Category Archives: tech

Initial Thoughts on the New 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple Pencil 2.0, and Smart Keyboard Folio

Some initial thoughts on the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

  • Initial Impression: Walking into the Apple Store this morning the screen reminded me why I loved the 12.9-inch model in the first place. It is big and beautiful with tons of space to do your work. The Liquid Retina display feels like the OLED screen on the iPhone 10XS but it is slightly different but still beautiful nonetheless. Compared to the 10.5-inch model its a definite improvement.
  • Size: The new 12.9-inch model is noticeably smaller than the original 12.9-inch but it’s not so small that you don’t really notice. After reading John Gruber’s review I thought it would actually feel smaller and more portable that what it actually feels in my hand. Don’t get me wrong it is definitely more portable than the original 12.9-inch model but its not as portable as the 10.5-inch. That said, I think it is small enough for me to enjoy casually plus large enough screen for more serious work. The reason I returned the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro was that just holding it the thing felt huge. Now, I feel like I’m holding a screen and nothing is wasted. It will be different but I think ok. Having the larger iPhone again keeps that ultra portable space with a nice large screen.
  • Smart Keyboard Folio: One thing that I was worried about with the Smart Keyboard was it would be difficult to remove the iPad and use by itself. I removed the other 10.5-inch Smart Keyboard all the time. This one is different, not quite as easy, but still quick to remove and just use the iPad by itself. With that being said the size of the folio really doesn’t bother me. It is still a thin device. I probably won’t flip the folio behind the iPad and hold it most of the time but I never really did that either. That said, when you flip the Smart Keyboard Folio back the keys do disable even though you can feel them so you don’t have to worry about typing while holding it. I enjoy typing on this one more than the 10.5-inch model.
  • Did I say the screen is gorgeous?
  • FaceID on the iPad is almost better than the iPhone. You are always looking at the iPad so anytime you need a password it just automatically registers. I haven’t had to move my head once and its worked in every orientation.
  • Home Button and Bezels: No home button seems natural. Swiping gestures just seem natural This is not an issue whatsoever.
  • The Apple PencilThe magnetic charging and holding mechanism on the top/side of the iPad is absolutely genius.
    • The Apple Pencil feels really good in the hand with the matte finish
    • It’s a little bit shorter so a little nice to write with
    • Using the double tap to switch to an eraser in GoodNotes is magic. Love that feature. This will be great when teaching and I’m sure will be a natural workflow here in a couple days

10 Ways Canvas Makes Your Life Easier

Earlier today I led some faculty training on how Canvas makes your life easier as a teacher or teaching assistant. Personally, I love Canvas and could come up with a whole host of tips but here are 10 things that stand out to me:

  1. Announcements
    • Announcements are the best way to help your students stay up-to-date with the course. By default, not only will students receive an email alert of the announcement but if they have the Canvas Student app installed on their mobile device they will receive a notification.
    • You can also schedule announcements for key dates during the course. For example, if an exam is due on Sunday you could schedule an announcement for the Tuesday or Wednesday of that week reminding the students to study, some key information regarding the exam, and a word of an encouragement.
    • Remember, you can send announcements either from the web browser or the Canvas Teacher app.
  2. Granting individual extensions for any assignment or allowing for a retake of a quiz/exam
  3. Contact individual students about missing assignments or low grades.
    • Using the Message Students Who… feature you can easily contact student’s who are missing assignments or score below a certain score. This will allow you to better help your students stay on track in the course.
  4. Notification settings
    • Canvas provides a plethora of notification settings that you can fine tune to only be notified of what you want to see and when you would like to see them. You can choose to be notified immediately or sent a daily or weekly summary of your notifications.
  5. Prevent or detect plagiarism
    • Unfortunately, plagiarism is a reality that teachers must address. The Turnitin software that is integrated in Canvas provides an opportunity for student’s to detect their own plagiarism before submitting to better learn how to properly cite and/or allow for teachers to detect potential plagiarism and have the necessary tools to address the students.
  6. Restore deleted files and assignments
  7. SpeedGrader options
  8. Nickname your courses
    • You can update the names of your course to whatever you would like it to be and it only shows this name for you. Personally, I write an abbreviated version of the course name and put the term in parentheses for my courses.
  9. Canvas Teacher App (iOS and Android)
    • The Canvas Teacher app allows you to do all the functions you need to do as a teacher in Canvas such as message students, send announcements, update due dates, add files to the course, record video or audio messages, and much more.
  10. Support
    • Clicking on the help button in Canvas provides the following options (this will differ based on your own school’s implementation but these links are customizable by your school’s administrator)
      1. Report a problem or need help? This submits a support ticket to the Online Learning office and Campus Technology. Upon review our support teams can either provide an answer or solution or escalate it to Canvas support who responds within 24-48 hours.
      2. My course information – find information such as meeting times, location, professor and more
      3. Register for classes – students can click here to register for classes
      4. Student account information – student’s can learn more about their tuition fees and payment dates
      5. Search the Canvas Guide – any question you have regarding Canvas can probably be found in these guides.

Contact me on Twitter @renshaw330 or comment below with your own tips.

Switching from Squarespace to Wordpress

Today I made the switch from Squarespace to WordPress as my blogging platform of choice. I’ve been on Squarespace since I started my blog back in 2012. One of the advantages of Squarespace was being able to completely customize your website, which WordPress didn’t allow nearly as well, especially if you were on a basic plan. Additionally, at that time I wrote mostly on my laptop and had really no problems getting my posts up on the platform.

But its 2018 now and I work primarily on my iPad and Squarespace has really fallen behind in this category. Their iOS app leaves much to wanting and additionally there is no way to post directly from an app like Ulysses (my writing app of choice). Sure, I can copy and paste my text to the app and finally get it posted but that sheer amount of tension in my workflow has caused me not to write as much as I want. Yes, this is a terrible excuse but always in the back of my mind I knew I had to take the time to post and this barrier proved to be too great for me. I want a platform where I can write in Ulysses, click post, and I am done. WordPress is the answer for me.

I’ve had this setup for four months now but couldn’t get myself to make the switch due to broken links but thanks to Brian Davidson for forcing me to finally make the switch. So, some of my links may be broken, and that’s ok. My postings are primarily to share my thoughts on certain issues and not build some type of high traffic platform. I will fix those in due time but at this point I want to focus on writing and not worry about anything else.

So hopefully this will help my output. Anything I want to write on I can do so quickly and efficiently.

Thanks for reading…

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Review of the Lofree Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard

Awhile back Jason Snell over at Six Colors wrote a review of the Lofree Bluetooth mechanical keyboard that was a campaign on Indiegogo. It sounded promising and looked absolutely gorgeous. Plus a mechanical keyboard that is also Bluetooth caught my eye. So I decided to go ahead and back this beauty.

At first sight, the keyboard did not disappoint. The muted black, round keys, pinkish backspace keycap, and a compact design had me quite excited. Most mechanical keyboards have, well, a very mechanical look to them. Additionally, they are wired, which is fine, but aesthetically having one wire strung across my desk isn’t very pleasing. Regardless, I brought to the office to text out over the next couple days.

Initially, I was pretty excited. The keys felt nice under the fingers, looked gorgeous on the desk, and made the perfect clickity-clack sound that I love from mechanical keyboards. Additionally, the keyboard can be paired with three different devices. I didn’t know this at first until I started reading through the instructions. I’ve always wanted this in a keyboard but all the options out there don’t feel pleasing to type with. After connecting my Mac, iPad, and iPhone I was good to go. Switching between devices was a breeze and worked well. Some people have issues on certain Bluetooth keyboards with the iPad going to sleep and then reconnecting. I had no such issues when switching between devices.

