Site Update

10 May 2014

Just a brief update to the website, I am starting some new and exciting projects. They are ventures seperate to this site, but I want to start including more product reviews here. I currently spend so much on new products but barely have the time to review them. That will change in the coming months with a review of File Transporter - it will not be positive.

Read Post

Apps and Software I Use (2014)

06 January 2014

I have been asked a lot recently about the software and apps I currently use. I thought it would be a good idea to list them here for all to see and read. So, as of the start of 2014 here is a difinitive list of apps and software I use currently.

Mac Desktop

Web Browser:

Safari with a few plugins and bookmarks:

Whilst it isn't a web browser, I have included 1Password into this section. Since it has heavy integration with the web browser. Quite simply the best password app you can buy.

Photo Editing/Processing:

This is a difficult one, I have always used Aperture. But I have recently decided to split this task with iPhoto:

  • Aperture: Used for dedicated photoshoots i.e. scenery, HDR etc.
  • iPhoto: Used for all those personal photos you take on the iPhone during the day.


I have touched on my backup flow in a previous article. In essence my backups are split into the following categories:

Software Development

I am not really an active developer, but I am actively learning. For this I use Apple's XCode.

Document Management

I used to use DevonThink, but I have been appalled by their customer service recently. Add to this fact unless you are prepared to store your files into their database, it is somewhat of a pointless application.

I wrote an article about how I am now handling my data using only a handful of folders. This is working very well, especially using Alfred or Spotlight to search for the relevant files again. It is a really simple, elegant and future proof way of doing it.

Task Management

This is done via OmniFocus, nothing else has come quite close. It isn't the easiest of apps to get into but there are some very good screencasts by David Sparks that should get you into it.


Currently undertaken in iBank 5. It has been somewhat of an annoying app until they added direct access service. This has allowed iBank to play nicely with my UK accounts.


iTunes remains my main music app, though I have added Spotify into the mix. I still find Spotify's app to be pretty crap so I am likely to ditch this again in the near future.

I do use iTunes Match which will get even better with the release of iTunes Radio for the UK soon.


This is a generic category so I have broken it up further:

  • Journal: I am not a big Journal writer. To be honest I find the concept weird. However, the only app that has got me to somewhat Journal is [DayOne][30]. It is a pretty awesome app, I use it for recording some personal data as well as work journaling.
  • Text Editing: I use a combination of Drafts and Byword here. Drafts is a little more useful due to it's workflows. I can append to Dropbox text files, start text messages and emails from it. I actually probably don't use it as much as I should! I am in a concerted effort to try and move to 100% text files including at work - this is going to be a huge feet!

  • Large Documents: Latex

  • PDFs: [PDF Pen Pro][] for eidting and creating PDFs as wells as OCR.


I have moved away from GMail, yes I am one of those people that believes Google is evil! I have now moved my e-mail business to Fastmail. I still access this through, though I am not really a fan of this. Fastmails web interface is really nice, so I may move to this full time.


I use the following, but wanted to split this section up to give some of my feedback and direction:

  • Facebook: I've used this since it was launched. It used to be pretty good when you were in University, but now its just turned into a lack of privacy riddled crap hole. I had close to 1000 'friends' on there at one point. I then went through and deleted anyone I didn't actualy speak to or keep in contact with. The result, less that 100 friends remained. Research suggests it has hit its peak and is on a decline. I'd tend to agree with this. Facebook has also created seperate apps that hang off the Facebook 'experience'. In short in the next 12 months of so I expect to bin this junk.
  • Twitter: I have added software developers and companies I want to follow as well as key personallites and news outlets. As far as using it to communicate I have no idea who thought Twitter was a good idea - its full of idiots.
  • LinkedIn: I use this for my professional CV online. Whilst LinkedIn is ok it is basically full of recruitment consultants. They just so happen to be the most annoying people (beyond twitter idiots) on the face of the planet. Not sure how someone with an English degree can recruit for the Oil and Gas Sector. The fact they are still trying to recruit me for manual labour when I have a Doctorate and I work for an oil supermajor pretty much sums it up! This has led to my next personal project of setting up my own online CV.


