As you may have heard, Apple has released the latest version of its Mac operating system: OS X 10.9 Mavericks. I have spent the last couple days playing around with some of the new features, and one of my favorites is called Enhanced Dictation. As you also may know, last year Apple introduced dictation in both iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion. It did not take long for me to become a huge fan of both. Now, I most frequently dictate e-mails, rather than type them. I have generally found the dictation feature to be highly accurate and very convenient. My only complaint about the feature was that it required a persistent Internet connection, in order to transmit speech to an Apple server and then receive the words back in typed form. This generally happened quite quickly, within a second or so. It was never a question of the time it took to convert the spoken word into typed words, only a question of whether an Internet connection was available. On an iPad without cellular Internet service, or for a MacBook (period), it meant only being able to dictate where Wi-Fi network was available. When using the online service, one also is limited to about 30 seconds of dictation at a time.
The latest incarnation of Mac OS X removes this stumbling block to dictation. Now, with a download of less than 800 MB, dictation is available on a MacBook or a desktop Mac anytime, anywhere. And best of all, since Mac OS X10.9 Mavericks is available for free, enhanced dictation is free. What used to cost hundreds of dollars for third-party software, is now available to anyone with a Mac capable of supporting OS X 10.9, which means pretty much any Mac purchased in the last six years. Enhanced Dictation lets you speak continuously with the words appearing before your very eyes. Anywhere you can type, you can dictate. The service is very smart about capitalization and to enter punctuation, you just speak the name of the punctuation mark you want. So, for example speaking quote I love ice cream period unquote produces "I love ice cream."
Apple has truly been at it again: providing new value and adding features to years-old hardware. There are many reasons why you might want to update to Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks, but not as many of them are as obviously useful for an attorney as enhanced dictation. If you skipped any of the recent Mac OS X updates, you are in luck. OS X 10.9 Mavericks is free to any Mac owner who is using 10.6 Snow Leopard or later.
PS: this entire blog post was done with dictation.
Get it here: OS X 10.9 Mavericks on the Mac App Store (FREE)
Double Robotics has released its Double Telepresence Robot for Telecommuters, promising owners the ability to have a presence in the office even whilst telecommuting. Watching the video from Double is fun, and the photos make it look pretty cool, too.
The idea looks fun, but I have to wonder what it would be like to be working in an office where robots approach you routinely to teleconference with their alter-ago. Perhaps some day these will allow attorneys to make it quickly from one hearing to another in record time: You could go live to deposition A, and send your robot to hearing B. "Thank you, your honor. Ronald Schoedel, by robot, appearing for plaintiff." I want one.
Review of Double Robotics Double teleconferencing robot, with video.
Brainstorming has been considered an effective technique for collaboration, getting ideas out of one's mind or a groups' minds, and into a format that can be analyzed, expounded upon, and subjected to a critical process, with the end goal of finding the best ideas and acting upon them.
Mind mapping is a concept that originated a few decades ago, and has since come to the fore of productivity enhancement techniques. If you are not familiar with mind mapping, it consists of a visual representation of the relationships between ideas. A mind map is started with a single idea which becomes a node to which appendage ideas are connected. As the thought process flows, additional ideas are linked together through nodes, subsides, and with color or text style sometimes serving to differentiate trains of thought.
Studies have suggested that mind mapping can be a more effective means of note taking for students, as well as planning, decision making, problem solving, and information gathering/organizing. With such a method being so popular and effective, it only makes sense to bring it to the iPad and Mac, which IdeasOnCanvas GmbH, out of Austria, has done with their MindNode Pro and MindNode Touch apps (hereafter, collectively MindNode).
MindNode is available for Mac and iOS (both iPad and iPhone), and all versions interact with each other and can edit mind maps created with the other version. Dropbox and iCloud synchronization is available within MindNode Pro, so that whatever device you have available, you can use your documents.
For example, in a study group session or a meeting setting, you might put your mind map on the projector screen from your MacBook, allowing collaboration, and then saving it all to iCloud for later reference and editing from your mobile devices. I found the syncing to work exactly as expected, just as reliably as any Apple app uses iCloud, such as Pages or Numbers. It just works.
