My latest at ProfHacker: Rediscovering Ulysses

Screenshot of Ulysses applicationA few weeks ago, George suggested using a blogging client as a backup method.

I’d actually stopped using one some time ago. It wasn’t really a conscious decision; I simply had fewer occasions for cross-posting and after my 2012 experience of a plugin gone bad, I got a lot more careful about redundant backups.

George’s post piqued my curiosity, though. What blogging clients are available these days? I knew about MarsEdit, of course, but I didn’t know what else might be out there, so I did a little searching. I didn’t come up with another blogging client, because I got distracted by a writing app for Mac and iOS whose name I recognized: Ulysses. I think it popped up in my search because they recently added the ability to publish to WordPress. (That ability seems to be limited to posts; if there’s a way to publish a WordPress page, I haven’t found it yet. Users looking for a full-on blogging client will need to look elsewhere.)

I’d tried Ulysses a few years ago, and I just couldn’t quite get my mind around it. At that time, I was relatively new to working in Markdown, so that might have been part of it. I also couldn’t quite get the hang of Daedalus Touch, the mobile companion app — which was quite different from Ulysses visually.

In the meantime, Ulysses has been updated and made available for iOS — and the user interface on the Mac and iPad is nearly identical. (The iPhone interface is adapted a bit to account for the much smaller screen, but it’s very intuitive; if you’ve used Ulysses on a Mac or iPad, you’ll have no trouble with the iPhone version).

Ulysses is pricey compared to many applications: $44.99 for the Mac version, and $24.99 for iOS. Fortunately, there’s a demo available for Mac. I already had a license from the last time I looked at the software, so it was a simple matter for me to try it out again. (Apparently I must have tried an earlier version of Ulysses for iOS, too, though I don’t remember that.)

This time, I was hooked. Maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with Markdown, and use it for most of my writing now. Maybe it’s because the iOS version is so very close to the desktop version. I’m not sure.

What I can say is this: Ulysses’ organization makes sense. Sheets form a group. Groups can be organized into folders. It’s possible to export one sheet at a time to one’s preferred format, or to treat several sheets as one large project. (And to explain how it all functions, Ulysses includes (in the Mac app, at least) four groups of sheets that introduce the user to key features of the software. Everything syncs seamlessly via iCloud.1 I can start a piece of writing on my Mac at home, and pick up where I left off when I get to the office. If I have an idea for a piece of writing while I’m out and about, I can just make a quick note on my phone, and it will be in my list of sheets, ready to work on when I get back to a proper keyboard. It just works.

Ulysses can export to plain text, HTML, ePub, PDF, and DOCX formats. It can also, as noted above, publish posts to WordPress blogs (both self-hosted and those hosted at WordPress.com). About the only thing I’ve found that Ulysses doesn’t handle well is Markdown tables. But, because Ulysses uses plain text, there are easy solutions. One possibility is to use Marked2. Or one might just take a page out of Lincoln’s playbook and use Pandoc.

It’s only been a few weeks, but I really don’t see myself going back to other applications for my day-to-day writing tasks.

What about you, though? Do you have a favorite writing application? What do you like best about it? Let us know in the comments.

[CC-licensed photo from a screenshot by the author.]

  1. It’s possible to add “external folders,” including folders from Dropbox, if one prefers —- though those folders have to be added on every device. ??

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My latest at ProfHacker: Switching from Evernote to OneNote, part 2

Book with notes flagged on pagesLast week, I explained why I made the decision to switch from Evernote to OneNote. This week, I want to give a brief overview of the how.

There are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Tags work wonderfully well in Evernote, and they’re highly customizable. OneNote has pre-defined tags. While some customization is possible, they simply don’t function the same way they do in Evernote. And for Mac users, at least, there’s no way that I’ve yet found to search tags (the function is available in the Windows version). Though it’s possible to add tags as text and search for them that way, if you have a lot of tags with a lot of associated notes, sticking with Evernote might be the best option for you.
  • Evernote uses the terminology of notebooks, but OneNote really relies on them for good organization of information.

I very much wish I’d read Andrew Connell’s “How I Migrated from Evernote to OneNotebefore I ran Microsoft’s importer tool (an overview of how to use it is available here), but even after the fact it’s been very helpful to me in thinking about how to organize my notes.

Prior to sorting the notes the importer pulled into my default OneNote notebook, I took some time to think through what really belongs in OneNote.

