Review and Usage Steps of a Favorite Mac App – GrandPerspective

What is it?

GrandPerspective is a wonderful tiny disk utility that shows you in a graphical way disk usage so you can deal with the large files/folders that take up space. Below is the description the app store. It is well worth the $1.99 that the author is charging. You can certainly find it for ‘free’ but why not pay for an app that costs less than a small cup of Peet’s regular coffee.

What is it?

Why should you use it?

I recently started a ‘small’ project around cleaning my digital landfill of files and folders. My goal is to get a decent backup strategy that starts with my most important files (family pictures and videos) and continues with less valuable files/folders. In my pursuit of the 3-2-1 backup I needed to examine my polluted Dropbox folder for large files/folders to make a determination if they were garbage or useful data that I wanted to keep (I plan to detail my approach in a future post or course…but first I need to get through this exhausting cleaning).

How to use it?

So let’s get to it – how do you use GrandPerspective?

Note: this will be a quick walk-through of this software. If you want more detailed usage information – check out GrandPerspective’s Help (per the image below).

How to use it?

Go to the app store and get it

You can get it from here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/grandperspective/id1111570163?mt=12. Believe me when I say that it’s a bargain for $1.99.

Launch GrandPerspective

When you first launch GrandPerspective, you will be greeted with a small welcome window. It will look like the following image except that there won’t be any locations in the ‘Repeat a recent scan’ section.

Choose the “Scan Other Folder” button.

Launch GrandPerspective

Choose the folder that you want to scan

In my case, I chose my ‘Dropbox’ folder, but you can choose any folder you wish. Then press the ‘Scan’ button.

Choose the folder that you want to scan

GrandPerspective will QUICKLY scan your folder and produce a tree map

The program is amazingly quick at scanning a folder of any size. The result is a tree map that looks like one of those quilts with different squares and colors.

GrandPerspective will QUICKLY scan your folder and produce a tree map

Moving your mouse across the treemap shows you files/folder sizes

GrandPerspective has amazing file resolution in terms of the mapping between squares and files and folders.

When you move your mouse, you will see a large border that points to a top level directory (1). Within this block, you’ll see sub-folders that are delineated by different colors (2).

In the example below the mouse cursor is within a gold block (3). This particular block is a large file whose size is 1.24 GB. Relative to other files/folders – this particular file is HUGE. Let’s take a more careful look at this file.

Moving your mouse across the treemap shows you files/folder sizes

Getting more detail on the file – 1

In the image below – I expanded the GrandPerspective window so that it shows the full path to my large file (notice my mouse cursor is on the gold block as mentioned above). The information bar at the bottom of the screen shows me the exact path and file name. As I look at this file, I remember that this large file is a ScreenFlow file of a screencast answer to a student’s JavaScript question.

Let’s look at even more detail of the file by right-clicking on it.

Getting more detail on the file - 1

Getting more detail on the file – 2

When I right click on the gold block (my ScreenFlow file) I have three choices:

  • “Reveal in Finder” (the one that I choose): opens the Finder to the location of the specified file/folder
  • “Open with Finder”: opens the file with whatever application is the default. In other words, select this option for my ScreenFlow file opens the file directly in ScreenFlow.
  • “Copy path”: Copies the path that is shown at the bottom part of the screen.

I’ve chosen the “Reveal in Finder” option.

Getting more detail on the file - 2

Getting more detail on the file – 3

GrandPerspective now opens the folder that contains my chosen file (the gold block from the above picture), and it conveniently highlights the file.

At this point I can choose whether I want to keep it, toss it or move it somewhere else.

Getting more detail on the file - 3

Where to go next – lots of different options

GrandPerspective has many options, but the above steps are the basics. You can delete files/folders with it too, but I would suggest doing this within the Finder, so you’re sure of what you’re doing. To get details about additional features – check the Help menu or the GrandPerspective site.

Where to go next - lots of different options

Who is it made by?

I always like to know a software creator’s background because it typically reflects in the DNA of the software.

GrandPerspective is made by Erwin Bonsma who seems to be very awesome. I know – you’re wondering how I could know that. Well – check out his home page for some neat visual work. You can clearly tell that this guy loves to work with visual things (puzzles, animations, 3D printing, and software) and it reflects in the simplicity and power of GrandPerspective.

Some other places that Erwin frequents (based on links from his home page):

Who is it made by?

