Ulysses for Writers – Mac and iOS

Hot off the presses – Ulysses for writers 2.5

As I’m writing this document in Ulysses for writers app, I am delighted to see an email come in to say Ulysses Mobile is now available for download. This is fantastic for me as an iPad Pro user as I’ve been getting impatient to have the iPad Pro keyboard instead of the old keyboard. The old version with the old keyboard wasn’t a great experience, as a lot of the text was covered and sometimes selection of text was a little difficult. I’ve just opened up Ulysses Mobile on my iPad Pro and it’s looking very good indeed. I’m cetainly going to get much more productive with Ulysses on my iPad now. For my next trick – I’m downloading the application onto my iPhone and I will be fully covered for all my writing needs with Ulysses.

I’m looking forward to trying out a number of the new features in Ulysses Mobile, such as the added share extension. I’ll also be trying the export out to Medium, the blogging platform. I see there are a few new PDF export styles and there is a keyword editor in the sheet list. I don’t have a device that works with 3-D touch actions so will have to wait until the iPhone 7 becomes available later in the year before I see that. Something that will be incredibly useful with Ulysses mobile is it updated to allow the iOS 9 split screen. I’ll be having Notepad in one side of the screen and Ulysses on the other. This will give me access to research material I’ve collected into Notepad. Now let’s get back to the Mac version of Ulysses also updated to 2.5 as a free update.

Ulysses for Writers

Ulysses for Writers for Mac

A Writers Life On The Mac

There’s more to being a writer than just pounding away on the keys of a keyboard into the Ulysses for writers app. This is especially the case if you’re publishing your works and selling them on places like Amazon and Apple iBooks or any of the other online bookstores. As well as getting the words out of your head and onto the page, you also have to think about the marketing side of selling books. You might not like having to do selling, but unless you do you will never be a bestselling author. Authors have to deal with running a website in order to have an author profile. As Well as having a website, the author has to deal with social networking to advertise that website. Books need to have a good cover to attract customers to look inside and maybe buy. Just in terms of getting the words written an author needs to have software he or she feels comfortable with. That software also has to be up to the job of doing whatever necessary to get the book published. The type of book you produce will have some effect upon which software you use to create your literary masterpieces or pulp fiction. You could get away with the software that is more suited to using in an office to do business. You know what I’m talking about, that old dinosaur Microsoft Word. It’s much better still if you can use software designed specifically for the task in hand.


A video looking at Ulysses on the iPad (before todays update)

DragonDictate writing in Ulysses

DragonDictate writing in Ulysses

The Physicality Of Getting Your Words Onto The Page

At the moment as I’m writing this, I’m leaning back in my office chair with my hands behind my head and feet up on the table. It’s a very comfortable position to work on my writing and I like it. The reason I can work in this way is because I’m using DragonDictate or Dragon for Mac 5. I have a Samson C03U microphone next to me and whatever I say is turned into editable text by Dragon for Mac. I could do my writing lying down in a hammock if I wanted to. Mind you I would have to have a portable Mac computer to build to do that. I could use Siri dictation and dictate into the Ulysses writers app for iOS. When Siri is behaving itself and getting the accuracy it is capable of, it works remarkably well. Much faster than using the on-screen keyboard or using a Bluetooth keyboard if you have one attached. Nuance Communications have brought out a Dragon dictation application called Dragon Anywhere. This works on iOS and is supposed to have similar capabilities as the Mac version. The trouble is, it’s only is available in the USA at the moment and it’s too expensive. For most people it is going to be a better proposition to have the Dragon for Mac 5 on the desktop computer and to use transcription. Transcription is where you record your words into an audio file and the speech is converted into text by Dragon Dictate. It works very well and you can get a huge amount of ‘writing’ done in this way. When the transcription is taking place it works faster than in real time. The software must know where there are silences in the audio and is able to ignore them. The transcribed text appears in the Textedit application and then all you have to do is to copy and paste it into the Ulysses for writers application. Once you have the converted text in your favourite Mac writing application, you can start to do the editing.

Dictation And Transcription In Dragon For Mac

The accuracy will work out at approximately 95% to 98% correct and it will be very fast to edit the document. There will be fewer spelling mistakes and only one or two places where the speech to text software has got confused with homonyms. Dictation is much faster than the old-fashioned typing with a keyboard. Using this method of dictation and transcription an advantage is you can do it while doing something else, like walking down the road. It does take a little bit of getting used to when you have to speak and insert the punctuation verbally. You soon get used to it. After the text is in a sheet in Ulysses for writers on your Mac you’ll probably want to make use of the Split Command. When the text is split into sections, you’ll be able to easily move the sheets and have the words in the correct order in your document.

Using Ulysses app

Showing the 4 panes of the Ulysses app

Ulysses For Writers Application In Action

The interface of Ulysses for writers is deceptively simple. When you first look at it you might wonder what sort of things you can do with it. There is the right amount of functionality within Ulysses, but much of this is hidden until you need it. There’s a four pane view and starting from the left you have a view of your library of documents. This is where you go when you want to choose which group of documents you work on. When you choose the group for today’s work you’ll see in the next pane the list of sheets within the group. Click on the sheet you want to work with and in the next pane is the editing window where you do all of your writing. There is one more pane over on the right-hand side and this is called the Attachments Pane. In this area you add your tags, set up your keywords, add notes and images for that specific document. The attachments pane is a place to put your research and where you do some of your writing house-keeping tasks.

ScreenWhen you’re writing you’re going to want to use the distraction free mode and view just the editor pane. Use the keyboard shortcut Cmd +3 to get to your best writing mode. Cmd +2 gives you two panes, the editing window, which is always in view, plus the list of sheets within the group you are working with. Using Cmd +1 toggles between the view with just the editor and a three or four pane view. Cmd +4 toggles the view of the attachments pane. Once you get used to using these four keyboard shortcuts you can move between your documents, groups, library and attachments with ease. Then the other numbers from five through to nine combined with the Cmd key will navigate you through the application. Here is the full list.

  • Cmd +1 – Three Pane view
  • Cmd +2 – Two Pane view
  • Cmd +3 – Editor only
  • Cmd +4 – Attachments Pane
  • Cmd +5 – Favourites
  • Cmd +6 – Quick Export
  • Cmd +7 – Statistics
  • Cmd +8 – Navigation (in the document through the headers used)
  • Cmd +9 – Markup (you get a list drop down for all the Markdown options)

Controlling Ulysses For Writers With The Keyboard

Using Markdown in Ulysses

Using Markdown in Ulysses

As you can see there are easy ways to get around the application using that set of keyboard shortcuts with Cmd plus a number. When you are new to the application and not so sure about the syntax for markdown it’s useful to remember Cmd +9.. It’s that shortcut and then use the arrow keys to choose the markdown tag you’re looking for. It would be a quick way to put in the syntax for a header five tag. The tags you don’t use very often don’t have to be in your long-term memory. Just use the keyboard shortcut for the quick access to markdown and the problem is solved.

Many of the application menu items are also given keyboard shortcuts. You don’t have to learn all of them, just the ones you use regularly. Some of the menus don’t have shortcut keys applied to them. Don’t forget you can go into the system preferences for your Mac and add a new shortcut to use just on your computer.

What Is Ulysses Like When You’re Actually Doing The Writing?

Within the settings you may choose if you want to have a typewriter mode. This can be handy if you like to look at just one point on screen as you are writing. You can also choose to have a dark mode. The light mode which is standard, is a grey and not a harsh white and is pleasant to use anyway. Even so, I know there are some people who prefer to have a view of the screen which is a dark background and light-coloured text. Whichever works best for your eyes, go for it. There is also a paged mode and there’s not a huge difference on screen and for myself I can’t really see the point of it.

