Summer Podcasts

This summer I was lucky enough to guest on two podcasts.


The first was a return visit to Mac Power Users. We got into the nitty gritty of the teaching workflows that I’ve developed in the past year, including:

  • How I set up reminders that alert me during class when it’s time to move on to the next section;
  • How I automate the creation of teaching reflections after every class;
  • How I combine PDF files to post to my class via Workflow.

We also got into some music nerdery towards the end. All in all it was great fun, and hopefully interesting to listeners. the

Teaching in Higher Ed

My second guest appearance was on the Teaching Higher Ed podcast, hosted by Bonni Stachowiak. This one was much more pedagogy-oriented, and focused on presentation techniques that I have found to be useful as a teacher.

Hope you enjoy them, and please get in touch if you have feedback.

Annotating Screenshots in iOS with Mail

Gabe Weatherhead has an awesome post about how he uses the awesome Pixelmator to annotate screenshots. It’s awesome.

Gabe’s discussion of the limitations of all the many different existing iOS apps to annotate screenshots got me thinking about another option: the Markup extension in iOS Mail.

In addition to being built in, the Markup extension has some nice properties:

  • it has excellent shape recognition, including arrows;
  • it’s pressure sensitive using 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s and the Pencil on the iPad Pro;
  • it has a very simple and easy to use interface.

There’s just one big downside to markup: for reasons I cannot fathom, it’s only available in Mail[1]. This is in spite of the fact that it exists in the action extension share sheet in Mail:

Despite this major limitation, the usability of the markup extension makes it worth using by sharing a photo via Mail, then saving the sent image back to your photo library.

First, share an image via Mail and tap on the image to get the Markup option (I sometimes have to tap it more than once):

You can then edit the image to your heart’s content including shapes (notice the nice shape recognition option at the bottom), text, and even a magnifier callout:

Once that’s done, you can either send it to yourself and save/share the image from iOS mail, or you can use this handy dandy IFTTT recipe to email it to IFTTT which saves it back into your photo library, annotated and all. A bit roundabout, but it works.

  1. That’s right, not even Notes or Messages. Maybe in iOS 10?  ↩

A Good Day to Keynote Hard

Keynote on iOS got an update yesterday, with a zillion improvements, the biggest of which are multitasking and Bluetooth keyboard support. These are features that are being added to lots of iOS 9 apps, but on Keynote they enable three fantastic use cases during presentations.

Use a Bluetooth Clicker to Control Your Presentation

The new update brings lots of keyboard shortcuts to Keynote. If you have a Bluetooth keyboard connected, hold the ⌘ key to see a few:

Keyboard shortcuts on Keynote for iOS.

What isn’t as obvious is that keyboard shortcuts work while presenting as well. As far as I can tell, they almost perfectly correspond to the OS X version of Keynote. It occurred to me that most bluetooth clickers just map their buttons onto keyboard keys, so I picked up this bluetooth clicker from Staples to test it out despite the fact that it said Windows/Android only on the box.

And, lo! I could advance and backtrack slides, and even mute the screen (the equivalent of pressing the “b” key). In the past this has required some wacky workarounds using Accessibility features that broke between versions. This feels much better.

Use (Almost) Any App for Presenter Notes

When using Split View, only the “main” app can use features like the microphone, camera, and, most relevant to this post, video out. This means that if you’re using Keynote as your main app while Airplaying or using a dongle to project your iPad onto an external screen, only the Keynote presentation will be visible to your audience. This means you’re free to keep OmniOutliner (pictured), Notes, or any other Split View-enabled app on the side of your screen while presenting. As someone who prefers to have my full outline available to me rather than slide-specific Presenter Notes, this is huge.

Presenter Notes on Steroids.

Control Two Screens at Once

This may not be relevant to a lot of people, but I’m lucky enough to teach in an environment where I have a main, centered projector and an LCD screen on either side of it. I generally use an Apple TV to project a version of the class handout from my iPad running GoodNotes[1] onto the main screen, and Keynote slides from my iPhone on the side screens (either conceptual slides to provide context or formulas for students to reference).

