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Accolades.

So I don’t talk about work a lot here on this blog. I usually speak in the vaguest of terms so that nothing can be held against me in the future. But the truth of the matter is, I work for a Fortune 500 Technology company. Said company has its roots in traditional telecommunications; at one time it would have been called “the telephone company” (but it’s not THE telephone company that Ernestine worked for).

I’m the Lead Developer and Staff Manager of a team of nine very capable individuals. Seven of them work for the company and two of them are off-shore contractors working on projects along with the core team through the end of the year. Our official team moniker includes “Tools and Automation”. We write web-based applications to bring a cohesiveness to very dissimilar software applications in use throughout the company. Our tools touch all parts of the company: service and support, order processing, order entry, and communicating with third party providers. It’s a very challenging position with some wonderful opportunities. Our automation and tools make an impact to literally thousands of employees in the company, which in turn improves the customer experience. Writing this makes me realize that I indeed feel like I’m making a difference.

The company has endured its ups and downs over the years. Budgets are occasionally leaner at point A on the timeline versus what we can do at point Z. However, the company tries to make working a pleasant experience within the confines of budgets. We now get an extra week of vacation at three years instead of the traditional five. Tech start-up niceties have been installed in the offices; nicer cafeterias, ping pong tables, and the like. Many have an option to work from home. There’s a strong “remote employee” culture as well; I’m one of the folks who’s official office is actually at home. The company also focuses on Employee Engagement.

Every quarter, a handful of employees are recognized as “MVP Employees”. With the award comes a cash bonus and an extra day of vacation. I was selected as one of the MVPs for this past quarter.

It’s nice to be recognized for the work I’m doing as well as the work my team is doing. For all the extra hours that are worked, for the moments of accomplishment and the moments of frustration, it’s a nice feeling to be recognized by the leadership team. In a particularly pressing time in the realm of deadlines and expectations, it was quite nice to receive the recognition.

It was the morale boost I needed. I once again feel like I can conquer the world.

Listen.

Growing up I loved sitting on the screened in porch on the back of the house. It sat about 25 feet from the woods and it was peaceful and quiet. Breezes from Lake Ontario would make their way inland and they’d be accompanied by crickets and frogs making noise and the sounds of an approaching train way off in the distance. The cats would strategically place themselves about the back lawn, our dog would settle in under her house for the night. It was summertime and it was peaceful. I loved it.

Fast forward 38 years and I’m sitting on the balcony on our fifth floor condo in the city of Chicago. The breezes are blowing from Lake Michigan. The rumble of the ‘L’ visits periodically. Overhead lights indicate passengers on their way to and from O’Hare and farther in the distance, Midway. The ambience is different. The sounds are different. The vibe is more electric but I feel very relaxed.

Growing up I always loved being home because it was home. I still feel the same way. The place is different and I’ve moved from a little bit country to a little bit rock ‘n roll, but I love being home because it’s home.

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SnazzyLabs: macOS Tricks

As a Mac boy I’m always looking for exciting ways to trick out my macOS experience and be super geeky. Quinn Nelson @SnazzyQ (Twitter), who produces excellent, information tech videos, has some super cool tricks for macOS in his latest video.

Have fun!

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The iTunes Conundrum.

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This is one of my very first iTunes purchases. If you’re not seeing the image above, I’m referring to “What Did I Do To You?” by Lisa Stansfield. It’s the original album version, which encompasses the complete “vision” Ms. Stansfield had for the track. It was purchased in 2003 using my old iTunes username (I don’t think we called them Apple IDs back then). I’ve been looking for the track for ages and was deleted when I finally found it on a backup CD-R with “2004 backup” scrawled in Sharpie across the label side of the CD.

Eager to listen to this track again, I fired up an old iMac and imported the file into iTunes. I was prompted for the password of that forgotten account. Unbelievably, I remembered the password. The file was imported successfully but with a few caveats.

