Copying Unclutter Notes –> Bear App

In light of the new Ulysses subscription pricing, I’ve been testing out the Bear writing app for Mac to see if it meets my needs (it’s a lot cheaper for annual subscription). I like it. I’m also using the Unclutter app, from the makers of DaisyDisk.

With Unclutter, it’s really easy to create new notes on the fly. You just move your mouse up to the top of the menu bar, drag down, and you’re presented with a field to start typing in notes. I love this. It’s fast and I don’t need to first open an app. As an aside, Unclutter presents three panes: one holds clipboard items, one stores files, and one is for jotting down quick notes. It’s very handy. But this post is just about the notes pane, which I tend to use the majority of the time.

And the majority of the time, I’m typing in notes that I only need to maintain for a short time. Say, for instance, when I’m on a call and want to quickly log some notes. Those notes remain within Unclutter until I’m done with them, then I delete them.

But on occasion, I want a new note to be copied over to the Bear app. Bear is where I hold longer-term notes. Here’s a very easy way to do that using the Hazel, a brilliant Mac automation tool.

When I create a note in Unclutter that I want to save in Bear, I add a tag. In my case, I call it #.inbox/unclutter. In Bear tagging structure parlance, this means that I want this note to be in my inbox (#.inbox) with the sub-tag of unclutter. This works similar to traditional folders: the note will appear nested in my inbox tag. The ‘.’ in front of my inbox tag ensures that this frequently-accessed tag is sorted (alphabetically) near the top of my list of tags, which is handy since the “inbox” is always where I start when I fire up Bear. It’s where I store items to be further processed. So here’s a note I created in Unclutter (using markdown) with the ending tag: #.inbox/unclutter:

In Hazel, I created a rule to scan for texts in the Dropbox folder where Unclutter notes are stored. That rule searches for the tag: #.inbox/unclutter. When it sees that tag, it automatically copies the text note into Bear. Here’s what that rule looks like:

And once the Hazel rule runs, my new Unclutter note is copied into Bear.

Why do I want to do this? I’m generally using Unclutter as a really fast way to jot down notes. For most of those notes, I don’t want to save them for posterity. They’re just quick single entries for when I need to get some text down with no fuss, without needing to open an app. But sometimes I create a note with content that I intend to either build upon in the future, or want to copy/move to another text note housed within the Bear app. For those notes that I want to save for the longterm, I add just add the tag at the end and it’s waiting for me in Bear.

Future of Podcasts

Mike Elgan wrote an interesting piece on Cult of Mac recently that lays out a possible path forward for Apple with regards to the humble podcast. If you haven’t heard, it appears that Apple will break podcasts out into a separate app with the release of iOS 6. This will help to lighten up the iTunes app, which is arguably a bit crowded and unwieldy. That’s a good thing, but what will become of the podcast?  It could go the way of iTunesU, which was stripped out of the iTunes app not too long ago and is now offered as an optional download. That’s what we could call the ‘demotion to obscurity’ path. As Elgan points out, this made sense for iTunesU because the user base for lectures is narrow. For podcasts, however, such a move might signal that Apple doesn’t really care about the podcast medium, choosing instead to focus only on content that makes them money. It might, in short, spell the beginning of the end for the podcast. In less dire terms, it certainly wouldn’t help podcast listenership to grow beyond a relatively small but enthusiastic group of people.

An alternative path might feature a new iOS 6 podcast app that is installed by default with iOS 6, forming the centerpiece of a new content strategy for Apple that combines free podcasts with paid audio. This is Elgan’s speculation, and I think he’s on to something. He essentially says that such a strategy could herald a new dawn for podcasts, in which Apple sets the stage to compete with Audible (by wrapping in Apple audiobooks with the podcast app and cutting ties with Amazon’s competing Audible service); integrate podcasts and other audio content with car stereos employing Siri control (because that’s where a lot of people listen to audio); and adopt the name ‘iPodcasts’ or ‘iPodcast’ to brand the new app (which, Elgan surmises, might give Apple more footing to go after companies profiting by using the word ‘pod’ in their products and services). 

As it now stands, podcast enthusiasts (like me) mostly feel that Apple thinks little of podcasts. In iTunes terms, the podcast is one step up from the ‘Radio’ category. When was the last time you used that feature? It’s a shame, because podcasts serve up consistently great and varied content. I currently subscribe to 41 podcasts. For years, I relied on iTunes for podcast content. And, for years, I’ve cursed at how poorly iTunes manages podcasts and fails at helping people discover great shows.

Recently, I switched from iTunes to so-called ‘podcatcher’ apps. I purchased iCatcher! and Downcast and tried each out for several weeks. I would recommend them both, really. They are solid apps. Having said that, I’m currently using Downcast as my podcatcher of choice because it’s a bit more polished and syncs faster across devices via iCloud. What do podcatcher apps offer over iTunes? Well, syncing across devices for starters. I can stop listening to a podcast on my iPhone and pick up where I left off on my iPad. I can download podcasts (of any size) over 3G. I can manage my podcasts by playlist. I enjoy automatic, untethered podcast updating over WiFi. I could go on. Suffice it to say that Apple’s podcast offerings pale in comparison.

If Apple does stake a claim on ‘iPodcast’ and rolls out a new app this Fall that consolidates both free podcast and paid spoken word content, it would surely be a good thing for the future of the podcast. Of course, it could also mean that apps like Downcast and iCatcher will soon be Sherlocked. And it could also mean that fewer and fewer podcasts would be free in the future, as this might give podcast producers an easy way to charge for episodes without creating stand-alone apps. Who knows. What I do sense is that, as a consumer and producer of podcasts and big fan of spoken word content, this medium is undervalued and underappreciated. 

Spotified

Spotify launched in the U.S., I signed up for a Premium account for $10 per month. Now that I’m nearing the two-month membership mark,  I’m familiar enough with the service to share some thoughts.  I should start by noting that I’m not the type of person who regularly signs up for paid services. I don’t even subscribe to a cable TV package.

So why do I think Spotify Premium is worth the price of admission?

First and foremost, access to millions upon millions of tracks. While my musical tastes tend toward the eclectic and obscure, I’ve been able to find most of what I was looking for.  Second, the Premium service allows me to stream all the content I can reasonably consume, without ads, on my Mac or on my iPhone. Third, Premium serves up higher-quality audio. Fourth, I can cache songs for offline listening,  useful for my daily train commute through farm country with spotty 3G service. And, finally, I can listen to most of my iTunes music on-the-go (provided I have a connection), as Spotify reads what I own and matches what it can with copies in the cloud.