The software itself is polished and intuitive. It has relatively few controls, making it very easy to get right into and pick up the methodology of mind mapping, even if you've never done a hand-written mind map before. Main nodes are initiated with a simple click, and then branching off is as simple as dragging out from the main node in the direction you want to go. A smart layout mode is available to organize branches, or you can go free form and drag your ideas anywhere onto the page.
Sometimes, after you've got a few ideas on the page and many sub-nodes, you will have occasion to identify connections between ideas that exist within separate trees. Connecting these ideas is quite simple, and provides a visually uncluttered way of acknowledging and organizing relationships in the thoughts you've mapped. The programs' specifications say that the canvas size is unlimited. The ability to collapse and expand nodes as needed helps keep your map tidy when it begins to get expansive.
Colors and fonts are all customizable, but there are also several pre-programmed color schemes that are attractive. Media can be added to a mind map very easily, such as photographs, to add further visual impact to your maps. The flexibility of the software and the method by which the interface just allows your ideas to shine and take center stage really sets MindNode apart from other mind mapping apps I have tried and gotten frustrated with. The keys of good software design is to let the application sort of fade out of view so that the creative work being done is not obscured by buttons, widgets, controls, menus, and so forth. MindNode Pro's exceptionally clean design (across both versions, Mac and iOS) has made me enjoy mind mapping on the computer and iPad, something that a number of cheaper or free programs has not done.
In my use of the apps, I never encountered a single problem or difficulty either in execution of what I wanted to do, or in the results. I'm a big fan of being able to use the same apps across all my devices, and MindNode indulges this need of what I believe is a pretty large group of users. The interface in iOS is optimized for the touch screen, so it's pleasant to use MindNode across platforms, which is often note the case (many mobile apps have been ported from the desktop without much thought given to optimization for a touch interface). Once you've used either the iOS or Mac version, picking up the other without any training is quite possible, but there is a helpful manual and support website available.
Just as important as getting your ideas into the app, and organized, can be the need of getting your ideas out of your computer or iPad onto paper, or into another application for further collaboration. MindNode offers numerous exports, including formats such as PDF and images, but also text (into outline form), and FreeMind and OPML, which is useful for outlining apps such as Omni Outliner. In my tests, mind maps exported into OPML opened perfectly in OmniOutliner, with all data present and organized as a traditional outline. On the iOS version, a handy textual outline view is available. Exporting on the iOS version allows you to save a mind map to your camera roll, or export to another app via the same formats the desktop version supports (of course, using an easy touch interface). It is nice to see an app that exhibits so much thought put into the porting process from desktop to touch. As Mac and iOS users, as we know, it's the little things
Whatever your purpose may be in mind mapping, MindNode Pro provides the canvas for your ideas to bear fruit. I heartily recommend MindNode Pro without any reservations at all. There are no downsides or cons to the apps or to the MindNode ecosystem.
Get it here:
MindNode Pro (Mac)
MindNode Touch (iOS devices) (same app works on iPhone/iPod touch and iPad)
We live in a world of information overload. Sometimes our jobs require us to read so much information every day, there seems little time to do anything else. How nice would it be to take a bunch of documents you need to read, and have them converted into an audio file that you can listen to whilst in the car, or anywhere else you might want to listen to your iPod or iPhone (or other music player)?
Mac OS X has a nifty programming environment called Automator, which allows users to drag and drop actions into sequence to create applications or workflows that can automate a lot of tasks, making your life simpler. All sorts of routine tasks can be combined into sophisticated sequences. I have designed workflows that combine PDF files, batch rename files, convert batches of files, and the subject of this post, convert a Word document into an MP3 file that you can listen to.
