apple software

I spent some time today digressing from my regular work to see if anyone was working on and iPhone / iPod Touch looping app that works like Ableton Live. I wanted something with variable-length loops and that would play loops as you recorded them. It took me a surprisingly long time to dig Loopy up, so here's my blog post and vote. Here's how Loopy works works:

  • Tap a speaker icon to start recording (no limit to length, afaik - woot!)
  • Tap the icon to stop. It will start to play immediately (if you're familiar with Ableton live, it works the same way)
  • Tap another speaker to start recording the next loop. You can record any length of measures, another woot!
  • There's six tracks (the six speakers you see below), but you can drag one speaker onto another to merge them.
  • If you start recording before the measure starts, it records the lead-in and subtracts the space from the end, if you stop recording before the end of the measure. That's pretty cool, Ableton doesn't even do that.

I love having this in my pocket. Because I have an iPod touch, I also need my headset with mic in my pocket, too, but that's a small price to pay for such uber coolness. On @loopyapp on Twitter, the developer posted a short clip of Imogen Heap using Loopy. That led me to Imogen's web site, which lead me to her YouTube channel, where I got caught up in further digressing from work. What a cool, down-to-earth person she seems to be. Hopefully I run into her at some Tweet-up. Maybe she'll record our conversation and put it in a song...

There are some things about this app that can no doubt be improved, and it seems like the developer, Michael Tyson, is pretty on top of it. It's the kind of app that makes me want to quit my day job and go into iPhone development.

Here's my wish list / gripes:

  • A foot pedal attachment to start and stop recording. I tried my bare big toe to record a guitar track, but it wasn't very reliable. If there could be a full-screen button, then the foot might work. One suggestion in the forum was more practical, to allow the user to set the count-in and length.
  • Every once in a while the sound stops and I have to quit the app and come back.
  • Probably due to the mac headset mic I use, the sound quality is dismal. This app will result in me purchasing yet more fun hardware for my Touch.
  • Setting the tempo seems a little hit and miss. Maybe it's my huge finger.
  • There's some latency, and that is a little annoying. Laying down a couple of ill-concieved beats (I am no beat boxer but have always longed for the prestige that goes along with being one) made it clear that any precise recording would be a challenge.

Overall, wicked cool! Thank you, and I'm looking forward to version 2!

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After getting familiar with the GTD (Getting Things Done) ethos a couple years back, I've spent a disturbing amount of time cobbling together systems for capturing, processing and taking action on my stuff. It hurts to think about all the dead end trails, the false starts and the straw men that kept me from fully embracing a system to free up my head once and for all. A huge part of my problem was committing to a system long enough to figure out if it worked. I've been working off of my current system for a couple months now, and feel more confident with it every day, so I feel like I can document it online without inadvertently sending someone else down a frustrating path.

Capturing ideas

I use a few technologies to capture ideas, depending on what I want to do with it.

Ideas the require action = OmniFocus

I've given several GTD programs test drives, and I end up coming back to OmniFocus. After reading many positive reviews on Things, I tried moved everything over to it and tried it for a few weeks. But it just didn't work with the way I think. I think it projects and sub-projects, which is how you structure OmniFocus. Things relies on tagging, which is a simple concept but doesn't map well to my mind. It was also difficult to get the perspectives I wanted on my actions.

I also use OmniFocus on my iPod touch to capture an action when I'm away from my computer.

Ideas that I can flesh out right now = Evernote

In the past, I've used hierarchical lists or individual text files for this. The problem with that is that I have to think about what to name the files and where they should go, or I get one huge file that seems a unwieldy really fast. I tried OmniOutliner for w while for this, and it worked reasonably well, but I ended up spending way to much time structuring it. Evernote lets me start fleshing something out immediately, and I don't think about where it should belong, since the search works so fast. Since it's got some rich text, I can still do some hierarchical lists when I need to, or I can just stream-of-consciousness it.

Like OmniFocus, I use the iPhone version of Evernote when I'm out and about. For example, the other night I went out on a date with my wife and I kept running into little things I wanted to remember. I kept a new note open in Evernote and jotted things down with my one hand. Call me corny, but the iPod touch is perfect because you don't have to kill the mood by withdrawing your hand from your significant other's to take a note.

Stuff that might be useful or entertaining to someone else = Ecto and Twitter

If the item I want to share is quick, I tweet it. If it's going to take some time, I create a placeholder for a blog entry in Ecto. If I have time, I might write the entry immediately, but if I want to put a pin in it for later I'll just add a descriptive title and maybe a little brain-dump for the text. This blog entry is an example of one of those.

Working out stuff on the inside = Journal.txt

While it isn't often mentioned in the genre of productivity, I think it's worth mentioning that sometimes there are things that you need to think through, things that are bugging you and getting in the way of doing what you really want to do but that are also really hard to put a finger on. I find the best way to work this stuff out is to just start writing, stream-of-consciousness style. I've got a text file so I don't even have to think about formatting, and I just start typing. Without fail, a session with journal.txt leaves me more free and ultimately more productive.

Deciding what to do next

After capturing, the next part of GTD is about deciding what to do and doing it. The idea is that you should be able to re-evaluate your actions on a regular basis so you don't end up wasting time on stuff that doesn't get you closer to where you want to be, and that this evaluation process should be painless, even pleasurable.

