My Journey to the Mac

I don’t remember when I first started using computers, but I know from my family it was before I could read.  I eventually had “my” computer, which was the hand-me-down from the family computer.  Out of these desktops, there was a WIndows 95, 98, and an XP.  I had total reign over them, which usually involved figuring out how to run games on them.  Anything that wasn’t working I had to fix myself for the most part.  When I was 13, I got my first laptop, a Compaq Presario which ran Vista.  It was a nice laptop, but eventually it died and I replaced it with some terrible HP laptop that ran Windows 7.  When I graduated High School I used that graduation money to buy a gaming PC, an ASUS G75VX running Windows 8.  That computer still runs, but it does so slowly even after a hard drive replacement, so it almost exclusively gets used for the occasion I want to play a game on it.

I was like a lot of PC users, turning up my nose at the Mac platform.  The year I replaced the hard drive in my last PC, I began to see how much work Mac users around me at the University of Iowa were able to do more effectively.  When that PC was in the shop I was using the nearest computer lab to where I was living, which was exclusively a Mac lab.  It was…nice.  I began to look more and more into it and eventually I bought the 2015 13” Macbook Pro.  As I mentioned in my tech set-up post, it’s the best computer I’ve ever used.

There’s a lot that goes into that evaluation.  For one, the computer is super ergonomic.  Because I have massive hands, I can reach the bottom of the trackpad with my thumbs and the top of the keyboard with the rest of my fingers.  My Compaq Presario was the same way, but its trackpad wasn’t as nice.  The trackpad on my Mac can be clicked at the top of the trackpad for a normal left click, and not one of those awkward double-tap clicks either.  Even the right-click region seems to be 1/4 of the trackpad’s area.  While I don’t use the “look-up” hard press a lot, the Force Touch features of the trackpad make it a much more natural experience in my opinion.  

While I’m not one of these people in love with making everything lighter and thinner at the loss of functionality, my MBP doesn’t lack any functionality, and its lightness is very nice.  I can sit at the most awkward of angles and still balance my laptop very well.  Its port set-up is nice, though I don’t use the thunderbolt ports often (they’re a versatile port for adapters for, say, ethernet).

There’s something nice about the keyboard too.  Using ⌘ doesn’t seem like it would be that different from CTRL on a PC, but being able to use the same modifier key to ⌘↹ into a program and then paste or quit it is very nice.  While some programs provide exceptions, the use of the modifier keys usually follows a pretty logical progression.  

What makes this computer a real dream though is definitely macOS.  From the exclusive software to the flexibility of the OS, it’s wonderful.  I spent a little bit of time on Linux Mint on my last PC and it really hit home how an operating system should work without getting in your way.  Windows gets in your way.  I see posts all the time complaining about Windows’s awful default settings getting restored by new updates.  I currently run Windows 10 on that old PC of mine and it is a nightmare.  

I don’t know why there is such an urge among Windows users to cast scorn upon Macs.  I was one of them.  I’ve only experienced macOS since Yosemite, so maybe it was actually less pleasant before.  There’s the stigma that Mac users don’t know how to use their computers as well.  As someone who considers themselves a power user, I’m doing less digging around with a registry editor or manually loading up dll libraries for certain software, and instead finding better app synergy and scripts other people have written for Alfred that make my life easier.  

I write all of this not just to gush about my Mac, but because I want to lay out how committed I am to Mac as a platform for the purpose of discussing synergy between Apple devices and my journey with phones in a future post.  On Mac Power Users, they sometimes talk about the “delight” of using an iOS device when they contrast it with their work on a Mac.  I don’t get that, but I do feel the “delight” they describe when I’m working on my Mac after a life of Windows use.

RSS in 2018

At the end of 2017 I decided to try using RSS for news.  Previously I’d check Facebook and Twitter’s trending topics, and I followed a number of news accounts (whose biases in coverage aligned with my own).  The bigger impetus for this was that I was on Twitter a lot less and was sick of seeing more news than posts from people in my social circles.

In theory this also meant that I could get a lot more news that would be unfiltered.  Facebook’s algorithm wouldn’t play a role, and I could add a lot more sources without feeling like it was crowding my social feeds.  I’ve got probably ten times the number of subscriptions of news sources that I followed on Twitter, and a wider variety of perspectives.