Downcast is my app of choice. Used on iOS and OSX to cater for all my podcasting needs - fully synched so it is great.


There are not really any surprises on iOS, I am pretty much using the iOS equivalents of the above apps and services. For RSS reading I am using Reeder, Tweetbot for Twitter and Instapaper for my read later

If any of you can think of anymore improvements or you have an suggestions feel free to leave a comment.

Read Post

A New Simplified File Storage System

27 July 2013

I've been going through my backlog of Mac Power Users podcasts and it has revitalised my enthusiasm for sorting out my digital life. One of the major areas of focus is sorting out my digital filing strategy.

I have been a long time user of Devonthink Pro Office, and have been going paperless for a good few years now. Devonthink is a great app, but it does lack in certain areas for me:

  1. Not Mobile - Their Devonthink To Go app is not good enough.
  2. Large Databases - Syncing on Dropbox is a pain in the rear end.
  3. Hazel Unfriendly - These large databases do not play nicely with Hazel so I am limited to dumping everything into the inbox folder then moving them by hand in DT Pro when I open it.
  4. Poor GUI - Using it, frankly, isn't pleasurable or easy for me.

I have been listening to David and Katie over a series of maybe 10 of their latest podcasts in quick succession. I am hearing the same common theme, 'nested folders' and 'Evernote'. The word Evernote is usually followed by a lengthy explanation by Katie about how she organises her notebooks. One thing I have taken, and learnt from David is you need a good file naming convention and a lot of good automation. Those two items in my mind are synonomous with SIMPLICITY! Listening to some of the ways they are handling their data does not sound simple to me, but hey, each to their own.

Off the back of this, I set out to find a way to simplify the way I store all of my data. I have the following requirements and objectives:

  1. Non-propriatary - Using open long term formats (PDF and TXT) stored in an open way.
  2. Simple - Something that does not require me to engage my brain for it to work, therefore, no nested folders. I have found these to be a royal pain in the ass and grow arms and legs.
  3. Automated - I want my data to manage itself and let me know when it is due to be deleted etc.
  4. Backed Up - must be backed up, and should not involve me having to do anything.

The first point is easy to achieve, every file will feature the file notations that you can read in David's book, Paperless. The file type is also an easy one, my files will on the whole be PDF and TXT files. These are open and will not 'go out of fashion' in the future. I have really grown to love text files, the old ways are still the best ways!

This leads me on to how will I store these files!? David uses nested folders, Katie uses this and Evernote (They may correct me if I am wrong!). Now, from many years of personal experience, nested folders are good - but a total pain in the ass longterm. I find the system starts to grow arms and legs. As your life changes, you add, take away and move folders and you can make it really granular or really high level. For example, do you make a folder per year to seperate bills or just have a single folder for those particular bills? The possibilities are endless and are very individual to the individual! I honestly believe that even the most strict and organised individuals like David will still expend to much effort and thought on a nested folder system over the years its in use. This will range from filing to finding files in this system. These issues also exist in Devonthink Pro and Evernote, but why bother thinking about this? What are nested folders going to achieve? You think they are going to help you find things more quickly? You think your going to be more organised? I disagree on all counts and here are two simple reasons why:

  1. With nested folders you need to decide where to put the files. Regardless if you automate things, at one point in time you have had to think about where to put the files - god forbid your automation should go haywire and file your file in the wrong nested folder (Yes that can happen).
  2. How do you find a file you need? If you think your going to click through or Alfred your way down to the files then your already to slow and having to engage your brain. If your going to use spotlight or similar, then why are you bothering filing it in the first place?