Traditionally, this has meant controlling both my iPad and iPhone simultaneously, which can get a bit hairy. With Split View, this is no longer an issue.

Since GoodNotes has a video out mode, keeping it as the main app on my screen projects only the handout via Airplay. I can then use Keynote’s remote function as the side app to control my iPhone on the side screens. It sounds a bit complicated, but having it all on one screen makes this feel surprisingly smooth.

Main app: GoodNotes. Side app: Keynote

Better, Faster, Lighter

Over the years, I’ve increasingly preferred my iPad for presentations over my Mac. With these new features[2], my iPad is now capable of creating presentation environments that my Mac simply cannot. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

  1. An amazing, wonderful, great app. I should write a post on it.  ↩
  2. The bluetooth clicker feature is a win for anyone with an iOS device. The other two features require an iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, or iPad Pro to activate Split View. People with some older devices can still use Slide Over instead, which preserves most of the fluidity of what I’m describing.  ↩

Showing Context with Magic Move

I use Keynote for all of my presentations. It’s a hassle to have to run them off of my own devices instead of using a venue’s PC (though it’s getting easier), but it’s worth it for one reason: making animations is incredibly easy in Keynote.

Fitting In

When I say animations, I don’t mean dissolves and smash cuts. I mean moving objects within a slide in a way that shows them in a new light or reveals more context.

For example, here’s a graph showing changes in global surface temperatures over the past thirteen ears (which looks flat), which I then frame in terms of a much longer timescale (which shows temperatures rising at an increasing rate):

Here’s another example from my dissertation work. My research involves taking randomized trials and analyzing them as an interrupted time series analysis. This can be a little difficult to understand conceptually, so I use an animation to visually show the difference between the two analytic strategies:

To me, these animations are useful because the objects of interest never disappear from the screen. They are simply reframed in a different context, allowing the audience to make the leap from one setting to another.

I’m sure there’s some great literature on why this is more compelling, but all I can say is that it has worked very well in my experience. Better still, the time cost of making these is much lower than you might think.

From Transitions to Animations

I made a toy example that builds a diagram using three methods: a simple dissolve transition, an animation, and an animation with an additional delay that I find appealing. Here they in sequence:

And here they are next to one another (I timed it so that the actual length of transitions is the same for all three):

Here’s a link to the Keynote file, if you’d like to play with it further.

From Dissolve to Magic Move

Going from the dissolve transitions to the animated transitions is as simple as changing the transition between slides from “Dissolve” to “Magic Move”. Magic Move is a Keynote-specific transition that detects identical objects between two slides, then transitions between the slides by having those objects move from their place in Slide 1 to their place in Slide 2. The easiest way to make this happen is as follows:

  1. Duplicate Slide 1 and change its transition to “Magic Move”;
  2. Move around the objects in the duplicated slide as you’d like;
  3. Profit.

It can be a little finicky at times, especially if you have lots of similar objects (I’ve had this problem when there were lots of arrows on a slide – more on that later), but for most situations it works.

From Magic Move to Delayed Transitions

The jump in quality from Dissolve to Magic Move is enormous; now let’s talk add some frills. I often like to have the objects in Slide 2 that are brand new to fade in after the initial movement has taken place, as opposed to during. Doing this requires a few more steps:

  1. Select all the objects in Slide 2 that aren’t part of the Magic Move transition;
  2. Give them each a “Fade In” animation (I tend to use Dissolve with a short duration);
  3. Click on Build Order;
  4. Decide if you want these objects to fade all at once or one at a time, and make the appropriate adjustment;
  5. Make sure that the first animation in Build Order is set to start “After Transition”.

This may seem like a lot of steps for a small change, but there’s an added benefit: by having objects fade in after the transition, you remove them from Magic Move’s detection algorithm. So, if you’re noticing that Magic Move is choosing the wrong objects to move, you can remove them from the equation by having them fade in afterwards. Bingo!

