Taking My Business on the Camino (Part Two – Software)

In part one of this series I went over the tale of how my wife and I decided on hiking the Camino de Santiago this fall. For me (and I imagine many of us), aspects of my life can’t be suspended while we are gone – chief amongst them, my freelance web development business. So, through research, I’ve settled on bringing my iPad and bluetooth clamshell keyboard, using an unlocked iPhone 6 as a mobile hotspot whenever WiFi isn’t present.

In part two of this series, I want to cover the software I am going to be utilizing on this trip. Quite simply, without the iOS apps I’ve found, this entire situation wouldn’t be possible. It isn’t a perfect setup, as there are certain isolated objectives that I will have to perform (or would be better performed) on my MacBook Pro. But with the apps I’ve purchased and now thoroughly tested, I am confident that I can keep the day-to-day aspects of my business up and running  while I am away for these seven weeks.

So let’s dive in shall we?

Please note: these won’t be in-depth reviews of apps, just quick descriptions of how I will use them during my journey.

File Transfers – Coda for iOS

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I am a web developer/designer and I spend most of my time coding in Coda 2 for OS X. Diet Coda, when it first dropped, was capable (and ambitious), but it couldn’t provide the functionality, fit, and finish that I needed to perform any heavy lifting or transferring of files from my iOS devices to my client’s web servers. It just didn’t click for me. That all changed though when Panic Inc. rebuilt Diet Coda into Coda for iOS.

It is, frankly, jaw-dropping how they transitioned literally everything I need from Coda 2 on the Mac, to my iPad and iPhone. And with Panic sync, I was up and running with all of my settings and client profiles in less than 5 minutes! Coda for iOS was officially the first iOS app that made me hopeful for running my business on my iPad. Whether you are making edits to existing sites or even creating new ones from scratch, Coda for iOS has your file transfer and coding needs completely covered. Add the fact that it’s a joy to use on your iPad (or iPhone – yes, it’s universal) and it’s a no-brainer for anyone that works in web development own.

Site Content Updates – Editorial and Drafts

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In addition to building sites, a lot of clients keep me on retainer to help with their content needs. For content going live on the web, I often draft text (in Markdown) in OMZ Software’s Editorial. This way I have a copy of anything I draft synced to Dropbox. From Dropbox I can share direct links to the files I’ve created to clients if they need to vet anything before it goes live, or I can use the robust workflows in Editorial to convert the Markdown I’ve written into clean html, posting it as a draft to any sites my clients have (currently all WordPress).

The UI/UX (which I use in dark mode) is so clean and well laid out that I often look forward to drafting content, or just writing in general, on my iPad before doing anything on my Mac. I should also note that I use Editorial extraordinarily lightly compared to other users out there – it’s an unbelievably powerful program – but for what I use it for, it’s perfect for my needs.

For all other text situations I use Drafts by Agile Tortoise. Drafts handles text in such a swift and agile way that it’s become muscle memory to me for any emails, notes and other text of mine that needs to be shared with other apps in iOS. It’s also universal, making sharing my drafts between my iPhone and iPad effortless.

Last, but not least, both Drafts and Editorial have baked-in support for TextExpander snippets. These snippets save me a ton of time, more of which I will talk about below.

I’ve also written stand alone reviews on both of these apps (Editorial and Drafts) on this site. You can read them here and here if you want to go a little more in-depth.

Social Media Wrangling

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One of the other services I help keep clients up to date with, is their content on various social networks. For automation I’ve found Buffer’s iOS apps to be more than capable. Pair it with their share extension, and you’ve got a frictionless way to keep your Buffer queue filled up with lots of things to share. For all social networks (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc…), I use the official apps with the sole exception of Twitter, for which I currently use Icon Factory’s Twitteriffic. For onesy-twosy Twitter and Facebook postings, I use Linky which, aside from being extremely capable (its share extension is amazing), is also a pure delight to use.

Between these apps, wrangling and contributing to social feeds on the iPad is an absolute breeze. Once iOS 9 drops and there are more split-view-capable apps available, my workflows will get even better!

Photo and Video Editing

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Occasionally a client needs me to cut up some video or edit some photos. For the video edits I use Apple’s own iMovie and I am continuously amazed at how capable this program is. I can splice video into chunks rearranging them, apply color correction, add narration or text overlays, even speed up and slow down specific bits – it’s really quite remarkable what I’ve achieved with this program.

