March 21, 2007

Google Calendar Logo

Here are my ideas for improving Google Calendar

  • Display the current time, in all views. Knowing the current time of day is relevant and useful when working with a calendar. I often find myself switching browser tabs to look at the clock gadget on my Personalized Homepage when I'm looking at my day. I'm sure there's a desire not to clutter the interface, but an unobtrusive clock could be added; perhaps a simple digital readout under the current month display. As a bonus, add a thin horizontal time indicator bar in Day and Week view that moves vertically down as the day progresses. The hour indicator on the left of the page could be highlighted in the same color as the bar. This is a quick & easy way to see where you are in the day relative to what's on the agenda.

    Update: 2007.03.22 - A day after I wrote this, Lifehacker published a post with an image that shows an example of this horizontal indicator — go check it out to see what I mean. The post was an intro to today's Rock Your Google Calendar in 18 Ways, by Anne Zelenka at Web Worker Daily. She noted that GCal doesn't seem to get a lot of love or attention lately; well, see below for some from me. Thanks for your useful post, Anne!

  • Add background shading to Saturday & Sunday in Month View. On the small month indicator, Saturday and Sunday are lightly shaded, making them easy to distinguish from weekdays. This useful visual cue would be a great enhancement for the main Week and Month views.
  • Sync with mobile devices. (I'm happy to see this is already on the list, but I have some comments.) The SMS/text messaging interface is useful, and it's really nice to be able to add events that way. I hope this won't go away or be deprecated even when sync is enabled. For planning, though, we need to be able to refer to the calendar, and browse it. The inability to sync is a serious deficiency, and kept me away from Google Calendar for a long time — the fact that so many of us use it without sync is a testament to how good everything else is!

    Update: 2007.05.24 - Google released the mobile web service, Calendar for mobile devices. Thanks, Google! This goes a long way toward solving the problem of real mobile access. I still think sync is the ideal, but maybe that'll be an option for the future. It would be nice to be able to delete entries, though, as well as modify them. (I know it's new.)

  • Add ability to link events to other calendars as an alternative to copying them. I copy several events among my and my wife's calendars, because we each want the ability to filter the other's calendar, but still see things we're doing together. That means when I update an event, I have to do so in two places. Since I have the ability to write to her calendar, it would be nice to designate some events as linked, so they show up independently on shared calendars, but can be updated on either one, with the changes reflected on both.

This list, which I'm publishing in March 2007 — when Google Calendar is just shy of its first birthday — is almost certain to grow and develop.

Google Calendar is amazing

I recently switched to Google Calendar and I'm really impressed. I wanted to use it when it first came out, but was waiting to switch from Yahoo Calendar because I (and many others) wanted an easy, Google-supported way to sync with my Windows Mobile smartphone. I switched anyway, and even without mobile phone sync, I can't get over how much I like Google Calendar.

The team that built it invested a lot of research and effort into doing so, and it shows. For a look at how they did it, check out Rakesh Agrawal's blog post with notes and commentary about Product Manager Carl Sjogreen's presentation [.pdf] at the Future of Web Apps Summit, 2006.

Google Calendar feels good and is enjoyable to use — it makes me want to use a calendar, and that makes me more organized and productive. It's a great example of what a web application can be now. It's fast, easy, and knows it's connected to the web. Google Calendar isn't perfect — in fact, it's beta — but it's worth serious consideration.

March 06, 2007

Grazr is a really cool feed widget you should check out

Grazr logo

If you've discovered the benefits of using feeds, you should take a look at Grazr. It's an embeddable, web-based feed browser widget that augments your primary feed reader & lets you put feeds anywhere on the web.

Grazr isn't a replacement for a full-fledged feed reader — it's an addition to your toolkit: a blazing fast feed widget that makes sharing and interacting with feed content easy. It's multimedia capable, so you can look at pictures, listen to audio, and watch video in the feed, all without having to subscribe. You can put a Grazr widget on several popular personalized start pages, a blog post/sidebar, a regular web page, even your Windows desktop.