The last point leads me on to my final solution. I use spotlight to find my files. I use David's file notations so they are easy to find and my name is descrptive. Spotlight or any similar system makes it quick and rapid to find and open any file you need. I even use this system on my work Vista machine and it works just as well there too! So how do I manage my files? I keep everything in a single folder! Well, it isn't quite a single folder... I will explain what my system is made up of:

  1. Dropbox - All of my folders/files except one folder are kept in Dropbox so that I can access them all from any location on my iOS devices (Notice I don't need Evernote App for this!). On Dropbox I use the following folders:

    1. Working On - Any none text file that I am working on will reside in the folder until I am finished with it. Hazel watches this folder and moves files that have not been accessed for 4 weeks to another folder based on the colour. I use two colours, green for files that I am happy to be stored in the cloud and red for those I am not.
    2. Text Files - As above but it is just for text files. I am thinking about integrating the two very soon. The only reason it isn't currently integrated is because I currently have text scratch files that I update periodically with things I am tracking, like movies watched and books read. Sometimes I run the risk of not using one of these files for 4 weeks but I don't want it moved. I know I could set up a longer expiration for just text files - but at this point in time I am keeping it seperate.
    3. File Store Cloud - Any green files from the 'Working on' folder are moved to this folder after 4 weeks. Therefore, all of my files are located in this one single level folder. There are no nested folders in this folder.... there are no other folders at all! I can easily find any file here with spotlight and I can access this folder on the go from Dropbox app. Hazel watches these files and colours them like a traffic light for the date since they were last opened. Yellow for more than a year ago, orange for more than three years and red for more than five years and indicates the need for deleting. When a file is opened the clock and colour is reset. If the filename contains archivex then it will never be marked for deletion, it is a file I have determined I want to keep forever, like tax documents. Any file that does not have a date last opened value, is marked blue so that I can frequently audit these files easily. I have found .dmg and .zip suffer this issue.
  2. File Store Local - Any red files are moved here from the 'Working on' folder after four weeks. This folder is the only one that resides outside of my Dropbox and is located in my 'Documents' folder. I will be buying a File Transporter shortly which this folder will sync with making the contents available on the road but not to the world and the CIA! Without the File Transporter I still have these files on the go at the moment via the Backblaze App.

  3. Other Folders - I have three other folders for all my other data, music, movies and photos are in their standard respective OS X folders.
  4. Backing Up - All folders are backed up to Backblaze, which is encrypted. In addition to Backblaze, all the files in 'File Store Cloud', music, movies and photos folders are backed up to Amazon Glacier. I also implemented a suggestion by Katie in making an emergency backup USB key. Using Keyboard Maestro I can insert an encrypted USB key and it automatically copies my 'Working On', 'File Store Cloud', 'File Store Local' and 'Apps' (Dropbox Apps) folders to the key then auto ejects the key.

So there we have it, a simple system that in essence requires no software outwith the OS, but can be glammed up for automation, backup and mobile access with only two small preference panes and a couple of free iOS apps. So far I have found the following benefits to this system:

  1. Speed - This system is so rapid at locating exactly what I need, everything is built into my OS. It is also rapid to file things away, as I only need to worry about one folder!
  2. Automated - Not only is the system automated but the automation is simpler as I am only dealing with a total of 3 folders!
  3. Backing Up - My backup is automated, but this system makes it very simple to backup all of your data. You know if it isn't in these three folders, then it isn't anywhere else (Excluding Music, Movies and Pictures).
  4. Access Anywhere - I can access all of my data anywhere via Dropbox and Backblaze iOS apps. I can also access them via the browser.
  5. Easy De-Duplication - I have found that it is much easier to de-duplicate your files when your only using a single folder file structure.

I will update this post with the graphic flow chart of this workflow when I have completed it and also any updates as the system progresses. How are you managing your files?

Read Post

Embracing Markdown and Multimarkdown

24 March 2013

What is markdown and multimarkdown, I hear you ask? Markdown is a syntax for writing in plain text whilst retaining the ability to output to various file formats with formatting. Think of it as Latex for dummies. Multimarkdown is an extension of Markdown adding additional features that were lacking from the original syntax. I guess that can be equated to C, C+ and C++.

So why on earth would you want to write in this intriguing syntax? Well, there are many reasons but how about I give you just some of the main plus points that got me hooked.

