Categories
iOS & Mac reviews

Coffitivity review: perfect for working from home

coffitivityCoffitivity is a free app that recreates the ambience of a coffee shop with three different audio tracks to match the mood you want to create. It’s completely free and available for iOS, Mac and Android, or you can load up coffitivity.com in your browser and play the sounds from there. And it’s had a huge impact on my ability to focus when working from home, so I highly recommend it.

FOCUS!

I’m a freelance photographer so I should be good at focussing, right? Ba-dum-TSH, here all week folks, try the veal.

Seriously though, I spend a lot of my free time kicking around the house either relaxing with Netflix or a game, doing chores, or, most problematically, studiously avoiding doing chores. When I’m on a job somewhere, surrounded by other people also working, I have zero distraction issues but at home, alone, in silence, I have a serious problem with procrastination and distractions, particularly when it comes to doing certain computer tasks.

I recognise my procrastination and avoidance issues and I’ve got a number of tools and personal processes to combat them: I’ve made jotting down anything I remember I need to do in Things much more of a habit, meaning I can stop worrying about what things I might have forgotten to do and just get on with doing them; I keep our budget spending updated daily using the YNAB iPhone app; I try to remember to turn off distractions like Safari, Mail and Tweetbot when I sit down to do computer work; and I keep an Rdio playlist of gentle jazz handy as background noise.

Turns out background noise has a much bigger impact on my ability to focus than I thought and reassuringly there’s scientific research backing this up. When I sit down to tackle something that needs to be done in the lonely silence of our flat my mind wanders and has a terrible habit of dredging up all sorts of negative emotions, drawing on past negative situations, and projecting negative futures, all of which scare me off making decisions and taking action by making me afraid of how I might fail, and how it’s easier to just avoid failure than it is to face up to the possibility of it occurring.

Pretty heavy, huh? Well that’s a post for another day. Right now I want to tell you about the simplest step that made the biggest difference to my focus and my mental attitude when I sit down to work: installing Coffitivity.

Coffee shop ambiance, at home

Music has always been my first recourse to silencing the silence of our empty flat, but that can be a distraction in itself. Do I want to put on the same old playlist? Find something new? But what genre? Nothing too pop, rock or dance. Nothing too atmospheric in case it’s depressing (so no Clint Mansell soundtracks then). I could spend half an hour idly flicking through Rdio, then hop onto Safari to research ‘work at home’ playlist suggestions… And before you know it I’ve run out of time allotted for the original task.

The ambiance provided by Coffitivity seems to let me get right into the task at hand, puts me In The Zone. I tried it for the first time a couple of days ago and spent the next five hours without distraction compiling the year’s expenses for my tax return, something I’ve been putting off since April. Sure, I had to do it this month anyway, but surrounded by other (imaginary) people all doing their own thing, working away and supping coffee and getting on with it, I got started and… enjoyed the process of working. It’s like a human version of ‘white noise’, that somehow keeps my brain marching forward following the map rather than wandering off into the shadowy forest of distraction.

The details

Once installed the app lives in the menubar. Click to reveal the drop-down menu, pick a track, set the volume and hit play. You can have it launch at login, and there’s a ‘one-click’ mode to play or pause whenever you click the menubar icon, with a right-click revealing the drop-down.

The icon itself is the coffee cup from the logo. It’s black and grey when not in use and turns a kind of aquamarine colour and presents a swirl of steam while a track is playing. I’d love an option to set it to black to match my other menubar icons, though.

The tracks are different enough from each other to suit various moods and are all long enough that the looping won’t start to grate. However, I noticed that when they looped it was a noticeably hard cut back to the beginning rather than a crossfade, which takes the sheen off the illusion somewhat. The University Undertones track in particular had a 1-2 second pause when it looped – ouch.

Still – it’s free, and these things can be fixed with small updates. All in all, while you may well be able to find similar background sounds in other ambience apps, Coffitivity does one thing and does it well. I’d love a more modern icon and would welcome a couple more tracks but those would just be an extra syrup shot in an already excellent cup of virtual joe. It works for me – I highly recommend it!

Download Coffitivity for iOS
Download Coffitivity for Mac

Categories
Editorial iOS & Mac reviews

My essential Mac, iPhone and iPad apps

Over the years I’ve picked up dozens of Mac apps and hundreds of iOS apps. New software comes and goes but over time the real keepers make themselves indispensable. I’ve now got a core of essential Mac and iOS apps that I turn to regularly, often as part of a workflow, so I thought I’d let you pick over them to see if there’s something cool that’s new to you. There’s also a bit about the hardware I use at the end.

Mac-only software

Mountain Lion – obviously. I like it.

SuperDuper! – for automated overnight local backups.

Backblaze – runs continuously to maintain an offsite backup for just $50 a year per computer. Read more about my backup tips and suggestions here.