Evaluation = OmniFocus

The first thing I will normally do switch to OmniFocus, and review my next actions. I have a list of daily activities which trigger stuff like clearing my e-mail, checking my calendar, petting the cat, that kind of thing. As I go through the process, I might flag certain actions or arrange their due dates to accurately reflect what I want to do.

Execution = OmniFocus or Evernote

The most important part of an effective day for me is having a list of prioritized actions to work from. It allows me to stay focused on stuff instead of continually re-evaluating what I should do next. I'll create this list either by flagging items in OmniFocus, or by creating a bulleted list in Evernote. If I need to think through my priorities, I'll do a stream-of-consciousness on Evernote.

Execution of time-sensitive stuff = Cell phone

My $20 cell phone is the most reliable method for reminders because it's always in my pocket and it works on vibrate mode, so it will alert me even in loud areas. When I add something to my calendar I need to be reminded of, I'll also add an entry to my cell phone. Knowing I have a fail-safe method for timely reminders does a lot for my mental well-being, and it's worth the double-entry.



I spent an hour or so testing out some different ways of ripping songs from someone else's iPod onto my mac for the purposes of wedding entertainment. The best tool I found was installing MacFuse, then iPod Disk. After installing, the iPod will show up as a mounted disk, and you can browse files by artist, album or genre, just like on the iPod. When it worked, it worked well, but it also crashed a few times (sometimes bringing Finder along with it) and I had to restart to get it recognized again.



Recently, I conducted a number of in-depth interviews with members of our company to get a fix on the current status of our project, and to gather any research had been done in our market so that I could share it with other team members. The process was really interesting, and something I'd advocate for anyone who feels like their team has maybe become a little disconnected from one another. Here's a quick list of the technology I used for folks who might also be conducting remote in-depth interviews they will need to review later.

  • The interviews were conducted over Skype, partly because I use Skype as my business line, but also so I could run the sound streams through recording software directly.
  • I used WireTap Studio (recently purchased as part of the MacHeist bundle) to record two streams during the inverview, one from my USB headset mic and other from Skype itself
  • After the interviews, I listened to each one and transcribed pertinent parts to text. I tested several options for variable rate playback, so I could listen to the interviews in double-time (there was a lot of material to review), and ended up using Quicktime Player. After you open an audio file, you can select Window > Show A/V controls, and use the Playback Speed option to chose a rate. For the more pronounced speakers, I could use a 2.5x speed playback. For faster talkers, I had to take it down to 2x. The Jog Shuttle also helped a lot to rewind a sentence or two back.
  • I posted the resulting document in Google Pages, which we use for our in-house wiki, and which will give everyone an option to review and add comments.

The interviews went pretty smoothly, technically speaking. It helped to conduct an interview with a fellow coworker initially, before interviewing the major stakeholders, so I could get any technical difficulties out of the way, and basically do a trial run.



In preparation for impending baby-dom, we bought our first real camcorder, a high-definition Cannon IXIA HF100. It's about a hundred times smaller than camcorders when I was a kid and it's dead quiet because it uses an SD card for storage. My enthusiasm for the new gadget abounded. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that I could not actually watch the resulting .MTS video files on my mac. After extensive searching, I've found a couple tools for decent MTS file integration with the mac, so here they are:

VLC

VLC will play MTS video without any additional codecs. And it's free. Nice.

HD Quick Look

Even though VLC will play the video, you won't get MTS file thumbnails in finder until you install this little app. It seems like it should be free, but the $7 price tag is reasonable enough.

Voltaic HD

Voltaic will convert MTS files to Quicktime format (maybe others as well, I haven't fired it up for a while). The $35 price tag on this one made me cringe, but it's one of only two product I know of that actually converts MTS files directly. Oddly enough, iMovie will import MTS from the camera, but won't import once it's a stand-alone file. I scoured the internet trying to find a way to trick iMovie into converting it anyway, and the only option I found was to clone your SD card and mount it as a drive whenever you want to import the video. The process seemed a little too crufty for my liking, so I shelled out for the Voltaic app.

Roxio Toast 10 Titanium

At $80, it probably isn't worth it to get this app just for the MTS file conversion, but from what I read, it does it quite well, and faster than Voltaic HD.



When I was considering purchasing a mac and ending (or rather, reducing) Microsoft's reign of terror in my life, I was told my multiple sources that one of the productivity boons of macs is that you never have to restart them due to memory getting eaten up by invisible gnomes in your chassis. The truth is that OSX definitely appears to do a better job, but it seems to leave memory scraps behind, just like windows.

I shelled out twenty bucks the other day for a little app called iFreeMem, which will - on demand - run through your ram and clean out any cruft, leaving you with a bigger green slice in that memory pie. I use it several times a day, and it seems to work really well even though I keep wondering if maybe the program just overrides the graphical display in activity monitor and makes you think you have more than you do.

iFreeMem also adds a nice little menubar icon that shows a monochrome pie-chart display of current memory usage. I find myself glancing up there when I'm using a bunch of programs at once to make sure I'm not going to be surprised by a spinning beach ball of death anytime soon.



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