Posts From September 2009

Absolutely gorgeous photos, most of which are straight out of people’s cameras. Curator, Tom Coates, summed it up best:

Difficult for me to describe how beautiful this one is in any way that would exceed the photo itself.

Reader’s Setup: Grant Blakeman

Grant Blakeman makes magical things on the internets. He runs [gb] Studio, a small, Boulder, Colorado-based design studio where he designs interfaces, brands companies, and builds web apps. He also likes to help bands promote their music.

In his spare time, he pretends to write, takes photos, and makes the occasional video.

Grant’s Setup:

1. What does your desk(s) look like?

Gran't Setup at Trident

Gran't Setup at Work

Grant's Setup at Home

2. What is your current setup?

In the few years I’ve now been working for myself, one thing I’ve come to realize is that space is important. My workspace, whether it be digital (on the computer) or physical (where I’m sitting at a given moment) has a huge influence on both my creativity and productivity at any given moment in time. I’ve also come to recognize that I work best in focused chunks of time, and that changing my work venue throughout the day is simply more enjoyable than working from one place for 8-12 hours straight.

The Rotation

I rotate my work day between several different work spaces. I usually start the day at Trident, my favorite coffee shop in Boulder. It’s about a 5 minute walk from my apartment, in the heart of town, on the west end of Pearl Street. I like the mix of people, and, after showing up at relatively the same time every day for a couple years, the community. For whatever reason, it’s one of the most creatively stimulating places for me. If I need to sketch some logos or mull over a creative problem, it’s often the space I turn to.

I show up, get a pot of green tea, and crack open the 15″ MacBook Pro. I’ve got one of the weird 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo versions that can only address 3gb of RAM—even though it has 4gb installed—but it gets the job done. Mornings are usually spent catching up on email, perusing blogs, and maybe getting one significant chunk of work done on what’s left of the battery.

The office is usually the next stop in my day. I’m lucky enough to share some office space with skinnyCorp Boulder, the fantastic folks behind Threadless. Their building is another 5 minutes walk from Trident, to the other end of Pearl Street. I love being able to walk everywhere, and the breaks in my day create nice distractions or impromptu meetings with others from around town. My own office is hard to miss as you come up the stairs. Former officemate, Andrew Hyde, and I decided to deck it out as a legit mountain log cabin. We even grabbed some pine boards from a sawmill and hung them on the wall. Let’s just say I have a permanent pine air freshener.

In the office, I network my laptop with my Mac Pro via firewire. Projects I’m currently working on always reside on the MacBook Pro for mobility, but in the office I take advantage of the 2 2.66GHz Dual-Core Xeon chips and 7gb of RAM in the Mac Pro. I love Apple’s aesthetic, but I couldn’t beat Dell’s prices when it came to 24″ and 20″ monitors. I also use Teleport. to control the laptop that sits beside my desk with the keyboard and mouse from the desktop.

Some days I play ping-pong work late into the night at the office, others I head back home to my apartment home office—the third of my primary work spaces. I use the MacBook Pro at home, and also keep an old HP ScanJet scanner handy for pulling in sketches and other stuff. My apartment is small, but I love the flexibility of being able to work from home so it is still important to me to dedicate space in the apartment for work. I use MobileMe to get back into the office virtually if I need to.

3. Why are you using this setup?

Your mileage may very, but for me, it’s important to mix the day up. I work a lot of hours, and the little breaks and transitions between places help keep me going. I also love having the ability to choose a different work location based on a whim—what kind of mood I’m in, or what kind of creative space I am looking for. The MacBook Pro and MobileMe keep me, well, mobile, but I love the power of the Mac Pro and large screens for heavy lifting. Having an office outside of my home, with other amazingly creative people, also allows me to set a personal/work boundary when I need too and not feel like I should be working whenever I’m at home. When I first went out on my own, I worked exclusively from my house and this became a problem.

On the more technical side, the Mac Pro has 4 500gb drives in it. One is for active projects, a second is for archival. Both of those back up to the other two internal drives on a nightly basis via SuperDuper. The laptop is backed up automatically when I’m home via a 500gb Time Capsule. I also use 2 sets of 500gb Lacie Drives in rotation for offsite backups. Once you lose work due to a hard drive failure like I did years ago, you take backups very seriously. There is also the expectation in the design industry that former clients could come back even years later and ask for access to files they assume you still have.