Spotify is a different sort of service from that of Pandora or Last.fm. It’s better suited for people who know what they want, or at least are willing to take the time to explore. While there is an ‘Artist Radio’ function to stream similar artists, it’s not a well-promoted feature.  To be honest, I didn’t even notice this feature for the first month and have never had the urge to use it. Instead, I tend to seek out a specific artist, then choose from a list of Spotify-suggested related artists. This often leads to uncharted territory and new artist discoveries. I like it because I feel that I am in direct control of the discovery process.  

Unfortunately, all  that I just described in the previous paragraph is available only on the desktop. The iPhone app is geared towards playing tracks already lined up in a playlist, with the exception of seeking out a specific artist, album, or track. In other words, I can search the Spotify database from the iPhone, but I have to know what I’m looking for. There is no ‘Artist Radio’ streaming option and no ‘Related Artists’ category on the mobile app. That’s a shame.

As I mentioned earlier, Spotify allows syncing of tracks from iTunes. The promise is that this will mostly alleviate the need to fire up the other music platform. I’ve found this to be largely true. While the service only syncs non-DRM protected music from an iTunes library, that’s not that big of a deal. I can always search out those missing files from Spotify’s database, provided they’re available. 

I can also listen to most of my iTunes library on my iPhone or iPad without worrying about managing playlists due to limited storage space (provided I don’t overdo it with offline caching). Spotify automatically matches the tunes in my iTunes library with online versions in Spotify’s massive database. It’s seamless.

Unfortunately, a fair number of my more obscure tracks and albums aren’t available in Spotify’s database. If I want these tracks to be available, I have to choose to sync them locally for offline listening. I’ve also noticed that some of my iTunes tracks appear on my phone with little link symbols. I had to look up what this meant. It indicates that (for some reason) the version of the song that I own isn’t available to play in my country, so Spotify has substituted it for a playable version. 

I admit I am mystified as to why some material isn’t in the Spotify catalog, and why some tracks or albums are not available to U.S. customers. I’m sure it’s based on agreements that Spotify has worked out with labels, but it can be frustrating because it can be so … random. For instance, when I first started the service I downloaded ‘De Stilj’ by the White Stripes. A day later, this album vanished from my playlist. That album is no longer available to stream in the U.S. However, all other White Stripes albums are available. In terms of explanation, all I get from Spotify is a notice that the tracks ‘are not currently available in the United States.’ I can only imagine the convoluted paperwork that Spotify legal is juggling to keep this service going, so this isn’t really a complaint. I’m impressed that they got it off the ground at all. I’m just a bit miffed that I can’t stream some albums and tracks that I’d like to hear. Oddly, I’ve even come across many cases where all but one or two songs on a given album are available to stream. What’s so special about those songs? Arg!

Another example: The first disc of ‘Brewing Up With Billy Bragg,’ circa 1984, is available if you search for it via the Spotify desktop app. However, the second disc in this two-disc set is unavailable in the U.S. How odd. Worse, if I search for this album via the iPhone app, the album doesn’t appear at all. And a minor annoyance: that Billy Bragg album shows up as published in 2006. I’m guessing that’s a re-release date. I’ve found this time and again with albums I’ve sought out. The years don’t match up with actual release dates. I’ve also found that the same album often appears many times over in search results, but I can only listen to one of those albums in my country. I surmise that there are different licensed versions for different regions of the world.  It would be nice to have the option within Spotify’s preferences to hide the albums and tracks that I can’t stream. It’s the same thing to me as if those tracks and albums didn’t exist at all, so I don’t want to see them.

Functionally speaking, the desktop and mobile Spotify apps work quite well, with a few caveats regarding playlists. The main problem I’ve encountered is that the service doesn’t import smart playlists from iTunes, which is how nearly all of my nearly 8,000 files in iTunes are organized. The remedy for this, of course, is to make new playlists. It’s a simple task to copy and paste the contents of a smart playlist into a ‘dumb’ playlist within iTunes, and then import that. But that’s annoying. And speaking of smart playlists, Spotify absolutely needs some sort of intelligent playlist functionality to sort through and categorize Spotify music. Dumb playlists just don’t cut it.  

Here’s a round-up of what I’d like to see in future Spotify app releases:

  • More social sharing options. Right now, it’s only Facebook. I have no urge to share anything with Facebook. Actually, I’m not sure I’m inclined to share my personal music library via any service, but I’m sure that many users would appreciate greater choice.
  • Tooltips. The meaning of some of Spotify’s color-coding and iconography isn’t always obvious. Simple tooltips would help.
  • It would be nice to have ‘Related Artists’ and ‘Artist Radio’ on the mobile app.
  • I would appreciate the option to hide music that is not available for my country. I only want to see it if I can stream it.
  • Smart playlists: the ability to import from iTunes, and to create within Spotify. Perhaps there may be patent/legal issues here to prevent some of this functionality, but surely Spotify could devise some sort of ‘intelligent’ playlist capability. It’s an all-you-can-eat music service, so we need better organization options.
  • The user interface isn’t always intuitive. For instance, on the desktop app, you can’t get more information about an artist, or seek more albums/tracks from an artist, by selecting the artist name from within one of your playlists. You have to enter the name in the search box. When you do search for and select an artist, Spotify returns an interface with four tabs: an Overview, Biography, Related Artists, and Artist Radio. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t even notice the tabs at first. Oddly, the main window (the artist ‘Overview’ tab) displays the beginning sentence or two of the artist biography and a short list of a few related artists. Since there’s not much space here, only a fraction of the biography and related artists are visible, yet you can’t select one of these items to access the full bio or related artist entries. You just get to see a tiny fraction of the content. There isn’t even an option to scroll through the rest of the content. The only way to access this content is to select one of the tabs. Check out the screenshot below to see what I mean. Why not link the short blurbs on the ‘Overview’ page to the sub-tabs for Biography and Related Artists?

The odd Spotify ‘Overview’ PaneMy overall experience? I love it. Prior to Spotify, I had hundreds of dollars of albums in my ‘Wish List’ basket in iTunes. Now I’m listening to all of those albums. Yes, I’m paying $120 dollars a year for the privilege, but I’m consuming far more music than I ever could afford to buy outright. My interest in discovering new artists is greater than it has been since I was in my 20s. Now when I learn of an interesting new artist or album, I don’t have to read second-hand reviews or settle for short previews. And I don’t have to add items to a ‘Wish List.’ I just cue it up and experience it for myself. If I don’t like it, I can just as easily remove it. It’s a liberating experience.

On the flip side, unlimited and instant access to millions of tracks means that it’s easy to listen for one minute and then dump an album. Too easy. If I paid for an album, I would never do this. I’d listen to it over and over. I try to keep this habit with Spotify. Sure, I may still not like an album after a few listens. More often, though, I only begin to appreciate and enjoy an album after several weeks or months. Spotify’s all-you-can-eat buffet can destroy this practiced patience if you let it.

