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apple nerd

Apple Video Series – Taking iPhone Photos

Apple has prepared a series of tutorials about how to take photos with the iPhone 7. Several focus on Portrait mode, but most of them provide good advice for taking photos on any mobile device with a camera.
shoot-on-iphone-7

Categories
nerd productivity technology

No Smile Here as TextExpander Subscribes to New Business Plan

Years ago I got hooked on automation for fun and productivity, and expanding snippets of text on my Mac made me feel like a wizard.
In those early years, I waffled between Typinator and TypeIt4Me before the introduction of the iPhone. I moved to TextExpander sometime around 2010 when it began syncing with my then-new iPhone. I used it exclusively until Tuesday, April 5, when Smile Software announced the transition to a subscription plan.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. —Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)

The idea of a subscription model doesn’t bother me. The software is awesome and remains the only snippet expander that is widely supported by iOS app developers. Why write off more than five years of building habits and muscle memory?
The exorbitant cost.

Expanding Costs

I think I got into the game with my first purchase of Textpander 3 circa 2010 for $19.95 (after taking advantage of a $15 discount). Continuing to invest in the system, I later upgraded to version 4 for $19.95 followed by an upgrade to the last version for another $20. These purchases for my Mac were coupled with versions 3 and 4 on iOS for $4.99 each.
If you’re keeping up, that’s a total investment just a hair short of $70 to license the software for roughly five years, or about $14 a year.
Under the new subscription model, the cost is easy to project for the next five years. The charge over five years for new users paying monthly will be $297. “Loyal” users get a break for 12 months. Here is a full breakdown of subscription costs over a five-year period.

New Annual New Monthly Upgrade Annual Upgrade Monthly
$237.60 $297 $213.84 $267.36

Doesn’t Compare

Smile Software isn’t breaking any new ground with its move to a subscription model. Adobe and Microsoft also made the move, but the return on investment simply doesn’t compare.
If my memory hasn’t faded too much, major version releases of Adobe’s Master Collection arrived about every three years with an upgrade cost of $1,800. The company now charges $50/month to access the entire stable of pro editing software with regular updates, or $1,800 every three years.
Microsoft’s Office Suite used to be in the neighborhood of $400 with deep discounts for students to $150. Now, those apps are available to regular users of Office 365 for $6.99/month, or $419.40 every five years. This includes services such as free tech support, 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage, and web versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook in addition to the full desktop apps.
The cost to subscribe software from Adobe and Microsoft is comparable to the prior cost to buy boxed versions off the shelf. Based on my personal experience, the cost to subscribe to TextExpander will increase from an average of $14/year to $42.77/year, a 205.5 percent annual increase.

Technical Difficulties

There are other concerns beyond price.
Smile seems proud to drop sync services with Dropbox and iCloud to host its new Meteor app on the Galaxy cloud service. No more free to cheap, widely available, mature services available. Just the new textexpander.com. They seem to be taking Steve Jobs 2007 “very sweet solution” for developers to heart.

This was a case where history proves that Jobs wasn’t always right. Smile’s mandatory replacement locks users into a service that is arguably less secure. After fallout from the company’s initial announcement and press release, Smile Software issued a clarification the next day explaining upgrade options and the company’s intention “to support it on El Capitan and the next major upgrade of OS X.”

Alternatives

What now?
After turning off snippet expansion in TextExpander, I am adding snippets to Keyboard Maestro as needed. Keyboard Maestro is life-changing software I already owned that easily handles snippet expansion and so much more.

What Else Can Keyboard Maestro Do? Pretty much anything you can imagine including launch applications, click the mouse, palettes, execute scripts, insert text, manipulate windows, record macros, built in flow control, use text tokens, menus and buttons, open, file actions, clipboard history, control itunesnotifications, notifications, and perform image actions.

I lose syncing with iOS this way, but will just enter my oft-used snippets into the the Text Replacement features built into iOS. You can find these options on your iPhone under Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement. Snippets entered here will sync with your other Apple devices, but lack form entry and support for multiple lines or paragraphs of text.
A few other options include Typinator (by ergonis) and TypeIt4Me (by Ettore Software, App Store affilitiate link) along with aText (by Tran Ky Nam Software), the cheapest alternative for a sawbuck. Ettore also offers TypeIt4Me Touch (App Store affiliate link) that syncs with iOS using iCloud.