But as I started typing more I noticed two things that ended up being somewhat of a deal breaker for me. First, the return and shift key are much harder to press down. All the other keys press down with an ever so slight depression on the key but those two keys have a double click, which feels like they have multiple key switches in them. I’m really not sure what is going on here but pressing them down took a noticeable toll on my pinky fingers. At first it wasn’t that big of deal but halfway through the day I was making more mistakes because it took a cognitive effort to think about pressing those keys with more pressure than the rest of them.

The second problem I had was with the number row because it is shifted to the right from its normal position. Normally I don’t have to look at the number row when typing but with this decision its caused me numerous typos because I am always hitting the key to the left. Thus, trying to type an explanation point I hit the tilde or attempting an asterisk I type an ampersand. I didn’t realize how often I was typing numbers or these modifiers but it throughout the work day this proved to be the biggest barrier of this keyboard. Usuallly I can type fast on a mechanical keyboard, which is one of the reasons that I like them but with this design decision it simply made it very difficult to type without looking down at the keys.

At the end of the day the keyboard is not for me. Granted, it is really a beautiful keyboard but functionally those two issues make it unusable for my main keyboard. I think I will use it in my home office when it is set up. I plan on having a small desk in there so the compact and wireless design of this will go together nicely. Additionally, I won’t spend a lot of time in there so typing will be minimal and will not be work related so I imagine I won’t be using the modifier keys as much. But for my main keyboard at work I just need something that doesn’t cause me to think about the keyboard. The keyboard should fall into the background and let you type without having to look down. Additionally, it shouldn’t cause unnecessary finger fatigue after a long day of typing. I have a hard time recommending this keyboard that retails for $149 (on sale on Amazon for $129). But if you’re really needing a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard this is the one to get even if you have to adjust your typing. But for me back to my beloved naked keycapped Das Keyboard for work.

Counting Steps on the Apple Watch with Pedometer++

Awhile back I recounted hitting 200 days of 10,000 steps. Today I hit 254 days in a row by talking a late night walk to complete my goal. Late night walks and exercise have occurred several times during my current streak. The gamification of counting steps really has caused me to be active throughout the day for awhile now. It’s really become a habit.

The Apple Watch does track steps but as David Smith has noted it is not entirely accurate. Basically it uses a priority device to track steps. If your watch is on then that is the primary device. But what happens you’re carrying groceries or walking the dog? You’re not getting those steps counted because your arm isn’t moving. So David’s app will merge the data to get the most accurate steps.

In short, I love this app. It’s helped me track my steps daily for over a half year now and has a permanent spot on my home screen on my Apple Watch. Also, I love getting the confetti to when hitting 10k steps everyday.

PS I wrote this post on my computer, errr I mean iPhone.

Forget the iPad. The iPhone as a “Laptop Replacement”

The tech Twitter and blog community is currently in a frenzy about whether or not the iPad is a laptop replacement (here, here, here, and several other places. . Ironically, I wrote a post at the beginning of the week about the iPad as a laptop replacement based on the question from a friend over the weekend. I’m in no way implying that I had anything to do with the uproar on Twitter (I didn’t) but I found it interesting that this question is still a hot topic not just among nerds but also the everyday user considering using an iPad for their main computer. My post was basically with the perspective of an academic or student trying to go all in on the iPad. I could have been more sensitive to this and frame the discussion differently, especially after reading Matt Gemmell’s excellent post on the idea of a laptop replacement. In his article he points out two flaws in this thinking:

The two big general flaws in that kind of thinking are: (1) the idea of replacement is already laden with confirmation bias, and (2) the question can only ever be validly answered with reference to an individual. It’s as stupid as if I were to claim that iPads are, in some notional, bizarre, universal sense, “a laptop replacement”, just because I personally use an iPad full-time now. I don’t understand why this is hard to understand.

I agree, this decision is intensely personal and will look different for everyone. For some the iPad can be their sole device and for others, like me, I still need access to a computer, but for the majority of tasks I do the iPad works beautifully. Personally, I prefer the experience using the iPad over a computer. Additionally, some people work better on a computer and would prefer that plus they can do everything they need on it so for them the iPad is not a laptop replacement.

Thinking about this device replacement idea I was struck by my wife’s usage of her iPhone 7. For her, the iPhone is her personal computer. She is an accountant and she has a Windows desktop at work. But for her personal life the iPhone is always with her. She answers email, which are often somewhat lengthy, texting, web browsing, social media, watching Netflix, reading books (I still don’t understand this one but she will read entire books on her phone), gathering documents and researching for our adoption, tracking our adoption finances in Google Sheets, taking photos, editing photos, phone calls, and more. She has a laptop but only uses it sparingly to play the Sims and she also has an iPad, which I can’t remember the last time she used it.

For her, the device that is with her all the time is her computer. She doesn’t need or want anything else. For me, this wouldn’t work. Sure, I get a lot of work done on my phone but if it is a longer email or web browsing or any other number of tasks I prefer getting out the iPad. So this discussion of “laptop replacement” is intensely personal and will look different for everyone.

Its kind of funny seeing the uproar on Twitter. Many are pointing out that this decision is intensely personal and it depends on your job as well. Many jobs it doesn’t even make sense to think of an iPad as a laptop replacement. Work will often provide a computer and for many they just need a personal device for the basics and a laptop or iPad will fit that. At the end of the day, its not a question of whether the iPad is capable because it is for many situations. Just as a laptop works for most situations its not capable of everything the iPad is. So, think about what you want out of the device, what you use it for, and decide on a device. If you have the means, by all means have a laptop and an iPad. Its up to you. Don’t get stuck reading some tech review saying that the iPad can’t be your laptop. Its not trying to be.

Switching to the Native Twitter App

I’ve been a long time Tweetbot user. The aesthetic, simplicity, and mute functions always made me a firm believer in the third-party app. I’ve tried Twitterific several times in the past but I never was a fan of the design. Not that there is anything wrong with the design, the dislike is purely personal, but it never jived with me.

So what did I decide to do a couple weeks ago? I installed the Twitter app to test out for a couple weeks.

At first sight my face wrinkled in disgust, stomach churning as I became queasy from the design, I could feel blood running through my veins as I just pondered why anyone could use this horrible thing. But I decided to press on. Give it a chance and push through my initial reactions. And…

I like it

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are several major design flaws. I don’t have easy access to my lists. Promoted tweets are annoying. Searching my previous tweets are difficult. The share sheet is atrocious. I can’t customize the icons at the bottom of the screen.

On paper, this seems to be enough to send me immediately back to Tweetbot. I can’t remember what exactly instigated the switch. I think it was getting a couple notifications for replies that weren’t showing up in Tweetbot but they did in the Twitter app. Additionally, searching to mention people in a Tweet was a crapshoot. Half the time nothing would come up in my search and the other times it would be wildly inaccurate. If those were the exact reason for trying something new then it is something that definitely has bothered me in the past. Regardless, Tweetbot was seemingly losing some of its attractiveness to me.

Twitter used to open up everything for third part developers of apps but awhile back they began limiting features they would allow them to implement in hopes, I guess, of sending people to their own app. The default app for almost anything always has certain advantages over third party solutions. The third party solutions in turn provide usually a more creative design, unique features, and rethink the goal and focus of the app. For example, the Notes app has significant advantages to other third party note taking apps. Its automatically added to your phone, you can add it to the control panel (iOS 11), begin writing from the lock screen (iOS 11), share sheet functionality is the best, and more. But apps like Ulysses and Bear offer what I would argue a better design, unique functionality, support for writing in Markdown, different themes, and more robust settings. This isn’t a one-to-one analogy because unlike a Twitter client you are more likely to use different note apps for different sorts of tasks (at least I do).

So lets get back to the Twitter app. I’ve found that notifications, replies/mentions, direct messages are much more consistent in the native app. I’ve never missed anything that I wanted to see, I can use groups in direct messages, and the replies seem to be more consistent. Additionally, I’ve been able to participate in some Twitter polls and post GIFs easier as well. Searching for people for mentions works immediately and trying to find a certain user in the search is quick and easy. In addition, at some point Twitter added muting to the app. I’ve always been a heavy muting user because I want Twitter to be a place I enjoy. This means no politics, annoying hashtags, articles about hockey, guns, abortion, Trump, Grammys, and more. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on these things or even read articles on some of these topics but I just don’t want to see them in my timeline. Overall, its been a more streamlined experience. Its not without flaws and minor annoyances but for some reason the features and consistency of the Twitter app are winning the day.