Grazr.com recently achieved two important milestones

  • Funding - Grazr just completed a Series A financing round of $1.5M. They've already developed an impressive tool, but clearly that's just the beginning.
  • Outline & feed hosting - Now you can host your web outlines (OPML) & feeds in your own account at grazr.com. This is a great service for people who want to use and share web outlines and feeds, but don't have a web server on which to host them. I have my own web server, but just as hosting & sharing my links at del.icio.us is far better than I could do it myself, I expect Grazr.com to add significant value when you use their service to host feeds and outlines.

These are two very positive events for the company, and I'm excited to see what they'll do next. You can help influence that by participating in the forums. The team really listens to and values input from people who use Grazr, so if you have ideas, share them!

Grazr makes feeds fun and easy

Grazr was originally built to let people "graze" feed content without having to subscribe. It makes feeds fun and easy, and lets people use them without having to understand how they work, install software, or sign up for anything. It will help feeds break out of subscription jail, and that should promote more innovation in how feeds are used.

I expect to see a lot more from the Grazr team, and I think we'll all be beneficiaries of their successes. Congrats, and keep up the good work!

Example Grazrs

Explore interesting Flickr photos, watch the most recent YouTube featured videos, and listen to CNN updated news updates.

(If you're reading this in a feed reader, click on an image below to launch the corresponding Grazr.)

Here's a web outline that displays the 3 feeds above in a single Grazr panel

December 30, 2006

What?

Live outline icon

I propose we use the term "live outline" to refer to dynamic content — such as OPML files that contain lists of feeds — that people create using XML outline formats.

I've seen some discussion about what to call the information organized using these formats, but there doesn't seem to be a convention for referring to them in general. This leads to difficulties sharing ideas related to the formats, and explaining them to people who aren't familiar with them. I really like Dave Winer's idea of a reading list, but that's just one kind of live outline; these formats can be used to create live outlines that can serve various purposes (for example, the one on my blog's sidebar or a travel outline).

"Live outline" is friendlier and easier to talk about (and say!) than "OPML", "XOXO", etc. It's a good general term everyone can use and understand without too much difficulty. It's fine to use "outline" and "outlining" in context; "live" can be omitted when people know what's being discussed.

Audience

This proposal is intended for people creating content and applications using structured outlines based on XML formats, such as OPML, XOXO, and OML.

Why?

To encourage widespread adoption and use of these formats and reltated technologies, we need simple, non-technical terms that convey meaning well. People are much more open to learning something new if it has a name they can relate to, understand, and pronounce.

Live outlines will have a significant and growing role in how people consume, organize, and share feeds:

If we want people to get comfortable using structured outline formats, we need to talk about them in terms that won't alienate or put people off. Try telling someone about the cool OPML file you're building, and watch how quickly their eyes glaze over. Changing the language we use can make all the difference, and we already have a familiar example of this: Consider the idea that live outline is to OPML document as web page is to HTML document. People can relate to the idea of writing a web page, and it's easy to talk about web pages; a major reason is the lack of hard-to-pronounce technical acronyms.

  • People are already familiar with the concept of an outline. They don't have to learn an entirely new concept to understand a live outline, just a new use for something they already know.
  • People can easily understand that live = dynamic (e.g., feeds). Again, though, "live" sounds better and is easier to say than "dynamic". I know that OPML, etc. are not just for feeds, but I think organizing and managing feeds will be the highest-profile common use for the formats, at least for a while.
  • Firefox has already begun to popularlize the term and concept of "live bookmarks". We can take advantage of that and extend the idea to live outlines.
  • Non-technical people who use these outlines aren't going to (and shouldn't) care much about the details of the format in which they're written.. They'll need to recognize names for compatibility, but only until services and applications interoperate well (how many feed readers support RSS and not ATOM, or require a specific version of either?) Recognition can be important for a while when a technology is new, but how many people that use the web care about the language in which web pages are written? In most cases, they don't want to know.

I'm not arguing that we should stop using format-specific terms in technical discussions and documents; they certainly have their place. I just want to promote the use of terms that insulate people from unnecessarily technical, specific acronyms that aren't likely to be relevant to them. Plus, I want a general way to talk about the information structures we build with these formats. "Live outline" conveys meaning without being overly technical or specific to a particular format or technology. I hope the term will help these formats and creative uses of them proliferate more quickly and easily.

