How I Work: App List

I use a lot of extra, smaller programs to make my work easier. After gauging interest on Twitter, it seems many people are curious about what I use. A while back, I wrote about some iOS apps, but an expanded and updated list including Mac apps is due, since many of those apps have been abandoned, or have been replaced in my workflow with others.

Mac

Post Haste (Free) As the original developer of Post Haste, I may be a little biased, but it’s such an indispensable app for preparing a folder structure (and template project files) to keep everything organized. Digital Rebellion has done a terrific job with version 2 and is continuing to take it places I never could have.

Alfred (Free, £15) A long time ago, I was an avid Quicksilver user. But Alfred has since taken it’s place. Alfred is a great way to not only launch apps, but quickly browse or search the file system, open 1Password logins, assign system-wide hotkeys to nearly anything it can control, and so much more through extensions. To get the most out of Alfred, you’ll need the Power Pack, but it’s well worth the cost of entry.

iStat Menus ($16) I like to keep an eye on my system, especially now that I’m on a laptop. iStat Menus is an easy way to do that. With a quick glance to my menu bar, I can see how hard my processors are working, how much RAM I have available, the ambient temperature of my machine, disk activity, and network activity. There’s also a free dashboard widget available with access to the same info, but I’m not sure if it’s still actively maintained.

Transmit ($34) FTP is just a part of online life ((Personally, I prefer not to use services like YouSendIt, DropBox, etc… It just never seemed very professional to me. But I realize not everyone has access to their own FTP server.)). Transmit is my go-to FTP (and more) client. It’s just very well polished, and can even keep favorite connections in your menu bar, or mount servers right in the Finder. There are other free FTP clients out there, but Panic really knows what they’re doing.

Carbon Copy Cloner ($20) Although many might dismiss this as simply an rsync wrapper, Carbon Copy Cloner is such a great utility to have. For me, it makes a weekly bootable clone of my system drive, and will also be used to make incremental backups of project files and assets to archive on a 3TB Guardian MAXimus I have coming in.

CrashPlan (Free, $1.50-$12/mo.) I know I am no longer biased since I work for Code 42 Software, but CrashPlan has been such an integral part of my backup solution for many years prior. It’s free to use if you just backup locally or to a friend’s computer. If you wish to backup remotely to CrashPlan’s servers, a CrashPlan+ subscription is required. I have the Family Unlimited plan which allows me to back up up to 10 computers.

Growl (Free for OS X 10.6 and lower, $1.99 for OS X 10.7) I really don’t like pop-ups interrupting me while I’m working, but sometimes they can be extremely useful. Growl lets me configure notifications from supported apps and even has a Boxcar plugin, which is great for getting notifications from BG Renderer.

iOS Apps

ColorSchemer (Free) I’ve only recently started using it, but ColorSchemer is a great app for browsing and generating color palettes. You can arbitrarily set up your own color schemes, or pull them from a photo. This has replaced both ColorSlide and cliqcliq Colors (the latter has since been abandoned).

Animator SW ($2.99) Sometimes, you just need an easy way to time out actions when animating. Animator AW allows you to time frames of action. For example, if you’re animating a character, you can act out the motions yourself, and mark a keyframe at each important step. You’ll then have a list of how long each action takes and on which frames they occur. FPS is fully customizable and a log can be emailed out.

KataData ($4.99) Video footage takes up a lot of space. KataData can calculate storage for various camera & codec formats. Just enter the total running time of your footage (or renders) and it will show you how much drive space you’ll need.

Timecode ($6.99) Panoptik’s Timecode is just a great timecode calculator. It can even display comparative timecodes of different formats (eg, DF vs NDF, PAL vs NTSC, frames vs 35mm 3-perf, etc).

Due ($4.99) I usually need reminders or timers running. Due is the best timer/reminder app I’ve seen for iOS. It’s extremely fast and easy to set up reminders or timers on my iPhone 4, which is important because I want to do stuff, not spend time setting up a reminder to tell me to do stuff. There’s also a companion or stand-alone OS X app available.

Clear ($2.99) While a simple list app, you really have to use Clear to see how smart it is. Completely gesture driven, Clear a fun way for me to keep lists throughout the day, and check things off or remove them as needed. Are there other apps that do the same thing? Definitely, but this just works for me.

So there it is, the list of small but important software in my daily workflow. Do you use anything you think I should check out or that might work better? Let me know. I’m always willing to try something new.

My Backup Solution

BackupMultipleHDBacking up data is one of those things that so many people know they should do, but don’t, either because they never get around to it, or think they’ll be okay without it. If you’re in the latter group, trust me, you’ll realize you’re not okay without a backup, probably when it’s too late. If you’re in the former group, take advantage the lighter workload that this time of year can bring and get going on your backups! Let me highlight the backup strategy I personally use.

First, please note that no single backup strategy is perfect for everyone. I approach my backups as a freelancer occasionally working from home, father, and Apple geek. The approach I use will almost certainly differ from what you use (or will use). This is just meant as a springboard from which we can remind each other about backing up our data.
 

Hardware

My main setup is a MacPro, which gives me the luxury of having up to four drives installed internally (more if you are clever), versus a laptop which is sparse on drive expansion. In my case, I have a 320GB system drive, 500GB clone (320GB for clone, plus a spare 180GB partition), 1TB media drive, and a 2TB Time Machine volume. But I could easily substitute an external for any of these if I were on a laptop.

Strategy

Regarding the backups themselves, I have a three-tiered approach to my backups:

  1. Bootable system clone
  2. Versioned local backup
  3. Remote critical backup

Let’s go through these one-by-one.