Long Story Short…

It’s too late to keep this long story short. If you scrolled to the end, here’s the nut of it. TextExpander has priced itself out of my business and I’m using Keyboard Maestro instead.

Categories
technology writing

Sorting Out How I Work With Plain Text

My cup runneth over with superb apps for writing, manipulating, and writing text on any Apple device; so much so that it’s hard to pick the one I want to work in right now. A nice problem to have, but still a problem. A post by @macdrifter published on New Year’s Day, Quick Notes with Sublime Text, prodded me think about this.
As a nerd plunked firmly in the “fiddly” class, at least I know one thing. After years of agonizing over which font I want to use and how big the margins should be, I committed a long time ago to working in plain text using Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown (based on John Gruber’s Markdown). All of my files are synced using iCloud or Dropbox for ubiquitous access from my Mac, iPhone, and iPad mini.
On my Mac, most ideas start in Sublime Text 3. It is always open and one of the best text editors on the market (along with BBEdit, of course).1 A bonus to both text editors is the hot exit; all open files are saved and reopened the next time you launch the app. This alleviates my File Naming Anxiety Disorder (FNAD), an affliction that submitted for inclusion in DSM-6.
So from my Mac I may start quickly in Sublime Text, but at some point I freeze and wonder, “Is this really where I want to be working on this?” These are my top three options, all of which recognize variants of Markdown while curating their own unique strengths:

  • MultiMarkdown Composer — This application for writing in MultiMarkdown is designed by Fletcher Penney, the man who designed the markup language. What could be better?
  • Ulysses III — In my memory, Ulysses kicked off the plain text editing revolution on the Mac. The developers completely overhauled the design and it is beautiful (and dovetails perfectly into their iOS app Daedalus Touch).
  • Byword — Another popular app with many writers on the web, Byword’s designers built in capabilities to publish directly to WordPress and Tumblr.

All three are terrific. Though it’s a Mac application, Ulysses III works the most like an iOS app; open a new file, start typing, and it’s just saved somewhere in the app without irritating my FNAD. Byword and MultiMarkdown Composer (MMC) work with standard files that are saved in iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. MMC handles MultiMarkdown metadata better than the other two (as it should coming from the man who wrote the spec).

Another Can of Worms

This has so far focused on the Mac while ignoring two other platforms, the iPhone and iPad. I’m getting bored with this topic for now, so I’m just going to rip out a few points here.

  • Byword is available on all three platforms
  • Ulysses III, coupled with Daedulus Touch, is sort of available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
  • MultiMarkdown Composer is Mac-only, but being plain text is available for easy editing on any device when synced with Dropbox.

Findings?

The whole purpose for writing this article is to sort through my options and determine a system that works best for me. I don’t think I am quite there yet. If you’re still reading and curious, I chose to write this article in MultiMarkdown Composer. When I nail down something that works for me, I’ll let you know.


  1. BBEdit is still my go to app for cleaning up and reformatting documents using Text Factories. My most common use case is copying the text of meeting agendas sent to me in MS Word, pasting into BBEdit, running a Text Factory that strips weird spaces and characters, converts to Markdown, which is exported into HTML to publish online. 
Categories
general nerd technology writing

Labor Day

Labor Day for us meant our daughter came home for her first break from Valdosta State University, which was great. We miss her when she’s gone, which already kicked in after she left earlier today to return to campus.
We watched The Shining together; her first time. During the first half she was rolling her eyes. Second half? Scared out of her wits. She’ll carry that one around for a while. Hey, they don’t call it a psychological thriller for nothing.
On nerdier notes, I sorted out my text files and narrowed my iOS app use to Notesy for quick reference (though I’m still digging into Editorial). I also began migrating to the new Apple Affiliate program. When you click links to apps and make a purchase, you’re supporting this site.
You can learn more about me, this site, and click updated affiliate links on the About page.

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Nailing the Workflow

I’ve played around long enough. It’s time to commit to my writing tools and stick to them. Here’s the list.

On my Mac

As far as I’m concerned, Scrivener is the winner on Mac. I’ve tried them all and have no more questions. Scrivener is it for me.

