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.

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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:

Going Paperless: Scanning Receipts and Business Cards

Back in 2013, I wrote a post about digitizing your life and getting rid of the dead-tree paper taking up space in your day-to-day. I’m happy to say that I am still using that exact same paperless system to awesome effect. But I’ve also since left my corporate job moving to freelance full-time and, if you’ve gone that route, you know that the one thing you amass in a short amount of time is the small stuff: business cards and receipts.

Rapid Reduction.

As a small business owner, you need to document your business expenses. No exceptions. After meeting clients for lunch, dinner, evening drinks, coffee, or purchasing supplies and buying hardware… it’s pretty crazy how quickly receipts can pile up. When I finally noticed it was genuine problem it was almost too late. A physical file system of tiny sheets of paper was clearly not sustainable. I was already misplacing receipts in my wallet, back-pockets, folders, my back-pack – to either be worn down and unreadable or worse, to go through the wash and become a small blob.

Without a doubt. I needed a quick way to archive this stuff.

There are a lot of scanner apps out there and I’ve used the bulk of them. Basically what they do is allow you to take picture of a document with your device and convert that picture into a .pdf file that you can store locally on your device, or in cloud storage. This isn’t going to be a review of those apps, this is a detailing of what I’ve specifically integrated into my workflow. Luckily I’ve only needed two apps to accomplish this. They are beautifully developed, fast as hell, and they are a genuine joy to use.

For Receipts? I use Scanbot.

Scanbot is an app for iOS and Android that does what a lot of other scanning apps do, but it does so with flare and style. UI and UX aside, it also is thoroughly exceptional at the following:

  • It has excellent corner/edge recognition to limit the cropping you’d have to do after snapping a pic of the receipt.
  • OCR. Any app that you choose should have the ability to OCR 1 the receipt/document so that its contents are searchable as a PDF document. Scanbot does this accurately and, most importantly, very quickly.
  • Contrast. Your receipt scans don’t need to be full high res. color pictures. Color adds unnecessary size to your files which can take longer to upload and open. Scanbot offers four options: no filter (full resolution), a color filter (image compressed/optimized), grey scale, and a straight up, high contrast, black and white filter. I use the black and white filter. Scanned receipts and documents are crisp and readable and this particular filter reduces the size of your scanned pdf’s to smallest size possible.
  • Cloud storage options. Once your scan is complete and OCR’ed, you should be able to quickly upload to your file system of choice in the cloud. Scanbot support nearly all of them. I have my current file system on Dropbox. A very appreciated bonus: Scanbot also offers one-tap shortcuts to upload files to a specific location in cloud storage. So if you have a “receipts” folder that you always upload to on your cloud solution of choice, you can link that up specifically so that after you scan your doc, you just tap that shortcut and it gets uploaded automatically to that folder. Fast, simple and convenient. You can also upload your pdf’s manually of course, but the shortcuts are a really nice addition.
  • Prepended Titles. Scanbot allows you to prepend your titles with a naming convention of your choice. So if you like to add the date of a receipt to the front of the title of your scans, you can do so automatically. This saves you time and gives you confidence that the repeatable stuff you always do to organize your documents by title is automated.
  • Security. On the app level, Scanbot offers password protection and (if your device supports it) Touch ID if you want to restrict access to the documents stored locally on your device. Open the app? It asks for a password.
  • Document options. Scanbot adds a lot of convenient features that allow you to augment your files after they’ve been scanned. Stuff like high-lighting text, password protecting your files on the file level, leaving comments to share, adding additional pages after the fact, and the ability to add a digital signature, are wonderful options that can take your pdf editing capabilities to the next level. All on a portable device too, it’s kind of crazy!

In short, Scanbot gets my full endorsement. I’ve used it for almost a year now, often daily, and it has eliminated so much friction in my business organization workflow that I honestly can’t stress it enough. I use it on receipts, hardware manuals, insurance policy documentation, monthly invoices… anything I need to file away and search for later.

The barrier to entry is low too. You can download the app for free, but with limited features. To unlock much of what I detailed above you need to buy the “Pro” module which you can get in-app after you download it. It’s only $4.99, and what it adds is invaluable in my opinion. Definitely worth the five-spot.

For Business Cards? I use Evernote’s Scannable.

Relatively new to the scene, Scannable is Evernote’s answer to Scanbot. It’s sole purpose is to create digital documents and then share them. My only issue with Scannable is that it’s a little too stripped down for my use-cases. It does create digital documents to share quickly, but it doesn’t:

  • OCR them (unless you export to Evernote). It also scans them to .jpg files and I prefer the pdf format. UPDATE 01/26/15: As of a few hours ago, the fine folks at Evernote updated Scannable to export to either .jpg or .pdf formats! W00T!
  • Doesn’t offer color filter options. You just get color. Though it is optimized and compressed when saved.
  • Baked in sharing options are limited 2. It does, however, allow you to auto-export to Evernote. Which is nice if you use it.
  • There is no in-app editing tools. None.
  • There are no prepended title options.

But, what it does do exceptionally well, is scan business cards.

It seems funny to have an app dedicated to doing such a small task, but Scannable scans business cards so well, it’s hard to pass it up. There is a caveat though. Scannable’s full potential hinges heavily on your use of Evernote. Which I do 3. I use Evernote as my space to put things that I need to permanently archive at a glance. Business cards fall into this category for me. But they might not for you.

Caveat aside, using Scannable couldn’t be easier. Put a business card on the table in front of you, fire up Scannable, it rapidly finds the edges of the card 4, snaps and loads it optimized in under two seconds, making it ready for you to share or export. If you do export to Evernote, it will OCR it on the fly so that it’s searchable within Evernote’s interface.

One added bonus! If you are a LinkedIn user it will also scan its vast user-base, find the business card owner and add any additional information from their profile to your scan! Complete with their profile snap, clickable email addresses, web site urls, and phone numbers. All beautifully formatted, looking wonderful in Evernote. You can even add them to your address book if you want. But if they are not on LinkedIn, you don’t get this additional feature, which is kind of a shame. It’d be awesome if it added the same exact fields that are on the card itself. Not to mention, LinkedIn isn’t always up to date.

But it’s hard to criticize an app that is free, that gives you this much. When it works, Scannable is kinda magical! And even when it doesn’t, it’s still incredibly useful.

Soooo… Should I Get One? Or Both?

Well, obviously I chose both. But everyone’s needs are different. If you can swing the investment, I’d definitely snag Scanbot. If not, and you are a staunch Evernote user, Scannable will take great care of you.

If two apps are too many options for this particular task, Scanbot does take excellent scans of business cards and it even auto uploads to Evernote too. It just doesn’t have the LinkedIn profile info injection, which I really like.

It’s also important to note that’s still very early days for Scannable. Evernote is a really reputable development house with a wonderful history of implementing user requests. So I am sure Scannable’s feature set will only grow with time.


  1. Optical Character Recognition

  2. but it does give you access to the iOS share sheet which, in theory, is limitless.

  3. and do so gladly

  4. Unbelievably, I’ve never needed crop an image in Scannable or Scanbot. Not once.