1. Bootable System Clone

This is a complete clone of my main system drive, made weekly using Carbon Copy Cloner (throw the guy a donation, too). This is a backup I rarely (if ever) use, but is invaluable. If I am working on a project, and something completely trashes my system (bad blocks, system drive failure, etc.), I can immediately boot off the clone without having to wait several hours to restore my system. I can continue working off this drive until I have time to repair the original system drive.

In all honesty, this isn’t a necessity, but I have so many drives littering my office, it seemed like a no-brainer to have a bootable system clone.

2. Versioned Local Backup

I go the easy route here, and simply use Time Machine. Using a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green drive, I can backup my entire system drive as well as my 1TB media drive, which stores larger renders, captured footage, my stock library, etc. I chose to use Time Machine because it’s built in to the OS, and integrated into several applications I use daily (Mail, Address Book, etc…) There are several other options out there, but it just tends to work.

What’s great about a versioned backup is the ability to recover files not just from a hardware failure, but accidental deletion or file corruption as well.

3. Remote Critical Backup

If something catastrophic were to happen to my home (fire, tornado, robbery), I want to be sure my most important files are safe. I don’t just mean AE and FCP files for work; family photos, videos, tax, and insurance documents top that list above anything work related. So I make sure those go off-site. Luckily, software like Crashplan makes that incredibly easy.

For a very reasonable cost ($1.50/mo up to 10GB, $3/mo unlimited single computer, $6/mo unlimited up to 10 computers), I have unlimited off-site backup, including file versioning. There are other services like Mozy and Backblaze if Crashplan isn’t you’re thing. The important part is to get those files somewhere outside of your home. The nice thing about Crashplan, though, is you can use their software for free to backup to a friend’s computer. All you have to do is give your friend a drive, have them install Crashplan, and enter a code on their computer. (And really, why not just reciprocate and offer to be a backup destination for them as well?)

I am slowly extending my off-site backups to not-quite-so-critical files, including those on my media drive. But it’s a slow process. If I really wanted to, I could send a drive to Crashplan and avoid the online transfer entirely, but I don’t find that necessary for these files.

Conclusion

In the end, you need to find a backup solution that works for you. If you only chose one, I really recommend going off-site, either with a service like Crashplan, Mozy, or Backblaze; or with a drive you store in a safe-deposit box once a month. The important thing is to get those files to another physical location in case something happens to your home. Beyond that, if you can use a local backup for easy recovery, add that to the strategy as well. The bootable system clone? That’s just if you’re can’t afford any down-time for a drive failure.

Drives are getting cheaper and the best backup is one that you can afford to have fail.

AE Quicktip: Assign Keyboard Shortcuts on a Mac

Is there that one menu command you always use in After Effects and wish there was a keyboard shortcut? In the past, there were cumbersome methods of modifying a text file buried in the filesystem to change things. But there’s a much easier way:

System Preferences: Keyboard & Mouse

System Preferences: Keyboard & Mouse.

Go to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab and click on the “+” button towards the bottom.

Then select After Effects from the Application pulldown (you might have to go to “Other…” at the bottom and browse to AE).

Type in the exact name of the menu item you want a shortcut for, then hit the keys you’d like to be the shortcut. Just make sure they shortcut isn’t already used by After Effects.

And there you go!

Adobe is not abandoning the Mac

Yesterday, reports surfaced that Adobe is removing their booth from Macworld 2009 next January. In a statement to Macworld, an Adobe spokesman said “Adobe has decided to shift its focus at the Macworld trade show this year. Macworld is a valuable industry show and we will still be an active part of it with members of our product team involved in Macworld tracks, including a full day of CS4 demo sessions with Adobe evangelists on Wednesday, January 7.”

Now, for some reason, many people seemed to miss this statement and the knee-jerk reaction was that a.) Adobe is slowly abandoning the Mac platform ((If you want to look for evidence that Adobe takes the Mac platform for granted, look at Flash performance or render times in After Effects.)), b.) they did not want a public face at the event for fear of complaints over CS4 (?), or c.) both.

First of all, Adobe is simply removing their booth, not their presence. As stated, they are still hosting demo sessions and involved in several seminars. Secondly, this mirrors what Apple themselves are doing with regard to trade shows.

In February, Apple announced it would no longer be participating at NAB. Unsurprisingly, several took this as a sign that Apple was abandoning the pro-video market. Afterall, Final Cut Server, their collaborative workflow manager and asset management solution which was announced at NAB 2007, had yet to be released, QuickTime updates were plaguing stability of their video apps, and updates seemed to be few and far between. (Two months later, Final Cut Server was released and recent updates to their pro video apps have been mostly trouble free.)

In reality, Apple was simply shifting focus (sound familiar?). They later stated that they were participating in fewer trade shows and instead using different outlets, such as their website, brick & mortar stores, and smaller self-hosted events to reach the public.

Back to Adobe. Is it really any surprise that Adobe would be doing something similar? In light of the recent economic climate, it makes sense to scale back. This was later evidenced in a press release covering their Q4 performance:

The Company cited weaker-than-expected demand for its new Creative Suite 4 family of products that began shipping in Q4 in North America and Europe as the main cause for the shortfall in fourth quarter revenue.

Adobe also announced the implementation of a restructuring program, and has taken steps to reduce its headcount by approximately 600 full-time positions globally.

Again, this makes sense. Marketing is one of the first areas to be hit by slow economic times; companies often cut their advertising budget first. This directly affects agencies and creative houses who use, you guessed it, Adobe software. Jobs are often cut and the endless search for ways to reduce spending begins. Upgrading to CS4 was most likely deemed unnecessary for many creative departments.

So, Adobe is cutting spending (and jobs), not support for the Mac platform.