4. What software do you use on a daily basis, and for what do you use it?

Desktop Apps

  • Mail – I also use it for my RSS reader (please don’t hold that against me)
  • iCal – I love how MobileMe synchs calendars/contacts between my two computers and phone. It’s rather seamless.
  • Tweetie – I can’t imagine why someone would use another Twitter client. There, I said it.
  • Adium – I’m not available to chat much because I find it distracting, but when I am, it’s nice to be able to combine AIM, MSN, Google Talk, etc., all in one place
  • Safari (well, really Webkit) – daily surfing and development
  • Firefox – for development (although Webkit’s Web Inspector is weaning me off Firebug)
  • Photoshop – I mainly use this app to view the Spinning Beach Ball of Death, and sometimes for designing.
  • Illustrator – I love me some logo work and vector goodness.
  • iWork – the only Mac MS software on my computer is Sliverlight (*cough*, ahem, Netflix).
  • Textmate – frontend HTML/CSS coding is a joy with Textmate, but I really love how well it handles full Rails projects.
  • Terminal
  • Transmit – I’ve used it for years and just don’t think anyone can beat this multi-talented file transfer tool.
  • Navicat – for managing databases (what can I say, I’d rather not write SQL queries).
  • Parallels Desktop – for browser testing on the Windows side – the Mac Pro has 3 different WinXP images depending on what versions of browsers I need to test.
  • SuperDuper – King of Backups.

Web Apps

  • Basecamp – project management & client communications.
  • Blinksale – invoice management.
  • SliceManager – for managing my Slicehost servers. I do most of my hosting through them.
  • Backstage Mixing Board – Custom-built app for checking Backstage sales/download stats & customer service.
  • Google Apps – mail for all my different ventures (and clients’ mail).
  • Brightkite – I track everywhere I go so it’s easier for people to stalk me.

Server Software

  • nginx – seriously, I love this little web server.
  • Phusion Passenger – I’ve just started using Passenger and it makes Rails hosting ridiculously easy. Just add water.
  • Mongrel – I run Mongrel on top of nginx for the sites that I haven’t transitioned over to Passenger yet.
  • MySQL – you know, for keepin’ the datas.

5. Do you own any other Mac gear?

6. Do you have any future upgrades planned?

I just ordered the Mac Box Set with Snow Leopard. Eventually I’m guessing a 3GS will find its way into may hands, and I’m actually having to come up with good reasons not to buy a new MacBook Pro, because I really don’t need one. I’m also hoping to do some sort of Mac Mini / Flat-screen TV combo in the not-too-distant future.

7. More Photos

More Sweet Setups

Grant’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

A re-link in honor of NetNewsWire 2.0 for iPhone. Because “when reading lots of text on a MacBook Pro, I prefer a serif. lots of text on iPhone, sans. Lots of text in a book, coffee.” (Via me.)

This may be the most attractive proposal for a new iPhone home screen I’ve seen. Though Cameron and Sean don’t think it would be too useful, I would happily trade it as my new default.

Man, I think Nick is spot on:

The result of all this is that it’s even harder to find blogs that you can read for pleasure.

(Via Patrick.)

Maybe Lamond’s best advice yet.

How to add Tumblr sharing to your Fever feed reader. (Via LKM’s Stuff.)

The Omega Karate Student Creed

For over a decade across my teenage years I studied and practiced Karate and Tae Kwon Do.

Shawn Blanc Karate Kick, Circa 1995

Martial Arts isn’t just about kicking wooden boards held by your cringing, fellow fighters. It’s also about becoming a better person. A true Martial Artist has physical goals as well as internal values: speed, skill, flexibility, and the ability to take a punch; honesty, integrity, perseverance, and respect.

Every day at Omega Karate we would recite our student creed — reminding ourselves that yes, we wanted to be like Bruce Lee, but we also needed to grow in character.

  1. I will avoid anything that could harm my mind or body.
  2. I will practice honesty and integrity in all my doings.
  3. I will show respect to myself, my instructors, my parents, my fellow students, and my Do Jang (the Karate studio).
  4. I will alway honor my word and my commitments.
  5. I will see all my tasks to the end.
  6. I will use Karate for self-defense only.

It’s been nearly another decade since I last tied on my Black Belt, but, because of these values, I never really took it off.

John Hicks updates his 3-panel widescreen hack to work with Yojimbo 2.0.

Cory Doctorow:

The single worst piece of writing advice I ever got was to stay away from the Internet…

Cory’s advice reminds me a lot of Natalie Goldberg’s tone in Writing Down the Bones: just write.

Reader’s Setup: Michael Bester

Based in Salem, MA, Michael Bester works remotely as a Software Architect in the Interface Engineering Group at Schematic. Practically speaking, that means he authors HTML, CSS and a truckload of Javascript for a variety of projects. He occasionally writes on his personal site, Kimili, and tries his hand at witty banter on Twitter.