If you’re looking to try RSS, I started by using Feedly and switched over to Reeder which integrates with Feedly.  If you’re using Reeder, you can keep your subscription list on iOS and your Mac the same by exporting your Mac subscriptions to OPML and importing it to your iOS client (but you have to manually do this each time).  Your alternative is to sign in to a service like Feedly in your Reeder client.  Feedly is $45/yr if you want to remove the restrictions on your total number of subscriptions and integrate with IFTTT and Zapier.  It’s worth noting that IFTTT has good applets for raw RSS feeds as well (and Zapier probably does this too).

Using RSS, you’re the only person accountable for what news you’re seeing, which is really nice.  It’s not a perfect solution though if you’re used to consuming most of your news through social media and sites like Reddit.  Getting a feed that just shows you everything that’s been posted by a number of sources means the ones that are posting about everything are dominating and bigger stories are difficult to notice.  Feedly has a feature where you can look at “top stories” based on what other people are clicking from the sources you’re already subscribing to.  This is nice, but relying just on this gets back into the very “problem” I was trying to solve.

I have two groups of feeds, one for news and one for personal interest blogs (Apple blogs, notation software blogs, college football blogs…)  Segregating these feeds means I can see the lower-volume things that I like and clear some email subscriptions for some of these interest blogs.  I have local news included in my broader news subscription group, but I’ve been enjoying some of that coverage so much that I might want to get it out of the noisier group and give it its own.

In an era where most news sites are battling ad blockers or trying to sell subscriptions, and RSS has arguably been out of style since Google killed Reader, Reeder is a worse experience because of the problems with a lot of feeds.  Hunting down RSS feeds for the sites I wanted was a mix of pages not linked to on their sites anymore, or using third-party feeds.  I’ve got a mix of feeds that are just links to the story and stories that are actually readable in Reeder.

While I’m still trying to make this experiment work, I’m finding myself still drawing a lot of news from Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook.  I am off until my subbing job starts, and maybe I can get back into more of a pattern that uses RSS when I’m back to work.  If anyone has some advice on how to make my experiment go better, I’d love to hear in the comments.

Using Sibelius on a Laptop

In my opinion, Sibelius has some decent and intuitive keyboard shortcuts on a full keyboard, with its heavy emphasis around the numpad.  However, I find it to be essentially unusable on a Macbook Pro which lacks the numpad.  It has a “notebook” shortcut set, but I find that to be just as unusable, and far from intuitive.

I find it important to be able to enter into Sibelius very quickly.  I don’t use a MIDI keyboard input, and in all apps I try to minimize my use of the mouse.  As such, I’ve customized my keyboard shortcuts in Sibelius and I think they’re worth sharing.  Not just do I think they make Sibelius truly usable on my Macbook Pro, but I think they’re good enough that they could be faster for desktop users than moving their hands back and forth between the numpad.

You can download my shortcuts here.  To install them, you simply need to add them to your keyboard shortcut directory.  On OSX, this is located at:

~/Library/Application Support/Avid/Sibelius/Keyboard Shortcuts

You can open Finder, press ⇧⌘G, and paste the above path into Finder to load the folder open.  Here’s a video describing the process:

It’s worth noting that I don’t know if this shortcut file is usable on Windows because of the difference in modifier keys.  If someone would like to take my shortcuts and make an approximation for Windows, I’d be happy to link to it in this post.

I made this before I thought it would be worth sharing, as such, I didn’t document every change from the default. Feel free to share in the comments anything that’s different that I don’t mention. Maybe there’s a way to compare my shortcut file with the default with a script.

The biggest change is how I rebound the numpad.  As in Avid’s keyboard shortcuts, 1–9 on the numpad are mapped to 1–9 on the top row of the keyboard.  The top row (on Apple’s default keyboard, the characters =,/, and *, which cover the accent, staccato, and tenuto on the first page of the keypad) are bound to ⇧-, ⇧=, and ⇧⌫ on the number row.  The numpad “enter” is rebound to \ (which does ties on the first page of the keypad) between return and delete on the regular keyboard.  The forward and backward keypad buttons (+ and – on Apple’s numpad) are rebound to = and – without shift on the number row.  This lets you use the entire keypad without moving your fingers from the home row.

