The Fastest Way to Capture Stuff in Evernote (I Swear)…

New to Evernote? Tens of thousands of people have used Evernote Essentials to get up and running with Evernote quickly. Grab your copy today, have Evernote working for you by tonight.

I love Evernote. You probably do, too. Heck, why wouldn’t you? Evernote is freakin’ awesome. If it’s worth keeping, it’s in Evernote — that’s my motto.

I also like to quickly capture ideas, thoughts and other stuff when I’m out and about. My iPhone is quite adept at letting me do just that thanks to Drafts, one of my favorite iOS apps ever. Seriously, if you have an iPhone (or an iPad) and you take any kind of notes and you’re not using Drafts, you’ve made a critical error. But that’s another rant for another time.

With Drafts 3.0 (which is out today[1], by the way), I can quickly append/prepend to my Evernote notes without leaving Drafts. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me and I’m going to show you how it works.

[Read more…]

The Answer to Your Writing Prayers

I’ll keep this brief.

If you’re reading this, chances are quite good that you write things, particularly for the web. There are two ways to write for the web (in my opinion, of course):

  1. Using Markdown.
  2. Some other dumb way that’s probably hurting your liver somehow.
Lots of people ask me about Markdown; what it is, how to use it, why they should bother using it, etc. Keep reading.

The shortest Markdown description ever

Put very simply, instead of writing this:

I found the <strong>largest</strong> cheesecake <em>ever</em> by searching <a href="">Cheesecake Finder</a>!

You can write this:

I found the **largest** cheesecake *ever* by searching [Cheesecake Finder](!

Markdown is awesome and you should be using it.

How to learn Markdown

This part is even easier.

My good pals David Sparks and Eddie Smith have just released the newest addition to David’s series of awesome MacSparky Field Guide ebooks called Markdown (non-affiliate link). That’s how you learn Markdown. If I didn’t already know it, I would after reading this book (which I did and, believe it or not, learned a few things myself).

Oh, and it’s not a book in the sense you’re thinking. It includes over 90 minutes of video demonstrating how to actually use Markdown, an additional ton of audio interviews with several preeminent Internet writers and, of course, the actual book text. It’s more of an experience than simply a book, if you ask me.

Grab your iPad (you can also get it as a PDF if you don’t have an iPad) and pick up your copy of Markdown (non-affiliate link). Because you’re awesome and David and Eddie are awesome and Markdown is awesome. Just so much awesome.

Go. Be awesome.

Want it for free?

I have a free copy of this ebook (iPad version) to give away. Leave a comment below with your favorite lawyer joke (in honor of my friend David who is also an attorney) and the best one gets the book. Void where prohibited or whatever.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click them and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission. I’ve also placed non-affiliate links immediately after all affiliate links, so choose whichever one makes you more comfortable. Know that any affiliate product I recommend is something I personal purchased, use and love enough to tell you about.

How poor planning and inexperience yielded me insanely loyal customers

Back in the middle of 2010, I was a few days away from launching the first version of Evernote Essentials. Sitting in my backyard, trying to figure out exactly how the sales process would work, making sure all of the pieces were functioning as expected, etc.

Then something occurred to me: what about product updates?

Would I charge for them? If so, how often? And how much would they cost? And how, exactly, was I going to implement paid updates?

This realization caused me no small amount of alarm; I hadn’t even considered this and I had a scant few days to figure it out before my product went on sale.

So, I decided updates would be free for everybody who bought Evernote Essentials, forever.

That turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my business. [Read more…]

The Renaissance of Bridging the Nerd Gap


It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.

Evernote Essentials 3.0 hit the digital shelves to, dare I say, rave reviews.

I managed to switch my entire business over to Office Autopilot[1]. There were some hiccups, for sure, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent memory.

Finally, my beloved has undergone a serious facelift thanks to the excellent, talented folks over at Creativity Included.

Since all of that happened (and it all happened in the span of about 4 days), my life has been consumed with email, backend logistics and simply trying to keep my head above water. Thankfully, the business has begun to subside and I can try to get back to something resembling normalcy.

