February 16, 2020 at 10:33pm

HyperPlan

Have you ever used a pivot table in Excel, and thought that there must be a better way?

Have you ever built a Kanban board in Trello but realised you need a second axis?

Have you ever designed a table in OmniGraffle or PowerPoint and thought there must a more straightforward way?

I have. So I purchased a license for the Home version of HyperPlan.

My Uses to Date

I’ve owned HyperPlan for just a couple of weeks. Already I’ve found a couple of great uses for it:

  • I’ve built an insightful Kanban status board for my projects.
  • I’ve used it in a workshop I facilitated. Initially I captured ideas arising from a brainstorming session. Then we went back through each captured thought and allocated them into groups of categories simply by dragging and dropping. I was doing this by projecting the HyperPlan board onto a big screen. It created a great interactive environment.

Features

A nice feature of HyperPlan is that it can track multiple properties for each record. You can use any of these properties to act as the x and y vertices of the pivot table constructed, but the chosen property can be changed at any time with the click of a mouse.

What’s more, any of the other properties can be displayed on the record card itself, or used to build a colour-coding system.

Data can be displayed in three main ways: as a graphical pivot table, as a graph of data, or in tabular form. The pivot table is home base. New data can be added to any element at any time.

The following two images provide an insight into how HyperPlan can build up some detailed insights:

HyperPlan Kanban Board (text on cards has been redacted)HyperPlan Kanban Board (text on cards has been redacted)

HyperPlan Chart counting categoriesHyperPlan Chart counting categories

Joyful Software

I remain a fan of locally-installed software, over web applications that run in a browser. That probably positions me firmly in the old man’ camp. I don’t care. I like leveraging the power of multicore processors running at multiple Gigahertz. I like the app being in its own container - not a browser. So I commend HyperPlan for being a local app.

Unfortunately, for this Mac user, it’s not quite a native app. There are some giveaways in the user interface and user experience that betray its development with a cross-platform environment. It’s still better than Electron apps, though. These criticisms are little quibbles, like the text alignment of labels not quite matching with the interface controls, and some non-native iconography.

I’ve reached out to the developer, Andy Brice, about these, and he has been extremely responsive. Buying this software also supports a nice person like this. That’s nicer than paying money to a corporate behemoth, or underwriting a valuation for some venture capitalist.

My Recommendation

Ultimately, HyperPlan is fun to use. It’s joyful to see cards whizz around the screen as the pivot parameters are changed. It provides a great visual insight into the dataset in use. I love it. I recommend it.

software review
January 2, 2020 at 8:43pm

Agenda & NotePlan

Agenda and NotePlan: two apps that ostensibly do the same thing. They provide a method by which to take notes with regard to meetings, projects and daily happenings.

Design decisions

Both apps have been carefully designed but have ended up operating quite differently to one another. Agenda feels practically overwrought. It feels slow in operation, fiddly with a range of sliding panes, non-standard drop-down menus and a hybrid rich-text/markdown environment. Everything that is put into the app is tied up into its proprietary datastore.

In use, I often feel as thought I’m fighting against Agenda’s design. Yet it has the killer feature of being able to link together meetings in a continuous timeline.

Additionally, it allows me to attach files, take photos and create a rich tapestry of notes in relation to a project. The only problem is that because the note-taking itself is so obtuse, many of my notes say something like refer to notes taken in OmniOutliner”. Not great.

NotePlan feels lightweight. It feels like I’m writing in a straight-forward text field that supports markdown. In essence, behind the scenes this is what is happening. NotePlan creates a .md text file for each day that a note is created and stores it in the file system. It supports tagging which is how project notes can be tied together with the support of a search filter.

My usage

I used NotePlan consistently for about 6 months, but realised that I wasn’t getting any benefit from the history of notes I had taken. Things were getting lost, rendering the whole use of the app almost pointless.

So I purchased Agenda and moved in. This does a better job of enabling the review of notes, but the friction associated with getting data in is the roadblock.

Both apps offer feature parity across macOS, iOS and iPadOS.

How to buy

NotePlan is available via Setapp or as a standalone purchase. Agenda has a fair freemium/pseudo-subscription model whereby you keep forever the features the app has at that moment, plus anything added in the coming 12 months. If you want features beyond that, you pay once again.

The upshot

It’s hard to say which is better. They are both great, and both infuriating. I’m currently in the Agenda camp, but only just. I continue to look over the parapets to see how the other is performing. I own both, so the barrier to entry is low. Switching costs associated with data migration is the major factor, and that is not much.

I cannot provide a recommendation to others, but I am interested in alternative views.

software review
January 1, 2020 at 10:37pm

My App Toolkit

At the beginning of 2020, an update on my current app toolbox. Of course, it is overflowing with too many tools. My ideal state would be to have one centralised repository for everything. Yet each app offers a different set of features and benefits, and scratch particular itches. So I think the unified data store remains off in the distance.