What do you think?

I hope this proposal will provoke some discussion. Unfortunately, I've had to disable comments due to spam (and the lack of a good mitigation capability), but if you have thoughts on this proposal, link to this post from your blog. If discussion ensues, I'll add a live search feed of links to this post to tie it all together.

April 04, 2006

 What?delicious logo

The "for:" tag enables del.icio.us users to send links to one another.  Subscribing to your "links for you" feed from your del.icio.us account ensures that you automatically see links people send to you this way.

 
When someone sends you a link using the "for:" tag, it shows up on your "links for you" page in your del.icio.us account.  (The page used to be called "for", but was recently changed to more clearly communicate its function.)

delicious links for you

 

Why? 

The "for:" tag is a great way to send links.  If you aren't monitoring your "links for you", you could be missing things people are sending to you.

I don't know how commonly people use the "for:" tag -- and its inherent privacy prevents us from looking at others' accounts to find out -- but I suspect it's underused.  Even if this isn't popular now, it may become reasonable to expect people to check their link inbox nearly as often as their email inbox.  This could evolve into the equivalent of an email inbox.  Note that while "links for you" is effectively an inbox, it's distinct from the del.icio.us concept of the "inbox".

I make this speculation conscious of the fact that this way of sharing is limited to del.icio.us users.  Remember, all Yahoo! users will likely soon be able to use del.icio.us with their Yahoo! account, just like any other Yahoo! service.  That plus the non-Yahoo! del.icio.us userbase is a substantial network for sharing!

People will increasingly recognize these and other benefits of sharing links this way:

  • It's the right system for managing links - Email can be a good way to share links with specific individuals, but if your recipient is a del.icio.us user too, using the "for:" tag gives you both the benefits of the service you're already using; one designed to manage links.
    • You can see what tags the sender associated with the links, so they're in context
    • It's easy to copy them to your own account.
    • It produces a feed, which is arguably a more appropriate and efficient (in most cases) way to share links than email.
  • Targeted sharing reduces information overload - The "for:" tag enables you to create individualized feeds for sending links to specific people.
    • People are likely to pay more attention to links you tag explicitly for them.
    • Subscribing to the feed of just those links might be more appealing than subscribing to your entire shared links feed, since it would likely be lower volume.
  • Adequate privacy - Most everything about the "for:" tag is invisible to anyone but you and the recipient.
    • Others can't see the fact that you tagged something "for:username".  NOTE: Doing this does not make the link private; only the fact that you tagged it "for:" someone is hidden.
    • The feed is "private" but not authenticated.  It's just got a long string attached to it, presumably to make it unique and somewhat obfuscated.
    • I had no problem subscribing to mine with Bloglines.
    • I think the degree of security it provides is totally reasonable, and people should know better than to expect serious privacy in feeds and social bookmarking services at this point anyway.

How? 

It takes very little effort to monitor your "links for you":

  • Copy the feed address into your favorite feed reader, and you're done!

Speaking of "how", it's a good idea to think about how you use the ability to send links to other del.icio.us users; remember, people can choose to be antisocial toward individual users!

April 02, 2006

What?

Grazr logo

Grazr is a good front-end for OPML files ("live outlines") and feeds.  When you publish or share an OPML file, offer a way to see what it contains by using Grazr as a service to "skin" the content.

The typical way I've seen people using Grazr is to embed it into a blog sidebar, but it can also be used as a service, to skin any OPML file or feed you want to publish or share.  This means you don't have to embed it to get a lot of value from using it!

I'm going to focus on outlines (OPML files) here, but as Adam Green points out, Grazr works directly on RSS too, making it a great way to share feeds as well.  The majority of feeds people publish and share are generated from blogs, so people already see them in human-readable form.  OPML files don't have an equivalent; they're typically published "raw", with no formatting.

Why?

This is a great way to share outlines and feeds so they're immediately useful to the reader.  Grazr makes it easy to quickly preview the content without having to commit to subscription.  

