Mac

How I Use Mini Note

Mini Note is a simple, yet effective note taking tool from Fiplab, I have installed on multiple machines, including my iPads. I use it on a daily basis for quick notes, to save a link, store a Zoom meeting ID, or jot down some test data. Whatever it is becomes available everywhere.

I regularly paste SQL queries from Jira tickets, send them over to my iMac which uses our secure VPN connection. A second later, that query is available where I need it. No need to save a file to Dropbox, Google Drive or iCloud.

As another example, I repeatedly copy links into Mini Note for review on my home machine. Sure, it's right behind me, but it's not on until the end of the day. With this, those links are available as soon as the machine wakes up. It's usually for a YouTube tutorial, a piece of software to test, an article to read after dinner, or a series of steps to follow on a different machine.

Another benefit is Mini Note on the iPad. I always need information away from my main machine. This allows me to read instructions, paste directions, follow a link, enter a serial number or password. Like the desktop version, notes sync within seconds. In each case, Mini Note makes my note available on whatever machine I am working with.

Mini Note has a simple, clean UI. Each note has a title with the last time it was updated. At a glance I know which note to pick, and whether or not it's served it's purpose. Am I done with that note? Has it been several days? Should it be added to DevonThink Office Pro or removed from the list.

Compared to methods like sending emails, Slack messages, or saving random items into a text file, Mini Note is far better organized. I don't need to set a reminder, or clutter up a calendar. When I make a note it goes to the top of the list ready for use. Perfect.

Mini Note is small, lightweight, and a perfect fit for this sort of work. As such, it's always open on both Mac Pros. When I need to share a block of text, this is my primary method. It was a $5 investment that has paid huge dividends.

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Improve Your Writing With TextSoap

Along with PaperEdit, I'm using TextSoap, as a proofreading tool. Not the editor itself, but it's ability to combine RegEx with text highlighting and capitalization to call out words and phrases for improvement.

My original "cleaner" had a list of common words I wanted to avoid, such as "just" and "that." I've made several enhancements to look for past tense words, prepositions and others. These are in separate "cleaners" I can call on as needed. Or I can chain them together in a single pass.

For example, I've added \b(been|has been|being|to be|was)\b to call out specific past tense words.

There is also a check for words ending in "ed," which is usually past tense. Of course, Ted isn't past tense, so it's not foolproof.
\b(was \w+ed\b)

Same goes for adverbs and "ly." Again, Lily isn't an adverb, so you have to take the good with the bad.
\b(\w+ly\b)

I've also created a list of prepositions, just to see how often they get used.

On their own, these words and phrases aren't bad. They may be exactly what the article or story needs. But, if they're excessive and the entire page changes color, it's time to think about what I'm doing and saying. These types of checks are low hanging fruit, but it's a good place to start. They are easy corrections that lead to bigger and better changes overall.

The goal isn't to let the computer apply arbitrary rules to govern how a sentence is formed or how to write an article. It's about patterns and excess. A colorful page is great for a coloring book, not for an article I intend to publish. It also means my message is probably muddled.

The great thing about TextSoap, I can add as many of these as I like. It can either be a predetermined list, or with some simple RegEx, powerful highlighters.

These tools don't stifle creativity, they come into play when the writing is complete. They are a guide. I can ignore what I see or act on it. I see it as another example of the versatility of TextSoap.

At this point, it's a useful experiment.

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How I Use the Shell

I am by no means a master at programming the shell. I'm not even sure my skills would be considered novice. However, even with just a few commands, the Terminal/Unix Shell of the Mac can be an incredibly powerful tool. Things get more exciting when you couple it with Keyboard Maestro.

A few of my most common shell commands include grep, split,find, mv,cp cat, wc, head, tail and rsync. Even with just these few you can perform some very clever tricks and save yourself a ton of time.

Grep is used to find text within a text file. That may not sound like much until you try it with a .CSV file that's 1.5GB in size. Go ahead and look for a customer, SKU, or phone number in that mess. With grep it's light work and results can be piped off into a much smaller file you can open.

In fact, grep was my re-introduction to the Shell when using the Mac. The other member of the QA team was trying to open a gigantic file in Excel, and failing miserably. It had millions of lines, far more than Excel could parse. The better choice would be a database, but all he needed was to confirm if an entry existed. His goal was to open it and use AutoFilter.

After cringing at his plan, I took the file and the items he wanted to find and exported each result to a separate file. I sent those 2-5k files back to him a few minutes later and the problem was solved.