Lightroom 4 – for importing, tagging and archiving my photography, and processing RAWs. It’s really simplified my workflow, doing the job of two other apps I used to rely on, Photo Mechanic and Nikon Capture NX 2; I keep PM around as it can be very useful, but NX is toast.

Hazel – a background utility that empties the trash when it gets too full, moves downloaded documents into folders in my Dropbox, and cleans out support files whenever I delete applications, and it can do so much more with custom rules.

Little Snitch – call me paranoid but I like to know what outgoing connections are being made by my software. I also enjoy the incoming/outgoing monitor that sits in my menubar, handy for at-a-glance indications of background network activity (Dropbox, Photoshelter, Backblaze etc).

Transmit – for uploading files direct to my website servers. Recently I’ve been enjoying the Transmit Drive feature which displays the contents of the server as a Finder window instead of inside Transmit.

DragonDrop – a fab background utility for easily moving several files at a time around in the Finder; just wiggle the cursor while dragging the files and the snazzy DragonDrop dropbox pops up to temporarily hold them, freeing you to navigate to their destination in the Finder; then pick them back up and drop them in place.

SMARTReporter – keeps an eye on my Macs’ S.M.A.R.T. status and runs I/O checks on connected drives throughout the day, emailing me if any checks fail.

Alfred – my default tool for launching apps, finding files, and logging into websites, all with just a few keystrokes. It also does clipboard magic, controls iTunes, and much more that I’ve barely scratched the surface of myself. Version 2 launched early 2013; read my initial impressions of version 1 here.

SimpleNote and Justnotes – my favourite note-taking-and-syncing service, and my client of choice for the Mac; I was using an excellent free dashboard widget, Dashnote, for years but Justnotes is a complete app with the sort of polish and feature support that comes with a paid product.

Bartender – tidies up the menubar to your personal preference. I wrote more about it here.

Radium 3 – hands down the best Mac app for streaming internet radio. Version 3 polished up the interface but introduced a bizarre new icon. If you still have Radium 2 and want to change the new menubar icon back to the superior radio icon, read my guide.

Billings – I use this to create nice freelance invoices and track my earnings, plus it’s fun to use and invoicing can be so boring. I use my own variation on a free Billings invoice template by Bart Kowalski.

There’s an iOS version but it’s not seen an update in a long time, only offers a handful of invoice templates, and doesn’t work with any custom templates created in the Mac app. So I don’t use it.

Undercover – lo-jacker software for my Macs; if they’re ever stolen, touch wood, this software kicks in to track their location and upload screenshots, webcam shots, and keystroke logs of everything they’ve typed (except passwords, just in case the backend is itself compromised). I use it in conjunction with a hardware password to prevent unauthorised re-installation of the operating system, meaning as soon as they go online they start blabbing. It’s cool.

Mac & iOS software

Dropbox – utterly essential for so many things these days; if for some reason you don’t already have a Dropbox account, a 500MB account is free and you’ll get yourself a bit extra on top if you go via via my link.

1Password – stores and generates passwords then locks them away so you only ever have to remember the one password that reveals them; it also installs a handy extension in most modern web browsers that will fill online password fields for you; on iOS you can use the excellent in-app browser. Everyone should use 1Password, even my mum.

Day One – a beautiful, flexible journalling app with Mac and iOS versions. My wife uses hers to keep a photolog of how the trees in our garden bloom and wilt across the seasons, while I use mine as a more conventional journal.

YNAB 4 – I use this mainly for our household budgeting, but I do my freelance budget with it too. I’ve always been aware of our money but YNAB really helps manage it better; I highly recommend trying it out. They’ve got a 35-day demo and if you decide to buy it and click this link first, you’ll get $6 off and I’ll get $6 commission – but I’d recommend it even if I didn’t.

There’s also a companion iPhone app for entering transactions as they occur, syncing with Dropbox. It doesn’t offer any budget management features and there’s no iPad version yet, but if you give the Mac app a go it’s very useful to have.

TextExpander – expands custom abbreviations into pre-saved snippets of often-used text. I use it for my contact details and certain HTML tags but it goes way beyond that. The iOS version is slightly limited in how it works due to Apple restrictions, but over a hundred and fifty third party apps support it including two of my favourites, Drafts and Poster (see below).

Fantastical – puts a handy calendar shortcut in the menubar and makes adding new events famously simple using natural language. I still use the Apple Calendar app to quickly copy-and-paste aspects of my weekly schedule that don’t change much but Fantastical is better for everything else and it syncs events with iCloud. There’s also a lovely iPhone app but as yet no iPad version – hopefully not for much longer.

Things – my to-do list app of choice. It’s not Universal and it’s not cheap to buy the whole suite, a hard sell when cheaper (but simpler) apps like Clear and Wunderlist exist, but each app is beautifully designed and now they’ve finally got their own Cloud sync running the whole suite is even more of a pleasure to use. My things-to-do go into the Inbox as soon as they occur via Drafts on my iOS devices, and the keyboard shortcut on my Mac, and get sorted into particular ‘projects’ later.