People are starting to publish OPML files, which is great, but:

  • Many (most?) people aren't familiar enough with this technology to see the benefit of it.
  • Most of the OPML files I've seen recently don't include a useful way to see what they contain.
    • Sure, the reader can click and see them as rendered by a web browser, but this is about as valuable to most people as looking at HTML -- fine for those who are learning or know it, but not very useful otherwise.
  • Seeing OPML rendered in a human-readable form makes it much more useful.

John Palfrey recently wrote about his a-ha moment in "Getting OPML", and provided the example of toptensources.com, which publishes OPML content.  Check out how their Science News section looks as a raw OPML file, vs. the same OPML content, skinned by Grazr:

Raw OPML vs Grazr skinned 

How?

One of the nice things about Grazr is that the developer made it easy to use as a service — something that differentiates it from some of the other current OPML browsers —  by providing a simple way to plug in the address of a feed or live outline (OPML file) and see it in a Grazr "panel":

SCREENSHOT: Grazr as service

Method 1: Copy, Paste, Publish

  1. Copy the URL of an outline or feed.
  2. Go to the "Create a Grazr" page (hint: click the bottom of any Grazr), paste in the URL, and click the "Display this URL" button.  (You can configure your Grazr's font, viewing mode, etc. at this point.)
  3. To publish a link to the Grazr-skinned version of the outline or feed,
    1. Find the "Save your Grazr to a Web Page" section, and click the "Type of Web page" drop-down list.
    2. Select "Generic Web Page".
    3. Find the "Grazr URL" section, click the URL to select it, then copy and paste it.

Method 2: Create a link by hand 

  • URL syntax: http://grazr.com/gzpanel.html?file=http://address-of-your-feed-or-OPML-file

Using either method, you can customize the size of the panel.

 

Now What? 

  • Publish the Grazr-skinned link alongside the raw OPML file - When you publish an OPML file on your blog or website, add a link next to it that says something like "Graze It!", with a link to the Grazr-skinned version alongside the raw OPML.  Don't remove the link to the raw OPML; that's still useful as a separate link.
  • Here's a "Graze It!" button - I made a button that I plan to use for publishing my outlines.  Note that this button is not Grazr-specific.  Rather, it's specific to the concept of grazing.  For grazing, I happen to like Grazr most among the current OPML browsers I've seen (though others are useful too, depending on what you want to do), but this idea could apply to any that can be used as a service and allow users to link to a rendered version of an OPML file.  You're welcome to copy this button and use it on your own site (I'd prefer you do that vs. linking to my copy):

    Graze It button

     

    Update: 2006.09.19 - The Grazr team developed their own, Grazr-specific button:

    Grazr button 

  • Tag & share it - To share an OPML file, use your favorite social bookmarking service to tag & share the Grazr-skinned version.  I've created a "grazr-skinned" tag so I can easily find these links.

What the heck is Grazr? 

Grazr is an outline browser that you can use to view OPML files, and graze feeds.  It's designed to be embedded in blog sidebars & web pages, but can also be used in standalone mode as a service, to provide a front-end or skin for OPML files and feeds.  You can read more about Grazr in the FAQ.  Marshall Kirkpatrick posted a list of various ways to use grazr.

 

Is Grazr meant to be used as a service?  Yes!

I don't know if the developer of Grazr meant for the "Try Grazr" interface to be used as a service.  You can see from the URL that the sandbox is under "/api", but it's possible he intended for it to simply be a place to preview it so you can choose whether or not to embed it in your own page or blog sidebar.  I hope he'll comment and say it's ok to use it this way, because it's a great tool, but also a valuable service! 

Update: 2006.04.02 

Mike, the developer of Grazr, responded and said yes, this fits with his approach in developing the tool, which "involves allowing people to discover new and interesting uses for Grazr".  Thanks, Mike; your attitude will continue to encourage a lot of innovation.  And yes, please do feel free to use the button on the Grazr site!

The thing is, plugging an address into a form is easy, and that's all it takes to use Grazr to skin an OPML file or feed.  This is much easier than embedding it in a blog sidebar or webpage, and enables people who don't have that option to benefit from Grazr. 

In addition to making it easy to share OPML files, this is a great approach for people who want to experiment with creating OPML files.  When I first heard about Grazr, I went through the work to embed it into a web page, then point it at different OPML files I was learning to write.  I'd have saved a lot of time & effort by just using Grazr as a service.

