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

To the 6 Plus and Back Again…

By now you’ve all read the countless reviews of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Hell, you have probably even read reviews from people “one month in” to using their 6 Pluses. I know I have. I was lucky enough to snag a 6 Plus online on launch day and eagerly awaited everything about it. Yes, I was one of “those folks” that cut out the template of the form factor of the 6 Plus, taping it to a stack of index cards, carrying it in my front pocket for a week just to steel the confidence behind my purchase.

But there was no denying that, when it showed up at my front door, I laughed nervously thinking “Holy crap! This thing is HUGE!”. Not just bigger, or slightly over-sized – it was simply larger than I imagined – and that genuinely surprised me.

Like anything though, I thought I’d get used to it.

It fit in to all of my pants and jeans pockets relatively easily. Yes, it jabbed my hip when I sat down, but not in a remotely uncomfortable way and aside from that seemingly small quibble, there was a lot to like! I thoroughly enjoyed the larger screen! Reading/consuming on the 6 Plus was (and still is) one of the best iOS experiences I’ve had to date. In fact, the size got me using my iPad so infrequently (writing on the Plus was a joy by the way) that I almost considered it a more than capable replacement. I also really dug the creative use of the extra screen real estate in some apps when the 6 Plus was in landscape mode. Add in the battery life and the speed, and I actually can’t stress enough just how much of a joy it was to use this beautiful hardware.

Still, even with all of that, there was always something nagging at me.

Something about my new phone didn’t feel quite right. In hindsight, it was painfully obvious, but at the time I just plugged along and made do. Eventually though, the reason snuck up on me when I held a close friend’s iPhone 6 at a party: the 4.7 inch 6 just felt good in my hand. Not huge, not too small – not anything – it just felt right. Once he let me slip it into my pocket, that sealed the deal. It was official: I had bought the wrong phone for me.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I went hiking in Virginia with my wife. It was a beautiful Autumn day and I wanted to capture as much of it as I could. As I hiked along snapping pictures and the occasional slow-mo video of leaves falling to the ground, it finally hit me as to why I disliked my phone.

I was constantly aware of it.

All of the phones I’ve owned in the past slipped into my pocket, going completely unnoticed, until I either needed it for something or I had a call/text come in. Never before had I owned a phone that, through its sheer physical size, made me constantly aware that it was on my person. It was why I took it out in the car and put it in a cup holder while driving. Or why I would leave it on the dinner table when I was out to eat or sharing a meal with someone. Or why I’d leave it on the desk while I worked. Simply taking it out of my pocket wasn’t a solution either, because once on the table it is constantly within eye-shot; consciously or sub-consciously begging for your attention.

Therein lied the problem.

Sometimes I like, no… I need technology to disappear. The 6 Plus, for me anyways, couldn’t do that. For all of its virtues and its undeniable strengths, the Plus is just too big for me to incorporate into my day-to-day life.

Eventually I made it into the Apple store here in Durham where they took pity on me, allowing me to exchange my phone for the 4.7 inch iPhone 6 well outside of the 14 day return policy window. I slid it into my pocket and I’ve never looked back.

Where I really liked many aspects of the 6 Plus vert much, I love just about everything on this iPhone 6. Sure I miss the unique landscape layouts of some apps, the undeniable all-day battery life, and typing on the 6 is noticeably more cramped than on the plus… but everything else? It’s easily just as beautiful and more of a joy to use.

And, because it disappears into my pocket. I am back in love with having my iPhone with me.

Software: Thoughts on Facebook’s “Paper”

Full disclosure:

I am not a Facebook fan. At all.

I pretty much have an account for the few dear friends that continue to use the service to contact me via messaging and for me to stay abreast of all things “social” for my day job and freelance gigs. I use it sparingly and when I do I rarely enjoy it. The UI/UX (user interface and user experience) on their website has been a veritable, well-documented train wreck for years now. And when you add in the convoluted, borderline impossible privacy settings… it elevates the FB experience from nuisance, to possibly damning in every social regard.

High drama I know, but in my defense, the “content” (if you can call it that) is a far pinker elephant in the room than my disdain.  In my humble opinion Facebook will end up being one of the biggest missed opportunities my generation will have to fess up to before we die.