So when you finish setting things up to have it just the way you want it, you will have a distraction free space to do your writing. The words are the most important thing of all and Ulysses for writers does give a good experience for focusing on the job in hand. This is especially the case if you have gone fullscreen with the application. Even if you have the menu bar always showing you’re not going to get too distracted as the menubar is also minimal. On the right-hand side you just have the button equivalents of the Cmd + 5-9 keyboard shortcuts. On the left-hand side there are just two buttons which cover your options for Cmd + 1–4 and starting a new sheet in the group.

Organising Your Work In Ulysses

If you have used Dragon dictation and transcription as option for bringing the text into Ulysses it will come in as one lump of text when you copy and paste it. This will be easier than going back-and-forth between Textedit and Ulysses copying and pasting small sections one at a time. The best way to organise your text is to position the cursor in front of where you need to have a split and use the menu to Split at Selection. When you split a single sheet into perhaps five or six separate sheets you can then use your mouse or magic pad to move the text to where you want it. You will see the sheets are glued together. That will not stop you from moving sheets up and down to arange in the correct order. From there you either leave the sheets as separate entities and just put them back together again at the time of exporting out. It really depends upon the document and maybe it would be better to have it all together as one single sheet. All you have to do is to select all of the sheets when you have everything in the correct order and merge them together.

Using The Library For Organising Your Documents In Ulysses

It’s not a problem to have the Ulysses for writers application on multiple devices. You may have a desktop computer, a MacBook Air, iPad Pro and you want to have the same information on all of these devices. In the new version of Ulysses for writers you have the application on your iPhone too. It doesn’t matter where you are or which Apple device you are able to get to, you’ll be able to pick up wherever you left off. In my experience with the synchronisation of documents over iCloud in Ulysses for writers app I’ve not had any problems at all. The synchronisation works well and it works fast. The iPhone version of Ulysses for writers application 2.5 is available and we don’t need to use Daedalus the notetaking application.

Your View Within The Library Can Be Altered By Using Filters

There is a keyboard shortcut to add a sheet to favourites and you can get at these favourites in the library pane. There is also a filter for the Last 7 Days. this can be handy if you want to get to a file quickly and you can’t remember what it’s called or where you put it, but you know you did it during the last week. It’s possible to create other filters so you can have a look at whatever you’ve done in the last 24 hours, for example. A useful filter would be to use keywords. If you are writing a novel you could have a keyword for a character in the story. This will give you a list of all of the sheets keyworded with that character. Often when you’re writing a story you need to find an instance where your character does something or says something and make some changes. Such a filter will give you quick access to those parts of the story.

Grouping And Outlining In Ulysses

Ulysses organising documents

Ulysses organising documents

Writing a novel is a huge task involving as much as a hundred thousand words or maybe more. You’re going to want to break this into sections so you start by adding a group in the library for your book. Within the group you’ll split it up further probably by having a group for each of the three acts of the story. Within the group for act one you can split it up further into chapters and scenes. It’s very easy to set up a hierarchy of groups within the Ulysses for writers and authors application. It’ll be a good idea to have a separate group to place your research material. It’s just a case of being totally professional and organised in the way you write your book. It’s a way of making sure everything is in the right place when it comes down to exporting out from Ulysses to your e-book or PDF, or whatever type of document you export to. It’s a simple matter to move sheets around within the structure with dragging and dropping. Depending on how finely you split things up, you might be able to move just about everything with drag and drop and not have to use copy and paste. Another useful feature within the Ulysses library is the area for trash. When you delete a sheet it is not got rid of completely. You can always go back into the trash folder and retrieve something if necessary.

Ulysses Library House Keeping Tools

When you’re writing a book and you know is going to be, for example 60,000 words long. Within Ulysses you can set up goals for the whole project and also for groups within the book. So if you right click on the group Manuscript you can set the expected number of words for your book. Do the same sort of thing for each of the acts so you can see how the number of words works out for each part of the book. You’ll then get colour coding and the little icon to show you how you are getting on with your writing progress. This will be an easy way for you to see if your act one part of the story is going on too long or is too short. Something like this will also help your motivation during the writing process.

Notes, Annotations, Footnotes And Links

There’s an area in the attachments panel for adding notes. It can be preferable though to have notes within the text itself. There are two ways to add notes within the sheet. When working on a novel it’s a good idea to outline the novel before you actually start doing the writing. This gives you an idea of what it is you’re supposed to be writing. I think it is preferable to start by adding empty sheets for your chapters or scenes and to have a comment right at the start to say what is supposed to be in that sheet. Type in two percentage symbols and then add your note.This is a great way to do the preliminary work to organise your story. The text within the on sheet note is not counted in the word count for the documents. Another way to add notes is when you’ve already done some writing and you need to have a note in the text. If you put in two plus symbols, write your note and then two more plus symbols to close it off, you have an inline note. An example of when you might do this is when you are completely in the zone of writing and you don’t want to let anything stop you. Perhaps you need to add a word or a piece of text that needs some research. Just add a note to be a placeholder you can go back to later to add what is necessary for your story.

It Is Export Time For Your Book

Ulysses Export to ePub

Ulysses Export to ePub

Well it might not be a book. It could be something as simple as a blog post. Your writing could be destined to end up in a word document or as a PDF. Maybe your plan is just to take the plaintext and use in another application such as Adobe InDesign or whatever. It’s possible to export out just a single sheet by itself. Or you can export a group containing groups which in turn contains sheets.The look of the text you export is affected by the stylesheets attached to the format you are exporting to. The Ulysses for writers application gives you some default stylesheets to choose from and you can add more. Whichever you go for you have a preview so you’ll see exactly what you’re going to get. If you send it out as a PDF it will be paginated so you’ll see where the page breaks are. You get to see how it looks in terms of the typefaces being used and how the images fit on the page. I have exported directly from Ulysses to the EPUB format for e-books and I have been pleased with the results. When you export out of Ulysses as an e-book you’re given the opportunity to add an image to be the cover of the book. At the same time you can set the title of the book and fill in the name of the author. I would like to see the ability to export to the Kindle format in a later version of Ulysses for writers. We didn’t see that in the update to 2.5, maybe come in a later iteration.


What’s New In Ulysses For Writers 2.5

Is now possible to import DOCX Microsoft Word files. The developers have added a couple of brand-new PDF and DOCX export styles. In the previous version if you wanted to have a way to split the sheets with a keyboard shortcut you had to make your own in system preferences. In Ulysses for writers 2.5 the keyboard shortcut is already in the application ready to use. It is Shift, Cmd B to split a sheet. In the attachment sidebar it now always shows the keywords, although I hadn’t noticed it wasn’t doing so before. Also new in Ulysses is the ability to allow filtering by a creation date and the default font is San Francisco. The changes are not huge in this version of Ulysses on the Mac, but it’s great to have the application on the iPhone now. It’s also rather good to finally have the iPad Pro keyboard available. The SoulMen developers have given us an all-round solution for writers and authors. I love it that we can start a document on the iPhone and keep going whether we are moving over to the iPad or onto the Mac. Going from the Mac to the iPhone is just as seamless.

