Doorbell Tweets

I received a lot of feedback from my tweet about ditching a new Ring for Nest Hello.

Rather than tweetstorm it up, I’ll try and summarize it all here as to why I’m switching.

Continue reading Doorbell Tweets

Define Essential

Two weeks ago, after regretfully trying to use the iOS 11 developer betas on my primary devices, I was forced by general instability to roll back to iOS 10.

Unfortunately, there’s no great way to do this without doing a restore and fresh install. I had a backup from iOS 10 that I’d taken prior to jumping on the beta train, but it was old now. This process is further complicated by the way Apple Watch activity and health data is really maintained on the phone, not the watch itself.

The result was I ended up fresh installing iOS 10.3.3 (beta 6) on my iPhone 7 and iPad Pro 10.5”, as well as doing a factory reset of my Watch. It also meant losing a couple years worth of workout data, awards and streaks. But such is beta life. It did give me an opportunity to reassess what gets installed on these devices. I find it helpful to mix things up from time to time, even going as far as doing a reset of my app icon layouts periodically to reshuffle the deck chairs and throw out any old cruft hiding in corners. One of my favorite activities is to delete apps that don’t get used anymore, or used enough to take up my attention.

Continue reading Define Essential

Leather Wrapped

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with iPhone cases. I put them on. I take them off. I generally don’t like cases. I’ve only broken my iPhone one time and that was when my 6 Plus came out of my pocket attached to my hand, unintentionally, on a sticky day. My iPhone 5 and 6 were rarely in cases, and had minimal wear and tear. I’m usually pretty careful. I also buy AppleCare+ on them, even though I’m lucky enough to rarely need it.

Continue reading Leather Wrapped

Pant Lover

I have some strict requirements around work pants. My wife hates the “I can see your socks while you’re standing up” hipster look, so they have to be full length. Honestly it’d be a great look since I’m 6’4” but as a result I’m at a 36” inseam. I’m also currently 220lbs, which results in a 36” waist. I could probably lose some weight, but it’s not happening today.

I also have a job that’s requires me to dress nicely to meet a customer in the morning, but be willing to crawl under raised floors and chuck 50# boxes around later that afternoon, without a change of clothes. Expensive slacks will get destroyed. Wearing jeans everyday is frowned upon. I also don’t want to deal with getting pants tailored.

Between size, cost, looks and durability, I’ve found one pair of pants that consistently meet all my requirements.

Continue reading Pant Lover

Clean Harvest

I’ve long been annoyed with copying files to a USB stick, and then handing them to a Windows user (typically a customer) and then telling them to ignore all the .whatever files that are created.

Recently I found BlueHarvest, which runs $15 and has a 30-day trial, and it’s appears to be the new solution to my problem. It automatically cleans the OS X specific files on any non-Mac formatted (exFAT, FAT32) drive that enters the system.

The results have been great, and my portable drives are now very clean.

I used to have a menubar application called CleanMyDrive by MacPaw that would get rid of these, but at some point I quit using it for reasons I don’t even remember. I think the menu bar icon was kind of ugly on Yosemite+ (yes, I’m that picky.)

Apple TV

When the 4th generation Apple TV was announced a few weeks back, my initial response was basically “take my money!”

But then, I had second thoughts, and I didn’t order one at the start of the week when they were first available. I don’t really know why, my heart just wasn’t in it. I decided I’d wait it out and let others figure out all the kinks. However, on launch day I had a change of heart and decided to stop by the Apple Store and pickup a 32GB model.

I have two of the 3rd generations units, and the 2nd generation, and while I love them for all they do, I have been patiently waiting for Apple to revolutionize TV. I want a single TV solution from Apple that makes my life as a cord cutter better. Unfortunately, that still hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a nice box.

Pros:

  • Universal search, with Siri, is fantastic. Telling the box to “show me the latest Ben Affleck movies” results in unified results with content from all the major providers like iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. Selecting a title brings you to the one that is the best option based on if you’re paying for streaming or if you’d have to buy it. (ex: Gone Girl is available on HBO, and iTunes, but it defaults to HBO.)
  • New remote is very handy, and a nice upgrade from the previous one. The touch sensitive panel is very sensitive and takes some getting used to. I’ve used the motion controller on a couple of games, and it’s fun but not something I’d probably do a lot of.
  • The volume control and TV power is controller through the new remote, and I didn’t have to do anything to program it.
  • The App Store. Yeah, that’s pretty self explanatory.

