Secure and Connect Your Home

Secure and Connect Your Home

Technology brings the idea of a connected home to reality, but many options are still complicated enough to be daunting. Where do I begin? What can I even do? These are the two primary questions this article will attempt to address, though it should be noted that the complex nature of such an endeavor means that this article can only be an introduction, with links and recommendations for additional research and reading.

Remotely lock a Mac's screen with Launch Center Pro

David Sparks writing at MacSparky describes a way to use an iPhone to remotely sleep a Mac. This is useful for those who sometimes forget to lock their Mac before heading to the water cooler for the latest sportsball chat. David's recipe involves DraftsDropbox, and Hazel. Basically, he prescribes writing "Mac Sleep" into Drafts and sharing it to Dropbox. Hazel on the Mac recognizes the new file, and sends the Mac into dreamland.

It works well, but I wasn't satisfied having to actually type a phrase into Drafts every time I wanted to sleep my Mac. Yeah, I'm lazy like that. Lucky for nerds, Launch Center Pro has been updated with a neat feature that reduces the command to just one button. It quickly creates the Dropbox file with the proper name which thereby puts the Mac to sleep. Rather than annotating David's fantastic instructions, I wanted to rewrite the instructions with Launch Center Pro as the centerpiece.

Prepare your Mac

  1. Create a folder in Dropbox. Eg: "/Apps/Launch Center Pro"
  2. Create a Hazel rule for that folder to run an Applescript whenever a file called "Sleep Mac" appears. Also include an action for Hazel to trash the file after the script executes. Here's the script:

tell application "Finder"

    sleep

end tell

Feel free to test the script by creating a TXT file in that folder and name it "Sleep Mac."

Create Launch Center Pro action

  1. Create a new action, and name it something like Sleep Mac. Using the Action Composer, head here: System Actions > In-App Dropbox > New File
  2. Name: Sleep Mac; Text: whatever; Path: [same Dropbox path from above]; Name: Sleep Mac
  3. Tap Done, cute it up with a lovely icon, and tap Done again

You should be all set. If you're like me and find yourself wandering away from your Mac before locking it down, this recipe should ensure your information is protected from prying eyes.

How to fix a severed MacBook charger

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This simple repair can keep you from having to buy a new MacBook charger.

I love my cats, but their favorite things to chew are white, cord-like objects. In other words, all of my Apple chargers are constantly in danger.

My grey cat, Gracie, chewed on my MacBook Pro charger over 6 months ago and it has slowly worn to the point where it won't charge anymore. For those of you that know, a new MacBook charger is a whopping $80.00 1. Not something I want to shell out.

So I decided, enlisting the help of my Dad, to fix it myself. I documented the journey with some macro photography to bring all of you along.

Before we get started, let me cover the not-so-fun stuff first.

A Word About Liability

You are using this guide at your own risk. I am not liable for any damages, bodily harm, or any other ill effect that may come upon you or your property due to following this guide. By reading this article and putting these steps into practice, you release me of any legal responsibility for your own actions, or the effects of those actions, positive or negative.

Anyways, on to the repair.

Step 1: Verify This Guide Will Fix Your Type of Break

This guide only works for cables that are severed in the middle of the cable, not at the base (next to the white brick). I have not tried a repair that connects to the brick, but if I find a way, I will post it.

Step 2: Attain All Needed Tools and Parts

If you do not have any of these tools, you can pick them up at any hardware store, or you can buy them off the links here. I just used my Dad's [t]rusty tools.

Step 3: Make a Clean Cut

Step 4: Strip the Outer Cable Shielding

Step 5: Pull Back the Shielding/LED Braid

Step 6: Strip the Inner Power Cable

Step 7: Stick Both Sides of Cable Into Butt Connector Holes

I never thought I would use "butt" and "holes" in an article header ever.

Step 8: Crush the Butt of the Butt Connector, Connecting the Power Cables

Step 9: Test the Cable

Plug it in. If it works, move to step 10. If it doesn't, recheck your work and try again. Make sure the shielding is touching when you test it out.

Step 10: Wrap Once Vertically With Electrical Tape

Step 11: Wrap Horizonatally Around Cable with Electrical Tape

Step 12: Profit

Congratulations, you just saved yourself a bunch of money.