Anyhow, that’s all fine and dandy; I wanted to talk about something else today.

This site has, since its inception, had a little trouble figuring out what it wanted to be when it grew up. With fits and starts, it has historically dabbled in technology and productivity and various combinations of the two (with occasional detours into only barely-related topics). Frankly, its ambivalence has caused me no small amount of annoyance over the last couple of years and I recently decided that it needed to approach the idea of being a grown-up site a little more seriously.

So, we had a long chat, this blog and I, and we came to an understanding, which I’ll outline for you now”¦

No more programming stuff

Well, I won’t say no more (because sometimes my status as a pretend programmer can lend itself to bending great applications into unexpected shapes), but this will be kept to a serious minimum. That stuff will, in all likelihood, find its home on my other blog that almost nobody reads.

More about the reader, less about me

One of my small handful of talents in this world is that I am, believe it or not, rather adept at explaining semi-complicated things in digestible, easily-understood ways. I have hitherto mostly invented most of my post topics out of my own head and only occasionally regarded the input and feedback of my wonderful audience in deciding what to write about.

That’s over.

I want this site to be, in equal parts, helpful, entertaining, and thought-provoking. In order to achieve these goals, I need your help, which is why”¦

Comments are back

I know it’s de rigeur to disable comments and loudly decry them as the tool of the devil (heck, I did it awhile back, albeit not very loudly), but if I’m serious about making this whole project reader-focused instead of me-focused, I feel it’s necessary to provide a venue where my attractive readers can become part of the conversation. They’re easy enough to ignore if you hate them, of course, but I think that lots of folks will appreciate their resurrection. Time will tell, I suppose.

Regarding the topics discussed here”¦

I have a note in Evernote somewhere where I had brainstormed a bunch of possible subtitles for this site. None of them ever really expressed what I wanted them to as succinctly as I wanted them to, but the best one of the bunch went something like this:

“Technology, efficiency, and business “” with an Apple garnish.”

The mere mention of business will undoubtedly have some of you recoiling in horror. I understand, truly I do, but the fact is that I run a small business and such topics have become profoundly interesting to me.

Does this mean you’re going to start writing about conversions and copywriting and other such things?!

No. There are plenty of other sites out there that do that far better than I ever could. My hope is that the business stuff will give a new angle to the other two sides of my “topical triangle.”

Speaking of”¦

Efficiency isn’t the same as productivity, if you ask me. Despite often being used interchangeably, I think they’re distinct concepts. I’m going to delve deeper into this in a future post, but suffice it to say that I’m far more interested in how to work better rather than how to simply produce more.

And, since I’m an Apple guy, much of the technology discussed here will probably be Apple stuff. That’s what I know and I’d rather play to my strengths.

“And much, much more!”

We’ll see how all of this pans out. I’m hopeful that it will, but your help in making this place a fun and informative hangout is going to be pretty crucial.

And, using the freshly-minted comment form below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this stuff. Thanks for reading “” I appreciate your time and will do my best not to squander it.

Oh, and the newsletter is going to be a big part of things going forward, so you should probably just sign up now.

  1. That’s an affiliate link to Office Autopilot. Here’s a non-affiliate link.  ↩

Hot off the presses: Evernote Essentials 3.0


Evernote Essentials 3.0 is now available for download.

This update has been well over a year in the making (which is a little embarrassing, frankly), but I’m incredibly happy with how it turned out. It covers all of the latest features in Evernote for Windows and Mac, plus boatloads of new content that I think you’re really going to like.

If you’re already a customer, you’ll be receiving an email shortly with instructions for downloading the new version.

If you’re not a customer, I must say: it’s a perfect day to change that :)

More than 18,000 people have used Evernote Essentials to jumpstart their Evernote mojo. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, get your copy today!

Why I’m Returning the iPad mini

A few mornings per week before I begin work, I like to walk to a nearby park, say Morning Prayer and plan my day. I use the iPad on these trips and I was going to bring my recently-procured iPad mini today. For some reason, though, I picked up my iPad 3, opened the Smart Cover and looked at the screen.