Why we changed one of the greatest opportunities in history to connect with each other into an open forum to show our ugliest selves will always bother me.

It’s not ALL like that of course. But come on… We all know what I am taking about.

A new take on a hopeless problem.

So while we won’t ever change the way FB churns its gears day in and day out, that hasn’t stopped the social juggernaut from attempting to change the way we look at it all.

Over the years, they’ve iterated on their official app several times with limited success in changing anything I’ve listed above. But this week? This week was different. On Monday they launched a reimagining of their service, a not so cleverly named app called “Paper”.  And, by golly, all of that developer poaching they did over the years has finally paid off!

Making Lemonade.

The first thing you’ll notice right out of the gate while using Facebook’s Paper is that this is a far cry from the Facebook you use on an hourly basis. In fact, I would go as far to say that if it wasn’t for the ill-placed “Facebook” at the top of the initial feed you see in Paper, that you wouldn’t even know you were using a Facebook app. This is a good thing.

Gone are the columns, the click-bait ads, the blue, the shotgun blast of options, the overt notifications, the noise (dear god the noise)… pretty much everything I didn’t like about the UI/UX of the original Facebook app, has been replaced by something entirely different. You launch the app and after you get through the initial onboarding process, you are met immediately with pictures of your friends (and their kids/infants – no, that hasn’t changed), clean lines, clean fonts, very little chrome and an intuitive navigation that is almost entirely gesture-based.

It took me roughly 5 minutes to find literally everything I needed to make Facebook work as it always has for me in the past. Even though everything had changed, miraculously, nothing had been taken away. And just like that, the overall experience of using Facebook had been made exponentially better! This isn’t another rehash of the Facebook a lot of us apparently love and adore – this is its reinvention, and if I was a betting man? I’d say this is what Facebook will be in a few months.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Facebook replaced their official iOS app entirely with Paper. If only to get rid that awful app icon that Paper currently has, but I digress.

Is there anything else? What’s up with these other news feeds?

I almost didn’t mention the fact that Paper also has a limited number of “feeds” that deliver content from external sources like CNN, NYT, The Verge, The Wire, Politico, etc… covering a range of topics like “Tech”, “Creators”, “Planet” and “Ideas”. Why? It’s because, frankly, I already have several tried and true, thoroughly enjoyable ways to syndicate and consume information from those kinds of channels. Facebook is immensely late to this game and adding it in now (as pretty as it is) seems like gross afterthought on their part and it definitely, unfortunately for them, comes across that way.

Will you like it better than the zillion other ways you can consume headlines on the computers on your desk and in your pocket? I highly doubt it. But they do exist in Paper if you want to check them out. Just follow the steps during the setup process when you fire up Paper initially.

Like everything else the developers did with Paper, it’s pretty, and straightforward.

So why continue using Facebook’s official app?

That’s an excellent question. After a day of use, I’ve already deleted the official FB app from my iPhone and made my Facebook mobile experience solely Paper-based. And guess what? I’ve used Facebook more in 48 hours than I have in the last 3 months. No joke.

Yes the content is still the same, a lot of what I dislike is still there (I can’t blame Facebook for my feed’s complaints, topics, taste, or… well, you get my point), but man is this a great study in how changing something as subtle (and immensely complex) as an experience can change the way something old can feel.

If you are a fan of Facebook or if you’re simply curious about what the future of the service will more than likely be, I encourage you download Paper from the app store today and see for yourself.

Software: How and Why I Use Vesper…

UPDATE: On February 27th 2015, Vesper is officially universal! More info here.

UnknownWhen Q-Branch dropped its note taking app “Vesper” weeks ago, it caused quite a splash in the tech community. Mostly because of the design team behind it (John Gruber, Brent Simmons and Dave Wiskus) but also because of how divisive it was on a functional level. Everything it did right (and there’s a lot) was somewhat obscured by everything it didn’t.

