It’s no secret that I love Apple, to the point that my friend called me an ‘Apple slut’. I know that I like (or even love) Apple, but for some reason couldn’t really explain why. I mean, I love the designs of the products, the way the products worked — be it software or hardware — the innovative marketing and all that, but those reasons didn’t seem to be completely justifiable.

Then I bought the Smart Cover for my iPad, and made the comment that any company who bothered to etch a sentence (and not just any sentence, but a coherent marketing sentence that reads: Designed by Apple in California) is a company that will win millions.

At that point in time, it was the near-fanatical attention to details that made me truly impressed with Apple.

Then, Adrian Slywotzky gave me yet another reason to love Apple.

In his article, Steve Jobs and the Eureka Myth*, Slywotzky attempted to dispel the myth that Apple’s products were creations of magic; the truth is they are, except that the magic takes a discipline and effort that rivals most of any company’s attempts.

I quote:

Because Apple knows the more you compete inside, the less you’ll have to compete outside.

And yet another (emphasis mine):

Under Jobs’ leadership, Apple has done 10 times the amount of relevant homework of most companies — internal competitions, supply chain training, endless deal-making, endless recruiting, training, and generating and sustaining employee excitement that you just can’t fake.

It’s not that I am an Apple slut; or maybe I am. But the point of contention is not why I am a slut, but why I ain’t a HP or a Windows or a RIM slut or any others’ for that matter.

The reason why I love Apple more than any other, is because they don’t give me crap. Sure it’s mass produced, but at least its not mass produced crap.

So if anyone from the tech industry is reading this, let me offer you a piece of advice:

Stop thinking that Apple customers don’t know better. The truth is we do, and you are not showing us anything better than Apple.

Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, Apple trash-talks the competition after shipping a product (complete with the testing and marketing and what-nots), not before.

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*The full article can be found here, and I highly recommend it.

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Previously in Part 1* we looked at how RSS and Google Reader might help us put all the new information in a place for quick access. Today, let’s look at how we might be able to access the information on the go.

RSS reader apps and Reeder

I used to just use Google Reader in my browser, but I don’t have my laptop all the time; in fact, I read usually on the go when I only have my phone and iPad with me. Enter the need for a RSS reader app. Basically it’s an app that allows you to log in your Google Reader credentials so all the feeds that you have amassed will be found in the app. A good app should do the following:

  • Syncs with Google Reader (meaning it mirrors the feeds from Google Reader, and if I mark a feed as read in my app, it should be marked in Google Reader as well)
  • Allows for Read It Later/Instapaper integration – more on that later
  • Allows for sharing on FaceBook, Twitter and others
  • Allows me to mark a whole category as read (trust me, it’s useful when you are dealing with over a 100 feeds)
  • Allows me to read from oldest feed, or newest feed.

Previously I used NewsRack and it has worked fine for me. There’s also Pulse and Flipboard, but they work best for a small amount of feeds and leisure browsing (I’d admit they really look good); they are not built for fast skimming of 200+ feeds a day.

Then there’s Feedly, which I have been using for a while, and really loved. Except that there were several things I didn’t like about it, and switched.

I didn’t want to go back to Newsrack because it felt really dated. To be fair to it, it works really well and it actually allows you to manage feeds without logging onto Google Reader, meaning it is not a prerequisite to have a Google Reader account before using it.

Personally, I like to have my feeds managed on a Google Reader account and synced to the app, because when I change a reader app, all my changes stay; this will not be the case if I don’t use Google Reader. Nevertheless, it’s great for those who want an alternative.

So, what am I using now?

Say hello to Reeder.

The thing about Reeder is that beside being one of the prettiest RSS reader app out there, it’s very intuitive in the way it handles feeds: sort feeds by favorites, unread and feed sources; pinch in and out of categories; swipe to mark as read and to perform a special function (which I use to send to Instapaper). It also fulfills all I ask for in a good app.

There’s only one catch, and that is the inability to manage feeds subscriptions within the iOS app itself. Actually there’s two catches, with the second one being more expensive than NewsRack, because the iPad and iPhone apps are different, while the NewsRack app is universal. To overcome this, I bought the iPad app and read on my iPad solely (anyway I have my iPad with me almost all the time). Incidentally, I own the Mac app as well, and it’s equally gorgeous, and it can manage feed subscriptions.

Here’s some shots of how it looks like on the iPad.