 

This also works with other outline browsers

As I mentioned above, you can also do the equivalent of what I described with other outline browsers that can be used as a service.  Bitty Browser and Optimal, are two other very useful outline browsers that can do this.   I'll leave the details as an exercise for the reader.

March 11, 2006

A feedmix is a "metafeed" made by combining individual feeds into one:

Metafeed Diagram

  • Feedmixes are to feeds as feed readers are to blogs (and other syndicated content).  By collapsing and reducing the number of information flows we manage, feedmixes can dramatically improve the efficiency with which we consume and distribute information.
  • You don't need to read related feeds one at a time any more than you needed to visit individual sites and blogs.   You probably read more than one feed in areas like Finance, Music, Productivity, Business, Friends, etc.   Wouldn't it be convenient to read all your friends' blogs in a single feed?  Do video clips from Google Video or YouTube really need separate feeds?  Why not read about the latest toys from Engadget and Gizmodo in a "Gadgets" feed?  A good feed mixing service will include the source of each item in the feed, so you don't lose that information by mixing.
  • Feedmixing makes it easy to corral "loosely coupled" content, focus it, and redistribute it as an attention stream.   People tag content on blogs, news sites, social bookmarking sites, wikis, search engines, video & photography blogs, etc.  Using common tags makes it possible find all that related content, even though it exists in totally different systems.  This is considered "loosely coupled" content, and it can be used by an individual, or a loosely coupled community.  Feedmixing is a tool for bringing together and redistributing content you choose from several different sites.

(I originally wrote this "elevator pitch" as an update to my article about feedmixes.)

 

Some of my feedmixes

Not all feeds are ideal for mixing, and there are good reasons you might not want to mix some feeds, even if they're related.  Here are some general examples of feedmixes I've made for myself, with explanations of why I think they're good candidates for mixing:

  • From Friends - A single feed of my friends' various content feeds becomes valuable as more friends start producing more and more feeds:
    • Photos on Flickr - Flickr conveniently mixes all my contacts' photos into a single feed, so in this case I'm actually adding a "pre-mixed" feed to my feedmix.  The fact that all my friends don't use Flickr isn't a problem, since I can add any feed-enabled photosharing site to my mix.
    • Blogs
    • Music playlists
    • Links tagged for me in del.icio.us

I may use this mix to blend a broader "People I Know" mix.  As more people start using feeds, we'll need tools to filter and manage all this content, which will grow in volume as feeds catch on as a way to share information.  It may take a while, but the usage explosion that happened with email and static web content will soon happen with feeds and tagging.
  • References to Me - Blog search engines like Technorati and Google Blog Search offer feeds of blog search results.  These "search feeds" scan for links to my blog, telling me when and where people link to my blog.  There's no reason I need to have more than one feed for these alerts, though it makes sense to use more than one engine in this relatively new area of blog search.
  • Finance - Bankrate publishes several related feeds I want, but I don't need to read them separately, and I can add financial feeds from other sites too:
    • Mortgage news
    • Market trends
    • Savings and investing advice
    • General financial news, analysis, & reports
These are feedmixes I've made for my own use - for ideas on using feedmixes to share and redistribute information, read Marshall Kirkpatrick's excellent article about attention streams.  Leave a comment if you have other ideas for how mixes could be used!

How to make and use a feedmix - 3 quick & easy steps

  1. Mix - Choose a feedmixing service, (some don't even require you to sign up) then copy the addresses of the feeds you want to mix from your feed reader: Select a feed, right-click on its address & select "Copy link location...", and paste it into the mix form.
    • I like Feedblendr so far.  The site has a cool tip; to add to a "blend" of feeds, just put in the address an existing blend, and add the new addess(es).
    • Update: 2007.02 - For really advanced (but easy to use) feedmixing, try the new Yahoo! Pipes.
  2. Burn - FeedBurner is a good "front-end" for a feedmix (as well as individual feeds) that provides several useful benefits, including:
    • Easy to feed address - many feed mixing services just give you a non-descriptive serial number.
    • Feed address stays the same - even if you update your mix and it's address changes, or you change feedmixing services.
    • Several free tools for managing your feed - statistics, "browser-friendliness", routing feeds to email, etc.
    • Insert useful content - You can include a "Post to del.icio.us" link in each feed item, so they're easy to bookmark & share.
    • And more - Take a look at this guide to How and Why To Use FeedBurner; it convinced me!
  3. Subscribe - Add your new feedmix to your feed reader, delete your subscriptions to the individual feeds, and enjoy fewer feeds!
    • It might be interesting to keep an eye on a few individual feeds for a while after including them in a mix, to see what delay (if any) FeedBurner introduces.  I  recommend against using feeds for time-sensitive information -- that's not the point of feeds -- so this is just for academic curiosity.

