Ulysses v2.6 review

My favorite text editor, Ulysses, just received an update to version 2.6, and it is amazing. There are a few additions to Ulysses in v2.6 but the biggest one has to be WordPress publishing for WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress sites. This isn't just a publish a draft to WordPress option, nuh-uh, this is a full-blown, do it how you want, WordPress publishing. Whether you want to publish immediately, schedule it for a particular date and time, or publish a draft, Ulysses can do it. Ulysses also includes options for excerpt, featured image, tags, post type, slug, and title link options. Simply put, you should have no problem publishing to WordPress the way you want. Though not part of the WordPress publishing option, support for exporting as Rich Text was added and may be useful for SquareSpace users.

I was lucky enough to get in on the beta around the same time I launched this site and moved Pens and Planes to WordPress and I've been using the WordPress publishing feature to publish my posts and it has worked flawlessly.

Another new feature is Typewriter mode. Ulysses for Mac has had this for a long time but it's new to the iOS version and I love it. I rarely use my Mac for writing and had never used Typewriter mode before and wasn't sure how I would like it, but fell in love with it immediately. There are options to highlight the current line, sentence, or paragraph and an option to mark the current line which adds a grey box around the current line.

Dropbox syncing was added in v2.6. iCloud syncing has worked flawlessly for me with Ulysses and I don't plan on changing to Dropbox syncing but I did try out Dropbox syncing and didn't had any issues with it.

The Soulmen also added what they call Quick Open which allows you to search your entire library for text, keywords, or group names. VoiceOver support for the entire app was added as well.

Ulysses is, without a doubt, my favorite writing app and version 2.6 makes it even better. Do yourself a favor and check it out. To read more about the version 2.6 update check out the blog post on the Ulysses site, Ben Brook's review, Tim Nahumck's review or Federico Viticci's overview.

Thanks for reading.

Slack as a Personal Information Center

Seth Clifford has started using Slack as a personal information center and it is one of the best uses for Slack that I have seen. I'm a member of a few Slack teams and spend a fair bit of time in Slack, so Seth's idea of using Slack as a personal information center just clicked and I was like "Why didn't I think of this before?"

I like the channel layout and usage Seth describes and I used that as a basis for my personal Slack. The channels I'm currently using are:

  • alerts: Twitter follower notifications (via IFTTT) are the only alerts I have set here right now but I'm in the process of adding more.
  • blogposts: This serves the exact purpose that Seth describes in his article, an easy reference for any blog posts I publish.
  • daily: This one is borrowed from Seth's article. I like the concept of it, but I'm not sure if it's for me. I have no work projects or deadlines that I have to worry about, and what minor house projects I do have are kept in 2Do and don't have a due date. The only thing I'm using this channel for right now is to keep track of any new calendar events or changes to current ones, so I may rename this channel to calendar.
  • nuzzle: Any notifications from Nuzzel are sent here.
  • pricedrops: Tweets from @MacStoriesDeals are sent here via IFTTT.
  • snippets: Random quotes or bits of info are stored here.
  • video: YouTube links that I come across that I may want to watch later are stored or copied here. I was using Drafts for this, but I like Slack better for this because Slack shows the title of the video in the posted link.

I love the idea of using Slack to keep track of alerts and notifications because I can view all the alerts I've received without having to worry about an alert disappearing from Notification Center and not being able to find the information or article that was in that alert. My personal Slack is still a work in progress but I'm really happy with it so far.

I would love to know if you use Slack as a personal information center and how you use it. Thanks for reading.

Refreshed in the Wind

I have always enjoyed watching airplanes take off and land, and fly overhead. As a kid, whenever we drove past an airport I remember looking as hard as I could in the hopes I would see an airplane, even if I knew I wouldn’t see one.1  I can remember my dad stopping on the side of the road to let me watch a plane take off or land. My son is the same way I was as a kid, and yes, I have stopped the car to let him watch an airplane. Why do we do this? I was reminded earlier of a quote from one of my favorite books that I think perfectly describes why.

“”…Here, refreshed in the wind, I rediscover what I had previously held to be certain truths. I again become aware that no pilot alive can resist watching a plane take off or land. He may pass a motionless airplane without noticing it, but the moment his ears detect the first burst of power from a plane, however distant, he will turn his head regardless of everything else around him and watch it. “He will also rudely break off in the middle of a conversation to watch a plane landing, though there may be a constant flow of them. From observance of such activity he enjoys an abiding satisfaction, as basic and everlasting as that found by a deep-sea sailor on his obligatory pilgrimage to the nearest harbor…””

— Ernest Gann in Fate Is The Hunter

The “refreshed in the wind” line has always stuck with me, because of a feeling I sometimes get at airports when the wind is just right. It is a feeling of calm and peace, and it is in those times that I’m grateful that I am able to do what I love. I don’t know why I get this feeling when the wind is a certain way, I just do. I get this feeling the strongest on clear days, when the temperature is around 75 to 80°F, and the wind is about 5 to 10 knots. When I get this feeling all I want to do is stop and watch the airplanes take off and land, and simply take in the sights, sounds, smells, and as crazy as it may sound to some, the beauty of the airport. As stressful as my job can get, it is in these times that I am refreshed in the wind, that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  1. Who am I kidding, I still do it as an adult.