* iTunes Match wouldn’t recognize the track
* I couldn’t add it to a playlist
* The track would propagate to my other Apple devices. No iPhone, no iPad, No MacBook Pro.

I ended up copying the file by hand, using Dropbox, to my MacBook Pro. I imported it there as well after going through the password rigamarole.

Hunting around in Finder, I found the actual file and discovered that it was an m4p file, Apple’s old proprietary format that has DRM (Digital Rights Management) built into it. I converted all of my m4p files to m4a years ago using the iTunes Match service. The track is apparently not available in Apple Music today, as I can only find the edited down 7-inch version. Clicking on “Add to My Library” makes iTunes crabby.

I really want this song to be included throughout my Apple devices. It’s suppose to “just work”, right? Does anyone know how to get this song to become part of a playlist in iTunes? How do I convert it to a friendlier format without spending $40 on a piece of software that I’m going to use only once?

I know that I’m a huge Apple geek, but I’m at a loss on this one. If you have any suggestions (other than telling me to get Windows or something), please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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Paperless.

One of my goals in 2015 is to have a neat, well-organized office both at home and at work. This is my part of a greater effort to reduce clutter from my life in general, but I figured the offices was a good place to start. With the reduction of clutter, I am aiming to take another step toward going paperless.

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I have been on a paperless kick for years. When I worked for DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the goals of the company was to bring the paperless office to fruition. As the second largest computer company in the world at the time, it seemed like they had the might to do it, but they stumbled and the company was eventually scooped up by Compaq, which in turn was scooped up by HP. I did learn a lot about the paperless office and today’s technology has made it easier than ever to achieve this goal.

I have three main parts to my approach. Now remember, I am an Apple dude but I always look for ways to use my tools cross-platform. Two out of three of these tools are able to be used on Mac, Linux and Windows:

After messing around with plain text files, Apple’s Notes and Microsoft OneNote, I have re-embraced Evernote as my “Vault”. If I want to write something down, I put it in Evernote. If I need to give Earl a receipt (as he does the accounting in our merry little household) for a gas purchase, I snap a photo of the gas pump with Evernote. If I find a little tidbit online that I find interesting, it’s in Evernote. All of my meeting notes, project plans and doodling of ideas for work are stored in Evernote. In fact, this what I worked on accomplishing this morning: scanning all of my handwritten notes and such into Evernote. An iOS app called Scannable gives me the ability to scan a document and easily import it into my Evernote and/or share it with whomever I’d like with plenty of sharing options (email, etc). The crumpled up receipt from the car wash turns into a decent looking document using Scannable.

Evernote also let’s me search on keywords, tags or whatever, so finding things is a snap. It takes me about five minutes a day, usually at the end of my workday, to organize everything I’ve captured into Evernote through the course of a workday into my little buckets I’ve created for myself. Approaching my notes at work this way also affords me the opportunity of readdressing my notes as second time, which lends to me remembering things a little better.

Dropbox is my file vault. The application is basically an extra folder on my computer, which syncs with the cloud whenever a change is made. Any computer that has access to that Dropbox folder, including mobile devices, instantly has access to that file. It’s a great way to save backups of your stuff and it’s a great way to access your stuff from anywhere.

Originally I was keeping everything in my Dropbox, however, I decided to favor Evernote because of the improvements they’ve made to the Evernote interface and because I can group similar things together in one document, especially at work, for example, if there’s an attachment on a meeting invite, I can drag that to my meeting notes I’ve typed up and everything is together in one place. I like this much better than using folders in Dropbox.

OmniFocus, the Mac-only application from the Omni Group, is a very robust productivity application. While a glorified “to do” list, OmniFocus’ flexibility is amazing. Based on the GTD or “Getting Things Done” approach to productivity, I’ve been using OmniFocus for a number of years (it was originally a goal of 2011) and I can say that I have been better organized and less stressed since adopting my own spin on GTD with OmniFocus. Anything I have to do, I throw it in OmniFocus and like cleaning out my Evernote Inbox everyday, I spend a few moments each day reviewing my OmniFocus Inbox and curate each item so that I have a clear understanding of what I have to do and what I want to do.