Photosync – for when I need to get photos and videos between any iOS device and Mac quickly and wirelessly (or even iOS to iOS); it requires a free ‘receiver’ app to be installed on any Mac you want to use it with, but it’s a much better solution than attaching cables or waiting for Photostream (which doesn’t do video).

Rdio – I didn’t used to see the point of subscription music services, preferring to own my music rather than rent it, but I realised I hardly ever buy music these days and have an ever-shrinking awareness of what’s new so for a tenner a month we have access to more than we could possibly ever listen to. Anything we really like we’ll pick up wherever it’s cheapest – often Amazon MP3 but don’t forget to check out smaller labels’ websites in case they sell direct for less.

Just be aware that if you sign up for a subscription within the iOS app you’ll pay a lot more than if you set it up on their website – this is presumably to cover the 30% cut Apple takes for iOS sales but I don’t think it’s at all fair of them to trick users this way, so sign up from their website to pay the proper price.

iOS-only software

Drafts – this ingenious app takes text you enter and then sends it to a whole host of other apps, such as Evernote, Fantastical, Omnifocus, Dropbox, Messages, Mail, and so on. I keep it in a handy Launch Center Pro slot and use it for sending stuff to Things and Simplenote mostly. Like Things, it’s not Universal; I only have it for iPhone as that’s what I usually have to hand when thoughts occur.

Launch Center Pro – speed dial for apps on your iPhone, without jailbreaking. I keep LCP and the Camera app in my Dock, only bare essential apps in my first Home Screen, and everything else in folders; peaceful! Read more about how I use LCP here.

Poster – for WordPress blogging from iOS. Poster is developed by Tom Witkin and boils a lot of functionality down to an attractive, lightweight interface. It’s got plenty of WordPress power-features tucked away if you need them including support for custom fields and custom post types, TextExpander Touch, Markdown and even 1Password. Fun factoid: I wrote and published this entire article in Poster.

UPDATE: sadly, or perhaps excitingly, Poster has been acquired by Automattic (who own WordPress) and removed from the App Store. Hopefully Tom Witkin will bring all the features that made Poster so amazing to the lousy official WordPress app very soon.

Reeder and Zite – for my kind of news, and other stuff I want to read. I know Google Reader is closing imminently but I like Reeder and hope to be able to keep using it via the developer’s own back-end solution. Zite has absorbed my RSS feeds and Twitter follows and uses those plus a Thumbs Up or Down from me to offer articles it thinks I’ll like from a variety of sources, grouped by topic plus a ‘Top Stories’ page.

Pocket – for storing things to read or watch later, almost exclusively from Reeder and Zite but occasionally from Safari using a bookmarklet. I used to use Instapaper for reading later and Pocket for everything else, but decided to consolidate as I much prefer the look and feel of Pocket.

Forecast.io – this free web app installs to your homescreen and offers surprisingly accurate forecasts in a simple, attractive way. It can narrow predictions right down to the minute the rain will stop, which is cool.

Tube Tracker, Tube Deluxe & Tube Exits – the three apps I use most when travelling around London day to day. Tracker and Deluxe do much the same job of providing maps, journey plans and travel news, but each with their own unique features; Tube Exits tells you which carriages to get on so that you arrive right next to the platform exit – you can shave a fair bit of time off, especially during peak times!

Quickshot – this iPhone app snaps a photo, tags it and uploads it to a selected folder in Dropbox immediately. I use it exclusively to snap work expense receipts so I don’t have to worry about losing them.

KitCam and Hipstamatic – the two camera apps I use most after the stock Camera app, for satisfying creative urges. Sometimes I use Camera+ for ‘clean’ shots but when I want to grab something quickly its usually fastest to use the slide-up Camera button on the lock screen. I did used to use Instagram almost exclusively but recently took a leave of absence from all social networks to try and cut down on ‘noise’ in my life from digital stuff.

UPDATE: Sadly, KitCam was bought by Yahoo in 2013 and taken off the App Store permanently.

Calcbot – I prefer this to the stock Calculator app mainly because of the ‘print ribbon’ of previous calculations that you can pull down from the display, but also because I love the Tapbots app designs.

Meter Readings – for recording our gas and electricity usage weekly. It has comprehensive options for entering current and previous tariffs so you can keep ahead of your bills, and there’s excellent support from the one-man-band developer behind it, Graham Haley. Geeky, perhaps, but very useful.

Quicklytics – the best Google Analytics app I’ve tried, taking the user-unfriendly mash that is the GA web interface and presenting key data points in a clean, friendly way.

TuneIn Radio – there’s a lot of radio-streaming apps for iOS and I’ve tried most of the good ones, but this is the one that stuck.

TV Catchup – bit of a misleading name because this streams live UK Freeview television rather than letting you play it back like a DVR. In a nutshell, it’s live telly on your iPad.