Download the ePub book

Creating Web Forms using Hype App and Web Form Builder

How to make web forms with HTML 5 Hype

I have been building up an email list for my Good and Geeky brand of books. Part of what you need, to do this is to create web forms and landing pages. I have my email list with Mail Chimp which is a really useful email list provider. There are forms you can make from within that system, but it looks nicer if you make your own. I did try using the Lead Pages service for making landing pages and I stopped using it after two or three months. It seemed to be working quite good for a month or so and I had more sign-ups than I’d had previously. Then it just stopped doing what it’s supposed to do and it was kind of expensive per month, so it just had to go. So I looked around for software that could give me great looking landing pages (sometimes called squeeze pages) for my email list. I do have the application Hype and I’ve been using it for a couple of versions. It’s a fantastic application that allows you to create animations in HTML 5. So I looked at a way I could include web forms within a page crafted in the Hype application. It will be possible to use the embedded forms code from Mail Chimp, but as I say, they are not too pretty. So it was time to do some googling and searching for an application to spice things up. I suppose, one of the possibilities would have been to spend time learning more about using CSS, but that would have taken extra time. I looked at a few apps but then I found an one called Web Form Builder. I gave the application a try and it works mostly okay. So I paid for it.

Setting up with Mail CHimp

Using Web Form Builder

It’s easy enough to get using this application and you have themes to help you get going. There are only 16 themes when you get started, but you can import extra themes into the application. I chose one I liked and I have stuck with it. When you have your theme sorted out you can then start to build your web form. You drag and drop items onto the form in the first instance. In the Elements tab you have three sections, Basic, Magical and Static.

Within the Basic section you have your text fields, drop-down boxes and radio buttons and you can even ask for a password. Within the Magical section you can add a request for email address or a phone number as well as ask for a date or a web address. Within the Static section you can add headers, footers, logos, submit buttons and even add form protection with Capcha.

Web Form Builder

Once you have all of the elements in there, the thing to do is to go into the settings and link up your form to your email list provider. This involves getting an API key from Mail Chimp and then you can match up the fields on your form to fields within the email list service. The next thing to do is to go to the properties tab and make adjustments to the elements you have added to your form. So for example, you might want to change the text giving people information about what to enter into a field. You can change colours of text and in the case of a drop-down list, say what you want to be in the list. There are lots of different options so you can set up your web form just as you want it.


There is a small problem

There are occasions when you will put your cursor into some parts of the application and it doesn’t go in there. This gives me the impression that maybe the software is a not very well done, port from software intended to use on another platform such as Windows. I have no doubt that if it was designed specifically to use on the Mac, it would certainly be prettier. It is a minor annoyance, but it does get irritating from time to time. It can take two or three tries to get in the editing area with the cursor.

Form Exported

Using the code from Web Form Builder

There is an extra service connected to this software to provide hosting for your forms. You do have to pay more to use this service. I go for the FREE export to manual server setup. After doing it a few times it’s not too difficult, but the process could be easier and better. It is necessary to make some small adjustments to the code for the forms to work. I have to add the URL part of the domain name so that it’s there in full rather than just a relative URL. I’ve also found that the code given is more than I need, so I just delete the bits I don’t want. It wasn’t too difficult to find out the information to be able to set this up, but it could have been easier. Also I think the software developer could have given options within the export so that, that this messing about wouldn’t have been necessary. So I put the code snippet which is displayed during the export process into a HTML editor to get it ready to put into Hype. The export process exports out to a folder giving you a PHP document and another folder full of code bits and pieces. It’s a good idea to use your FTP software to upload all of this to the server at this point in the process. If you do this before you do that bit of editing in the HTML software you’ll be able to see when you have got the code working properly.

Code in Hyperedit html code editor


Putting the code into a Hype document

All you need to do is to add a HTML widget to your Hype scene and click on the little round icon with a pencil in it situated underneath the widget. This opens up a window for you to paste in your web form code. I’ll go into more detail about making a landing page with Hype in another blog post. Once you have all of the work done within Hype you can upload it to the server and you’ll be in business.

form put into Hype app

Saying thank you

When you’re making a landing page you also need to make a thank you page. I use a new thank you page for each of the forms I make. This is so I can track clicks using Google Analytics to know how many people get to the thank you page. This way you can make comparisons as to which of your landing pages are working the best to build up your email list.


Here is the landing Page I made with Web Form Builder and Hype


Spend the money to do it easy or get geeky

I’d much rather spend the money as a one-off payment to give me the software facilities to do the job than to continually pay out a monthly basis. The monthly costs were working out in the region of €30 per month. If your business model can support that then why not pay out and have done with it. For me, it just didn’t make financial sense and I really don’t mind spending an hour or two to create a great looking landing page using Hype and Web Form Builder.

Hype is excellent Mac software for creating HTML 5 coded pages and I can thoroughly recommend it. Web Form Builder does the job even though it is not great as Mac software goes. Using these two applications along with the FTP software I use, Yummy FTP gets the job done. I have Transmit by Panic Software for my FTP needs on iOS.

First Look at Affinity Photo – MacAffinity Photoshop Alternative

Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo LogoThe new application from Serif joins the already released Affinity Designer and as the title suggests is more of a Photoshop alternative. The two applications are supposed to work well together, so you have the vector design possibilities in Designer, which will also do some bitmap work. You can open a document which was created in Designer in Photo, obviously you’re not going to be able to do much vector work in Affinity Photo application. The image does come in separated into layers, so it is quite workable in bitmap fashion. No problem at all to bring in a document created first in Photo and then add layers of vector designing on top of it. In Finder the documents appear as Affinity documents rather than being designated one or the other of the two applications.
Affinity Photo

The Personas of Mac Affinity applications

The persona you will work in to manipulate your photographs and make your creations will be the Photo Persona. There is also a Liquefy Persona, a Develop Persona and an Export Persona. The Liquefy Persona will only work with a pixel layer or a mask which you need to choose before entering Liquefy. You can select a layer and choose rasterize to make it into a pixel layer. When you enter the Liquefy Persona you are then able to move pixels around distorting the shapes while still keeping them together. You could do something like turning the Mona Lisa smile into a proper grin. You get a mesh overlaid over the top of your bitmap to give you an idea of what effects you are giving using the tool. It is not just one tool, but a set of tools you can use to distort your images creatively.

Within the Photo Persona you get all of the tools you would expect to find in a alternative to Photoshop. Selection tools, painting tools, drawing tools and fill tools, plus the rest. In another article I will go into each of these tools in detail of how to use them. After a quick look into the brush tool I can see that there are a lot of options for creating different sorts of brushes. Lots of settings for how the brush works in terms of texture and dynamics, plenty of room for creativity there. I am also loving the Mesh Warp Tool and the Perspective Tool for moving around and manipulating shapes and designs within my photographic art.

Affinity Photo tools

Throwing the shapes in Affinity Photo

There is a Shape Tool which gives you plenty of different shapes to choose from. You have the basic rectangles, circles and ovals, triangles as well as cogs, clouds and heart shapes. The shapes are configurable once you have them placed upon your design. For example, with the stars you can choose the number of points for the star and also choose the inner radius for the star shape. It’s also useful to have shapes such as the callout rounded rectangles. This will be very good if you were creating your own comic style of design and you needed some speech bubbles.

Working in layers

Each of the objects you put into your design is assigned to a layer. You can apply effects, adjustments, style modes and blend modes to affect just the objects or make chages to the whole layer. It’s really easy to add masks to the layer and drawing on the layer with black and white to show or hide parts of that layer. There is a checkbox to the right of the objects which lets you turn on and off the view of that object. Live filters can be added to the layer or objects so you can manipulate the look of whatever you have in the design object by object. It’s pretty cool you are able to see the effect of these filters as you swap from one to another. This also works the same with the effect and blend modes which helps you make the basic choice of which to use.

Making mistakes and using the history

There is a history tab which shows you each of the changes you’ve made to your design. This makes it easy to go back to any point in time during your design work. If you’ve gone down a particular path of design changes and don’t like what you’ve done, just go to the history tab and take a few steps backwards.