At any rate, I’m enjoying the service. Still, I am trying to keep my tracks well organized should I someday wish to cancel my subscription. What if fees get too steep? What if label agreements break down and the catalog drastically shrinks in size? My strategy is to carefully cultivate what I really like through playlists and by ‘starring’ favorites. Should I need to leave and return to iTunes,  I’ll have a good idea of which artist albums and tracks I want to buy and which I can do without.

Of course, I hope that day won’t arrive anytime soon. I’d love to see Spotify-like models appear for other content. I would consider signing up for similar services for audiobook, digital magazines, and ebook subscriptions. Hhave you heard the rumor that Amazon.com may soon roll out ebook rentals?

 

It’s May!?

Acorn 3 last week (while it was still on sale) based on rave reviews from trusted sources. I used it to prep this image collage. I’ve been using Photoshop since the 1996, so this is a significant change.

Will it replace Photoshop? Maybe, someday. I’d like to be able to migrate away from Adobe, mainly because the software updates are expensive; I, a relative power user, really don’t need many of Photoshop’s capabilities; I find I need the other Adobe tools in the Creative Suite (web edition) less and less; I like supporting indie developers.

The problem is that my Photoshop workflow has evolved over many years. I can whip out images quite fast with the tool. Acorn appears to offer many of the tools I need (if not most, to be honest), but learning a new app and getting that speed back is going to take some time.

Learning to use Acorn efficiently feels akin to the time, years ago, when I learned to type in Dvorak instead over Qwerty. The above image would take me a minute to create in Photoshop. It took me 15 minutes in Acorn. But that’s to be expected.

So far, it’s doing the job well … and it’s fast, fast, fast. I also appreciate many of the little touches in Acorn that make it pleasant to use (e.g., when I add a guide, I’m shown the pixel measurement in a little bubble window as I scroll the guide into place). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it supports all of my Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard shortcuts, which is something that I can’t say for my version of Photoshop (CS3). So I’m sticking with it as my primary editor to see if I can make the switch. Even if it doesn’t meet all my needs, I still have Photoshop CS3 to fall back on if I need more advanced features. My hope is that I won’t need to upgrade to the newest CS version of Photoshop. Ever.

How about Soundtrack Express?

 open public Beta of Adobe Audition for Mac. While Audition for Mac remains in Beta, anyone can download it for free to take it for a spin. It’s worth a look if you’re interested in advanced audio editing.

I’m planning to use it to produce the next episode of my podcast to see how it stacks up to Apple’s Soundtrack Pro. In preliminary tests editing some audio files and piecing together a multitrack project, it seems to offer all of the tools and capabilities of the Apple audio editing program (at least for my needs).

I’m interested in Audition as an eventual replacement for Soundtrack Pro. As much as I like Soundtrack Pro, I don’t like the fact that I can only get it as part of the Final Cut Studio suite. I don’t really use the other Final Cut tools*, so I’m loathe to upgrade to the most-recent version of the Apple suite just to use the audio editing application. A bit of backstory: I own the first version of Final Cut Studio, which I purchased at a steep discount thanks to an Apple promotion for people who previously owned one of the stand-alone apps that make up the Suite.

This is not to say that I want to purchase the stand-alone version of Adobe Audition. That would likely cost more than the upgrade price for Final Cut Studio. Rather, I’m anticipating that I might pick it up as part of a suite when Adobe comes out with CS6, as I’m still using CS3. 

Here’s the thing, though. Both Audition and Soundtrack Pro offer much more power than I really need.

However, these pro-level tools allow me to do things with audio that I just can’t do with other tools. I’ve tried to make GarageBand work, but it’s just too limited. I’ve tried Audacity, too, but it’s just too hard to use when juggling six or seven tracks and scores of clips.  I keep going back to Soundtrack Pro. 

What I’d really love to see is an audio application from Apple that’s akin to Final Cut Express. I want Soundtrack Express. It would offer less than Soundtrack Pro, but more than GarageBand. What do you say, Apple?

* I would gladly upgrade my copy of Final Cut Studio if the next version rolls in new capabilities to publish content for iOS devices.

On WriteRoom, Simplenote, and Plain Text Syncing

Simplenote subscription. ‘Why not try something else out?,’ I thought. It’s not that I don’t like Simplenote. It’s great. But I’ve never tried anything else beyond Apple’s paltry notes and the overpowered Evernote. Surely there are other worthy contendors out there.

What began as a simple search for an alternative snowballed into a larger project. I began by mulling over what is important to me when it comes to the note-taking (and note-retrieval) process. Ubiquity, certainly. I want my notes to be available anywhere, on any device. I want to be confident that the changes I’ve made to a note on my iPhone or on my Mac at work will sync back to my Mac at home. Simplicity, too. For all the praises of Evernote, I just can’t use it without wincing. It’s just so … heavy. I need something light, like Simplenote.

Then there’s format.  As a rule, I try to keep all of my important notes in plain text, stored in individual files. One reason for this is longevity. This is the one format that will always be accessible. Another reason is utility. Plain text may be cut and paste into just about any application. The final reason is portability. I store all of my important plain text documents (all of my documents, really) outside of databases, in individual files accessable through the Finder. File sizes are tiny, and I can move these files around and modify them with ease. So I want a tool that specializes in plain text.

What else? I also quite liked that I could email myself notes with the Simplenote premium service. I’d like to keep that ability. And I want to keep my notes synced with a lightweight desktop client. With Simplenote, I use the free Notational Velocity (actually, I’m using nvALT, a fork of NV with some extra capabilities). I’d like to keep using that. And I’d like to add one new thing that I’ve never tried: I want my notes to sync with my desktop file organizer, EagleFiler.

With all of these criteria in mind, two alternatives stuck out: WriteRoom ($5) and PlainText (free), both by Hog Bay Software. I tried both tools and settled on WriteRoom (even though PlainText meets most of my needs and looks great, it has no search capability. That’s a deal-breaker). 

What follows is my solution for the syncing bit. This solution allows me to store all of my notes in one folder on my Mac. If I change a plain text file within EagleFiler, within nvALT, on my iPhone, or by directly editing one of my files via the Finder, the changes will be synced across-the-board.

You may wonder why I want my notes in both Notational Velocity and in EagleFiler. The answer is that it’s more convenient and flexible. On the Mac, Notational Velocity is a speedy way to get to a note to modify it, or to quickly add or delete a note. EagleFiler (EF) is where all of my important documents reside, so I’m often using it (why switch to another program if I don’t have to?). Added to this, EF is where I typically add metadata to my notes (flags, tags, etc.). And since all of my documents are in EagleFiler, I can perform more complex searches to easily locate, say, all notes and PDFs and other documents that contain certain keywords. Also, it’s easier to move bits of text from my notes to other documents within EagleFiler.  

