish, but as an adult he made aviation history by becoming the world’s first deaf instrument-rated pilot.

He says “As a transformational speaker, my audiences expect no less from me. When I’m up there on the platform, I have a huge responsi-bility to bring forth ideas and concepts that have the potential to truly transform lives but if I try to be someone else then the mes-sage gets lost. The audience subconsciously turns a deaf ear.”

Having a blind wife exposes me to many disabled speakers that have achieved despite having a disadvantage in life. This is not just another life-story written by a disabled person.

In the preface, Stephen says that it can be read in a single sitting, and he is right. It is not a long book, and it is very easy reading. However, it is the type of book that you keep going back to. Rather than writing a chronology of his entire life, he presents his message through a series of 25 vignettes, each describing what he learned through something that had happened to him (and often things that he caused to happen). Each chapter ends with a something to think on, and a reflective exercise on how you can apply the lessons that he has learned to your own life.

Stephen is a remarkable person, and he has written a remarkable book. The stories are inspirational, and perfect to put your own perspective back on track. You can buy it from Amazon.com for $16.10, or find out more about Stephen on his website.

Book Review: Everyone Communicates, few connect by John Maxwell

Everyone Communicates, few Connect by John Maxwell

Published by Thomas Nelson

***look below for a free copy – contest closed

Many of us have intentions to read more self-development books, but by the end of the work-day we are simply too tired, so we end up in front of the TV or reading a light novel.

This book is one of those that you can pick up at the end of the day. It is filled with stories and anecdotes drawn from his own experience and from others; all of which illustrate the points that he is trying to make. The story telling style makes it easy reading; yet still a book of substance. This is typical of what I have come to expect from his other books. At 250 pages it is not a long read, but you can always go back to it again and again.

The main premise of the book is that while we spend a huge amount of time communicating, we are not necessarily making the right effective connections that are crucial to effective communication and leadership.

The book is divided into two main sections; principles and practices. It is self explanatory, but he gives a few simple principles on making better and effective connections, and then shows how to implement them.

The book is aimed at anybody wishing to make better connections; and could be applied in both your personal or business life. He gives simple tips at the end of chapter, divided into three main areas, namely one-on one, a group or an audience.

For the public speakers out there; some great tips (and affirmation of some things you already know), for those of you in corporate business, some tips on working with colleagues, in teams at or in a group environment, such as at meetings. And one-on one communication is important to us all.

An unusual feature of the book is that John Maxwell posted the manuscript of the book on his blog www.johnmaxwellonleadership.com, and he received over 100,000 view over eleven weeks, resulting in over 70 quotes, stories and anecdotes from readers which resulted in over 100 revisions. Every contributor is acknowledged in the book.

I am a fan of John Maxwell, so it is difficult to be unbiased, but as a communicator and public speaker, this is a great book, and it is going to help you to become even better.

It is available from Amazon in hardback for $17.15. The folks at Thomas Nelson have kindly provided 5 free copies to readers. Leave you name in the comment section below, and I will randomly draw 5 names on 28 July who will each receive a copy.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the (signed) review copy.