Similarly with photo editing, I’ve found Pixelmator to be shockingly intuitive and fun to use. Having thoroughly used Pixelmator on the Mac, I am already familiar with the ins-and-outs of the program. Luckily, the nuances and workflows I use daily, translated flawlessly to iOS on the iPad.

Of all the discoveries I made during my research this month, it was diving in deep with these two programs that genuinely amazed me the most. In some cases (especially with iMovie) I found myself wanting to hop onto iOS instead of OS X to do edits! Really powerful stuff.

Project Management

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This one is easy. For keeping all of my client work in order and scheduled appropriately, I use Omnifocus. I’ve yet to find a single app that works exactly like my brain does like Omnifocus. On iOS it’s light and nimble, allowing me to queue anything up and view everything else I have in the pipeline. Quite simply, my business wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does without Omnifocus knitted so tightly into the mix.

For all other client info and asset organization I use Evernote which, admittedly, has gotten quite bloated over the years. However, it doesn’t have a rival that fits quite into the mold it has created for itself and I like that I can keep anything that needs archiving, in one place.

It’s also where I keep passport scans and vital personal info for trips. So yeah, Evernote has become a vital travel companion.

Time Tracking and Monthly Invoicing

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For time tracking, I use Hours on my iPhone. Keeping time tracking on my phone helps me separate the process of keeping time whilst working on my iPad. It may seem counterintuitive, but give it a shot sometime. I think you’ll find it’s a good separation of daily duties. Hours also exports to PDF and CSV, making it easy to share hours spent, and their respective descriptions with my iPad.

For invoices, I have templates set up in Apple’s own Pages. I fill them out and export them to PDF where I then add a signature using Smile’s PDF Pen, an app that is brilliant at so many things when it comes to marking up PDF documents.

Are there better options out there? I am sure. But for my needs, this works just perfectly. After the PDF’ed invoices are complete, I share them to a new email, immediately switching to Smile’s TextExpander Touch‘s custom iOS keyboard where I have a text snippet for each client set up. I type in the client’s respective snippet, it pre-fills the email with text and the correct dates, and I hit send. Easy peasy!

Storage and Back ups

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For cloud storage, I predominantly use Dropbox. I’ve been using it for years, it has outstanding iOS support, great UI/UX, and it allows me to share files effortlessly. It also gives me a great place to back up documents, making them available anywhere there’s an internet connection. I’ve also got accounts/apps for OneDrive, Box, and iCloud, the latter of which I am forced to use when syncing my Pages and Numbers documents between my Apple devices.

I also have my MacBook Pro backed up to Backblaze, so any files that synced to Dropbox will sync to my Mac in the U.S. and then be backed up to Backblaze without me having to think about where to move files to achieve backup redundancy. If I need any files from my Backblaze backup, I can use their excellent iOS app, which couldn’t be more intuitive to use in a pinch.

Accessing My MacBook Pro at Home

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I doubt I’ll need it, but in case I do have to access my Mac at home, I am using Edovia’s Screens which is an amazing VNC client that allows you to tunnel into your Mac from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. On the iPhone it’s a bit cramped, but on the iPad? It works like gang-busters! There is of course a bit of latency, but not much (we’ll see if that differs overseas) and, with a bit of patience, I will be able to accomplish anything my MacBook Pro can… from my iPad, which never ceases to amaze me.

This will undoubtedly be my “Plan B” when disaster strikes. But it’s a solid one, and the added confidence it supplies is pretty priceless.

Communications

When email doesn’t work fast enough, in addition to an international SIM, I’ve got Google Voice/Hangouts, Facetime video/audio, as well as Skype. Everyone’s familiar with with these and I sure am grateful they exist. Keeping contact with my clients will be my chief obligation while I am gone, and these apps handle every form of that without issue.

Shattering Preconceived Notions

With the tools I’ve mentioned above, I genuinely feel confident that I can keep my freelance Web Development business running while abroad. Do I have some apprehension? Maybe a little, but that’s only because I’ve never done anything like this before. In reality and real-life practice, I’ve already run my business on my iPad for weeks now and I’ve only grabbed my MacBook Pro once. That’s right, just once, and it was to delete a single folder off of a client’s web server – a task that I am sure could’ve been accomplished on Coda for iOS, but I couldn’t figure out how and I was in a rush.