The design has taken quite a bit to get used to. Compared to the Tweetbot app Twitter seems cluttered, the timeline is out of order, and you see ads. Really, this is what drew me away from from every trying it in the first place. The design was just awful. For some reason, I’ve gotten used to the design, instinctively ignore the promoted tweets, and actually like having replies be directly under the original tweet.

So, I don’t have the love affair that I used to have with Tweetbot but Twitter is slowly becoming my Twitter app of choice. If you would have told me a couple weeks ago that I would be doing this I would have called you insane because I was disgusted by the app that much. But certain features and functionality are winning the day and I’m enjoying my experience and that’s all that counts. I know some of you will call me absolutely crazy for thinking this and I would have too a couple weeks ago. But to each his one and use what works for you

Scanning Documents in iOS 11 with Notes and Augmented Reality

At WWDC Apple announced AR Kit for developers. In short, Apple is opening up a framework for developers of apps to easily create augmented reality apps. Tim Cook has spoken about augmented reality as one of the key technologies for the future. Even if you haven’t heard of augmented reality you’ve probably seen it before. One of the latest fads, Pokémon Go, is an example of augmented reality. Basically a device is able to superimpose digital items into the real world through the screen of a device. When you are playing Pokémon Go, you see the characters on the screen in the real world.

An example of a Pikachu sitting in the real world through your phone

One way Apple is integrating augmented reality in iOS 11 is through the new scanning feature of the Notes app. Previously scanning apps tried to detect edges through other means. You would have to setup your phone in good lighting, holding it over the document, steady, and shoot the picture. Depending on the quality of your picture you would have to detect the edges and if you took it at the wrong angle your document would look skewed.

Not so anymore. Below I took a picture from pretty far away and at an awkward angle to capture the scan.

Using Notes in iOS 11 to scan a document

With the technology of augment reality the phone is able to easily detect the edges of the document and make a scan of the document. Pretty impressive. Just as with other third party software I imagine other companies will implement a better scanning solution using the same technology. Apple usually releases a good basic version (mail, notes, scanning, reminders, etc) and then other companies build on that idea adding more features.

If you follow @madeiwthARKit on Twitter you will see tons of other cool ideas as well. This measuring app is particularly cool.

Scanned document from the earlier picture and if you’re ever in Louisville you have to go to Quills Coffee :)

Can the iPad Replace Your Laptop?

When the new iPads were released a couple weeks ago it reignited a conversation not only on tech blogs but also from friends about the iPad being a replacement for the traditional computer. My current setup is the 10.5” iPad Pro for basically everything outside the office. In the office I have a work iMac and at home I have a 2012 MacBook Air that normally lives tucked away under the couch. If I was to break down my usage it would be:

  • iPad – 60%
  • iMac – 40%
  • MacBook Air – negligible

I can and prefer to use the iPad for most of my work. There are a couple key hang ups for my situation (citations/bibliographic management for research papers, screencasts) but for the most part I could do it all from iPad. That’s not to say that I have to think differently about some tasks that I do. But once you make the switch you can maneuver your way around and get things done as fast or sometimes faster on the iPad. iOS 11 will be released closer to the Fall and it will reduce many friction points that people have when using the iPad.

I think the hang up for many is that if you use a laptop it covers all situations for the general person. If I was going to go one device without access to any others I would have to go with a laptop. The iPad is nice and I prefer it in many situations but it hasn’t reached the level of a necessity yet. Although, for some tasks it makes the process faster such as grading students papers but I can do that on the laptop as well. Additionally, I may be more focused on the iPad but that is more of a personal problem rather than a device problem.

A laptop may not be the best solution for all situations but it is an adequete device for everything. An iPad may be a better device for many tasks but it can’t do everything.

At the end of the day when you are making a decision about going all-in on the iPad you need to think about what all you use the computer for. Additionally, if there are some things you can’t do on the iPad do you have access to a computer? The iPad can do many many things and for many people this could be all they need. I just know that for me I still need access to a traditional computer. Its not the limitation of the device but the apps that are available.

Below I’ve catalogued in detail what I do on the iPad and what I have to do on the Mac. Notice that the tasks on iPad can all be done on a laptop as well. But as a preference, most of these I would rather do on the iPad.

Tasks on iPad

  • Email
    • Spark
    • Mail
  • Research
    • PDF Expert
    • Goodnotes
    • Evernote
    • Logos Bible Software
    • Accordance Bible Software
  • Writing
    • Ulysses
    • Bear
  • Create and write documents for work
    • Google Docs
    • Google Sheets
    • Ulysses
    • Microsoft Word
    • Keynote or PowerPoint
    • MailChimp
    • Goodnotes
  • Communicate with students
    • Canvas app
    • Email
  • Grade students homework and papers
    • SpeedGrader
  • Meeting notes
    • Goodnotes
    • Notes
  • Communication
    • Slack
    • iMessage
  • Web browsing and reading blogs
    • Safari
    • Fiery Feeds
    • Instapaper
    • Amazon app
  • Photo editing
    • Affinity Photo
    • VSCO
  • Watch baseball via MLB.TV app

Tasks that need a Mac (for me)

  • Finishing research papers: This is one of the biggest and saddest pain points. If you use bibliographic software such as Zotero there is no good way to do this on the iPad. Normally, I will write almost everything on the iPad in Ulysses then export it to a .docx file and finish the paper in Microsoft Word on the Mac adding citations, formatting, and proofreading.
  • Screencasts: For work I make a good amount of screencasts and tutorials for various things. There is no good screencasting software on the iPad and additionally, to help others out I really need to be using the device they will primarily be working with. Making edits (both video and audio), capturing audio, exporting, uploading to Vimeo or YouTube all need to happen on the Mac.
  • Editing websites: this is a more minor issue but is a pain point. For example, the other day my wife and I were working on a website for a donation campaign for our adoption and I had to bring out the old MacBook Air to create the website. I use Squarespace so if you use other services or know coding then you may be able to get by on the iPad.
  • Miscellaneous tasks: every once in awhile I just run into simple tasks that I just can’t do (or don’t have the time to figure out how to do) on the iPad. For example, one morning I was getting ready to send out a MailChimp campaign from my iPad and I was running into formatting issues. I had to go back to the office to finish this up. Another example is using Google Sheets I’ve run into a couple issues that I could not do on the iPad.

I have the luxury of having a iMac for work so I really don’t have to worry about having multiple devices. The only friction on the personal side is finishing research papers on the iPad. For work, I’ve run into more miscellaneous issues that I’ve needed a Mac for. I love the iPad and I wouldn’t want to give it up but I still need access to a Mac for some things.

If you have any further thoughts or comments I’d love to hear from you on Twitter (@renshaw330)

Does the 9.7” Smart Keyboard Fit the 10.5” iPad Pro?

If you are thinking about upgrading from the 9.7” iPad Pro to the newest and slightly bigger one then you will want to plan on buying a new Smart Keyboard as well. As you can see in the pictures the keyboard does fit and will work on the new iPad but the dimensions are slightly different. If you are trying to save some money and have an extra case or sleeve for your iPad then theoretically you could still use the 9.7” Smart Keyboard but I’ll let you make that decision.

For more on the different dimensions of the whole iPad lineup check out Serenity Caldwell’s post over at iMore.

Sorry, forgot to clean off the keyboard...

Slight overhang on each side

10.5” is the Ideal Size for the iPad Pro

Over the weekend I conducted some research for a writing project. My typical setup for research involving PDFs is PDF Expert on the left and Goodnotes 4 on the right hand side. On the 9.7” iPad Pro this was a somewhat cramped setup. The PDF text was just a little too small and the writing window in Goodnotes could stand to be a little bit bigger. Nevertheless, it still worked out.