Cons:

  • The current iOS Remote application that can control my 2G/3G units doesn’t work with the new Apple TV. No using the iOS keyboard to enter search terms on your TV.
  • You cannot pair a bluetooth keyboard (even the Apple ones) to the Apple TV, either.
  • The first two combine to make initial setup with logging into accounts, a real pain in the ass when you have super complex passwords for everything.

Overall, I very much like the new box. There probably isn’t a day that goes by where it doesn’t get used. I’m going to be adding an OTA network tuner and downloading the Channels app this week to replace switching inputs on my TV to a dedicated antenna. I’ll probably also pickup another box for the downstairs TV and then gift my 3rd generation units out to the family for the holidays.

Size Matters

My original bout with the 4.7” iPhone 6 lasted almost seven months to the day. I remember this because I received it on September 19, 2014. It was the same day my second son way born.

On April 18, 2015, I purchased an iPhone 6 Plus.

Why Switch?

That’s what everyone had been asking me since I even brought up the idea of switching. I’m one of those people who originally couldn’t even fathom Apple ever making a phone with a screen larger than 4”, like what we had on the iPhone 5. Jony Ive had taught us that this was the superior phone size, and I carried that logic and marketing out into the world. Over time, I started to rationalize to myself that a 4.7” phone was a good size, and that if Apple were come out with one I know they’d do it right. It was inevitable. That’d be the phone I’d buy.

And then came the iPhone 6… and the iPhone 6 Plus. The Apple Phablet had arrived.

Admittedly, the thought to join the dark side had entered my mind a few times since the 6 Plus was announced. Would I want a phone this big? Could I handle a phone this big? Back in September, I said “Nope!”

So along came the iPhone 6. And I loved it. Reading my original quick review from October, it’s still absolutely true:

I’ve owned it a month now. Originally I felt that I was going to drop it every time I tried to grip it (using my smaller than normal man-hands) — that panic led me to the Apple Store to pickup the black, leather Apple case. The case gave me a safety blanket and the ability to learn to adapt my grip, however, last Thursday I took the case away. It’s been a week since I’ve removed the training wheels.

I love this phone, it feels great. The size is perfect. The rounded corners feel great holding it for long periods of time. I’m also past fussing about the camera bulge. I worried it’d get scratched, now, in Apple(Care) and sapphire crystal, I trust.

I had an original iPad through work, and then purchased my own iPad 2 on launch day, which I used until it was replaced by the iPad Air. However, I found myself using the iPad Air less and less over time, especially as OS X started to get more and more features from iOS. I started to embrace the idea of two primary screens. My phone and my laptop. Also, the larger screen size of the iPhone 6 gave me fewer reasons to think about the iPad.

And with iOS 8 and OS X 10.10, along came iCloud Photo Library. This feature I absolutely love, but, it blew up my iPad. I have 170GB of photography stored in iCloud now. Even with the optimization features enabled, my 16GB iPad Air couldn’t deal with this. This led to it being turned off completely more than anything, and then eventually being sold to my brother.

I was on the edge of buying a new 128GB iPad Mini for about a week, but I could never bring myself to buy. I wasn’t sold on the utility of another screen. I was actually very happy with the idea of my iPhone 6 and MacBook Pro as my major points of computing.

But then my wife’s iPhone 5S started to have the same issues as my iPad. The 16GB limit would hit and every other day I was shuffling around apps and data to keep her under the bar. Enough was enough.

My solution at the time was to obtain an iPhone 6 Plus 128GB for myself, and give her my gently used iPhone 6. This worked, and at first it was glorious. I was in love with my giant new friend. In my new two device world, it was a match made in heaven. The iPhone 6 Plus was great for reading, writing, and arithmetic.

But, it had trade-offs.

It is massive. It’s great for use around the house or at the office, when you’re not up and around with it. It was the first iPhone that I ever dropped and broke the screen, in seven years of owning them.

Going out with it felt a little bit like having an iPad to contend with. My car didn’t really have a convenient place to put it and at one point we had family pictures done and I forgot to empty my pockets. Now, the giant rectangle in my pants will be forever immortalized in print.