February 02, 2006

Problem

Various tag-enabled services use different delimiters to separate multiple tags (a.k.a. labels, topics, keywords)

Example of tag delimiter problem

This makes switching between the services inconvenient, and decreases usability for the many people who use more than one tag-enabled service.

Solution

Standardize on a single tag delimiter

I'm writing to ask those who provide these services (and software that uses tags) to start the ball rolling toward standardizing on a single tag delimiter. I know this isn't a trivial task, but now -- while tagging is still relatively "young" -- is the time to invest in improving the usability of the services. I'd argue that Yahoo! has good reason to seriously consider initiating this effort, since MyWeb2, flickr, and del.icio.us -- three popular tag-enabled services -- are all Yahoo! services.

Benefits of having a standardized tag delimiter

  • makes switching between tag-enabled services easier
  • helps people who are new using tags feel more comfortable using different tag-enabled services
  • improves developers' ability to write software that works with multiple tag-enabled services

I know there are often good reasons for using different delimiters; for example, Furl permits spaces in a "topic" (tag) name, therefore, the space can't be a delimiter. By contrast, del.icio.us doesn't permit spaces in tag names. Which approach is best is another discussion -- one I hope will be undertaken by the providers of tag-enabled services -- but I'm sure that with a bit of collaboration, there could be agreement on a good, universal standard. I'll save my thoughts on the need for a universal name for tags (let's just call them tags, not labels, or topics, or keywords) for another post...

November 27, 2005

Writing down the software and services I really like and use on a regular basis is useful for several reasons, including:

  • It's a great way for friends and family to find good tools, and understand why I chose them.
  • When I set up a new computer, I can easily see what I need to install -- or which cookies I need to allow (I use a default deny policy, which is tedious, but worth it) -- to get it ready.
  • Helps me maintain perspective on what I use and why, and prevents the proliferation of applications.  Michael Hyatt just wrote about that problem in his article "Sentencing Applications to Death Row".

This is not a list of every utility I use or like, but rather a short list of what I consider my essentials.  I definitely expect it to change over time.  Everything listed here is free, which I think is amazing, and for which I want to thank the creators/providers!

Online 

  • delicious.com ("del.icio.us") - Keep a record of, tag, and share web content.  You can subscribe to each tag's feed.  I like this social bookmarking service even better than Furl!  More later...
  • Mozilla Firefox - I can't go back to browsing without tabs.  I especially like that Firefox is really configurable!
  • Mozilla Thunderbird - I use this for work, and for its purpose, it does a very good job.  I think it has a lot of potential; again, it's very configurable.
  • Gmail - Free web-based email.  Great user interface, a bit different approach to email, but one that's well thought-out.  Uses tags! (They call them "labels").  I switched and never looked back!
  • Furl - Keep a record of and share web sites, create topic-specific & individualized feeds (Also uses tags, but they call them "Topics")
  • Bloglines - Feed reader/ "news aggregator".  Since it's web-based, you never have to wonder if you've already read something on another computer.   (Needs tags.)
  • Yahoo Calendar - It can send reminders to Y! Messenger, email, and a mobile device's email, which I use all the time.  My wife and I each have accounts, and we share our calendars so we can both always know what's planned.
  • Yahoo Addressbook - Good for what it's designed to do, and when I get around to it, it'll sync to Outlook and therefore, my phone.
  • Wayfaring - Create personalized maps with customizable route and waypoints.  Great for showing someone how to take "the back way", or for showing someone how to take a route that passes a specific point the mapping services may not normally include.
  • Yodlee OnCenter - Similar in concept to a (RSS/ATOM) feed reader/"news aggregator", but for financial info, Yodlee aggregates your financial account information (bank accounts, credit cards, investments, etc.) into one page you can view at a glance.  Some people are (understandably) wary of providing login information for several financial accounts to a single site like this, and it's definitely worth some serious consideration.  On the other hand, it's quite useful to see everything in one place at one time.
  • Odeo - Record audio (in MP3 format) by calling a telephone #.  Your audio file shows up on your personal web page a few seconds after you hang up, and you can share it via email, as a podcast feed (RSS), or by sending people a link to your "Channel" on the Odeo web site.
    • Great for voice memos!  Imagine driving and having an idea you don't want to forget -- just grab your mobile phone, call Odeo, and record it.
    • I've setup an account for my dad so he can record his memoirs.

