To Do Management with Evernote

The title of this post is grand, perhaps too grand.  It's really just a simple change I've made recently as part of my paperless office drive (which really should be called a simplify your life drive).

One of my torments has been todo lists.  While I generally am pretty good at using them it drives me batty that I don't have a consistent way to keep track of them.

At work I've used Outlook to-do's a lot but they are generally unavailable at home.  At home I've tried the built in mail to-dos as well as various services such as remember the milk and the ilk but I never found a solution that worked for me consistently everywhere.

Before I go too much further I should explain that the way I do tasks lists/todos is they tend to be associated with a bunch of other media -- For instance if I get a bill I need to call about during the week I'll scan it in (with my SnapScan of course) so I have a copy to refer to when I call.  Or I might have a screenshot or just a bunch of notes.

I've settled on a solution in the last 3-4 weeks that really seems to be working for me.  Evernote.

I have two notebooks, one is called 'ToDo' and one is could "Closed out ToDos" - I simply put notes in the "ToDo" list and drag them out to "Closed Out" when I'm done.

This is tremendous because notes in Evernote can contain Rich text, images, PDF's and any other sort of file so I can toss any any supporting items to my todo.   As I make progress on it I can also make notes on where I am and when it's closed I can archive it for posterity sake.

Since I have Evernote everywhere (phone, work, home and web) I can always get access to work on them or close them out.

The key to this working is I have Evernote open all the time anyway so it's not a new tool I need to get into -- It's the tool I already use.
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In defense of the app store process

I'll admit it -- I've been (privately) pretty down on the app store process.  After my first app was released (MovieFlick) I swore never again as the pain of trying to push out updates was too much.

I eventually did a second app (DreamApp).  The 1.3 version has been about two months getting out and I was ready to explode today when I got what I thought was another rejection but it all worked out fine.

My first release of 1.3 had a real problem with new user accounts that I never tested and the Apple team found it so although it's frustrating to wait 3 weeks to find out they did a good job of finding a real problem.

My second submit was rejected for using 'undocumented API's'  -- you may have heard that Apple has a new static analysis tool for finding usage of non supported API's and my app was caught in that.  It turns out that one of the libraries I use did have calls to unsupported API's but only for testing purposes (of the framework) - I never actually used them in my code.

grumble, grumble ok submit again… Tonight I got *another* letter about unsupported API's and I was about to explode but then something odd happened…. I got an email saying 'Your app is now for sale'.

It turns out the third letter pointed out the use of a non supported api (NSHost hostWithName) but instead of rejecting it they said "We'll let it go but please fix it for the next release" -- When I first read it I hadn't noticed that fine print but true to their word it's now available.

So in this era of dog piling on top of Apple and the app store process I have to get them some credit for being pragmatic about this… They made a decision to release it but asked nicely for me to fix it next time.


ScanSnap Safety Tips part deux

A video summary of ScanSnap safety issues

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Scansnap Safety Tips

My ScanSnap arrived today (I'll write up about it later) but with it came a 50 page 'safety precautions' book.  It struck me as odd because I couldn't imagine that scanning was a particularly dangerous activity.

Boy was I wrong.  I'm really glad I decided to read the book as there are a number of really good safety tips including:

  • Don't use scansnap while driving a car
  • When handling documents be careful not to cut your fingers
  • When carrying the ScanSnap outside avoid rain and snow
  • Avoid getting a necktie caught in the scansnap
That's just a few of them -- I wish I had known how dangerous this would be before I purchased the ScanSnap

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Going paperless

My wife and I were cleaning our house this weekend and it struck me just how many piles of paper we had.  For lots of good reasons you get paper and want to keep it (sometimes it has important info, sometimes it's a keepsake) but I was shocked by how cluttered our house was by the various bits (including copies of bills long paid, expired coupons, etc.) 

Even after brutally going through and recycling there were still lots of stuff we 'had to keep'.  I made a decision this weekend to see if I could transition my household to be largely paperless.

My first step started with a purchase and a change in bill paying:

My purchase was a Fujitsu SnapScan s1500m -- I've seen Fujitsu at Mac world for several years and while I've always kind of liked the idea the price (~$404 at Amazon) was always more than I wanted to pay.  That changed when I spent almost an hour trying to scan in documents with my trusty HP all in one.  The HP is fine for a few items but for any kind of volume it's pretty horrible -- It's slow and can't reliably feed more than a few sheets at a time.

I'm hoping the Fujitsu SnapScan fixes all of that.  My plan is to shove everything I can find that I don't want deleted in there and pdf it up.  For some of the docs I'll keep them in Evernote but for most of them I'll probably just store them away (maybe archive them off every year or so)

For bill pay I enabled a feature that's been on my account for a while.  I switched from Quicken for the PC to doing finances online recently and as part of the switch I went to web based bill pay  -- One feature of online bill pay is they can send the bill directly to your account and you can view & pay online (no more paper -- Get rid of it at the source!)

I'll report back in a few weeks on how things are going..


Even Easier Scanning into Evernote

In my last post I showed a easy way to get images from Image Capture into Evernote.  While that worked great it had one problem:  Image Captured tends to 'forget' the selected application and you need to go find it again.

Fortunately there is an even easier way to integrate Evernote into Image Capture using Automator to create a 'real' Image Capture plugin. (and finally, I get to use Automator for something real!)

Setup is quite easy:  Run Automator and select new 'Image Capture Plugin' .