Michael’s Setup:

1. What does your desk look like?

Michael Bester's Mac Setup

Michael Bester's Mac Setup

2. What is your current Mac setup?

All of my work for Schematic is done on a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo iMac with 3 GB of RAM. My personal machine is a quad-core 2.5 GHz PowerMac G5 loaded with 6.5 GB of RAM and a Terabyte of internal drive space. It doesn’t get nearly enough use these days to justify all that computing power.

An IOGear Micro DVI KVM switch connects both machines to a single keyboard, a 23″ aluminum Apple Cinema HD Display and an old Wacom Intuos 9×12 tablet, which I use for all my mousing needs. A Drobo loaded with a pair of 500GB WD Caviar drives stores all my photos, video and music. A set of Bose Companion 2 speakers rounds out the setup.

3. Why are you using this setup?

In the case of my personal machine, I tend to get the most powerful system I can, as I typically go a long time between upgrades. For example, before my quad-core G5, I had one of the first G4 desktops ever made. It lasted me 6 years.

The iMac is Schematic-issue, and is a recent upgrade from a white 2.16 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook (which simply crumbled under the weight of running things like Photoshop, Firefox and VMware simultaneously). As a web development workstation, the iMac gets the job done with aplomb.

The last mouse I used with any regularity was the hockey puck that came with my aforementioned G4. The experience left my forearm so sore that it soured me on using a mouse at all. It was then that I purchased the Wacom tablet. I’ve never looked back since.

4. What software do you use on a daily basis, and for what do you use it?

  • Quicksilver — primarily as an application launcher, but occasionally to control iTunes or open files in a certain app.
  • Safari — because it’s fast and because its text rendering kicks ass.
  • TextMate — because I think there is no better editor in the world for most of my coding needs. The only thing I don’t code in TextMate is CSS. For that I use…
  • CSSEdit — because its code hinting and live preview are invaluable for authoring CSS.
  • xScope — is’s the toolbox for picking colors on screen, magnifying details or quickly measuring things in comps.
  • Default Folder X — because it adds much-needed functionality to OS X’s save dialogues.
  • Tweetie — because Twitter has supplanted RSS for me, and there is no finer Twitter client than this.
  • Adium — to keep tabs on my friends, colleagues and coworkers. Being a telecommuter, this is an especially important tool.
  • Photoshop CS4 — mostly to tear apart comps I get from designers.
  • Em Calculator — because I’m a sucker for vertical rhythm in my layouts and this AIR app from James Whittaker makes the math easy.
  • Apple Mail — to handle my IMAP and Exchange accounts in one place.
  • Terminal — for mucking around on remote servers and dealing with Subversion.
  • Spirited Away — to keep window clutter down and help maintain focus on the task at hand.
  • Preview — the unsung hero of OS X. Not simply for PDFs and images, I regularly open Photoshop files in it simply to avoid the spinning beach ball of death.
  • iTunes — Because most days, I work more efficiently with a soundtrack.

Some things I don’t use daily, but are still essential:

  • Firefox 3.5 running Firebug — because developing Javascript applications without this combo is sheer lunacy.
  • VMware Fusion — because I occasionally have to check my work on that other operating system.
  • Aperture 2 — to manage my rapidly growing photo library. It has all the tools I need to post-process and organize my photos.

5. Do you own any other Mac gear?

I’ve got a few iPods lying around, including a 3rd generation 15 GB model — the last one with a monochrome screen (what a relic!) — as well as a previous generation 1 GB iPod Shuffle. I also borrow my wife’s 2.16 MHz Core Duo 2 MacBook with 2 GB RAM on the rare occasion that I have to take a computer with me somewhere.

6. Do you have any future upgrades planned?

Not in the immediate future, but when the time comes to upgrade the G5, I may transition it to a MacBook Pro. I’ve been skeptical in the past about using a laptop as my main machine because of the limited upgradability and generally slower performance when compared to a tower. However, I think recent generations of the MacBook Pro are bridging that gap.

More Sweet Setups

Michael’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

John Hicks wrote some custom CSS to better use Simplenote in Fluid. Also, the Simplenote crew has posted hi-res versions of their icon. Even though it’s exponentially more ugly at 550 pixels than at 57, at least it will match your iPhone.

Yojimbo, and The Case for Anything Buckets

Four out of five of you are nerds. On your computer exists your hobbies, your current and/or future career, and the rest of your daily life. You don’t own a snowboard, but you do have a blog, a Twitter, an RSS reader, and a pirated copy of Photoshop.