Walking into a clean office has done wonders for my mood and I’m happy that I’ve reached this first part of this goal that I set for myself in 2015. I’m determined to not leave my well-being to the fates this year, and every little step in a positive direction has done wonders for my mood.

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iTip: Find My Friends.

Find-My-Friends

Earl and I use Find My Friends on our iPhones quite frequently, including when I’m out on a long distance cycling adventure, he uses the app to find my whereabouts when I’m ready to be picked up. Since upgrading our iPhones to iOS7, Find My Friends’ functionality has been spotty at best.

This irritates me.

I think I have found a solution to the problem via the Apple Forums. I know that others are having issues with Find My Friends (Erik, Mark), perhaps they will find this helpful as well.

The suggestions in the forum post I have quoted below worked for me, but I needed to have the Find My Friends app running in order to make these things work. Once I got everything set the way it’s described below, it stayed that way.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION
(or at least something that some people may have overlooked)

In iOS 7, if Find My Friends is working for you WHEN THE APP IS RUNNING, i.e. you can see the Locations of family members and they can see you as long as everyone has the App running, BUT it doesn’t work once the App is closed (or wasn’t launched since the last restart,) then check the following:

Make sure the app is listed in Background App Refresh under Settings > General … In my case the FMF App was NOT listed there. I chatted at length with an Apple Support Rep trying various things (reboots, Airplane Mode on and off, etc.) She was unable to explain to me how Apps qualify to show up in that list, or how to get an App onto the list. What finally worked for me was DELETING the Find My Friends App and then reinstalling it from the App Store (Purchases.) It then showed up in the Background App Refresh List, I confirmed it was turned On, and FMF instantly started working as expected! I was afraid I would have to re-enter Follower information or re-send Invitations to Friends after reinstalling, but those settings were retained.

Note: I also happened to update to iOS 7.0.2 earlier today, so I’m not sure if that mattered or not.

Find My Friends also MUST be listed under Settings > Privacy > Location Services, and must be turned On, obviously.

When upgrading an iPhone there are lots of things to do, so it’s easy to answer a screen prompt about Location Services or Background App Refresh the “incorrect” way (at least incorrect with respect to Find My Friends working properly.) Sometimes it’s not easy to go back and find the specific Setting where that function is adjusted…

I hope this information helps other families get FMF working for their devices. Ours are all now working reliably.

Revert.

Photo on 6-12-13 at 8.29 PM

Somebody switched his iPhone 5 back to iOS 6. While I’m probably not allowed to say much of this because of developer agreements, I will tell you that when iOS 7 is released this autumn it is going to be awesome and people will love it. It will definitely breathe new life into your iDevice.

That being said, as expected, beta 1 is not ready for primetime yet. It’s the start of something great, but I can’t use it on my main iPhone right now. It’s too unstable for my needs. All of that is OK and expected. What I kind of didn’t expect was not being able to restore my iCloud backup to iOS 6. So I just finished reverting my phone back to the latest “real” version of iOS and then manually setting it up to my liking. I had to download all of my apps one by one again.

My phone is flying in regards to speed. I’m a very happy camper.

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Macboy.


So the keynote speech from Apple’s WWDC is less than an hour away. As a geek, and more importantly, as a nearly rabid Apple fanboy (I admit it!), I’m not only excited but I am über excited to see what Apple will be talking about during this keynote speech. Expected topics include announcements of a new version of iOS for the iPhone/iPad/iPod (iOS 7) which reportedly will have a new, “flatter” look to it and a new version of OS X. OS X has traditionally been named after “big cats”, but banners seen at the Moscone Center in San Francisco show a big ocean wave, so my guess is “Sea Lion”, but we’ll see.

The “DC” in WWDC stands for “Developer’s Conference”, so this is traditionally where Apple shares what’s coming up for their various computing platforms. While updates to Apple hardware aren’t out of the question, there probably won’t be some six-inch iPhone 6 coming out, but on the safe side, Earl and I have held off on adding a new iPad to the MacInHouse before hearing what is announced today.