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Reeder on the iPad

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List of feeds in Reeder on the iPad

Instapaper and Read It Later

Often we’d come across a great article that we want to keep for future reference, or simply further reading as we are kinda occupied at the moment. This is especially true when I skim through my feeds in the morning on the commute to sieve out things that interest me.

Here’s where Instapaper and Read It Later (RIL) come in. By the way, I was an RIL user but found instapaper to be much better with text, and switched.

As a care in point, here’s an example of how it all works out for me in a day.

As mentioned, I’d scan through my feeds in Reeder in the morning, and send those interesting-looking ones to Instapaper. When I get a reprieve in the day, I’d make a cup of coffee and sit down with Instapaper, reading through the articles that I have saved previously. This pretty much sums up my news reading for the day.

Here’s a primer on some nice touches in Instapaper; note that this is not a full review.

First, saved sites are formatted for reading (though sometimes it screws up because the page renders wrongly, but in that case I can just view the original site in a built-in browser). This is something RIL does as well.

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The original site in the in-built browser in Instapaper

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The same text as above formatted for reading in Instapaper

Second, Instapaper has quite a fair bit of options for customizing the reading experience, including a auto dark-mode (white text on black background) in accordance to your time-zone (it auto-switches at 7)

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Reading options in Instapaper

Also, In the main screen, there’s little dots at the bottom-right of each article to signify the length of the post: more dots, longer post. If I read the post halfway, the dots will be colored accordingly.

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Subtle dots to signify the length of a post in Instapaper

There’s also folders to organize your readings, and a “like” button which you can customize to send to services like Evernote or Twitter (note that if you send to Evernote, the URL will not be the original one but an Instapaper one. If you need the URL, save the article from Reeder or any RSS reader app and not from Instapaper).

Incidentally, Apple’s Reading List in the Safari 5 works pretty much the same (and coming soon to iOS 5), except that it cannot save out to external services yet. Also, unlike Instapaper or RIL which supports offline reading after loading, Reading List requires you to be connected as it’s just a list of sites.

A note about RSS

Recently, Jacqui Cheng wrote an article on Ars Technica about the problem with RSS**, and Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper chipped in***.  Ben Brooks then responded to both posts****.

All posts are worth a read, but in summary, Cheng’s argument is that RSS creates too much clutter for us, and having to (note the words) keep up is driving us insane. Arment takes a more balanced view, saying that

RSS is a great tool that’s very easy to misuse. And if you’re subscribing to any feeds that post more than about 10 items per day, you’re probably misusing it. I don’t mean that you’re using it in a way it wasn’t intended — rather, you’re using it in a way that’s not good for you.

Then Brooks made what I felt was the most important statement:

If you don’t like RSS don’t use it. If you want to use it but don’t want to have thousands of items, then use it like Marco does. Or use it like I do and check the feeds more often…

But don’t blame RSS.

My personal journey with RSS is somewhat like Cheng’s. Initially, I subscribed to news sites like Channel News Asia, The Straits Times, Reuters, CNN etc, but was quickly overwhelmed with the number of feeds a day (almost a thousand). Then I realized I don’t even read the papers; what makes me think I’d appreciate a boatload of feeds?

Then I killed the news feeds totally (apologies to my teachers who always told me to read the paper), relying on friends and the occasional news on TV to stay updated. One good thing about this is that if it’s a big enough news, sooner or later I’d know it. As a case in point, I knew about Michael Jackson’s death not from the news but from a friend’s Facebook feed.

I then subscribed to major tech news sources like CNET and PCWorld etc as I was well, a geek. Soon, I noticed that there’s a wealth of independent tech writers out there like John Gruber (Daring Fireball) and Ben Brooks (The Brooks Review), and added them to my RSS subscriptions.

Over time, I realized that the major tech news sources were duplicating each others’ news and similarly, when it was a big enough story, all independent writers would be writing about it, so I killed most of my major news feeds, and relied on independent writers more.

To make my skimming better, I created a few folders (you could create a ‘when I am free’ folder to the same effect) where I’d file RSS feeds which I could just mark all as read if I didn’t have the time, and hence focused on those I needed to read to get the best updates.

That’s the state of things for me now. In short, I’m mostly following independent writers with more original writings and regular, but not oppressive post schedules.

What it means for you, our reader

Try out RSS if you haven’t to follow even things like Manga updates. Start with Google Reader that is free, and move to dedicated apps when you are totally sold on RSS and need a more seamless and intuitive platform.