You, my friend, need an Anything Bucket.

This is not the same as your tried and true System for saving and finding things. The System is for everything. Your Anything Bucket, however, is for everything else. And you need both.

There are lots of options out there. Off and on for years I tried to use Yojimbo, but it frustrated me because I treated it as a replacement for the Finder. On more than one occasion I endeavored to replace my tried and true System of filing things with this single piece of software — attempting to save nearly everything in Yojimbo. That is a horrible way to live, and it’s why I always abandoned the app.

Yojimbo is not an Everything Bucket. A more fitting description, I think, is Anything Bucket.

Because apps like Yojimbo are not where you should keep everything, but rather, where you can throw anything. They are not replacements for the Finder – nor the opposite – you should use them both.

John Gruber lays this out ever so clearly in his article, “Untitled Document Syndrome“. The gist of John’s article is that apps such as Yojimbo are successful because they’re simple. He says: “When you don’t have to do much before (or after) doing what you want to do, you do surprisingly more.”

Summing up Mark Hurst’s advice about simple computing, Andrew White says: “Use the simplest, sanest application that will get the job done. Avoid extraneous clutter in menus, on desktops, in applications. Pick the utilities that will give you the most — ahem — utility, and use and learn the crap out of them.”1

Anything Buckets should be more about ease of use than about depth of features. The very best ones lend themselves to perpetual use. And if you use them, depth will come from breadth.

The info we throw at them can be permanent, temporary, important, or trivial. It doesn’t matter. Regardless of who, what, when, where, or why, the best Anything Bucket is ready to receive any bit of information that threatens to elude you.

My Favorite Anything Bucket

Yojimbo. Hitting shelves in January 2006 it has sat on four different Mac operating systems and has gone virtually unchanged since its initial release. It is a simple and charming piece of software that packs a lot of punch.

The previous version of Yojimbo, 1.5.1, was released on February 2, 2008. The 2.0 release shipped on September 1, 2009, nearly 19 months later (longer than most of the previous major OS X release cycles). The 2.0 update to Yojimbo came with a new icon, a database upgrade, a few new features, and a lot of refinements.

Yojimbo 1.5 is to OS X Leopard what Yojimbo 2.0 is to Snow Leopard. Which is to say version 2 is an attestation to the charm and punch Yojimbo 1.0 came out of the gate with. Even though version 1.5 sat there for over 19 months, it was still whispered about at the water cooler as people fiddled with their Evernote iPhone app. And that, my friends, says something profound about the quality of this simple piece of software.

Looking at version 2 and what Bare Bones Software decided to add, and what they decided to leave out, says a lot about Yojimbo. I couldn’t help but imagine the 2.0 release as being similar to the scene in 300 between King Leonidas and Xerxes’ messenger.

In the scene, a messenger from King Xerxes arrives at the steps of King Leonidas’ home. As they walk through the streets, the messenger calmly demands that Sparta submit itself to the will of King Xerxes and begin giving offerings or else face war against the King’s vast army. The scene climaxes in one of the most memorable and quotable moments of the movie as Leonidas kicks the messenger into the city’s well, defying the demand to submit, shouting, “This! Is! Sparta!”

Sure, it’s a little over the top to compare a software release to an epic war movie, but the plot line in this scene is analogous to the current Anything Bucket market and the path that Yojimbo has taken. Not to say other apps have taken the wrong path and Yojimbo the right one, but in the midst of many options — and many requests for features that other apps have — Yojimbo’s feature scope has remained unwavering.

The latest Yojimbo, as I see it, is not fighting the same way their competitors are. After 19 months without an update, many were looking at the Bare Bone team: Choose your next features wisely. And but so, when 2.0 finally shipped Bare Bones Software chose not to lay new tracks, but instead, grease the current ones. “This! Is! Yojimbo!”

Yojimbo’s most powerful feature won’t be found in the release notes. In this regard it is very similar to Quicksilver. At first glance, when you look at Quicksilver and see it’s an application launcher, you think, Cool. But so what? I have Spotlight and the Dock. Why should I learn a new app?

Even if you read the support documentation and learn about the plugins and the extensibility that Quicksilver offers, it’s not until you use it that Quicksilver becomes a part of you in a way you can’t explain. Nor could anyone have done it justice in explaining it to you.

Input: A Juggernaut for the Onslaught

It is likely that many people confuse a tried and true system and a system they use as being the same thing. In my experience, it is one thing to have a clear and organized structure for where you put quotes, notes, passwords, and the like. But it is another thing altogether to actually fill that system’s folders with content.