Purpose iOS Primary iOS Secondary macOS Primary macOS Secondary Best Cross Platform
Blot via Git Drafts 1Writer iA Writer Drafts iA Writer
Micro.blog Drafts iA Writer MarsEdit Drafts Drafts
Report Writing Ulyssess Word Ulysses Word Ulysses
Meeting Notes Goodnotes OmniOutliner Curio Agenda OmniOutliner
Daily Notes Agenda Goodnotes Agenda Agenda
Zettelkasten 1Writer iA Writer The Archive DEVONthink iA Writer
Tasks OmniFocus Goodnotes OmniFocus Curio OmniFocus
Brainstorming iThoughts OmniOutliner iThoughts Curio iThoughts

Other alternatives available include:

  • Notebooks
  • DNote
  • Apple Notes
  • Day One (long-term committed use as a personal journal)
software
August 22, 2019 at 11:14am

MailMate Review

I have bought a license for MailMate - a mail application for the Mac. This cost me AU$84. Why pay that kind of money for a mail app, when Apple provide Mail for free, and I have access to a good web app for Fastmail and Outlook for work email?

I was happy to pay the money because MailMate is excellent artisanal software that offers unparalleled features and power. That money also goes straight to the single developer who has committed to this app for years.

If you are looking for beautiful software, MailMate is not for you. If you are looking for simple software, MailMate is not for you. If you are looking for a Markdown-aware, IMAP-compatible, smart rule-centric email powerhouse, MailMate is for you.

Functional - not pretty.Functional - not pretty.

Tell me the features

If you’re buying MailMate, you’re spending hard-earned dollars to get a mail app that does things that other mail apps do not. From my perspective, these are the features that I got for my money:

  • Markdown composer - MailMate lets you compose emails using Markdown, and simultaneously renders a preview of the HTML that will ultimately be sent. I’ve always preferred plain text email, mainly because composing HTML email is traditionally a clunky, error-prone affair. Not with MailMate and Markdown. MailMate generates clean HTML and doesn’t mangle previous HTML elements that might be within the chain of quoted history. I’ve used more bullets, bold text and headings in the last month than I have in the last 10 years.
  • Send Later - Included in the recipient header area is an optional field that accepts natural language input for expressing when an email should be sent. So go ahead, write those emails at 11pm at night, but be kind to your recipient and schedule them to be sent at 9am.
  • Custom Keybindings - MailMate is a good Mac citizen and features a full complement of keyboard shortcuts. The user can take this a step further by defining custom keybindings. I apply the FastMail web app shortcuts but you can just as easily add Gmail keybindings. This provides single-trigger actions to invoke common tasks.
  • Tagging - Going beyond flagging, the ability to tag emails with custom labels (including emoji 🙌🏻) adds a layer of workflow management to email. For instance, I have waiting for (🔃) and action (❗) tags that I apply to particular emails. Combining these with MailMate’s superpower - Smart Folders - unlocks further abilities.
  • Smart Folders - MailMate embraces smart folders. These represent on-demand searches of your entire email archive. The app encourages these to be used as the primary interface to your email, to the point where I keep my IMAP folders tucked away, and instead rely on a series of smart folders to surface and hide email according to my needs. Combined with the aforementioned tagging, this can be great for showing, for example, emails that I’m waiting on a reply that are more than 2 weeks old. Your imagination is the limit for smart folders because the amount of searchable elements included is bonkers.

Filter to your heart’s content.Filter to your heart’s content.

  • Custom columns and views - each view - whether a Smart Folder or a regular IMAP folder, can have its own view and columns displayed. This can be helpful in a Smart Folder to identify which IMAP folder the email in question actually lives in, or which email account it originated from. I like that it can also show the correspondents within the email exchange (not simply who it came from).
  • App integrations - MailMate is extensible which allows it to connect to third-party apps, such as OmniFocus, DEVONthink and BBEdit, among others.

Should I bother?

If you have a Gmail account and generally use the web app or your phone to deal with email, no, you shouldn’t buy MailMate.

If you have multiple email accounts1, and you want to centralise your email world into a single location and benefit from the features I outlined above, then yes, you should buy MailMate.

Sure, but what do others think?

There are two brilliant reviews out there that provide alternative impressions of MailMate:

So, now you have three differing insights into MailMate, which may assist your decision-making process.


  1. To use Exchange/Office 365 email, you need to be able to access it via IMAP. Check that your administrator hasn’t disabled it.

software mac review
August 7, 2019 at 11:21am

Stoicism

It seems I can’t spend any time on the Internet at the moment without coming across insights, thoughts and video on the philosophy of stoicism.

While this could be a product of frequency bias, I claim some modicum of defence because I learned about stoicism in detail in 2011 during my time studying at the Cranlana Colloquium.

I have enjoyed rediscovering and reminding myself of the stoic philosophy. It’s a mental model that makes sense to me and can help ward off the feeling of helplessness in a complex and not entirely well-functioning or well-governed world.