Here’s how I set up syncing using WriteRoom, although a similar scheme works with slight modifications for Simplenote and PlainText. I’ll get into some of those differences at the end.

Using WriteRoom

  1. The first step is to buy the iOS version of WriteRoom. Log in to WriteRoom using an existing Google ID (you can also chose to host your own sync service) and select ‘Sync Automatically’ from the apps Settings menu. Then head to simpletext.ws and log in, using the same Google ID. You can now sync your notes to this subscription-free online service.
  2. Now you’ll need to get the free SimpleText Mac client from Hog Bay Software and install that. This tiny app runs in the menubar. When you first run it, it creates a new folder in your Home folder called ‘SimpleText.’ Open the SimpleText app Preferences and choose to ‘Start on Login’ and ‘Automatically Sync When Local Files Change.’ Your text notes will now sync to the newly-created ‘SimpleText’ folder. Each note will be stored as an individual file.
  3. Next, you need to create a folder within EagleFiler. I called mine ‘Sync.’ Once created, you need to download and install a free app called ‘MacDropAny.’ This simple tool allows you to sync any folder on your Mac using Dropbox (Note: you need to be a Dropbox user to use MacDropAny).  When you run MacDropAny, you’ll be asked to select a source and destination folder. The destination folder is that which you’ve just created within EagleFiler (you’ll have to find it via the Finder). The Source is your ‘SimpleText’ folder where your notes are held.
  4. Now here’s where you’ll notice a problem. MacDropAny won’t allow you to select an existing folder as your ‘Source.’ How do you get around this? Here’s what I did. I temporarily copied my existing text files residing in the ‘SimpleText’ folder, then deleted that folder (you could also just move the folder to your desktop). Then I ran MacDropAny, choosing to create a folder called ‘SimpleText’ as my Source folder. After I did that, I copied back my notes (text files) to the ‘SimpleText’ folder. I know, it’s a bit clumsy … but it works.
  5. Next, head to Notational Velocity (or nvALT) Preferences and choose the ‘Storage’ tab. Choose to ‘Store and read notes on disk as Plain Text Files.’  Then you need to choose the folder to store the files.  This is where you point to (you guessed it) the ‘SimpleText’ folder where all of your notes reside.
  6. Now test it out. Add some text to a file on your iPhone. The changes should appear within EagleFiler and within Notational Velocity. Change some text in EagleFiler or Notational Velocity. The changes should appear back on your iPhone.

EagleFiler Caveats

There are a few caveats about using EagleFiler. You’re not really supposed to add files directly to file structure within Finder, but that’s what I’m doing here. It works well enough, but it takes a little extra effort to keep it running smoothly.

EagleFiler uses a database to store metadata. An important part of that is monitoring any changes to files held within the app. If you delete a file on your iPhone, directly from the SimpleText folder, or from Notational Velocity, EagleFiler doesn’t know what happend to that file. A similar thing happens if you change a file outside of EagleFiler, as the app monitors each files checksum to keep track of changes—I’m guessing many people don’t even use this checksum feature, but it’s there to ensure the integrity of your files.

So. Changing text in a note or adding new notes outside of EagleFiler isn’t a big deal. You won’t see any error messages unless you use checksum. If you do use checksum, you need to periodically update the checksums for the files you’ve changed (you’re basically telling EagleFiler that the file is OK and that you’ve changed it from outside of the program). 

For files deleted outside of EF, you’ll notice that EagleFiler retains the deleted file, but the contents of the file within EagleFiler now have no content. That’s because the file isn’t there anymore. To fix this, periodically run ‘Scan for New Files’ from the EagleFiler ‘File’ menu (Shift-Apple-R). EF will then show you all the files that cannot be found (as they’ve been deleted) so you can go in and clean them up from the list within the app. Once you delete them from the EF file structure, empty the trash. 

A few final notes about EagleFiler. The app creates new Rich Text Format documents by default. If you want to move an existing file that is in RTF to your EagleFiler sync folder, you’ll first need to convert it to plain text. There’s a handy script to do that. If you want to create a new note in your EF synced folder, hold down the ‘Option’ key while choosing the ‘New RTF’ button from the menu bar, and a new plain text file will instead be created (there is no ‘New Plain Text’ button option). I should also mention that the metadata you add to a note in EagleFiler stays (is only visible) in EagleFiler. Those tags, flags, etc., do not transfer to your externally-stored notes. However, this metadata does persist in EagleFiler, even if you modify a note outside of the program. 

While syncing plain text files to EagleFiler may sound difficult to maintain, it’s really not bad. I think it’s worth it. (I’m now waiting for the developer or other EF users to tell me that this is a terrible idea!)

Syncing with Simplenote, PlainText

You can use a similar process to sync files using the Simplenote and PlainText iOS apps. I tried them both out and the syncing worked just as well. Actually, these other apps were a bit easier to set up.

For PlainText, the main difference is that this app stores your notes using Dropbox (in a folder called ‘PlainText).’ Since the syncing is via Dropbox, you won’t need the SimpleText Mac client. Note, though, that you also won’t get the simpletext.ws online syncing.

For Simplenote, Notational Velocity includes built-in syncing support so it’s a bit, um, simpler. And while Simplenote does not store notes in individual text files, you can accomplish the same thing via Notational Velocity. You just need to head to Preferences within NV and choose to store your notes as files on your local disk as plain text files. You can choose any folder you like. However, if you want to go the extra step of syncing with EagleFiler, you’ll need to be a Dropbox user so you can take advantage of MacDropAny.  

Emailing plain text messages

The last point to talk about is how to add the ability to send messages from your email client to your notes folder.

With a Simplenote subscription, it’s a straightforward task since this service provides you with an email address. There’s nothing more to do.

With WriteRoom and PlainText, you need to bring in a couple of other tools. First, set up a free (donationware) service called, appropriately, Send to Dropbox. This service establishes a folder within your Dropbox called ‘Attachments’ and provides you with an email address to send your messages to. Note that this third-party service only stores your unique Dropbox ID, not your login/password (the same ID used when you share a file using your ‘Public’ dropbox). While the service is mainly for sending email attachments to your Dropbox via email, it works just as well for plain text. (As an aside, there are many other interesting Dropbox Addons worth checking out).

The trick, now, is how to get those plain text email messages from the Dropbox ‘Attachments’ folder to your synced notes folder. I used Hazel to accomplish this, establishing a rule to move any text file in the ‘Attachments’ folder to my ‘SimpleText’ folder.

