My Must Have Mac Apps for 2017

Acknowledgements to the list-makers, whose work I enjoy so much. The structure of this list based on John Vorhees work for Mac Stories

This year I’ve dug myself deeper and deeper into the Apple universe, a Mac and a Mac Mini and even using a MacBook Pro for work (not the sturdy Windows 10 workhorse) coupled with an iPad, iPhone and now even an iWatch. It hasn’t been without problems. iCloud syncing and security is a bit of a disaster, but yes, I’m in.

So, I’m always looking for apps that work as seamlessly as possible between the Mac and the IOS version, using some sort of cloud application in the background and all of that is getting better. Most of the time now I can rely on the thing to be backed up, for the version I open on the iPad really to be the version I was working on last night on the Mac.

I’ve mostly used Vorhee’s categories for my app list, except I deleted his podcast and communications categories. I’ve kept these:

  • Writing
  • Reading and research
  • Images and Video
  • Utilities
  • Task management and planning


iA Writer

For the last couple of years I’ve been using a text editor called Ulysses but then it went to a ridiculous subscription model and I moved to iA Writer (you can read about that move here) I won’t repeat my earlier blog post on why iA Writer works for me, but you can read that post yourself here Enough to say, that iA Writer does the distraction free thing really well, for a fair price. And, yeah, I wrote this on iA Writer and just ‘shared’ into WordPress.

iA Writer
iA Writer


My work in a school is dominated by Microsoft: the Office suite, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint. Of the MS world, OneNote stands out as an organising and note-taking tool for me, and with OneNote Classroom Notebooks, it’s a pretty potent teaching tool as well with increasing power that’s been in the Windows version, coming to the Mac as well.



I sometimes feel that I should like Scrivener more than I actually do. I do like it, especially for longer-form writing, and especially for output to ePub or a range of other formats. It got a pretty big upgrade this year and looks better than ever; it’s just that, writing poetry a lot, I’m just as happy working in iA Writer most of the time.


Reading and Research

Feedly is my go-to RSS Reader, and one of the apps I open on my iPad every morning (just after the email, and right before Tweetbot)

I also like Pocket as a place to store articles I want to get to later on; it’s pretty amazing how beautiful the articles look, and how quickly they format, in this tool. It has an off-line mode too for those plane trips.

Evernote is also a tool I’ve used for a long time. I’ve got over 6k notes there now: snippets, recipes, book reviews, modem manuals. I keep thinking it’s something I could do without, but it isn’t. It’s like the bottom drawer of my desk; I just stick stuff in there when I don’t know what else to do with them.

For real ‘reading’ I use the standard Kindle App.


Images and Video

I take a lot of photos. While I wasn’t happy to subscribe to a text editor (see my Goodbye Ulysses post) I do subscribe to the Adobe Creative Suite; notably the Photoshop, Lightroom bundle. I was very sceptical about the new more online-orientated Lightroom CC product, but it syncs beautifully and is getting more and more tools.

Lightroom CC
Lightroom CC

I’ve also had a good look at a photo editor called Luminar, and particularly the new 2018 version. It’s $99AUD and has some impressive filters and effects and is getting better and better, updating fast. If I drop Photoshop it might be for this. I’ve tried, and beein unimpressed by Pixemalator and Snapseed on the Mac (though they both seem nicer on IOS) Luminar are saying an image organising tool is coming in 2018. I used to use Picasa for that, and miss a tool that can scroll effortlessly through thumbnails on the computer; maybe I should look at Adobe Bridge again?


I don’t do much with video, so I’m happy with iMovie and a little video converter called Video Monkey which quickly takes the .mov files out of my Olympus Pen and turns them into usable .mp4s.


I use Alfred literally every time I’m on the Mac, to search, to launch programs and to skip to the next track on iTunes. If you’re keyboard orientated, like I am, it’s a real boon. (I should say at this point that I always use an external mechanical keyboard on my Macs. So much so that, whenever I have to type something in class on the Macbook keyboard, and the students can see how many mistakes I make on that terrible keyboard, it’s always worth a laugh.