Then add a single item to the flow -- Run Applescript with the following applescript.

on run {input, parameters}
tell application "Evernote"
create note from file input
end tell
return input
end run

Save it to to the default location and call it something like 'Evernote' and Voila, it shows up in Image capture as a first class citizen (and will never disappear).  Note that this is for Snow Leopard (10.6) - I don't know how if or how this trick will work on earlier version of OS X.

Even Easier!

Scanning Into Evernote with Image Capture

I've got a funny history with Evernote -- Around the time Microsoft came out with One Note, a small company started making something called Evernote.  I actually preferred Evernote over One note but in reality I didn't use either of them much because the data was stuck on one computer.

Since then I've gone through lots of these (Yojimbo, Circus Ponies Notebook, etc.) and while I love the concept I've always given up since my life is just too dynamic.  

I spend a lot of time at work on a PC, then I come home to a Mac but on the road it's all iPhone baby.  With the amazingly good syncing of Evernote and the great native clients (not to mention the web) I've really started to rely on Evernote.

One thing I've started to do a lot of is scanning documents -- A typical use case is I'll be doing bills on a Sunday night and realize I need to call someone during business hours (say to get something corrected or ask a question).  I've started scanning the bill into Evernote, adding a few quick comments and add it to Evernote.

The sync in Evernote works so well that I don't even think about it anymore -- I just add it and forget about it.  Monday morning when I get to work the info is right there and I can make the call to fix the problem (and if it's complicated I can keep a running log of discussions in that note -- Since it includes the original bill I've got it all in one spot -- A lifesaver if you are dealing with insurance companies!)

The one thing that Didn't work as well as I would like was getting the scan into Evernote in the first place.  I would:

  1. Open Image Capture
  2. Scan to PDF
  3. Drag PDF to evernote
  4. Add comments
Fortunately there is a better way (in Snow Leopard anyway) -- It's also dead-easy to set up.  As a one time step step you have to select the 'scan to' drop down in image capture and navigate to the Applications directory and select Evernote.  It will then show up in the drop down (like iPhoto, preview & Mail do by default) -- It becomes a first class citizen in Image capture so you can scan directly into Evernote.  My work flow is now

  1. Open Image Capture & Make sure Evernote is the selected as the Scan To Target (which it is)
  2. Scan and add Comments


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Day with Apple Recap

It was a good, but not great, day.  Apple did their usual very good job of hosting.  The room was comfortable, the food was good, they had nice A/V setups, I got a t-shirt and there was plenty of staff (an amazing amount -- I guess they bring in the retail store employees?)

Sadly there wasn't that much that was new to me -- They billed it as advanced but I would call in intermediate at best (however in fairness I didn't go to the open GL sessions -- I'm sure those would have knocked my socks off)

My biggest complaint?  The amount of high fiving they were giving each other over how great the iPhone is.  Yes, I love my phone but the fact is for the way I use it there are some very capable devices out there that are almost as good (the new 'droid on verizon looks very nice and I still am intrigued by the pre)

At the end of the day you'll still have to pry my iPhone out of my cold dead hands but I can see a day in the not so distant future where there will be lots of choices.

Finaly on the might mouse.  It showed up today and I'm really impressed so far -- I hesitate to say too much until I've used it a few days but so far I'm really liking it.

Going to Apple Thursday (sort of)

Well I'm off to Apple tomorrow (Technically I'm off to the San Jose Mariott).  Approximately every year (usually late fall) Apple holds a series of tech talks.  The last two have been about the iPhone but before that they were about Leopard (before that I'm less certain? Tiger? before my time)

The idea is that as opposed to WWDC which is held in a single location and you have to pay to go to they have a traveling roadshow for one day to hit you with information (and in very uncharacteristic  Apple fashion: It's free)

I went with Isaiah last year and it was overall a pretty good session -- Not anything mind blowing but a nice day with some good information.

The format is one big classroom where they run through approximately 6-8 sessions.  My guess is there will be sessions on Core animation, Open GL, Tools, Core Audio (less sure about that one), Core Data.   Last year Apple bought us box lunches and we got a t-shirt (sadly the shirts were all the same size).

What really excites me is what they may announce  -- Apple doesn't have that many corporate events (let's count: WWDC, Fall Music Announcement, maybe one or two other public press events) so they sometimes uses these forums to make announcements (not huge ones mind, but things relevant to developers)

Here is what I hope (pray) they announce.  An overhaul of the iTunes rating system.  The current one is horribly broken, as a developer it's horribly painful to see people complain of problems and have no way to get a hold of them to help fix it.  I do everything I can to make my support email public but a surprising number of people will just complain in iTunes instead of trying to contact me -- Case in point: About 4 months ago Netflix had a server outage for a weekend…. It didn't effect all apps but it did effect mine so anyone using my app would find a problem.  I actually worked with Netflix engineering over the weekend and by Sunday it was all back up but as you can guess I had a mass of 1 star ratings and 'this app doesn't work, wasted $1.99'.  I was going crazy trying to sort out how to contact them to say "Hey, try it again, it's a server issue that now works" but it's impossible with the current system.

Here is hoping for good news tomorrow...

Two great authors

If you at all enjoy the science fiction genre two authors you must read
All of their books are good but if you've never read them I'd start with "Pandoras Star" (Hamilton) and "A Deepness in the Sky" (Vinge)


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