App Reviews

Evernote GTD notes

I’ve been using Evernote for several years. A few months ago I started using an app called Zendone for my GTD workflow. This required a bit of an adjustment, because it has categories within the app which don’t actually correspond to Evernote tags or notebooks, and it uses the titles of your Evernote notes to create task items, rather than checklist items from your notes, which makes going back and forth between Evernote and the app a bit problematic. So, mostly it’s like its own app which happens to use Evernote as its back-end database. To top it off, they just started charging fees, and I don’t really think it’s a service worth paying for.

So I’m going to go back to using Evernote directly. I might utilize The Secret Weapon for some guidelines, but I’ll also rely on some techniques that I’ve developed over the years and adapted from other apps. Maybe I’ll standardize this workflow and publish it as an alternative to TSW, and perhaps even make an app of my own someday…

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App Reviews, Programming, Work

The telecommuter’s whiteboard

So, when you’re working from home with a team scattered around the world, you don’t exactly have the same whiteboarding experience you’d have when discussing architecture with your team in person. But at least there’s a way to make it look like you do.

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Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro app for iPad is an amazing tool, whether you’re using it to sketch out professional designs or to make some art. But it also works great for whiteboarding. In the example below I created some draft layers, which is a useful technique, but instead of hiding them when I was done tracing them I set their transparency to between 8 and 10%. Combining this technique with the soft eraser you can really make it look like you’re on a well-used whiteboard with an eraser that’s a bit too old. The different brush types also mean you can take liberties and mix things up with your “whiteboard” to get the kind of effects you can’t get on a real whiteboard without destroying the thing in the process.

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App Reviews, Programming, Work

GitHub: for a more social independence

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Photo Credit seungjin/Flickr

Those who leave a tech company to venture out on their own may have to face an adjustment in their workflow. No longer will you have someone else prioritizing your tasks for you or even setting release dates.

Fortunately I had spent a few years practicing GTD before I set out on my own again, so it wasn’t difficult for me. Still, there are certain things about the workflow at a software company that you might miss (or maybe you won’t). Even if you’re an independent developer working from home, you can still do it in a way that is actually social.

Some of my previous posts have addressed coding in the cloud. Amazon is great for hosting development or test environments. Stack Overflow, MSDN and jQuery docs are great resources for help and documentation. GitHub is a great place to find open-source code like Chosen, Raphaël, elRTE, Twitter Bootstrap, but it’s also a great place to keep all your project repositories as well as your bugbase.

I had tried Assembla for SVN hosting, but unfortunately you only get one repository on theor opening tier, so you would just have to trust and hope that your clients wouldn’t go snooping around in each others’ directories.

Git is free for unlimited open-source repos. I’m also paying just $7/mo. for five private repositories that I can use for my different clients, and I can set access permissions for each project separately.

Git is a distributed versioning system. This is great for freelancers because once you’re done with a project, whoever else is going to work on it can still have the history without you having to continue host the repository. Any other copies of the repository would still retain all version history when somebody else forks it. So even if your client doesn’t have a centralized versioning system, you can still retain that historical connection with other developers.

Also, git seems to work a lot better than Subversion in my testing (Much faster, and with fewer conflicts). It also comes with bug tracking, and wikis, and their bug tracking feature also has apps for iPhone and Android. You can track the progress of your milestones on the go, and even add comments or new features right from your meetings.

It actually makes bug management fun! When was the last time you actually looked forwarf to getting to spend some time in Bugzilla or OnTime? Never, am I right? I recommend it highly. I’ve turned three of my clients onto it. As for me, I’ll never go back to Bugzilla or OnTime.

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App Reviews, Music, Technology

With Spotify, we are all Cameron Crowe

After years of operating in Europe, Spotify launched in the US in the summer of 2011 on an invitation-only basis, much like the way Gmail and Google+ began, before later becoming open to all who want to sign up.

I had resisted Spotify for several months. I had so much invested into iTunes over the years, with large play counts, thousands of tracks, and playlists of all sorts. I didn’t want to go overboard with streaming, since there isn’t good coverage in the town where I live, and I had been trying to save money wi AT&T’s basic data plan. Also last summer, Apple had announced details about iTunes Match service, and it was much cheaper.

However, after months of using iTunes Match, even after a couple software update from Apple, the service is very buggy, and the parts that don’t have bugs are completely stripped down. Genius doesn’t work in the cloud. Last Played doesn’t work either, and play counts are sporadic. Even Smart Playlists, one of the oldest features that made iTunes different from other players, don’t work right in the cloud.