There’s a shift that’s occurring right now in the tech community. For years, we’ve been constantly told that you can’t get “real work” done on an iPad, and yet there are folks out there that do it constantly every single day. I’m about to count myself as one of them, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision.

I leave for the Camino on September 10th and I won’t be back until November. I’ll post more updates on how this setup is going after we cross the mountains into Spain.

Until then!

Taking My Business on the Camino (Part One – Intro)

When I asked my wife what she wanted to do when she graduated massage school in August, I half expected her to say “let’s rent a cabin for a week or two in the mountains”. I figured it would be a request that, you know, would be logistically easy for me fulfill while still running my freelance business and spending much-needed time with her as she decompressed from a challenging year of study.

So when she said “Let’s hike the Camino!!” my jaw, understandably, dropped for a few seconds.

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The Camino de Santiago is historically a Christian pilgrimage that starts in southern France, down through the Pyrenees mountains into northern Spain where it terminates in the city of Santiago de Compostela. It’s 500 miles, can take weeks (or even months) complete, and it’s something we’ve always wanted to do.

Connecting While Away

I’m a freelance web developer and my business consists of just me. Leaving my client-base hanging for a month and a half without support simply wasn’t an option. My inclination was to say “there’s just no way I can do this”. but then I thought about it some more and began researching web connectivity along the route we would be taking. I was relieved to see that my initial hunch was right. Every day would begin and end in a city or town and all of these stops had multiple options to connect to the internet. Additionally, my iPhone is unlocked, so when there isn’t a wifi connection, an international SIM card would bridge the gaps in connectivity between stops. I’d simply make my phone a hotspot when needed.

Connectivity was no longer an issue!

But then another challenge presented itself.

Traveling Ultra-Light to Avoid Light Fingers

One of many amazing things about “the way of Saint James” is that not only is it hundreds of miles long, it’s also hundreds of years old. People have walked it for a very long time and, as such, towns, villages, and cities have built an entire economy around it. Each stop along the way offers shelter to pilgrims, so we would not have to bring a tent. In fact, everything I’ve read is telling me not to bring very much at all: just a few changes of clothes, rain gear, needed toiletries, wallet and a passport. So the thought of me bringing my trusty MacBook Pro along with so little else, suddenly seemed foolish (not to mention heavier than anything else that will be in my bag).

The other issue is theft on the Camino. It doesn’t happen often, but apparently it does happen enough for hikers to be quite wary and warn anyone who will listen online. Having traveled to a few places on this planet, I am not naive to the fact that theft can occur anywhere. Nonetheless, it did key me in to thinking about hardware alternatives. Without a doubt, if my MBP got pinched while abroad, it wouldn’t be the end of the world (I’ve got redundant backups and such), but it would be an enormous setback for my clients, not to mention my wallet.

So I needed something light as well as something I could part with, without breaking the bank. I initially eyed the new retina MacBooks for their weight, but then back-tracked because of their price and lack of horsepower. I also looked at Chromebooks for their price, and though I was psyched to see how far they’d come, in the end I balked at what they still lacked. Then I looked at my iPad Air 2 and wondered what was possible. It was light to a fault, way less expensive (since I already owned it), and had plenty of horsepower for what I needed it to do. All I needed was a proper keyboard.

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iOS 9 to the Rescue

I typically don’t run OS betas on my main devices, but when I saw the recent iPad-only features added into the recent betas of iOS 9, I took the plunge once the public beta kicked off. As of the last version (mid August), iOS 9 feels more stable than ever. And with its improved inter-app communication, multi-tasking, and keyboard support, my iPad feels more and more like a workhorse, and way less of a consumption device.

To prepare in advance, I’ve been using it as my sole productivity device for four weeks now and I’ve been genuinely surprised to see it accommodate 99% of everything I’ve needed to do to keep my business running and my clients happy.

Coupled with the highly recommended QODE™ Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2, there isn’t much that I’ve encountered that I can’t conquer with this setup alone.

What About Software?

Ah yes. About that.