Slicing and dicing in the Export Persona

There will be times when you have a large image that is going to be better sliced up if you’re going to put onto a webpage. There is the slice tool within the export persona which makes it easy to split the complete design into segments. When you are selecting the slices the next slice will snap to previous slices if you want them to. You just have to hold down the option key if you want to ignore snapping. When you are ready to export, you choose original size or two times or three times bigger. Within the export options you can choose from the presets and formats such as PNG, JPEG, GIF, TIFF, EPS and even as the SVG format.

Verdict on Affinity Photo

I have been using this application for a few months now using the beta versions. I have paid for the version 1 which was recently added to the Mac App Store. The price is very reasonable indeed. The quality of the application is of professional level. The developer team for this application are working hard to add more features and to improve it generally. The Affinity Photo application for working with bitmaps and photos is impressive to say the least. It is without a doubt my favourite application now for working with my images. In combination with Affinity Designer I have just about everything I need for my two-dimensional creativity. I use it to create my Good and Geeky book covers. I’m finding it very easy to use to make my creative photo collages and overall I really enjoy using these applications. I highly recommend the Apps from Mac Affinity, Serif.

Affinity Photo Professional image editing software for Mac

Was the WWDC Keynote a bit Ho Hum?

There is no such thing as finished software

The Worldwide Developers Conference in America for the Apple developers recently happened and they told us about the new operating system for OS X and for iOS. We’d better not forget there is also the new operating system for the Apple Watch coming. Usually with the update to the operating system in the past I have been quite excited to hear what is coming. There have often been marvellous features annnounced with the promise of making my life easier in one way or another. This time with El Capitan it was all a little bit underwhelming. I didn’t get to see the keynote live, but there wasn’t much that’s really jumped out and bit me on the bottom with regards to what’s coming up new. In OSX there is the new windowing system which will allow you to put windows to one side of the screen or the other. I can do that already with software I already use on the operating system. The other thing that was featured was the enlargement of the cursor or mouse pointer when you twiddle your finger around on the trackpad. When you have a large screen and a high definition setting it is handy to be able to find where the cursor has gone to. Once again I was already able to do this with some third-party free software. Even so, it will be great for the middle aged and sight challenged of the tech world.

El Cap

Natural Language Searching

For a few years now it is been quite handy to use natural language within the application Fantastical. That sort of word usage for searching is becoming available within Spotlight. There are many people wondering why it is not coming with Siri for the Mac at the same time. You can fill the text in using the built-in voice to text, but it is not quite the same as having the Siri artificial intelligence assistant. So unless you have DragonDictate installed you won’t be able to use your voice to open applications. It seems to be going in the right direction though and there is the possibility that Siri will at some point in time arrive on your Mac.

The split screen on iOS to use on the iPad

I do have the latest version of the iPad which has a powerful processor and is able to take advantage of this split screen windowing. I am not quite sure about how useful this is going to be if I need to have two things on the screen at one time or not. What I have done up until now is to use a second iOS device, my iPhone, if I needed to have something else in front of me at the same time. One of the features of the iOS Split screen is to see video at the same time as you’re working on something else. He’s also going to possible to do a picture in picture so you can have the video playing out of the way while you are working on something else. So goodbye productivity!

 Apple Watch iOS 2

Apple are making it so that you can have more than 12 friends in the section where you are able to make contact with messages and the phone app. I don’t have many friends so I was okay with having just 12 anyway. Seriously though, that will be a useful addition to the Apple Watch.

Apple Watches 2The big thing about the watch is the addition of a development kit for the software developers to make native third-party applications for the Apple Watch. Having non-native access to applications which will only work by connecting to the iPhone, for the most part doesn’t work very well. There are one or two applications that work fast enough, but most of them struggle to bring the information to the user of the watch. Many times when using one of these applications I just run out of patience and close the application to do something else instead. This has been because the application hasn’t give me the information before the screen goes blank in order to save battery usage on the watch.

The big music announcement

Although I have in the past been a big fan of listening to new music, these days I have to admit to being not so bothered. I prefer to listen to stories from books using the Kindle app or to various podcasts. This sort of listening is often more entertaining for me than music. Mind you, that doesn’t include many of the Mac news based podcast which all say the same thing and are starting to get very boring.

Getting Proactive with Siri

I did have some experience using Google Now and it looks like Apple are coming up with something similar. It is going to be called Proactive. The way it will work is that Siri will take note of the things you do and when you do them and offer you suggestions within your home screen. So it might put a contact name into your home screen if you regularly call a certain person at certain times. This seems like a good idea to make using iOS much more useful and easier and I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do. We won’t really know how useful Proactive with Siri is going to be until we actually get using it.

The new News application for iOS

This application is starting to look interesting as it is making it easier for publishers to get the digital media into publication. I have already signed up and had my application accepted for an account, even though it is not going to be usable mainstream until the autumn. The ease comes from being able to add RSS feeds. So anything I publish on my blog sites can go directly into the News application this seems to be easier than using Flipboard. With Flipboard you have to do is one post at a time which is a little bit tedious.

Apple News

Coming soon is the Apple News format and I’m not sure that’s going to be a new application or ability to export out of either iBooks Author or more likely Pages. The good thing about it is that you are able to get a magazine type feel to your articles, making it easier to read for your readers. Apple will be selling advertising and publishers will get 70% of the income from those adverts. You can also sell your own advertising and you get the full amount. How good this is going to be will depend upon whether users will use the News application or if they will hide it as they do with the present Newsstand application.

Public transport in maps

This won’t make any difference to me because Barcelona is not included in the list of cities included for this addition. If I make a visit to London or to one of 300 places in China then I will be golden.

Improvements to the Notes app

It seems as though Apple are trying to keep up with Evernote and Microsoft One Note and finally improving the Notes application. I don’t think it will do as much as those other two applications still. Even so, it is welcome to have improvements to the application that it might just give it the edge into making it an application I would use. I do prefer to have a pure text app for simple note taking, Notes will have a layer of formatting as default. For collecting notes out of web pages, which is how I use Evernote then Notes could fill that niche.

Trackpad Keyboard

I’m looking forward to seeing the new text selection and movement of the cursor facilities within iOS. You have to just put two fingers onto the keyboard and it turns the keyboard into a trackpad. It looks like it is going to be easier to move the cursor around the screen which will be good. Somehow or other you are also able to use the two fingers to select text. I find that the magnifying glass we have at the moment for positioning the cursor is not always working properly for me. It was one of the things that I moved back to Apple for, because it was better than the way of doing it in Android.

So how interesting and exciting is El Capitan?

As geeks, nerds and lovers of technology we are always delighted when our favourite fruit company gives us new stuff in the form of hardware or software. Whether it is something completely new that adds to our lives that we didn’t know we needed, or some sort of automation that brings together what we have already, this is what we love. At first glance at the information coming from WW DC this year is all seems a bit, ho-hum. Splitting windows and arranging them on OS X is not particularly exciting as neither is the growing closer to help you find it if your eyesight is bad. The splitting of the screen within iOS will be useful for some people with the larger iPads and will benefit quite a few people.

The new thing that is possibly the most interesting is the Proactive feature which will be the rival to Google Now. This could have been highlighted and talked about more within the keynote although it is probably the most difficult to explain and to demonstrate. With Proactive the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

In the Safari application you have the pinning of webpages to top of the screen. It’s not much different from having bookmarks and is a minor change that will not produce earth-shattering changes in ways of working when browsing. The other addition to Safari was the ability to shut down audio in a tab which has suddenly started up and is annoying. Now it is just going to be easier to get rid of the noise a little quicker and easier.