The Stoic manifesto

Stoics attempt to be guided by logic and reason rather than fleeting worldly gratification. The practice of Stoicism supposedly allowed people to lead more peaceful, rational lives.

A Stoic and a… Romantic?A Stoic and a… Romantic?

I appreciate the stoic’s view of the world, as long as it doesn’t veer too far into fatalism1. I’ve always favoured the concept of logical thought (i.e. Doctor Spock) ahead of irrational behaviour (i.e. Captain Kirk). Yet because I’m not Vulcan, I often fail to live up to the ideals of stoicism. Let’s call it a work in progress. When I prevail in taking the stoic approach I find myself less riddled with stress and anxiety, and am generally happier about my lot in life.

Boiling it down

The easy 1, 2, 3 of stoicism may be presented as:

  1. If you can change it, it doesn’t deserve your worry. Go ahead and make the change. Just do it!
  2. If you can’t change it, it doesn’t deserve your worry. You can’t fix it, so why stress?2
  3. If you worry about it anyway, you are simply inviting it to tyrannise and traumatise you, indefinitely. Rumination is the worst.

  1. I don’t like the idea of stoicism being used as a argument in favour of do nothing’ for monumental challenges, such as climate change. I can’t change the heating climate directly, but I can make active changes such as shopping smarter, flying less, and being generally responsible. Other individuals can do more, dependent on their position in society. It’s not a free pass to do nothing.

  2. The Alfred E. Neuman approach: What, me worry?”

philosophy
July 10, 2019 at 9:53pm

A Guide to Using YNAB to Support NDIS Self-Managed Budgeting

As a self-managed user of Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) it is necessary to budget, account for, and forecast expenditure over the 12-month period of the funding agreement.

The typical way to do this budgeting would be with a spreadsheet, laid out in the typical fashion with columns of months and rows of accounts. This is how I assumed I would do it. Yet as I got stuck into the job of building my spreadsheet I realised how much I no longer enjoy working in spreadsheets.

My feelings for ExcelMy feelings for Excel

For a period of my early career, Excel was life. But that was a different time, and a different me. I ain’t got no time for Excel now. I’m over it.

Leveraging YNAB

What I do have is a subscription to YNAB which happens to be the most effective personal budgeting tool I have ever used.

I thought it would be worthwhile to see if I could extract more value from my YNAB subscription by creating a budget specifically for managing NDIS expenditure.

My Venn DiagramMy Venn Diagram

This is a niche solution for a niche problem. The Venn Diagram of people who are self-managed participants of the NDIS and use YNAB must be vanishingly small. But perhaps, one of those people might stumble across this post and find it helpful.

Build the framework

The following is a guide explaining how YNAB can be configured to support the budgeting and accounting tasks associated with a self-managed NDIS plan.

  1. Create a new YNAB budget file specifically for NDIS budgeting and expenditure.
  2. Within that budget, create Category Groups to match relevant NDIS funding descriptors.
  3. Within the Category Groups built at Step 2, create Categories for each service provider expected to be used through the life of the NDIS Plan.[^Remember that more providers can be added later, if necessary, so no pressure to get this completely accurate at the start.]
  4. Create On-Budget Accounts for each of the relevant NDIS support budgets.[^There are three potential budgets: core budget, capacity building budget, and capital budget.] The NDIS requires that funding be expended for the purpose it is granted, so the creation of specific accounts prevents leakage across allocations.
  5. Inflow the funding received from the NDIS for each support budget into its associated YNAB account. This will become the starting balance from which to budget for the year.

Well done, your YNAB framework is ready!

Establish and run the budget

Now, you can build your budget using the standard YNAB approach of giving each dollar a job, but in the context of NDIS expenditure.

Based on quotes, service agreements and your own preference, allocate your total NDIS budget value across your service providers. Ensure that the subtotal for each Category Group matches the sum allocated to its YNAB account.

As services are delivered and invoices paid, input them as expenses within the relevant account (Core Supports/Capacity Building/Capital), assigning the supplier as the YNAB Payee, and the Category as the relevant provider you created as a Category. This is hard to explain, but easy to do.

For bonus points, you can choose to highlight the cleared icon once a rebate is received from the NDIS back into your transaction account.

The result

Following these steps will leave you in the enviable position of having up-to-date figures that can readily display:

  • overall expenditure
  • expenditure per NDIS budget group
  • funds remaining per NDIS budget group
  • budget allocations per service provider, but with the added ability to dynamically rebalance your budget using YNABs built-in move money feature - as long as you only move it within YNABs Category Groups to maintain the integrity of the NDIS support budget allocations.

You also gain full access to the YNAB reports to more deeply analyse your expenditure should you wish.

Notes

  • Remember, this is not a budget for your bank account. If you make payments and/or receive reimbursements the bank accounts transactions are not specifically recorded in this YNAB budget. Use your everyday YNAB budget for that.
  • The YNAB system relies on maintaining the To Be Budgeted figure at $0.00. Keep it at this and you will not go over budget.
NDIS tutorial YNAB