Should you buy it?

The short answer: YES! (if you need to find space in your digital landfill known as your hard disk)

The long answer: Probably. It’s a nicely artisan-ish made app that does one thing very well. It is also very (very) reasonably priced.

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Reflections on Apple’s Subscription Changes, TextExpander, and Overcast

Overview

While all eyes will focus on WWDC 2016, I’m still pondering Apple’s subscription changes. The best discussion about recurring subscriptions can found at atp.fm’s 173th episode at 22:14.

I have a mixed point of view from both the consumer side and a developer/program-manager point of view.

Since Apple just announced the subscription model changes I can only speak of recent experience with software that has changed pricing to a subscriptions-based model.

The Products

The two products I’m going to cover are TextExpander and the Overcast podcast player.

Please note that I am not trying to demonize Smile Software for their pricing changes. Every business has the right to change pricing, products, and whatever other things that will help them survive and thrive. A business casts its dice and sees where their product/pricing decisions land in terms of consumer acceptance or rejection. While I may disagree with their direction, I respect Smile for choosing to make a change due to whatever strategy they see fit for themselves.

TextExpander

I had a somewhat of a severe allergic reaction to Smile Software’s announcement about their new subscription model. My point of view was best summarized by the following from my post:

I’m a consumer of TextExpander, not a “life hacker”. I’m not a business, and I’m certainly not an “enterprise user”. So I speak from this perspective.

I can’t justify TextExpander’s subscription pricing. As mentioned before, I can justify needed upgrades due to application breakage from operating system upgrades. Maybe I’m frugal (I’m still sporting an iPhone 5S and am patiently waiting for the iPhone 7S plus), but $50 per year for a text editing class application is very hard for me to justify.

My reaction was echoed by many other TextExpander users, and Smile created a lower subscription price tier for their old customers. They also brought back their standalone apps. Considering the investment that Smile put into changing subscription models, I wonder how long these pricing additions will last.

It’s been a few months, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Smile has provided a very useful utility that is akin to the usefulness of Apple’s built-in dictionary. In fact, Apple has similar functionality; it’s just that it isn’t implemented well.

I can completely see Smile’s desire for subscription pricing. Something that’s recurring and predictable is much more desirable to something that is a one-time payment with an extremely unpredictable upgrade schedule. However, for a dictionary type of application – how many upgrades should a business expect?

Frequently, Adobe is held up as the poster child for software subscriptions. However, it’s a poster child for a very specific type of software – professional apps used by designers and creatives. Within this niche, it’s easy to see that Adobe is improving their software all of the time and rather than batch it’s updates into major releases every 2 to 3 years, it now does it on a continuous basis. After all, how different is today’s Photoshop from previous version?

Sketch is in the same class as Adobe’s applications, so its subscription pricing makes sense too. It’s an (excuse the pun) apple-to-apple comparison.

Now does the above apply to TextExpander? Are significant features added to TextExpander on a regular basis? I think the answer is a definitive ‘no.’ It’s like asking whether Apple will put significant updates into their built-in dictionary app. I can’t recall any such update in past years, nor do I expected such an update. After all, a dictionary (as in the app that shows you words rather than the evolution of the words in the English language) is just a dictionary.

The Overcast Podcast Player

Overcast is a podcast app on iOS. Sure there is the built-in Apple podcast app, but it isn’t that great. I’ve been a user since day one when I paid $4.99 for the app. I’m a big fan of Marco Arment so I may be a tad biased.

Nevertheless, Overcast is excellent in terms of its Voice Boost and Smart Speed features. I especially like Smart Speed since it lets me speed through many podcasts at 2x speed without loss of comprehension or enjoyment.

Last year, Marco switched to a patronage model. In other words, he changed the pricing to optional subscriptions without feature loss within the app (the previous fixed pricing unlocked the app’s feature and now these are free). The patronage model has the following subscription tiers:

  • 3 months of patronage for $2.99
  • 6 months for $5.99
  • 12 months for $11.99

When I initially saw this change I thought “I can’t believe I paid full price for the app and now it’s free.” I mulled this over for a few days and realized that I was OK with it. Initially, I thought that I would go for the $2.99 tier. But then I thought about my heavy usage of the app and the fact that I liked what Marco stood for so I went for the 12 month subscription.