  1. Little known fact: If you make a Genius Bar appointment and take your broken charger, they can replace it for a reduced price, $60.

Documents 5 for iPad

Managing documents on the iPad can be quite a mess. Part of the problem is that there is no file system on the iPad, instead individual files are segregated away into the app used to create it. For example, all my Pages documents are in Pages.

Today, Readdle announced the next version of Documents, and it's huge. (If Readdle sounds familiar to you, it's because they also make our favorite PDF editing app, PDF Expert.) Documents 5 aims to become your file management system for iPad. It bridges your favorite cloud service, like Dropbox or Evernote, with the powerful suite of apps already made by Readdle. 

What does that mean? Well, if you have PDF Expert installed on your iPad, Documents 5 will recognize that and "unlock" its ability to edit PDFs without leaving the Documents 5 apps. This small feature removes a mountain of friction caused by the previous "Open in" method. And this is just one example. Readdle has professional apps for wireless printing, converting files to PDFs, and scanning documents & images

I suspect that Readdle has much more in store for us with Documents 5. Did I mention how much it costs? Go grab it -- it's free

Review: Wordpress vs. Squarespace for Beginning Writers

What I am: a tech enthusiast, Mac certified technician, and gadgeteer (I love gadgets and making up words).

What I'm not: a web developer. I have little experience with CSS, hosting, or backend server code (or code in general).

I know that most likely both types of people will read this article, and will attempt to make two separate recommendations.

Origin Story

Back in my college years I fooled around a good bit with Wordpress trying to make a website for a campus organization at Samford University I was leading back in 2010. While it was fun I easily burned a hundred hours tweaking, tuning, and twerking (I'm taking that word back, Miley) with plugins, widgets, and themes in what eventually led to one of the worst websites ever created. I can't link to it because it doesn't exist anymore. It died. It needed to die, it was awful.

However, when I decided to start Overthought.org around a month ago I decided to try Squarespace since I heard it financing all of the Internets: I wanted to try this new(er) guy on the block who was investing in the same things I was: Accidental Tech Podcast, The Talk Show, and all things Dan Benjamin over at 5by5

Ok enough background, here's my review:

Squarespace: the walled garden

Initial Cost: $0    Cost per month: $10

I was extremely happy with Squarespace for the first three weeks: sign up and setup was a breeze: I signed up and had a beautiful site running within fifteen. And it looked way better than anything I could ever do on Wordpress.

I didn't even know what I was looking for in a platform, I just wanted a place to write. Squarespace made that incredibly easy with built-in Markdown support, basic analytics with an option for Google Analytics support, and some way to post link-posts like John Gruber or Shawn Blanc.

Squarespace also had integrated hosting meant I didn't have to deal with an actual hosting company. ☚ Click that link for the exact feeling I had about not dealing with GoDaddy or some other sleaze-brained hosting company.

However the perfectionist tweaker inside me starting gnawing: Squarespace is great and all, but what if I could have more control.  Think of all the amazing SEO plugins and Twitter widgets I could use and themes I could use.

So I gave in to the OCD nerd inside and switch over to Wordpress. 

Wordpress: the 'open' platform

Initial Cost: $60 (for a great theme)    Cost per month: $20

First thing I had to do was get hosting, so I tried out Media Temple with their $20 a month Grid Hosting plan because I've seen their site listed . They were fantastic and I was up and running in no time. Their Wordpress installation was truly simple.

Now that I had my Wordpress site up, it was time to customize, customize, customize. I searched the web for the best Wordpress themes and landed on Enfold by Kriesi.at, a beautiful theme that had the quality look and feel I was going for.

Good news: both Wordpress and Squarespace support importing and exporting to each other, meaning I could always switch back. Big thumbs up to both platforms for playing nice.

Importing my articles from Squarespace took three seconds and I had officially switched. One bad thing: it broke all of my previous permalinks and apparently the only way to fix it was to modify the .htaccess file: over my dead body. I got over it. No one was reading my site anyways (according to statistical data from Google Analytics, not false humility).

Because I knew my way around the Wordpress Admin page from earlier experience I knew where to find everything, but still it was overwhelming after using Squarespace's simple configuration pages. I was bombarded by ads to use Wordpress's Jetpack cloud features, articles starting feeding in the admin RSS block, two plugins that needed updating already, and a Wordpress update 😳.