That’s it

The text for this post was harder to pull together than the syncing scheme. I spent a lot of time discussing EagleFiler. Even if you don’t use this particular app, hopefully you’ll get some new ideas about syncing folders. And if you’ve never used Notational Velocity, it’s worth trying out. It’s free, after all. NV is very easy to configure and is a great way to access your notes on your Mac.

How does WriteRoom stack up against Simplenote? It’s still a bit early for me to say. One thing I know I don’t like: the app is requiring me to log in every time I open it. I hope this is fixed in a future release. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I had a newer iPhone with iOS 4. With my old phone, however, I can’t run apps in the background.

As for looks, you can set up WriteRoom for iPhone to look quite similar to Simplenote. I prefer the default WriteRoom black background with white text.  One nice touch that WriteRoom offers, akin to its big brother on the Mac, is the ability to edit notes in full-screen mode. 

The WriteRoom web version of your notes looks like an old-old-school Mac text editor. Some may find that fun and retro, but it may be offputting if you’re expecting a slick interface like that served up by Simplenote. Me? I rarely used the Simplenote online service, and I doubt I’ll be logging into writeroom.ws very often.

If you like tags in Simplenote, you’ll be missing that in WriteRoom. There are ways you can tag, though. I use the same work-around that I used in ‘pre-tag’ Simplenote—by creating tags with text at the end of my documents (using the syntax &tag: e.g. &home, &web). It works well enough for searching through many notes.  

Since I gave Simplenote a year, I plan to stick with WriteRoom for the next year. 

Tool Talk

Cool Tools (a crowdsourced review blog that’s part of Kevin Kelly’s network of sites), I thought I’d share a solution I found that worked quite well.

It’s a workbench kit from 2x4basics that currently costs about $65. What you get is a box of sturdy plastic joints. What you add is your own lumber (2x4s and three panels of plywood or OSB). All told, I spent about $130. It only took about an hour to put together. What it is: a sturdy workbench that’s easy to customize to a size that fits in any workspace. It gives you a rock-steady three-tiered storage system, a shelf and a big flat work space. What it’s not: a carpentry bench. While it comes with some plastic clamps and hooks, they are not very useful. And the plastic corner pieces of the workbench prevent the installation of a fixed corner wood clamp because they aren’t flush with the 2×4 frame. Still, it’s an exceptional multipurpose surface with plenty of storage for wood and other odds and ends. Now I just need to build a carpentry bench to compliment it.

antique toolsSpeaking of woodworking, I’ve been spending a lot of time and energy lately building up a solid collection of hand tools. There’s an impulse to head to a big box store and buy new stuff. But I submit the best place to start is with antique stores. You know the old yarn about how ‘things were made better then?’ I’ve found that this is generally true for hand tools, provided you find ones that were well cared for. I picked up a level and sliding square made in the 1930s for a grand total of around $60. Sure, it’s more than I’d pay for an aluminum level and cheap sliding square, but these are beautiful. They’re built to last. They are made of heavy gauge stainless steel. As an added benefit, these old tools have character.

Now that I have a fairly capable workshop in place, I’m ready to start building some shelves, cabinets, and furniture. While I have some experience, I would still classify myself as a noob. So I naturally headed to my Mac to seek out online and app solutions. No books for me. I’m happy to report that there’s a lot available out there.

Sketchup design application. While I had installed this app a year or so ago to check it out, I didn’t have a compelling use for it. Now I do. Carpentry. Here’s an example of a detailed Trundle Bed design that gives you a sense of some of the amazing free plans that are out there. This tool rocks. I plan to use it to sketch out all of my larger projects in the future, ranging from wood projects to garden plans to landscaping to interior designs. First, though, I have to learn how to use it through Google’s extensive documentation. As an aside, Sketchup would make a great iPad app. While I doubt we’ll see that any time soon, wouldn’t it be nice to see a company like OmniGroups create an iOS Sketchup-like tool … perhaps an extension of OmniGraffle?

So Sketchup promises to be a very helpful design and planning tool, but what I really need to get going in terms of woodworking is a dose of regimented instruction paired with a community of fellow woodworking enthusiasts (for motivation and to share experiences). I first checked out what was available around my neighborhood. While there are some courses at my local community college, the costs for these courses are steep.

So I was happy to find a couple of really good sites to sign up for a low-cost online education. I haven’t decided what I’m going to sign up for yet, but I’ve narrowed it down to two choices.

Guild hosted by ‘The Wood Whisperer.’ Membership is $149 a year (with lower cost options for six and three months). That’s ridiculously affordable. I found this in a roundabout way by looking for woodworking podcasts, which lead me to an excellent series of instructional Wood Whisperer iOS videos. Based on what I’ve seen in these videos coupled with Guild user reviews, I’m pretty sure I’m going to try this out. Here’s a sampling of what Guild membership entails: the opportunity to participate in three projects a year, videos and live demos to help you through said projects, access to all the archive projects (videos) should you want to try a former project, live interviews with leading industry pros to get answers to your questions, individual assistance with your projects, and a members-only forum to ask questions and share experiences with other Guild members. Sounds fantastic.

The Renaissance Woodworker,’ hosted by a professional who specializes in hand tools. This site is offering the Hand Tool School, a series of classes that’s a self-described ‘new approach to the traditional apprenticeship system.’ I like the idea of learning the fundamentals of woodworking with hand tools. It’s similar to the idea behind learning how to hand code a website before using a WYSIWYG editor. This looks like a winner.

Of course, now that I’m diving into this head-first, I also checked for iOS apps that compliment the craft. Here’s a round-up.

1. The Woodshop Widget. A two dollar app affiliated with the Wood Whisperer brand. Very helpful utilities including shellac mixing ratios, board foot calculations, tips, squareness testing, decimal to fraction conversions, and movement estimates for more than 230 wood types.

2. Woodworking with the Wood Whisperer. A free app that provides access to archived episodes, social integration, and access to the live Wood Talk Online Radio podcast from the Wood Whisperer.

3. I.D. Wood. A five dollar pocket guide to nearly 160 different types of wood with information ranging from origins to common uses to durability to hardness.

So I think I’m off to a good start. If you’re interesting in this sort of thing, I hope this helps you get started as well.

On ‘Distraction-Free’ Writing Environments

Oh, for a distraction-free environment. Wouldn’t we get so much done?

I was combing through a backlog of unread feed items the other day, when I came across a parody from Merlin Mann in which he pokes fun at the current glut of non-distracting writing tools on the market. He serves up a fictitious new tool called ū—, a writing environment that’s so minimalistic that it displays only the top-half of your typed words. Funny stuff, but what’s the message here?

We know his intent, thanks to a follow-up in which he elaborates at great length on the original parody. It’s an interesting read, albeit a long-winded rant (his self-diagnosis, with which I agree). While I found it a bit hard to get through this post, I was intrigued by the subject matter.