Like I said earlier, this confusion was the reason I tried and abandoned Yojimbo so many times — I completely misunderstood the purpose and advantage of an Anything Bucket. Yojimbo is great not because it replaces your organized filing system, but because it encourages perpetual capture of all sorts of information.

Put plainly, Yojimbo is the simplest way possible to save any bit of spontaneous information. No matter how indispensable or arbitrary that information is.

As Patrick Woolsey of Bare Bones Software said, “The intent of […] all of Yojimbo’s input mechanisms is to make entering info as easy as possible, so that you’re more likely to do so.”

And Yojimbo’s input mechanisms aren’t just easy, they abound. You can get info into Yojimbo just about any way you can imagine: quick input windows, drags and drops, bookmarklets, javascripts, AppleScripts, and more. Choose your own adventure.

With input options around every corner, my rule of thumb for getting the most out of Yojimbo is to dump as much in as possible. Here are some of those ways, listed in order of what the author uses most:

  • Scripts: Getting my other most-used apps to help me toss stuff into Yojimbo via AppleScripts is surprisingly easy. There are ample scripts available to help you create new Yojimbo items from Safari, Mail, NetNewsWire, Mailsmith, and more.

    My Safari and Mail scrips (invoked by FastScrips) are by far my most used methods for sending info to Yojimbo.

  • The Quick Input Panel: A close tie with the scripts is my use of the Quick Input Panel. yojimbo-quick-entry.jpg

    There is a whole lot of cool when it comes to this thing. It can be brought up at any time, in any application, via a keyboard shortcut (so long as Yojimbo is running). And it is the perfect place to drop notes, ideas, passwords, images, and more, without having to bring Yojimbo to the frontmost window.

    If you have text copied to the clipboard when you invoke the Input Panel, Yojimbo will automatically populate the new item with that content. It’s even smart enough to know if it’s an image, an URL for a bookmark, or text for a note. Moreover, if you close the Input Panel before creating your item, Yojimbo keeps that info in there.

    When you invoke it again, yet happen to have new content saved to the clipboard, Yojimbo gives you the option to keep what you used to have or fill the panel what you’ve currently got in your clipboard.

    Yojimbo Auto-Fill Option

    Similar to the Quick Entry HUD in Things, Yojimbo’s input panel is an easy and ubiquitous way to capture info on the fly. Unlike the HUD in Things, however, is the Quick Input Panel’s frustrating behavior with click-through. I am a big fan of how the Quick Input HUD from Things handles click through: when HUD is frontmost you can navigate, click, select, drag, and drop all around your Mac without the HUD closing. The Yojimbo input panel operates the opposite: when creating a new item, clicking outside of the input panel will instantly cause it to disappear. The info isn’t lost, you just have to re-invoke the panel to get to it again.

    My only other gripe is need to press the Enter – not Return – to create a note item after entering some text. Though the reason for this makes perfect sense because the Quick Input Panel supports rich text editing (hit cmd+r while inputting text and you’ll see what I mean), it is still a keyboard shortcut I haven’t gotten used to.

  • Saving PDFs: One of the features updated in version 2 is the “Save PDF to Yojimbo” option that shows up under the PDF button in the print dialog box. You can now change the items’ title and add tags, labels, comments, and/or flag it.


  • Dropping Stuff Onto the Dock Icon: Typical to most apps in the Dock, you can drag any Yojimbo-supported file and drop it over the Yojimbo Dock icon to import it as a new item.

    Similar to the way Mail will launch and create a new message with the file you dropped as the attachment, Yojimbo will open and display a new item with whatever it was you just dragged and dropped. (You can even take iTunes URLs right out of iTunes for albums, apps, and movies that you want to revisit some other time.2)

Yojimbo Drop Dock

  • Drop Dock: I have gone back and forth with using Drop Dock, but its new feature set in 2.0 has made it worth another look.

    For one, when dropping an item into a Tag Collection that is in the drop dock, the respective tags for that Collection will be automatically assigned to the new item. Secondly, you can now choose what collections show up in the Drop Dock. Honestly, I can’t think of two more useful feature additions to the Drop Dock.

Storage and Organization

Yojimbo is the only app I use tags with. I don’t use them in Things, Mail, or even on my own website.

And I don’t just use them, I use them religiously in Yojimbo. So much so that I added tag-input dialogs to the Mail and Safari scripts I use so often. Though ironically, I don’t know that I’ve ever found a file in Yojimbo exclusively thanks to its tag. What I do use tags for is smart Collections (especially when working on a project).