To get started, download the file below. Open it on your Mac, and then, open a Word document as well. Press "Run" from the upper right corner of the Automator window, and in a few seconds you will have an audio reading of your Word document in a playlist in iTunes, ready to be synced to your iPod or iPhone. If you'd rather not download the pre-assembled workflow--so you can try your hand at building it yourself, just follow the outline below:
You can experiment a bit and find many other uses for this workflow, aside from reading briefs, pleadings, or other Word documents you might have to read. See a bunch of article online you want to read but haven't got time for? Safari has an excellent feature called "Reader" which, when invoked, presents you with a view of just the webpage's text, unencumbered by ads, links, and other junk. You could copy and paste a bunch of articles from Reader into a Word document, run the workflow, and have all your news articles of interest compiled into a handy audio file to listen to on the drive to work. To invoke Reader in Safari, look for the blue box at the right side of the URL bar that says "Reader", and click it, which will give you the view below:
I like loading a bunch of BBC articles into a document, then having them read to me by one of the British voices that you can download for free within OS X (You can browse the available voices, and download dozens more in many languages, free, in the Speech and Dictation pane within System Preferences.)
Get it here:
Word Document Text to Speech Automator Workflow
- Ronald C. Schoedel III, Esq.
Copy.com is one of the latest entrants to the increasingly competitive consumer-oriented cloud data storage market. If you are familiar with Dropbox, you will be instantly familiar with Copy. I've been a Dropbox user for a few years now, and have also been a very happy Copy user, for the past several months. I use both services, each for different purposes, and I submit that even if you have a Dropbox account, you, too might find a place in your workflow for Copy.com.
Copy combines a web interface, an iOS app, and a Mac app (as well as Linux, Android, and Windows versions) to make all of your stored documents available across any device you might have access to at any given time.
I am using Copy to make files from my Documents, Downloads, and Desktop folders on my Mac available to me anytime on my iPhone and iPad, as long as I have internet access. This has proven quite useful when I am away from my computer, on the phone with someone whilst I am out and about, and I want to refer to a document for some information. I simply pull up the Copy app on my iOS device, navigate my folder structure which mirrors that on my Mac, and download the file. The Copy app has a built-in file viewer so I can read most any sort of file. Pages, Numbers, text files, Word, Excel, PDF, images, and others are all readable within the app. For other sorts of files, the "Open in..." function allows you to send your document to other apps on your iPad or iPhone.
Among the other useful features of Copy are its Shared folder, which allows files to be shared amongst Copy users for collaboration or multiple user access, the ability to restore files from multiple previous versions (I counted at least 20 prior versions available to me when I accidentally deleted a file the other day), and significantly better pricing than Dropbox: your first 15 GB are free, compared to Dropbox, which gives you 2 GB free. Use this link, and get an extra 5 GB free after you sign up and install the Copy app on at least one device.
Whether you're looking for backup in the cloud, or file syncing across devices, Copy is a compelling new service that will give Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Google Drive a run for their money.
Get it here:
Review by Ronald C. Schoedel III, Esq.
After having used Todo on my iPhone and iPad for months, I was eager to try Appigo’s Mac client of the same name. I have been engaged in the quest for the holy grail ever since I got my first iPhone: a synchronized to-do list that stays current between my iPhone and Macs, with very little fuss on my part. There are a number of great to-do lists, but few of them synchronize well, and few have powerful feature sets that are fairly equal across platforms (OS X and iOS). Todo breaks out of the pack with a home run in their Mac and new iOS 7 versions. I will review the iOS and Mac versions separately. This post is about the Mac version.
To begin, the app itself is beautifully designed with adaptive windows that showcase your tasks in any level of detail you wish to see. This means you can, for example, make your Todo list show in a small square window all the time, or maybe a vertical rectangle window on the side of your screen. Or, my preference, is a full-screen view of my Tasks, the calendar, and all contexts and tags, occupying a virtual desktop all to itself. Being able to swipe into that desktop with trackpad gestures means my complete personal productivity organizer is always close at hand, for when I think of a task I need to do, or someone I need to phone, or a website I need to visit.