On my iPad

Discovering Writing Kit made this decision easy. It quickly became the de facto app for writing on my first-generation iPad.

On my iPhone

I’m still waffling here, but since growing to version 2.0 Writing Kit has the edge. It not only syncs with Dropbox (natch) and handles Markdown beautifully and mimics the writing environment I enjoy on my iPad. Elements 2 by Second Gear Software still runs in my stable on my iPhone and iPad because it allows me to send HTML-formatted emails from within the app.

By setting my default Dropbox folder to the root directory, I can move within both apps from one project to another. For instance, I just swapped from my Mac to my iPhone and back to edit this article within the Scrivener hierarchy. Cool huh?

Note: I’ve heard it’s best to close Scrivener when you leave your Mac if you plan to edit files while you’re away. I hear that’s bad juju.

Other Notes

Just because I’m nailing my workflow to the apps I described above doesn’t mean I’m excluding apps–such as OmniOutliner for iPad and iThoughts–that support my work.

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You are what you read

Some blogs are comprised of audio, photos, or videos, but most of them are still brewed the old-fashioned way, by stringing together a bunch of (hopefully) related words and publishing them to the Internet for everyone to read and discuss.

Rinse. Repeat. Rinse again. Seriously, go wash up. People are beginning to talk.

My first thought as I began to think about which direction to steer my blog was, “What do I want to read?” I reviewed some of my favorite writers and major influences and found a few common threads:

These folks are the cream of the crop. It’s ridiculous to set my goals so high, but that’s what I’ve done. I’m not here to compete with them and surely don’t claim to join them. I do understand the craftsmanship that goes into what they do and I’m a huge fan of their work.

¡Mios Dio, man! This could get embarrassing!

By the way, most of my reading happens in Instapaper, which Marco Arment (@marcoarment) updated to 4.0 this week. You really should go and buy it now.

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Apple TV update failures

I found Apple’s Express Lane while haggling with a new piece of tech over software updates.

We got tired of wrestling weirdness with the dying first generation Apple TV in our living room. It’s dying a painful death, so we bought another second generation Apple TV to put in that room.

The Apple Store had a refurbished model in stock and we ordered it without hesitation. I’ve had great success with refurbished Macs and this Apple TV is not an exception. It arrived in perfect condition, just like the brand new Apple TV we bought a few months ago.

The only problem we’ve had is that the refurb came with iOS 4.1.x installed and the updater refuses to install the latest version (the one with the MLB, NBA, and stability fixes).

At first I feared we had received our first dud from Apple, and the jury is still out on that one, but it looks like it is simply a server issue on Apple’s end.

I picked up a thread on Apple’s own discussion forums where other users from all over the U.S. and Switzerland to Australia were struggling with the same issue. There are sporadic stories of success, but it wasn’t finding me. That’s when I discovered Express Lane.

Support in the Express Lane

The support service is represented by what looks like an iOS app icon in Apple’s now infamous blue hue. Log in with your Apple ID, leave a phone number, and set up a time for Apple to call you back.

It worked like a charm.

I set an appointment for today at 11 a.m. My iPhone 4 rang just a few minutes after and I had an anticlimactic answer by 11:10 a.m.

The rep told me the “higher ups” know about this issue and confirmed there is a problem with the Apple TV updates server. While he couldn’t give me a firm ETA, he did let me know they are working to fix it.

Patience is the fix. It isn’t what I wanted to hear, but the update should install correctly sometime in the next few days. So I will muster my patience and try the update again tomorrow.

Followup:Patience failed. We downloaded the ipsw file from a squirrelly source, connecting the Apple TV to a Mac with a Micro USB cord (the same cord used with the Amazon Kindle) and using iTunes to manually update the device (hold the option key and click restore).