For tech news, follow us on Twitter where we repost curated news items from many major tech news sources (yes I still follow them, but only on Twitter). If you would like to stay updated on our posts, you can either subscribe to our RSS, or like us on Facebook (Tech bOOZE) to get our articles in your news feed.

That’s all for Part 2. In the last part to come soon, I’d post a list of (most of) my RSS subscriptions to get you started on RSS.

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*Part 1 can be found here, and Part 3 here.

**Why keeping up with RSS is poisonous to productivity, sanity

***Sane RSS Usage

****RSS Usage

The Net has been buzzing with Steve Jobs’ resignation, and through this I’ve had the privilege to read many great articles by many great writers centering around a similar topic — their love and respect for Steve Jobs.

Not wanting any of TOOZE’s readers to miss out on them, here’s a rundown of some of the best writings I’ve come across thus far. This list is far from complete, nor exhaustive as I might have just missed out some others.

More than the articles themselves, I hope we can all learn a thing or two from the big guy himself as these writers reflect on their experiences with him. All links to the articles are in the headers.

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Steve Jobs’ resignation letter

Tim Cook’s staff letter to employees after being CEO

Steve Jobs’ timeline at Apple

Agam Shah (PCWorld) ran a great summary of Steve Jobs’ time at Apple, all the way from 1971.

Recalling how Steve Jobs changed Apple

Chris Rawson (TUAW) did an recollection of the products that came out of the doors of Apple, and it’s amazing to see how the products matured and changed over time as Steve Jobs himself and Apple matured and grew.

5 products Steve Jobs killed

Steve Jobs is known to say no, and as a case in point, Casey Johnston (Ars Technica) wrote about 5 products that never saw the light of day under Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs in magazine covers

Ryan Lawler (GigaOM) did a compliation of how Steve Jobs looked through the years as shown in magazine covers. Nice!

Steve Jobs does not make all the decisions

Tom Reestman recounted a conversation Steve Jobs had with Walt Mossberg about decision making in Apple, and it’s really telling how despite popular belief, Steve Jobs do not call the shots there.

It reminds me of how I felt that Apple is Steve Jobs’ greatest gift to the world, not because he controlled it, but because he grew it to be far greater than himself, filled with great people with the simple vision of creating insanely great products.

It’s a fantastic look into his role as CEO, and probably telling of his future role as Chairman of the Board.

Steve Jobs greatest product?

Shawn Blanc calls it culture.

Brilliant tribute to Steve Jobs

Joseph Tame took two iPhones and ran 21 km to create an Apple logo. This has to be the most brilliant and innovative tribute ever.

Steve Jobs’s fierce life and legacy

Galen Gruman (MacWorld) wrote of his experience with Steve Jobs, and covers a little history about the Mac, and Steve Jobs’ exit and return. Once again, the idea that Steve Jobs is solely responsible for every decision in Apple is debunked. I quote:

People typically believe that Jobs does everything at Apple, but that’s not the case. He has had an amazingly strong set of executives, to whom he delegates significant power and responsibility. The two that matter the most are Jonathan Ive, the company’s chief designer, and Tim Cook, the man who makes Apple work like a precision machine in its manufacturing, retail, and online spheres.

A story about Steve Jobs’ fanatical attention to details

Paul Noglows (Business Insider) recounted an experience with Steve Jobs which highlighted his fanatical attention to details. I quote:

… that his attention to detail rivals that of the most focused nuclear engineer, “You usually see the capacity in a chief executive for one or the other–thinking in revolutionary broad strokes or the ability to laser focus on the seemingly most insignificant minutia,” Greg notes. “But Steve is an almost singular example with an amazing capacity to do both.

Why Steve Jobs returned after being dismissed from the company he created

Jonathan Berger was an intern with Apple in 2000, and then he asked Steve Jobs why he came back after being dismissed from the company he created. Jobs’ answer is a must read, and a lesson to us all who profess to care about anything.

Jobsian leadership

When Steve Jobs gave away applause.

PCWorld complies quotes by Steve Jobs

Gizmodo also complied quotes

One more thing…

MG Siegler (TechCrunch) has been one of my favorite writers on all things Apple, and naturally one would expect him to write about Jobs’ resignation. And he did. And it’s a lovely reflective piece with a brilliant title.