The reason I don’t tag my to-do items in Things is because bothering with them on the front doesn’t ever prove useful on the back end. But in Yojimbo tagging an item is a big contributor for how information gets organized (assuming you even want it so), and for how it gets found later.

You can have folders (called Collections) and smart folders (called Tag Collections). Standard Collections only get populated by manually dropping a Yojimbo item into them. Whereas Tag Collections auto populate with every item in your Library that contains one or more of the tags you’ve assigned to that Collection. If you drop an item into a Tag Collection all the tags assigned to that Collection are added to the item, and, obviously, that item gets pulled into the Tag Collection.

It used to be that a Tag Collection would only hold items that matched an exact list of tags. But now I am very grateful that you can populate with items that match either all or any in a list of tags.

Yojimbo's Tag Collection Info Panel

And if you’re not a huge fan of the default icons used for collections you can change them. Just find a folder who’s icon you do like, and copy/paste it from that folder’s info panel into Yojimbo’s info panel for your (now attractive) Collection. This can be especially helpful for regular / smart Collections you keep around indefinitely.


Bill Bryson once said: “The remarkable position in which we find ourselves is that we don’t actually know what we actually know.”

And this is the very reason Yojimbo is so remarkably helpful — getting information back out is nearly as easy as getting it in.

Since the fastest way to find something in Yojimbo is to search for it, I’ve set a global hotkey to bring Yojimbo frontmost and put the cursor in the search box. And searching for something in Yojimbo is outlandishly quick. Results never hang, and I’ve never been unable to find what I was looking for.

Moreover, all of the Library items are indexed by Spotlight. If something you’re looking for in Spotlight exists in Yojimbo, you’ll see it there. Or you can do an app-specific search by prefixing your Spotlight query with “kind:yojimbo”.

In addition to finding what you know you are looking for, the new Tag Explorer helps you find what you don’t know you’re looking for. It is a great way to delve into the random things you’ve thrown into Yojimbo that you may have forgotten about. In a way, it is a similar concept to Shaun Inman’s Fever feed reader, in that, the Tag Explorer can help you aggregate the contents of your Yojimbo library. You never know when you’ll find some long, lost gem you had forgotten about. It may just be the funnest addition to version 2.


Back to the beginning: the greatest feature of an Anything Bucket is simplicity that leads to regular use. For me, I don’t see what good is it to have my files synced across my laptop, my phone, and my friend’s Web browser if I am rarely putting any files in. I’m not concerned about using an app that will cover my butt for that one day when I might need to access that one bit of info when I’m not at my laptop.

Rather, I want an app that will actually get used… a lot.

It’s not to say, though, that simple cannot be married with mobile. It just means if Bare Bones does launch an iPhone app there is a lot for them to consider. Primarily: syncing and accessing the database, and iPhone app development.3

Syncing and Accessing the Database

If I were to sync my entire Yojimbo library to my iPhone, it would be a little less than 1,000 items with a database of 86 MBs right now. Even for someone like John Gruber, who has been using Yojimbo since the beta days, it wouldn’t be a massive chore to get his Yojimbo data onto his iPhone. John’s total library is 5,500 items and 375 MBs. Not that big of a file for just about any given iPhone. A single movie easily takes up three or four times that amount of space.

(An interesting tid-bit of info: Patrick Rhone, who recently migrated his data from Evernote back to Yojimbo, went from 1,220 items and a 1.3GB library in Evernote, to 1,432 items and a 403MB library in Yojimbo. His database weighed in at one-third the size after the migration. Obviously none of his audio or video attachments were able to be transferred into Yojimbo, but that’s not the only reason the database was shored up. Evernote treats text files as HTML and uses WebKit to render notes. Patrick and I agree that, because of the way Evernote handles even basic text notes, extra size gets added due to the code which is wrapped around even the simplest of notes.)

If Yojimbo offered multiple syncing options, such as over-the-air, same-wireless-network (like Things), and USB, it could allow for a user’s first sync to be over USB. Thus getting the initial heavy lifting of the data over to the iPhone that way, and then allowing wi-fi and/or over-the-air sync as the default.

Ultimately, without over-the-air syncing Yojimbo would not be the world’s best info-management mobile app. The biggest need for me wouldn’t be having my notes with me all the time, but having them with me at an unanticipated moment.