First, I took some time to consider what really belongs in OneNote. I’d been clipping a lot of things to Evernote that didn’t really belong there. For example, I’m a regular user of Pocket. Articles that I want to read later belong there, not in OneNote. Any that I decide I want to save for long-term reference should be moved to my reference manager — again, not OneNote.

Second, I looked at the tags I’d been using in Evernote. Many of them had very few (in some cases no) notes. Clearly, they weren’t needed, so they didn’t survive the migration to OneNote. Those that remained became notebooks or sections, as appropriate.

After careful consideration, I created the following notebooks:

  • Current. This notebook contains a section called “Inbox,” where I send items collected via email, the OneNote clipper, the share menu from my mobile devices, etc. They stay here until I can decide what to do with them. It also contains sections for other projects that are current, but not so large as to warrant their own notebook. My current classes each get a section, for example. They’ll get moved to the Teaching notebook at the end of the semester.
  • Teaching. In this notebook, I gather teaching tips, resources, ideas for new courses, and the like. It’s also where I store course materials from previous semesters.
  • Research. Ideas and notes for current research projects go here. (References go in Paperpile, and I do most of my actual writing in Ulysses these days.
  • Rank and Tenure. This is where I gather any materials I might want to include in my rank and tenure portfolio when I apply for promotion. A current copy of my CV is here, and the notebook contains section groups for teaching, service, and scholarship.1
  • WordPress. I manage a multi-site WordPress installation. Useful information that I find when reading up on WordPress or when specifically looking for solutions to problems that I encounter gets sent here, so I can access it easily.
  • Cabinet. This is my catch-all notebook, containing reference materials (e.g., user manuals, memorabilia, interesting non-academic articles) and anything else that doesn’t neatly fit into one of the above notebooks.

For each of these notebooks, I’ve created sections for each sensible subcategory. I’ve tried to follow a “less is more” approach, creating as few sections within each notebook as possible. OneNote can search across all the notebooks in a user’s account, so finding a particular note when needed is pretty easy.

The task to complete the migration, then, is to go through the default notebook I used with the importer tool, and make a decision about each note. There’s simply no getting around the fact that it’s a labor-intensive process. That said, I’ve found it refreshing to rediscover notes I didn’t remember I had and that are interesting. It’s also been an opportunity to get rid of notes that are no longer needed (that eight year-old receipt for an item that had only a five-year warranty can probably go!).

Have you switched to OneNote from Evernote? Let us know about your experiences in the comments!

[Lead image by Flickr user Brad P.]

  1. Some sections really need to be further subdivided. Thankfully, sections can be grouped, so it’s possible to have a section containing other sections. For example, in my Rank and Tenure notebook, I have a section group called “Teaching.” In that group are sections labeled “Course development,” “Teaching evaluations,” and “Syllabi.” ??

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My latest at ProfHacker: Switching from Evernote to OneNote, part 1

Book with notes flagged on pagesLast month, Jason alerted readers to Evernote’s recent price hike. It’s a hefty increase (for Premium users, from $49.99/year to $69.99).

I’m a longtime user of Evernote, and have found it very powerful for organizing information and locating it quickly. (I took the time a few years ago to go through my notes, winnow them, and organize them using the system Michael Hyatt describes in this post from a couple of years ago.) I’ve found the software so powerful that, for a number of years, I’ve paid for a Premium subscription and never regretted it.

But — a $20/year increase? That’s a 40% hike, and it’s prompted me to make the move to one of the options Jason mentioned: Microsoft’s OneNote.

This isn’t a decision I’ve made lightly; there’s a significant cost of time and effort involved in making the switch. I had to consider carefully whether that cost was worth the $20 yearly savings. (I’ll recommend a more recent post of Mr. Hyatt’s, “The High Cost of Shortsighted Frugality,” to readers for their consideration.)

Why did I come to the conclusion that the costs of switching were worth it for me? There are a number of reasons:

  • Evernote’s Premium subscription is a recurring cost. If the extra $20 were a one-off cost, I likely wouldn’t bother switching, at least not at this point. But making the switch adds up to more significant savings over time.
  • As much as I love Evernote, there are things that I’ve long wished it had that OneNote does, such as the ability to organize notes into tabs (great for keeping track of class-related items), and the ability to mix a variety of note types on different parts of a single page.
  • OneNote for the Mac still hasn’t quite caught up with OneNote for Windows, but it’s come a long way. (The most significant recent change for me is the addition of page templates.)
  • OneNote doesn’t cost anything, at least as long as your total OneDrive storage doesn’t exceed 25GB. Right now I’m well under that, even after transferring the entire content of my Evernote account to OneNote. So it’s not just the additional $20 per year that I’ll be saving. I’ll be freeing up an additional $49.99 each year. Over time, that adds up.