Hardware

Late 2012 27" iMac – my previous iMac was a Mid-2007 model (the first aluminium one) and it was getting a bit long in the tooth for the stuff I was throwing at it, like hundreds of RAW files at a time. There wasn’t anything I needed that it couldn’t run acceptably, but it used to do everything so much faster. Now it has a new home in my mum’s office/recreation room, where it’s a considerable upgrade from her original white iMac.

These new iMacs with Fusion Drives are just great: boots from cold in about 10 seconds, apps launch so fast, it crunches through 1:1 previews in Lightroom 4 at a fantastic rate, and the glossy mirror-like screen of yore is now a near reflection-free surface. It’s just a delight to use.

The only thing is I had to pick up a couple of Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adaptors at £25 a pop for my hard drives, and my main machine now doesn’t have an optical drive. As it happens pretty much all the software I use is distributed digitally and since I started using Photoshelter two years ago I haven’t had to burn a single photo disc for clients, but if that does ever come up I’m going to have to look into the Remote Disk function on my MBP.

Wacom Intuos pad – this is great for Photoshop and handy in Lightroom too. Occasionally I use it in games like Civ and XCOM too.

LaCie Quadra hard drives – solid, stable external hard drives for storage and backups; check out my post on backup strategies for more info.

They’re bolted into the LaCie desktop rack, which keeps them safe under my desk. It’s £50 for a bit of metal and some rubber feet that fall off if you look at them funny, which is pretty steep, but the drives are much more secure in it than not so I sucked it up.

2010 15" MacBook Pro – I got this anticipating needing it on location shoots so I went for a Pro. In the end it rarely went on location so these days I use it for tweaking my websites, writing and invoicing away from my main desk. It handles iMovie 11 very well, but Final Cut X is too much for it.

For a while I tried to use it for photo editing too but syncing photoshoots between the two Macs was a total pain in the neck; I considered a Dropbox sync but it isn’t a practical solution for syncing sets that are frequently more than 6GB in size. Clinching it, Lightroom really requires the LR library to be connected to the computer you’re running it on. So, I keep my photo work on my iMac and life is simpler for it.

I also play a couple of games on it, mainly the Prison Architect alpha and the new XCOM (see my post here for how to sync Mac XCOM save games using Dropbox), and my wife uses it regularly to type up her Montessori college work.

If money was no object I’d like to sell it and get one of the new Airs as they’re much lighter and more powerful these days, but I’ll probably end up hanging onto it for many more years until it literally dies in my hands, by which time iPads may have evolved far enough to completely replace it.

iPads – I have a 3, my wife has a Mini; both were upgrades from an iPad 1. I appreciate the screen size and sharpness of the 3 but I *love* the weight and general handiness of the Mini.

Apple TV 2 – excellent for Netflix and for iTunes movie rentals (which are often preferable to going to the cinema in our house); I’ve jailbroken mine and installed Firecore’s ATV Flash Black software so I can stream media we already own direct from the iMac in pretty much any format instead of having to import it to my iTunes library. Unfortunately the ATV3 is still impossible to jailbreak so I hope my ATV2 stays healthy.

Airport Express – for streaming music to our lounge speakers from any Mac or iOS device. We have the old-school plug-like A1088 version which can be problematic under Mountain Lion – see my article here for tips on how to fix that.

Other stuff

Herman Miller ‘Mirra’ chair – not cheap, but worth every penny. An incredibly comfortable chair with so many points of adjustment it’s always exactly how I need it, be that sitting upright to work or leaning back a little to enjoy a movie or game. The only problem I have with it is that the area under the seat is a massive dust-trap that needs some serious cleaning out every couple of months.

Harman Kardon Soundsticks – I have version 2, but version 3 is available now. The subwoofer goes under my desk and the two sticks sit behind my iMac, bouncing the sound off the wall. Much better than the comparatively weak sound the new iMac produces, although if I didn’t already have these I’d probably have been fine with it.

What makes your Macs tick?

So that’s what I run on my own Apple devices – what about you? Get in touch by email or in the comments and thanks for visiting.

Categories
iOS & Mac how-tos

How to change the menubar icons in Radium 3

Purchased Radium 3 and hate the new menu bar icon? Me too. Would you like to change the menubar icon back to the radio from Radium 2? Me too! Welcome 🙂

I was a long-time user of Radium 2 and recently purchased the update to Radium 3 on the Mac App Store. While the functional improvements are worth the upgrade, the new icon feels like a huge step backward. It used to be a lovely radio and it’s now a chocolate heart – apparently because when you think ‘internet radio streaming for Mac’ you think of the sort of gift-box confectionary you buy your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, right? I know I do.

radium-icons

I can put up with the main icon because I’ll never see it (the app launches automatically at startup), but I’d love the radio back in the menu bar because it makes more sense to me. With a tiny bit of effort, and your copy of Radium 2, you can change it yourself, so I did.