PDF Expert 6 on the right & Goodnotes 4 on the left

The 20% bigger screen on the iPad Pros make it just big enough to make a massive difference. Reading my PDF on the left while taking notes on the right didn’t seem nearly as cramped. The text is larger enough to read easily and the writing window is plenty sufficient. This is a similar feeling I’ve had with the keyboard. Its just big enough, which, at the end of the day, makes a massive difference.

I think the new 10.5” size is perfect for the widest use case. Sure, 12.9” would be even better for reading a PDF on the left and taking notes on the right, but this ignores all the other benefits for a small size. And for me, the perfect combination of weight, size, portability, while running multiple apps at once at a comfortable size is the right choice for me.

Charging the Apple Pencil: Failed Design or Genius?

MKBHD recently mockingly tweeted about the way the Apple Pencil charges. True, it does look ridiculous out of context. True, when Apple first introduced this method of charging I thought it was insane. True, when charging it seems that it would be pretty easy to snap the charging end into the iPad. But, after using the iPad Pro + Apple Pencil since it was released almost 2 years ago I completely disagree that this is a flawed design.

Sure, it does look of ridiculous but when you are out in a coffee shop or in a meeting and you need to charge your Apple Pencil the last thing you want to do is pull out a charger plus a dongle to quick charge the device. Plus, when I leave the house to do some writing I just want to grab my iPad, which has an all day charge. I never need to think about bringing a charger with my iPad. I really don’t want to think about bringing a charger or even making sure my Apple Pencil is charged before I go out. The genius of the design is that I can insert the Apple Pencil in my iPad and charge it. A 5-minute charge always gives me plenty of juice for the rest of my session (actually a 15-second charge gives you 30 minutes!). At the very least, if I get up to go to the restroom or take a quick walk I can plug in the pencil and when I return it is good to go.

Additionally, and this is often forgot, the Apple Pencil does ship with a dongle to connect to any lightning cable. So, if you don’t want to be embarrassed by using this ridiculous design then just plug it in like you would any other device.

So, when people make comments about the so called failed design and how it is ridiculous with charging the Apple Pencil, it just seems to be made by people who don’t actually use the device in real life. Because in actual use you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Does the Apple Smart Keyboard fit in the Apple Leather Sleeve for the 10.5” iPad Pro?

I’ve had several people ask me this question and yes, it does fit in the sleeve. When you first slide the keyboard in the sleeve it is a nice snug fit. Not too snug but probably more than you would like. But after a day of use it slides in there no problem (as seen in the video).

If you’ve read some user comments and questions on Apple’s website for the Apple Leather Sleeve both some users and Apple people have said that it does not fit, which is causing even more confusion. It clearly does.

Review of the 10.5” Apple Smart Keyboard

This week has ended up being a series of quick reviews: Logitech Slim Combo, 10.5” iPad Pro, and the Apple Leather Sleeve. In this final installment I wanted to write some thoughts on the Apple Smart Keyboard.

The keyboard has a lot going for it. For one, the slightly bigger size compared to the 9.7” results in a massive different. The 9.7” was slightly cramped when writing. Although I did get used to this I still felt that the keys were too close together and my hands were never resting in a natural position but instead they were really close together. The added size of the iPad really does fix this. My hands rest in a natural position and I don’t feel cramped at all.

Apple is touting this as a “full size keyboard.” While I don’t think this is entirely accurate because, really, it is not a full size keyboard. But it is full sizish, which is enough. In actual use I forget that I am typing on a slightly smaller keyboard compared to the Apple Magic Keyboard or my massive-over-the-top-mechanical-naked-keys Das Keyboard.

As with the previous versions, the keyboard pairs via the Smart Connector, which, when you get used to this instead of Bluetooth you realize how truly great this is. You never have to worry about powering, batter, connection issues, or anything else. Just open the keyboard and begin to type.

The keyboard is really, really thin. When carrying the iPad around with the keyboard attached its basically like carrying a small notebook. One of the reasons that I love this combination is that it is so easy to just pick up and go then sit down and get to work. The whole process is basically frictionless. Additionally, the keyboard is waterproof so when you spill your coffee all over the keyboard in the morning you are good to go.

With all that said, I think this keyboard is adequete and gets the job done. It’s not great but its certainly the best option for a keyboard for the 10.5” iPad Pro that uses the Smart Connector. I am not thrilled about the typing experience. Since the keyboard is so flat there is not a lot of room for the keys to depress. After a while I do feel like that my fingers have been pressing down on a table for a while. This is definitely a personal preference as I know several that have no reservations about this. This is still better than the awful Microsoft Surface keyboard. Now that truly feels like you are typing on a table the whole time. I really prefer the Logitech Keyboard feel, but, well, you have seen my opinions on that.

Additionally, I really wish there was a way to carry the Apple Pencil as well. This is one of the reasons I ended up getting the Apple Leather Sleeve (plus some additional protection). Carrying the Apple Pencil around in my pocket made it prone to losing it, stabbing my leg, or just forgetting it when I go to a meeting or the coffee shop.

At the end of the day I really do like the iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard + Leather Sleeve. I think in the future there may be better solutions as other companies take advantage of the Smart Connector but for now this definitely gets the job done, and in my opinion, the best option out there.

Review of the Apple Leather Sleeve for 10.5″ iPad Pro

Apple released a leather sleeve for the new 10.5" iPad Pros. After my debacle with the Logitech Slim Combo I decided to purchase the Apple Smart Keyboard with the Apple Leather Sleeve. I was initially worried that the keyboard would not fit in the sleeve too but, rest assured, it does.

The sleeve comes with an integrated Apple Pencil holder, which was one of my hesitations with the Apple Smart Keyboard. After using the Logitech CREATE for my 9.7" I got used to not having to think about carrying my Apple Pencil with me. This allows me to do so.

The build of the sleeve seems solid and comes in four different colors (saddle brown, taupe, midnight blue, and black). I went ahead and picked up the black one and it feels and looks great.

Additionally, the sleeve can be used as kind of a workstation pad when laying the iPad flat to write on. The soft leather case will protect the iPad from being scratched on a table and presents an aesthetically pleasing workstation when taking notes.

Although it is on the pricier side I would still recommend it as a way to both carry and protect your new iPad. I love the form factor, its slim and feels good in your hands, and can be easily carried place to place without a lot of bulk.

Purchase here.

Using the Apple Leather Sleeve as a workstaton when taking notes

Using the Apple Leather Sleeve as a workstaton when taking notes

The leather sleeve + iPad Pro + leather sleeve

The leather sleeve + iPad Pro + leather sleeve

Love the Apple logo imprinted on the back

Love the Apple logo imprinted on the back

Side view of the leather sleeve + iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard

Side view of the leather sleeve + iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard

The Apple Pencil fits snugly in the case so it won't fall out but it is still easy to remove

The Apple Pencil fits snugly in the case so it won’t fall out but it is still easy to remove

Initial Thoughts on the New 10.5″ iPad Pro

Yesterday I purchased the new 10.5" iPad Pro (256GB, cellular) from Apple. Previously, I had a couple different iterations, initially the 12.9", then the 9.7" version. I found that I used the iPad in my hands much more than I realized and the larger iPad Pro was just too big to handle like this. The 9.7" still felt slightly cramped but the trade offs were worth it.

Screen Size

With the release of the 10.5" you get virtually the same form factor as the 9.7" with a 20% larger screen. On paper, the dimensions may seem minuscule but in actual use the larger screen is a welcome and noticeable addition. In split screen mode I find the larger screen more helpful. While the larger iPad Pro can fit two full side-by-side apps together, the smaller one still has an iPhone layout with much more real estate. I find myself having more room when reading a PDF and taking notes on the other side, which is one of my primary uses for split screen.