First, it is a none proprietary format. Text files were there at the dawn of computing and they are highly likely to still be there long after we have left the planet. Word documents on the other hand have undergone several iterations over the years with large issues of backwards compatibility. So if you like the idea of being able to open anything you have written with no hassle in a few years time, read on.

The next benefit, which kind of goes hand in hand with the last one, is you can open them anywhere! Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS, Android and the list goes on. All devices can open, understand and allow you to edit a text file! The same cannot be said for MS Office documents!

Another benefit, good in this ever increasingly mobile world is small file sizes. As an example, I had a work project Word file that was approximately 2.3MB. The same text in a text file? 7KB! That's almost 336 times smaller! Ok my Word document had graphic in it, but that graphic was also located on my hard drive, thus, existing twice. With markdown it would be referenced and, therefore, only existing once.

The syntax leaves you with a readable text file whilst retaining the ability to export how you like. I wrote my Ph.D thesis in Latex. It was great, the ability to just write and not have to worry about formatting or annoying office interfaces. It really allows you to just, well, write! However, Latex isn't for everyone and the syntax can be a little intense. In my opinion though, it provides one of the best document outputs of any program today. The great thing is, markdown can be output to Latex!

So, how do you get started? Well many of the sites around today will tell you to go and read John Grubers site then go to Fletcher Penny's site and hey presto. Well you know what? Their sites really suck for picking this stuff up! They are two very clever guys, but unfortunately that reflects in how they explain things to the lay person! If you want a good 'idiots guide' to Markdown then there really is nothing better than David Sparks Field Guide to Markdown. I've followed David Now for a while on Mac Power Users podcast and I really dig his style! His field guides are brilliant! As a word of caution if your a fairly advanced user you may find some of them slightly dummed down for your taste. I can, however, say that the Markdown guide and the Paperless guide rock!

So that's it for my introduction to why I'm embracing this great syntax! My next post will show you how my markdown/multimarkdown workflow goes to help you implement your own. I find David and the others tend to use so many apps to get things done, my workflow uses one, at a push two. That isn't a criticism of David, its clearly working for him, but it can be daunting as a new user to know which way to go. Someone telling you how they use three or four apps doesn't always really help.

Let me know what you think to the post, it was written completely in Byword, on my iPhone in Markdown - Thanks to David Sparks!

Read Post

Migrating This Blog to Jekyll – Part 1

27 July 2012

So I have seen a number of posts now from people who have migrated from WordPress to Jekyll and are loving it. My personal history with web development was back to the good old days of a text editor making HTML pages with an index.html etc etc. I learnt to code it properly, then the likes of dreamweaver started to emerge. I went to uni and preferred alcohol and nights out instead of my coding and in that time all this PHP mumbo jumbo came out, CSS? WTF?

Anyway, Jekyll is a step back to the old skool, essentially what I see as a cross between the old web developing and LaTeX. In the simplest terms your posts are written in text files with markdown and every time you run the process these files are processed along with a formatting file and the output is a generated static website. There are ways to make incremental updates etc, but I am trying to convey in simple terms. So why would I want to move over to Jekyll? Well let me list the benefit in my eyes, your milage may vary:

  1. I no longer need to worry about updating wordpress and the plugins every 5 seconds, its static text.
  2. No large database to worry about or corrupt.
  3. Simple file structure both on my machine and on the web server.
  4. Simple and Fast, it is so fast to serve a static site and it will hopefully reduce the bandwidth some too.
  5. Quick and simple to manage and make posts
  6. All my site will be future proof, text files rock!

There are going to be some inherent issues with getting this to work though:

  1. Installing all the right kit to make it work – I am new to this and now a great master of command line.
  2. Migrating my wordpress blog across with the same addresses for each post – DIFFICULT and how is this going to affect my Google page rankings!?
  3. How to manage incremental updates, analytics and comments.

Anyway these are just some of my thoughts so far, I hope to make a series out of this documenting what I did to hopefully help anyone else out. I will also be writing this in simple terms!