The essential point that Mann makes is that distraction-free tools can be distractions in themselves. They will not make you a prolific, competent, energized person churning out chapters of engaging prose, nor will they make you a productivity guru. If you find yourself seeking out tool after tool with which to make yourself a more productive and focused writer, perhaps the problem is that you’re expecting the tool to do the work for you. In contrast, if you’re really motivated to write, you’ll write on tree bark if necessary. The same principle applies to any other endeavor, digital or analog.

So on one hand, Mann is criticizing the overblown language and suspect promises that sometimes accompany these types of tools. On the other, he serves up disdain for the type of person who collects such tools in a flailing attempt to fix an underlying concentration problem.

What I’m interested in is this: why does the ‘distraction-free’ tool genre exist in the first place. Perhaps it’s a reaction to how we’re choosing to live our lives. Most of us feel the drag of information overload, the weight of too much clutter, the barrage of too many activities. Much of this is self-inflicted. When we work on a task, we too often monitor e-mails, Twitter and Facebook accounts, phone calls, and text messages. These distractions hamper our ability to concentrate on single tasks for extended periods of time. We think we can multitask, but we most of us really can’t.

Now, we all know that the only way to write in a concentrated manner is to muster the willpower to focus on one task to the exclusion of all others. That’s what concentration is all about. It requires no special tools. It does not require a full-screen mode, nor pleasant imagery, nor ambient sound. True enough. But we like this stuff. As a society, we seem to have a tendency to look for tools or plans or guides to help us muster the self-control we seek. While we know that a tool cannot solve our concentration problem, that doesn’t stop us from seeking tools that do just that. So here’s one view on this current fad: the genre exists because there is a growing demand for environments that simulate concentration. We’re seeking a concentration prosthetic.

Another view is that the ‘distraction-free’ tool genre is a reaction to the bloated, overpowered software that most of us have used for years. What do we need to write, after all? Not very much. What is most like a blank piece of paper? A blank piece of paper. What about a blank piece of paper with subtle background imagery and gentle sound effects? Why not. Distraction-reducing writing tools provide an uncrowded, narrowly-focused experience that just may spur us to concentrate a bit more. There’s nothing wrong with that. If this alternate view seems like a slightly different take on the first, that’s because it is. As I said, it’s all about degrees of expectation.

The point is that distraction-reducing writing tools can only do so much, but that’s not to say that they are useless. Why not try a writing tool that is pleasant, simple, and relatively inexpensive? We routinely choose analog tools based on preferences that balance form and functionality. We create our living spaces in much the same way. And so we are now offered a wide range of tools in the digital space for the task of writing.

So I say embrace this trend. Experiment. But try to do so with minimal expectations. And always remember that the ‘map is not the territory.’ Personally, I enjoy so-called ‘distraction-reducing’ writing tools. I use a few for specific tasks. I find that WriteRoom, for instance, is a wonderful tool for writing long documents. I like the looks of it. It reminds me of writing on WordPerfect on the first computer I ever used back in the 80s. OmmWriter? It’s a bit over-the-top, but I can customize it to suit me. At times I find it to be a very pleasant environment in which to write poetry or short stories. What I enjoy about these tools is less about reducing distractions and more about aesthetics.

I didn’t take Mann’s parody or his meta-post about the parody as a condemnation of such tools. His broader message has little to do with software. It’s about how we work, or should. The best part is at the end:

“Learn your real math, and any slide rule will suffice. Try, make, and do until you quit noticing the tools, and if you still think you need new tools, go try, make, and do more.”

I like the ‘quit noticing the tools‘ part the best. That’s what we’re striving for.

Useful Little Tools

Over the past few months, a slew of interesting little tools made the rounds in various tech blogs. I thought I’d compile some of the more interesting ones here (and add a few of my personal favorites):

f.lux

This free tool auto-adjusts the color temperature of your display(s) to match the time of day and your lighting source. The night mode is much easier on the eyes. Very pleasant. It can be temporarily disabled for those times when you’re engaged in a design project and need full color.

Alternative: Nocturne (from the developer of QuickSilver) offers ‘night vision mode for your Mac.’ It’s not nearly as subtle and elegant as f.lux, but you can adjust the settings to your liking. It’s especially great if you like it really dark when you’re computing at night…or if you like funky, inverted color schemes.

Cinch

The answer to Windows 7 ‘Snap’ feature, this $7 tool allows you to instantly resize any open window by dragging it to an edge of your screen. It’s particularly great for managing multiple Finder windows on a small laptop screen. I use PathFinder (which offers dual pane and tabbed browsing to the Finder) and don’t really feel that I have a need for this, but it’s a great tool nonetheless.

Readability

This is the only way to read articles on the Web. It removes all the extra formatting, ads, buttons, colors, and other clutter that surrounds a typical Web-based article, leaving only the text you want to read.

I use Readability for articles I want to read now, and Instapaper for articles I want to read later on my iPhone (using the Instapaper Pro iPhone app).

Choosy

If you’re like me and have many installed browsers, this $12 tool is a necessity. It allows you to choose which browser to use when opening an external link or when opening up an HTML file. You can also add other apps to the list. I have Choosy set to prompt me with a pop-up list of all browsers (prioritized with my favorites appearing first in the list), regardless of whether or not the browsers are running. I’ve also added MacRabbit’s Espresso as a ‘browser’ to send HTML files direct to this web development tool.

Alternative: I haven’t tried this one, but you may also want to check out Highbrow.

OmmWriter

A unique tool that’s still in Beta (so it’s free to try), Ommwriter delivers a full-screen, clutter-free writing environment. This app focuses on setting the mood to foster a creative spirit, offering several nice fonts, a choice of ethereal background sounds, and a variety of subtle keyboard clicking noises that I find annoying (the sounds can be turned off).

I still prefer the retro simplicity of WriteRoom from Hog Bay Software when I need to focus on writing. I use it in combination with Hog Bay’s QuickCursor, a wonderful little tool that allows me to edit text from other applications with WriteRoom.

Rapportive

Rapportive replaces the ads you normally see in the right-hand sidebar of Gmail with useful information: a profile of the person you’re emailing. It only works in Firefox and Chrome right now, but I use it via Mailplane (available in the latest preview).

As an aside, if you use Mailplane, you may like the beautifully minimalist Helvetimail style sheet.

SecondBar

This tool places an Apple menu bar on your second monitor. I use it. It works well enough, providing basic menu bar functionality on the extra monitor. It’s quite nice to have the bar on both screens, although it doesn’t work with all apps (that’s because it’s still in early Beta). It’s currently free.