And the struggle with RAM, is real. There simply isn’t enough in it. Having a page open in Safari, and then switching back to a different one caused the site to reload. Having streaming audio from Apple Music running and then opening Tweetbot would cause jitter. It was annoying but not life threatening.

I commented about this back in August, and even then I was planning to stay with it. As I said:

… the reality is I’d have a hard time going back to anything smaller.

It turns out, it wasn’t that hard.

Coming Back

When the iPhone 6S was announced, I started hatching a plan. What if I got a pink one for my wife, and (re)obtained the iPhone 6. I’d just give it a shot for a little bit, and then if I thought it was too small to stick with, I could sell it and go back to my Plus.

So I did, and it turns out, I liked the 4.7” phone a lot more. It was easier to hold, didn’t act as sluggish, and overall was a lot more comfortable for me. Playing around with 3D Touch on my wife’s phone, I imagined the difficulties and all the broken screens I’d have with a larger display to contend with.

The battery life on the regular 6 is crap compared to the Plus, I’d really become spoiled by that, but I own at least a half dozen Anker batteries with more car and wall charging outlets than should be legally allowed, so I made it work. I sold the Plus to a nice woman on Craigslist.

And I love it.

I tried to go back to the Plus, twice, just to be sure. One night I lasted almost 5 hours before switching back. It was sold the next day.

I’m back to the 4.7” phone, and when the iPhone 7 arrives, assuming Apple doesn’t do anything stupid and move everyone to 5+ inch devices, that’s probably the form-factor I’ll stick with for the future.

iPhone 6

My iPhone 6. 4.7”, silver/white. 64GB. AT&T. This iPhone is the first iPhone I didn’t immediately open the box to feel it was the best one ever. I almost didn’t even order one. The 5 was fine.

I’ve owned it a month now. Originally I felt that I was going to drop it every time I tried to grip it (using my smaller than normal man-hands) — that panic led me to the Apple Store to pickup the black, leather Apple case. The case gave me a safety blanket and the ability to learn to adapt my grip, however, last Thursday I took the case away. It’s been a week since I’ve removed the training wheels.

I love this phone, it feels great. The size is perfect. The rounded corners feel great holding it for long periods of time. I’m also past fussing about the camera bulge. I worried it’d get scratched, now, in Apple(Care) and sapphire crystal, I trust.

I still find myself adjusting my hands a lot more than the 5 or 3G/4 to reach the entire screen, but I’m getting used to it.

iOS 8.1 has massaged the major issues I was having with the software. Battery life has been awesome, far superior to the 5. The ability to use the higher capacity chargers for quick refills is great. Apps are now being updated to take advantage of the increased real estate of the larger screen resolution, but there are still some stragglers. (I’m looking at you OmniFocus.)

Over all, solid purchase.

Secured Keys

If the recent Gawker password breach (re)taught us anything, it’s the old and valued lesson of “don’t use the same password everywhere” — but as often as I repeat that phrase and cringe a little bit when I find out someone else did it, I’ve been just as guilty of this cardinal sin of network security myself… from time to time. It’s hard not to.

When you’re as active on the Internet as I am, it’s impossible to resist the urge to duplicate passwords, especially if you’re against writing them down. So you’re left to memorize them all, hope you don’t forget, and hope that you can later rely on the splendid password reset via email later on.

All of the Gawker fun also taught (or should have taught) website administrators like myself to take better care of their users. Gawker fouled up in a huge way (beyond simply exposing user data) by not taking proper steps to secure the information in their database once it was exposed. Gawker used an easily crackable cipher system (DES) which was depreciated by a new industry standard (AES) long ago.

Since the launch of this site, we’ve relied on third parties to act as the gatekeepers for user interaction. (First using JS-Kit/Echo and now Disqus) For you it has the benefit of not having to remember yet another password or create another account just to comment here. On the back end it allows us to focus on delivering content and less on keeping a database of user information secured. We’re relying on people with bigger and better security resources (Disqus, Open ID, Twitter or Facebook) to secure your presence on our site.

But what about every other site (or even the four mentioned above) … where you have to register a username, create a password, and keep it safe and secure. Remembering unique passwords for every site is impossible, using the same one is a no-no, writing them down and keeping them in your desk drawer isn’t practical or secure. What do you do with those passwords?