If any of you have implemented Jekyll please feel free to comment or if anyone has had any bad experiences or questions also drop me a comment!

Read Post

Updated: Free EPS to PDF Conversion on Mac

10 March 2011

EPS to PDF conversion is, for the average person a pain in the butt. A while back I wrote about how to easily convert your EPS files to PDF via terminal. Whilst that was an easier method that opening preview every time it is still time consuming. I have therefore written an Automator program to do it for you. The program will ask you to select all the EPS files you want to batch convert then it will  batch convert them and put the PDF’s in the same folder as the EPS files (with the same file name). I have added the file to my server here.

Feel free to have a closer look at some of the ads on my website to say thank you and to help contribute to my bandwidth costs of bringing this file to you.

Read Post

Moving to the Open Source World: Mac Software I Use

10 September 2010

This is the second post in the series. In this post I am going to look at the software I currently use, the ones I am basically going to have to replace. There are a hell of a lot of good apps on the Mac and I will honestly be sad to replace these apps.

  • iBank – By IGG Software is one of the main apps I use for my accounting, it will be hard beaten to be replaced!
  • OmniFocus – I use this both on my mac and on my iPhone, I think the iPhone version will be the hardest one to replace.
  • OmniGraffle – I use this in my PhD thesis for making sexy diagrams, I think I can replace this but the new app may not be as good.
  • AdiumX – Instant messenger (Open Source)
  • Apple Mail – Mail client
  • Transmit – FTP client from Panic
  • iTunes – We all know what this one is, biggest part of this is the iPhone syncing and also getting all my music into non DRM versions before swapping
  • DevonThink Pro – This will also be a big app to move from. DevonThink is awesome, I use it for storing all my mail ever received.
  • 1Password – Used religiously to store all my passwords to websites and credit card details to make my online life easier.
  • Dropbox – No need to replace this, there is a free linux version.
  • MacTex – Latex client (Open Source)
  • Aperture – Photo library and basic photo manipulation (Handles RAW)
  • iCal – Calendar app that I sync to Google calendar with…..
  • Spanning Sync – Used to sync my address book and calendar to Googles.
  • Steam – Online games client that I mainly use for Civilisation
  • Chronosync – Used to sync certain folders to my external hard drive for real time backup
  • MacTheRipper – Used to make backups of my DVDs
  • VLC – Used to watch media files (Open Source)
  • MailSteward – Used to backup the contents of my Apple Mail, which is basically every email I have ever recieved
  • MacFamilyTree – Used to construct my family tree
  • Jungledisk – Backup interface to Amazon S3
  • Backblaze – Used to backup my whole machine and external drives
  • Superduper - Used to make full bootable backup of my machine
  • Skype – Video calls
  • Knox – File encryption

This list is not exhaustive, there are many more applications I have purchased and never use. The apps mentioned above are the main ones I use on a daily to weekly basis. Baring in mind that I have paid to upgrade a lot of the mentioned apps it may shock you to know that for the apps above, if you were to go and purchase that list right now it would cost you $1082.74!!! I must have easily spent almost $3000 on software for my desktop alone, add to this the tie in I have with my iPhone and the equivalent apps I have bought to use them on the go and you can see just how much money has been wasted when there are free alternatives out there.

The next part of the series looks at how I have started using open source software and how you can also use it for free right now. Please feel free to comment below.

All of what you have read today, was written and edited on Ubuntu Linux

Read Post

Moving to the Open Source World: Introduction

10 September 2010

Begin Rant – Please skip this if you wish and move direct to the main content

Recently I have become a little pissed off with closed ecosystem’s a.k.a Apple’s way of doing things. It has always been a system I have relished and thought was a great idea. Back in the days of the iBook (A machine I adored) there were no issues with your Apple system, it really did just work! Today, things are very different. There are many different hardware configurations, it is now Intel based and we have all these iOS devices popping up like jack rabbits. If you are one of those people that has had a bug (iPhone 3G and iOS 4 for example) then you know how frustrating it is whilst you wait for Apple to sort it out. You are at the complete mercy of a huge corporation!