As a primer, here’s something I’ve been quoting time and again:

Apple is a testament to the idea that “little things matter”. Users may not consciously notice all the tiny bits of attention to detail they encounter in Apple products throughout a day, but it is what endears them to these products. It’s why when you pick up a competing product, it just doesn’t feel right even though the specs may be the same, and it may even look the same.

It’s also why people who don’t use Apple products don’t understand what all the fuss is about. The fuss is about all of the fuss put into making sure every pixel is exactly where it should be on every screen, in every program, all the time.

You’ve probably heard that Steve Jobs quit his job as CEO of Apple Inc. already.

Being the Apple fanboy that I am, I really thought that I should write something about it, but I got stuck. So I went ahead and wrote about my experience with Apple products, and suddenly I felt like I knew what was Steve Jobs’ greatest gift to the world and us.

Steve Jobs’ greatest gift to the world is Apple herself — her staff, her culture, her vision.

Sure, we all know that Steve Jobs was one of the founders of Apple, but that hardly was a gift, because at that time, no Steve = no Apple. Over the years after his return, he transformed the music and consumer electronics industry through Apple, but more importantly he transformed Apple to grow beyond him.

All the products that have left the doors of Cupertino bear the mark of Steve Jobs, but none screams of his identity — there’s no hogging of the limelight or him saying ‘all thanks to me’. No. It was just Apple, and he, as part of Apple, created magic with the rest of Apple and changed the world.

I have no doubt that Apple will continue to grow and I look forward to many good years ahead with Apple.

To Steve Jobs, thank you for this gift and best wishes.

p.s. As an aside, I am now a proud owner of three AAPL shares.

 

Using OmniFocus as a note-taking app

J. Eddie Smith, IV wrote an article about using OmniFocus as his primary note-taking app on his iPhone. Personally, I use Simplenote a lot more and only on occasion OmniFocus as a note-taking app. However, one thing about Smith’s argument stands out to me:

This is really a message about the power of inbox unification. I’ve always been a believer in minimizing the number of inboxes I have to juggle. The inbox in OmniFocus is one of the best all-purpose inboxes I’ve ever had the pleasure of juggling.

And that’s really key, because I have notes in Simplenote and yet another inbox in OmniFocus. Streamlining down to one helps me to not lose materials or juggle between two.

Do check out his article for more arguments and examples of how he use OmniFocus in this aspect. It’s a great read. Link in header.

Even if you don’t use OmniFocus (yes I know it’s pricy but I love it), it’s still a great read because it’d prompt you to think about how you can minimize the number of entry points. In Smith’s words:

It’s become an efficient single point of entry for nearly everything in my electronic information ecosystem that doesn’t come from email. Even if you don’t use OmniFocus, you might want to think about how you can create a common funnel for the mixed bag of information you invite into your ecosystem.

Sony Vaio Z review

Gizmodo posted their review of the laptop, and it looks to be pretty good except for the tiny trackpad and price. I quote:

The Vaio Z is proof that Sony can still do some things very right. But for everything this computer does well (which is a lot!), I just can’t get over the damn trackpad. Maybe if you have hobbit hands it’ll suit you, but I just wanted to cut my fingers off at the end of the day. That said, if you have a couple of money stacks to throw around and want a PC that combines size, speed and utility in a generally well-conceived way, the Vaio Z is a fine machine.

Link in header.

Adults playing online games

Oatmeal published a cartoon about how it’s like to play online games as a grown-up, and man did it resonate with me!

Link in header.

 

Dropbox updates Lion computability

If you’ve upgraded to OS X Lion for your Mac, you’d probably realize that Dropbox doesn’t seem to work very well, in that the iconic green status icons are missing. Well, Dropbox has released an update and it’s a manual download (bummer). Nevertheless go get it!

Dropbox before update

Dropbox folder before update

Dropbox after update

Dropbox folder after 1.1.40 upgrade. Notice that the green ticks have returned

Link in header.

Web.AppStorm writes about the top Web apps that their staff can’t live without

I’m a huge fan of Web apps for the following reasons (there’s more but I’d stick to 3):

  • they are usually free with paid (usually tiered) upgrades to fit my needs
  • they are always updated (no need to download or buy new versions)
  • they are easy to share and allow for great collaboration

And some apps I’ve been using are Instapaper, Dropbox, Popplet and Sliderocket. So check out their list and see if there’s something for you to use and improve your productivity!