Offline

  • Picasa - Excellent photo manager, uses tags (called labels) and has decent editing capabilities.
  • Wink - Free screen capture utility for making tutorials/presentations/screencasts/etc.
  • FreeMind - Mind mapping tool.  In beta, but development seems to be progressing quickly and well.  I used to resist mind-mapping, but have found it frees me from focusing so much on hierarchy.
  • Microsoft Notepad - My primary note-taking tool.  I'm a firm believer in the versatility of plain-text.  Yes, it's basic, but it's ubiquitous, fast, and free.
  • Microsoft Paint - A very basic tool, but I use this all the time for basic screen captures; Alt+PrtScr to capture a window, open Paint, paste screenshot, then use Paint to edit and save.  Again, ubiquitous, fast, and free.
  • Multiplicity - Control multiple PCs with one keyboard/mouse, no KVM switch required.  Very nice for quickly moving between my primary & test computers at work.  Copy & paste works too, even for files.

Smartphone

  • Text messaging/SMS - Less overhead than mobile email, but with some of the same benefits, text messaging is perfect for short, unobtrusive communications.  It's especially useful when you don't need to communicate interactively with someone and just want to quickly let them know something, such as during a meeting.  It's great in environments where it's difficult to speak or hear, such as a concert or club.  Text messaging is a really convenient and useful way to communicate, and I don't understand why more people in the U.S. aren't more into text messaging.
  • Google Local for Mobile - Great downloadable mapping and local search application for mobile phones.  It "animates" the following of your route when providing directions, so it's almost like having a GPS-enabled map, except you have to keep track of where you are, since it doesn't know.  I really think this is a good example of a smartphone "killer app".
  • Bloglines Mobile - It's really nice to be able to access my feed reader via my mobile phone.   Bloglines lets you choose whether or not a feed is displayed when you connect via a mobile.

 

November 11, 2005

My dad brought me up to be a gentleman, and one of the things that includes -- if you share a bathroom with women -- is putting the toilet seat down after using it.

Bemis has made it easier to be courteous with their Slow-Close toilet seats, which lowers either or both the seat and the lid slowly and silently after you give them a nudge.  You just start the seat closing, let go, and you're done.

 

We just moved into a new (to us) house, and we replaced the former owners' toilet seats with these right away.  The convenience of being able to put down the toilet seat with so little effort almost certainly violates some chivalric code of required difficulty and sacrifice, but this is one of those small advances in modern engineering that deserves to become ubiquitous.  If you have a reason to get new toilet seats, these are definitely worth consideration.

As a bonus, the seat also has quick-release snap hinges, so you can easily remove the entire seat for thorough cleaning.

April 01, 2005

I tend to be pretty paranoid (well, I'd say "prudent") about problems when using a computer, (though I rarely have any), so I am a bit of a fanatic about saving what I'm doing, sometimes to the annoyance of anyone using a computer while I'm present.

The rule of thumb I use is, save your work every time you don't want to go back and re-create what you've just done. In fact, saving is so easy, there's no reason not to do it constantly, whether it's a document, email, or blog article.

Save button

I was just editing a blog article, and had put a fair amount of time into it, so I thought, "I should probably save a copy". Not 2 minutes after doing so, something else I was doing on my computer caused it to crash. I would have been pretty frustrated by this, but having just recently saved, I only lost a sentence or two.

