Alex Kaloostian

Apple Certified Master Trainer | Systems Integrator | Video Editor | Motion Graphics Artist

Is it still shameless plugging if I’m not paid?

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Since I work with computers for a living, people always think I have the inside scoop on tools and tricks and software. Sometimes i do, but for the most part, I’m surprisingly zen about it all- since I move from office to office and computer to computer, I don’t customize my Mac nearly as much as some people, because then I’ll be thrown off on someone else’s system. Also, I have invested too much time and effort over the years learning plugins and apps, adjusting MY work habits to accomodate them, only to have them pulled off the market, discontinued, or just start to generally suck.

I guess what I’m saying is, after all I’ve seen and done, I’d much rather work with the built-in tools than learn something new just for the sake of it being new. I really started to ruminate over this yesterday, when i read a review of a new app for creating customer invoices, called… well, I don’t even remember what its called right now, and I can’t search for it because the Mac I’m sitting at only has 10.6.5, and no App Store (see what I mean?). It got a good review, and i was all set to click the button and pay $20 to try it out, but then I thought about it… do i really need a specialized app for creating invoices? Yes, I travel, and yes, I do freelance work, but I only have to make 3-4 invoices a month, and my system works fine: All my invoices are iWork documents. I make a copy of an old one, fill in the new data, save a PDF in a folder, and print a copy. Done. They’re not saved in a fancy searchable atabas,e but they’re in folders by client name, and they’re dated, and thats enough for me. iWork doesn’t look like its going anywhere, and even if it does, it wouldn’t be much trouble at all to start doing the same thing in Excel instead, plus they’re all saved as PDFs so I’ll always be able to go back and look through them later.

I started thinking that maybe I should share how *I* do certain things, with or without special apps, and maybe you’ll find a new trick or workflow of your own in here somewhere. So here we go.

Bookmarks

I tried del.icio.us, but I didn’t like always having to log into a web page or use a plugin, they almost went out of business this year and could again, and to be honest, I hate their friggin name, I can never remember how to type it. But i really want to sync my bookmarks to multiple Macs and always have them. Google Chrome to the rescue! In addition to being a great, fast browser (that only occasionally sucks up all my RAM and needs to be force-quit), Google Chrome can sync bookmarks, passwords and autofill data in a flash, just with your Gmail account. Install Chrome, click Preferences> Personal Stuff, and all your sync settings are right there. As long as I’m on the web, I can pull down my info in seconds.

Email & Contacts

This section became so long, I turned it into its own post. It will be up there, just above this one. If not now, then soon.

Short answer: Gmail does everything I want, its free, its (usually) stable, it works well on my macs and my iPhone, it syncs my contacts, the filters are flexible, and once in awhile I can launch my Mail app on my home Mac to download a copy of everything, juuuust in case.

Calendars

Man, this has been a pain. I’m a very calendar-oriented person, I constantly have to glance at my schedule to remember what I have to do. A calendar that is always available and editable to me is essential. I had a lot of trouble finding a working system, and I will admit that there may be a better solution out there now, Google calendars may have improved since I settled on this system, but what works for me is a combination of Google Calendar and MobileMe.

I have two calendar accounts on my MobileMe account, one for me and one for my wife. MobileMe is nice because it syncs almost instantly between our computers, iPhones, and iPad, and in a pinch I can log into me.com and see and edit them there. And don’t worry, you don’t have to pay $100 for MobileMe, next week they are rebranding it as iCloud, and it will be free, so sign up if you haven’t already.

I also subscribe to a a couple calendars, a google calendar my boss maintains, my travel calendar through Tripit.com, and my Facebook events through facebook. The only downside is that these are read-only, but Theres nothing there I’d have to edit anyway, that’s what my personal calendar is for. Here’s how I subscribed to my Facebook events feed so that it shows up in iCal and on my phone:

  1. Log into Facebook and click Events
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Export
  3. It will give you a link to all your events. Copy this link and subscribe to it in iCal

Files

I used to use MobileMe’s iDisk, and I tried to tell everyone how great it was, but man, DropBox blows it away, I wish I had known before. For $100 a year you get 50GB of space that will automatically sync between multiple Macs and PCs, plus you get online access to your files too. It will even display your Photos folder as a gallery when you log in online. You can set up multiple shared folders for different clients, and give them open access or password access. And here’s a neat feature: If you are on a local network with another of your computers, it will automatically sync over the local network instead of sending the files up to dropbox.com and back down.

On the LAN or on the web, its sooo much faster than iDisk. And 50GB is more than 20GB last time I checked.

The only thing I liked more about iDisk was, if you didn’t want your files to sync to your local hard drive and fill it up, you could still access your files online through the iDisk icon on the desktop. With DropBox, if you dont want the files to sync, you have to access them via the web page. As far as I know. If I’m wrong, please enlighten me!

oh, and if you feel like signing up for DropBox, I wouldn’t mind at all if you used my referral link!  –>  http://db.tt/0GsL6a1A

Note taking

One thing I do want to do it quickly jot down a note and have it on my computer or phone later. I am excited to try out Tasks in iOS 5, but for now I do use a third party app for this, called EverNote. It’s a free service that lets you take notes on their web site, or with the EverNote app for iPhone and Mac, and notes will automatically sync to all your devices. It will also store images, web clippings (There are browser plugins to make this even easier) and voice memos, but I hate the sound of my own voice. I stick to text.

The one complaint I had was that the iPhone app didn’t support rich text, but that was added in the latest update. Yay!

Travel

Heres another service I can’t live without: Tripit.com. I take about 20 trips a year, and Tripit is amazing for keeping track of my hotel reservations, plans and flights. All I have to do is forward my confirmation emails to plans.tripit.com and it knows how to parse the info into an itinerary. It can even monitor my mail account 24/7 and automatically add plans, but that creeps me out a little.

Any time I need to check my flight status, my hotel address, check in, etc, I can log in on my mac or the Tripit app on my iPhone (which caches the data locally in case I’m in a dead zone, a subway or on the plane with no wifi). I can also remember past trips, share with friends & family an see how my miles stack up with my coworkers.

There’s a paid pro membership that will track your frequent flyer points for you and notify you of flight changes, but I havent needed that.

Newsfeeds

Google Reader, hands down. Love it. I can subscribe to news sites, professional blogs, friends’ personal blogs (including WordPress, Blogger and Livejournal all in one place), any RSS feed, and I can group them in folders. Since its part of my Google account, I can access them from anywhere and it keeps track of what Ive read and what I havent. i can view headlines, snippets or full stories, ascending or descending in order. Clean, fast, simple, just what I need.

For reading on my iPhone, I like the GoodReader app much more than Google’s own interface. I think it was only $2 or $3.

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Author: alexkaloostian

I'm a video editor, motion graphics designer and Mac IT consultant in the Boston area.

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