Tasks can be entered with minimal or great detail. Aside from generic tasks, one can assign a type, such as “call a contact” or “visit a website”, and then connect the task to the contact information or website, so that information is immediately available from your own task list. Creating a task is as easy as typing a title for it and hitting enter. But if you’re the type who likes a task list, you’re probably the type who likes lots of detail, and Todo shines here. You can assign a due date, a due time (from a rolling clock-like dial), make a task into a checklist, give it a priority level, and add notes (at least several lines worth of notes). The one thing I wish it permitted is either the ability to attach a document to a task, or at least reference a document on the computer with a link. Setting alerts is easy and it appears that one can add a bunch of alerts for a single task. Very handy for procrastinators, or for people who like more advance warning, say a day or more out.
All of that is wonderful, and everything Todo does on the Mac, it can do on the iPad and iPhone, as far as I can tell. Except display notes in the task list, which seems to be available only on the Mac (due, no doubt, to the much bigger screen available).
Synchronization, as previously mentioned, has always been the holy grail of to-do list-making for me. Ever since I started keeping a paper to-do list, I’ve wanted the ability to add to it from anywhere, and have its contents always perfectly updated. Obviously, with paper, that’s pretty much only possible if you carry a list around with you everywhere, all the time. With a combination of electronic devices, it should be relatively simple (to the end user at least), to implement a way to keep multiple lists in sync. Todo includes the ability to sync via Dropbox and iCloud, as well as a subscription service of their own, which offers some perks and extra features. But the app is not crippled if you don't use their pay service. If you don’t use Dropbox but want a syncing task management system, I’d get Dropbox just for this convenience. The new Todo 7 for iOS works great with the Mac app and I now have my to do list on all of my devices, synced perfectly.
Other makers of productivity apps have promised integration but failed, at least in my attempts and having spent lots of money trying to achieve the sort of integration I need for my busy life. Appigo customer service has been very good too, in my experience. Tech support is responsive and fast, and quite willing to help.
Get it here:
Todo for Mac
Review by Ronald C. Schoedel III, Esq.
Every once in a while, a company makes a major mistake in their attempt to enter the mobile app space. Even when their desktop software is amazing, a proper effort is not always put into translation of that software into a mobile context. One such major failure is Microsoft's One Note. What is an outstanding desktop application -- I run Parallels on my Mac almost exclusively for the purpose of using One Note -- has no comparable "official" iOS companion. Sure, there is an official One Note app for iOS. It, however, is rubbish, to be kind. I've never met anyone who thinks otherwise. What I have met, however, is a multitude of iPad users who desperately want to be able to sync One Note with their iPad and use their iPad to edit their One Note notebooks. Thankfully, Outline+ has come along with an amazing app at a bargain price, which makes nearly the entire range of One Note features available on the iPad.
This is the app I've been looking for, since I bought my first iPad just before I started law school over three years ago. Outline+ syncs via iTunes, Skydrive, Dropbox, or Box.com, with any One Note notebook you give it access to. It also has the ability to open One Note notebooks that you get in your email via the "Open In..." feature of iOS. Once a notebook has been brought into Outline+, it's an amazing thing to see in action and to work with.
I first discovered this app when I was a busy law student last year, when my notes were pretty much my life. I had been been searching high and low for the very best way to take notes and keep them synchronized between my MacBook Pro and my iPad. Prior to discovering Outline+, I could not say I was really very pleased with any solution I attempted to cobble together. Now, I feel like my iPad is living up to its true potential to revolutionize the academic and professional side of my life.
Anyone who has ever used One Note will immediately recognize everything about Outline+. But it doesn't have to be used with One Note. It is a fully capable stand-alone note taking app, with the capability to manage data in multiple notebooks, each with multiple colored-tab sections, with multiple pages, which can be created and moved to organize your data how you need it.
Using Outline+ is as easy as anything. Create a notebook, assign it a cover from one of many various colors or designs), then create sections within the notebook, and pages within the sections. In my tests, each page can store a ton of text. (It took me only 3 pages to store the entire content of a multinational treaty I am studying.)
Creating text notes is as simple as tapping on the page: a long tap creates a new note on the page, inside a dotted outline box, just like in One Note. Editing these notes just requires a tap on the note and then a tap inside the note. Moving notes into new positions on the page is accomplished by tapping the note, then long-tapping it to move it. Easy, right?