Quix

Quix is an extensible bookmarklet, billed as ‘command line for your browser.’ While it takes some time to learn the commands to use with this tool, it’s worth the effort. I love it.

Skitch

This tool is certainly not new, but it stands apart as the easiest way to capture and mark up screen shots. I use it all the time and will gladly purchase it if and when it ever comes out of Beta.

Feedly

I use Google Reader to manage my feeds, but don’t really like to read feeds with it. Instead, I use Feedly. The more I use this free online service, the more I like it. On my iPhone, I use Byline. Since both tools use the same Google Reader account, my feeds are always synced no matter where I choose to peruse them.

Notational Velocity

In case you haven’t heard, the venerable Notational Velocity is back. This free tool is a simple, minimalist note taking app that is lightning fast. It syncs with Simplenote on the iPhone. It’s still in Beta, but it’s performed flawlessly for me so far.

Before I started using NV again (I had used it many years ago), I was using another great tool called Justnotes (which is currently free and also syncs with Simplenote). It feels a bit heavier and is a touch slower than NV, but it’s still in early Beta. It’s certainly worth checking out. Which one you prefer may come down to your personal design tastes. There is one important difference, though, that may help you make a choice: Justnotes installs in the menu bar, while NV resides in the Dock.

Together review

Together.

In preparation for this review, I perused forum comments and other reviews about this product. Many people, it seems, feel that Together is a lot like Yojimbo. That’s certainly true. However, one could also argue that it’s very similar to EagleFiler. The truth is in the middle, as is so often the case. Together marries some of the best features of EagleFiler and Yojimbo. But it also stands apart by offering the slickest interface I’ve seen so far. It’s polished and fast, and a real pleasure to use.

What it looks like

Together’s structure and filing system is similar to that of iTunes, as is the case with many Mac apps (particularly in this genre). It serves up your basic three-pane structure. In the lefthand-column source list, you’ll find your Library (which contains all items that you’ve imported).

The Library is broken down into subcategories that are pre-defined by Together, such as notes, documents, images, and videos. These are smart groups, meaning that they are automatically populated with items you’ve added to your Library (sorted by file type). While you can’t modify these ‘standard’ groups, you can delete them if you want. You can get the deleted standard group back later if you change your mind by selecting ‘View Options’ from the menu bar.

Under the pre-set groups lie user-defined groups, which may contain smart folders, regular folders, or groups. Groups are like playlists in iTunes. Smart folders contain items that meet your selected search criteria. Folders are just plain old folders. It all works as expected. Notably, the app offers the ability to nest folders if you’re the type who likes to organize files in this fashion. Like Yojimbo, and unlike EagleFiler, each folders/groups show the number of items within each container, which is a nice visual cue.

Also similar to other apps we’ve looked at, selecting one group (or folder) from the source list presents you with a list in the righthand-column of all items that are in that group. Selecting one of these items presents a preview of the item. There are a couple of design choices, though, that make Together different from the other apps I’ve looked at. First, you can choose landscape mode, which is visually outstanding and particularly nice for wide screen monitors). Second, the ‘Info View’ (the place where you add metadata such as tags and comments) is tightly integrated into the main viewing window, so there’s no need to open up another pane to get these fields. I really like the way this is designed. It makes it very easy to see (or add) details for a given item. The metadata options and layout, in fact, are the best I’ve seen. It just looks great, particularly in landscape mode. Although I didn’t really make use of it, it’s worth noting that Together provides the option to rate (‘star’) items just as in iTunes. I also like that the metadata field presents a visual path of where a given item is located in the Library (and with a quick double-click, the Finder pops open to reveal the source file).

Together takes a different approach for how tags are displayed. With Yojimbo or EagleFiler, tags are front and center. With Together, you get to your Tags by toggling views from the bottom bar of the app. The Tag view is just what you’d expect: your group (folder) structure in the source list is replaced with a view of all of the tags used in your Library. It allows you to quickly see your tags, create new tags, and sort through multiple tags. You can also drop new items into your Library on top of a tag to inherit that tag name. The tag view looks great and it’s a good use of limited space. However, I suspect it may discourage use for those who aren’t already tag warriors, simply because tags aren’t visible in the default view. Take a look at the screenshots to get a sense of what each viewing mode looks like. I’ll talk about the other main visual element of Together — the Shelf — in a moment.

Capturing data

As with all of the apps in this genre that I’ve looked at, Together offers a host of ways to import items into the Library. And you can choose how you want to import an item: add it to the Library while leaving the original item in place, move the item into the Library, or link to an external item without touching it. My preference is to move files into the Library so there are no duplicates to worry about. Since Together stores files in an open system, doing so doesn’t lock said file up in a database—an important consideration that I’ll touch on later. As for file importing methods, you can drag and drop files or folders into the Library, or into a specific folder, or into a tag group; you can also print items to Together as PDF files; add items to the Library based on what’s currently in your clipboard (which is handy for capturing selected text); capture via a quick import key combo; or drag and drop into Together’s Shelf.

Speaking of Web pages, Together competently handles links. In the app’s preferences you can set if you want your links saved as bookmarks or as Web archives. If you’re just interested in capturing text from a page, you can also choose to import it as rich text or as an archive.

You can also add items via the Services menu. Curiously, the Services items did not automatically show up when I installed Together, although they should have according to the Help files. I had to access the Services menu in System Preferences (filed under Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts in case you’re looking for it) and manually turn on Together’s three Services options: add, move, or link to Together.

The shelf

With Together, neither Services nor manually dragging and dropping files into the app are the preferred way to import new items. That distinction goes to the aptly named Shelf. Usually, I’m not a big fan of shelfs (those little sliding dock-like elements that hang out on an edge of one’s screen). I think they’re often distracting and lacking in utility. To my surprise, I warmed up to the Together implementation.

There are several things I like about it. First, it doesn’t pop open when my mouse bumps against the screen edge. I have to click on it to open it. Second, it’s integrated with a user-defined system-wide key combo. With Yojimbo, a system-wide key combo opens up a sliding window from the menu bar, presenting the user with an additional input menu distinct from the Yojimbo shelf and application. With EagleFiler, you can set a key combo that pops open a new window in the middle of the screen in which you can add metadata prior to import.

But with Together, invoking the user-defined key combo activates the Shelf in ‘import mode,’ a special panel where one can add metadata to an item upon import (this works via dragging and dropping files on the Shelf as well). I want to be clear here. I’m not saying that I don’t like the way EagleFiler and Yojimbo handle importing files. I’m saying that the Together implementation is very elegant. I like the way the Shelf centralizes several functions in one place. When it’s not importing items, the Shelf serves up three other functions: quick access to your Library, folders, smart folders, and groups (complete with QuickLook integration); access to your ‘Favorite’ items, groups, or folders; and a place to type in a quick note to add to Library. Check the screenshot to see what I mean. So the Shelf, in total, serves up four different functions in one small bit of screen real estate. And it’s a flexible way to import items in one other respect: you can also drag a file to a specific folder or group in your Library right through the Shelf, which saves a step in the filing process.