It’s the combination of these factors that convinced me it’s time to switch to OneNote. Any one of them alone wouldn’t have been sufficient.

That’s the why. In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about the how.

Are you an Evernote user? Will you be sticking with Evernote, or switching to some other service? What factors are important to you in making the decision?

[Lead image by Flickr user Brad P.]

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My latest at ProfHacker: Tools for an Effective Workflow

Flowing waterMany of us have favorite tools that suit our workflows well, helping us accomplish our tasks and keep track of needed bits of information. Below you’ll find a list of applications, services, and utilities that I use almost daily.

  1. Workflow. I a big fan of ToDoist, my preferred Task Manager. For the way I work, it’s a better option than Apple’s Reminders. The catch is that it doesn’t integrate with Siri, which is really handy for adding items on the go. To get around that problem, I use the workflow Henry Bourne describes here. I can use Siri to create tasks on the go during the day, then just run the workflow once each evening to send those tasks to ToDoist.
  2. Thanks to Lincoln’s introductions to Markdown and Pandoc, I do most of my writing in plain text these days (my preferred editor is Sublime Text 3). But I also like to keep a copy of my work in Evernote, so that it’s easily searchable. That makes the Evernote package for Sublime 3 really useful for me.
  3. I like to keep up on news of all sorts, and Reeder, makes it simple to find the most important stories for me to read each day. It’s very easy to share items that I want to save for reference to Evernote, or to Pocket for things that I don’t have time to read at the moment, but want to read later. If I find something worth sharing, I can quickly send it to Twitter or Facebook.

  4. I don’t like getting work-related emails late in the evenings or on weekends, and I suspect my colleagues don’t, either. Sometimes, though, I need to send an email, and it’s most efficient for me to write it while I’m thinking about it (otherwise, I’ll have to take time to add it to my to-do list with a reminder and the time to write it!). So I use RightInbox to schedule such messages to be sent at the beginning of the next business day.

  5. Text expansion is a wonderful thing (something we’ve noted here before). I do a lot of typing and there are some blocks of text (e.g., paper marking comments, routine emails to users of a WordPress installation that I manage) that I need to use repeatedly. TypeIt4Me is great for calling up those snippets of text with just a few keystrokes. (I soured on TextExpander after their recent move to a subscription model.)

  6. Finally, I like to make sure my personal website has new content on a fairly regular basis, but I don’t currently have a lot of time to create that content. An IFTTT recipe ensures my ProfHacker posts get cross-posted to my own site.

What tools help you manage your workflow effectively? Let us know in the comments.

CC-licensed image by Flickr user SB Archer

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My latest at ProfHacker: Through Another’s Eyes: Troubleshooting with User Switching

Two different views of the same objectLast week, I introduced readers to Installatron, a tool that’s very useful for backing up and cloning WordPress installations. This week’s post continues the WordPress thread.

Many of us who use WordPress use it for maintaining a personal website and/or a professional portfolio; we’re the only users registered on our sites.

Others, however, use WordPress for course sites to which they invite students to contribute, or maintain a Multisite installation. They may have a lot of users. Adminsistrators will need to set user roles appropriately, but once that’s done, users can take care of such things as resetting their own password should they forget it. There’s all kinds of good WordPress documentation available online, and those inviting students to contribute to a site generally provide explicit instructions not only about what to contribute, but also how to contribute.

But even when those instructions are well-written and illustrated, things can go wrong. Sometimes, what a user sees in her dashboard doesn’t look like what’s found in the documentation — and, since the administrator has (or should have!) a different role than the user, she may not be able to reproduce the user’s problem.

To troubleshoot the problem for the user, it may be essential for the administrator to be able to see the dashboard as the user sees it. That’s where the User Switching plugin can come in really handy. It lets administrators (and Super Admins for Multisite installs) easily switch to a user’s account (without revealing the user’s password).

I’ve found this plugin invaluable for troubleshooting. On a Multisite installation I run, it let me help a student figure out why her site didn’t look the way she’d intended (she’d created a menu, but not activated it). On another setup, it helped me figure out why a user’s dashboard didn’t look the way it was supposed to (I’d assigned her the wrong user role).

What are your favorite plugins for working effectively with WordPress? Please share in the comments.

[CC-licensed image by Flickr user Blondinrikard Fröberg]

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