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iPad: My review one year late

Using an iPad (first generation) for a few weeks now improved the way I work.
Taking notes

Taking notes helps me stay focused and engaged during a meeting or conversation. If you saw me in a meeting, it was a safe bet a notebook or legal pad (yellow paper please) wasn’t far from my side. The physical act of writing with a pen or pencil is one of my simple pleasures, yet as a prolific notetaker, the problem I found with collecting mounds of handwritten yellow pages is the lack of an easy way to search them. Proper filing makes pages easier to find (sometimes), but without a meticulous and impractical concordance I know of no way to search those files beyond simple topics. Using the iPad, I can tag my digital notes and search them with ease.
Not only can I take notes at work and church, but the combination of my iPad and iPhone constitue a digital filing cabinet I always have with me. I have used notebook computers exclusively for nearly a decade and an iPhone for about three years now, but the iPad has taken mobile computing to a whole new level for me.

Creating new content

Lots of people–naysayers and devoted iPad users alike–say the iPad is only for consumption and unsuitable for creation.

I disagree.

I’m no artist, but the tools on the market appear to be amazing. Adobe Ideas, Sketchbook Pro, and Brushes are three that come to mind and the number of high-quality photo editing apps is virtually overwhelming.

Words are my craft, and there is no shortage of tools to help writers. I’m juggling several apps right now until I find a home. IA Writer is my favorite so far for creating narrative content (this article for example). I haven’t settled on a favorite app for taking notes, but I’ve narrowed the field. Nebulous Notes is great and I’ve used PlainText and Elements. The new player on the field is OmniOutliner for iPad from the software ninjas at The Omni Group, and it looks perfect for taking notes.

Like any writer/geek these days, I use Scrivener on my Mac and and look forward to paying for final release of the beta version running on my Windows netbook. Sharing files between Mac OS X and Windows is seamless, but there are no plans to bring Scrivener to the iPad. A wise developer decision, but I’m still flailing about until I can find a pleasing way (for me) to edit writing contained in Scrivener projects while I’m on the go.

About that consumption

I disagreed with those who believe the iPad is only good for consumption, but I don’t disagree that the device is a terrific tool for digesting everything the Internet has to offer (unless it runs in Adobe Flash, which is fine with me). This is another area where my workflow has transformed.

The iPad is as close to perfect as anything I’ve seen for plowing through RSS feeds and other news sources online. I’ve been using Reeder on the iPhone for a long time, but more for triage than actual reading. I have to admit that I’m getting older, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and the larger screen makes reading easier and following up on the Web a pleasure when necessary. Videos on YouTube, Vimeo, and Netflix run like a technicolor dream (unless you’re into black & white recordings, and those work fine too).

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Here we go again

Everyone in the room sighed and rolled their eyes skyward. “He’s written about this so many times. Too many times.”

I like Macs, but recently added a Windows-based netbook to my lineup of writing tools. Here is an update of the software I use all the time. I’ll be brief.

Mac

Windows

iOS

Everywhere

…and I mean everywhere.

  • 1Password for managing logins and passwords. Priceless.

This isn’t comprehensive, but it covers the bases. I could go on–go ahead, ask anyone–but I won’t. You’re welcome.

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So, I got a netbook

Coming soon… Posts that aren’t so nerdy!

Julie gave me a netbook last week. My last PC was a 386 with an 80mb hard drive and 8mb of RAM. I replaced it with an Apple Performa 6116CD, which science can carbon date to the early 1990s. I have been a dedicated Mac user ever since and have long-since forgotten how to parse the specs for a Windows machine. The netbook is new to me although this model was released about a year ago.

The keyboard isn’t too shabby compared to other netbooks I’ve used. While it isn’t full size, the keys are large and responsive enough to make it a decent and very portable writing tool (until I can afford a MacBook Air). The additional couple of pounds compressed into my white plastic MacBook seems unbearable now compared to the netbook.

1Password

One big step forward for me was securing a Windows license for 1Password, the premiere password management solution for iOS, Mac OS X, and Windows produced by Agile Web Solutions.

Having used Macs exclusively for nearly 20 years now (20 years?!) it seemed like a no-brainer to pick up another Mac license for 1Password with the MacUpdate Spring Bundle I bought three weeks ago. It didn’t take me long after cracking this netbook open last week to realize my mistake. I needed a Windows license for 1Password!

I already own a license for Mac so I crossed my fingers and emailed customer support at 9:22 EST on a Wednesday night asking them to revoke and replace my latest Mac license. “Happiness Engineer” Nik L. responded 13 minutes later at 9:35 with a Windows license. 13 minutes! “Computer Whisperer” Marty S. (love the titles) even followed up at 1:11 a.m. EST to ensure the new license worked for me.