As a consumer, I appreciate Marco’s design choices in creating Overcast and the fact that he’s a one man shop that is trying to keep podcasts open and private for both podcast producers and consumers. So maybe my acceptance of this voluntary subscription model is based on the usefulness of the app and the cause that it stands for.

Conclusion

I know that comparing the subscription models of TextExpander and Overcast is unfair. One app seems frivolous in its application of subscription pricing while the other app’s use of subscriptions is meaningful to me.

Maybe as a consumer I’m just inherently unfair due to my built-in biases and experiences. Jason Snell is worried about the app economy and tip jars. Subscription pricing is not too far away from his concerns. As I look at my iPhone’s phone home screen I wonder which of the apps I would pay for subscriptions:

  • Overcast? (see above)
  • TextExpander app and keyboard (see above)
  • GoodReader? ($1 to $2 per year for maintenance and tiny UI updates),
  • Soulver? ($1 per year for maintenance; I don’t need anything to change),
  • Day One? (Up to $10 per year if the promised encrypted sync works as advertised and helps me backup my pictures),
  • ByWord? (nope; I got suckered by premium features before and I’ve paid for the macOS app too besides the lack of response to any support questions…it feels abandoned),
  • Pedometer++? ($1 per year for maintenance and because I like David Smith…I don’t need more additions to beyond the blue confetti)

Apple’s subscription pricing changes may open the floodgates to lots of apps that request users for subscriptions. I wonder how many of these will seem frivolous to consumers and how many will be meaningful?

Meditation and Mindfulness – a Book Review of “The Mindful Geek” and Some Suggestions for the Practice

Note: I have one Amazon affiliate link marked with (^a).

A Book Review of “The Mindful Geek: Secular Meditation for Smart Skeptics”

I just finished “The Mindful Geek: Secular Meditation for Smart Skeptics”(^a) and I found it to be both useful and enjoyable.

I first heard about Michael Taft’s book in David McRaney’s excellent You Are Not So Smart podcast – episode 061. I enjoyed the episode and Taft’s approach to mindfulness and meditation.

I’ve been a big fan of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books. When I read one of his books I typically feel that peace and clarity are within reach, but as soon as I put the book away I feel like I just experienced a magician’s puff of smoke. Or perhaps it’s more along the lines of the “then a miracle occurs” cartoon. Of course, this is likely more of a failing of mine than of TNH’s books.

And a Miracle Happens

Taft’s approach to mindfulness and meditation as a technology is quite refreshing. He approaches this technology in a somewhat computer sciencey way without being dry and boring. He alternates between an explanation of the how/why of meditation/mindfulness and the actual doing of it through specific practices. The meditation algorithm chapter is amazing, and it has an explanation with a flowchart…a FLOWCHART. This excites my geeky heart to no end.

Then there’s the “Reach Out with Your Feelings” chapter that really reaches into emotions – what they mean and how they can help. This is especially helpful for those of us that live more in our heads than in our hearts. Additionally, this chapter begins with a reference to Star Wars (so how could it not be full of awesome?):

It’s time for the Rebel Alliance to make their desperate attack on the Death Star. As Luke Skywalker rolls his X-wing fighter in toward the canyon-like surface of the battle station, the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks right into his head.

Of course at the end of the day meditation is all about doing rather than conceptually thinking about it. Taft hammers this home through the step-by-step directions for various meditation techniques. Not only that – but he also explains the reason for the specific practices. For each of these practices, he also has a guided audio track (a 5-minute version and a 30-minute version) at https://themindfulgeek.com/guided/. The audio is far from perfect, but that’s ok with me since it’s a guide for doing meditation and it reflects the imperfection of my practice. After all, the guided recordings are not the key; the key is to sit one’s butt down for a minimum of 10 minutes a day.

There are few books that I re-read, but this is one of the few that I will go back to.

You might find Taft’s book and approach useful if:

  1. You are someone that lives more in your head.
  2. You are looking to learn/practice mindfulness/meditation without any religious or philosophical dressing.