I decided right then that I’m going to return the mini. I’ll tell you why right now.

Things I Love About the Mini

The size and weight. These two factors make the device extremely portable and easy to use.

Things I Don’t Love About the Mini

The size.


Having a super small device is nice and all, but the iPad mini (and you may very well disagree with this) is aimed squarely at the “I consume stuff” market. Put another way, I type on my iPad a lot and the iPad mini sucks for typing. Even when employing an external keyboard, it was a clumsy, subpar affair compared to my iPad 3 + Logitech Ultrathin.

Also, the screen. This may be the king of all “spoiled white guy” complaints, but I found myself, in some situations, squinting to read the iPad mini screen from less than a foot away. Daddy can’t abide that. The retina display is simply too beautiful and I won’t step back.

Finally, the battery seemed to drain far more quickly on the mini than on the iPad 3. This is entirely anecdotal and may just be my dumb perception, but there you go.

Brass Tacks

I’ll be honest; I tried like hell to like the mini. I really did. And it’s a fine machine, just not for me.

I have been using my iPad as a mostly-complete laptop substitute for a good while now and it’s been wonderful. The number of concessions I’d need to make in order to adapt the mini to such a role are simply too many.

Scratching My Own Itch: Create Github Gists from within BBEdit

I type a lot. Sometimes it’s source code and sometimes it’s English, but I spend a good amount of my time moving the cursor to the right in one way or another.

Because I type so much, it’s important to me that I have the best tools for the job I’m currently doing. Not too long ago, I changed my primary text editor from the venerable vim to the (relatively) new kid on the block, Sublime Text 2. ST2 was far more Mac-like than vim (yes, even the MacVim variant), but it really lacked polish. So, I hopped over to the App Store and dropped more than a little cheddar on what has become my new text editing home: the grand poobah of them all, BBEdit.

It’s been great. BBEdit has its quirks and I’ve had to learn new ways to perform common tasks, but I’m really happy.

The Problem

Much of my daytime work for Evernote involves explaining how a given chunk of source code works. I routinely utilize Github’s gist facility to quickly publish some code and easily embed it in the web page I’m writing (here’s an example).

One feature I really loved about Sublime Text 2 (which isn’t a native feature, but was provided by an add-on package) was the ability to quickly create gists without leaving the app: highlight a few lines of code or whatever, strike a key chord and fill in a couple of fields (filename and description). A few seconds after hitting Return, the gist would be created and the URL would be in my pasteboard.

Sadly, BBEdit has no such capability, either out of the box or with a third-party add-on.

So, I built it.

The Thing

(Warning: lots and lots of nerdy programming talk ahead)

The solution is comprised of two parts: a Python program,, that creates gists and a small AppleScript program that provides the interface between BBEdit and the Python program. Let’s quickly discuss each, shall we?

As previously mentioned, this program lets you create gists from the command line. It can actually be used on its own if you feel so inclined. Running it looks like this:

python -f filename.txt -d "gist description" -c "contents of the gist"

Running that exact command will produce this result:

$ python -f filename.txt -d "gist description" -c "contents of the gist" 

(I’m also leaving the gist up if anybody wants to see that I’m not lying).

There’s also an optional -p parameter, which will create a public gist (the default behavior is to create private gists).

In a nut, each of these parameter values is shoehorned into a simple value object, then converted to JSON and sent to the Github gist API. Since, chances are, most of you reading this don’t really care about what all that means, I’ll let those who are interested peruse the source code.

Once it’s done doing its business, it prints out the HTTP URL of the gist to the console.

Now, the part that ties it to BBEdit”¦

Make BBEdit Gist.scpt

This monstrosity merely provides the user interface to Specifically, it does the following:

  1. Grabs the current directory (so it knows where to find
  2. Defines an absurdly long shell command (which is how is run).
  3. Prompts the user for a gist description and lets them choose a public or private gist.

When the script is run, the user is greeted with this awful dialog:

Yep, pretty awful, but it gets the job done and I couldn’t design my way out of a wet paper sack and I’m fine with all of it.