I can’t wait to see what Apple announces today.

Speaking of iPads, I have been giving some serious consideration to making my iPad my main computing device. My MacBook Pro is from 2008 and the iMac is from 2009 (the work MacBook Pro from 2010 doesn’t count) and lately I have been finding that much of what I want to do can be accomplished on my iPad, especially when teamed up with my keyboard from The Brydge. Earl has expressed an interest in getting a full-sized iPad for work purposes, so there has been talk about shuffling some iDevices in the family around so that I can get an iPad with more storage. Only time will tell.

Less than 45 minutes until the big keynote! I’ll probably blog more about it later today. Who am I kidding, of course I will! In the meantime, I’ll make popcorn to snack on for the big event, which will be on in the corner as I work on my work stuff from my home office.

Omm.

There are many things that I would like to write about, but it seems that I never find the time to sit down and do it. There’s always something to distract me; a YouTube video pops into my head, someone updates their Facebook account and a little notification pops up on the screen, I get in the mood for porn. In this hectic online experience that we all experience today, in a world where we truly want to be creative, we can’t be. At least I can’t be. I don’t know if it’s really, truly ADHD or if I’m just suffering from genuine technological stimulus overload, but when I want to be the most creative is when I’m distracted the most.

I like writing. Over the past year or so I have gotten in the habit of writing in very short spurts of prose. 150 characters here, a few sentences there. I blame Twitter for this, it has put me in the habit of writing in as close to 140 characters per thought as I can. This is rather unfortunate. I sometimes wonder if this has contributed to my occasional challenge of articulating myself, whether I stammer or stutter my words or even forget my train of thought or random words of the English language from time to time. This occasionally happens. I find it embarrassing. I don’t have this issue when I sit down and write.

The reason I am writing a little more than usual today and actually the motivation for this line of thought is because I downloaded a minimalist word processing program on to my MacBook Pro. It is called Ommwriter Dana II. At $4.99, it seems like a good bargain. It gives me a stark, white screen with a few peaceful looking trees on it. As I’m typing, I wear my headphones and hear Eastern type music that is suppose to be motivating and inspiring for me. There are a lot of chimes and windy like sounds. The usual word processing features that one uses the most, font selection, margins, etc., is all here, I just don’t have any windows or icons or anything like that distracting me to look at the latest YouTube video that feeds the thought that is currently drifting in my head. With Ommwriter, I don’t feel like I need to take a break and look at a Wikipedia article on Sandy Duncan (I love her, by the way) or listen to the latest track by Kylie Minogue. I am concentrating on the words I am writing and hopefully, finding a better path to good articulation. When I am done writing this blog entry using Ommwriter, I can simply cut and paste it into my blogging software.

One of the things that we are missing in this multitasking, multi-windowed computing environment is focus. Well at least I am. Back in the days of the green cursor flashing next to the prompt on the black Unix screen or your favorite DOS prompt, we focused on one task at a time on the computer. And it was kind of cool. We focused on the task at hand. I think this lack of multitasking ability gave us the opportunity to carry this one-task focus into our everyday lives, like the “good ol’ days” used to be, when Beaver walked home from school with his friend Larry. They talked, examined a few things along the way, but they were there in the present and current location; they wouldn’t know what Wally was doing at college without a phone call, they didn’t get status updates on a smartphone.

My ability to focus has gone to crap and I will be the first to admit that. And I know that using Ommwriter is not going to change my life or change the world. But at least it gives me a tool to use technology for what I want to do, and that is focus on each moment, in each place for what it is.

We are having a wonderful weekend in Chicago and I will be writing about our experiences when the time is right. We are relaxing and enjoying each moment.

And it feels good.

Tracked.

Apple addressed the iPhone tracking issue that’s been a hot topic lately. If you want to read their response to this, you can take a look here.