Screen Performance

Apple also updated the refresh rate of the screen to 120hz . Apple is calling this and other software integrations ProMotion. I'm not going to get into the science of it but lets just say that scrolling, switching between apps, and any other movement on the iPad is buttery smooth. The switch to retina screens several years ago was a vast improvement. ProMotion may not be as big as an improvement but it will completely change the way we view our devices.

In order to see the improvement see this video in a tweet by Matt Gemmell.

Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil software also received some updates. With the first generation iPad Pro I really couldn't tell a difference between writing on paper and writing on the iPad. Now, there is no question, this is the best stylus out there. Absolutely no lag time when writing with the pencil.


  • The camera is now the same camera in the iPhone 7. I don't take many pictures on the iPad because I don't want to look silly but for scanning documents this is a helpful upgrade.
  • They also upgraded the fingerprint sensor to the lightning fast iPhone 7 sensor. It is a vastly noticeable improvement.
  • After having an iPad with True Tone its really hard not having a device without it. The screen looks more natural (not in a computer generated color switching way like night shift). Additionally, the screen is even brighter for use outside
  • If you hold your iPad with any frequency the 10.5" is the way to go. The 12.9" version is more of a desktop iPad and not as suitable for mobile use.

iOS 11

This iPad was really made for iOS 11. The hardware inside the iPad is more than I'll ever need but as Apple keeps improving iOS with more multitasking and other productivity features it will continually need more power and speed for users. I can't wait till the public beta is released as I will be testing it out at that point.

Should You Buy One?

If you don't have an iPad Pro yet and are interested in purchasing one I have absolutely no reservations in recommending this version of the iPad. The integration with the Apple Pencil is going to keep getting better, especially with the release of iOS 11. The iPad Pro has transformed the way I get work done. It's primarily become my main device that I use. Whether it is reading articles on the web, marking up PDFs for research, taking notes in meetings, browsing photos, watching St. Louis Cardinals games, and more it has become my go to device.

If you already have the previous iPad Pro the question becomes a little trickier. If you have the smaller iPad Pro and wanting some more screen real estate I think the upgrade is worth it. I found the 9.7" to be slightly cramped when running two apps side-by-side. Additionally, the keyboard also felt slightly cramped. The larger screen allows for a full on-screen keyboard and a larger keyboard for the Apple Smart Keyboard, which I am currently using. The typing on the keyboard alone feels much more comfortable. So, if you have the means, I think it is a welcome upgrade. If you are trying to save some money both the original 9.7" and 12.9" are still worth checking out, if not for the Apple Pencil alone.

Overall, the new iPad Pros are beasts of a device. There is really no comparison in the market for these tablets. If you want the best you can't go wrong.

More In-Depth Reviews

Here are some of my favorite reviews that have been released so far:

Review of the Logitech “Slim” Combo for 10.5″ iPad Pro

This review will be about as long as it took to test out the Logitech Slim Combo Keyboard for the new 10.5" iPad Pro. Quite frankly, this keyboard/case combo is just awful. Previously, I had the 9.7" iPad Pro with the Logitech CREATE. I much preferred this keyboard to Apple's Smart Keyboard for a number of reasons such as the keyboard itself, the shell protection, and an Apple Pencil holder. So, naturally, I wanted to try out Logitech's new keyboard for the recently released iPad's. Looking at their site it looked like they made some great improvements including allowing the back to couple as a stand for FaceTime calls or other just general viewing.

But then I tested this "slim" keyboard case…


Almost immediately I was put off by the bulky size. It has a roundish bulge on the back case. There is a reason why the iPads are now flat and don't have the protruding bulge in the middle of the back of the iPad. Aesthetically, it hurts the eyes. Functionally, it feels extremely bulky. There is nothing slim about this keyboard case. It feels as if I stepped back to 2008 and grabbing my HP laptop for class in college. Regardless of the dimensions, the feel of the case is just a bulky mess. But this was only the beginning.

I was originally excited that I could pop the back off from the keyboard and hold the device in my hand. Well, this isn't satisfactory either. For one, the case just feels heavy and bulky (remember, this is just the back). Second, the edge of the iPad snaps deep into the case so there are some awkward ways of holding the iPad. Third, did I mention the weight and bulkiness of it? Strike 2, I wasn't feeling good about this purchase.

I then set the iPad up in the keyboard portion as well. The first thing I noticed was that I had to reach around the back to pull out the stand portion to stand it up. Seriously? I have to do this every single time I want to use my iPad with the keyboard, which is 75% of the time. No thank you. Previously, I would just open up the case and I was good to go. Additionally, they added this nasty 2+ inch blank space on the keyboard in front, which extends the iPad away from your hands by quite a bit. I'm not sure on the actual dimensions but the feeling was that the iPad was sitting far away from me and I was going to pull my shoulder out of its socket just reaching to touch the iPad.

Well, that was enough for me. I promptly gave up and never trying this again. I ended up going with the Apple Smart Keyboard + Apple Leather Sleeve.

I guess I could add some positives of the keyboard but with the above complaints I can't in my right mind recommend this keyboard case.

  1. Holds your Apple Pencil. But in reality they screwed this up too. The Apple Pencil is on the outside of the case just waiting to get caught on anything in your bag. With the size and bulk of the slim case you'd think there was plenty of room (like the 9.7"!) for a holder inside.
  2. Shortcut keys for different functionality in iOS. I love having the volume control, brightness, and other shortcuts on the keyboard. Sadly, the Apple Smart Keyboard doesn't have this.
  3. Better keyboard. The keyboard itself, in my opinion, is better feeling than Apple's Smart Keyboard.

Well, that's it. I'm not sure why Logitech would release this keyboard case combo. Sometimes I am disappointed when trying out a new device or accessory and it doesn't work out but rarely do I get extremely frustrated. I am still baffled that this was released and touted as a slim keyboard. They say don't fix what ain't broke. Well, the previous keyboard was better than average. It wasn't broke so it shouldn't have been fixed. This one is broke; I wouldn't be surprised for it to be pulled for a new design later this year.

Brian Davidson was finally right.

New iOS 11 Features That I’m Looking Forward To

MacStories, one of my favorite sites for iOS and app news, information, tips, and analysis wrote a great article on new iOS 11 features. I’ve pulled some of my favorites out with my thoughts below.


One of my favorite apps for the iPad Pro is Goodnotes, which has the best handwriting recognition that I’ve used. I am able to write sloppy cursive and somehow it is able to pick it up. I am excited that Apple is making handwriting recognition part of the operating system but I am interested to see how good it is. Even if the recognition doesn’t meet Goodnotes level of accuracy it will still be nice to search the Notes app and others through Apple’s integrated recognition. If a note more naturally fits in Apple Notes and I want to handwrite then this will be more efficient.


One of the more frustrating aspect of using Apple notes, for me, is the fact that I don’t know what lane to be in when I am taking an exit. While most exits are on the right side of the road the occasional left exit always gets me. Hopefully this will make it more clear.


Finally! iMessage is notorious for being out of sync with multiple devices. Additionally, when I receive verification codes via text I will often delete these messages but then when I get to my iMac or iPad they are still there. This should improve syncing and begin to work like other messaging platforms such as Slack. What you do on one device will be synced across multiple devices. Additionally, you will not have messages out of order when you come back to any device.

iMessage Apps

I don’t use a lot of iMessage apps except for stickers and GIFs. Frustration ensues when it takes multiple taps just to get to the GIPHY app or certain stickers that I commonly use. This interface looks to be much better.

Person to Person Payments via Apple Pay

I generally use PayPal or Venmo to payback friends for a variety of things. Having Apple Pay payments within iMessage to directly pay those who have iPhones, which is most of my friends, will be great. It seems that this will work similar to other services. When you get paid it gets stored in the system then from there you can use those payments for other purchases or transfer to your bank.
If you haven’t been using Apple Pay you really should be. It is actually more secure than using a credit card because it uses a unique number for each transaction + you have to authenticate it through your fingerprint. I’ve had some people tell me they don’t use it because it seems less secure but the reality is that its the most secure (except cash I guess) for protecting your personal information and your bank account. Apple really strives to keep personal privacy at the forefront of what they are doing. Apple itself doesn’t even have access to this information.