Other, less significant differences that I’m aware of:

  • ⌥⇧+2–9 are add below
  • ⇧, is advance caret (from when I was trying Dorico)
  • ⇧. activates the “Dot Undot Rhythms” plug-in (also inspired by my Dorico trial)
  • ⇧0 is bar rest
  • ⌥M triggers marcato accents.
  • Accidental parentheses is ⌥P (this is just a shortcut to the “bracket accidental” action on the accidentals keypad, and is subject to the same finicky behavior there)
  • Some rebinding done in the “Moving” options
  • I had ⌘P as export>pdf actually because I almost never physically printed directly from a dialog during my undergrad. It’s not the case in this file, but it might be useful for others.

There are some shortcuts that are worth noting that I’m unsure if I changed:

  • ⌥F is fermata
  • ⌥O is Optimize Staff Spacing
  • I might have moved other things around under Layout shortcuts
  • ⇧N is stop playback
  • ⌥⇧H toggles the selected “invisibles” in the View pane from showing or note showing.

The following bindings are open and might be useful if there’s something you really want bound that I don’t have bound: ⌥+0, ⌥+1, ⌘+1, ⌘+0

It’s worth noting I don’t have the following actions keybound:

  • Beaming – none of the actions on the third keypad are bound, I just change over to it
  • Breath marks – Individual symbols can’t be bound in Sibelius, but I think I’m going to use the Scoring Notes’ breath line workaround down the road.  Lines can be keybound and I think custom lines can be as well.
  • Barlines – I don’t see a way to bind a shortcut to just open the barlines pane (like you can the time signatures, etc.), and no single barline type is worth binding to me, but it might be to you.

Shortcomings:

  • When you’re entering in text, you can normally use a number of shortcuts to put in symbols (like ⌘4 for a quarter note in the text).  I believe these shortcuts only work with the numpad numbers, and I can’t find a way around this.  Would love to hear otherwise in the comments.  See below
  • I don’t know that it’s possible to do tab notation with the default keyboard shortcuts without a numpad.  My shortcuts don’t fix this and I don’t know that there’s a way to do that.

I do all of my work in Sibelius without using my MIDI keyboard.  The three main advantages of using one to me are:

  • Pre-selecting your octave instead of changing it after inputting the note (and thus hearing only the note you intend)
  • Putting in chords all at once
  • Velocity for playback

I am not so bothered by the first or third points for it to be a consideration, and I work primarily on wind parts, and the second part is fairly moot unless you’re editing primarily for piano parts.  To me, the speed of doing everything so fluidly without moving your hands from the computer keyboard makes this set-up more viable than using a MIDI keyboard.

Here’s a video demonstrating these keyboard shortcuts in action.  This video is primarily aimed at just demonstrating workflows in Sibelius for students to get a better handle on the software, but hopefully it demonstrates the speed at which you can work in Sibelius with these shortcuts.

 

Edit 1/26/18:
I’ve discovered that you can customize the shortcuts for inserting special text.  I have miraculously ignored the Word Menu options under Preferences since I bought Sibelius.  It’s worth noting that there is nothing visually distinguishing about the way it’s bound by default and the way it needs to be bound for use on the number row (both say, for example, on a quarter note ⌘4).  You also need to change them in each category, the most important for note values being “Tempo Words.”

I have modified this on the upload of my keyboard shortcuts I have posted, however I do not know if this is stored in that file.  You may need to fix this yourself.  Please let me know one way or the other whether this is remedied by my shortcuts file if you try it.  If it’s not working, try setting this file in:

~/Library/Application Support/Avid/Sibelius/Word Menus

My Tech Set-up

Here’s a quick break down of what I’m running to do what I do.  Technology is an incredibly important part of what anyone in any field is doing, and education is no exception.  It’s worth laying out what I use as an entire field before getting into any specific details in future posts.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s what I feel is worth sharing or important enough to me.  I’ll make updates to this as time goes on.

Devices

2015 13” Macbook Pro, upgraded from stock.
This is my primary computer, and it’s easily the best computer I’ve ever used.  I’ll talk about what I’ve used in the past down the road, but this computer rocks.  There was a post from  Marco Arment about the predecessor of this computer, the 2012 Macbook Pro.  The 2015 is essentially the same design as I understand it (form factor, ports), but with a force touch trackpad.  (He also is highlighting the 15”, while I have the 13”)   This being my first Mac, I haven’t used Apple’s non-force touch trackpad for an extended period of time, but when I’m on someone else’s Macbook, I am not a fan of the older trackpads.

iPhone 6 Plus
This phone is old but still trucking.  I actually just changed out my iPhone 6 with a Plus (I didn’t buy it new, I got it from a family member), but my iPhone 6 was similarly running really well.  I’m impressed with how well it runs for being three years old, though I’ve checked the battery health and I see I’m likely not getting throttled.  Both my original 6 and my current 6 Plus were upgraded to 64GB storage.  I’m eager to upgrade, and the new features of newer iPhones look nice, but no single release has “wow”ed me since the iPhone 6.

iPad Air 2
When I was attending the University of Iowa, I was the last class to get a free iPad through a generous grant for student in the College of Education.  I never thought I’d use tablets, and wouldn’t have bought one for myself when I got this one.  I used it as an additional alarm clock for the first year-and-a-half I had it before I started using it for D&D books.  I get more use out of it now, occasionally reading music off of it, or reading it while getting ready in the morning.  I’m somewhat limited by the storage capacity (16GB, but it was free), and the screen size when it comes to reading music.

I wear a Citizen watch with only a date complication every day.  I bought my first watch to help sate my slight obsession with knowing the time when I was taking recital attendance and couldn’t check my phone in college.  This one was a bit of an upgrade, with a nice metal band (my old leather one started to fray). 

The last PC I bought was an ASUS G75VX.  I bought it to play games on, and it has aged horribly, mostly thanks to its traditional hard drive.

Yamaha P70
I got a pretty good deal on this piano, it was a used former rental that was being phased out by the local music store.  It’s 88-key and the weighting is pretty decent.  It’s by no means compact and it lacks the sort of controls you would want for serious music production.  I have a sustain pedal hooked up to it, and do some light practicing on it

My tuba is a Miraphone BB♭98 “Siegfried” – It’s huge, but it’s also big.  My mouth piece is the Arnold Jacobs Canadian Brass mouth piece, which is based off the Helleberg design.  I love both and will probably never buy another horn or mouth piece.

Apple TV 4th gen 64GB
I picked this up right after the 5th gen came out.  I don’t have a 4K TV, but the extra storage was probably unnecessary in hindsight.  

Services

Apple Music
I switched to Apple Music from Spotify on the day of Apple Music’s launch.  I’m doing Apple Family Sharing with my girlfriend, and paying for the family subscription for Apple Music.  Their first year it was probably at its best, when they were paying people to make ridiculously specific playlists.  The biggest appeal of Apple Music is its Siri integration and how nice the integration of my existing iTunes Match library was.

iCloud 200GB
200GB is $3/month, and it’s enough to back up my iPad and iPhone, along with all my photos.  Now that they have family sharing with iCloud, I can back up my girlfriend’s iPhone too.

Other cloud service
I double backup my photos into Google Photos, and use the free tier of Google Drive for a lot of documents.  I need a cloud service at the 1TB tier, and I think Dropbox is the right solution for that due to its integration and sharing abilities.  

Overcast
I’ve found myself listening to more podcasts with my commute since I started student teaching.  I used Apple Podcasts until I switched to Overcast, but I haven’t ever tried its competitors.  I’m paying the $10/year to support Marco and get the upload functionality.

Instapaper
I’ve been using Instapaper for awhile now and I still can’t believe it’s free.  I save tons of articles here, and it’s an awesome reading environment.  I might prefer Pocket, but I can’t justify spending $45/year for the minor improvements.

Pastebin Pro
I was using Pastebin as an informal blog on college football back when I was a pollster on r/cfb.  It’s nice being able to just dump text somewhere to share with others, and a lifetime subscription was on sale when I was looking into it.  I don’t use it a ton, and the official app for iOS isn’t 64-bit compatible.  I’m trying the PasteMe app, but the jury’s still out.

Software

All of these are worth talking about in greater detail at a later date, and I’m not going to dig into it that far

OmniFocus 2 Pro iOS and Mac
This runs my life.  I’ll write about my specific use of it, but this is something that others have written about ad nauseam.

Alfred 3
This is the most important app on my Mac. If it were to break, I would be paralyzed in my computer use. It’s one of a million little things that make it harder for me to use other people’s devices. It’s the one piece of software I’m so completely in love with I have never looked into the alternatives for. I can’t say that for any other app, even OmniFocus.

OmniOutliner 5 Pro for Mac
I’m on the TestFlight of OmniOutliner 3 for iOS and planning to buy the pro version once it releases to the public. I thought an outliner sounded stupid, then I downloaded its trial on a whim, and was proved wrong.  I get a lot of use out of this for various projects.

Apple Notes
I keep a bunch of long-term notes or things that need heavy formatting in here.  I can’t justify spending money of Evernote when Apple Notes is free, especially considering how little I’m on Windows.. Even if you’re on Windows occasionally, you can access this through the iCloud web interface.

NValt and Simplenote
I’ll let smarter people explain this better than me. Macademic has three posts (one, two, three) on this, MacSparky has probably more than one.
I use this for a lot of things, because it’s fast

Fantastical 2
I use this on both iOS and macOS. I have multiple Google accounts, each with multiple calendars, plus iCloud calendars.  It’s super easy to look at what I need with Fantastical’s calendar sets, it’s easy to put in information with their amazing natural language input, and their scrolling view makes it easy to get information for someone like me.  I haven’t tried its competitor Busycal, so I can’t really compare the two.  I do lament the lack of calendar sets on the iOS version of this app though. 

Airmail 3
Airmail’s not perfect, but it’s what I use.  It’s super flexible and has helped me turn my terrible email habits into (fairly) good ones.

1Password
Everyone needs to be using a password manager.  I actually bought 1Password upfront before they started offering their subscription service.  Syncing it myself was one of the things that made it more attractive than competitor LastPass, and I continue to do so.  I also don’t think Lastpass has the same integration into so many iOS apps to fill passwords, but I could be wrong.  I would 100% recommend 1Password to anyone looking for a password manager, though I will say its Watchtower feature probably isn’t enough, and you should augment it by putting your email into this.

Reeder 3
This RSS reader is pretty nice, but maybe it’s not the best solution.  I’ll write about my experiment with RSS in 2017 2018.

Sibelius 8.7
I’ve got the Sibelius upgrades active through March.  There’s a lot to say about notation software so I won’t get into it here.

Finale v25.5 
I use Sibelius primarily, picked up the upgrade to v25 right before I switched.

Logic Pro X and Finale Cut Pro X
I don’t use these a ton, but Logic Pro is a pretty amazing practice tool sometimes.  I’m no power user and I’m still trying to learn to make the most of both of these apps.  There’s an amazing deal for students and teachers to get both of these (plus Compressor, Motion, and MainStage) for $200 (normally these five would be $630)

Safari
When I switched to using a Mac, I continued using Chrome until a weird bug on YouTube of all places kept causing the weirdest crashes.  Around the same time, I was finding it more annoying to use Chrome on iOS and I decided to try Safari on both.  I haven’t gone back.  I liked Chrome on iOS, but Safari is a better experience in a lot of ways, and the synergy from using it on my Mac as well is great.

PDFExpert
The PDF editing in this app is stellar.  I was using PDFPen Pro, but it was buggy and ultimately not as powerful.  PDFExpert lacks OCR, but this is my default PDF app all the same.

Paprika
I was looking for a recipe app for awhile, but somehow Paprika didn’t wind up on my radar until I saw it on sale (shoutout to MDM for highlighting awesome sales).  Paprika makes it really easy to log recipes from websites or type them in from a physical recipe.  They sync the recipes through their own servers, and the account systems make it possible to share your library with family members by signing in with the same account.  I use it on both my Mac and iOS.

Capo
It does exactly as advertised.  Decent way to get chords or other material to start an arranging project.  Haven’t tried it on iOS, just on my Mac.  It’s pretty accurate with chords, but I found myself frustrated being unable to correct an egregiously bad tempo analysis.  I’ve never tried it with art music, just with contemporary music.

iOS Apps

It’s important for me to keep a metronome and tuner on my front page of apps.  FrozenApe’s Tempo remains the best metronome I’ve found and worth the money.  TonalEnergy Tuner is a bit overkill, but it’s grown on me since the app I was using went incompatible with iOS 11.

Stamp
I have a lot of friends who use Spotify, and see a lot of Spotify playlists when I’m searching the web that I want in my library on Apple Music.  It was easily worth $10 to be able to port them over.  I haven’t tried other apps, but Stamp works on iOS.  Word of warning though against the bundle, because it simply doesn’t work with iTunes after 12.5 on Mac.  It might still be worth it for you if you’re exporting to a service that’s not Apple Music, but they don’t advertise this shortcoming, so I’m not sure what else is there.

Scanner Pro
I’ll buy a ScanSnap one day, but for now when I need a document available quickly or on the road, Readdle’s app does a pretty decent job of making it look like I actually used a scanner.