Text can be indented, bulleted, formatted, etc., just as easily as can be done on a Mac. Thanks to custom indent and outdent "keys" that are added to the iPad's virtual keyboard, text manipulation for the sake of outlining is super easy and convenient. Text menus for numbering or justifying text, as well as applying bold, underline, and italics, appear at the top of the page, along with an absolute necessity for note-taking: a styles menu, featuring various levels of headings.
Inserting photos, either from the photo roll or by taking a new one, is as easy as tapping an icon. When you're actively taking notes or reviewing a page, you can expand the page to fill the screen.
Finding notes is also dead simple: three levels of search are available. You can search the currently selected section/tab, or the current notebook, or even search across all notebooks. Page titles, text, as well as any text that is OCR'd from images is included in the search results.
A thorough, and well-illustrated, user guide is included in the sample "Getting started" notebook, so there need be no intimidation in getting acclimated to Outline+ if you've never used One Note.
In my tests, Outline+ performed as well as I could ever have wanted. One Note notebooks were opened, read, edited, and synced, with complete accuracy. Drawing, highlighting, and annotation is dead simple in Outline+, and very intuitive.
Since I've been using Outline+, I have felt so much more productive with my iPad than I have felt previously. It really does fill a huge void. There are many decent note-taking applications for iPad, some of which I have reviewed over the last three and a half years since the iPad's release. But each of them stands, for the most part, as an island unto itself. Outline+, with its One Note synchronization, allows for your data to be usable instantly on either your iPad, your computer, or any internet-linked computer in the world (thanks to One Note's online version on Office Live). That sort of versatility makes a big difference as to what sort of data I entrust to an application. Outline+ is fast, beautiful, and everything you want in an iPad app. Outline+ looks amazing on the iPad's retina screen. Their blog and support are also super helpful with questions you may have.
If my review has not been enough to convince you, their demo video on outline.ws should do the trick.
I predict huge success for Outline+ as the iPad revolution continues. It's awesome as a stand-alone note taking application, no doubt. But in addition to that, no One Note-using iPad owner should be without it, and the $15 price tag will possibly be the best app-money you spend. For those who want to try before they buy, a (barely) limited version is available for free, called Outline. It has limits on how many pages can be added to a notebook, and lacks direct Dropbox syncing capabilities, but should otherwise be enough to give you a good feel for Outline+'s abilities.
A companion Mac app has been added, which serves as a reader only at this point. It has the benefit of also being a native Mac reader for OneNote of course, so OneNote notebooks people send you from their Windows computers can be read on your Mac with ease, even if you don't personally want to take notes in OneNote or Outline+. But here's where things get really cool: if you buy the Mac Outline reader app right now, you will get the planned update to an editor for free, whilst the cost will go up after the editor is released. This is a great way to basically get everything awesome about OneNote on your Mac for a really low price.
Get the apps here:
Outline+ for iPad
free Outline (demo) for iPad
Outline for Mac
Review by Ronald C. Schoedel III, Esq.
This review was first published for Alaskan Apple Users Group in October 2012, updated in November 2012, and provided here with additional updates.
For nearly twenty years, I've worked hard to stay up to date on technology so that those who count on me don't have to. I've taught scores of workshops and classes, provided in-home and in-office tutoring and training to many, and have written scores of reviews for Mac and iOS software, accessories, and books.
Throughout my prior career in broadcasting and administration, as a recent law school grad, and a new attorney, I've found many ways to utilize my technological background to make my work easier and more productive.
I want to share those tips, hints, and insights with others of the legal profession. My goal is to help all lawyers and other legal professionals best serve their clients and ultimately justice itself, by helping to eliminate tech-induced headaches, gain some efficiencies in our practices, and free up the legal mind to focus on what matters most. This website will be the means through which I attempt to contribute to the moving forward of our profession.
-Ronald C. Schoedel III, Esq.
Ronald C. Schoedel III is an attorney, former broadcaster, student of Welsh, and Sinophile. He has lived in Alaska, Wales, and China (Hong Kong specifically), and presently calls Utah home. He has been teaching and training Mac users for nearly a decade, and started blogging as a software reviewer in 2004.