Audio on the Lock Screen

This will be nice instead of having to pull up the control panel every time to pause something.

Do Not Disturb When Driving

Yes, this will be great. Don’t text and drive people. Stay safe out there.

Expanded Dock on the iPad

I’m really looking forward to testing this out on the iPad. While it may take some getting used to I think this will be a great new feature for productivity on the iPad. Additionally, this is how you will now invoke side-by-side apps. Better access to the apps you use the most plus smart suggestions for commonly paired apps that you use together. This is a major step in the right direction.


Well these are just some new features that I am excited about on iOS. There were many more that were shown and I’m assuming that we’ll find out more as people begin to test in the beta of iOS 11. I’ll be installing the beta when it is released to the public. 9to5 Mac has a nice video showing about a 100 new features that you should check out.

iOS 11 Wishlist Follow-up

Yesterday I posted a wishlist for Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) keynote yesterday. The wishlist was fairly small and a safe bet. Today, I just wanted to follow up on what I was hoping for. In the future I will be writing my thoughts on more features introduced. To say the least, they nailed it on new iPad features along with other general iOS improvements. I’m really excited for the public beta to be released later so I can begin trying them out.

  • Better app switching – from what I can tell Apple introduced a redesigned and vastly improved app switcher for the iPad. Instead of just redesigning the side bar they introduced a whole new way of thinking about working with multiple apps.
    • /New dock/ – the dock is very similar to the desktop version. You can put as many apps as you would like there and additionally, on the right it includes contextual apps that appear based on what you are working on. Apple already introduced something like this last year in the Spotlight search where it would predict what app you are searching for based on time of day, location, and what you were previously doing. Personally, I find this pretty accurate when I am trying to find an app. You can also pull the dock up from the bottom of the screen wherever you are at.
    • /App switcher/ – the app switcher takes up the entire screen and sort of looks like Mission Control on the desktop. Additionally, as I stated above, you can pul the dock up from the bottom of the screen and then drag an app to either open a temporary window or dock it on the left or right. 9to5 Mac has a good video showing this feature.
  • Make a modern Mail app – I may have missed something, but sadly, I did not see any vast improvements. I’m holding out hope though that it just didn’t make the keynote but there are still some good improvements.
  • File Management – they did introduce a new app called Files. This is very similar to the Finder on the Mac but redesigned and thought through for the iPad. While Apple did have an app called iCloud Drive, it was really only for Apple’s cloud storage system, which quite frankly, is terrible compared to Dropbox and Google Drive. The new Files app integrates with other cloud storage solutions such as Google Drive and Dropbox. I am interested in seeing the integrated functionality with these third-party services. Will it include features such as sharing with others, copying a share link, enabling syncing to the iPad for specific files, or zipping/unzipping multiple files together? You can also drag and drop, select multiple files, and send to other apps. Some people think that a Finder like solution on the iPad is ridiculous but personally, I deal with multiple files on a daily basis. Whether it be for academic research or dealing with many files for work I am constantly searching, moving, sharing, and manipulating many files. Typically I would use a combination of apps to do this but I am hopeful that this will be a one-app solution.
  • Photos for family and close friends – no improvements 😦
  • Continued improvement of portrait mode – since Portrait mode is a combination of software and hardware they can make improvements without introducing a new iPhone. I’m excited to see that they are improving low-light photos in Portrait mode as this seems to be one of the biggest weaknesses in my own experience.

Overall, I’m pretty excited about all the new features. Like I said, there are many more features to look forward too as well.

**SOLD** iPad Pro 12.9″ (128GB) + Smart Keyboard – $600

I’m selling my 12.9″ iPad Pro (128GB) + Smart Keyboard for $600. The new one that Apple just announced starts at $799 for 64GB + $150 for the Smart Keyboard so this is a pretty good deal. It has general wear on the back with a small indentation on the bottom left corner (see pics), which doesn’t effect any functionality but is purely an aesthetic blemish. Let me know if you’re interested.

Twitter: @renshaw330


iOS 11 Wishlist for Apple’s WWDC Keynote

Today is Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. This conference is geared towards the developers who make apps for the iOS and MacOS platforms but Apple does provide a live stream for the public, which over the years, has grown greatly in popularity. This conference will reveal the new operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and the Mac. Today, I just wanted to outline some features that I hope they reveal for iOS. Most of the items below will be geared towards the iPad. I’ve been using the iPad as a computer replacement about 50-60% of the time with the remaining time on my iMac

  • Better app switching – When Apple introduced split view on the iPad it helped getting things done on the iPad greatly. You were now able to place two apps side-by-side. Generally, I use this as reference, one app is my writing environment and the other is a document, website, or another app that I am referring to. The problem is switching the app on the right side. When you try to switch to another app there is just an endless list of app icons with a confusing order. The app that I want to use seems to never be right there. I end up scrolling and scrolling then missing it. What I actually end up usually doing it using CMD-SPACE to search for the app > open > close > open split view app picker > open app again. This might be the most clunky workflow ever but its better than cycling through the endless mess that is the app picker. I don’t know what they should do but really anything is better than what they have now.
  • Make a modern Mail app – every year I hope that the Mail app will improve and every year, despite their “excitement” it is still light years behind every other mail app that comes out. I try to use many of the default apps on iOS because it provides simplicity, the workflows are more deeply embedded in the operating system, and they just always tend to work better than a combination of many third-party apps. But seriously, the mail app is just terrible. At the very least add a share sheet option to email messages. This will allow sending to your task manager, Evernote, create a PDF, add a reminder, send to Notes, and more. It is maddening that this is not an option. Some other features that I would like to see added are some type of smart email folders, send later, and better integration with Gmail (that’s a long shot but I can still wish!) One feature I do like about the Mail app is the granularity of custom email notifications. I have email notifications turned off but for one person in my life who primarily communicates through email I have their notifications turned on plus there is an easy way to turn on a custom notification for a certain email thread. But the Mail app needs some massive improvement and I hope they deliver later today.
  • File Management – one of the biggest hangups on the iPad is dealing with multiple files either in one app or between multiple. Across the board there is not a good way to deal with multiple files, whether it be getting them in an email, sending to another app, or sharing with others. Additionally, when dealing with multiple apps getting one file to another app (without cloud syncing) is just a pain. Implementing drag and drop between apps would be a huge win. You could also drag text, images, files, URLS, and more from one app to another. This would be a huge win for the iPad. I know that Apple wants to make file management simple but I think they have sided with too much simplicity, especially when they are touting the iPad as the future of computing. There really needs to be better file management on the iPad. I don’t necessarily want a one-to-one copy of how the Mac works but rethink it for the iPad.
  • Photos for family and close friends – I would really like to see better photo management and sharing with those closest to you. My wife and I have a shared iCloud album, which works well but that doesn’t provide a good solution for all situations. Additionally, we are constantly sharing via AirDrop, which means that both are phones have to be open at the same time plus a good connection between them. For example, recently we were at a wedding and I took several pictures that I wanted her to have but I had to wait until we were both done with everything to get those to her. It’d be great if I could get the originals to her in a more simple way.
  • Continued improvement of portrait mode – I absolutely love portrait mode. It creates stunning photos on the iPhone that is hard to believe that they were taken on the iPhone. Outdoors, it works great, except with certain things in the background such as water from a lake or stream. I would love to see them improve it for lower light situations. Even in a well lit room the photo comes out a little grainy. Additionally, I would like to see improvements for depth effect with inanimate objects.