My hardware needs have been met, I will be traveling super light, and connectivity is no longer a concern… but quality web development is only as good as the tools you have at your disposal.

I mentioned above, that in my pre-prep there was very little that I could not accomplish with my current iPad and keyboard setup. But hardware has only been half of the equation. In truth, the software is where all the magic has been happening. Luckily, the iOS dev community has created some beautiful, highly capable tools that will help me accomplish my day-to-day.

Click here to go to part 2 of this series where I talk about the software I will be using on the Camino.

Software: Permute Review

Hey everyone, sorry this blog has gone a little dormant in the last two months. Truth is, I’ve been busy with work 1. For the first time in a while though, I had a down day and felt like writing, so I thought I’d whip up quick review on an app you may find useful! Just a heads up though, the app is Mac-only. Good? Good.

Being a freelance web developer that wears a lot of different hats when it comes to client work, I’ve found over the years that I’ve come to rely quite a bit on file converters. Whether it’s changing a .wmv file to an .mp4 or .jpg’s into .png’s, I am always amazed at how much time I spend converting files that clients hand to me into something more web-friendly – or just more useful to the rest of the world.

If you search for file conversion apps on the web, you’ll find there are hundreds out there and they all predominantly do the same thing: change your existing files into a different file format. I’ve tried more converters than I care to remember 2 but the one I’ve settled on is Fuel Collective’s app, Permute.

Permute does two things extremely well – media file conversion, and getting out of your way.

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Media File Conversion

Any good file converter should be able to handle a variety of file formats and Permute handles most, if not all. From AAC to XVID, Permute will handle 99.9% of anything you need to throw at it. Conversion processes occur lightening fast and, yes, it does batch conversion as well, handling multiple simultaneous conversion processes with the utmost ease. Have a folder of images that you need to change along with a couple of video files? Just drag them into Permute, set your file format, and hit the "Start" button.

That’s it!

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Getting Out of Your Way.

A lot of the file conversion apps I’ve tried in the past had convoluted workflows, making me click a variety of buttons and toggles before I can even start the conversion process. Those wasteful tasks are gone with Permute.

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When you fire up Permute, you are presented with a very spartan grey box instructing you to drag and drop your files into it. Once you do that, you only have to choose the file format that you want to convert to and then click start. It’s so simple and straightforward that it got me wondering why this UI/UX hadn’t been adopted by other more popular conversion utilities years ago.

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It also has builtin support for OS X’s notification center, so that when it’s done with each file conversion, it will let you know with a modal window floating in from the top right of your screen.

What It Doesn’t Do (that you may need).

What Permute doesn’t do, and this by design, is allow you to tweak its existing presets on a micro level. Yes, you can change a few standard settings that you’ll find in any "Save As" process, but if you are looking for access to a HUGE toolset of changes before the conversion process begins, than Permute is not for you. It is meant for the "set it and forget it" crowd – those folks who prefer streamlined ease over sweating the details of filters, audio track separation/modification, color changes, or other high-end production editing.

It also only focuses on media files. Images, audio files, and videos. At the time, that’s all it will convert.

But if that’s all you need than I can’t recommend Permute enough. It’s lightening fast, incredibly easy to use, and I’ve yet to have a botched file conversion.

Rock solid and absolutely worth your hard-earned cash if you are in the market for a new media converter.

Links:

PLEASE NOTE: All images were created by the fine peeps at fuelcollective.com. I did not create these.


  1. not complaining one bit though, it’s a great problem to have

  2. or admit

Tips: Getting Your Markdown in Scrivener to Display Quicker in Marked…

Hey everyone! Just a quick and easy tip for all of you folks who use Marked as your Markdown previewer when writing in Scrivener.

One of the microscopic issues I have with using Marked in conjunction with Scrivener is the lag between when you write your Markdown (or any text) in Scrivener, it autosaves, and a few seconds later it shows up in Marked. This isn’t a bug in either programs – Marked shows what your document looks like after it is saved, and Scrivener autosaves after a preset amount of time after you stop typing (usually a matter of seconds).

I know, I know, not a big deal. But did you know that you can change the amount of time it takes for Scrivener to autosave? You can! It’s in the preference pane. Open up Scrivener, head to into the preferences menu and click the general tab, you’ll find in there.