Password Management

Who hasn’t seen the Internet Explorer password prompt at least 10,000 times in their lives? Or the similar prompts from Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, etc. Almost every browser created in this decade has included some sort of password manager, and almost anyone who has used them will tell you they’re all crap.

For one thing, they only work with one browser. For another, they’re almost as secure as the previously mentioned notebook of passwords. Last, they’re not really designed to keep you secure, they’re designed to be a convenient way to re-access commonly used websites.

Most of the time, I turned the feature off. The idea of using a password manager, until recently, seemed less secure than trying to just remember them all myself. That all changed recently.

LastPass

After previously being quite inefficient about password management for the past… well, ever… I decided it was time to get serious about securing my online life and in turn taking the burden of remembering all of the passwords myself. I started using LastPass a few months ago (before the Gawker breakdown) and had slowly begun the process of migrating my passwords into it. Originally I wanted to give it a chance to earn my trust before jumping feet first into the pool of letting someone else get all my passwords.

I selected LastPass after evaluating many alternatives. KeePass, 1Password, Roboform were among some of the ones I looked at. All great options, but not the one I went with in the end. Here’s why:

  1. LastPass runs on anything, everything, and it syncs all of the resources together. Windows, Mac, Linux, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone (just announced), even Symbian. Basically anything I could touch, had to give me the ability to access my passwords. LastPass has their competition beat there. Noticeably absent is Opera from the supported list. I don’t use Opera myself, but my guess is now that they have true plugin support the LastPass crew will probably add them to the list shortly.
  2. No password manager is perfect, but LastPass is close. It’s excellent about knowing what to fill in, what to save, what not to save, and when to step in and help.
  3. It’s free, for 95% of the service. However, as I usually do, I suggest shelling out the ridiculous $12 a year to get the premium version. Why? Because you get my next two important points…
  4. Mobile access. LastPass will work in any browser for free, but if you want to run it on your iPhone, Android, etc, you’re going to need the premium account. The app itself though, is free.
  5. Multifactor authentication through YubiKey. The free version will allow you to build your own key for multifactor, but if you really want to get serious about security you’re going to want to do it through a YubiKey. (Of course that key will also set you back $25)

Browser Integration

Having tested LastPass in both Google Chrome (10) and Mozilla Firefox (4), I can say that the Firefox version is superior, but not by much. When I initially tested LastPass, I did so through Google Chrome. The installer rounded up all of the passwords stored in the default password managers of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome that were installed on my system and put them into LastPass. This made the initial learning curve very easy as I didn’t have to go through and train it for every single one I was already allowing the browsers to remember.

After my desktop, when I setup LastPass on my laptop it also sucked up the local cache and avoided duplicates of already integrated passwords.

There are a few key benefits that LastPass does that none of the integrated password managers will do, to save you time.

  1. When I create new accounts, LastPass will automatically detect it and offer to generate a random password for me based on my complexity requirements. It automatically fills in the data and saves it for future use. This works 99% of the time and normally requires little input or assistance from me.
  2. When ever I change my password on a website, LastPass will not only know my old password, offer a new password, it automatically saves the change in it’s cache.
  3. It syncs all the data across multiple browsers. It’s no longer a massive headache to test new browsers. Moving from Chrome to Firefox to IE and back again is painless (well, except for using Internet Explorer itself) — changes made in one browser migrate to all the other browsers.

Security

But putting all this data into the cloud must be insecure! And if may be… if you were using another provider.

LastPass, despite syncing all this information into the cloud, actually stores the password database itself on your local system. What LastPass has on its servers are one-way salted hashes, with all your real data stored locally in an AES-256 encrypted database. Your passwords are encrypted and decrypted on your local machine, not on their servers. What all this means is if someone were to hack LastPass and get your salted hashes, they’d be about as useful as a pile of salted meat. Without computing horsepower beyond what the top government security agencies of the world have, and a limitless amount of free time, it’s all worthless without your master password.

Which by the way, LastPass doesn’t have any idea what your master password is because they never have it. If you change it on your account, LastPass has to re-encrypt all the data and resend the hashes to their servers.

They also use SSL to further encrypt all of the already AES encrypted traffic between your system and their servers. However, the amount of data being sent back and forth is so small that there is little if any performance loss in your browser and your system hardly notices what’s going on.