Well, there is more that I’d like to see at the keynote today but this is just a sample of some major features that I would like to see reworked. Using my iPad everyday for work, school, and personal activities has really given me an appreciate for the device but there are just some key sticking points that get me every time. I think they will really focus on the iPad for work and I am excited to see what they will come up with this afternoon.

If you haven’t seen it yet then you should check out Federico Vitticci’s iOS 11 concept video with some more ideas.

Here is how to stream Apple’s keynote today.

Mac Tip: Pasting as Plain Text and Using a Free Clipboard Manager

If you do any sort of copying and pasting on your Mac then you know what a pain it can be when you paste text that is formatted from its original location. This is especially frustrating when copying from the web, PDFs, or software such as Logos or Accordance. There are a several different options for fixing this problems. Here are two of them:

The first option is native to the Mac. It is simply using the keyboard shortcut Option+Shift+Command+V. This will paste as plain text stripping all the formatting.

Another option that I use all the time is through a clipboard manager called Flycut (its free!). This app stores everything you have copied and allows you to cycle through and then paste as plain text. This relieves the stress of going back and forth between apps to copy and paste. Instead, just copy everything you need then cycle through your latest copied texts and then paste. You can do all this by holding Shift+Command+V then continue pressing V to cycle through everything.

Sharing Items on the Amazon App

I’m not sure when Amazon began doing this but they’ve made it easier to share items from the iOS app. I just happened on this “trick” the other day when I wanted to share a book and its price with a friend. Once you take a screenshot a share button appears that you can now share it through the share sheet. It also will include a link to the book as well. I’ve found this helpful not only sharing books with friends but also adding a list in Evernote or my task manager to look at later.

Happy Amazoning


Eliminating Distractions and Boosting Focus with Noizio

Whenever I am trying to concentrate, music in the background is generally distracting, especially if it is not techno, classical or other non-verbal music. But even this instrumental music is often distracting for some reason. For several years now I’ve ended up listening to thunderstorms in the background. This serves as a way to help minimize distracting noises around me but not be fully immersed in musical instruments or lyrics. Over the years I’ve tried different apps and methods for this but for awhile now I’ve stuck with an app called Noizio .

Coffee Shop Mix: This is just the first screen of sounds. If you scroll down there are several more. 

Coffee Shop Mix: This is just the first screen of sounds. If you scroll down there are several more. 

Noizio plays several different sounds such as rain, thunderstorm, coffee house, wind, waves, river stream, farm animals and several more. You can mix and match the sounds together and also choose how loud you want each individual sound to be. After figuring out your preferences then you can save it and create another one.

Personally, I use two different mixes. One in a quiet atmosphere and another for a louder atmosphere such as a coffee shop. One of the major differences between my two mixes is the presence of the ambient coffee house noise. In a silent location the coffee house noise is actually quite helpful for me but in an actual coffee shop the real background noise coupled with the artificial noise just becomes way too much. Either way, I like to be able to save different mixes for different atmospheres.

After using this app consistently for many months I’ve found that it helps me get into a state of deep focus quicker because my brain now knows that when these noises are going on then it is time to focus and write or research. So not only does it block out the noise but it also helps me get into the writing flow even quicker than without out it.

So if you are looking for an app to help you stay focus and block out distractions around you then I highly recommend the app Noizio.
It is available on both iOS and MacOS

RSS, Twitter, and Newsletters OH MY

RSS used to be the predominant method that most people gathered and curated their reading content on the web. Google Reader was the free and dominant choice of the internet. Then, unexpectedly, they shut down back in 2013 . The internet went into a state of frenzy as people were then forced to rethink how they gathered their content from different websites. RSS made it easy to follow blogs and news site because you chose the content, went to one place to see that content, and mark items as read or for reading later.

Many people turned to Twitter and Facebook in order to gather links. But with the fleeting nature of both, especially Twitter, it can be easy to miss what is being shared unless you are constantly engaged on the platform, which, sadly, many are because of FOMO . Additionally, if you are trying to cut back on your social media consumption, which many are, it has become difficult to both be engaged in writing that you want to follow and avoid the blackhole of social media.


Personally, I still predominantly use RSS through a service called Feed Wrangler. RSS usually has two aspects:

  1. The service that curates the feeds from websites
  2. A reading platform to view the feeds

Feed Wrangler is 19 $/yr and I've been using it since the Google Reader shut down. They have an app that you can read your subscriptions from but I find it fairly basic and instead use an app on my iPhone and iPad called Fiery Feeds to read everything. Additionally, you can do local syncing without an RSS service but it won't be available on multiple devices. One of the great aspects of Fiery Feeds is the ability to add feeds with the iOS share sheet on websites. Thus, if I am on a blog I want to start following I don't need to hunt around for the RSS link but instead I just invoke the iOS share sheet and click on Add to Fiery Feeds and it links to it my Feed Wrangler account for syncing. Another popular and free RSS syncing service is Feedly, which can also work with Fiery Feeds.


Another app, Nuzzel ( MacStories review ), has a little different purpose for curating reading content. Instead of following Twitter and getting sucked into the endless list of tweets being sent out every second I use Nuzzel to curate the most popular content from people I'm following on Twitter and my lists. Nuzzel uses as algorithm to find articles that have been shared multiple times by either just people you follow or another level down of people they also follow. This allows me to just open the Nuzzel app and view popular content on Twitter that is, in my experience, good content to read without getting lost in my timeline. In addition, you can setup a weekly or daily newsletter that Nuzzel curates to send to you at an interval at your choice.

I use a combination of both RSS and Nuzzel for most of my content. I've found that not having to open Twitter for content purposes helpful for both my sanity and productivity. Inevitably, getting on Twitter generally puts me on rabbit trails that I never intended and I lose 30, 40, 60 minutes of my day!

So check out some of the new RSS syncing services out there such as Feedly and Feed Wrangler and also use a social media curating app such as Nuzzel to allow you to still find new and interesting content without being so connected with social media.

Taking Better Photos on Your iPhone

Apple recently released several short videos (30 seconds each) showing you how to take better photos with your iPhone. They are pretty basic but definitely worth checking out. For example, the how to take an action shot tutorial simply suggests to use the burst mode when capturing an action shot then shows you how to choose the best one. Additionally, they give suggestions for different types of photos such as how to take a photo with street light or how to photograph a backlit subject . Just a little knowledge for different situations can greatly improve your photography on your iPhone.

Here is the complete list:

  1. How to shoot a great portrait ( link )
  2. How to shoot a close-up ( link )
  3. How to shoot a vertical pano ( link )
  4. How to shoot without a flash ( link )
  5. How to shoot action ( link )
  6. How to shoot a selfie with the timer ( link )
  7. How to covert to black & white ( link )
  8. How to capture a unique angle ( link )
  9. How to shoot with zoom ( link )
  10. How to shoot a horizon ( link )
  11. How to shoot stills while filming ( link )
  12. How to shoot with street light ( link )
  13. How to shoot a bold and simple image ( link )
  14. How to shoot during golden hour ( link )
  15. How to shoot a one-handed selfie ( link )
  16. How to edit-selfie a selfie ( link )
  17. How to shoot a sunset silhouette ( link )
  18. How to capture an intimate moment ( link )
  19. How to shoot a group portrait ( link )
  20. How to shoot a backlit subject ( link )

Brief Introduction to Markdown and Why I Use it For Notes and Other Writing

Yesterday I wrote a post about the Prizmo Go app on the iPhone, which allows you to take a picture of text, copy that text, then send it to your app of choice. For this process I am using an app called Bear , which is a Markdown writing app because it allows me to either append or prepend text to a specific file right from the iOS share menu.

Many of you may have heard of Markdown before but often times it is touted for being revolutionary for writing on the web. For example, this post I am writing in Markdown to post on Squarespace. But I also use Markdown for much of my other writing includes notes, handouts, and the beginning stages of my academic writing.

