This week on Mac Power Users, David and I are joined by the Mad Scientist himself, Mr. Brett Terpstra drink. We've had Brett on the show a couple of times, but never for a proper workflow. We talk with Brett about his setup, how he gets work done on his Mac, thoughts about tagging under Mavericks, and more.
This week I joined Allison Sheridan of the Nosillacast Mac Podcast. During her Chit Chat Across the Pond segment, Allison and I discussed how to manage data use when tethered and on cellular networks. We investigated the applications and background processes that slurp up data and how to manage them. With iOS 7 Apple introduced new settings to better manage cellular data use, but managing data use when tethered to a Mac isn't so easy. So we investigated third party utilities like ControlPlane, Keyboard Maestro and Little Snitch that can be used to automatically disable services and block network activity when tethered or on certain networks.
I've written about how I've used the ObiTalk device paired with Google Voice to make free calls throughout the United States. Mac Power Users listener Tyler recently wrote and referred me to a blog post on Obihai's website indicating that effective May 15, 2014 the ObiTalk would no longer work with Google Voice. This is apparently due to Google discontinuing support for XMPP based calling.
This was disappointing, but not that unexpected. Using Google Voice in this fashion to pair with a landline phone has never been officially sanctioned by Google and we all know that Google changes features and discontinues services from time to time. Fortunately, in this case they've given us some advance notice to consider next steps.
I can't complain. Other than the initial investment of $40 for the ObiTalk hardware, I have enjoyed landline telephone service free of charge for more than two years. (That's about the cost of 2 months of my prior home phone service with a heck of a lot more features.) I've more than got my money's worth. As Obihai points out of their blog post, I can continue to use my hardware with a number of other service providers to continue my home telephone service if I so desire. I've also looked at Ooma, a competing VOIP provider with extremely competitive rates ( On their basic plan, you only pay the taxes after the purchase of the device which would work out to about $4 a month in my area.)
I'm not sure yet what am going to do. Thankfully, I have a few months to figure it out. However, I'll most likely do nothing. Two years ago when I installed ObiTalk the cell phone coverage at my house was spotty. At that time, I felt having a landline is a backup was still necessary. Today, I've switch cell phone providers and seldom use my home landline. I also have unlimited voice minutes and nationwide long distance so like many people, I seriously doubt I need a second telephone line.
I can continue to use my Google Voice number and all of the features of Google Voice with my existing cell phone for his long as Google supports it. Candidly, I question longevity of Google Voice. To my knowledge, Google has not found a way to monetize the service and it's always seemed awkward fit with their business model. It wouldn't surprise me if it too went the way of Google Reader.
If you currently have and ObiTalk connected to Google Voice you need to be aware of his upcoming change and plan accordingly. I'll let you know what I decide to do. But for now, I'll likely just disconnect the ObiTalk from my home and continue using Google Voice with my cell phone.
In the last Mac Power Users David and I discussed dictation in depth. David talked about the differences between the built-in dictation features in Mavericks on using a dedicated program like Dragon Dictate. (David also wrote about it for Macworld here.) The general consensus is while Mavericks dictation is good, Dragon Dictate is still the gold standard for Dictation on the Mac.
David convinced me I needed to pickup a copy. Lucky for me, a couple listeners were kind enough to point out a special deal that is valid another three days where Dragon Dictate is available for $99 (50% off the regular price.)
You purchase through MacAppDeals.com which gives you a code you then take to the Nuance website to finalize the transaction and complete the download. I've bought it myself and while the download is large (about 2GB) it's a killer deal.
In one of our most requested shows, this week on Mac Power Users David an I talk all about Siri and Dictation. I love Siri, she's fun but is she more than that? David and I discuss how Siri can be used for real productivity. We also return to dictation, one of David's favorite subjects. David walks us through his workflows for using dictation on the Mac and iOS and how they compare to his beloved Dragon Dictate.
Last week on Mac Power Users David and I shared some of the items on our holiday wish lists. I mentioned the new WeMo insight Switch was on my list this year (I already own a couple of the previous generation switches) and David talked about how he uses a WeMo to control his Christmas lights. This weekend, when putting up the lights on my home, I decided to repurpose one of my WeMos to this task and I'm delighted with the end results.
Unfortunately with my hectic schedule it's not unusual for me to get home late or just forget to turn the Christmas lights on or off. No more, I've automated the process. Sure, I could buy a standard mechanical timer, but what would be the fun in that? I've repurposed the WeMo that traditionally controls my bedroom fan for my Christmas lights. Using one of the WeMo's standard rules, I've set the lights to turn on at sunset and off at 10pm each day. No hassle, no fuss.
As an extra bonus, I can turn the lights on and off manually from my iPhone. The neighborhood kids (and me too) had a fun time in the yard with that trick. But Aaron pinged me on Twitter and told me with IFTTT you can use Siri to control WeMo. The process was written up by Steve Sande for TUAW. Essentially, you're enabling the WeMo and SMS channels on IFTTT and using Siri to send a text message to IFTTT to trigger an action with your WeMo. Very cool.
Next year I plan to take my setup one step further by installing a WeMo Light Switch. I actually have a electrical outlet built in my soffit of my home specifically for Christmas lights wired up to one of the switches by my front door. Using the WeMo Light Switch would free back up my current WeMo Switch. (Without my bedroom WeMo I have to manually turn on and off my bedroom fan manually, like an animal!)
I can't describe the simple joy automating my Christmas lights brings. There must be something wrong with me.
Edit: For clarification, my WeMo is plugged into an outlet inside my garage where it's protected from the weather. Being in Florida, the tempatures in my garage are mild. According to Belkin's site WeMo's are for indoor use only.