Some Suggestions for the Practice

Some additional resources that may be useful in regards to a meditation practice:

  • At the beginning of this year I tested various meditation apps on the iPhone in terms of the teaching of meditation practice and cost (Mindfulness Daily, Headspace, and Calm). I was planning to write an epic post about these apps but in case I never get to it – here are my conclusions:
    • Mindfulness Daily is the winner because it thoroughly teaches you meditation over 21 days and it does not demand a recurring subscription (unlike the other apps). It also provides various daily reminders to snap you out of the daily chatter of your mind.
    • On a daily basis I ended up using the GoodReader app to play Taft’s guided audio track followed by a 5 minute bell timer (below) GoodReader is an amazing app that is truly a Swiss Army knife for all kinds of media (whether reading/writing to PDFs, listening to audio, and so on). It is worth every penny.
  • Blissfully simple audio timers with a bell at the beginning and end: http://www.the-guided-meditation-site.com/zen-meditation-timer.html

  • Episode 82 of the Asian Efficiency podcast had an interview with an interesting guy (Dr. Andrew Hill) who in turn had a very nice (i.e. simple) way to practice meditation. You can find his practice on this page.

In Conclusion…

I initially wrote this article with the intent of just a book review. It ended up being a bit more than I expected.

Contact me via Twitter (@eli4d) if:

  • You’ve read the book and have ideas/opinions about it.
  • You found a great, simple, and effective approach to meditation (URLs to specifics would be very useful).
  • You want to say ‘hello’ 🙂 .

Adobe Voice – is it worth it?

If you’re an instructor – is Adobe Voice worth using?

The short answer: no.

Overview

My co-worker (Matt) showed me Adobe Voice and suggested that it might be a useful tool for creating instructional presentations. In this post, I review Adobe voice from the point of view of an instructor. Some questions that I’ve kept in mind while doing this:

  • Does it allow me to create compelling presentations?
  • How difficult is it to use?
  • Can I preserve my source materials? (to clarify – consider that regardless of your like/dislike of PowerPoint all PowerPoint presentations since 1.0 can still be used and modified with the latest version of PowerPoint)
  • Is this product going to be around in a year?

In the summary section I describe what I see as the pros/cons of Adobe Voice. While in the detail section I cover my test presentation and usage of Adobe Voice.

You can find the sample presentation that I created on Adobe Voice at: https://voice.adobe.com/a/VNo0k/

Summary aka ;TLDR

Ironically, Adobe seems to own your voice when you use Adobe Voice. Consequently, from an instructor point of view I don’t think it is worthwhile. It has great value as a potential form of self expression that also advertises for Adobe. It is great for throwaway projects and has potential as a brainstorming tool assuming that you don’t care about your brainstorming’s artifacts.

Stepping for a moment away from the instructional point of view, Adobe Voice is a great showcase app that can provide other app makers with a great user centric approach to accessing and using Creative Commons assets.

Right now (as of 10/21/15) Adobe Voice is only available on the iPad.

The good about Adobe Voice:

  • The most amazing part of Adobe Voice is the ease of import of Creative Commons materials in terms of icons and images. There’s a certain sort of odd irony that the open nature of Creative Commons is the core feature of an extremely proprietary tool. More interoperable competitors such as Explain Everything should immediately implement this very feature in their product. If nothing else Adobe Voice is a great prototype of the things that you can do with Creative Commons.
  • Kudos to the UI designers and the programming team of Adobe Voice for making it both powerful and easy to use.
  • The frame-by-frame voice recording is great in combination with the background music and choosable theme.

The bad about Adobe Voice:

  • Only portrait orientation is allowed. This may seem like a minor point but it becomes really annoying really fast.
  • The video that Adobe Voice generates is only available on Adobe’s site. Adobe Voice is another way for Adobe to bring users into their Creative Cloud. The only in-app purchase within the app is for space on Creative Cloud. I understand that Adobe is a business and they need to make money. However, in a business context Adobe Voice is nothing more than a pretty advertisement brochure for Adobe. There is no way to export the project to any format but the proprietary one that is stored on Creative Cloud. So ironically your voice as represented by your Adobe Voice project is locked away on Adobe’s servers. There is no way to export the project into any neutral format (like Markdown). This is the biggest problem with Adobe Voice and I cannot recommend it to anyone because of this. Adobe may discontinue the project at any time and the only thing that users may be left with is yet another corporate email apology.

Detail

In this section I walk through my small video creation that you can find here: https://voice.adobe.com/a/VNo0k/ . As a technical point – I used an Audio Technica lavalier microphone – the ATR3350iS. I heard a little bit of background noise when recording and choose the ukulele background music to mask it. This brings up one issue with using the iPad with Adobe Voice – audio capture is tricky. The iPad’s microphone is really not great and you would be better served with a shotgun type of microphone. However, if you use Adobe Voice for just throwaway projects then the sound quality may not matter as much.