After updating my plugins (which I didn't want or need) I started googling around to get the best plugins. Turns out they all are the best (if all are significant, none of them are). If you've done this before, you know that Googling 'Wordpress' leads you to a dark SEO ocean where every article has 'optimized SEO' and the best tips and maximized Google metadata. Gross. I didn't really need any plugins so I gave up.

Next was customizing the layout. I had to download Cyberduck and get it to work with my Media Temple FTP server (there goes another hour) and start tweaking with CSS, which ate up almost an entire day. Searching for how to tweak different CSS elements is another horrible experience ranging from "Here is every CSS modifier ever written with no explanation of how to use it" to "Oh just copy and paste this, you'll be fine". I wasn't fine. 

Many 'Wordpress tips and tricks' articles were written a few years ago and no longer apply to the newer versions of Wordpress or that particular implementation was broken with version 3.x of Wordpress. If I were John Siracusa I would go on a rant right now. (The whole experience was extremely similar to his rant on ATP about Minecraft mods, starts around 56:30)

Support

The issue of support is a huge issue to me since I used to work for Apple: I need me some good support.

With Squarespace, if something happened to my blog or theme I could just talk to their support team about it. They have an easy-to-find support page with a knowledge base, customer forums, and an easy way to send a support ticket. Any question I had could be answered by a real human being: that's a big deal.

If something happened to my Wordpress blog or I couldn't figure out how to do some CSS trick with my theme, who do I contact? Now I'm dealing with three different entities that are in no ways integrated: a hosting company, Wordpress support, and the person who writes your themes: an unholy trinity of support.

Working with Wordpress brought on a lot of support fears: What if the author of my theme abandons the theme? What if a plugin I'm using is no longer supported by Wordpress? What if I get tired of this theme and wanted to use a different one?

The entire icky process starts over. No thanks.

Conclusion

There are endless possibilities with Wordpress and for me, as a beginning writer and non-developer, is it's biggest weakness. While the walled garden, Apple approach of Squarespace felt constricting at first, at least I felt safe in the garden. It was a cozy place that shielded me from my own ADD, tweaker tendencies and gave me a centralized support structure.

Wordpress felt like Android to me: it's openness means a great experience for those who love to tinker with their technology and a terrible experience for the everyman. It truly can do anything as long as you learn CSS, become a web-developer, and spend dozens (if not hundreds) of hours learning to do it well. 

The bottom line is that Wordpress took my focus away from writing and onto the 'platform'. One reason I love Apple so much is because the OS X and iOS platforms are designed to fade away and let you unleash your creativity without incessantly tuning their UI or kernel or backend code.

I believe this is what Squarespace is going for and it just works.

TLDR

If you want an open, flexible platform that requires hundreds of hours to master (for the normal person), go with Wordpress.

If you want something that just works and lets you focus on your content more than the platform, Squarespace will put you at ease.

 

Migrating from OmniFocus to Things

When I started seminary over four years ago, Things from Cultured Code was my task manager of choice. The gorgeous design and simplicity of use made it a joy to organize and accomplish my projects. Around this time, most people complained about its lack of over-the-air syncing. Indeed, being able to sync devices through the internet would have been nice, but because I only owned a MacBook Pro and iPhone, I wasn't frustrated by the wifi-sync. Life was simple, and Things kept me stress-free.

But then, life changed. I quit Apple Retail to start my own consulting business, and I purchased an iPad and iMac. Now, there were four devices to manage. All of a sudden, wifi-sync became a huge pain in the butt! Those of us who used Things a few years ago remember that in order for all devices to be identical, each device needed Things open and connected to the same wifi network. If I neglected this ritual, I'd inevitably end up with projects appearing to be half complete and tasks that were missing entirely.

As you might assume, this was the original impetus for jumping to OmniFocus from OmniGroup. OmniFocus was one of the first project management apps to achieve over-the-air syncing. What surprised me was how much I loved OmniFocus. It was (and still is) fantastic. Project hierarchies, location-aware contexts, and sophisticated repeating tasks were essential to staying on top of deadlines and projects. Without it, I would have drowned. It served me well for three years of graduate school and consulting work. OmniFocus was my beloved, nagging task master.

