tech, simplified.

There's over 350 apps that work with Zapier today, with more being added all the time, but there's still likely a couple of your favorite apps that don't work with it yet—or at least don't work perfectly. In our home, that's Ebay, Etsy, and OmniFocus.

Here's a half-dozen hacky ways to get almost any app to work with Zapier, from simple tricks anyone can use to Zapier's incredible Email Parser to the geekiest tricks of integrating with databases and webhooks.

Enjoy.

Ever wondered why John Gruber started his site Daring Fireball, and how he managed to make it profitable enough to be a great job on its own? At the 2014 XOXO festival in Portland, Oregon, Gruber told his full story from site inception to going full-time to the different things that, together, steered him to the business model he has today.

It’s a fascinating talk that’s a must-watch for anyone who publishes on the web, or who’d just like a peek behind the scenes at how a successful business model can be formed and grow over time.

Upgrading to a new OS isn't for the faint of heart. Years ago, it meant waiting up until midnight to buy a boxed copy of the latest OS for $100 or so of your hard-earned money. You'd likely opt to reinstall all of your software and restore your files manually just to make everything work better.

Now, a couple clicks and and hour or three to download and install is all it takes to get the latest OS X. Apple's simplified it so much, everyone can upgrade mostly without fear these days. With recent versions like Mavericks, one could almost upgrade and notice nothing different.

OS X Yosemite continues the trend of simple upgrades—my upgrade from a beta went without flaw, and that seems to be how it's going for most people. Make sure you have a backup, and you should be fine to upgrade.

But you can't upgrade without noticing it this time. Yosemite features the largest visual overhaul of OS X in a decade, borrowing designs from iOS 7 not entirely unlike what many of us had imagined. It works the same for the most part, but there's tweaks and changes everywhere. And, there's new features, including new Extensions and Continuity which lets your iOS and OS X apps swap info and handoff what you're doing almost seamlessly. There's also iCloud Drive, Notification Center widgets, and more. It can be a lot to take in.

You could just dive in; I'm sure you'd learn your way around quickly enough. But if you want to know what's really changed in any new release of OS X, John Siracusa's in-depth OS X reviews for Ars Technica are second to none. This year's review of Yosemite is no exception. It's a must-read if you want to get the most out of Yosemite. You'll learn about hidden features and new tricks—I did while reading it, and I've reviewed software for a job for years.

This weekend, if you'd like some geeky reading, it's Siracusa season again. Enjoy.

Why Press Releases Don't Work — a Review of "The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR"

I jumped into blogging—dare I say tech reporting?—without any preparation. I was an IT major, "that guy" everyone asked for help with tech, and seemed to have a knack for fixing little problems (really, it was just persistence until I got something to work, and a willingness to move fast and break stuff). And so, I'd figure out how to get stuff to work that really should have just worked in the first place, then blog about how to work such magic.

Somehow it worked. A guide about how to get a specific HP printer to work over a network with Windows 7 x64 (yes, it was that specific) was among my most popular pieces. Specific, boring, and yet it helped people and Google rewarded that. One thing led to another, and I've been employed writing words, in one way or another, ever since.

I wasn't a journalist, and wouldn't have ever thought of myself as such at first. Even when I switched to primarily reviewing apps instead of writing tutorials about them, I approached them like iFixit, tearing them apart to see what features and fonts and frameworks made them tick. That's what's always driven my tech writing.

When I wanted to improve, I devoured books on copywriting (Erin Kissane's "Elements of Content Strategy" from A Book Apart is a great place to start there, by the way), trying to learn from the best on how to best phrase my writing and organize content to help people learn from it. That, and not "covering the tech beat", was my passion.

And yet, soon enough, PR pitches were filling up my inbox, informing me of this "great new app" with "groundbreaking new features" that's "already been downloaded millions of times" or that's "launching with a 1 week discount on Tuesday". Boy were they exciting at first. I'd arrived. Someone had "noticed" my writing, liked it, and wanted me to cover them.

Until I got nearly the same pitch tomorrow. And the day after. And a dozen over the weekend. Very soon I had a nice set of email filters, automatically marking PR emails as read and stuffing them in a folder for the days I had nothing else to write about. I'd rather hand-discover an exciting new app—and yes, for those of you who've followed me a while, I'm particularly excitable about apps that simplify something far more than it's ever been simplified before—or teach something about an old favorite than rehash a press release.

And yet, some pitches worked. Sometimes a founder—or a really nice guy at the company that does almost anything—would write a friendly email just saying they'd launched something and thought I might find it interesting. No PR fluff—or at least not much of it—and just a personal, non-demanding tone. Even to my jaded eyes, that'd at least get me to open their site and see if it kept my interest for half a minute. And that's the way your app would end up getting covered.