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You can go as low as 1 second (I tried 0.5 seconds, no dice) in this field. Set it to that and close out of preferences. You should see a bit of an improvement to when Marked displays your Markdown now. It doesn’t get rid of the lag completely, but it does make it much less noticeable, creating a more seamless experience between apps.

So if it’s been distracting you or worse, keeping you from pairing these two juggernaut apps, try tweaking this auto-save time increment lower and see if that makes the experience any better for you. I know it did for me.

Software: Sip Review.

If you are a web developer/designer you know that there is no shortage of color pickers out there. I’ve toyed with dozens of them over the years and I recently ran into on the I found to be exceptional. That color picker is “Sip” by the Ola Brothers.

I am pretty picky when it comes to selecting development tools and color pickers are no exception. When I need to capture a color value, I don’t want to click my way through a series of menu systems to grab what I need. I just want to enable the tool, hone in on the color I need, click it and have the color value automatically copied to the clipboard for me to paste into my CSS.

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Sip does all of this (and a good bit more) exceptionally well. Whenever I need it, I use Alfred to open it (or you can have it open on start up), I click the Sip icon in the menu bar, and I then click the target in the upper-left corner of the drop-down menu. After that, a loupe appears and I hover over the color I want (which can literally be any where on your screen) and click it. The preset color definition is then copied to my clipboard and I proceed to paste the value anywhere I need it.

You can also choose a color manually buy clicking the Sip icon in the menu bar and choosing the color wheel in the upper right corner of the drop down.

So many flavors to choose from!

sipcolorsAlmost all color pickers out there give the option of RGBA or Hex, but Sip gives you WAY more options than that. So if you need anything other than the standards, Sip’s got you more than covered. To access the presets just click the Sip icon in the menu bar again and then click the side-loading menu directly below the bullseye and color wheel up top. From there you’ll find the selections afforded you and I’d be shocked if what you needed wasn’t included.

We’ve got history.

siphistorySip also keeps a history of colors that you’ve chosen in the past. Which is awful handy when you need to revisit older colors and don’t want to repeat the color picking process or remember what value it was. There is even the option of sharing colors or deleting them from the history if you no longer need them. The default history is initially limited to 5 colors but you can up that value (or reduce it) in the settings which you’ll find under the gear icon in the Sip dropdown menu.

In the preferences you can also tweak code and color formats as well enable and see the keyboard shortcuts given to you in Sip. Keyboard shortcuts are pretty key to my development workflow, so having them integrated even in something as simple as a color picker is a prerequisite for me.

Taking It to the Next Level: Leveraging Sip on the Go.

SIP Mobile and Export
Sip also has an immensely handy iOS app that leverages your iPhone’s camera to dynamically capture full color palettes from whatever is in the view finder. You can even do the same from pictures you’ve already taken! It’s quite a sight to behold honestly, and it’s a great way to grab color palettes from clients photos or anything that is aesthetically pleasing to look at in your day-to-day life. From the app, you can save and label the palette for future reference or you can also share palettes by swiping left to right on the palette, tapping the share icon that appears. The colors in the palette then show up individually pre-formatted in an email that you can send anywhere.

Going Pro!

With an in app purchase of $9.99, you can upgrade your Sip installation to a Pro version which affords you even more powerful ways to wrangle colors on your Mac. It brings the color palettes to Mac version of Sip and it also allows you to sync palettes via a cloud service from your phone to the Mac so that you don’t have email them manually to yourself any more.

The Pro upgrade also allows you to pick more than one color at a time. Which helps streamline the process a bit more. Particularly if you already see a palette developing in a scene in front of you on your screen. Without the Pro version, you’d have keep enabling the loupe after you click each individual color.

It also allows you to edit and fine tune the colors you’ve chosen, allowing you to tweak existing Sip color formats or even create your own custom formats!

Going Pro??

While the Pro account is very appealing to someone in my profession, I don’t necessarily see it as a “must-buy” for everyone else. You get so much from Sip’s basic offerings that I could absolutely see many people getting everything they need and more from the what Sip offer’s out of the box.

Which is great, because Sip out of the box can be had for the ultra-cheap price of free.

Since incorporating it into my workflow, I can’t imagine designing and developing for the web without it. And with a non-existent barrier to entry, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t at least want to try it for yourself.

Download: