Tuns out, the “Air Vent” icon was designed by Norm Cox over 30 years ago during his days at Xerox PARC:

I designed that symbol many years ago as a “container” for contextual menu choices. It would be somewhat equivalent to the context menu we use today when clicking over objects with the right mouse button.

(Via Michael Mulvey.)

Speaking of The Sweet Setup, we’ve got some near-term sponsorship openings that I’d love to see filled, including this week’s spot.

The way sponsorships work on TSS is as a whole package bundle that includes a sponsored blog post with a big image, an exclusive ad in our weekly email newsletter, a few thank-you tweets from our Twitter account, and a one-month run of two banner ads served up in our sidebar.

If you’re interested in booking a spot, shoot me an email: sponsors@shawnblanc.net

This week’s interview on The Sweet Setup is with the one and only, Katie Floyd, co-host of the Mac Power Users podcast (among other awesomeness):

I’m Katie Floyd. I’ve been a Mac user since 1984 when my dad brought home the original 128k Mac, and I never looked back.

Friday, April 4

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly I discuss building a platform and an audience to share the things we have to say but how those platforms can turn on us and stifle our creativity and inspiration. Or: How do we keep out of the echo chamber in order to consistently create work we’re proud of and that has value and meaning?

Brought to you by:

Today marks the 3-year anniversary of my first day as a full-time employee here at shawnblanc.net HQ. Thank you so much to all of you dear readers and members who swing by and support this site with your time, attention, and hard-earned cash.

Thursday, April 3

Speaking of amazing apps that shipped yesterday, Fantastical 2 for the iPad is here. I’ve been using it for the last couple months and, of course, it’s great.

And in my time using and testing Fantastical for iPad, I realized a few things.

For one, I noticed how little I actually use a calendar on my iPad. I use to think I never used a calendar app on my iPad because there weren’t any options that I really liked (though, honestly, I do think the pre-iOS 7 iPad calendar app was pretty great). However, even with Fantastical available to me on the iPad, I just rarely ever opened it. But for people who’ve been running the iPhone version of Fantastical on their iPad at 2x, they’ll be extremely happy with the native iPad app.

Which leads me to my second realization. Using the iPad version put some context into just what an amazing app Fantastical for iPhone is. With all the extra space of the iPad’s screen, the app isn’t necessarily better than it’s iPhone sibling. And the fact that an app which has a primary function of displaying and making discoverable as much relevant information as possible, would do as good a job of that on the iPhone as it does on the iPad, is a testament to the former’s design quality.

Needless to say, if you’re in want of a great calendar app on the iPad, Fantastical is a great choice.

Wow. Just wow. Monument Valley is a brand new iOS art-driven puzzler game, and it’s truly spectacular. It’s worth the $4 just to see and experience the artwork.

Federico Viticci has written an excellent review of the game. If you enjoyed The Room and The Room 2, which are a couple of my favorite iOS games, then you’ll certainly enjoy Monument Valley as well.

Wednesday, April 2

Excellent story-slash-life-lesson from Greg Knauss about a side-project app he made called Romantimatic and learning to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Solid advice from Matt West. I couldn’t agree more with this bit:

Taking time to think is massively underrated.

Tuesday, April 1

Well, so long as we’re linking to cool articles over on The Sweet Setup, I also just posted an updated review of my Origami Workstation + Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I reviewed this little iPad writing accessory a year ago, and now that I use it with the iPad mini my affinity for it is even stronger. It is, in my opinion, one of the best Bluetooth keyboard options out there for any iPad at all, and certainly for the iPad mini.

I’ve been conducting Sweet Mac Setup interviews since 2009 and not once have I done one myself. Well, the time has come.

Monday, March 31

From the overall conclusion:

The E-M10 very much feels more like a third generation OM-D model than a step-down from its two brothers. It borrows many qualities we liked from both of them and presents them in a slightly smaller, lighter package.

I’ve read a few other reviews of the E-M10 and they are all glowing like this one. When the E-M10 was first announced a lot of people pooh-poohed it, saying it was just a poor man’s OM-D. But I think that’s missing the point entirely.

Last year when I wrote my one-year review of the E-PL5, I said there were no cameras enticing enough for me to consider upgrading. I spent some time with the E-P5 over Christmas and was actually underwhelmed by it — I wasn’t getting any shots out of it that I couldn’t also get with my E-PL5, and yet the E-P5 was bigger, heavier, more expensive.

But the E-M10 has turned out to be a fantastic upgrade from my E-PL5. For one, it’s almost exactly the same size (but with the EVF on top). It has a better back menu dial button (a 4-button d-pad instead of a spinning dial), it has the two dial control rings for adjusting Aperture, Shutter Speed, and/or exposure on the fly.

But something I’ve found myself using quite often is the Wi-Fi. I thought it was just a neat novelty, but turns out it’s actually quite useful.

As an example, a couple weeks ago I was at my nephew’s 2-year birthday party. I snapped a bunch of photos of him blowing out his cake. Then, as everyone was eating cake, I import a couple of the photos onto my iPhone, edited them in VSCO Cam, and then sent them to my folks who live in Colorado.

I have plans to write a more comprehensive review of the E-M10, but in the meantime I’ll say that I’m extremely happy with it. I’m not shooting more often than I already was with the E-PL5, nor has the E-M10 suddenly made me a brilliant photographer. However, I am taking advantage of all the extra features and functions that E-M10 has over the E-PL5. And that’s the point.

For further listening, check out a few weeks back, on one of my Weekly Briefly episodes where I talked about the E-M10 and why I decided to stick with Micro Four Thirds.

I think he likes it:

Sometimes a lens comes along that is special. This is one of those lenses.

The shots look fantastic, and as I’m quickly learning with photography gear: you get what you pay for.

Olympus makes some stellar lenses at incredible prices, but there is a slight sterility to them. The Panasonic lenses, however, have a special character to them which I really prefer.

I’ve rented the Olympus 45/1.8 lens a couple of times and love it. But looking at some of Huff’s side-by-side comparisons between the Olympus 45 and the Panasonic 42.5, it’s clear that the character and contrast of the latter is there.

Igloo is an intranet you’ll actually like: built with easy-to-use apps like shared calendars, Twitter-like microblogs, file sharing, and more. Everything you need is built-in, and everything is social. This means if you upload a file or write a corporate blog post, your coworkers can share it, comment on it, rate it, like it, and even make changes as a new version.

The whole idea is to get your company communicating better and more openly.

If your company has a legacy intranet or a customer community built on SharePoint, you should give Igloo a try. This report from Igloo and Osterman Research outlines the five main areas SharePoint falls short and how Igloo does it better.

Igloo has customer case studies to show you how other companies have made the switch. And best of all, Igloo is free to try with up to ten people.

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My thanks to Igloo Software for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.

Friday, March 28

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I share my history with to-do lists, my initial impressions of the new OmniFocus 2 for Mac beta and how it compares to OmniFocus on the iPad and iPhone, and thoughts on giving areas of responsibility a designated time-slot during the day / week.

Brought to you by:

A Visual History of OmniFocus for Mac

The Omni Group has been around for 25 years.

Founded in 1989 as a technology consulting firm, they used to build custom software for NextSTEP users until Apple bought NeXT in 1997. Now Omni builds and sells their own software for OS X and iOS. Not least of which is OmniFocus.

But did you know OmniFocus for Mac was somewhat built by chance?

OmniFocus’s roots are as an add-on to OmniOutliner Pro called Kinkless (kGTD), which was built and developed by Ethan Schoonover. Though it was incredibly brilliant, kGTD was a hack. It was a bunch of AppleScripts that sat on top of a single OmniOutliner document with some custom buttons and even some Quicksilver actions for quick entry.

Here is what Kinkless GTD looked like (circa 2006):

Khoi Vihn's Kinkless GTD Setup

In 2006, Omni Group asked Schoonover, along with Merlin Mann, to help take the ideas and functions of kGTD and turn them into an official Omni task-management application…

Here’s the first publicly displayed mockup of what OmniFocus could have looked like:

Original OmniFocus UI Mockup

After more than a year of private development with a group of about 500 alpha users, OmniFocus went into public beta in November 2007. At that time they also began pre-selling licenses and OmniFocus pre-sold over 2,500 copies in the first 5 days of the public beta.1

Finally, on January 8, 2008, OmniFocus 1.0 was launched.2

OmniFocus 1.0 (circa January 2008):

OmniFocus Version 1.0

Here’s the latest public version of OmniFocus (version 1.10):

OmniFocus User Interface, version 1.8

As you can see, not much in the UI has changed from the original Kinkless implementation of 2005 to what OmniFocus is today in 2010. You could say that OmniFocus 2 is kGTD 2.

But all that changed with the beta of OmniFocus for Mac 2.