Let’s fix Radium 3’s menubar icons

I happen to still have Radium 2 but some may not. I considered putting just the pertinent image files together in a zip and putting it online but I have a feeling somebody would object to that on the grounds of copyright. Technically you could drop any images in there, though.

If you do still have your copy of Radium 2, select it in the Finder, then right-click and select Open Package Contents. If you’ve never done this before, it isn’t dangerous if you follow these instructions. An application icon is just a fancy folder that ‘runs’ its contents instead of showing them to you when you double-click its icon. So long as we only touch the image files we want to change, we’ll be fine.

Open ‘Contents’, then ‘Resources’, then scroll down the list until you come to a bunch of .png files that start with ‘Radium-status’. There should be six of them, highlighted in the picture below.

radium-menubar-icons-1

Keep that window open on your desktop. Now open a new window, navigate to your copy of Radium 3 (the Magical Musical Chocolate For Your Ears) and do the same thing; right-click, Open Package Contents, click on Contents, click on Resources. Again, this isn’t dangerous if you follow these instructions, but if by some chance you do mess something else up, don’t worry! Just delete the entire Radium 3 app from your computer and re-download it from the Mac App Store for free, done!

Okay, so now scroll down the Resources list until you find a series of files that start ‘menubaricon‘, highlighted in the picture below.

radium-menubar-icons-2

What we’re going to do is copy over the relevant image files from Radium 2 and drop them into Radium 3’s Resources folder, replacing the heart icons. This means the replacement files need to be named exactly the same as the existing files.

Go back to the window with the Radium 2 Resource window. Select all six ‘Radium-status’ icons. Hold down Alt and drag those six icons to your desktop; note that a green + symbol appears next to your cursor. That means we’re duplicating the icons onto the Desktop, rather than working with the only copies we have, which will remain in the Radium 2 folder.

Once copied, select all six again, right-click and select ‘New Folder with Selection (6 items)’. Call this folder something like ‘Radium 2 icons’.

All this is just house-keeping, making sure you keep your copy of Radium 2 safe. The important stuff is next.

Now select the Radium 3 Resources window in the Finder and let’s take a look at the icons we’re about to replace. There are two ‘busy’ icons (the heart with the dot that switches sides), a ‘disabled’ version, a ‘regular’ version, a ‘pressed’ version and a ‘success’ icon which is just a checkmark.

So we need to decide which icons from Radium 2 we’re going to use to replace the Radium 3 hearts. First off, we can ignore the checkmark – just leave that as is. Next, the ‘busy’ icons; I selected the ‘Radium-status-c0’ and ‘Radium-status-c1’ icons for this – they show the radio icon with the antenna fully and partially extended.

Rename ‘Radium-status-c0.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_busy_1.tiff‘, making sure to spell it exactly right, including underscores, and when your Mac asks you if you really want to use the .tiff extension, confirm that you do.

Next, rename ‘Radium-status-c1.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_busy_2.tiff.’ And that’s the ‘busy’ icons done.

For the ‘disabled’ icon I chose the ‘inv’ version from Radium 2. So rename ‘Radium-status-inv.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_disabled.tiff‘.

Next we replace the ‘pressed’ version; this is what’s shown when you click on the menubar icon to display the drop-down interface. Radium 2 doesn’t really have an equivalent so I chose to forego the effect (it’s barely noticeable anyway) and just duplicated the standard R2 menubar icon and used that; select ‘Radium-status.png’, duplicate it with Command-D to create ‘Radium-status Copy.png‘, then rename this new file to ‘menubar_icon_pressed.tiff‘.

Now rename the original copy of ‘Radium-status.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_normal.tiff‘.

You should now have seven icons in your ‘Radium 2 icons’ folder on your desktop, as pictured below; five renamed icons, and two leftovers that we haven’t touched.

radium-menubar-icons-3

Now to insert them into Radium 3! Bring up your Radium 3 Resources window, then select the five icons we renamed in the ‘Radium 2 icons’ folder, and drag them into the Radium 3 Resources window. You’ll be told the operation can’t be completed and asked for your Admin password. Enter that and the files will be copied. Select to ‘Replace’ each one when asked.

Now your Radium 3 Resources window should look like this (I’ve highlighted the bits you should be looking at):

radium-menubar-icons-4

Notice that where there were five variations on a heart, and a checkmark, there are now five variations on a radio, and a checkmark.

Now launch Radium 3 and hope for the best! If you see this:

replace-menubar-icon-radium

… then you’re all done!

N.B.

This is a total hack. It will probably revert back to the heart icons again if you apply a future update from the Mac App Store – that’s if the MAS even recognises it as an official app now that we’ve dropped new resources into the package. But your re-icon’d copy of Radium 3 should function just fine and if you do need to revert back at any point you can simply delete the app manually and re-download for free.

Enjoy your new, old version of Radium 3!

Categories
iOS & Mac reviews

Radium 3: an excellent radio app for Macs, with a dumb icon

Almost all my music needs at home are satisfied by either my iTunes collection or, increasingly in recent months, my Rdio subscription, but sometimes I want to listen to the radio. TuneIn Radio, the excellent iOS app, runs for free in your desktop browser but you may prefer to use a dedicated app.