What could make it better? The ability to see your Tag structure in the Shelf, and the ability to drag new items onto a tag on the Shelf to automatically adopt that tag. And speaking of tags, while the Shelf import panel does allow one to enter tags for new items (it’s one of several offered metadata fields), there is no way to see what tags you’re already using in your Library without going back to the main app window and switching over to the ‘Tag’ view. It would be nice to have a way to select previously used tags right from the Shelf. Lastly, the ‘Quick Note’ field in the Shelf is handy, but is a few features short of being great—I’d like to have the ability to add metadata to that new note before it’s imported, and I’d like to be able to file that new note in a specific place right from the Shelf.

Adding files via the Finder

I have one final point to make about importing items. Together, like EagleFiler, allows you to add new items to the Library right in the Finder, even when the application is closed. This is possible thanks to the flat file structure of these programs, which means that the files are stored right in the Finder external of any database. Why would you want to add items via the Finder? Consider the following scenario using the excellent file-organizing tool Hazel from Noodlesoft. Say you’re working on a project and you don’t have Together running. You’ve been saving files to your desktop for hours. When your project is completed and ready for filing, you could open up Together and manually import these new items, or you could drag them to your Together folder of choice within the Finder*. But with Hazel, you can set up rules, for instance, to tag all documents on your desktop with the word ‘project,’ label each with the color red, and then send the files to your Together > Documents > Projects folder. Running your user-defined rules, then, whisks your files away and places them in the folder of your choice, ready for you to manage the next time you open up Together. What I like to do is leave Hazel’s auto-filing turned off. That way, I can explicitly run the rules I’ve created when I’m ready. In one step, my desktop is cleared and my files are, well, filed.

*Here’s something that’s really cool about Together. You can set the app to automatically import files that you place in any of Together’s Library folders located in the Finder (except for the Support and Trash folders). That means that you can dump image files into the Documents folder even when the app is closed, and Together will automatically move the image files to the proper ‘Images’ folder the next time it runs. However, if you want an item to be imported into a particular user-created folder, you’ll need to place it there. That’s where Hazel can be quite handy. Note, though, that if you place an image file in a user-created folder (which may contain any kind of file), Together will still provide an alias (link) to that file in the default ‘Images’ folder in your Library.

Working with files

Working with files is about the same as the other apps I’ve looked at. QuickLook is available (for supported file formats). You can choose to edit many text documents from within the app using a built-in editor, and you can double-click on any item to edit it in its default external application. One stand-out feature is the ability to open items up in tabs, which makes it easy work to keep several documents open at once for ferrying text around.

One other notable item is how the source menu automatically generates a group called ‘Recent Imports’ that tells you (you guessed it) when and how many files you’ve recently imported. You can clear this list when it gets too long, or you can hide it altogether. I found it to be a useful way to keep track of recent imports so that I could further categorize, tag, or add additional metadata to items at a time of my choosing.

Now for some odds and ends.

I’ve touched on this already, but it bears repeating: Together stores your files in an open structure. I’m a huge fan of this, as I noted in my EagleFiler review, because it means that your files and metadata are all in tact and available through the Finder. If you ever decide to abandon Together, you don’t have to export anything. And you don’t have to worry about your metadata being lost.

If you want to create multiple libraries with Together, you can do it. But be warned that, unlike Eaglefiler, Together only allows you to have one Library open at a time. If you want the ability to move files around between Libraries, this is probably not your best choice.

The final point to make is about encryption. Like Yojimbo, Together allows you to encrypt on a per-item basis. EagleFiler only allows you to encrypt an entire Library (all or nothing). While I initially preferred per-item encryption, I’ve changed my mind. Here’s why. Encrypted items are not indexed, because doing so would render the content of the file unencrypted. There is also the potential that if you choose to encrypt an item later, the contents of that item may already be indexed, and hence unencrypted. So while per-item encryption is handy, it’s not ideal. The alternative to this is the way EagleFiler handles encryption, which is at the Library level (both the index for the encrypted Library and the contents of the entire Library are encrypted). This is arguably a more secure set up, with the added benefit that the encrypted items remain fully searchable (but only when the encrypted Library is unlocked and in use). For the average user, this may not be that big of a deal. However, it is an important point to consider if you intend to encrypt some of your data using Together or another similar tool.

Verdict

 

1. Could I figure out how to use the app with minimal fuss (w/o documentation)?

Together is pretty easy to figure out, but I did need to refer to the manual at times when I first started using it. Mostly, this was to look up specific questions, such as how and where to set up a quick-input key combo. The documentation is pretty good. It’s much less than that provided by EagleFiler, but much more than is provided by Yojimbo. This backs up my contention that this app falls somewhere in between these two competitors!

2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the app after several weeks of use?

Yes. I am now certain that I prefer Together over Yojimbo. I’d say that EagleFiler is still my top choice at this point, mainly because I’ve learned a lot about the guts of how these programs work as I’ve tested them out, and it strikes me as the most scalable, flexible and secure option I’ve yet seen. That’s not to say that Together is not scalable, flexible, and secure. It’s a matter of degrees. I think Together would handily meet the needs of most users. Where Together beats EagleFiler hands down is on style and user interface.

3. How well does the app integrate into the Mac OS?

Other than my minor issue with the Apple Services menu, it integrated flawlessly. To my surprise, I especially grew to appreciate the Shelf: it didn’t feel like it got in my way, but it was there when needed.

4. How did it feel?

Here’s where I think Together really shines. It looks and feels great. I particularly like the landscape viewing mode, the integrated metadata fields, and the tabs. My only complaint is that the tag structure gets a bit neglected because it’s in not visible on the top level (and tags are not visible from the Shelf). I want to stress how much I like the metadata input panel—I love how it’s always visible, and its elegant design makes it that much easier to maintain and manage a somewhat tedious aspect of file management.

Conclusion

How does Together fit on the triangle? I’d say it’s about 70% file organizer; 25% notebook; 5% visualizer

Together Triangle Plot

I see Together as a marriage of some of the best aspects of Yojimbo and EagleFiler. That’s not to say this app is a copycat. Far from it. It offers the best interface that I’ve seen so far, it feels polished and fast, and it’s a pleasure to use. I would recommend it to those who appreciate style, like the idea of open file storage, and want a solid general-purpose tool to help manage a bunch of files and snippets. Together costs $39. A 15-day trial is available.