Thoughts on iOS Third-Party Keyboards

Update: Added a restriction that I was aware of but had forgotten about.

Since Gboard was released last week, iOS third-party keyboards, and the restrictions Apple places on them, have been getting more attention than I’ve probably seen since iOS 8 was released. The comment I have seen most often about Gboard is that it is a nothing but a “keylogger” for Google, even though it plainly states “Other than your searches, Gboard doesn’t send anything you type to Google.”1 In his recent article on the subject, Federico Viticci had this to say:

I struggle to understand the position of those who call custom keyboards “keyloggers” because, frankly, that’s a discussion we should have had two years ago, not as soon as Google launches a custom keyboard. Since 2014, hundreds of companies (including Microsoft and Giphy) have released custom keyboards, each theoretically capable of “logging” what you type. That ship has sailed.

I am more concerned with one of those celebrity emoji keyboards or one of the countless “create your own theme” type keyboards being a keylogger much more than I am about Gboard being one.

I also have to wonder if, two years into custom keyboards, it would be time for Apple to lift some of their other keyboard restrictions. To recap, this is what custom keyboards on iOS can’t do:

  • Access the system settings of Auto-Capitalization, Enable Caps Lock, and dictionary reset feature
  • Type into secure text input objects (password fields)
  • Type into phone pad objects (phone dialer UIs)
  • Access selected text
  • Access the device microphone
  • Use the system keyboard switching popup

Aside from microphone access, secure input fields, and phone pad objects, I’d like to see Apple add support for everything else in iOS 10. More importantly, I’d like to see their performance improve. Here’s an example: when you swipe down from the Home screen to open Spotlight, Apple’s keyboard comes up with a soft transition that’s pleasing on the eye; if you do the same with a custom keyboard, the transition is always jarring, and it often doesn’t work at all.

That last restriction is one I have never understood. Not having access to the popup keyboard picker in third-party keyboards makes it a huge pain to switch between them and I have never understood what harm could come from allowing third-party keyboards to access it. I don’t know if this is another Apple restriction on third-party keyboards or developers simply not implementing it, but I have yet to see a third-party keyboard with 3D Touch trackpad functionality.2 The 3D Touch trackpad is the biggest thing I miss about the stock keyboard when I use a third-party keyboard. If it is a restriction, which it probably is, it is another one that I don’t understand. Like with the popup keyboard picker, I don’t see the harm in letting third-party keyboards use the functionality. The performance issues Federico mentions are the most common complaint I have seen with third-party keyboards in general and I hope to see it improve with iOS 10. One other restriction on third-party keyboards that I was aware of but had forgotten about, is that third-party keyboards can’t be used with QuickReply from the lockscreen. If you add a third-party keyboard and delete the stock keyboard and try to use QuickReply from the lockscreen, you get a generic iOS keyboard with no autocorrect.3

With all that said, Gboard is one of the best third-party keyboards I’ve used and has become my favorite third-party keyboard. I love being able to search Google, GIFs and emoji right from the keyboard. I also like the layout of the keyboard and Glide Typing is one of the best swipe-to-type implementations I’ve seen. I think that with a few changes, Gboard is what the stock iOS keyboard4 should be. These are changes that I (and others) think would need to be made to Gboard in order for it to become the stock keyboard, though a few of these would be nice to see made to Gboard itself. Some of these won’t be possible unless Apple lifts some restrictions, so I guess you could also call this a wish list.

  • Multi-language support and availability outside the US are at the top of the list of changes, both as changes to Gboard and for it to become the stock keyboard.
  • Adding dictation along with the option to use Google instead of Siri, and the ability to switch search engines are high on the list. The first two would require some changes to iOS and it’s restrictions in order for them to ever be added to Gboard. If a Gboard-like keyboard were to become the stock iOS keyboard I would hope that Apple would let users change the search engine the keyboard uses, and using Google for dictation instead of Siri would require Apple to let users to set a default option for apps and services.
  • 3D Touch trackpad functionality is something I would like to see added to Gboard in the future, though it may require a restriction removal. If a Gboard-like keyboard became the stock keyboard, I hope it would still have the 3D Touch trackpad functionality.

Apple loosened a lot of iOS restrictions in iOS 8 and 9. Hopefully they continue that trend at WWDC next month when they announce iOS 10.

  1. I realize this is something that Google could change at some point. But this is also true for Microsoft and any third-party keyboard developer. ↩︎
  2. I’m referring to full cursor control, not simply moving the cursor horizontally which I have seen in third-party keyboards. ↩︎
  3. Thanks Ronnie Lutes for the reminder. ↩︎
  4. Which, let’s be honest, is due for some major changes. ↩︎