Of course, I'm on the other side now, and am the guy that'll be trying to get you to cover Zapier because it really is awesome. But I digress.

The reason I wrote this down is because I just finished reading former Techcrunch writer Jason Kincaid's book "The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR". In a book that'll take you just an hour or so to read if you read fast, he explains the basics of what PR is all about, and what you should do if you want people to cover your business. And it's great. No, really.

See, I know the pitches that have gotten me to pay attention and make them into a story, and the ones that instantly get deleted even if they're from Famous Corp Inc. Every writer does. Perhaps that's our trade secret, perhaps it's just hard to express, and perhaps we all just think it's so obvious anyone could see why a bog standard press release is worse than just a waste of time.

But Jason Kincaid went ahead and wrote it down, spelling out what you need to do to get covered, and how to make the most of it. And then, at the end, he veers off course, lamenting over becoming jaded and even mean, and helps you see just why yet another press release or broken embargo can be so soul crushing to a writer.

If you're building a product or business, go take an hour and read this book. Really. It may not be "the best" book on how to get press coverage and market your product, but it's real. So real it'd make tech writers have flashbacks. This is really how the modern business news process works, and you should understand it.

And if you're a budding writer, go read this to see what you'd otherwise learn by hard knocks over the coming weeks and months. You'll read it now, and then in a few months think "oh right, that's what Jason said." I wish I'd had something like that when I started.

So there. "The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide to PR". Highly recommended.

Spreadsheets are the original killer app for computers, and they’re still a rather powerful tool for everything from crunching numbers to making outlines today. But they can still be rather confusing. Even if you know the basics, there’s likely tons more about spreadsheets that you could benefit from knowing.

As one of my last projects at Tuts+, I had the privilege of working with instructor Bob Flisser on publishing an introductory course about spreadsheets, and it’s finally been published. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about spreadsheets, be sure to check this course out—it’s $15 to buy, or free with a Tuts+ subscription.

Also, of course, don’t forget about the Spreadsheet for Finance series of free tutorials that we’d ran on Tuts+ earlier this year as well.

Ever wished you could have a phone number in any country, and then have it ring on your local phone? Now you can.

Here’s how to put together a phone number in any Twilio-supported country that’ll forward calls and txts to your local number, and then how you can do even more awesome stuff with that phone number thanks to Zapier automations.

It’s how I’ve now got a US number that rings on my Thailand phone, and how you can build the phone you’ve always wanted.

The Best Storage Services, Reviewed at Zapier

Yes, it’s the most obvious thing in the world to review: what’s the best place to store and sync my files. And honestly, everyone’s going to have their own opinion on that. But with Dropbox’ recent plan updates (giving you 1TB and extra sharing features for $9/month), reviewing the big 3 storage apps—Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive—seemed like a great way to test out our new reviews pages at Zapier.

And so, here’s a review of what’s great about each of them, with a short summary:

As it turns out, I use all 3 for different purposes. But that’s a post for another day.

The Chromecast is great for streaming Netflix and YouTube to your TV, but it’s also the best alternative to taking an HDMI cable with you on your next business trip. Here’s some tips on how to use the Chromecast to present anything, anywhere.

Your Mac Has Something Better Than Siri: It Can Write For You

Your Mac has dictation and screen-reading built-in, with the same voices (and many more) that you’re used to from Siri. Google, Wikipedia, and the calculator are only a keystroke away in Spotlight. Yet there’s still no Siri for Mac.

There is, however, a bit of artificial intelligence in your Mac. Open a new text document, in TextEdit or your favorite plain text writing app. Or possibly make a new email. Now, press the esc key on your keyboard. Tap enter, then press space. Now tap esc again. Rinse, repeat. Add punctuation as needed.

And, voila, your Mac has just written for you. Automagically.

autowrite

My Mac has a penchant for saying it wants to “have a good day” or “be a good day”. Which is nice.

And so we should let my MacBook Air have the closing words. It said:

I love you so much fun and I was just a little bit of a new one is the best thing ever is when you have to be a good day.

***

Yes, this is just the default OS X spellcheck’s word suggest, which you can use to help you complete a word you’re unsure how to spell. And it apparently learns from what you type—and since I close most emails with “Have a good day!”, I guess it learned that phrase from me. Anyhow. Still a fun trick.

2 weeks ago, I started my latest adventure: doing marketing at Zapier. Here’s the story that started it all—and my last post, “It Takes a Story”, was the presentation I gave at Zapier when I got hired. And that—crafting the stories that’ll help people get more done with Zapier—is exactly what I’ll be doing.

Here’s to the future.