Scrivener The best Software for Writers

Getting started with Scrivener

On Mac 20 questions the website many times I have talked about how I love to use Scrivener. In the Mac 20 Questions podcast I interviewed the main developer of the application Keith Blount. I’ve written many thousands of words within the application for my blogs and I have a lot of words in Scrivener projects for books. What is completely baffling to me at the moment, is how come I haven’t done some sort of tutorial about Scrivener. How come I haven’t created a really long post going into details about the application, commenting on all of the excellent features for writers. Scrivener is quite easy to use, in-as-much as it’s so intuitive. On account of the application being so competent with many excellent features, it does need some explaining for all of the things you can do with it. Let’s start with a comparison with MS Word and an overview of Scrivener and then get into some details.

Scrivener Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

The Microsoft Word application is a huge monster of a word processor and has been developed and designed for use within offices and business. Word has its good points, but it is also true to say that it has become bloated over the years. You can write novels within the application and many people do. It isn’t the best tool for the job though. All of the marvellous things you can do with it to create great looking documents are not really helpful for the specific task of writing a novel or even for a non-fiction work of book length.


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One of the things about using Microsoft Word is that when people are using it, they are tempted to mess about with the formatting and the look of the document. Rather than actually getting the writing completed. Writers will mess about with the font size, headings and anything to do with how the document is going to look when it is finally set to whatever output. When you’re using Scrivener you just set the look of the document as you are writing so that it is easy to read. Forget about how the document will be when it is finally finished until it is time to compile. There is even a distraction free mode which clears everything else away from the screen apart from the window you’re writing in. The controls for that mode slide away from the screen to be hidden, so you can concentrate just on your writing.

Scrivener Distraction Free Mode

There is a movement to use distraction free writing applications and to use markdown syntax for writing. I think this is a very good idea and I like to use applications such as Byword. These applications give you limited scope for twiddling and fiddling and make you concentrate on getting the words out of your head and onto the page. This is a great way to go and could be a step along the way towards your larger document, especially if you are doing part of the work on your iPad. You could write 1000 words in Byword on your iPad and using iCloud those words will be transferred so that they are immediately available when you open up Byword on your Mac. For those longer documents which could be a very long blog post, a short story, a novella or a complete novel, this is where you need to start using Scrivener. Scrivener is your funnel into which you put all of your various bits of writing and you organise it so that it makes sense. It really depends upon what sort of writer you are and what sort of workflow you like to use. You can write directly into Scrivener and you can use it as a one-stop shop for your writing.

Scrivener was designed specifically for the writer and author. The reason for it being created and developed was that the developer was looking for a tool, an application that would scratch his own itch. Many of the best applications available have started like this. Scrivener was designed by an author to be used by authors. So what does it have, that makes it so good?


The way I use Scrivener

Dictate Status Window and Name Generator

I am a user of DragonDictate, this is the speech to text software that turns my words into text on the page. I use this application because I can write so much quicker and I don’t have too touch the keyboard. After two or three years of using the application I have found that it works better if I dictate into a DragonDictate window. There are some applications I can dictate into and it works quite well and then others it’s okay to start with and after a while it becomes less accurate. So this is why I do my writing in a different application from Scrivener and then copy and paste it after the first dictated draft. Occasionally I will dictate directly into Scrivener for shorter pieces of writing. I can usually get away with it for three or four paragraphs.

If I have written something that is may be a couple of thousand words long I can put it into one text section in Scrivener and split it up afterwards. I can split it up using keyboard shortcuts or by choosing menu items, I usually prefer to place my cursor where I want to make the split do the equivalent of a right click on the Magic Trackpad and choose the context sensitive command of Split at Selection. Sometimes if I have headings within the text I will select the heading and use the command of Split with Selection As Title. At this stage I can do any rearranging of the order of the sections of text in the outliner.

I tend to do most of my outlining in the binder and I have added the icons in the menubar to make it easy to move part of the document up or down in the order. I also have the icons in there so I can make one or more sections I have selected to be child documents of another. An example of that would be where you have the scenes being child documents of a chapter.


Outlining in Outliner View

Scrivener Draft

I sometimes use the keyboard

When I am doing the editing of the text in Scrivener I usually do that mostly using the keyboard. Mostly this is to make changes of the grammar with the addition of punctuation etc. I might be adding some words or maybe a whole sentence here or there. I also use the application Hemingway to analyse the text for readability. I will cut and copy out and paste back in when finished that stage of the editing. I work on one section of the text at a time and when I have finished that part of the editing are usually change the icon in the binder so I know which ones I have edited. I can also do that in the information part of a window on the right-hand side as there is a section in there for specifying the status. So I could change the status from being first draft to edited.

Project Targets Scrivener

Writing to a target number of words

Project Targets Scrivener and Scrivener Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

A tool I like to use is the project target tool. I can decide how many words I would like to have in a project and within those settings I can set a date for when the project is to be finished. I can set which days I expect to work on the project which is usually going to be Monday to Friday. Scrivener will then show me in a pop-up dialogue box the word count for the whole project and the target for the day. The target for the day is variable depending upon how many words have been written to the point you have got to so far. An example of this would be for the NaNoWriMo so you would set your project target to 50,000 words. If you expect to write for each day of the 30 days of November your daily word count will be 1666. If on the first day you write 3000 words when you look at the target for the next day it will be something less than 1666. Same thing if you have a day off, the next day your daily word count will be higher.

Being organised and using the synopsis

The synopsis for a section of text which you can see in the corkboard view on the cards, in the outline view and also in the information area is a useful tool when you are being organised. Being organised and planning your work is one way to be more productive and effective with your writing. If you are a professional writer I think it is probably inevitable that you will do some outlining even if you do like to write by the seat of your pants. With the zombie novel I am writing at the moment I started that off by writing the first couple of chapters just by free writing. I had the ideas in my head and they needed to be captured and turned into text as quickly as possible. So I just let the words flow to be the starting point for the project. I could possibly move onto the next chapters not knowing what’s going to happen and the story could have a life of its own. The trouble with this sort of writing is that you could end up wasting a lot of time by writing yourself into a dead-end. My plan is to plot the rest of the story out and start by writing a synopsis of the end of the book. There could be the last chapter or it could be the last couple of chapters. I want to know how it finishes. The best place to do that is going to be in Scrivener and I could do that in the Cork board by creating a card and make a little outline of what I expect to happen in that final chapter. The next thing to do will be to create cards for the basic three act structure and to start adding chapters to cover the various plot points. The general idea will be to make things as bad as they can be during the first act and then make things even worse for the second act. My notes in the synopsis can cover how I expect the mindset of the protagonists to change after what I have put him through. I can have notes about how I expect the seemingly unsolvable problems to get sorted out in order to bring the novel to a conclusion in the final chapters.

Scrivener Draft

During this process I would highly recommend using the Good And Geeky Writers Workflow and to make use of mind mapping applications such as iThoughts on the iPad and iThoughtsX on the Mac. This is a great way to gather ideas together and to let the brain working away that it works best. Use all of the ideas from your mind map to populate the synopsis for each of the chapters in your book.

The next stage of the process

The key to creativity is a combination of using organisation and planning and allowing for flexibility and just going with the flow. So followed by some organising we allowed ourselves to have some free writing freedom. Then what happens, is that you get all excited about one of the ideas you have written down as a synopsis for a part of your story. What else can you do but to jump right in there and turn those fantastic ideas into words and stories. I think it is this combination of being organised and going with the flow that is the perfect storm of creativity.