From Slides to Videos

In my opinion, these animations make presentations a much more valuable tool to convey complex information in a comprehensible way. So valuable, in fact, that I’ve taken the additional step of making them full fledged videos. Almost all of the materials in the Teaching section of my website were made using Keynote. After setting up animations to my liking, I use the “Record Slideshow” function to add a voiceover and export it as a video file. But that’s for another post.

Save files on iOS with Workflow

I like getting work done on my iPhone and iPad. At times it gets impractical (I’m looking at you Stata), but there are lots of simple actions that I can do from my iOS devices, oftentimes faster than I can do on my Mac. One task that I always thought I should be able to quickly do from my iOS device is save a file from Safari, Mail, or any other app to a folder on Dropbox. This has been a pretty clunky process involving using the “Open In…” menu, opening a file in the Dropbox app, choosing a folder, tapping Save, and returning to the original app.

With the release of Workflow, I can finally say that it’s just as easy to save a file on iOS as it is on my Mac.

If you haven’t heard about Workflow, it’s a $2.99 app that lets you build custom actions that you can run from your device. Unlike previous workflow apps like Pythonista and Editorial, Workflow is extremely easy for non-programmers to use. Lots has been written about it since its release in December, ranging from the simple to the extensive to the extremely nerdy. This app can do a million things, but in this post I will focus on an extremely useful, and extremely simple to set up, action to save a file.

The final product

I often come across a PDF in Safari that I’d like to save. With Workflow, I tap “Open In…,” select “Run Workflow,” and choose one of three actions that I’ve set up:

These actions, in increasing order of both complexity and flexibility are:

  1. Save the file to a folder in my Dropbox called “1Read,” where I save PDFs for later reading;
  2. Save the file to an arbitrary folder in Dropbox;
  3. Save the file to a folder in iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or any other third party service that supports document provider extensions in iOS 8.

Here’s a collection of screenshots that show the 1Read workflow (1), the Dropbox workflow (2), and the iCloud Drive (3a) or third party document provider (3b) workflow:

Workflow (1) has zero additional steps; it saves it to the 1Read folder and that’s it. Workflow (2) has the additional step of selecting a Dropbox folder in which to save the file. Workflow (3) involves first choosing a document provider, then choosing a folder[1].

The crazy part

“That’s fine for a PhD student, but setting this up must take a lot of time, energy, and frustration.”

I hear you, dear reader, but fear not.

I give you, in its entirety, the setup for each of these three workflows:

Some notes:

  • As you can see, Workflows (1) and (2) are identical, except for the toggle “Ask Where to Save.”
  • If you have a frequently used “inbox” folder, it’s worth setting up a separate workflow just for that folder.
  • Make sure you specify these workflows as “Action Extensions” so that they show up in the Share Sheet.
  • Workflow (3) is one that I’ve come to rely on quite a bit. Besides the third party providers, iCloud Drive is actually a nice save location, since if you don’t have an internet connection at the time of saving, it’ll save it locally and upload it once you get a connection.

If you check out the @WorkflowHQ twitter page or the Workflow Gallery, you’ll find lots and lots of other Workflows. But this is one that’s easy to set up, easy to use, and fills a real need in my work habits.

  1. You may notice that Dropbox is a document provider that shows up in Workflow (3). Since I use it so much, and since the native document picker will sometimes crash, I made a separate Dropbox-only action.  ↩

How I will write my dissertation

In the spirit of getting my procrastinating done during the holidays (that’s how procrastinating works, right?), I thought I’d share how I choose to write complex papers. For my purposes, “complex” means any paper that involves some combination of:

  • citations linked to some bibliography manager;
  • equations;
  • internal links (a.k.a. “cross references”).

For simpler papers, I really do like Pages. It makes formatting relatively easy, it has (basic) EndNote and MathType support, and it looks lovely on high resolution displays. More recently, I’ve become smitten with Apple’s new Handoff feature that works with iOS 8 and OSX Yosemite devices. Being able to work on a paper at my desk, then pick up where I left off on my iPad as I move to the couch, then switch to my iPhone so I can stretch my legs, is pretty neat. Maybe this will get old someday, but for now it’s the bee’s knees.

