Ulysses is 🔥

Ulysses is the best writing app for Mac and iOS. It is a gorgeous, minimal, markdown writing environment that does just about everything perfectly. I write everything in Ulysses except academic papers and classroom assessments.

First, the app is beautiful. I’m not, however, going to post a bunch of pictures because their website does a fine job showing off the app’s aesthetics.

If you appreciate distraction-free writing environments, in Ulysses command + 3 is your keyboard shortcut. Other files within the same folder can be seen along side your current writing space with command + 2, and command + 1 shows a full view of your folders, files, and current writing space. These easy to remember keyboard shortcuts make navigation a breeze.

If you don’t yet use markdown, check out Renshaw’s post. Markdown is a simple way to write in lightweight text files and still quickly and easily format your text with headings, bold, italic, hyperlinks, and all the rest.

Finally, the Ulysses folks kill it with iCloud sync. Not every app has a dependable iCloud sync in place (ahem, GoodNotes. Still love ya. – Brian), but Ulysses does. I’ve never had a file show up on one of my devices with conflicts. I write on my iPad and MacBook, edit or occasionally write on my iPhone, and everything just stays in sync. If you open Ulysses and your files still need to sync, there is a little down arrow that shows right beside the file name. You wait about 5 seconds or less, the arrow disappears, and you are good to go.

My only complaint with Ulysses is that they do not support inline images. You can add images to files, but the images show up as a hyperlink and look like this: (img). That’s because the idea is that you are going to use Ulysses to write things and then export those things to PDFs or HTML or rich text or something else. Adding support for inline images would make the app so much better for journaling. I have a folder for each month of the year, and each day is an h2. I usually want to drop in a picture each day, and it would be nice to be able to scroll through my month and see each day’s picture without exporting or previewing the files in another format. I’ve expressed this wish to Ulysses, and they’ve heard me so my fingers are crossed.

I love Ulysses because it is a writing app that ideally blends beauty, function, and simplicity — 5 stars and highly recommended. It is worth every penny.

Word for Mac & iOS

For writing anything more than a note, I use two apps: Ulysses and Word. I like one of them and tolerate the other. I’m just going to tell you about Word today, the one I tolerate.

If I weren’t a student and a teacher, I would never touch Word because Ulysses is absolutely sublime. If your document has footnotes, however, you should be using Zotero, and this means using Word on a Mac or Windows computer. So for the dissertation and any conference papers, I turn to Word. Word also gives you more control for precise, quick formatting, which I need for writing assessments.

For about the past year, Word for Mac has worked well with right-to-left scripts like Hebrew and Aramaic. For a couple decades, Word and Mac didn’t play well together. I you were doing anything with Hebrew you had to use something like LibreOffice or Mellel. Many people don’t realize that this era is over. The only remaining Hebrew/Aramaic hang up is the fact that the vowel points in SBL fonts do not align correctly. As I understand the situation, this is SBL’s problem and not Word’s. My school allows the use of Times New Roman font throughout the entire document, and I actually like the look of TNR for Hebrew, Greek, and English. It’s not my preferred font, but for technical writing it’s easy and everyone has it on their devices. The only situation where you will run into a problem with TNR is if you want to put diacritical marks above a Hebrew letter to mark the letter as “partially visible” or something like that. If you are working with DSS transcriptions, you will probably still have to use SBL Hebrew and Mellel at this point. Hopefully SBL will update their fonts soon.

The real draw towards using Word is that your documents are easily shareable. The chances are that whomever you want to share your work with uses Word. But there is another significant benefit: the iOS app works pretty well, especially if all you need to do is edit documents on the fly. During the past school year, I would take only my iPad to class, and when we found a typo in a quiz, I would fix it right away in the Word iOS app. Occasionally, I would print handouts from Word using Readdle’s Printer Pro, and maybe once or twice I actually wrote a quiz in Word for iOS. This became problematic for the vocab sections of the quiz because for some reason with a multi-column layout combined with Greek polytonic characters, Word began acting crazy. The cursor would jump around all over the place when I would start typing.

I don’t think you can create new character and paragraph styles in Word for iOS, but if you open a document that already has styles applied, you can use those styles with the same document. I think you can also save a blank document as a template with the style you want, and just start there.

One other thing the Word iOS app does really well is work with cloud storage. You can log into your Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox accounts and open files within the Word iOS app. Word downloads the latest version and opens it pretty quickly. While you are working in the document, everything automatically saves, and when you leave the document, Word uploads your changes to your cloud service. Everything stays in sync.

I really prefer to write in Markdown, and that’s where Ulysses comes in. But good old rich text word processing is still necessary for the time being, and Word isn’t bad.

PDF Expert Rocks

First of all, Readdle rocks. Everything the company makes is quality. If you need to print from your iPad at work, Printer Pro works really well. Spark is a really nice iPad and Mac email client, and Documents is a sweet little file manager. But if you only check out one of their apps, it should be PDF Expert, which is available on iOS and Mac.

I’ve been using PDF Expert nearly every day for a couple years, and it is simply the best PDF tool out there. Whatever you want to do with a PDF, this app has you covered. I’m sure there is something it cannot do, but whatever that thing is, I don’t know and don’t care.

I primarily use PDF Expert as a way to read and annotate PDFs, while keeping all my highlights and marginal notes in sync with other devices.
I open a book and make highlights on my iPad, and whenever I access that file on my Mac, everything is in sync. I keep all my PDFs nested within one Google Drive folder, and I tell PDF Expert to keep that folder in sync. That’s all there is to it.