For smaller, more specific, very targeted tasks I love Name Changer, which does the obvious, itsyCal, a little calendar that sits in your top menu bar, and LastPass for a password manager and Type it 4 Me, a great little productivity tool that replaced Text Expander for me when it too headed down the subscription model. With Type it 4 Me, I have a list of keyboard shorcuts xdate gives me the date, for example: 23/12/2017 and those snipppets are synced in the backgrouond so they’re always up to date on all my machines. The thing with keyboard shortcuts is that you dont’ want to have to re-learn them too often.

Type it 4 Me
Type it 4 Me

I don’t used backup software since I moved to OneDrive. I’m now that confident that it’s backing up my files in my personal cloud. I used Super Duper for a while but it seemed to become increasingly complex (have a go at backing up some folders rather than all, if you have half a day to spare!) I also use Dropbox for sharing files that I’m wanting to access and share currently.

Task Management and Planning

Task management is probably the place where I’ve spent the most money, taking a close look at Things, Wunderlist and ToDo before settling for 2DO which suits me very well.

2Do syncs seamlessly across my devices and is customisable enough to have projects, task lists and sub-projects. Importantly, for me, it follows the Getting Things Done paradigm created by David Allen, or at least follows it well enough for me.


For planning, and communicating, using concepts, I use MindNode, a concept mapping tool …iStat Mini, a compact way to keep an eye on your CPU, memory pressure, battery, disk usage and network activity.

And, if I want to do a proper email, not just a couple of lines composed in Inbox, I use Airmail email client.

Thanks for listening, and thanks to John for the inspiration.
Happy New Year.

OneNote Unchained

I’ve always said in recent years that the only thing keeping me interested in the Windows platform was OneNote.

Over the past five years or so I’ve gradually re-invested in the Apple platform after abandoning it for the Windows machines of various 1-1 notebooks programs over the years including Toshibas, ACER, Fujitsu, IBMs and others. I bought an iPod, then an iPhone and an iPad and then a Mac Mini. Back to the Mac; since my first computer at work was an Apple 2, and the first computer I bought was an Apple 2C, so sleek and modern at the time. I had a Mac Classic all those years ago.

So I was pretty interested to see Microsoft finally release a Mac version of OneNote this week. At last! And free! OneNote has been my favourite Microsoft Office component on Windows for a long time, (it’s my central teaching tool) and now it’s on the Mac, syncing via OneDrive.

The Mac version isn’t quite as full-featured; is pretty light on features: it lacks tight integration with Outlook, for example and I can’t see sub-sections or a way to move stuff around.  But it’s finally there and a worthy developing competitor of Evernote at last. It’s on the Mac App Store and went to No. 1 straight away.

Makes me want to go out and buy a Macbook, which I’m sure isn’t exactly what Microsoft intended!

If you haven’t heard about OneNote, check out some of the links below:


External links:

5 Ways to make use of OneNote for Students

4 Tips for Students using OneNote

OneNote is a note-taking Power Tool (Lifehacker)

Teaching and Learning with OneNote

Top 100 Tools for Learning

Still on the Cool Tools theme, I liked this list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning from the 7th Annual Learning Tools Suvey

Lots to think about and explore here, including thinking about how is YOUR  school responding to the use of these tools by teachers, many of which involved social networking or the Cloud?

The Tools I Use

Inspired by Darcy Moore’s round-up of tools he used this year on a regular basis, I thought it’s been a while since I wrote about the software and hardware I’ve been getting the most value from this year. Lots of similarities with his list, and some differences and lots of changes since I last did a list like this.