I think this is a great example of why my "saving fanaticism" is justified, so it seemed worth taking a moment to stop and remind everyone: Save your work often! It's quick & easy, and though you may only rarely benefit from it, you'll be very happy those few times you do.

March 01, 2005

Toothpaste flavor is all personal preference, but Crest clearly put some research into "toothpaste user interface", and did an amazingly good job with the design of their flip top.

We've been using Colgate Total Plus Whitening Tartar Control toothpaste for years, but recently got a trial pack of 3 of Crest's new "Whitening Expressions" flavors in the mail. We really liked the Extreme Herbal Mint; enough so that I think we're going to switch toothpastes. (The marketing worked!)

Crest Extreme Herbal Mint toothpaste

The flip top on the Colgate tube was always a double-edged sword; yes, you get the convenience of a flip top, but a bit of toothpaste always seemed to somehow get outside the flip top and onto my fingers.

Crest's new tube, on the other hand, has a large cap that's really easy to flip up, and completely encloses the tube opening. It seems to have been designed so that it tends to keep its shape, causing the toothpaste to suck back into the tube a bit after you squeeze. These two things make it almost impossible for toothpaste to unintentionally get out, so no more mess!

I know that this isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but I was always annoyed by Colgate's flip top; I loved the idea, but Crest got the implementation right. (Not to mention a very good flavor & texture with the Extreme Herbal Mint!)

February 25, 2005

I was getting tired of trying to figure out a good way to keep track of the cool stuff I've been finding online (more and more in blogs these days), so I did a little research and found Bloglines, which showed me the value of using a feed reader, something I didn't realize I needed until I tried it.

One of the main reasons I started using Bloglines is because of their "Clip Blog" and "Clippings" features, which allow you to save blog entries you read via Bloglines to either your own Clip Blog (which you can make public to share with others) or your private "Clippings" folder.

Update: 2005.06.10

Goodbye Clip Blog, hello Furl - I've completely abandoned my Bloglines clip blog in favor of Furl, a service that does a lot more than Bloglines' clip blog, and is a much better tool for keeping track of anything (not just blog entries you read in Bloglines) you find on the web.

Update: 2006.02.02

Switched from Furl to del.icio.us for most things.

There may be others and/or better feed readers out there, but none has yet jumped out at me.  I think Bloglines could/should be stronger in the blogging department, (I have yet to figure out, for example, if I can have another Bloglines blog aside from my Clip Blog, but I've just begun learning about all this) but I'm not sure that's their focus.  They seem to be one of a small number of web-based aggregators who see the value in providing some blogging service (specifically Clip Blogging) together with aggregation.

Now you can keep track of the stuff I find online at your discretion, and without me having to constantly send you email.  It's one of the great things about the "publish and subscribe" paradigm!

Update: 2005.05.08

I inserted this section months later, after having written it as part of an article about using Bloglines to track packages.  I think it belongs here, because I didn't really cover the other uses for Bloglines before, as I'd just begun to understand all this.

Feed readers are not just for blogging!

Many people think Bloglines and other feed readers are just tools for people who are "into blogging". They are indeed a great way to keep up with constantly-changing information, such as blogs, but they're useful for much more than that. We'll soon start to see more benefits of feed readers, because RSS -- and "web feeds" in general -- are very versitile and powerful technologies/ideas. We're just starting to see innovations in how feeds can be used (for example, to keep up to date on the status of a package).

RSS newspaper icon
Feed technology is used for syndicating much of the news information on the Internet right now. News agencies & web sites have known about the advantages of syndication for a long time - think AP. But they're using syndication so their servers can exchange news information; Feed readers allow people to start realizing the benefits of syndication for all kinds of content. For example, all this incoming information generated by syndication soon leads to a need for more efficient ways to manage it, which leads to the use of feed readers to bringing it all together in one place.

To see if a web site you read provides a feed, look for the words like "Site Feed", "Atom", "RSS", or "XML" often in small orange buttons, like this: RSS icon ATOM icon XML icon. Update: A new movement has has been started to standardize on a universal feed icon that looks like this: Feed icon

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of why you'd want to use a feed reader. Most (like Bloglines) are free, and it's easy to get started!