There have been multiple things that have really started to get to me, if your a regular reader here, you already know what they are. If not, I will recap. When the move to Intel initially occurred, the build quality of the new machines was s**t. I went through 7, yes 7 Macbook’s. One was even quality controlled by Apple in Ireland, and to be frank that was a POS. Thankfully, those days are a thing of the past, Apple build quality really is back to where it was, if not better. Next, ever since the intel move I have found the operating system to be buggier, slower, and generally more windows like every iteration we get. A user should not be left wishing they had stayed on a previous version of an OS. I wish I was on Tiger still, just like I wish I was still on 3.1.3 on my iPhone 3G. Version 4.1 has improved things, but it is still not usable. Add to that the way Steve commented about user feedback on the Apple TV…. either he is telling lies or he has asked a total bunch of muppets. Everything Mac fans have been asking for with that device for years he has negated. We wanted openess, the ability to play any file type, we wanted a blu-ray or DVD drive and we wanted a TV tuner. That Steve-O is what makes a great TV device for your living room.

Why be at the mercy of a company that cares more about money that it does about you? I mean, and I quote:

“we don’t care about existing users, our target is windows movers” – Apple Recruiter 2006.

End Rant

So on the back of this rant, I wondered, given how much time and money I have invested in the Mac and iOS platforms whether I could actually make a complete move to open source and like it. From what I can see, it would offer me greater freedom both in terms of hardware and software choices….. it would also free my wallet. I tend to spend quite a bit on Mac applications….. especially with the latest and greatest versions you seem forced to buy to get the functionality you really wanted from day one. This will be a series of posts about my transition to open source, the replacement of all my main apps and how I did it. It will serve as a demonstration to all about how easy it is to do and how you can all give it a go, right now, without any investment on your part at all.

Please subscribe to the RSS feed if you are interested in seeing this series unfold and PLEASE comment on the threads. I want to know what you think, how many of you are open source now and what you think to closed ecosystems as shown in my rant.

Read Post

Free EPS to PDF Conversion on Mac

26 October 2008

Recently I found myself needing to quickly and easily convert some .eps files to .pdf. You can simply double click on the EPS in OS X and Preview will convert it however this cannot be done in batch and you have to go through the process of saving the .pdf.

There is a quicker and free solution to this in OS X and it is already built in….

  1. Open
  2. Navigate to the directory where the .eps files are located… use ‘cd’ followed by a folder or directory string to move to the folder ‘cd ..’ to move up a directory level and ‘ls’ to tell you what is in the directory your currently in.
  3. When you have located the files type the following: epstopdf filename.eps 
  4. epstopdf will now convert that eps file to a pdf and place it in the same directory as: filename.pdf  

That is all there is too it! Happy converting!

Read Post Now on the iPhone and iPod Touch!

09 October 2008

I have been an iPhone user since it was first launched in the UK. One of the nice features that came in a January software update was the ability to save an icon on your home screen that relates directly to a website. This allowed you to easily launch and few a site with one push of your finger.

A couple of weeks ago I had an icon made by Arron Hirst from RazorianFly. Arron is responsible for most of the graphics you see on my sites, mainly the icons, banners and post banners. I hope he continues to provide me with these excellent graphics for shameless plugs on my sites

Arron will soon be starting up his own graphics design business which I hope will continue to provide with great, simple and clean graphics. Who knows, if the site becomes popular I may even be able to pay him, but that wouldn’t be frugal, or help me retire at 45.

To place the webclip icon on your desktop you need to follow the steps below:


  1. Navigate to on mobile Safari.
  2. Hit the plus button on mobile Safari.
  3. Select ‘Add to Home Screen

After this a screen will appear where you can edit the title of the icon, after you hit ‘Add‘ on this screen your iPhone or iPod touch will return you to your home screen and you will now see the icon there – Happy Tapping!!

Read Post