Category Archives: Software

An Efficient and Fun iOS E-mail App: Spark by Readdle

Except for a few months of BitNet e-mail on a VAX mainframe server, I have been using the default UNIX mail app for almost 25 years now. Started with a SUN workstation, moved from SunOS to Solaris, Linux RedHat distribution (and a few others) and ended up on OSX. The nice thing about this is that all my e-mail archives transferred easily from one UNIX flavour to the other!

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WiFi Sync back to Papers with version 3.3.0

Well for those of us who have very large PDF libraries, version 3.3.0 of Papers is bringing back WiFi Sync across devices. Let’s see how good is this version compare to Papers 2.7.

TaskCollector for Cultured Code Things 2.5: DevonThink and Finder editions

Last week I published on this blog an AppleScript code for collecting tasks from text files (meeting notes, conferences notes and so on) stored in or taken directly in DevonThink Pro / Pro Office. Here is the latest version of the code. It also contains a Finder version that will let you pick a file anywhere on your computer (e.g. you are not a DevonThink users) and perform a similar task.

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Automating collection of To Dos from meeting notes using DevonThink, AppleScript and Things

For sometimes now, I went fully digital when attending meetings (one on one, research, scientific congress or even committee meetings). I adopted the iPad for that task just a few month after it came out on the market. There are multiple choices of apps out there for note taking. Apple Notes actually is probably the most simple, and quite efficient, one. Since I bring all of my meeting documents with me in DevonThink To Go or DTTG (see my e-office series to see how I make this work), I now take almost all of my meeting notes directly in DTTG. DTTG sync with DevonThink Pro Office (DTPO) edition on my Mac. I am looking forward for the new sync features of DTTG 2.0 but for now this works really fine.

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DevonThink Pro Office + BusyContacts = an efficient CRM solution for academia?

What does a Customer Relationship Management have anything to do with Academia? The blog Academic Workflow on a Mac makes a very good case for it…and I agree!

 

Today, I realized that you can copy DevonThink unique link of a group or an element within its database not just to Calendar/BusyCal or Things/OmniFocus but also to BusyContacts.

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BusyContacts: a simple and easy to use CRM alternative for OS X

The guys that brought you the famous OS7 Now Up-to-Date, followed by BusyCal, have done it again with a contact application on steroid: BusyContacts.

I have been using the beta version for the past few weeks and I must say it turns out to be a very stable, useful and easy to use piece of software. Much easier to set-up and deal with than CRM software such as Daylite and others. The software is now out of beta and V1 is available to buy…and you do get a reduced price (“Sidegrade” they call it) if you are a BusyCal user!

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Cultured Code Things free on iPad/iPhone, 30% off on Mac

Things Blog is announcing a give away for the latest version of Things for iPhone and iPad and a good amount off the Mac version. Been using Things for a long time (the very first beta in fact!). An excellent and very easy to use task management tool.

Jorge Soto: The future of early cancer detection? | Talk Video | TED.com

Is looking for microRNAs in the bloodstream the silver bullet for cancer detection? Have a look at Jorge Soto talk at TEDGlobal 2014.

Notice that he uses his iPhone integrated camera for image taking and automated analysis. And did I say, Open Source design 😉

64bits A7/A8 chips: the biggest smartphone technological innovation over the last two years

For some peoples, trivial increase in screen size is what they call innovation. Of course, it is the first things you see but unless there is a significant new underlying technology, making something bigger is a bit trivial. At that rate, we will be talking with 10 and 12 inches phablet to our ears in a few years and call it innovation, instead of stupidity.

No, the biggest technological innovation is unseen to the naked eye: the lower power, high performance custom made 64bits A7 and A8  chips. I wouldn’t be surprise to discover some design genius also in the S1 chip for the Apple watch also (which in itself might be more exciting than the rest of the watch) but will have to wait a few more months.

Apple_A8_system-on-a-chip

2 billions transistors. That is the transistors count of the new 64 bits A8 chips Apple put in its latest smartphone.

Two billion transistors represents about the 2010 Quad-Core Itanuim counts, while the latest Haswell chips has about 1.4 billions transistors (without the GPU). Of course in the A8 this number is for the dual-core CPU and the integrated GPU (6 clusters) units.