This month's issue of ScreenCasts Online Monthly Magazine is now available in Apple's Newsstand App. In the December issue you'll find an article from me about rethinking the purchase of AppleCare.
The monthly magazine is packed with streamable versions of Don's excellent video tutorials as well as articles, reviews and tips from authors including David Sparks, Allison Sheridan, Wally Cherwinski and more. The magazine is free for ScreenCasts online Premium Members or available as a separate subscription or you can pickup individual issues. You can download it in the AppStore or find more info at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/
We've been talking a lot of about email recently. My good friend David Sparks wrote an awesome book all about Email, we recently discussed the topic on Mac Power Users and I've been writing about email quite a bit for Don McAllister's ScreenCastsOnline Monthly Magazine. One of the common topics is using rules to better organize email so I figured I'd take this opportunity to share a few of my favorite email rules
First, a primer on email rules. They are basically a series of if/then statements. If certain criteria are met, then the email will be acted on accordingly. Rules can either be configured through your email service provider, or on your Mac.
Server-side rules are preferable because they will run on your email before it hits your machine and thus your email will already arrive to you filtered across all your devices. However, they can be more limited in what they can do. An advantage of Gmail is that it has great support for rules, whereas iCloud is not as robust in their server-side rule selection.
You can also run rules in your mail application on your Mac. This tends to give you more options for configuration, but your Mac must be on and the mail application running for the rules to work. Then, if you have your email synced across your devices via IMAP or a similar protocol, once your rules have kicked in and a message is moved or filtered, that change should populate to all your devices. If you have a desktop machine that is on all the time, this is a great way to filter rules before they hit your mobile devices. If you don't have this luxury server-side rules are the way to go.
Because they're always available, I recommend setting up server-side rules to the extent possible, then supplementing as necessary with local rules on your Mac. Let's take a look at a couple of rules I have setup:
The Low Priority Inbox
As I shared in the previous article, I try to keep my inbox only for items that actually need my attention. I've created a couple of sub-folders for items that need to be reviewed, but perhaps not urgently. Therefore, I've created a Mailbox called "Review" outside of my general inbox where I divert certain types of traffic. Here are a couple of examples of things that go there:
My Mac is set to automatically backup with CrashPlan and therefore I receive regular reports of the progress. I want to review these, but not necessarily the moment they come in. The rule is simple: If Subject Contains: "CrashPlan Backup Report" Move Message to: Review
I do a lot of shopping on Amazon (too much, really). So I like to keep track of when Items have shipped. But, I use an App called Delivery Status Touch to track all my packages. That App has an accompanying web service that you can configure to add tracking information to your account by forwarding an email with a tracking number. So, this is a two part rule, it not only moves the message to my Review folder, but also forwards it to the email address connected to Delivery Status for tracking. Here's that rule:
If From Contains " firstname.lastname@example.org" Move Message to Mailbox Review Forward Message To: email@example.com
This one is easy to configure because Amazon always sends shipping confirmations from the same address. So does Apple so I've setup a similar rule. However, I've also setup a more generic form of this rule that will look at the subject of email messages for words "order has shipped" and forward the message accordingly.
Just Archive It
Some messages, I never need to see. So I've setup a series of rules to mark these messages as read and archive them. Archiving the message means that it's available should I ever need to find it in the future, but I'm not bothered by it. I've managed to get on a few email lists that I just can't seem to politely get off of. Perhaps they're from organizations I use to be a member of or people I know who insist on including me on mass mailings. In this case, I try to find something that all these emails have in common and craft a rule accordingly. Sometimes the subject is similar, sometimes the sender and the recipient is the same, or sometimes the message always includes another recipient I never receive mail from. I can use any of these criteria to craft a rule to automatically mark these messages as read and archive them. Or, if you really don't want to hear from this person, trash it.
I'm a member of a few mailing lists. Some are high volume, some are low volume. But in most cases these list messages don't need to be included in my inbox. So for theses lists I've created specialty mailboxes that I check regularly. Again, the key here is to find something unique about all these messages, perhaps a sender or a prefix in the subject line and craft the rule accordingly.
The Review Smart Mailbox
If you're going to filter your mail, then you need to be diligent about checking your filtered messages to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. For this, I've setup a Smart Mailbox in Apple Mail that looks at all the various mailboxes I use to filter messages. This combines all those unread messages into a single place I can quickly check and process. I've even dragged this smart mailbox to my menu bar in Mail.app for easy access.
Spending some time at the onset crafting email rules can pay great dividends when it comes to daily reading and processing of your email. However you do need to be careful to make sure your email is being filtered and delivered correctly. One stray email rule may be causing havoc and unintentionally diverting all you messages so keep an eye on your email after you setup rules to make sure things are flowing properly.
This article first appeared in the October, 2013 Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/
The Drobo 5N is one of the "deals of the day" on Amazon. Regularly $599, today only the price has dropped to $429 with free shipping.
I have a 5N and have talked about my experiences with the product on Mac Power Users as well as in this post. The short version is, I love my 5N. I use my Drobo for all my archival storage, a backup destination for my computers as well as several family computers and to host my iTunes library. The 5N serves as a Time Machine destination (and is faster than my Time Capsule) and I've installed Plex via Drobo Apps so it can function as a standalone media server.
If you've ever had any interest in a Drobo, the price today is hard to beat. Find it here (affiliate link.) While you're shopping, you may want to pickup a few Western Digital Red SATA drives to feed the Drobo. I use these drives in my unit and find they're fast, reliable and quiet.
Disclosure: Drobo is a sponsor of Mac Power Users
It's hard to believe the holidays are upon us. David and I have released the 2013 edition of our Mac Power Users Geek Gift Guide just in time for Black Friday. I think this is one of my favorite episodes each year, it's certainly one of the most fun.