For the last few years I’ve been using Radium, by CatPig Studios ($9.99 on the Mac App Store). It’s a lightweight radio app for Macs that lives in your menu bar and with a simple interface lets you search for, play and save internet radio stations. It recently got an update to version 3, which also saw CatPig stop selling it from their site and make it a Mac App Store exclusive.

They put it on sale for the first few weeks to make up for Apple’s lack of support for discounted upgrades so I grabbed it to check out the new features.

What’s new?

The interface has had a makeover from a rather plain blue-and-white to, well, blue-and-black, but the overall feel is much slicker. For most of the time it’s just a search bar and results/favourites list, with everything else hidden behind a gear icon.

There you’ll find options to output to any Airplay receivers in the vicinity, view album art which doubles as a mini-controller, save tracks you like to a wish-list, or pop out a graphic equaliser, plus there’s support for your existing digital radio subscriptions, including K-PIG, JazzRadio.com, Live 365 and SiriusXM Canada and USA.

radium-interface

radium-mac-radio-app

Also new is the selection of icons next to stations in the list; once you save a station to your favourites you can change these to whatever you like. And of course you can tweet what you’re listening to, ‘Love’ it on Last.fm, or visit the station’s own website.

radium-custom-sorting-icons

I’ve got two stations in Radium right now – BBC Radio 6 and AM 1710 Antioch – so I really don’t need much in the way of organising or sharing. All I want is a simple, reliable radio streaming app that looks good and stays out of the way until I need it, and Radium really nails that so there’s not much more to say other than to highly recommend it.

Except… there’s this one thing…

Okay, so this really makes barely any difference to the utility of the app but it bugs the heck out of me and that’s the change of icon design. I’m going to talk about this for a fair bit now, better get the popcorn out, or skip to the end

Still here? Okay, here’s the current and old icon side by side:

radium-icons

One of those is a lovingly crafted old radio; its menubar icon is also a radio. The other is a chocolate heart and its menubar icon is also a heart.

Radium 3’s icon is the chocolate heart. Now, it’s a delicious looking chocolate I have to say. I imagine biting slowly into it and discovering a delicious chocolate goo, with perhaps a touch of Cointreau running through it… Anyway, it doesn’t strike me as a music app. I mean, why, right?

I haven’t really followed any of the marketing for Radium 3, I just saw there was an update, was confused by the icon, checked it was the same Radium, shrugged and bought it. Looking through the actual Mac App Store listing in detail, I found this:

radium-catpig-assholes

So I guess that’s why it’s a chocolate now. Or did the icon come first and the slogan a result of that?

Either way, to me it feels like it’s an attempt to detach from the ‘old school’ definition of radio by making the icon less referential of the technology of yesteryear, where Radium 2’s icon was firmly rooted, and push something more conceptual and abstract.

But chocolate for my ears? Well, that’s just unhygienic, who even puts chocolate in their ears while listening to music? Why would you do that? Or even encourage it? Wouldn’t it have to be melted and therefore hot? It’s very confusing.

I’m being ridiculous to make a point; I’m very curious how they came to this decision as the permanent representation of the app for the future because it’s so far away from anything I’d choose, and I have an annoying need to understand whyyy. I think I know why, I just don’t understand it. Or… agree with it. I talked to CatPig about it over Twitter but they prefer to insult people who don’t “get it”. Rude, unprofessional, immature… yep, they’re all those things, but their app is good and that’s what I’m recommending, not their lack of inter-personal skills.

Heart icon, I heart you not

The new icon design extends to the menubar, where Radium is also a heart. I tuck most of my menubar icons away with Bartender, and when I’m up there I don’t want to have to think about which is which, which is usually fine because they’re all pretty descriptive.

radium-menubar-icon

Look, there’s Alfred’s bowler hat and Hazel’s feather duster, both apt for those apps; TextExpander uses its ‘balloon’ icon and also has the decency to offer a choice; Droplr, Airfoil, Fantastical and Dropbox are also pretty self-explanatory. In fact most everything up there is.

It’s really just Skitch and Radium letting the side down, and what do they both have in common?

So does anyone know an easy way to hack the menubar icon out of Radium 2 and apply it to Radium 3? Because until then some irritably logical perfectionist side of me won’t be happy.

In conclusion

Radium 3, the app, is excellent. The icon concept is… different, and the devs really believe in it, but if you’re not as fussed as me about that sort of detail (and I suspect I’m outnumbered 😉 ) and you’re looking for internet radio on your Mac, this is the one to look at first.

mac-app-store-availableVersion 3 of Radium, the most delicious radio-streaming chocolate you’ll ever put in your, um, ears is available on the Mac App Store for $9.99 via that handy button over there.