The Birds Eye view is art – The nitty-gritty is a to-do list

Smoking Zombies Chapter

When you look at a book as a whole can’t help but think that is the epitome of art. When it comes down to it arts and creativity is nothing more than a series of decisions. The ability to make those decisions is an art whether it is good art depends upon the quality of the decisions. I believe it is true to say that making a decision to love the way a happy accident turned out and to develop it, is just another one of those creative decisions we make along the way. Writer said to make recently that he thought having software designed specifically for writers was a creativity killer. This same writer is using Microsoft Word to do his writing. I’d be the opinion that using software more suited to creating business documents and less suitable for creative work would be more of a creativity killer. I love the way that I can use Scrivener in a number of different ways and all of the options are available because that’s the way writers work.




A view of your world – The writers world

There will be times when you’re working on your project and you want to see all of it as a whole. You can do this with Scrivener. So instead of looking at just one of the sections of text or all of what you have in on chapter, you can see the whole thing. Maybe you want to see section of text that are not next to each other in the binder, that works too. That would be cool if you have made a collection of all the parts that have mention of one of your characters. You can go through it to make sure the character is properly represented in each part. You can make sure the character has the right description in all scenes. Save the search in case you want to get back to it later. You could decide you want to make the character look string and more vital in the story. In the collection you’ve saved you can read through it all and make the necessary changes. Collections in Scrivener is a handy tool to keep track of some things in your writing.


Weird Yosemite Upgrade – Podcasting and Using FTP Apps

The upgrade to Yosemite 10.10.1 was a weird one

When I got to my computer first thing this morning the screen was dark and yet the computer was actually running. It wouldn’t start up, so I had to switch it off with a hard restart. When it started up again it invited me to upgrade the operating system and also many of the applications on the iMac. I thought it might be that overnight a lot of applications and suddenly put out updates. Even so, there was something bugging me and it didn’t look quite right. I have been using Safari as my default browser lately and for some reason or other Google Chrome was up front. My preferred Twitter client is Tweetbot and yet the one I had been using before that was on the screen. (What has happened to App.Net?) My 1Password was showing incorrect passwords for one or two applications I was having to sign in with. This was because it had synchronised with iCloud rather than using Dropbox which is what I have been using lately on all of my devices. In the end I went to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the iMac and had a look at My Computer and it told me that I was running 10.9.4. Now that is going back quite a bit.! It seems that I had rebooted back into the wrong disk. It should have booted into the SSD that I have connected by Thunderbolt. I am surprised that there even was a different bootable disk that it was able to connect to.

Getting the problem sorted out

So I went into the system preferences and selected the start-up disk that I wanted to use and did a restart. This time it booted up into the correct disk and it finished off the upgrade to 10.10.1 which is the latest version of Yosemite. After that, everything went perfectly with the upgrade and everything was as it should be. It was a little bit annoyed because it wasted at least half an hour of my time with me trying to find passwords for applications that really didn’t need to be updated. So I am pleased to be back in business again.

Podcasting once again


Later today I will be interviewing somebody else for the Mac20Q podcast and I will be looking forward to publishing that podcast as soon as possible. Yesterday I started to make a tutorial about how to create an intro piece of audio to use in the iPad podcasting app called BossJock. I am recording it using the latest version of my preferred screencasting software ScreenFlow. I just have to have the iPad plugged in to the iMac and I am able to choose it as an input for the recording. The problem that I have is that I need to listen to the audio from the iPad as I am using audio applications and the sound is going to the iMac rather than to the iPad speakers. If I plug in the headphones so that I can listen to the sound from the iPad then the iMac doesn’t record the sound into ScreenFlow. I need to find some workarounds.

Using an FTP application

Yummy FTP

My preferred FTP application for the Mac used to be Cyberduck, but for some reason or other, it doesn’t seem to work now. It is looking for an older version of Java to be present for it to be used. I have another application on the Mac called Yummy FTP and for the most part it seems to work okay. Recently though, I have been using Transmit FTP on my iPad and I have been very pleased with how that works. I’m tempted to buy the Mac version so that I’m using the same software on both iOS and also on the Mac. I’m not sure if I want to spend the €30 to buy it though.

What do you think? Is it worth spending the money to buy a different Mac FTP application? Should I stay with Yummy FTP or should I get Transmit?

Affinity Designer – The Best Mac Illustrators Application

This is the illustration App I have been looking for

Affinity Designer for MacSince I changed over to the Mac from Windows about eight years ago I have been looking for something that was as good as CorelDraw. I was something of an expert with CorelDraw, having used it for about 12 years on a daily basis and I was disappointed there was nothing really like it for the Mac. Well, there is Adobe Illustrator, but after using it I was a little bit disappointed with the ease-of-use. It was possible to do many of the things I was able to do with CorelDraw, however it was always much more difficult. I looked at Vector Designer and Intaglio and more recently another one called Candy Apple and none of them really did it for me. I have heard good reports of this application called Affinity Designer which has just become available and I have to say that I am really quite impressed.

Affinity Designer – A Good Place to Work

When you are spending a lot of time within an application you want to see that it is well-designed and intuitive for your use. You don’t want to have it looking like one of these horrible open source applications that are often powerful but extremely ugly. For this reason I really like using Pixelmator for working on bitmap images. Affinity Designer in some ways has a similar look to Pixelmator and I like that. I quite like it that I can use the application where it takes up the whole of the screen in one working space and if I want to I can change to having parts of it all separated on the screen. So you might have one drawing in one window, the toolbars in another, the layers palette somewhere else and so on.

First impressions of Affinity Designer

The first tool that I tried out was the line drawing tool and it’s worked as I expected with the creation of lines using Bezier curves. I quickly found out that if I held down the command key then I would also be able to edit the nodes I had created individually and then still go back to finish completing the line. Brushes can be applied to the line to totally customise how that line looks in the drawing. There are a few keystrokes that you need to learn for modifying what happens with the tool as you use it. It is not too difficult for you to change your line by turning it into a closed shape. As you might expect when you are using a new application for the first time there are things to get used to and I am still working on how to create gradient fills. I have learnt how to duplicate objects and to do power duplication. This is where you can make one duplicate and makes changes to it, such as rotation and scale and then do multiple duplicates which also duplicate the changes that you made.

Bezier tools in Affinity Designer

Good views in Affinity Designer

I’m highly impressed with the level of zoom that you get with this application. This means you can go in and work on very small parts of your drawing, making very detailed and complicated art works. There are three types of view that you can use – Pixel View Mode, -Retina Pixel View Mode and Outline View Mode. (I found a fourth which I mention later.)

In my initial time of discovery with Affinity Designer I’m not noticing a huge difference between the first two of those Pixel Views although if I start working with some bitmaps on there as well, maybe I will see more. The Outline View Mode is a wireframe mode which is very handy when working on vector drawings and something you would expect to find in this type of application.

There are menu items and keyboard shortcuts that you can use to change your view of your drawing quickly. Such as using cmd+0 to zoom the drawing to fit the screen. Or you can use cmd+shift+0 to zoom to a selection. There are plenty of other zoom views based on a percentage of the actual size you can also take advantage of.

Manipulating objects onscreen

Vector Object manipulation
It is the usual story with objects you have in your drawing where you have a set of nine points on a rectangle bounding box which surrounds your object. You can use the points at the sides to change the shape of an object making it wider or taller. The points at the corners allow you to change the height and width at the same time. If you hold down the shift key it will constrict it to the same proportions. Basically, with Affinity Designer you have just about all of the usual requirements for doing what you need to with your shapes. I have found that there is one thing missing I would have expected to be there, even in a first version of a vector drawing application. When you rotate an object, at the moment you can only rotate around the centre point for that object. I wrote a message to the developers asking why it wasn’t possible to move the rotation point to wherever you wanted it in relation to the object. I was impressed that they got back to me quickly to say that it is something on the list to be included in the application as soon as possible. I like the way that I can have as many objects as you want on a layer. This means you can set the blending for a group of objects at the same time when there on the same layer.