Switching back to Things

I graduated last month. (Yay me!) Finishing school reduced the amount of tasks from my life, so it seemed fitting to ask if I still needed a task management juggernaut like OmniFocus. The quick answer is No, I don't. OmniFocus simply has too many knobs and levers, many of which would only collect dust in my current situation. And that is how I realized it was time to shake hands and depart. Good game, OmniFocus. We did it.

Well, during my three-year affair with OmniFocus, Things had grown up quite a bit. It finally gained cloud sync and a couple other powerful features. As Shawn Blanc notes, Cultured Code's sync solution is blazing fast, partly because Things is smart enough to recognize nearby devices and sync locally via Bonjour. But even if you're only connected via cellular, the updating happens swiftly behind the scenes of the app. I cannot understate how refreshing this feels as a former OmniFocus user. With OmniFocus, one must wait several seconds after launching the app in order for it to pull and organize the latest data. It's not traumatic by any means, but certainly obnoxious.

Design and structure

I personally prefer the design of Things over OmniFocus. There is a certain degree of playfulness to Things that keeps my eyes entertained. Skeuomorphism isn't a bad word in my house, and I'm glad Cultured Code employs small bits of it in each of the Things apps. On iOS, tasks appear as small strips of paper and projects as little notebooks. Forgive me for my lack of design rhetoric, but I think the color choices, shapes, and layout of Things is far more pleasant to the eyes and easier to navigate. It's no wonder Cultured Code has won an Apple Design Award for their software.

Structurally speaking, there are a couple major differences. First of all, Things does not let you embed projects within projects. Some people's workflows depend on this kind of hierarchy, but now that I'm out of school, it's not important to me. In fact, I welcome this restriction as a way to simplify the way I think about a project. Tasks in Things do have a notes field, so if a specific task becomes rather elaborate, I suppose additional information or mini-tasks could be added there.

Contexts vs. Areas of Responsibility

Classic disciples of GTD will laud OmniFocus for its use of contexts, which is defined as a tool or location needed to complete a task. I think of contexts as prerequisites; creating a presentation requires my Mac. One can nest contexts within each other, too. For example, you could have a Drug Store context nested within Grocery Store, so when you're at the grocery store, you can quickly pull up your drug store list as well.

This is where I got into trouble. I spent far too much time plotting out my contexts, but when it came to actually doing work, I never utilized them. For me, I think of tasks and work in terms of projects, not contexts. In other words, I'm not going to sit down in my office, pull up my Office context and then plow through four different tasks from four different projects. I simply cannot switch gears like that. Instead, I sit down an think about my Presentation project, and then run around the house collecting items, notes, or props I need to get the project completed. Projects supersede contexts, at least in my brain they do. Perhaps this is why I'm not a good GTD student, and perhaps this is why OmniFocus feels like overkill to me. The bottom line though, is that contexts are a distraction. I know my presentation is done with Keynote on my Mac. Taking the time to actually record this information alongside my task is unhelpful and time consuming.

Things does contexts differently. They're called Areas of Responsibility. As opposed to the dozen or so contexts I had in OmniFocus, I only have three Areas of Responsibility in Things: Home, Church, and Macinstructor. Right away, you can see the project-centrality of these Areas of Responsibility. I am not going to simultaneously work on something that spans across multiple areas, you know?

That said, if I'm so inclined to further categorize and label actions, Things does have the ability to add tags. I suppose some people really get into this stuff, but tagging isn't especially interesting to me. I mean, I do use tags, but they're not paramount to my workflow. Big tags I use are Bills, Saturday Chore, and Amazon (for my wish list). I know of some who like to tag their tasks according to how much time they take to complete (eg. 15 min, 30 min, etc), but that's just too cumbersome and distracting to me. Nonetheless, it's good to know about and you might have a very particular situation that depends on tagging your tasks. I appreciate that Cultured Code added the feature, as it can be the most appealing way to bend Things to your unique workflow.

MailDrop to Mailbox

One of the killer features of OmniFocus that I will sorely miss is MailDrop. OmniFocus can provide you a unique email address just for your sync account, and anything emailed to this address is added to your OmniFocus inbox. As you can imagine, this opens the door to a ton of unique possibilities for capturing tasks. Paired with Mail rules, this was super powerful. For example, I had a Mail rule to automatically forward and archive any emails received from my utility or insurance companies. Oftentimes, I would open up OmniFocus to see that it was time to pay my water bill. Nifty, right?