OneNote and Evernote

I can never really finally decide between these two great note-taking tools. Evernote is friendlier but OneNote is so tightly integrated into the Microsoft Office ecosystem that you can’t ignore it. Basically I use OneNote as my main teaching tool and meeting notes tool and Evernote as my collection of random snippets, how to guides, instructions, manual and web links etc. The nicest thing about Evernote is how beautifully it works on my iPhone, my iPad, my iMac and my notebook PC

Ulysses and Scrivener

For writing articles, blog posts, poems and just notes I’ve moved to Ulysses on the MAC and to it’s IOS counterpart Daedalus Text Editor on the iPad and iPhone. It’s one of the nicest iterations of that minimalist writing interface that is so popular these days and I’ve moved from iWriter and WriteRoom this year, which I both like. Please note, the new version of Writer (Writer Pro) is terrible and a rip-off at $20. I also like SimpleNote a lot, for putting some text somewhere and being able to work with it in multiple places.


As for many teachers Twitter is my de-facto personal learning network. It use TweetBot on the iPad and generally check Twitter twice a day and email useful links around; to Evernote or to …


Pocket is a fantastic off-site reading app. I save interesting articles to Pocket to read later, on any platform.


I moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress a while ago and haven’t regretted making that change. The ads can be a bit annoying, but you get what you pay for I guess.


I’ve been putting my bookmarks in Diigo for years. When I get a new computer, or change computers, I just login and they’re there. The tags are the things that make it work. I often use tags or specific lists to share with students. Here’s an example of a list, for my Literature class.


Though I use Mr Reeder on the iPad mostly, all my RSS feeds are now powered by Feedly. Some folk say that Twitter has replaced RSS, but I still find the ability to subscribe to blogs and pages invaluable. For example, I can’t imagine how I’d cope with keeping up to date with my students who are blogging if I had to go in and check all those blogs individually.


I’ve used this for syncing my stuff between work and home for ages, but this year I set up a shared folder for my students to upload their essays and writing practice as they were mostly scanned and too big to email. It worked a treat.


This is Microsoft’s Dropbox, and getting better. I migrated all my PC files to Skydrive so I can access them from the Mac at home. It’s not failsafe yet, but has improved a lot.


Lots of teachers at my school are getting excited about Google Docs and I’ve used it for student and teacher surveys, for student group work annotating key passages and for collaborating with other teachers on joint presentations. It still feels a bit clunky to write in a Google Doc, but I can’t imagine where this will be in three years time.

Text Expander

This little text utility has saved me heaps of time. For example I type /lacg and out pops Learning and Curriculum Group. Multiply that saving a zillion times!


I keep my reading list on GoodReads and encourage my Literature students and writing students to do the same. I’ve vacillated between this and Shelfari over the years so I guess it mostly depends on where your friend are. I think they’re both owned by Amazon now.


We don’t have an official LMS at school and use blogs and wikis extensively. Last year I had a look at Edmodo for a while but this year I’m going to try Schoology as the learning ‘hub’ for my class and see how that works. Will keep you updated.


My favourite browser, especially with the number of great extensions like Evernote clipper, LastPass (password manager), Pocket, Readability,


Things has replaced all my old to-do apps this year. It looks and works great on Macs and IOS but not on Windows. I used TaskPaper and liked it a lot but the lack of reminders finished that for me in the end.

Filemaker Pro

I’ve been using this database for years, sometimes for keeping track of student record keeping, my own writing or wine collection (!) or just a Christmas card list. It’s more powerful than any of those purposes but that’s okay; I’ve invested so much time in learning how to use it, I’m not going to stop now.

Day One

About eighteen months ago I started keeping a daily journal in Day One, available on Mac, iPad, and iPhone. It’s a great little app with photo, location and weather data built in and it’s helped me write and reflect every day.

What are your favourite tools? I wonder how different this list will look this time next year?