Info PanelOver on the right hand side there is an info panel and you can use the drop-down on the layers to see all of your objects. This makes it very easy to select a specific object, even if it is behind others and you can’t see it in your design. Then there are tools which allow you to move an object forwards and backwards in the drawing. So you can set whether an object is at the front or at the back, or somewhere in between. You can name all objects if you want to help you keep track of them.

Lots of tools to play with in Affinity Designer

In the toolbox you have all of the tools that you need for creating vector designs. There is the Move tool which gives you your basic manipulations. Then there is the node tool which lets you change the shape of an object by moving nodes and bezier nodes if there are any. You can change a node which is set for a sharp change in direction of the line, to a node which will give you a curve. Nodes can be either sharp, smooth or smart and with these you can make a line or a shape do whatever you want.

Using bitmaps in your vector design

All of the vector design applications now have facilities for using bitmaps alongside vectors. This application is no different in this respect. You can use the bitmap placement tool or you can just drag and drop images onto the canvas.

Using text on your Affinity Designer graphic design

You have a choice of using Art Text or the Frame Text Tool. Art text is for a short amount of text, while the frame text is what you will use for paragraphs. The art text you can manipulate the same as you would any other shape. The paragraph of text fits within the rectangle and you have more options of setting how that text fits within that frame. So you can go for left justification, or centre, right or fully justified. In fact, there are even more things you can do with the text than that. Open up a dialog window to see all of the options.

I did find it a little bit weird that when I zoom right into the text it has the look of bitmap jaggies, even though it is a vector object. When manipulating the shape I had to go to the wire frame type mode to get a workable view of the text. But then I found that there is a fourth view mode that is not available with the icons at the top of the drawing, even though it is available from the menus. Going into Vector View shows the text off in all of its vectorised glory.

Tools and Affinity Designer Untitled Modified 100 5

Affinity designer is an excellent graphic design application

I really enjoy using this application for creating vector graphics. It is completely amazing in its first incarnation as a new application. The developers do have a list of things to add to the app. What is already a fantastic, brilliant illustrator’s application, can only get better. Look out Adobe Illustrator you now have some real competition. The price of the application is reasonable at €45 and in the advertising for the application it is mentioned many times that it is a one-off purchase. Affinity designer is directly challenging Adobe Illustrator for which you have to pay monthly and will end up costing you more. I have already stated that I am impressed and delighted with Affinity Designer and I give it the Mac20Q seal of approval.

Dragon Dictate and Yosemite

So I have upgraded to Yosemite and DragonDictate seems to be working so far. I was a little bit dubious about whether I should do the upgrade or not and this was based totally upon whether DragonDictate would work within the new OS X operating system. It is this speech to text application that I use on a daily basis that has to work for me, otherwise I would just never get any work done at all. I’m using it now within the DragonDictate window and next will be trying it out on other applications also. I usually find that it works well when I am dictating into my journaling application called Day One. When I’m dictating into Chrome I sometimes find that the application has a little bit of a problem. What it does, is to add a random letter to the end of the text and it will stay there until I delete it. The actual dictation works more or less the same as it does when I’m using it within the DragonDictate window. It is only a small annoyance to have that letter added to the end of my text during the dictation process.

What do I think of Yosemite so far?

The first impressions is that it is quite clean looking. I can’t say much more than that as I haven’t yet tried out any of the new options available within the new operating system. I know that I won’t be able to try the Handoff feature until I get my hands on a Bluetooth dongle. Rocketek USB Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy USB Adapter – Mac OS, Classic Bluetooth and Stereo Headset Compatible usb 4.0 dongle is the one I will give a try. The Bluetooth has to be the Bluetooth 4 low-energy and it is just not on the older models of the Mac. My iMac is three years old and so I will have to try the dongle in order to use Hand Off.

Should I use iCloud drive?

Cloud Drive Explorer on the App Store on iTunes I was a little bit hesitant during the installation process as to whether I should start using iCloud Drive. This was because it was advised that we shouldn’t use it when upgrading to iOS 8. I think it should be okay now and so I will go for it and see what happens. I got my hands on the free app Cloud Drive Explorer so that I could see inside iCloud Drive on my iOS devices. I thought I could drop a file into the iCloud folder and it would show up on the iOS devices in some place I could use it. I was trying all sorts of ways to move a file from the Mac in Byword to iOS via iCloud Drive. In the end I dragged it to the TextEdit folder and used the third party app to open it and sent to Byword. I wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be.I suppose it takes time to practice and perfect the way of doing it. I did make it work but I could create a folder in iCloud Drive on the Mac. Well it all went okay so far, although on the iPhone 6 it did do a reboot during upgrading to iCloud Drive. I will have to do a little bit of reading or maybe some watching of videos to see exactly how iCloud Drive works so that I can get the best from the new facilities. I have already opted for the €0.99 per month to get the 20 GB of storage. It seems like a good plan to see how that goes and see if I need more, before I upgrade to the next level 200GB which is only €3.99 per month.

iCloud Drive Folder

The iCloud Drive folder works just like any other folder in OS X. You are able to drag and drop to add files, organise things with folders and with tags, as well as being able to search it using Spotlight. It is going to be handy that we will be able to access all of the latest versions of our files from all computing devices including the iPad and iPhone. It seems the way that it works is that files in iCloud Drive will be available on the Mac even when you don’t have an Internet connection. Not having an Internet connection on my iMac doesn’t happen very often, but if it does any changes that I make to a file will be sent automatically as soon as my Mac goes back online.CloudDocs libraries and TextEdit and Daily G

Incompatible applications

As I said, I am breathing a sigh of relief that I’m able to use DragonDictate on my iMac. I suppose it was to be expected that one of the incompatible applications would be GPG Mail. It could take quite some time before this is upgraded and it’s compatible with Yosemite. I do have the ability to use S/Mime certificates so that I can still use email encryption. Even so, I will be looking forward to the day when GPG mail is brought up to date. I could look at Thunderbird email client again. Another application that was deemed incompatible was the Kindle app. This is no big deal as I don’t tend to read Kindle books on my iMac very often. The Kindle application is useful if I want to do a check of one of my own books that I’m working on. I don’t suppose it will take too long before this will be sorted out. The only other application that isn’t working is the pen tablet preferences pane. This is for a Wacom Bamboo tablet and seeing I don’t use it very often I’m not too worried about it. These three pieces of software were moved into a separate folder on my boot drive called Incompatible Software.

New things in the Messages app

I will be able to send and receive SMS messages from within Messages on my iMac. I usually tend to use this application when I want to make contact with my mother who is using an iPad Mini. I could see that it could be quite handy to have messages coming in through SMS directly and have them available on my Mac. As I have already seen on my Messages application on my iPad and iPhone, it is now possible to send soundbites. This is a quick audio message that you can record and send to your friends as an audio clip. The person receiving the audio clip is able to decide whether they want to keep it or not, otherwise it vanishes after two minutes. Making calls with the iPhone is possible from messages on the iMac. I don’t make many phone calls, but I will have to give this a try. It seems that all you need to do is to click on a phone number in Messages and that will make the call for you through your iPhone. I think this still works even if the phone is in another room, although I expect it needs to be within distance to work over a wireless signal, probably Bluetooth but possibly Wi-Fi.

Screen Sharing though Messages

On the Yosemite page on the Apple website it says that it’s now possible to do screen sharing through Messages. I did think that this was possible before, but who knows. I will give it a try and see how screen sharing works anyway. This could be handy when I’m trying to show some people how to do things with their Mac.