What I am NOT going to do…

To date, if you Google “Vesper App” you’ll get 589,000 results, most of which crab about the app’s faults and what’s it’s missing or extol it’s design achievements thoroughly. My opinion? For a variety of reasons, both camps are right, so I won’t waste anyone’s time going through the arguments on each side. You can read those elsewhere (don’t worry, you’ve got a lot of articles and posts to dig through).

What I wanted to do here is pose my argument for buying a note taking iOS, iPhone-only app that is beautifully designed but has no syncing capabilities (to iCloud or any other devices).

Where I fit in

On my iPhone I currently have about six text editors, Vesper makes that total seven. I am one of those geeks/writers who appreciates text editors for the experience they provide. For text that I need sent anywhere I go with the oft-mentioned Drafts . For long-form writing on iOS, I still use iA Writer and Elements. When I need to write a letter to someone, I use OmmWriter. If I have notes that I need to share with my wife I use iOS’ Notes app. Naturally I hedged on purchasing Vesper because if I am being honest, I really didn’t think I needed it.

Why I folded

In the end, it was all of the talk about the UI/UX that got the best of me. Everyone of those apps I listed above I use frequently and not because of the service they provide, but because of how they deliver it. For most people, that aspect of software isn’t all that important. For me though, it’s always had value because it assigns a purpose to its respective app. Because of this, I get better quality results out of different apps for different reasons. And it’s on this point where Vesper ended up performing a sneak attack on me – because of its design, I ended up finding a distinct purpose for Vesper in my day-to-day workflow.

Less is more

Aside from being an absolute joy to use (and the hype on this is thoroughly true), ironically, it was its lack of sync that ended up being the reason I started using it almost every day. Before smart phones and apps, we all carried around Moleskins to jot down thoughts and reminders and we were overjoyed when apps replaced that function; one less thing in the pockets right?

But, the thing is, those apps ended up doing so much more – syncing on other platforms, sometimes with other people. Dead tree notebooks never did those things: they were never backed up or magically synced to other notebooks. When they were burned or dropped in a swimming pool, they were gone completely.

Vesper is very much like that old experience and in a way I find that to be its biggest strength. As a simple app, it recreated that link I used to have with notepads and scratch paper.

Sure, there are excellently implemented search, in-app browser, archive and sharing features mere taps away and you can even tag notes (hallelujah!) and add pictures if need be. But those are options I find that I seldom use (outside of the tagging, which I admittedly use a lot) and I feel the app serves me better for that. Because of its stripped down approach, I don’t write “mission critical” stuff in Vesper. It’s all disposable and very temporary. And the fact that it’s in such a distinct silo (only in one app on my one phone) makes it easier for me to know where I wrote what. In other words, for me, in this case – less is definitely more.

Sledgehammers and tack nails

I am sure I am alone in this, but I actually hope they don’t add much more. Outside a few minor things (at the end of the day, I do wish there was a back up of notes to iCloud, if only for disaster recovery and getting a new device) I find this app to be one of those thoroughly complete iOS experiences that doesn’t really need much refinement.

It’s a total joy to use, is fast, stable as hell, intuitive to navigate, and does exactly what it was advertised to do: help you “collect your thoughts”. There are plenty of all-in-one text editors out there that do a lot of things Vesper doesn’t. But, for me anyways, many of those are heavy lifters and they are two clunky and complex for the tasks that Vesper accomplishes so well. Sledge hammers against tack nails. Some times you just need a tool that fits in your hand perfectly, is counter balanced just right and won’t potentially obliterate your target.

For me, Vesper is that tool for notes and I am glad I finally started using it.

Where you can find it: iOS App Store

Hardware: What’s in my bag?

I’ve been reading a tech site called The Verge for about a year now (or since they launched at any rate) and one of my favorite features that they do is their “What’s in your bag…” series.

In these articles they take someone from their staff, or even guests, and ask them to write about the bag they carry everyday and what’s inside it typically. Not only do I find this topic oddly fascinating, but it’s also a great way to see what other folks in your field are using in their day to day to make whatever systems they have in their lives run smoothly. The writer in me also loves how it is a bit a character study as well.

Anyways, I’ve been meaning to do that here in this space for a while and finally found the time to take pictures this week. So, much thanks and credit goes to The Verge for the idea and I hope you enjoy!