Networks of Practice

Last week I attended the fourth day of a year long network meeting called ‘Networks of Practice’. Apart from the growth coaching learning I did earlier (also four days interestingly) and blogged about HERE, this network has been my most powerful learning for the year.  So, what might made it so? I was thinking about the learning conditions that made this network work for me, and how I might replicate them for learners I’m taking on a journey too. Some of the qualities that made it work for me:

  • Extended, but not all at once. Four days is a significant time investment for anyone, but that investment was repaid. I liked the fact that it wasn’t jut four days in a row, that ideas were seeded, allowed to germinate and we’d come back and discuss them later. It felt more authentic to me and we looked forward to getting back to the network to test ideas.
  • Relevant to my needs. Linked to school needs. The network was spot-on one the big-ticket items we’ve been working on at school: staff learning and how to build self-generating learning cultures.
  • Great leadership. The sessions were run by Rob Stones, who was obviously an expert in change and staff development, but there was plenty of room in the conversations for ‘us’ too.
  • ‘Us’ matters. There was the ‘us’ from our school, two of us working closely together all year, and the ‘us’ of the broader group. Not too big either, less than twenty people. Good sharing, collaboration, but also
  • Time to talk among ourselves. Having shaped, expert-facilitated time to develop plans and strategies was so valuable.

And, on the more practical side too, it made me think about how I might best take the notes, ideas, picture and concepts from the program and capture them, using the iPad I bought to each session. In the end it was a mixture of apps and processes that worked for me, and might for you:

  • I used OneNote as the receptacle for all wisdom, the ‘one note to rule them all’, but I might as easily have used Evernote. Text formatting in OneNote on the iPad is currently better than in Evernote and it plays well with Office documents, which we still live on at work.
  • I took photographs using the iPhone or iPad especially snap-shots of the concepts and diagrams that were used extensively. If I had one criticism of the network it was the un-digital approach to the resources. You just had to snap them when you could. I could then drop them into the OneNote page.
  • I used the app Paper and a stylus to draw some of the diagrams.  I find drawing soothing, and it helps me to understand it to draw it sometimes. I’d then export the page as an image and stick it in OneNote.
  • I used the app SimpleMind to create mind maps (see below) I keep going back and forth between SimpleMind and Popplet for this purpose, but SimpleMind has a few more options.

Using these apps and this approach, I could arrive back at the end of the day with my notes fully formed, and just move the OneNote page from the mobile (smaller, streamlined) version into the full desktop equivalent.  Ten hours battery life, and who said that the iPad wasn’t a content-creation machine?

2013-11-20 12.38.29

Getting ready for the teaching year




As the summer holidays draw to their inevitable end (the last swim, the last barbeque) a teacher’s thoughts (should) return to how this year is going to work and the kind of technology approaches you’re going to take this year. I’ve had a great break (note the pictures at the top of this post) but it’s time to think ahead.

So, I thought I’d share my thinking about how to approach the year with my Literature students this year. I should say, at the outset, that my thinking here is predicated on the knowledge that all the students will have a notebook computer in every class and that the infrastructure (wireless connectivity, computer repair facilities etc) just work. Now read on.

So, what are the technology essentials and frameworks that you might consider in that context?

First, I believe that every course should have an ‘online presence’. For me, that most often means a web page (usually a blog structure) that contains all the essential course information and news. I’ve used our own internal blog engine to create a central ‘Lit News’ site where all the class news, due dates, even homework, is posted. I usually include links to other sites, embed relevant Youtube videos and post pictures of critical class activities (like ‘Cake Day’!) This page is updated by me at least once a week, is available to all students, is on my email signature to them, and is the ‘go to’ place for information about SACS (school assessed coursework) and exams.

I also usually have a separate ‘reference’ site, a web page of the course details, and the assessment as a reference. This is really important if there is more than one class and one teacher (as is the case next year). It’s really important for all classes to have access to the same material, and the same information. This could be part of the blog I suppose, but in the past I’ve set up a wiki for this information, as it’s not ‘news-y’ like the blog.