Once the salted hashes of your password reaches their servers, when they go to back it up (which they do daily to Amazon’s S3 service) and store it offsite they further encrypt that data using GPG.

So make your master password strong, but something you can remember. A great website for coming up with new passwords is howsecureismypassword.net — it will literally tell you how long it would take someone with a desktop computer to brute force your master password. This is all assuming they gain access to your local database, etc. Want to know my master password? Too bad. I will tell you though, it would take you 564 billion years to crack it.

But, computing horsepower gets more powerful all the time. Brilliant programmers, hackers, and engineers come up with new ways to make them faster, string them together and take that 564 billion year number down a notch. Even with all this advanced encryption an enterprising hacker could still manage to get a key logger on your system and record your master password.

So what is a paranoid person like myself going to do to even the odds? Multifactor authentication.

YubiKey

Something you know, and something you have.

There are a lot of multifactor authentication methods out there. I won’t get into all of them, because in this case, LastPass really works best with only one. The YubiKey by Yubico.

The YubiKey is a small USB token about the size of a door key. It comes in any color you want as long as it’s black, or white, and there is just a one time cost of $25 for Yubico to send you the token. It’s tough, and easy to use. It’s crush proof and water proof, has no battery or moving parts. Just plug it into any USB slot on your computer and it’ll be recognized as a USB Input Device. Because of this there are no drivers required and it works on Windows, Mac or Linux automatically.

Once you receive your YubiKey the process of associating it with your LastPass account is straight forward and simple. When you load your browser, after entering your master password you get the prompt for your YubiKey. Touch the green button and away you go. It only adds a second to the authentication process and infinitely decreases your chances of having your account compromised.

But what about key loggers? Since this is just a fancy keyboard with only one key, can’t they log that? Sure. Here’s the problem.

YubiKey generates a random 44 character one time passcode that changes every time you generate it.

Each generated passcode is actually a AES-128 bit block containing an obfuscated unique secret ID for your YubiKey, a session counter, time stamp, session token, random values and a CRC-16 checksum. To sum it all up, a bunch of random stuff further encrypted into more random stuff.

What it amounts to, is that without both your master password and your YubiKey, no one is getting access to your accounts.

Strong Passwords per Site

But all this work is futile if you continue to use the same passwords as before, or allow the same passwords to be used on multiple websites or systems. Thankfully, LastPass provides an interesting tool called the Security Challenge that will locally decrypt and analyze your passwords, look for weak passwords and let you know what duplicates exist. I was shocked the first time I ran the analyzer, but now I work to squeak out every last bit to raise my score each week.

At this point I’m regularly generating 12–16 character random and complex passwords for every site I have accounts on. According to the latest score I’m among the top 1000 users of the tool ranking 942nd overall. Look out 941, I’m R*[email protected]@-ing for you.

The point is that I don’t know what any of my site passwords are, but each is unique and almost impossible to brute force in a reasonable amount of time (3 quadrillion years for the one mentioned above) — while it doesn’t make the chances of my Facebook account being compromised impossible, it significantly reduces the risk of such an event taking place. By the time someone tried it only a few times, Facebook would (should) lock them out and the chances they’ll guess correctly on the first try even knowing all the exact complexity requirements used is almost infinitesimal.

Conclusion

Is your LastPass master password truly the last password you’ll ever need? No. Your system password is still important to have and keep strong, I encourage people to encrypt their local disks (especially laptops) and use a unique and long passcode/PIN for decryption along with a TPM or USB key using something like BitLocker (which I’ll be covering in a future article) — this way to even get to your database the number of steps required are so many and complex I’d venture to say it’s bulletproof.

But if I can use LastPass to narrow down the number of passwords I’m required to recall on a daily basis down from the hundreds to around 5, and make the ones I don’t even want to remember anymore so complex that I couldn’t even if I tried, then I think it’s more than worth it.

Further Reading & Downloading

After Thought

Last night I stumbled on a deal where you can get a Yubikey and one year of LastPass for only $30, this normally would be $37. Nice little chunk of change. The even better deal is you can get two Yubikey and one year of LastPass for only $45. This is a $62 value. You can associate multiple Yubikeys with your account and then in the event your primary one is lost or stolen, you can dig your reserve key out of a safe location and remove the lost key, and then later replace the key.