Once the user completes the single field and clicks one of the buttons (assuming it’s not the Cancel button which, like it says on the tin, aborts the app), it asks BBEdit for the selected text in the front-most buffer. If no text is selected, it takes all of the text in the front-most buffer. That text, combined with the options chosen by the user, are used to construct the parameters to The script is run and the output””the URL of the newly-minted gist, if all went well””is shoved into the system pasteboard.

Using the Thing

First, download the source files from Github. You need both the Python script and the AppleScript file. Drop them both into ~/Library/Application Support/BBEdit/Scripts/.

Next, open and update github_user and github_pass to your Github username and password.

Finally, restart BBEdit and you should see “Make BBEdit Gist” in the Scripts menu. Highlight some text (or don’t), then click that menu item. Assuming the bailing wire and chewing gum didn’t give way, you’ll have a gist URL in your clipboard in a couple of seconds. Spiffy!

What’s Wrong with The Thing

Because I’m not actually a real programmer, I’m shipping this thing with some known issues. Like you do.

Let’s start with authentication.

As it stands right now and like I mentioned a second ago, you’ll need to populate the github_user and github_pass variables at the top of before you can use it. These credentials are used to procure an auth token from Github which is then used to create gists. I’m not sure how long these auth tokens are valid and I wanted to avoid having to build in a UI for the user to enter their Github login, so this is where I landed. I understand there’s some awesome gitcredentials madness available, but I’m not that smart and I haven’t had oodles of free time to investigate it.

Next, user interface.

There are currently no alerts or notifications when a) the process is finished or b) there was a problem. These can be chalked up to my inexperience with AppleScript and, frankly, a bit of laziness. I wanted the workflow to be optimized for minimal user input and, as such, I felt that popping up a “We’re Done!” dialog at the end of the process would be inelegant.

Finally, we come to real, not-crappy error handling. does check for various exception types during execution and, near as I can tell, won’t loudly unwind the call stack if things go south. That said, it also doesn’t do any fancy stuff like retrying in the event of a timeout, etc.

Oh, I almost forgot: this software is provided without warranty and if it turns your Mac into a smoldering heap of unicorn entrails, don’t come crying to me.

Takeaway: if any of this makes you squeamish or angry, please don’t use The Thing (or, if you’re up for it, fork the project and fix the bug/add the feature!)

In Conclusion

I had an itch and I scratched it “” it’s that simple. As with most of the goofy, one-off software bits I publish here, I have no clue if this will be useful to anybody but me.

If you do end up using it:

  1. Awesome!
  2. Let me know (either using Github’s issues feature or via Twitter) if you have any problems with it.
  3. If you have any Python and/or AppleScript chops and feel like making the thing better, do feel free to fork the project and send me a pull request with any features/fixes you add.

Either way, I hope you guys dig this thing.

iPad mini: An Experiment (and Initial Reactions)

Yesterday morning, I drove to the Apple Store and purchased an iPad mini. For the next two weeks, I’ll be conducting an experiment.


I’ve been using my iPad (2 succeeded by 3) a lot. Mostly for writing, emailing and other things that don’t require a full-blown computer. And it’s been great – I love my iPad.

When the iPad mini was announced, I was a bit intrigued. The size and weight sounded nice, but the price and lack of a retina display were pretty major turn-offs. I had a perfectly good iPad 3 (that was rev’d about 6 freaking weeks after I bought it, but I’m not bitter, I swear) that did everything I needed.

But I started to notice something: virtually all of my online pals who had bought the mini on launch day would not shut up about it. Common refrains included:

  • “Man, this exactly what the iPad was meant to be. It’s perfect.”
  • “I’ve used this mini for a week and I just sold my iPad (2|3|4).”
  • “I thought the non-retina display would be a deal-breaker, but I totally don’t care/notice any more.”

These are people for whom I have a great deal of respect and whose opinions I generally share. After hearing what I estimate to be a couple dozen people expressing opinions like those listed above, I knew I had to at least try it.