PDF Expert works fantastically with the Apple Pencil so this means you can easily take notes in the margin or sign a document and send it off. You can save a signature and easily insert and resize it on your phone or iPad.

I really appreciate the tab system, which allows you to open two or more PDFs and switch between them easily. You can also set two PDFs side-by-side by simply dragging one tab to the side of the screen. Think of this as a sort of in-app split view.

Readdle released PDF Expert 6 last month, and if you’re interested in what is new, check out Josh Voorhees post on MacStories.

Greek Polytonic on iOS

If you have an external keyboard attached, you can actually type polytonic Greek on an iOS device. It used to be more hassle than it was worth to use an iOS device and an external keyboard, but the release of the iPad Pros and the Smart Keyboard changed the game.

You add Greek and Hebrew keyboards just like always:

Settings > General > Keyboards > KeyboardsBut when you have an external keyboard attached, there is an extra Hardware Keyboard menu that allows you to choose which Greek or Hebrew or English keyboard layout you would like to use. It’s curious that they call it Hardware Keyboard because what we are really talking about are software keyboards for use with a hardware keyboard.

The Greek Polytonic keyboard layout is the same as what you find on Mac and Windows computers. I’ve been using it for years because, though there are plenty of others out there that might be in one way or another more user friendly, this one is always preinstalled and ready to roll.

μακάρια γραφή, ἑταῖροι.

Ways of Reading

Here’s a collection of posts I’ve written on different ways of reading original language texts. I find myself frequently moving from one way of reading to another. Sometimes I read one way for a week or a month or a year, but it’s bound to change. That’s a theme that runs throughout the posts. There isn’t one right way to read. Read however you want. Just read.

Typing on the 9.7″ Smart Keyboard

For the past several months, my 9.7″ iPad Pro has functioned as my laptop and my 15″ MacBook Pro as my desktop. Right from the start, I was blown away at how easy it is to type on 9.7″ Smart Keyboard. Most of the posts on this site since the beginning of May have been typed this way.

On June 2, just before WWDC, I sent this to a friend with whom I discuss tech stuff every day:

Today, I’m really happy with the 9.7. Little table full of papers, big coffee, and plenty of room for the 9.7 w/keyboard. Can sit back and easily navigate with one hand. Ideal portable computer. I think I want the bigger one only when I want to sit down and do nothing but write. This is at least once a day. I’m not even sure, however, if the 12.9 would be better for this purpose because I have absolutely zero difficulty with this small keyboard. I would just like more space, more screen real estate.

I’m hoping the 10.5″ will be a perfect balance of portability and productivity, but we’ll see. I just opened Tap Typing to do a speed test, and this was the result of my typing test on the 9.7″:

I’m looking to make a move to the 10.5, but I wanted to post a note about what a pleasure my 9.7″ has been. The keyboard and pencil capabilities changed the game for me. On June 4, Forbes posted a “very long-term review” of the 9.7″ iPad Pro and called it the world’s best tablet. I would link to that article, but Forbes is one of those sites that has automatic popups and makes you click three times to get all the distracting nonsense out of your face and actually see what it is you are trying to read.

If you are considering an iPad purchase, you can check out my 9.7″ here.

iOS 11 Features & Changes

9to5Mac posted a really nice twenty-seven minute video illustrating over one hundred new features and changes found in the first beta of iOS 11. I didn’t count them all, but there are a ton. There’s no fluff in these twenty-seven minutes; they’re filled with illustration after illustration of new features.

So if you missed WWDC or just want to see iOS 11 in action, check this out:

Keeping up with Technology

I want to share a few of my favorite people and places on the internet. If you are looking for a way to keep up with technology news and reviews, these are great places to start.

Each heading links to a Twitter account.

Brian Renshaw

for tech and productivity

Brian is a good friend, and he is at the top of this list because he introduced me to everyone listed here except for MKBHD and Ben Mayo. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog. (By the way, he says Jason Snell should be on this list.)

The Brooks Review

Apple & “the best” of everything

This might be my favorite site on the internet. Ben Brooks writes clear, incisive reviews, often laced with the perfectly placed, hilarious expletive. I read everything he writes — definitely a writing role model. He writes a weekly iPad Productivity Report, which is a highlight of every Monday. Several features of the site are only for members, including the Productivity Report. Membership is $4/month and absolutely worth it.

Federico Viticci

for all things iOS

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Mac Stories and dubbed iPad Sensei by the peeps at Mac Power Users. He is also a cohost of the new podcast AppStories, which is super sweet. I first discovered Federico when Brian Renshaw sent me a link to this legendary iOS 10 review.

MKBHD

YouTube Channel for tech products more broadly

Marques Brownlee reviews Apple and Android phones and tablets, headphones, cameras, drones, and all the rest. His reviews are to the point, balanced, and really well produced. His YouTube channel is one of only two that I regularly watch (the other is Casey Neistat’s).

Mac Power Users

Podcast for all things Apple

I listened to several tech podcasts during a recent 13 hour drive and was made keenly aware of just how good these guys are. There are a lot of tech podcasts out there, but most of them are horrid. David and Katie are just a pleasure to listen to. They have been doing this show since 2009(!) and are such pros. Their dynamic is as relaxing and delightful as the content is informative. The shows are super long but definitely worth the time investment.

Daring Fireball

First came across John Gruber via his markdown syntax page. His tweets are great, and his blog is sage.

Benjamin Mayo

I’ve just started following Ben Mayo. He writes for 9to5Mac, and I find his tweets interesting.