Frank also pointed out to me last night something I neglected to mention. You can also deactivate the Yubikey requirement from a trusted computer such as your primary system that is in a secure location. A trusted system would obviously be one you’ve configured to bypass all of the security checks for your account. Right now I don’t have any systems where I bypass all of the checks, so I forgot to talk about it.

Something else I forgot to say, was that you can also disable the Yubikey through an email verification, but if your email password is protected by LastPass that may be harder to do. My LastPass account is on my iPhone as well so I could go that route to gain access to my passwords in the event of a failure. Again I forgot to mention it in the article but since you obviously can’t hook a LastPass USB token into an iPhone, you can setup pre-authenticated mobile devices to only require a passcode to unlock. Combined with a security lock on the phone, the phone itself becomes a sort of “token” you have to have to get in.

There are also other ways to perform multifactor against LastPass that don’t involve a YubiKey, including your own preconfigured key like what I mentioned, as well as a paper card you create that is unique to your account. I just think the YubiKey is the easiest and more secure way to go.


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on December 29, 2010.

Evernote Mostly

I’m a huge fan of Evernote. It ranks right up there with Gmail in terms of applications I live my life in. When people sit down with it for a while and begin to use it, or have someone explain all the interesting ways it can enhance their productivity, it doesn’t surprise me that they become as hooked to it as I am.

I first became exposed to it when I got an iPhone 3G in 2008. It had existed as a platform a couple years before that and was popular with the Windows Mobile & Tablet PC crowd, but wasn’t really on my radar. At the time, I dismissed it as nothing more than a note taking app for the iPhone. The only reason I started using it was because I wanted something that would sync the notes on my iPhone to another system, since iTunes didn’t do it at the time. Not really something I’d adjust my workflow around.

Sure I’d used it off and on, but it hasn’t been until the last few months that I’ve come to realize all the ways it can be used. It’s more than just a simple mobile app, it exists on nearly every platform and helps sync your documents, notes, images and throughts between computers and between mobile devices. Their cloud keeps all your clients linked together and helps put the data and knowledge you keep in their service ready for use at any time.

I’ve decided to share some of the exciting ways I use (or have seen it used) to make myself more organized, more productive and less scatter brained.

Evernote has begun to replace my normal Windows file system for keeping track of data. Now obviously, when I say everything I don’t mean put your iTunes library in Evernote, or your Adobe Lightroom catalog. No, I’m talking about all your text files, PDFs and screenshots. The stuff that the normal system administrator has scattered all around their hard drives, but would greatly benefit from a centralize repository.

Get the Premium Version

First off, I’m not being paid to say this, but… to really make the most of this program you’re going to want to shell out a little cash. It’s going to set you back $45 a year (or $5 per month.) The free version is excellent, and until you get really into it it’s probably best to wait so you don’t waste your money if you don’t like it. But be aware, you’re going to want to get the enhanced features:

  • 500MB of uploads a month (free users get 40MB) means I don’t have to worry how many screenshots or PDF files I pump into their cloud.
  • Premium users also gain the ability to put things like Word, Excel and PowerPoint files into their client. Actually you can put any file, where as free users are limited to images, audio, ink files, and PDFs.
  • Automatic PDF indexing, an absolute must. I’ll tell you why in a little bit.
  • Offline access on mobile devices.
  • SSL encryption of notes. Honestly, I wish this was standard but right now you have to pay. For those of us who are going to store anything beyond a grocery list, encrypting that data in transit is a must.
  • Priority image recognition. I’ll tell you why this feature is awesome below, but paying for this gets you higher up in the queue.

Put Everything You Read or Write In Evernote

Up until a few months ago, when I needed to take a quick note of something I’d probably just fire up Notepad. The end result was a bunch of .txt files all over my hard drive. If I needed to refer to it an hour later it wasn’t a problem. A couple days later, it wasn’t so bad. A week later… it got harder and harder to find. Even with Windows 7 and its great indexing, it’s not always very easy to find what you want.

Evernote is only as useful as the content you index with it. If you read it, write it, and want to ever access it again… put it Evernote.

Perhaps the easiest, and yet the hardest, thing to get use to is changing your ‘workflow’ to incorporate it into your daily life. Once you do, you’ll begin to wonder what you did without it.