So here is my bag and all of it’s contents:

My bag and everything inside it

A quick rundown is in order I think! Here’s the list of what you are looking at (starting top left and moving left to right):

A pair of over the ear Sennheiser HD280 pro’s

  • A 13in Retina MacBook Pro
  • REI Quantum Messenger Pack
  • Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set
  • Leatherman Skeletool Multitool
  • Pair of Apple Ear Buds
  • Two thumbnail drives (One Ultra 2gig and another Sandisk 32gig)
  • USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices
  • Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort to VGA monitor adaptor
  • 3ft 1/8″ Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable
  • Square Credit Card Reader
  • Two small Moleskin Journals
  • My Mighty Wallet
  • My keys

Sure, there are other things that will sneak into my bag from time to time, but this is what I typically have in it everyday!

Now if you are already bored out of your skull, you might as well head back to your Twitter or Facebook feeds. But if you have that same curiosity that I have, stick around! Because I’d love to tell you about these things individually and show you why I carry around this stuff everyday.

Still here? Awesome. Let’s dive in shall we?

Sennheiser HD280 pro’s headphones

Sennheiser HD280 pro

I work in front of a computer for at least eight hours a day. During that time it’s mostly project-based work, so I find that listening to music is a wonderful escape from everything around me. Originally I used a crappy pair of cheap ear buds, then I tried the on-the-ear kind and in both cases after three straight hours of use, my ears were killing me. So it was around a year ago that I went on the hunt for a good (read: not super spendy), quality pair of over the ear headphones. I needed 4 things out of them:

  • Little to no noise bleed. I hate disrupting my neighbors.
  • Comfort. Good padding for prolonged use.
  • Above average sound quality. I am not an audiophile per say, but music is extremely important to me.
  • A long cord. I don’t want to take them off or have them yanked off my head when I reach for something behind me.

I already had a few folks that I trusted for reviews, chief amongst them Marco Arment, and when I found his comprehensive reviews of headphones last year like this one on his site, he frequently referred back to this pair of Sennheiser’s as his main pair for listening to anything hours on end.

I bought them from Amazon and have yet to think of buying another pair. They are very comfortable, have a long spiral, springy cord, emit very low noise bleed and the sound quality is exceptional.

A great buy!

13in Retina MacBook Pro

13in Retina MacBook Pro

As I’ve mentioned many, many times on this site; I am a Mac user. It’s nothing personal. I use PC’s and Macs all day at work and OSX is just fits my life and my daily workflows best. Both platforms have merit.

That all said, I spent around 8 months trying to live without a laptop, utilizing just my iPad and a bluetooth keyboard, and the gaps where a laptop could’ve really sped things up for me became too hard to traverse.

So I had to go back. I’ve been using the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina Display for everything about two months now and I can honestly say, without a single shred of doubt, that this is the finest computer I’ve ever owned.

And for those who are wondering if the screen is worth the extra cash: yes, it really is.

The bag itself

The bag I settled on is the REI Quantum Messenger Pack from REI. It’s nothing incredibly fancy but it’s got a padded sleeve for my computer, lots pockets for pens, notepads and all of my accessories, nice touches like a felt-lined pocket for your smart phone, mesh pockets for easy line of sight for anything you don’t want to dig around for, thickly padded shoulder straps… seriously, its a really great bag! What sold me on it though was the bag-length zipper on the side that unzips directly into the laptop sleeve so that it’s easy to take it out and put it back in while traveling.

It’s not all that expensive either if you can find it (it looks like it’s no longer on REI’s site).

Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set

Kobalt Brand Computer Screwdriver set

I am, at times, a woefully impatient person. Especially when it comes gadgets and upgrades. If you have ever needed a computer screwdriver set in a pinch and didn’t have one on hand, you’ll know what I am talking about. If you have never needed a set, you probably view it as extra bulk.

I have needed them, several times in fact and after the last time, I stopped off at Lowes on the way home and snagged this set. I paid very little for it and I will definitely need a new set soon, as the heads are chipping and stripping from use over the years. My next set will be better quality for sure.