Then there are the problems. In addition to the inability of Pages to satisfy my need for numbered equations, Apple is developing a bit of a reputation for poor backward-compatibility. I am terrified by the prospect of trying to open my dissertation in a few years and getting an alert like this (source: Google+):

This is totally unacceptable, and I hope Apple understands what a massive detterent this is.

The opposite end of the usability vs. flexibility spectrum, there’s LaTeX. LaTeX combines the longevity of plain text with a robust bibliography management system, not to mention the fact that LaTeX was conceived for the purpose of printing mathematical formulas. But, as the above links may suggest, LaTeX tools won’t be winning any awards for UI design.

Enter multimarkdown. Developed by Fletcher Penny, MMD allows me to use one of the hundreds of markdown[1] text editors for iOS using a syntax that can be exported as LaTeX. This export process does take some time to set up (see here for details), but once it’s read I simply have to prepend this metadata to the beginning of a file to make it export-ready:

Title: Title of my document
Author: Teddy Svoronos
latex input: /path/to/header/mmd-teddy-header
latex footer: /path/to/footer/mmd-teddy-footer
Base header level: 2
Bibtex: /path/to/bibtex/file/bibfull
Biblio Style:plain

I may get into the details of this setup in a later post; let me know if there’s any interest.

My editor of choice is Byword (which was recently updated to support Handoff), though I use Fletcher’s own MultiMarkdown Composer when I need to get in the weeds of internal links, table creation, and using the app’s native table of contents viewer.

The only potential rub in this setup is if my advisors want to use Word track changes to provide comments. In this case, I’ll have to export my file as rich text and do some manual futzing to make it presentable. Not great, but those occasional costs are outweighed by the benefits outlined above.

Boy, I’d better get writing.

  1. For background on markdown, see Gruber’s original specification. For an introduction to the syntax for non-coders and why you should use it, I recommend David Spark’s excellent iBook.  ↩

Increasingly Irrelevant Distinctions

When I started graduate school a few years ago, I was terribly concerned about my notetaking setup (in retrospect, I should have been more concerned about statistics). I was about to get hammered by information that took a variety of forms: lots of equations and diagrams, but also enough discussion-oriented material to require flexibility in how I took notes. My main candidates, which I used to varying degrees, were:

  • Notes taken on my iPad, a combination of handwritten (with a stylus) and typed[1];
  • Typing notes using MultiMarkdown, to allow for easily formatted text, equations, footnotes, and other wacky content;
  • Going whole hog and taking notes in LaTeX in real time (using TeXpad on Mac or iOS);
  • Handwriting my notes with a pen, in a notebook made of paper. Probably by candlelight or gas lantern.

I ended up with a combination of these, depending on the course and whatever devices I had available. This caused quite a bit of consternation in my workflow-addled brain. What if I needed an equation and couldn’t find it? What if I had different silos of material that adhered to different organizational systems? Won’t somebody please think of the metadata?

Looking back on my 2+ years of notes (which I actually refer to pretty often), I’ve realized how little the input medium mattered. No matter which of the tools I used, everything that I recorded is now either (a) in PDF format in Dropbox, or (b) stashed in Evernote.

Solution (a) should be familiar to you if you’ve made it this far in my post, but it’s worth stressing: keep every bit of digital information that’s important to you in PDF format. It’s standard, it’s viewable on any device, it’s not tied to a large corporation that constantly changes the meaning of file extensions, it’s searchable (especially with solid OCR software on Mac and iOS)…just do it.

Solution (b) is new to me, even though I’ve used Evernote off and on for many years. I’ve only recently started working with Evernote in a way that clicks for me, but I now rely heavily on Evernote’s solid handwriting recognition, which they do automatically once a note is on their servers. These improvements are reliable enough that I can choose to write on my iPad with a stylus and export to Evernote, or handwrite in a notebook and capture it with the Evernote app’s document camera. Here’s an example of some notes I took on my iPad (left) and on paper (right):

Evernote handwriting recognition
Evernote handwriting recognition

As you can see, both notes recognize the word “treat” despite some pretty terrible handwriting.