I’ve often set up a separate wiki for each of the set texts. These wikis are usually read-write, with each student having full access (other than admin rights). These become collaborative spaces for students to co-create in. Teaching ‘Hamlet’, for example, I assigned groups to explore key scenes and key characters and got them to share their findings on the appropriate page in the wiki. The other teacher did the same and the cross-fertilisation, sense of authentic audience and purpose, and shared understanding, was impressive. It’s worth saying at this point that, in any team-teaching environment you’ve got to get a shared intention between the teachers. My problem is that I tend to jump ahead too much; I’ve learned to involve the other teachers more in the decision making around the course delivery and every time I do that I’m thankful for the great people I work with.

An important decision: how am I going to ask the students to take their class notes? For the last few years my choice for them has been OneNote and, when you take some time to explain the structure of the tool, students generally really like the way it helps organise notes and is able to accommodate almost any format with the ‘print to OneNote’ functionality. I use OneNote, projected on a screen via the data projector, as my class notes tool too, rather than the whiteboard. I then have a record of all the notes for every lesson, and can email the notes around to students too if someone’s been away. This year I’m also considering Evernote as the note-taking tool. Since Evernote’s got it’s ‘notebooks’ it’s become a real possibility for note-taking. I’ll probably stick to OneNote because it’s so tightly integrated with the Microsoft tools that the students all have but it’s a close call. And, both are a long way from the bazillions of Word docs that characterised student note-taking when the computers first got into the classroom.

I’ll probably use Class Dojo again this year, even though it’s got some bad press from US educators who question its reward and punishment premise. (badges and all that) I probably wouldn’t use it with junior students who might take it too seriously. I use it ironically, as a fun way to focus the class and for the great conversation we might have about what positive and negative learning behaviours should we look for? I’ll use some audio again this year; not quite ‘podcasts’ but short audio lecturettes on key poems or key ideas. Some students have told me they got a lot out of those, and came back to them again and again. I’ll also keep using Adobe Connect for online collaboration and revision, in and out of hours. For the first time last year, students were generally happy to participate via webcam, rather than just type and chat, and I’d like to build on that interaction this year too.

My new things this year might be around more iPad and iPhone integration. I’m going to try to use PlanBook as my lesson planning tool and Flashcards+ as a revision tool for students to use on their phones. Planbook is a bit labor intensive but with its six customisable fields I figure I can get better at integrating some of the recent thinking about explicit instruction that I’ve seen from Hattie and others in the USA. Each lesson plan will be organised under these headings:

Beginning of lesson (learning intention, activate, review, the HOOK)
Presentation (teach the concept, teach the skill, check for understanding)
Guided practice (development and engagement, feedback and individual support)
Independent practice (applying the concept or skill)
Review, clarify, conclude
Homework, assignments, next actions.

I’m going to try to organise each lesson that way; should be interesting! And, at the same time, keep my head around the best ideas coming out of the ‘flipped classroom’ movement.

Should be a fun year! I’ll keep you informed about how it goes.



My Favourite Software for 2008

I thought I’d end the year not with anything deeply philosophical, but with that thing all bloggers love: a list! In this case, a list of my favourite software finds for 2008, for your downloading enjoyment. Happy New Year everyone. All the software in this list is free or open source.

1. Evernote

Evernote upped the ante this year with a completely new version that sits on your computer, or phone or pda and syncs effortlessly with the web. Consider it a giant endless roll of notepaper that you can categorise, tag and search to your heart’s content.  Ideal for capturing the setup instructions for your modem, that list of Christmas presents you were meant to buy, screenshots or anything. I have notebooks of recipes, travel ideas, cycling news and lifehacks, but invent your own.

2. ThinkingRock

Only for GTD geeks, this Australian based software uses the ‘Getting Things Done’ system to help create workflows from idea collection, to managing multiple projects. The best GTD software I’ve seen yet.

3. Nexus File Manager

We all know Windows Explorer is no way to manoeuver around files and folders so it must be replaced! For a while this year I used Free Commander and a very nice tool it is. But Nexus File Manager, besides looking all black and green and retro, is a powerful file manage software that can do a host of functions from multiple renaming to moving, pasting, copying, including dual window panes. And it’s all pretty much driven by keyboard shortcuts. So, put the mouse away and never open Windows Explorer again.