So many people limit their opinions to the bad times. I spent enough time in the service industry to understand the value of positive comments. The company had no obligation to grant my request, but they did.

The folks at Agile Web Solutions displayed unparalleled customer service for what I already knew to be a superior product. My experience was like staying at a hotel and realizing a day or two later you want a different room. You don’t have a good reason, but their staff happily moves all of your things to an identical room across the hall.

There are other password managers for Mac OS X and other platforms, but I have never heard anyone rave about them. Users treasure 1Password. Merlin Mann and others on Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 podcasts mention it regularly. Agile Web Solutions sponsors the MacPowerUsers podcast, but I think hosts Dave Sparks and Katie Floyd would flaunt the cross-platform value of 1Password whether they were paid to or not.

1Password is superior software and Agile Web Solutions’ customer support is prompt and impeccable.

ResophNotes

Text editors get regular use on all of my devices all tied together with the indispensable twine Dropbox provides. I rely on nvALT (a variant of the open source Notational Velocity) on my Macs. I never can settle on which horse to ride from my stable full of iOS text editors. My top three picks are:

  • Elements – for search capabilities and general use
  • Nebulous Notes – for macros and superior Markdown integration
  • Notesy – for user interface and choice of using a monospace or proportional typeface per file

My search was quick; ResophNotes fills the void on Windows. Because the interface is nearly identical to nvALT on my Mac, ResophNotes dovetails perfectly into my workflow.

Scrivener

Scrivener is my choice for composing longform articles, research-based writing, and incubating book ideas. I committed to using Scrivener several years ago after finding Literature & Latte. Software developer Keith Blount knew exactly how to make writers happy because he happens to be an author himself. He wrote the program to serve his own writing needs and selflessly shared his work with us.

The Windows version is a relatively new venture–still in beta as I write this–but should be available for release soon. I look forward to adding a license soon after Scrivener’s imminent non-beta release.

Dropbox

It seems like everyone has something good to say about Dropbox. The company’s version of cloud storage is a must-have tool that should be installed by default on every single new computing device on every platform. If you don’t have it, get it.

Fonts

The netbook came with a relatively impressive collection of fonts, but I had to add two more free ones–Inconsolata and Bitstream Vera Sans Mono–to keep my wits about me in a text editor. I’m still debating whether I need something as powerful as TextMate for the netbook and I’m open to suggestions for a Windows replacement.

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Writing Anywhere and Everywhere

Writing applications are growing as plentiful and affordable as the number of platforms on the market to help me record my thoughts. I am using this blog to review and define my system of capturing ideas.

I no longer have to wait until I have my favorite notebook and pen or return to my computer desk. Smart phones like the Apple iPhone and other devices running Android are great for capturing ideas or even making progress on longer work.

For the record, I prefer the iPhone and will focus on iOS apps and work on a Mac so you can stop reading now if that’s not how you roll. I didn’t write this to tell you what you should do, but if it works for you then that’s terrific. This article is selfishly focused on helping me work better.

I’ve narrowed the types of words I capture to three types, and use different applications on different platforms depending on my environment.

1. Notes

My iPhone is always at hand, making it a nearly perfect “ubiquitous capture tool” (to use the lingua franca of GTD) for basic notes. If I overhear something interesting or funny, I jot it down. Think of something I don’t want to forget? This is the perfect tool to help me remember it.

One offs. Lists. Scribbled thoughts. Nothing formal here, just random thoughts. A few bits of reference I want to have with me all the time. I periodically review and process these notes to create or supplement projects or delete them.

How I get notes into my iPhone depends on the situation. I use JotAgent to fire off a quick note. The app creates a new file stamped with the date and time down to the seconds. This ensures I won’t have two files of the same name and I can add a description later when I process my notes.

Applications I Use: JotAgent and Elements on the iPhone. [Notational Velocity][41] on the Mac (I prefer Brett Terpstra’s variant [nvALT][42]).

Honorable mention: MarkdownMail, Nebulous Notes, Plaintext, Simplenote, and Writeroom (for iPhone and Mac).