P.S. – a word about Antioch

Just another quick mention for AM 1710 Antioch again – it’s a fantastic little station run by this one guy who’s got loads of recordings of radio dramas and comedies going way back to the 30s – including Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, Superman, The Whistler, The Lone Ranger and more, and often featuring the actual adverts for cigarettes and Kraft cheese products.

They play on an automated system that tries to match for the date so you’re usually listening to something that originally aired that day many decades ago. I love it and recommend it for a historical and entertaining listen.

Categories
iOS & Mac how-tos

How to backup your Mac

Most computer-minded people will have read all about Mat Honan’s ‘educational’ experience being hacked last week. He posted the full story over at Wired and it’s a must-read whether you’ve got your own backup strategies or not.

If you’re up to speed you’ll know there were a couple of key stages in the process where he could have either thwarted the hack or insured himself against the tragic loss of photos, and you can do these today:

  • turn on two-step authentication on your Gmail account
  • make backups of your data

There’s a few other tips that can make you that bit more secure online which we’ll come to shortly.

Of course, unless you’ve already been touched by the God of Hard Drives Dying Inexplicably (in which case you’ve already seen the errors of your ways and are just looking for new and geekier ways to protect yourself) it’s possible yet another post like this won’t make you take the potential for disaster any more seriously, despite a spate of them cropping up all over the web this week like babies nine months after a power cut.

Your password’s tight; your computer’s only a year old; if you were a movie character the last we’d see of you would be “I’m just going to go wander into the woods at night all alone, I’ll be right back…”

Okay, if you say so! -> INSERT BIG SMILEY FACE OF IMPENDING DOOM HERE <- For the rest of us, let's get stuck in.

Two-step authentication of your Google login

If you have a Google account (for Gmail, Reader, etc) and haven’t turned this on yet, it’s dead easy so do it today.

Now whenever you log in to Google in the browser you will need to enter both your password and a six digit code that Google sends via SMS, and you can choose to permanently trust that computer if it’s your own.

Android, Blackberry and iPhone users can download the Google Authenticator app (available from the iOS App Store here) so that even when you’re unable to receive a text message you can still generate a code. And just in case you lose your phone you can print off a set of one-use codes to keep in your wallet.

If you connect to your Gmail or Google Reader account with third party apps like Apple Mail, Reeder or NetNewsWire, there’s no opportunity to enter this numerical authentication code. Instead, you’ll need to generate new application-specific passwords at Google, and then replace your regular password with the new ones in those apps. This way if you lose your phone, say, allowing a thief to read your email without a login from the mail app, you can cancel specific passwords and remotely lock out compromised apps.

Next, backups!

Backing up is easy

It is incredibly simple to start backing up, despite how dumb you may think you are with computers. There are two principle ways of going about it:

  • local backup (in your house), using an external hard drive
  • off-site backup (not in your house), either using secure online storage or keeping an external hard drive at someone else’s house or your workplace for example.

Yes, you’re going to have to spend some money but neither a backup drive nor a backup service are expensive enough to make it worth the risk of losing everything forever. If you can afford a computer, especially a Mac, you can afford to backup.

If you’re still sitting there thinking, “But I haven’t needed one before and my computer is fine”, trust me when I tell you: hard drives can fail at any time with no warning, even if you bought it yesterday. One morning in 2007 my Powerbook started grinding like a coffee machine; by that afternoon it was unbootable and I had no backups; years and years of photos, all gone; many tears were shed. In the end I managed to recover an incredible 97% of my photos back using Data Rescue but not having a backup is inconceivable now.

Backup case study: me

I backup to a few places just to be sure:

  • Local backups with SuperDuper!: every night my iMac and the external drives I use for media and archived photos are automatically backed up to another external drive using SuperDuper!, a $28 third party app that can create bootable clones of your Mac on an automatic schedule. That means if my computer dies I can connect the backup to my laptop and boot from it (hold down Alt when you power up until you get asked which drive to boot from), essentially putting me back in front of my main machine straight away.
  • Off-site backups with Backblaze: this is the cloud service I chose; others are available (such as Carbonite, and Arq) but BackBlaze works for me. Unlimited storage for one computer and as many connected drives as you have will cost you – wait for it – just $50 a year. That’s £32; you have no excuse! After the initial background backup of your selected data, all subsequent backups will happen throughout the day whenever you change or add data to your system. You turn it on in Settings and then you forget about it until you need to re-download lost data from their site or have them send it to you on a drive (for a fee).
  • Sync across machines with Dropbox: although Dropbox offers a basic service for free, I pay for a 100GB account which stores my entire Documents folder, my iPhoto library, all my website data, whatever I’m working on (such as a recent photoshoot or iMovie project) and anything else I want to sync automatically to my Macbook from my iMac and vice versa. I don’t rely on it like a backup service, but it’s yet another copy of some of my most important data with practically no effort on my part.

This combination gives me instant access to my files via the local backup if a drive fails, and online access to my files should the local backup fail or be lost at the same time.