Split does what the name implies. It splits a file into smaller parts. If you actually need to open that 1.5GB CSV file, you can use split to make a dozen small files that can be opened. That has come in handy multiple times. If grep can't save you, split might get you out of a jam.

Find searches for files that match a certain criteria. I use this to find files of a certain size or certain type. There are multiple options, so you'll need to do some experimenting, but it's incredibly useful.

mv and cp are for moving and copying files. The power comes from using wildcards. I use this to move tons of files around quickly without having to select each and every one of them. Sure, there are tools to handle that, but there's no need to buy additional software when it's built it. mv *.doc is far faster than trying to click them all by hand.

rsync is a fantastic tool for backing up files. I use this to back up my DevonThink Office Pro files and documents to an external drive each week. The reason for doing it this way is that I can then copy those files to my home machine and not overwrite anything. I want everything from the work machine on the home machine, but not the other way around. This keep my home Mac up to date without losing any differences between the two. It also removes the backup once the process is complete so I don't run out of space.

Cat is used to view and concatenate files together. Easily put together a list of results.

Wc is "word count" and is great for checking the number of lines in a file.

Head and tail show the first X number or last X number of lines in a file. Excellent way to see headers, or make sure you have a complete file without having to open it.

While these commands are extremely beneficial, you can make them even more powerful and easier to use by combining them with Keyboard Maestro.

For example, I have the above sync scheduled to occur on Friday. The timing and action are handled by Keyboard Maestro. I get a prompt to connect the drive, the sync occurs, and everything is handled effortlessly. It took a bit of searching to get the right command and switches, but now it's set up and I don't have to worry about it. Keyboard Maestro adds the functionality of timing, prompts, and execution.

The same is true for mv and cp. I created a small UI using Keyboard Maestro to select common folders, set up wildcards, and pass the command over for execution. I don't have to remember the syntax and get everything in the right order. Again, I set it up once, then use it dozens of times to organize files and folders.

The Shell is it's own programming language as well. So commands can be chained together, variables set and passed, output from one used as the input for another. That is definitely a skill, but absolutely possible and incredibly powerful.

There are an amazing number of applets built into Unix. It may take some digging to find the right one, and a bit of experimentation to get the right options, but they are very well documented, along with hundreds of examples on various sites and forums. There are commands in the Shell that can easily save you having to buy an application.

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Affinity offers big discounts and extended trials on Photo, Designer and Publisher

Affinity is back with another big discount and extended trial versions to help out those working remotely or who need to finish their projects. In their own words:

A message from the Affinity team
As a way to lend support to the creative community during these difficult times, we’re once again offering a 90-day free trial of the Mac and Windows versions of the whole Affinity suite, for anyone who wants to use them (even those who have previously completed a free trial). We’re also bringing back the 50% discount for those who would prefer to buy and keep the apps, including our iPad versions.

This is a fabulous discount from a great company.

Affinity

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Improve Your Writing With PaperEdit

When it comes to revising your first draft, whether it be blog article or book chapter, the task can be daunting. Of course, there are tools like spellcheck and grammar check in macOS that are great, but what about other problems like, weak phrases, long sentences, passive voice, hyperbole, and other wording to clean up.

While it’s no substitute for manually proofreading, tools like PaperEdit can help you focus your editing efforts on these specific areas.

PaperEdit allows you to load or paste text, then highlights sentences that could be improved. As mentioned it will highlight passive voice, long sentences, recycled starting words, and repeated words.

At a glance you can see where to focus. You can then cycle through each highlighted passage to see if you agree.

I find this a great first step in the revision process. If there’s a rainbow of color, it’s time to make some serious edits. That’s not a bad thing because I know where to look. I can focus on those changes before tackling the document as a whole.

After those corrections, it’s time to look at the whole document. Even if PaperEdit gives the all clear, manual proofreading is still part of the process.

Some people frown on proofing tools. I disagree. Relying on them as your only revision practice is a bad idea, but there’s nothing wrong with getting the low hanging fruit. I like the highlights, and the ability to see problematic areas at a glance.

PaperEdit is a recent addition, but I’ve gone over several articles and like the results. Plus, it’s always good to start with the basics because fixing those problems has a noticeable domino effect. It makes you rethink what you’re trying to convey.

A downloadable demo is available, although you need to scroll through the Blog section to find it. The demo isn’t the latest, but easily shows off the features. I found it valuable enough to head to the App Store for the full version.

If you want a solid first step in revision, PaperEdit is a good choice. It can also open Scrivener projects, so you don’t have to copy and paste.

You can find more about PaperEdit at Novellus Software.

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