I won't get into the history of Markdown here but in short it was created as a basically a shortened version of HTML for writing on the web. Markdown is a plain text "language" just meaning that you place certain characters around text that when processed it transforms the text into different formats such as bold, italics, strike, bullet lists, ordered lists, links, and more.

Why I use Markdown for Notes and Other Writing

Since Markdown is a plain text language it allows me to never worry about the formatting until the very end. If you have ever taken notes in Microsoft Word, Evernote, Pages, etc then you have probably encountered the frustration of your notes not formatting how you want and then spending unnecessary time worrying about that. The other problem is getting text out of that app into another place, which, during the copy/paste process often times the format will be different in different apps. Finally, just the look of common writing apps such as Microsoft Word is not the best for a good writing environment.

Many Markdown writing apps today make writing the front and center at what you are doing. It allows you to focus on the words rather than the format. Distractions are at a minimum and you can just sit down and write. For example, as you can see below, I am writing in Bear for this post. The focused writing environment allows me to not worry about anything else except getting words onto the page.

In addition, Markdown writing apps allow for customizable exports into Microsoft Word files, PDFs, HTML, and other formats right from the app. For most of my writing I use an app called Ulysses (see examples of PDFs below), which has excellent export options for creating beautiful PDFs. If I am writing an academic paper then most of my writing will begin in Ulysses then I will export into a Microsoft Word document for final editing and formatting.

In the early days of Markdown you had to remember all the special syntax for Markdown. Today, in apps like Bear and Ulysses you can use keyboard shortcuts just as you would in Microsoft Word to place the syntax around the words for formatting them. For example "command-B" will bold the text and "command-I" will italicize the text.

In short the two main reasons I write in Markdown involve the apps that support Markdown because they allow me to

  1. Focus on writing
  2. Export into many different formats once the writing process is complete

Brief Markdown Syntax

A post is incomplete without an introduction to the syntax (even though as I stated above you can easily use keyboard shortcuts like you would in a rich text editor).

  • Bold: wrap the text in two asterisks **like this**
  • Italics: wrap the text in a single asterisk *like this*
  • Text for a link is wrapped in brackets with the link in parentheses [like this](
  • Headers are simply formatted with hashtags so
    • H1 Header = #
    • H2 Header = ##
    • H3 Header = ###
  • Lists just use an asterisk and ordered lists are the number plus a period such as 1.

  • [ ] Those are the basics but for more you can follow this link or go through this tutorial .

Example PDFs of this posted exported from Ulysses in PDF form

  1. Example from the modified Color Form theme
  2. Example from the Novel Cochin theme
  3. Example from a theme that Brian Davidson created
  4. Example from the Columns theme

Hope this helps as both a brief introduction to Markdown and why I use it for note taking and other writings. If you have any further questions feel free to connect with me on Twitter: @renshaw330

Easily Copy Text from a Book with the Prizmo Go App

Taking notes while reading can be a time consuming process especially if you are wanting to copy text from the book you are reading. This often means having an iPad or computer out with the book next to you typing quotes and other notes from the book. This process often slows down the amount I read during a session.

Recently, I download the Prizmo Go app ( see the MacStories review for an in-depth look at the app ), which has been transformative in this process. The app allows you to take a picture of anything (I’ve just been using it for books) and then it will read the text on the page, allow you to select a certain portion, and then send it off to your favorite note taking app. So far, I’ve found that it is very accurate (see screenshots below).

You can highlight what text you want to export out. As you can see, below the image is the text that it copied out, which is 100% accurate. I normally will put the page number at the end (you can edit the text if you need to). Also, you can import photos so if you want to just take pictures as you go then do this process later you can do that as well.

You can highlight what text you want to export out. As you can see, below the image is the text that it copied out, which is 100% accurate. I normally will put the page number at the end (you can edit the text if you need to). Also, you can import photos so if you want to just take pictures as you go then do this process later you can do that as well.

Exporting to a new Evernote note

Exporting to a new Evernote note

Exporting to the Bear app. As you can see you can prepend or append text, which comes in really handy.

Exporting to the Bear app. As you can see you can prepend or append text, which comes in really handy.

In conjunction with this I’ve been testing out the Bear app for some note taking. Bear is a markdown writing app that syncs to many different devices (for more on using Markdown see here) (Casey Newton over at the Verge outlines why he switched from Evernote to Bear ). But one of the aspects that I like is that it allows you to prepend or append text from another app. So if I have a note file for a book that I am reading I can just add the text from my picture to the bottom or top of the note so I have a running list of quotes and notes.

This is all done from my phone and the process is fairly quick. You should definitely check it out if you have been frustrating with taking time of copying notes from your reading.

The Prizmo Go app is free with a couple in-app purchases.

  • $4.99 to export the text
  • $4.99 per 1000 scans for better text recognition (I found the default to work fairly well but paying for the better text recognition has worked flawlessly).

In my opinion, these small in-app purchases are definitely worth it.

Not Forgetting

I am notoriously forgetful when saying I'll pick something up, send an email, follow-up with someone, or any other simple task. When I say yes its not like I am meaning to forget but quite literarily (in the most literal sense of the word) I can leave the room and then forget. Even if I write it down I'll forget to look at the note at the appropriate time. So instead of trying harder to remember I try to be smarter about remembering.

One of my favorite quotes is from David Allen:

You're brain is not for storing ideas but having them.

Today, there are numerous tools to help our brains "forget." So really, you shouldn't be down on yourself that you forgot but instead think of ways that you can remember better. And just trying harder usually doesn't cut it.

So for tasks like this I use an app called Due . I could use the Reminders app on my phone but I've found that finicky and there is not a good way for it to keep reminding me if I'm in the middle of something.

The Due app does a couple key things that keep me using it:

  1. Recurring reminders – If I ignore the notification it will keep reminding me in 5 minute increments. The alarm will go off for a minute, stop, and come back 5 minutes later until I mark it complete.
  2. Easy snooze – I can set custom snooze intervals so when the notification appears on my iPhone or Apple Watch I can pull down on the notification and it will bring up different snooze options that I've set. Mine are 15 and 60 minutes +1 day.
  3. Natural language processing – When entering a reminder I can just type exactly what I want instead of fidgeting with a bunch of options. I can type "Remind me on Monday at 5pm to pick up asparagus after work." This will parse everything correctly, click save, and I'm done.

So don't try to be better at remembering but be smarter about it.

For more on Due see MacStories review of it .

Searching Photos on Your iPhone

In community group over the weekend one of our members was trying to find a photo on their iPhone from awhile back. I suggested they just search the item name in the Photos app or type the date that the photo was probably taken. Several in the group had no idea this was possible! When iOS 10 was released for the iPhone, Apple introduced photo recognition to your devices. Google Photos was already able to do this but each company uses a different method.

  1. Apple recognizes and tags photos behind the scenes all on the phone. This means that all the data that is being processed is not stored on some server away from your phone. Personally, I appreciate that Apple values my privacy and strives to take the steps necessary to keep this private.
  2. Google processes photos in the cloud. This means that the data is sent to their servers (anonymously), processed, and then the photos are categorized.

Searching Photos

If you go into the photos app on your phone you can click on either Photos in the bottom left or Albums in the bottom right. In the top right of the screen you will see a magnifying class indicating that you can search your photos.

Apple categorizes all the images into your phone and will give you suggestions based on their own categories. For example, if I begin typing the word game then it brings several categories up such as board game, football game, baseball game, etc.

In addition, you can search by date (you can also add a category to this as well). If you type in January then it will pull up all your photos that you have taken in the month of January. You can further refine this by typing in January 2016 to see all photos in that specific month and year.

Finally, you can search by location. Since by default all your photos are geo tagged the location of the photo is included in the photo’s information. So if I type in Springfield it will bring up all my photos taken in Springfield, Illinois.

Go ahead and try different searches to get a feel for what you can and can’t search. Overall, I’ve found the feature very helpful when trying to locate a specific photo.

For more on new features in Apple’s Photos app on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac check out MacStories helpful guide .