Time Machine

For Mac users, one service may be notable by it’s absence in the list above: Apple’s own Time Machine, which comes with all new Macs and has been built into OS X since Snow Leopard. Time Machine is a breeze – you plug in a drive, flip a switch in Settings, and you’re done.

It works differently to SuperDuper! in that it copies all your data, including changes and additions, in the background while you’re working. It also keeps older copies of your data rather than overwriting it with new versions, just in case you need to ‘roll back time’ and dig out an earlier version, hence the name.

For this reason if you’re going to use it you should buy a drive with a higher capacity than your computer, so that it has space to store as many older versions as possible. Once it runs out of that space it starts deleting the oldest versions to make room.

The only reason I don’t use Time Machine is because you can’t boot from a TM backup or attach it to another computer and work with the files it contains from the drive; you can only use it to copy data back onto a Mac. That’s no good for me because if my iMac goes down I don’t want to have to wait to get a new one before copying everything back; I want to plug my Macbook Pro in, boot from the backup of my recently perished computer and be back in action immediately.

But that’s me and my quirks. If you’ve got a Mac with Time Machine built in and you don’t have any other backup system, buy a drive today and get going.

What external drives should you get?

A lot of my digital stuff is irreplaceable original creations (photos, movies, music, writing, that sort of thing) and much of that is also work related, so I wanted the best drives I could afford. I used a cheap Western Digital MyBook for a while but didn’t like the plasticky build quality or the occasional errors I was getting, so I asked some professionals what they used and was recommended Lacie Quadra drives. They are not cheap, but they are built like tanks and I trust them.

I now have three under my desk – two are used for archived data I don’t want to keep on the iMac itself and the third is partitioned to hold backups of the other two and the iMac. You can buy some at Amazon USA, and Amazon UK.

As a creative professional I know I should be looking at larger capacity RAID-type backup systems but at the moment I don’t have the volume of work or data that necessitates the dive into that seething quagmire of options; I’m kind of grateful for that!

Other best practices for online security

With two-step Google authentication and a backup system in place you’re in much better shape, but you can always do more:

  • use different passwords for everything and use an app like 1Password to remember them (available on the Mac App Store, and the iOS App Store); other such apps are available but 1Password is the one I use and I highly recommend it.
  • for goodness sake, do not use ‘1234’ or ‘password’ or ‘opensesame’ or your date of birth or your surname or anything else that easy to guess or research for any of your passwords, ever. Seriously consider getting 1Password to remember harder, unique passwords
  • if you use Facebook, they also have a two-step authentication process you can activate
  • don’t use a publicly visible or guessable email address to send ‘password recovery’ mails for your main account. Instead, create a secret account with a hard-to-guess name and use that as the recovery address for your email and as many other sites as you can – if your main account is compromised you don’t want passwords to be reset on all the other services you use
  • don’t link accounts together using a common login – hackers were able to access both Mat’s and Gizmodo’s Twitter because Mat had linked his own Twitter login to the Gizmodo Twitter login when he worked there. Once his own account was accessed, Gizmodo’s was too.
  • you’ve probably given your Twitter and Facebook logins to a lot of apps and sites over the years. Use the Twitter and Facebook security pages to review them and cut off any you don’t use any more
  • set up a passcode on your iPhone, and use Restrictions (under Settings – General) to lock down Location, Accounts and Find My Friends, using a different passcode to the one you set to unlock the phone itself. This way even if someone gets past the Unlock code they won’t be able to change any of your location-tracking settings; they can just turn the phone off or go into Airplane mode of course but until Apple requires a passcode for that too there’s nothing you can do about that.

Useful links collected

That’s everything I can suggest for now. You probably, hopefully, won’t ever be hacked, but a small amount of time and money spent today will be worth it in spades for the peace of mind alone.

Here’s all the relevant links from above:

Google Two Step Authentication – ensures it’s really you logging in to Google

Google Authenticator for iPhone – for when you don’t have network coverage (Android and Blackberry versions also available)

Backblaze – effortless, unlimited cloud backup for your computer and drives (for Mac and PC)

SuperDuper! – set up scheduled, bootable backups for your Mac

Dropbox – sync your most important files online (for Mac, PC and Linux)

Time Machine – learn about Apple’s backup application built right in to OS X.

Data Rescue 3 – incredible software that can recover almost any data, even from unbootable hard drives (for Mac and PC; incidentally the best $99 I ever spent back in 2007)

1Password – generate and store complex passwords and other sensitive data, available on the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store

Lacie Quadra Drives – sturdy, reliable external hard drives, available on Amazon UK, and Amazon USA (cheaper alternatives will do fine for most people)

NB: some of the above links are via affiliate schemes that earn me a few pennies per paid transaction or in the case of Dropbox some extra capacity per sign-up; however, I personally use everything I’ve linked to on a daily basis and I highly recommend each regardless of any such rewards, and you can take that to the bank.

(whatever that means. That’s good, right?)