Improvements with Spotlight

I am a user of the Alfred application and I am fairly sure that I will continue to use Alfred to do my searches and use as an app launcher. I will do some testing of the new ways of working with Spotlight search and see how that goes aswell. I can get into Spotlight by doing a Control Option Space keyboard shortcut. I like the way that in the system preferences you can choose how you want your Spotlight results to appear. The default is to have the Applications first followed by Spotlight Suggestions and then Conversion and so on. It is easy to drag the categories up and down to change the results. So if you wanted to see the results earlier in spotlight from your mail and messages which at the moment are at position 12 on the list you could just move them up to whichever number position.

Recommended Plugins for Aperture

Working with plug-ins in Aperture

Photomatix Pro

Photomatix Pro for HDR 2Aperture is very good in terms of being able to add effects to photographs and because it was made with the photographer in mind, generally the effects are quite subtle. Certainly they are subtle in terms of comparison with things like HDR High Dynamic Range photography. One of my passions in photography is HDR and for this I use an application called Photomatix Pro and I have been using it as a stand-alone application for some years. It has recently been updated to version 5 and it was a paid upgrade. While I was in the process of upgrading on the Photomatix Pro website I saw that there was another version available that would work as a plug-in to Aperture. It also works with other photo applications such as the one from Adobe, Lightroom. It didn’t cost anything to get this other version on account of the fact that I am a paid user of Photomatix Pro, so I got it and installed it. I have done all of this since I upgraded to Mavericks OS X.

Snapheal proPro

Snapheal Pro 2Same sort of thing with the application Snapheal and getting an upgrade to Snapheal Pro, although it did cost me €18 to get the upgrade to the pro version. I find that it is well worthwhile to be able to work directly from Aperture rather than having to open up a separate application. I have all of my photos within Aperture and it saves me having to export a file out, do some work with it and then bring it back into Aperture. It is much better to have the files dealt with in one app and not have files scattered across the hard drive that need to be tidied up afterwards. It is also much faster working this way.

Intensify Pro

Similarly I have gone with the pro version of Intensify as this will gives you access from Aperture to stronger adjustments for your photos. The adjustments within Aperture are mostly available across the whole photo, although there are some which allow more specific changes to the parts of photo. With Intensify Pro there is much more granular control over effects available, for example with the vignette it is possible to move the centre of the vignette to wherever you want it in the image.

So now when I am working with photos on my Mac in the application Aperture I have access to these three photo manipulation tools directly and I get a much faster workflow with the photographs. When I want to make a HDR photograph I can select the three photos and choose to work with the plug-in Photomatix Pro and do all of the necessary adjustments to get the look that I want. As soon as I save it there, it is immediately available in Aperture and the next thing I might want to do, is to work on it in Snapheal Pro. With Snapheal Pro I can take out an object within the photograph that is at present spoiling the composition or the general look of the photo, or to generally clean it up. That would be one workflow and the other possibility would be that I would first work with Intensify Pro and then start to use Snapheal Pro.
Intensify Pro Photo effects 2

Creativity is all about choices and how you combine them.

There are numerous photo editing and manipulation tools available for the Mac and this combination of Aperture plus Photomatix Pro, Snapheal Pro and Intensify Pro is working very well for me at present. This setup is giving me lots of choices so that I don’t end up having all my photographs looking the same. As you can imagine using the grunge setting in the Photomatix Pro app would get old very quickly.

Check out the photos I have been creating both on Google+ and also on Flickr.

There is a certain amount of overlap between some of the effects that are available. I can go subtle by staying within Aperture or I can go into either Intensify Pro or Photomatix Pro for more overt and dramatic effects. There is a preset within Intensify Pro that is quite like a HDR photo. A lot of it depends upon the photograph and what I imagine could be the best solution for enhancing it before I share it.

I am not one of these photographers that likes to hold on to the photo being a visual truth. I would much rather see my final photograph as a piece of art that ultimately might not have anything to do with what I actually saw with my eyes and my camera. It is most certainly possible to go over the top especially with Photomatix Pro and Intensify Pro. Sometimes less is more and it would be a shame to spoil the inherent beauty of the scene as captured at the location. You makes your choice and you then have to live with it. So now I think it is time for me to go and get my Sony NEX-6 Mirrorless and go off and take more photos. I can then come back home and my iMac and have some fun altering the photos to get them just the way that I like them.

Aperture for professional or enthusiastic amateurs photographers

While Aperture is really very good at what it does with organising and storing your photographs, Apple has given it much more functionality that makes it very useful indeed. As with iPhoto you can make changes by applying effects to your photos, but you get a larger range of effects and adjustments with Aperture. Not only are there a wider variety of effects that you can apply, you get access to loads of slider controls and curve controllers that let you take an image from subtle to completely crazy. You can start off with an auto enhance which applies a few standard effects and that by itself can make a huge change from a dull looking picture to something you wouldn’t mind showing to other people. Even when you have added a combination of effects you can still choose more from the list and also fiddle with those sliders to get your image just the way that you want it.

Getting the crops in

While most of us try to get the image just the way that we want to when we frame the image in the camera as we are taking the picture, quite often when you decide to process the photo you can make a simple improvement just by using the crop tool. It might be, simply that you want to take out something on the edges of your photo that only distracts the eye for the viewer by being there. Then again, you might want to completely change the shape of the photo from a rectangle with the ratio of 3:2 and change it so that it is in the 16:9 shape or a square. Often it depends on where you are going to be using the photo, so for example if you are using a photograph in a movie then you will need to go for the 16: 9 rectangle.

You can make the decision to constrain the rectangle to fit the shape that you require or you can also go with the completely free choice that doesn’t fit in with the popular or standard photo shapes. It is very quick to click on one button to change the shape from a landscape shaped to a portrait shape. Often when you are working on the composition of your photograph you need to think about the rule of thirds. You can set up these crops on your photos so that you can see guides for the rule of thirds. This will help you to align the subject within your photo so that you can get the best from the composition.

Adding, subtracting or manipulating a single colour within a photo

You can use the keyboard combination of Control C to add the colour effect to your photo. There is a set of colours that you can choose which will allow you to change the photo within a certain colour range. You might click within the yellow and then use the slider controls to make effects happen to anything that is coloured in yellow in the photo. If you want to be more specific when choosing the colour that you are going to work with, you can use the eyedropper tool to make your choice. You can get help to grab the exact colour that you want to work with, to help you choose you will see a magnified view of the area you are selecting from in a loupe.

ApertureOnce you have selected the colour that you are going to work with and for the moment let’s say it is going to be a green. You can use the slider controls for hue, saturation, luminance and range. When you have green chosen you will be able to change the colour from green in the middle, go left towards yellow or right towards blue. Then you have saturation which is fairly standard in that if you move the slider to the left you will completely de-saturate the colour and make just that part as if it had been shot in black and white. On the other hand if you take the slider to the right, that the colour green will become stronger. Other colours outside the range are not effected. The luminance slider controls the brightness of that particular colour and the range determines how wide a spectrum of green is included in the changes.

Let’s have a look at the advanced settings for the colour adjustment

When you look at the colour adjustment settings in the left-hand sidebar of Aperture you will see that there are three buttons on the top right-hand corner. If you click on the button to the left you will open up the colour adjustment panel that will show all of the colour adjustment sliders for each of the colours that you can work with. So rather than working with one colour at a time in a photo you can fiddle to your hearts content to really make your image come alive. The middle button will take the settings back to the default and then you have a drop-down list on the button in the top right-hand corner where you can add a new adjustment or take away the colour adjustment. If it is something that you think you might use again, you can add what you have created to the default set.

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