The Experiment

I’ve written about the iPad before and how it fits into how I work. To summarize:

  • 50% writing (emails, blog posts, etc.)
  • 20% task management stuff (almost exclusively in OmniFocus)
  • 20% reading (iBooks, Kindle and Comixology)
  • 10% miscellany (games, web browsing, general screwing around)

I knew the mini would be perfectly suited to the latter two use cases, but the first two-obviously-account for the majority of my iPad use. I needed to be sure that the mini would do at least as well in each role as the iPad 3 did.

As of today, I have two weeks to evaluate this before one of two things happens:

  • I return the iPad mini and Smart Cover
  • I sell my iPad 3

Financially, this will basically be a wash. While I did pay a good bit more for my iPad 3 than for the mini, the going rate for a pristine iPad 3 on eBay is comparable to a similarly-equipped mini (according to my non-exhaustive research, that is).

The experiment will be, of course, to see how the mini performs in place of my beloved iPad 3.

(Both my iPad 3 and iPad mini are 32gb with Verizon LTE, if you’re curious – and they’re both black)


When it came time to compose text on my iPad 3, I would almost invariably attach it to my well-loved Logitech Ultrathin keyboard case. For some reason, I really loved only having to carry a single thing. This doesn’t seem to be an option with the mini since, near as I can tell, there aren’t any really great case+keyboard options yet available for it.

For the time being, I suspect I’ll be relegated to unearthing and toting around the InCase Origami, replete with Apple Bluetooth keyboard, in addition to the mini itself (the configuration being employed to compose this post, I might add). I realize that carrying two pieces of equipment instead of one is hardly worth whining about, but it’s important to me.

Part of what has made the iPad such an indispensable part of how I work is the speed with which I can deploy it and begin typing/working. I don’t know that the mini will afford me such a luxury.

Despite the near-universal claims of my comrades, I do wonder how long it will take me to acclimate to the non-retina display (or if I will at all).

First Impressions

  1. Having written most of this post using the mini (which is propped up in the afore mentioned InCase Origami), I have to say that it is nice so far. The screen isn’t so small that I have trouble reading the text that I’m writing and the whole contraption doesn’t look altogether ridiculous.
  2. The size and weight really are pretty spectacular.
  3. The non-retina display looks remarkably worse than the retina display on my iPad 3.
  4. The Smart Cover (red, if you’re wondering) is a bit of a turd; it doesn’t sit flush against the screen when closed-a problem I expect will go away after a few days of use-and the iPad seems unstable when propped up on the collapsed Smart Cover.
  5. The device itself is beautiful; Apple’s hallmark fit and finish are present and accounted for and it’s every bit as nice to hold and admire as any other Apple product I’ve owned or used.

I’m afraid that’s about all I have to say at this point. Heck, my applications aren’t even finished installing yet. My son has insisted we reserve judgement until he’s had a chance to play Angry Birds Star Wars, which sounds smart to me.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

When I mentioned on Twitter that I had purchased a mini for evaluation purposes, I was inundated with messages from friends and followers who were unshakably confident I would end up keeping the mini.

If I do end up keeping the mini, I’ll almost certainly sell my Kindle 4 (if it’s worth anything).

If anybody has any specific questions about this, ping me on Twitter.

Using GMail Filters and Canned Responses to Level-up Your Laziness

Recently, my wife and I got all gussied up and went to the symphony (they snuck me in the back door because I’m me). Because my good friend and brother-in-law is such a cool guy, he agreed to babysit our two kids for the evening.

We got home and he was curled up on the couch.

“I didn’t have the WiFi password.”

He wasn’t bummed, but I was bummed for him. Because I care, people.

Anyway, this happens somewhat frequently. People come to my house and they ask me for my WiFi password. No sweat really, but the password is long and complicated and I want to find a way to make them type it instead of me.

So I made a thing.

The Building Blocks of The Thing

GMail has a feature called Canned Responses. Basically, they’re pre-written emails that you can configure either quickly pop in as a reply to a message or send automatically using GMail’s Filters. I chose the latter for this particular case.

GMail has another feature (which, from what I’ve read, is available lots of places) which I’ll call the “+address feature”. I have no idea if it’s actually called that, but go with me.