I’m still working out the kinks of what to keep as a PDF in Dropbox and what to ‘scan’ into Evernote (FYI, Evernote saves these scans as image files). The short answer is that I keep notes that I want to reference in Evernote, and notes that I want to keep working on (including journal articles that I want to highlight) in Dropbox. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m trying my very best not to stress about it. Both are highly searchable, organizable repositories, and Mavericks tags have added the tagging functionality of Evernote to Dropbox.

I’m sure I’ll expound on this in a later post, but hopefully somebody will find this useful.

  1. If you’re interested, I used Noteshelf with a Wacom Bamboo stylus and now use GoodNotes with an Adonit Jot Script. But I digress.  ↩

Wireless Presenting Just Got a Lot Easier

Much has been said about Apple’s updates to Keynote, Pages, and Numbers last year, and much of that has been pretty negative. However, Apple has been rolling out updates to these apps over the past few months and, as of the latest update, has made a wonderful thing possible: it is now easy to wirelessly present and annotate a Keynote presentation with nothing more than an iPad, iPhone, and adapter.

Doing a wireless presentation on the go has been possible, but even the most well-done setups have required purchasing, bringing, and configuring additional devices (MacSparky’s setup, which I have used until now, requires a $99 Apple TV and a $99 Airport Express). Now, I only need three things which I carry around anyway: my iPad mini, my iPhone, and an adapter to hook an iOS device to a projector.

The Setup

The basic setup is to use your iPad as a remote that you carry around, which controls your iPhone that’s connected to the room projector[1]. Here are my steps for setting up a wireless Keynote presentation:

  1. Connect my iPhone to the projector using the adapter
  2. Pair the Keynote apps so that my iPad serves as a remote for my iPhone
  3. Press Play on my iPad
  4. Don’t be nervous and do a really good presentation

I’ll walk you through steps 1–3; you’re on your own for step 4.

Hardware: Connect your iPhone

This is easy. Both the VGA and HDMI adapters also have a power plug, so you can keep your iPhone charged while you project. As for which adapter to purchase, in my experience overhead projectors use VGA, while flatscreens use HDMI. That said, I work in academia, so you private sector folks with the fancy pants might only need HDMI to function.

Software: Pair the Keynote apps

The pairing process can feel a bit tedious, but only needs to be done the first time (your device is remembered for subsequent presentations). Better still, if you’re pairing iOS-to-iOS you don’t even need to be on the same network. Here are the steps:

  1. Make sure Bluetooth is on for both devices
  2. Open Keynote on both devices
  3. On the iPad, tap the remote button on the main screen and tap Continue
  4. On the iPhone, open a presentation
  5. On the iPhone, tap on the wrench icon on the upper right of the screen and navigate to Presentation Tools > Allow Remote Control and turn Enable Remotes on
  6. After taking a few seconds to pair via Bluetooth, your iPad should appear underneath Enable Remotes; tap Link
  7. A passcode should show up on both devices; confirm that they’re the same number by tapping Confirm on your iPhone
  8. Tap Done on your iPhone

Combined, here’s what it looks like on the iPhone:

and on the iPad:


I said I couldn’t help you make an awesome presentation, but here’s a neat tip: as of this week’s Keynote updates, you can use your iPad to draw on your existing slides, and draw attention to parts of your slide using a laser pointer function. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

This means that you can walk around the room with iPad in hand, drawing and pointing to your heart’s content, all while projecting onto the room’s projector through your iPhone.

The best part? This is all I need for my new mobile presentation setup:

Enjoy, and please get in touch if you have ideas or suggestions.

  1. In this post, I’m using the iPad as the remote and connecting the iPhone to the projector; this is because I prefer to use the iPad for annotations and reading notes. Feel free to switch the two if you prefer to have the iPhone in hand.  ↩