Starting Adobe Voice

Few log-in options and some pimping to educational organization.

Starting Adobe Voice

I used my Adobe login

I happen to have a Creative Cloud account due to some meager attempts at learning Photoshop. For my use the cost of Creative Cloud is questionable.

I used my Adobe login

Choice of presentation structure

A very nice pallette of presentation structures to choose from. I went with “Teach a Lesson”.

Choice of presentation structure

The Heart of the Interface

This is the ‘dashboard’ through which you build your presentation on a frame-by-frame basis. In a sense it’s no different than working on a PowerPoint viewgraph – but with the iPad’s tactile interface and amazing Creative Commons usage. Lets do a quick walk through the interface:

1 – Home sweet home where you can create new projects or edit old ones. You never have access to the actual project file and its contents beyond the Adobe Voice app and Creative Cloud.

2 – Built-in: Layout allows frame-by-frame image/icon/text arrangment; Themes is presentation wide changes of theme; Music is presentation wide music backgrounds (all of these will be shown later)

3 – The “share” button which is more of an “upload then share via url to video” (you can only share a link to Adobe’s site where your assembled presentation is located).

4 – Per frame presentation elements: Icon scaled to fit, or Photo, or Text. For icon/photo you can use Creative Commons search or your own (shown later)

5 – This is the magical button that records your voice for this particular frame. As long as you hold it, then your voice is recorded. Once there’s either a visual element (via (4)) and/or audio, then you’ll have the ability to play just that frame. Note that I found some weird skips when doing an audio recording that was less than a second.

6 – This is a very PowerPoint like view of your current and future presentation frames. You also have a play button on the left side to play the presentation from this point forward (across all frames). The frame names that you see are due to the “teach a lesson” structure that I choose for this presentation.

The Heart of the Interface

Icon search for ‘voice’ – 1

Icon search for 'voice' - 1

Icon search for ‘voice’ – 2

Look at the amazing Creative Commons selections!

Icon search for 'voice' - 2

Photo search options

“Find Photos” is the Creative Commons search. Have I mentioned how awesome this is?

Photo search options

Replace layout on current frame – 1

Replace layout on current frame - 1

Replace layout on current frame – 2

Replace layout on current frame - 2

Theme Choices

Note that certain themes can cause distortions of photos due to theme type. For example, the Watercolor theme caused the picture in frame 2 to be distorted in a theme appropriate way. In my case, it cut off frame 2’s picture to the point that the word ‘unique’ was not visible so I went back to Simple theme. There are more themes than what’s shown in the image.

Theme Choices

(Background) Music Choices

A very nice touch is the ability to change the volume of the background music across the whole presentation.

(Background) Music Choices

Photo orientation gone bad

There’s no way to correct a photo that is mis-oriented…at least none that I could see.

Photo orientation gone bad

CC CYA – Creative Commons Information

When choosing the ‘i’ next to a Creative Commons image or icon – this is what you get.

CC CYA - Creative Commons Information

“Share” button – 1

I choose to “share” through email. And in case you’re wondering – yes, the double quotes are there for irony.

"Share" button - 1

“Share” button – 2

"Share" button - 2

“Share” button – 3

"Share" button - 3

“Share” button – 4

Boy do I have a story for you…and in case you didn’t know it ADOBE HELPED ME MAKE IT!

"Share" button - 4

“Share” button – 5

When you click the link in the email this is what you see in your browser.

"Share" button - 5

“Share” button – 6

When playing your presentation off Adobe’s site the last frame of your presentation is auto-generated. As you can see – in the case of my presentation it gives attribution to all the Creative Commons images and icons that I used. This is a very nice way to give credit where credit is due. Big thumbs up to Adobe Voice’s designers and developers.

"Share" button - 6

Conclusion

I’m not sure if there is more to say. Adobe Voice comes so close to being amazing but it falls short through its proprietary nature. And the amazing part is the most ironic part too – the integration of Creative Commons assets. It leaves me with this mixed feeling about Adobe Voice which is reflective of how I feel about the company that brought both amazing products like Photoshop and terrible ones like Flash.