This is exactly why Apple’s iDisk app for the iPhone isn’t that exciting for me. It meets a perceived need, but not a real-life need. If I know ahead of time what documents, songs, and images I will want on my iPhone then hooray for me that I can drop them onto my iDisk and find them later. But it’s virtually impossible to plan ahead for all the items I may want access to when away from my computer. Let alone, just the files that I would only want to view, listen to, or share (since iDisk files are read only on the iPhone).

App Development

Functionality isn’t all that Bare Bones has to consider. Designing an iPhone version of a desktop app requires much to be reconciled. As I wrote about in my review of Things, when creating an iPhone version of a desktop app you can’t just drag and drop the code and click the “iPhoneitize This” button. You have to completely start from scratch.

There are two dynamics to successfully building two versions of the same app onto two unique platforms (one for iPhone and one for the Mac).

  1. Both apps need to feel native on their respective platform. The iPhone app needs to feel like it belongs on the iPhone, and the desktop app needs to feel like it belongs there. This doesn’t just mean the GUI should be different. It also means the layout and display of core functionality, along with the flow of navigation and the user interaction within the application all have to pull together to form a well developed iPhone app that still has striking familiarity to its desktop counterpart.

  2. Both apps need to feel like they are one in the same. Meaning, the Bare Bones team will have to reconcile the two-fold need for their iPhone version of Yojimbo to feel like a native iPhone app while also feeling like the very same application they’ve made for the desktop.

    Not only would the Yojimbo iPhone app need to stand on its own for those who only use it on the iPhone, it must also feel like a natural extension of the desktop version for those who will use both.

Reconciling these goals is the same issue Apple had to tackle with apps such as iCal and Mail. iPhone’s Calendar app feels great all by itself, but if you also use iCal on your Mac you don’t necessarily feel like you’re working with two different programs. They are simultaneously the same and different.

Moreover, the problem of Plain Text versus Rich Text notes would have to be solved. iPhone OS doesn’t have native rich-text-editing features. Yojimbo’s iPhone app would have a handful of possibilities for how they would let users make edits to a rich text note:

  • Strip all formatting, turn the note into plain text, and let the user edit;

  • Keep formatting, but any text that is added/edited would be unformatted;

  • Not allow edits of notes, only appending of new text (this is how Evernote handles it);

  • Build an in-app rich text editor (see: Documents to Go [iTunes link]).

Based on how I most use Yojimbo, I would be happy to have a “convert to plain text-only” option that would allow me full read/write access in sacrifice of rich text notes.

In the mean time, however, I get along just fine without an iPhone Yojimbo app. When I think of an idea or something that I know I’ll want in Yojimbo I usually just email it to myself. Otherwise I throw it into Simplenote.

Though I did have this crazy idea of using Evernote and Yojimbo. Not sure if it’s feasible, or worth the trouble, but I had this thought about scripting Evernote to export all its notes as RTF and then have Yojimbo import them. It could be set to run once or twice a day automatically, and that way I could use the Evernote iPhone app for capture and the note would automatically end up in Yojimbo. It simultaneously seems cool and over the top; it may be easier to just set up a Mail rule and a script instead.

Final Miscellany

  • Reliability: I can’t think of one time Yojimbo has even beach balled on me, let alone crashed. It is a solid, fast, and well-made app. It is one thing to complain that a feature is missing, and quite another to complain that an implemented feature is busted. Anyone can do the former, but in Yojimbo the latter is hard to come by.

  • Security: Perhaps Most important of all, your data is safe. Not only does Yojimbo use industrial strength encryption, it also doesn’t jack with your data. The data and files you import stay untouched, making it just as easy to pull your images, PDFs, and what have you, out as it was to put them in.

  • The New Icon: Not a fan of the new gear box. Black Belt

  • Web Archives: If I archive a Web page, Yojimbo provides no easy way to go back to the original permalink of that archived page.

    Moreover, I don’t often use Yojimbo to archive for the sake of reading later, but for the sake of usefulness later — archiving articles which I may need as references one day. Having an easy (or at least obvious) way to return to the permalink of archived Web pages would be most appreciated.

    Update: I just discovered that the URL for a Web archived item exists in the Comments section of the item and there is are contextual menu items to copy and visit the original URL in your default browser. (Thanks Steve!)

    Open Web Archive Contextual Menu

  • Jon Hicks 3-Panel Widescreen Hack: Changes the default layout of the Yojimbo window and turns it into a three-panel widescreen layout, not unlike the one found in NetNewsWire. (Currently only works in 1.5.1)

  • Better Keyboard Navigation: By far and away, the keyboard navigation is the most frustrating user interaction in Yojimbo for me.