The whole set, when zipped closed, is quite light and takes up very little room. I just tuck them in, down at the bottom of my bag.

To this day, I am still shocked at how much I reach for these little guys.

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool

Leatherman Skeletool Multitool

Like the screwdriver set above, I am shocked at how many times I need a good pair of needle nose pliers, or a good knife, or philips head, or a wire cutter, or a bottle opener, or a… well, you get the point.

I use the Skeletool both for hiking/camping, as well as my day-to-day. It’s light for what it is, but also incredibly well built.

Again, when I’ve needed it, I’ve been so psyched that I had it in my bag. It’s incredibly adept at solving problems.

A Pair of Apple Ear Buds

A Pair of Apple Ear Buds

These poor bastards have been through the wringer and are also hands down my least favorite Apple product. But, that all said, I keep them in my bag for when they are spatially more appropriate or when I am only sitting down for a few hours of work. The cord is too short, the sound is ok and, as you can tell from the glue on the ear pieces, they are falling apart. I basically keep them in my bag because they get the job done, but also I wouldn’t be bummed if I left them somewhere.

Two thumbnail drives

Two thumbnail drives

I move files around from computer to another a lot. I also like sharing. So in the case where items are too big to attach to an email or you aren’t networked directly to your needed destination: thumbnails drives are still pretty damn convenient.

Mine were cheap and the only reason why I keep to 2gig one around is because it still works like a champ. Mostly I always go for my 32gig one.

USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices and a Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort to VGA monitor adaptor

USB adaptor for the 32 pin connector on my iOS devices

Incredibly handy when you need to offload pictures from a USB device to your iOS device. Also an amazing adapter to add to your travel kit.

The Thunderbolt to VGA adaptor is solely for work purposes. Because you’d be shocked at how many office projectors/monitors still use the old-school VGA connections.

3ft 1/8″ Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable

3ft 1/8" Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable

If you ever are traveling and have wanted to plug your MP3 player into a stereo wherever you hang your hat for the evening, this cheap little cableis a must! Just plug it into the head phone jack of your player and connect the red to red and the white to white on the back of any stereo you encounter.

After a long day on the road, I am always relieved when I get to listen to my tunes through speakers. It’s not possible without this little travel companion. You can find them in almost any store in town, including most grocery stores (I bought this one at a local RadioShack on our last vacation).

Square Credit Card Reader

Square Credit Card Reader

I could seriously write an entire separate post on this tiny wonderful gadget (and I most likely will) , but this post alone is getting pretty epic so I will keep it short.

Square is basically an online service that allows you take credit card payments with your phone or tablet device. Just plug this card reader into the headphone jack of your phone, download Square’s app and you are ready to take payments from anyone. If you do freelance work or even run a full-fledged business, this little piece of plastic is a godsend.

Read more about Square here. You get the card reader free when you set up an account.

Two Small Moleskin Journals

Two Moleskin Journals

Though I do almost all of my journaling digitally now, I still run into the occasional instance where it’s just quicker to snag some pen and paper and scribble ideas and thoughts down.  These journals from Moleskin are cheap, take up very little space and the paper inside writes quite smoothly with any pen that’s nearby.  They come in lined and blank versions. I almost always use blank books because my note taking is a little unstructured.

My Wallet and Keys…

My Wallet and Keys

Yeah… so, this is my wallet and these are my keys….

I don’t like a lot of things in my pockets so I keep them in the zippered back pocket of my bag.

A lot of people ask about my wallet, I got it from “Mighty Wallet by Dynomighty Designs”. If you are looking for a thin (and I mean literally paper thin) wallet that can hold a lot and can take a beating (they are all made of Tyvek) that is super affordable. Give these guys a try! I got mine for the design and have kept it because it hasn’t given up on me or my lifestyle. Not yet anyways.

Wow… You Made It This Far! I’m Impressed!

If you made it this far, I am guessing you found some use or odd entertainment in it all, just like I often do. I know it’s weird but I just love reading how other people do the exact same things I do, but differently!

So what do you use in your day to day? Do you have some better suggestions for me?If so, leave them in the comments below! I’d love hear about them!

As always, thanks for coming by!