Put All Your Product Documentation In Evernote

I’ve begun downloading the PDF files for product that I own, from various manufactures, and putting them into Evernote. Everything from motherboards manuals to server documentation. It’s much easier to go looking for help with a product if you’ve already downloaded and indexed the manual than it is to go digging through a vendors website, sometimes months or years after they’ve stopped selling the product.

Make Evernote Your Default Screenshot Program

How many times have you been working on something and got an error message you wanted to refer back to later? You take a screen capture of that message, save it, go along your way trying to troubleshoot. Want to refer back to that screenshot or send it to a co-worker? Hope you didn’t close the program, or else you better remember what you saved the file as, and where.

If you’d put that screenshot into Evernote you’d be able to search of a string of text inside the screenshot and pull the image from it’s archive. No file names or locations to remember.

In this example just searching for a word in the image resulted in what I was looking for. Notice the word ‘protection’ highlighted in the screenshot. This feature is available to both free and premium users, but it’s one example of where paying a little extra helps out. When you sync your data up into the Evernote cloud, their servers instantly begin indexing the content and in this case use OCR technology to turn the text in the image into searchable content.

Install the Web Clipping Tools

Evernote makes plugins for most browsers, to make it easy to take data out of a website and put it directly into their system.

If you’re using Internet Explorer, the clipper automatically installs when you install the Windows client. If you’re using Safari on a Mac, the clipper automatically installs when you install the Mac client.

If you’re using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, there are plugins avaliable for download from the addon pages for each browser.

If you’re using Opera or some other less popular browser that Evernote hasn’t got around to creating a plugin for, you can also use their Bookmarklet. While not quite as elegant as the plugin options, it’s better than nothing.

Also, because you can index the content of a screenshot, if you want to remember the web page exactly as it was when you viewed it, just take a screenshot and then go search for it later!

One feature exclusive to Google Chrome users who have the plugin installed is the ability to search within your Evernote archive for files when you’re on Google.com. Why go looking for something all over again that you may have already found and clipped into Evernote?

Use Automatic Folder Import To Your Advantage

You can easily configure Evernote to index the files in a folder. I use this in combination with a PDF printer like Adobe PDF Distiller, CutePDF or saving as a PDF with Office to “Print to Evernote” from within applications like Microsoft Word, where directly importing the Word document into Evernote doesn’t create as nice of an indexable note.

In this case, Evernote is configured to delete the file as soon as it’s imported. This way you don’t have duplicate files sitting around and you know when it’s gone, it’s in Evernote.

Without the premium version, indexing and searching the contents of a PDF isn’t possible. That’s just one reason why the premium version is so helpful.

Install Evernote on Everything

Sure, there is a nice web interface for Evernote, but what I consider of the beautiful aspects of the product is that it’s a cloud product with awesome desktop applications.

My tower at home has Evernote, my laptop has Evernote. The two are constantly keeping things accessible between both systems. But as mentioned before, I discovered Evernote through my iPhone, so I have it there as well. It’s also on my work Blackberry and when I finally break down and buy an iPad (or other tablet) it’ll be there too. There are also mobile clients for Android, Windows Mobile and WebOS. About the only thing you can’t out a client on is sadly, Linux.

(Evernote, please change this.)

The more places you can easily access your data, the less you have to remember, and the more productive you can be with it.

With a premium account, you gain the ability to sync offline content to mobile devices. While this isn’t a huge advantage with something like an iPhone where you usually have a 3G connection (AT&T willing) to download notes on the go, with an iPad or Android tablet it’s handy for taking it places where you’re not connected all the time.

Make Your Scanner Evernote Friendly

There are many ways to do this, but I accomplished it by using the scanner’s Windows helper application to set my Evernote import folder as the default location for PDF scan jobs. Documents on the scan bed are turned into PDF files and dumped into Evernote. Now it’s easy to take important papers and make them digitally accessible, quickly.

Some scanners are even more Evernote friendly. If you’re in the market for a new scanner look at the Fujitsu, Canon or Lexmark models that support Scan to Evernote built-in.

Use It, Share Your Thoughts

I would encourage you to start using the product and share your thoughts in the comments on ways you can be more efficient with it.


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on December 8, 2010.