Geekbench 3 benchmark scores

The top of the line 3.5GHz i7-4471 64 bits chip score 3914 for single core of  while the A8 gives around 1630 at 1.4GHz (also single core). Interestingly, this give more power per GHz (if such a metric is meaningful). Note that such a score is also equivalent to the 2009 3GHz Core 2 Duo T9900 found in MacBook Pro and iMac of that time… only 5 years back. Also, current MacBook Air scores about 2200 for single core. On the graphic side, the hexa-core Series 6XT GX6650 GPU is around or above 250 GFLOPSs, which would put it in the same class as a GeForce GT 620. The A8 chip is indeed a desktop class chip, if only a few years behind 😉

The iPhone 6 with the A8 does not have the largest numbers in term of GHz, # of CPU core and processor speed; the competition have numbers ranging from factor or 2 to 3 higher in those categories(!). As with anything, higher numbers do not always means better performance or a more efficient device. Yet, the iPhone 6 still ranks best in the class in some benchmarks and in the top contender spots in most categories (expect the benchmark heavily dependent on multicore such as the physics test). This makes it an overall top performer despite having only a 1.4 Ghz dual core chip and despite having only 1 Gb of RAM…

Even more interesting, and certainly part of the excitement for the underlying technologies part of the iPhone 6, is the battery life. Again, the iPhone is not the best but still performing very good in these tests. It does so however with some of the smallest batteries on the market (only 1810 mAh for the iPhone 6). As such, the “talk-time” or “on time” per mAh is by a large margin better for Apple hardware than the competition for similar or better computing performance; Apple obviously prefer smaller phone thickness (which the A-series chips power/performance ratio allow Apple to do) to larger batteries. This option is simply not available to the competition without either seriously impacting “talk time” or decreasing the specs to abysmal level.

In short, the A8 64 bits chip is a truly amazing overall design engineering feat but also telling is the other part of the equation: the extremely efficient underpinning UNIX system (iOS is a derivative of OSX after all) and to some extent much better apps programming to fit within the RAM space and still outperform the competition in usability. This is true innovation, not screen size and the like. At this point, the performance gap between the iPhone 6 and a MacBook Air appears to be roughly 40-50% (based on Geekbench 3 scores). Convergence of computing power between ultraportable notebook, smartphone and other portable devices is almost a reality with the very low power chips.

Again, it is going to be interesting to see what the internal of the Apple Watch is really made of. The internal, that is the S1 chip but also the new haptic interface, might very well be the true innovation in what would otherwise be simply another fitness gadget.

Taking a clear stance on digital privacy…

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

– Tim Cook (View the whole text: Apple – Privacy.)

 

Only a company that make that much money selling hardware could take this stands: Google, Amazon, Facebook and the others simply cannot afford such commitment… and it is not their business model. You are their business model, you are their product!

Privacy, convenience, freedom and security or Android as the biggest trojan horse of all time

There was a very nice article recently following the first year after the revelations of Edward Snowden on how it become really easy even for regular citizens to “track” someone online. While all of this NSA business is often link to a debate of freedom vs. security, the biggest concerns should maybe not be NSA but the new Kings and Monarchies of our time aka (some) mega corporations.

Theprocessionofthetrojanhorseintroybygiovannidomenicotiepolo

We have hear and seen repeated for a long time the quote of Benjamin Franklin on freedom vs. security. However a more pervasive attitude is at play, and I must say that I am playing it like many others to some extent: giving away (some of) my privacy for convenience. One can ask how far would it go?

 

Things were looking to go better when Apple announce iOS8 and OSX 10 in which extra layer of security was added, going all the way to even hide your critical data from Apple itself (so employees or external agencies could not get their hands on it!).  Apple will also add MAC address randomization so you cannot be tracked without your consent as you get into various Wi-Fi zones.

 

Since then three announcements, each at 180 degrees from Apple, appears to decrease privacy significantly for, in principal, added convenience:

 

Each of the above announcements means that these companies will collect more information on you and in the end will know more about your general and detail behavior that even you can recalled from memory. The quote from Google Android Chief is quite explicit about this; they want to know where you are and what you do in real-time, all the time…

 

It turns out that the Android is becoming the biggest Trojan Horse virus of all time. First it is “free”, second it is adopted willingly and third Google is at the receiving end of all that information. It is the free part that is the central issue. The truth is than Android is not free. it pays itself by collecting your personal information…and that information by itself and aggregated by categories is extremely valuable to Google and to any one it see fits to share it with or sell to. Google business model is to sell advertising i.e. to sell the best “picture” you at any given point in time to others.