2. Research

Some notes are more refined than others, and I am going to call these research notes. These are notes that may drive my writing to some end, or maybe notes from meetings I attend.

This is an area where I struggle. I still take notes the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, and I haven’t figured out how to digitize those notes. I know the LiveScribe pen is one option, but it just doesn’t sound right to me. I don’t think I would like it.

I tried pairing an Apple bluetooth keyboard with my iPhone. It works, but it’s still a clunky kludge and not much better than using a laptop.

The iPad 2 is appealing—the MacBook Air, too—but I don’t have the spare capital to swing either purchase right now.

Applications I Use: Elements on the iPhone. Scrivener and TextMate on the Mac, which I keep coupled together using QuickCursor.

Honorable mention: DEVONthink Pro and Yojimbo for data storage and retrieval.

3. Work

Snippets grow into notes, and ideas develop into a novel, a blog post, or a research paper. A note captured while walking to the mailbox could grow into a masterpiece to export later into LaTeX or some other formatted output for publication.

Applications I Use: Scrivener and TextMate, MarsEdit for blog posts, Pages for print.

Honorable mention: Mellel, Microsoft Word, Pagehand.

Text Editors

BBEdit, TextMate, Text Wrangler, Ulysses

All of my writing that ends up being worth anything spends a good deal of life in a text editor before publication in print or online. TextMate is my weapon of choice, and my bullets are written using Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown, which extends the formatting capabilities of John Gruber’s original Markdown.

MultiMarkdown is a markup language that allows for semantic text editing. As a plain text file it is infinitely portable and flexible. The file can be exported to Rich Text Format, LaTeX, HTML, and other formats for further processing before publication.

Ulysses is another kind of semantic text editor worth a closer look.

Word Processors

Mellel, Microsoft Word, Pagehand, Pages

Word processors do more than edit text. They allow you to pick different fonts, adjust margins, and all kinds of other fiddly activities you should really avoid unless you are actually finished writing. Until then, I’ll stick to a text editor and recommend you do the same.

You would be amazed how liberating a simple monospaced font can be for your writing. Try it.

Microsoft Word is my least favorite word processor, but it’s a necessary evil because it is so deeply ingrained in office culture. If you need to share a file and preserve formatting, you’re probably going to need Word.

Having said that, I only use it when I must share my files with someone else. If someone sends me a file, I open it in TextEdit or Path Finder’s text editor.

Outliers and additions

Evernote is a terrific application. I keep trying to work it into my workflow, but it just doesn’t fit. David Sparks summed up my feelings during the podcast he records with fellow attorney Katie Floyd. About 19 minutes into their episode titled Taking Notes on Mac OS X and iOS he said, “Evernote is, in my case, an elegant solution where I don’t have a problem.”

That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking but lacked the eloquence to package my thoughts.

OmniOutliner Pro can’t be beat for making outlines, but for some reason it slips off my radar when I’m at a point where it makes sense. I crank out most of my outlines in a Markdown text file, but OmniOutliner is the ultimate outlining tool on the Mac.

TextExpander (and it’s iPhone counterpart TextExpander Touch) is the glue that holds my writing life together. Apps that have a hook for TextExpander to grab onto don’t get a lot of use from me.

Thoughts on file names

I’ve tried some naming schemes that got awfully convoluted, but they got to the point that I couldn’t remember what was what. I’ll probably make it difficult for myself again, but for now I stick with dating each file and providing a brief descriptive name. Like this:

2011-03-06 brief descriptive name

See? Easy!

Just remember to lay down some context for your notes or you may find yourself a bit lost in the days, weeks, or months to come.

Closing

Like I said in the beginning, this article is an exercise to help me define how I work. I hope it helps you in some way, but recommend that you try several options to see what works best for you.

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∞ Thirty Percent

Eddie perfectly sums up Apple’s much-discussed 30 percent cut in the iOS App Store. Amen and pass it on.

∞ Thirty Percent:

Apple isn’t taking jack from you because without Apple you wouldn’t have a business developing iOS apps. Plain and simple. People really need to get this. If Apple did not create, maintain, pay for, hire people, construct, scheme, profit from the App Store — there would be no App Store to speak of.

(Via The Brooks Review)