Saturday, August 18, 2012

There's an App for That

Another in a continuing series of blog entries on Thailand and preparations for my move. 

My main photo processing software is Lightroom, an application I've written about a couple of times. For the photojournalist in the field it does everything I need and more. But Lightroom is not the only application on my Macs.

I'm not a writer, but I sometimes have to write. Word processing and writing needs are handled by Pages, Apple's word processing app and a part of the iWork suite. Pages is fast, stable and complete. For a one person operation, it's perfect. It exports files as a Microsoft Word document, so when I'm writing for a client that wants Word files, I write in Pages and then export the finished piece to Word, formatting intact. Pages also opens Word files (there may be some formatting inconsistencies, ymmv) so you can share documents easily with others.

My spreadsheet requirements, which are very basic, are handled by Numbers, Apple's spreadsheet app and a part of the iWork suite. I don't think Numbers is quite as complete as Pages, but it's fast and easy, not something you can say about Excel. Numbers opens and exports .xls files, so it's compatible with Excel. I never had any issues with Numbers but heavy duty spreadsheet users might. When I was working at the Arizona Republic and doing a lot of driving, our mileage reports were submitted on an Excel spreadsheet. I converted mine to Numbers and used it for the last three years I worked at the paper and never had a problem.

I transmit photos to clients using ftp, File Transfer Protocol. My ftp client of choice is Transmit by Panic Software. I can't say enough about Transmit. There are lots of ftp clients, some free, some cheap. Transmit is $34 - definitely not free and not really cheap. But for $34 you get rock solid reliability from a company that has been developing for the Mac for a very long time. I've been using Transmit since version 1. It's one of the first pieces of software I install on a new computer. I've dabbled with other photo processing applications (including Aperture), tried other word processors and even used Excel for a while. I've never even thought about using another ftp client.

I have a bunch of note taking apps. I use them for pre-writing captions, which I copy and paste into LR's caption box. I use them for jotting down story ideas and keeping track of progress on projects. Some synch with my iPhone, some don't.

For quick notes I don't need to synch I use SideWriter. I like it because it's fast and always there. It sits out of sight on the side of your monitor (you set the side in the preferences). Pass the cursor over the side of the screen and SideWriter pops out. It doesn't synch across devices, but that's okay for what I use it for. It's available from Apple's App Store.

For notes I synch across devices, I've been using Yojimbo from BareBones. I've been using Yojimbo for years and found it indispensable for sharing notes across computers and tracking projects. When I find something on the internet I want to reference for future use, I copy the story and link to Yojimbo and it's always there. Yojimbo used Apple's now defunct MobileMe service to synch. It doesn't synch with iCloud. BareBones says there's a new version coming that will synch with iCloud but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, there's a work around that requires a DropBox account. I'm using the work around and it's been reliable but I am worried about Yojimbo's future. Yojimbo does not synch with the iPhone, which is becoming more and more of an issue as my iPhone becomes a more important player in my digital life.

I've started using Evernote thinking it could eventually replace Yojimbo. Evernote has its own synching scheme that uses Evernote's servers. It's fast, reliable and free (if you keep your synching to under 65MB per month). I still prefer Yojimbo (for one thing you can store passwords and serial numbers in Yojimbo and the files can be encrypted), while this is possible in Evernote, it's not as elegant or thoughtfully implemented. There are some technical differences in how the two programs store data that get into database types and stuff I don't understand. The important thing is that they work. Six months ago, I would have suggested the use of Yojimbo but its cloudy future (and lack of iPhone support) puts it in a less favorable light.

Despite what people think, spelling counts. I use SpellCatcher to catch my spelling. I've been using it for more than 15 years, since it was called Thunder 7 (circa 1994). Photographers are notoriously bad spellers and Thunder 7 created the illusion that I could spell properly. It's set up can be a little weird and the licensing is a little more complicated than most of the apps I use but once it's running you're set. It seems to interact with the computer's OS at a pretty root level, which may account for some of the set up weirdness. Like Transmit, SpellCatcher is one of the first pieces of software I install on a new computer.

I still have Photoshop on my computers but I've quit updating it (I'm still using CS4). I don't use Photoshop for day to day work and I'm basically phasing it out. I do all of my raw file processing in Lightroom. I only use Photoshop and Bridge when I have to change the metadata in JPEGs.

I'm starting to use Pixelmator for more and more of my JPEG processing. It's fast, fun, doesn't use too much of the computer's resources (compared to Photoshop) and cheap ($15 in the app store). There are a couple of knocks against Pixelmator as a complete Photoshop replacement for photojournalists.

It doesn't support IPTC metadata, so you can't write or edit captions. And it doesn't have a very good browser, so you'll need some kind of browser to look for photos. Those knocks are fatal for JPEG shooters (because selecting, sorting and captioning are the most important steps in photo editing) but for raw shooters who use Lightroom (or Aperture) and need something for quick JPEG editing, the flaws are a serious inconvenience but not fatal.

Safari is my main web browser. I use Chrome from time to time because it better implements Adobe's system hog, Flash. I keep Firefox on my computers and up to date for websites that have problems with Safari and Chrome.

I've parted ways with Apple when it comes to email. I've been using Mail, a part of OS X since I switched to OS X. Last year's upgrade to Lion caused all sorts of problems with my .mac email though and it wasn't just me - Apple's support forums lit up with people having problems with Lion and email.

In a moment of desperation I tried Postbox, another email client, and my problems were just a memory. Postbox is a very good email client. It's built on Mozilla's Thunderbird. From time to time I've started Mail to see if I'm missing anything and it doesn't look like I am.

I still have small unexplainable problems with Mail. It didn't work in Vietnam. It wouldn't send or receive, instead showing an error message that Mail couldn't communicate with the server. For whatever reason, Postbox worked every time.

Pricing on Postbox has been all over the map. It was $29 when I first bought it, then it went down to $19, then back up to $29. Now it's at $9.99, a great price for a very solid email client. It used to be available in the App Store but it's been pulled by the developer, so you can pick it up at the Postbox website. A demo is available and there's also an explanation as to why  Postbox was pulled from the App Store.

In addition to these "serious" applications, there are a bunch of utilities I find handy. They include:
1) TotalFinder - brings tabs to the Finder. I like it a lot.
2) Default Folder - helps me navigate the hard drive when I'm opening or saving documents.
3) Fantastical - a very cool menu bar app that lets me enter appointments into Calendar without opening Calendar (which used to be iCal).
4) TextExpander - nearly as important as SpellCatcher, TextExpander is a text replacement application. Create an abbreviation, type the abbreviation and TextExpander replaces it with the full word (or sentence) you've set it up to. This is great for sports for example. Create an abbreviation, say azd8 for Arizona Diamondbacks' Gerardo Parra (who wears #8). Type azd8 and TextExpander will replace azd8 with "Gerardo Parra." Pretty slick. Creating the abbreviations can be a fair amount of work, but it's a one time thing and it's an incredible time saver once you're done.
5) Hiss - a slick little app that pushes Growl notifications into Apple's Notifications Center. It's still in beta, but it's been stable on my computers and it's free.

That's a rundown of the apps I use the most. Some I use everyday (Postbox, Safari, Spellcatcher and Lightroom). Some I only use when I need to (Pages, Numbers), but they all have a place in my digital toolbox.

Finally, I am running Mac OS 10.8 Mountain Lion on my Macs. My applications have been updated to the latest versions.

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