On February 1, 2013 the beta of OmniFocus 2 for the Mac was introduced.

Beta 1 of OmniFocus 2 (circa Feb 2013):

Beta 1 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

Beta 1 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

However, during the beta testing process, the Omni Group realized they needed to go back to the drawing board, and in June 2013 they pressed pause on the public beta.

Last year, during the testing window, I gave the beta 1 a good college try but just kept drifting back to my original version of OmniFocus that I’ve been using for the past 4 years. In short, I never felt all that comfortable navigating the previous OmniFocus beta.

However, earlier this week, Omni Group re-introduced the OmniFocus for Mac beta with a significantly updated design.

Beta 2 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac (circa March 2014)

Beta 2 of OmniFocus 2 for Mac

There are quite a few noticeable changes between the beta 1 and beta 2 designs of the new OmniFocus for Mac.

For one, the left-aligned checkboxes have been swapped out with right-aligned checkcircles (a cue from the iPhone app). Additionally, the whole task hierarchy now has a clear structure that flows from left to right.

On the left-most side are the tabs for different views, then in the next column is the list of information relevant to the selected tab, next to that is the main task list displaying the tasks for the project, context, or date selected, and then on the right-most pane is the task’s information panel where you can fine-tune metadata related to that task if you so desire.

Aside from the right-hand alignment of the new checkcircles, I think every one of the changes in this newest OmniFocus beta is an improvement on an app that has been desperate for a visual overhaul for years.

The new beta version of OmniFocus for Mac feels peaceful to me. It’s open, clean, organized, and logical. I like it.


  1. Contrast that against today’s public beta which has 30,000 users on the list.
  2. It seems like OmniFocus has been around for ages, but it’s actually younger than the iPhone.
Thursday, March 27

Excellent piece by Evie Nagy for Fast Company, interviewing and talking to a bunch of Pixar Alums:

Our conversations revealed recurring themes about applying Pixar’s principles in other organizations: delight and storytelling as driving forces, the elimination of ego as management strategy, the idea that creativity can come from anyone, and the balance between patience and action.

It’s not often I’m taking notes and getting inspired while reading through my Instapaper queue. Though that probably says more about my reading habits than the quality of writing available out there. Nevertheless, so many great nuggets in this article about creativity, community, quality, and more.

Wednesday, March 26

Our latest review on The Sweet Setup is an excellent one by Robert McGinley Myers.

I’ve always just used the default iPhone email app, but when working with Rob for this review I was persuaded to switch to Dispatch, and I’m glad I did.

There are some truly great things to like about Dispatch. Specifically that it uses TextExpander and it has built-in OmniFocus integration via URL-schemes. Using OmniFocus Mail Drop is pretty great, but the url-scheme-based actions that Dispatch uses are better.

Eight years since The Million Dollar Homepage sold out and 78-percent of the links still go somewhere. Or, as Quartz’s analysis points out, the non-functioning 22% of links account for 221,900 pixels and thus are worth $221,900. How long until The Million Dollar Homepage itself is no longer up? It has long since past its 5-year guarantee.

(Via Matt Mullenweg.)

Good news: OmniFocus 2 for Mac ships this June. And today, the private beta (if you can call a beta group of 30,000 testers “private”) has re-begun.

I’ve been using this latest beta for the past couple of days, and I’m pleasantly surprised about where things are headed.

For one, the best aspects of the iPad App been brought over the Mac app: an easier-to-use Review mode, and (finally!) Forecast mode. Additionally, the design of this version of OmniFocus for Mac is clearly inspired by the iPhone. Though I’m not a massive fan of OF2′s iPhone design, it works very well here in the Mac version.

When compared with the OF Mac beta from last year, there are quite a few noticeable changes in this latest version and I think every one of them is a significant improvement. Last year I gave the beta a good college try but just kept drifting back to my original version of OmniFocus that I’ve been using for the past 4 years. In short, I never felt all that comfortable with the previous OmniFocus beta.

However, this new beta is quite nice. I can’t put my finger on what the one thing is that makes it so much better than the previous beta. But I’d describe it as “peaceful”. It’s open, clean, organized, and logical. I like it.

Tuesday, March 25

Okay, to finish out today’s smartwatch linkage trifecta, Moltz has a new Tumblr:

Pro tip for the new smartwatch owner: send all your blazers through the dryer 18 times.

Craig Hockenberry:

Tim Cook has openly stated that Apple is working on “new product” categories. Many people, customers and competitors alike, assume that means some kind of wearable computing device. And of course that means it has to be some kind of “smartwatch”, right?