While I would welcome this feature for Things, it's not a watershed issue for me. Here's why. I've been practicing Inbox Zero for about a year. Under this method of managing email, your email inbox is treated like a todo list. There are a handful of email clients that utilize this philosophy, and the one I currently use is Mailbox for iOS. (Unfortunately, it's restricted to Gmail and Google Apps users, though.) Mailbox has the normal features you would expect from email, like reply, forward, etc; but instead of archiving email, you mark them as completed. Additionally, you can "snooze" an email for future review. What does this have to do with Things? Well, it means that by practicing Inbox Zero, your email really is its own task management system. So, why continually migrate your tasks from one system to another?

What I decided to do is treat email as I would have treated my Mail context in OmniFocus. Therefore, emails are processed in Mail for Mac or Mailbox for iOS. In my opinion, there is little reason to constantly shuffle tasks to another todo system. Obviously, this means that there are now two inboxes you're managing, but really, isn't this what you're already doing anyway? My argument is that it causes too much friction to move those tasks from one inbox to another. If a task absolutely necessitates being migrated, then either pull up Siri on iOS or the Quick Entry on the Mac to speedily get that action into Things. But don't fret over moving each actionable email into your task management system. That's poppycock.

Timed tasks

Another shortcoming to Things is that tasks cannot have specific due times. Instead, tasks all alert you at the beginning of the day. For 95% of my tasks, this is totally fine, but I do have a couple "end of day" reminders I employ. Following Patrick Rhone's style, I decided a good solution would be one of Apple's stock iOS apps: Clock. I set an alert at 4:30 each weekday, reminding me to do my Macinstructor paperwork. In fact, I kind of like that this daily, low-priority action isn't in my task management database, staring at me all day long. It's a gentle nudge set to one of the organic ringtones from Cleartones.

For some folks, using Clock or even Reminders isn't powerful enough. I've noticed in a couple conversations on App.net that several users of Things also use Due. Due has iOS and Mac apps, and they sync your reminders via iCloud. It stinks having to introduce another app into your system, and I haven't had to do so yet, but I understand why folks do this. They need finely tuned, timed tasks. Due is perfect for that. Personally, I would just use Siri + Reminders for any specific time or location based tasks. In my mind, those typically aren't project related at all anyway, so it's not a huge deal that they're not roped into Things. Usually, these are quick one-offs. "Siri, remind me at 2pm to call Dad." All in all, time specific tasks are a missed feature of Things, but there are apps out there that can supplement Things in order to equip you with this functionality.

What about OmniFocus 2?

OmniFocus 2 for Mac is just around the corner, and OmniGroup has graciously given the world a sneak peak. No doubt, it is a tremendous and much needed overhaul to the user interface. I've played around with it myself, and while it's certainly an improvement to the current Mac app, it doesn't alter my feelings about OmniFocus. Nor should it. You see, OmniFocus 2 for Mac is still a project management juggernaut, which is totally appropriate for complicated lifestyles and insanely busy people.

Users of OmniFocus are excited that OmniFocus 2 for Mac finally gets the two most praised features from iOS: Review mode and Forecast mode. These are certainly helpful, but Things also has minor versions of this: Daily Review and Next. I won't go into any depth over the differences. The overarching difference is that Things addresses the need to review your tasks in a very subtle way with the Daily Review. Next is simply a list of your tasks, ordered according to their due date. So, the ideas of reviewing projects and seeing what's on the horizon are both addressed by each app, but in ways that are nuanced according to their particular style and focus.

Conclusion

I hope I've made it clear that I have huge amounts of respect for OmniGroup and Cultured Code. I don't think one app is "better" than the other. They serve different audiences. Both development teams are creating apps totally suitable for their users: OmniFocus for the extreme power user who needs to categorize, sort, and plan elaborate projects, and Things for the busy, but not overburdened person. Thankfully, I'm in a season of life that doesn't necessitate all the features available in OmniFocus, and so I can enjoy the speed and playfulness of Things. If this article has informed your decision about any of these apps, please use the affiliate links below to purchase them. I also welcome any feedback or additional thoughts as well. Feel free to reach out to me on App.net, Twitter, or Facebook. Cheers!