Link in header.

Cheap printers are a bad idea

PCWorld published an article about why cheap printers are best to be avoided. A great read for those looking to pick up yet another printer (and trolley) at the upcoming IT fair (or whatever it’s called) in Singapore.

Link in header.

Scott Adams’ phone reviews

Scott Adams was approached by the Windows Phone team to test their phone after he complained about his iPhone 3GS and Android phone. So the challenge was for him to use a Windows Phone and if he didn’t like it, they’d donate $1000 to a charity of his choice.

Link to his review in the header.

It’s a great read, though one must bear in mind its context (which Adams painstakingly tried to remind readers) in judging for one’s self.

Interestingly though, he didn’t explicitly mention if the charity of his choice got the $1000.

Here’a an update for the review* I did of 4 iPhone expense tracker apps a while ago.

1. Versions

I realized that to do justice to the apps, I needed to include the versions I’ve reviewed, so here they are:

Saver — 1.0
BudgetCare — 2.0.1
MoneyBook — 2.5
Expenditure — 1.1.2

This is because some changes/improvements to the apps might have occurred since the post, and I want to set a context for my review, lest I give a wrong impression of the apps. Hence, if readers read the review and find that the version number has changed, it would then be wise to compare my review with the change log and see the improvements.

This would apply to any review done by anyone. I’d go so far as to say that if there is no way to ascertain the version in question, then the review is moot because it might not be the version you are paying for.

2. Budget setup

For all the 4 apps, there is no need to setup a budget in order to start tracking your expenses. The only downside is that you cannot see a balance (because there’s nothing to compare to!)

3. Search

Sometimes you’d just want to check how much you spent on that dress but there’s too much data to sieve through. Of the 4 apps, only BudgetCare and Saver allow for searching of individual expenses.

4. Recurring expenses

Recurring expenses are available for all apps except Saver, and BudgetCare has a nice touch of reminding you about future expenses via notifications.

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After writing the original review, I stuck around playing with the various apps and went back to MoneyBook eventually for its familiarity and robustness.

Then I realized that I had a fifth app to test out on.

Numbers by Apple. [Update: $9.99]

At this time of writing, it’s at version 1.4 and an universal app, meaning that it runs on both the iPhone and iPad natively. For those who are unfamiliar, Numbers is the Excel of Apple, and though I’m not doing justice to either by making a parallel, it’s the most effective in terms of introductions.

I’m not doing an Excel vs Numbers post here, but rather exploring the option of using Numbers as an expense tracker, especially since we have Numbers on the iPhone and iPad.

And it works pretty darn well.

Going by my original review criteria of setup, creating entires and reviewing, here’s how Numbers stack up.

a. Setup

Setup is a pain compared to the rest, simply because Numbers is not an expense tracker app but a spreadsheet app. What I did was to take the budget template and tweak it a little to fit my needs. It wasn’t immediately obvious how I could edit it, but after a while I had it fully customized.

And that is the power of Numbers — customizability. I could have as many graphs or categories I want, and as many budgets as I want. For the latter, none of the apps allowed multiple budgets, and multiple budgets is pretty useful if you want to well, budget.

There is a downside to Numbers though. Remember that it’s a spreadsheet app and so if I were to key in all my transactions it would soon be too cluttered. So what I did was to create a spreadsheet for each month of transactions by duplicating the previous month’s and removing all entries. It’s not pretty and soon I’d have too many spreadsheets, but for now it’s still managable. A potential workaround would be to keep the current month’s spreadsheet in my device, and store the rest on my computer for reference.

b. Creating entries

It’s hardly elegant in that I have to double tap on a cell to bring up the virtual keyboard, and there’s no way to quickly add in categories except by copy-pasting. In comparison, it’s terribly cumbersome.

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Expense tracking in Numbers (iPad) for the month of Aug-Sep

c. Reviewing

I think in terms of reviewing, Numbers trump all the rest, simply because I can make it look exactly the way I want it to. And there’s no tabbing or multiple windows. It’s just all there. This is where the pain of customizing pays off.

Conclusion

Numbers is not meant to be a expense tracker app but I’m using it as one, and in some ways it is more powerful; in many others cumbersome. Should you buy it just for this purpose? Never! However, if you are considering Numbers already or have it, give it a shot as an expense tracker before sinking in the cash for the rest.

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*My original review of the 4 apps can be found here.