I don’t think so.

Great article by Federico Viticci regarding the potential for wearable tech, and how the a “smartwatch that only displays notifications and counts steps misses the point entirely”:

The current crop of smartwatches feels like a replay of smartphones before the iPhone. Smartphones were bulky, had some convenient features, and tried to cram old metaphors of PC software into a new form factor, resulting in baby software. Most smartwatches I see today are bulky, have some convenient features, and try to cram features and apps from smartphones and tablets into a form factor that’s both new and old (watches have been around for centuries), but the “smartwatch” tech gadget has become a trend only recently. As a result, smartwatches on the market today appeal mostly to tech geeks who are interested in some of those few interesting features (namely notifications, map directions, and the intersection of smartphones and watches), but they’re not really smart because they generally fetch data from a primary device — the smartphone — and they’re not really good as watches either.

Federico Viticci:

The new menu, a scrollable bar with suggestions for searches related to the current search, allows users to discover more apps in search by tapping on suggestions, receiving a fresh set of results. Multiple suggestions can be selected in a single session: searching for “indie games”, for instance, displays suggestions for “action games”, which include “action RPG” into their own suggestions. The new suggestion bar doesn’t alter the way search results are displayed — Apple is still using a cards layout on the iPhone — and, for now, the feature doesn’t appear to be available on the App Store for iPad and desktop computers.

Any changes to App Store search that bring about better results are like sips of cold water to someone walking through the desert. I oftentimes know precisely the app I’m looking for and yet still have a difficult time finding it using App Store search. It’s usually faster to search Google.

Brett Peters worked remotely as an IT professional for 7 years, until suddenly the company he was working for shut its doors.

Brett wrote an excellent article about the sudden change, and he shares some of his thoughts on the past 7 years of doing digital work and working remotely for a tech company:

Building virtual things leaves very little behind. There’s nothing to grasp, nothing to point to, no buildings or monuments to your labor. I think we forget sometimes how important that is. It might seem childish, or at least child-like, to want to commemorate important events with ribbons and trophies and badges — but that’s unfair and unkind. Kids recognize a truth we try to forget as adults — a physical representation of an achievement gives you something to hold on to.

Brett’s right. There are two sides to the digital task- and project-management coin. There is the awesome side: your tasks and projects are scalable, collaborative, in sync between all your devices, and you can easily attach emails, URLs, photos, and all sorts of other data to your tasks.

However, the not-as-awesome side to digital tools is that when a task is completed it disappears and leaves no trace it ever existed; no scratched out note commemorating a job well done and a hard day’s work.

For a year and a half I kept a hipster PDA in the form of a small, pocket-sized Moleskine. It served as my to-do list and note-taking tool. Like Brett, I also keep my old notebooks. My pocket Moleskine sits in the same box as all my used and unused Field Notes.

From time to time I’ll page through that old hipster PDA and just look at page after page after page of tasks I’d written down and crossed off. This morning I was flipping through it again, when I realized something curious. The tasks and notes trail off right around the summer of 2008… the same time the iPhone App Store launched.

Monday, March 24

22Slides is a simple portfolio website builder created by a photographer and long-time fellow shawnblanc.net reader.

Shawn was nice enough to mention 22Slides back in 2011, and that bit of kindness helped give us the boost we needed to turn into a profitable company. We wanted to show a small token of appreciation by buying an ad, even if not all shawnblanc.net readers are our target market.

So if you’re looking to promote your startup, we can say being featured on shawnblanc.net has been a huge benefit. Or, if you know anyone looking for a good photography website, we’d be honored if you kept 22Slides in mind.

Try 22Slides for free.

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My thanks to 22Slides for sponsoring the RSS feed this week.

I’ve known Sean for a few years, and he is one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen do hand lettering — the man practically writes in typeface. He’s put together a 50-video master class that covers everything from the basics of typography and the skills of doing hand lettering, to making and selling original art, to working with clients, and more.

Here’s a fascinating short documentary (about 11 min.) on the Hong Kong neon sign industry, which was at its peak in the ’80s and ’90s but is now in serious decline with businesses installing LED signs now.

And here’s a crazy fact I bet you didn’t know: when a glassworker is designing the a neon sign, the tube’s start and stop points are determined not so much by the letter form but by where he’ll be able to most easily bend the glass without burning his hands.

(via Hoefler and Rands)

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