By removing these features for users who activate iTunes Match, they are training them in a way to use their cloud library in a way that’s different from the way they’ve gotten used to it. And therefore services like Spotify suddenly seem more attractive. When you compare iTunes (not Match) with Spotify, there are a lot of pros on the iTunes side. But when you move to the cloud, all of the iTunes pros go away and actually move to the “con” column, and suddenly Spotify looks more attractive. Apple shot themselves in the foot with iCloud and thereby put a billion-dollar revenue stream in jeopardy.

So I stuck my toe in, and after a single day of use, I jumped in with both feet. I also signed up for Last.fm, so I now have my play counts stored in the cloud, by a third party, as a way to get around the fact that my iTunes play counts aren’t updating correctly, and I can also get additional credit for those songs I listen to in both iTunes and Spotify.

Spotify is a really amazing service. It’s like having all of your friends CD libraries in the same house, and everyone constantly coming over for listening parties, and then you all make mix tapes for each other for the drive home. And it’s as if one of those friends owned their own record store so you always had access to new music, or old music you just don’t have on your shelves. We no longer have to depend on soundtracks from Cameron Crowe or John Cusack for great compilations. With Spotify, now everyone can be Cameron Crowe or John Cusack!

With a larger library now open to me, I have decided to leverage my experience as a fiddler to create regular playlist series I am calling “Greengrass.” It’s a fusion of Celtic and bluegrass music, assembled with an ear to blending one track with the next, so that despite the diversity of styles, you end up with a feel for the unity of the genres throughout the set. It’s almost like something you’d hear on weekend public radio, but influenced by my progressive tastes. I really hope it goes somewhere. I’ve published two volumes so far on Spotify but I don’t think I have any subscribers yet. Tomorrow I’ll post a link to volume one.

Update: The old scroll-wheel iPods used to have an “On-the-Go Playlist” feature that would allow you to queue up music on the fly, without interrupting the song you were already listening to. Apple discontinued this feature in their iOS devices. But the Spotify app has a “queue” feature that is even more useful than OTG, because you can queue up songs while you’re already listening to a playlist, and when the queued songs are finished, the remaining songs from the playlist you were on before will continue. Brilliant!

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App Reviews

BlogPress iPhone app review

Downloading BlogPress was my last-stitch effort to save my Blogger blog. So much of my online activity revolves around my iPhone that my blog has suffered in recent years, since Blogger doesn’t have a mobile version. I can post drafts via email, but they always end up with funny line breaks, and emailed pictures have not been importing properly.

Every few months I’d check to see if a new blogging app had been added to the App Store that might fulfill my needs, but I was never happy with what I saw. I had noticed WordPress had its own iPhone app, and was just about ready to make the switch when I discovered two things: BlogPress and the MovableType2Blogger conversion utility, which I could use to finish migrating my old blog.lorddesign.net blog over to Blogger. My MovableType CMS had been offline for a while, I think because my web host had upgraded to newer servers and moved my site around. But I was able to get them to fix it so I could export my old blog posts for conversion. That ever-pending task of migration was finally completed, so when I think of my blog, I can now think if new things rather than what’s left to do with the old.

There are now two apps I use for mobile blogging, depending on how long I expect it to take me to complete a post: BlogPress and Evernote. Evernote is great because I can access it on my phone, on my Mac or PC or in a web browser. I use it for projects that require a lot of research and are going to take several drafts to complete, where I know the final draft is going to have to be posted from a computer with a lot of copying and pasting. But for shorter posts or ones I want to attach iPhone pictures to, BlogPress works great. It can even be used to save drafts online so you can work on them later. I should also mention my wife downloaded the app too, and it seems to have helped revive her blogging as well, since it’s a little difficult to get your laptop out sometimes when you have a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old running around screaming all day.

There are a few issues with the app. There’s a lame margin at the top of the editing window (see screen shot). Also, if you try to put a photo at the top of your blog, it seems to insert an empty line of text before it. Also, when you’re typing and the cursor goes below the onscreen keyboard, the editor doesn’t automatically scroll to keep the cursor in view. This also happens if you’re multitasking. An additional feature that would be nice to have would be WYSIWYG editing, with the ability to select a block of text and then apply a size change or font variant.

Posted from my iPhone

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