 

In fact, one might contend that receiving these so-called “free” software and hardware is probably not a strong enough retribution for the worth of your personal information: you are really worth more then you think and are probably being exploited without realizing it.

 

The scary part is to understand how wide is the gap between total lost of privacy and that of freedom? The next few years will be interesting.

New academic templates for DevonThink Pro

I have been a user of DevonThink Pro Office for a number of years now and made it a central part of my digital workflow. Over time, I naturally my organization toward a project-based hierarchy, trying to self contains all key information regarding a particular project into a DTPO group and sub-group structure. So I keep what I call an Ongoing database, which have all of my ongoing projects: manuscripts and other documents being written, financed research projects and contracts as principal investigators, other research projects as co-applicants or collaborators, courses that I teach and so on. If it’s completed, it’s archived and thus pull put of the Ongoing database.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 12.43.15

I have created a few standard templates containing a main folder (group) and sub-folders structure for a few key academic activities:

  • Research Grant
  • Research Contracts
  • General Research Project (not corresponding directly to the above two; can be personal!)
  • New Student
  • New manuscript
  • Conference (Attending/Presenting)

The following file (Projects) is a zip of a folder named Projects that contains these templates. Clicking the previous link  should already produced an unzip folder on your standard download folder. Simply drop the folder into ~/Library/Application Support/DEVONthink Pro 2/Templates.noindex. It will become available in the New from Template sub-menu of the Data menu.

I am quite interested in hearing if this is useful, if the structure of these templates are appropriate for your workflow and knowing about your own structure.

Heartbleed Exploit as viewed by xkcd!

xkcd: Heartbleed Explanation.

 

The good news: iOS, OSX and 1Password not affected 😉

Office for iPad: too little, too late!

Microsoft announced today that they are releasing office for iPad. If all you want to do is see your files or display you PPT, the apps are free. If you want to be productive i.e. create or edit…you will have to shell-out the Office365 subscription cost. Really! And that is for a product that is stuck with OneDrive and SharePoint.

If you buy a new iOS device or a new OSX device, you are already better served with the free iWorks suite. For most users, this is also more than enough. Frankly, Keynote is so much better than PowerPoint (which on my Mac regularly crashes or corrupt its own files). WORD is OK for simple document, here simple meaning not too large or complex. Otherwise, again on OSX be ready for regular crashes on large and complex WORD documents (lots of sections with tables, figures and so on). Writing a PhD thesis on WORD is simply pure torture. Students should be advised to learn LaTeX right off the bat.

If you are truly working cross platforms and are interested in true real-time shared editing, free Google Drive is actually quite impressive (never thought I would say that of the (evil) Google!) and light years ahead of clunky SharePoint for collaborative work. Tested in a room with peoples on Windows, OSX and iPad all accessing the same “WORD” document for editing. Works like a charm! Did I say it is FREE?

Finally, OpenOffice is an acceptable, free replacement. The issue is for it to be efficient, everyone in your work entourage needs to adopt it. Otherwise, also works nicely.

In other words, unless forced by a stone age IT department to have Office for iPad on your device, you probably do not need it.

Two or more Dropbox accounts simultaneously on your Mac, it’s possible and easy!

Dropbox is a great tool for keeping certain documents accessible from everywhere (provided you have an internet connecting!). It is also a very nice cross platform collaborative tool. In the past, I have created specific folders that I share with collaborators across the globe. Recently, something different presented itself: as part of an important international project I am participating in, a specific (free) Dropbox account was created.

Of course, you can access both accounts from a web browser but the OSX Dropbox application does not provide for multiple accounts simultaneously. Daniel Mann posted sometimes ago a great solution to this problem on his Blog theTerran. It used Apple’s Automator to create two or more instances of the Dropbox application all running in parallel. If you look at the figure below you can see the toolbar from my Mac having two instances, the color one is my regular Dropbox account and the B&W one is for this special project. Both folders reside side-by-side on my Mac 😉

two-DropBox

It takes no more than a few minutes to go through the step-by-step instructions. Have fun and visit Daniel’s blog!

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