Say your email address is Just say. You can tell people your email address is and any emails sent to that address will end up in your inbox. Spiffy.

But what you may not know, is that you can create filters based on these +address thingies. And filters can be configured to send canned responses. You may see where I’m going with this.

The Thing

To solve this problem of my guests not having my WiFi login information, I followed these steps:

  1. Created a new Canned Response in GMail containing my WiFi network name and password.
  2. Created a filter that will automatically reply with said Canned Response when people email a certain “+address”.
  3. There is no spoon.

Now, when my friends come over and ask for the WiFi info, I just tell them to email the special address and they’ll get the info in a few seconds.

Why You Might Think This is Stupid

That’s all fine and good, smarty pants, but if people don’t have WiFi, how are they supposed to send the email that gets them the WiFi information? Didn’t think’a that, didja!?

Actually, I did.

Because most of my friends are wealthy trust fund babies or whatever, they all have smartphones. And smartphones, as you may recall, don’t require WiFi to send and receive email. So, they send the email from their phone, get the WiFi info and plug it into their phone and computer. Boom.

Or you could just tell them the WiFi password, dummy.

Granted, but like I said earlier, my WiFi password is a super long string of characters that even I haven’t memorized. Maybe I’m being lazy, but programmers value laziness as a virtue.

Isn’t this inherently insecure?! What if some crazy hacker knob figures out the email address and gets your WiFi login!? Sheesh, you really are an idiot.

Two things:

  1. This person would have to be pretty crafty to guess my secret email address (and, yes, I know “security through obscurity” is dumb and irresponsible; sue me).
  2. This information is only valuable to people who are currently—or will soon be—within about a hundred feet of my house. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure this excludes almost everybody in the whole world.

How to Do The Thing

Assuming you still want to partake in this foolishness, here are the steps to create your own Thing. You’ll need a GMail account, by the way.

  1. Enabled Canned Responses in GMail Labs — In GMail, click Settings, go to the Labs tab and find Canned Responses. Click “Enable”, then “Save Changes” (at the top or bottom).
  2. Open a new GMail message and type whatever you want the Canned Response to say into the message body. When you’re done, click the Canned Responses menu and choose “New canned response”. Call it whatever you want when prompted for a name (I called mine “WiFi info”).
  3. Click over to Settings > Filters. Scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Create New Filter”.
  4. For the “To:” field, enter your super secret “+address”, then click “Continue”.
  5. Set the filter to automatically send the Canned Response and Archive the message.
  6. Pour the gin because you’re finished.

This little trick certainly has wider application, so let that big hefty brain of yours swim around in this little pool of awesome for awhile and see if you don’t come up with your own fancy implementation.

Anyway, I hope this is useful to you. Ping me on Twitter and let me know if it is (or isn’t).

Killing Your Darlings

About a year ago, my pal Myke and I decided to start a podcast together called Cooking with Brett and Myke. We weren’t sure we’d have enough chemistry or potential topics to last us very long, but we went for it.

Yesterday, almost 50 episodes later, Myke and I recorded and published the final episode of Cooking with”¦. It’s something that I absolutely loved doing and, now that it’s over, I’m more than a little sad about it.

But it had to be done.

For various reasons, I recently decided that I needed fewer obligations. My family, my job and my little side business were all immovable and weren’t candidates for the chopping block. That left only a small number of things, including the podcast. So, it got the axe. And it sucks.

It’s super easy to speak hypothetically about killing ones darlings in the name of the greater good. And I know it was the right decision here. But, I still had to kill one of my darlings.

I’m not happy it’s over, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit glad to have regained a few of my internal cycles.

Anyway, to everybody who listened and was in on all of the stupid jokes and tolerated my abominable accents, you have my sincere thanks. I don’t doubt that Myke and I will be clogging up the Internet tubes again someday.

For now, I’m comforted by an old proverb:

Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened.

Oh, and if you enjoyed our show, do check out some of the other 70Decibels offerings. And tell Myke what a bang-up job he’s doing (because he really is).