4. Quick Media Converter

This converts most media to other media types; simply and quickly. The other day I wanted to extract some audio from a youtube video and this did it with ease.

5. Net Usage Extension for Firefox

In Australia broadband accounts are generally capped, usuallyon a monthly basis, with plans like this.  So, to survive this heinous situation I found a Firefox Extension which keeps a tab on yur broadband usage, literally. It sits in the menu bar and gives a percentage figure on how the allocated amount is going.

New tools and software

It’s about this time of year that we look again at the software list for next year’s notebook image; what’s new and should be on student and teacher computers, and what is no longer doing the job. I keep a bit of a list on a page here called Essential Software, which I must update soon.

Meanwhile, in my thinking about software I’ve found several new things lately that I’ve begun to use on a daily basis. If you find a tool that you use daily, and does things better or more easily than you could before, then that’s useful. So, here’s some new things that I’ve found useful:

Free Commander

Free Commander is a freeware file management tool that replaces the explorer in Windows (did I mention that these are all Windows tools?) and featuring a split-pane for moving and copying files around, and a bunchof powerful functions including bulk-renaming of files. It’s on the desktop for good!


I’ve always resisted password management software because I’ve always feared losing the key! But it’s got to the stage now where every web 2.0 site out there requires logins and passwords and managing them becomes a chore. Keeping them in a text file somewhere isn’t secure. Imagine having your computer stolen with your password list sitting in a text file somewhere? Keepass is open-source, freeware and works beautifully and simply, with the ability to categorise passwords as well as copy from the program into the browser fields directly.


I’ve blogged about Evernote a couple of times, most recently HERE, where I talked about my fears of cloud computing. And I wasn’t convinced about the new version when it cam out.  I liked the old desktop version and was worried how the new version, with its online component, would distort that simplicity. However, after about six weeks of using it, it’s becoming THE place to gather snippets and fragments and notes, to ‘remember everything’ as they say.  It’s easy to have multiple notebooks in the one large ‘notebook’ so I’ve got notebooks for ‘curriculum’, ‘teaching’ ‘bikes’ etc. all of which can be easily searched and ‘tagged’ and which can be synched with an online site of your notes, accessible anywhere.

So, three tools, that are new for me, and that I now use daily.

Cloud Computing (evernote vs ringo)

I’ve written a little about the note-taking and organisaton tool, Evernote, before. It’s basically a note-taking tool that allows you to easily clip screen shots, bits of text, images etc. to an endless virtual roll of paper, easily searchable as well.

Well, recently Evernote announced a web-based version rather than the stand-alone desktop application I’ve been using up to now. Sounds promising, the browser is the application, right? Certainly nice if you’re moving around computers from work to home or out and about travelling and I love organizational tools like this.

Except…cloud computing is …well, vaporous! Your data exists on someone else’s server, in someone else’s business model. I pay $20 or so a year for a Flickr account and I back up all my photos there. I figure Yahoo might be a bit more strenuous about backing up their severs than I am, so that makes sense to me.

But what if Microsoft did buy Yahoo? What if they close Flickr down? Or combine it with another application somehow?  I’ve got a gmail account too, but I also back it up with Thunderbird every few weeks. I don’t expect Google to go away anytime soon, and it’s a bit old fashioned, but I like having access to my data on my hard drive, sometimes.

It came home again this week. A long while ago I joined up to an online photo service called Ringo. I never used it much, but which might explain what happened to it. The email from them this week said without much explanation: ‘As of June 30, 2008 the Ringo service is ending and you will no longer have access to your Ringo account’. Gone. A bit like Yahoo Photos just … went.

I love web 2.0 online applications; I track my reading (goodreads), my bike rides (mapmyride) , my Amazon wishlist, restaurants I’ve visited (meetmethere) and the music I listen to on my ipod ( But, I still don’t quite trust any of these things to be there forever.  Call me old-fashioned!