    There is no easy way to move around in the Yojimbo UI using the arrow keys. This is what I adore most about NetNewsWire — how easy it is to move left, right, up, and down between groups, feeds, and items using nothing but the arrow keys. Having this capability within Yojimbo would be a dream. Especially the ability to quickly get from the search box to the list of returned search items without having to use the mouse.

  • A Preference Option for New Notes to Be Created as Plain Text by Default: Nine times out of ten when I’m dropping in copy/pasted text as a new note I don’t want the former stylizing that came with it. This is how I do email, and I’d be delighted to see the same in Yojimbo.

  1. Some may note the irony of referencing Mark Hurst at the beginning of a glowing article on Yojimbo, as he advises people to keep everything in plain text files because “plain text is the simplest possible format for storing text data.” However, Mark also says: “When you spend so much time in an application that doesn’t work well, it’s painful, it’s like a stone in your shoe. […] People should think about the time they spend in any one application, then think about the tools they can use to maximize efficiency.”
  2. Thanks to Beau Colburn for this iTunes tip.
  3. I have no doubt that an iPhone app (iJimbo?) is the most requested feature. Nearly everyone I know of that switched from (or passed by) Yojimbo for Evernote did so because of the iPhone client and Evernote’s ability to sync across many platforms. I, too, gave Evernote a college try, but it just didn’t work for me. Getting items in was too tedious.

    Lately, I seem to be averaging about a dozen new items into Yojimbo every day. If those bits of info can’t go flying in just right, and with minimal effort, I’ll skip it. And granted, twelve new items a day is a lot. But even if it were just one or two, the easier the better.

Awesome as always. And I did not know about those new Exposé tricks.

Love scoping out other people’s computer desktops? Today is your day.

Reader’s Setup: Toby Leftly

Toby Leftly is a UK-born, Ontario-based web developer and IT consultant. His love of the web, Apple and all things tech position him as a mild annoyance to friends and family, and a goldmine of useless, obsolete knowledge to everyone around him.

Toby’s Setup:

1. What does your desk look like?

Toby Leftly's Setup

Toby Leftly's Setup

2. What is your current Mac setup?

My Current Mac is a unibody 13.3″ MacBook 2.4ghz with 4gb of RAM. I purchased the 15″ unibody the week it was announced but found it too cumbersome to be truly portable and downgraded when the opportunity arose. At home I connect it to an older 23″ Apple Cinema Display which doesn’t even come close to satisfying my need for pixel real estate.

I use a Microsoft Bluetooth 8000 Laser Mouse and the older white Apple Pro Keyboard. The laptop stand in the pictures is actually an Ikea Hack, but it works surprisingly well.

The last possibly unidentified item on my desk is a Thermaltake Hard Drive Docking Station. because my last system was a Mac Pro, I have three SATA hard drives with various backups and data stored on them, this seemed like the easiest way to continue accessing them.

3. Why are you using this setup?

My previous Mac was a quad core Mac Pro which was fantastic. But since I spend a great deal of time visiting clients, a laptop makes much more sense. And with every revision, Apple’s laptops get closer to the power and capability of traditional desktop systems.

My wife was tempted into the Apple realm by a trusty old Mac mini 1.25ghz Core Solo (boo!) but is hoping to get her hands on my laptop after my next upgrade. At that point I’ll hook the Mac mini up to our big screen TV as a media server.

4. What software do you use on a daily basis, and for what do you use it?

I use a wide range of software on a daily basis, but the applications you’ll find open in my dock at all times are:

  • Mailplane (I’m a huge Google Apps fan)
  • Tweetie (the best Mac Twitter client in my humble opinion)
  • Yojimbo
  • (scrobble scrobble)
  • TextMate
  • Safari (can’t get along with the Firefox GUI, despite all the great add-ons)
  • Terminal (slowly becoming more proficient with SSH)

Photoshop and Illustrator are the main apps I use for graphics work, although I long for the day when I can summon the courage to replace them with Pixelmator and Lineform. For cramming previously mentioned graphics into otherwise dull blocks of code I mostly use TextMate, although I’m buy-curious about Coda and Espresso.

I use Google Picasa for managing images on a large scale, Panic’s Transmit for pushing, shoving and pulling files, Skype for calling overseas and audio/video chat with friends and co-conspirators, and Google Apps for anything and everything else — email, calendars, contacts and very rarely spreadsheets.

I’ve recently discovered Firebug Lite, not officially an app but a very useful tool. I use Chyrp for blogging and Mint for web stats.

5. Do you own any other Mac gear?

My wife and I both own iPods — her’s a 16gb green Nano, mine an 8gb first gen touch which I love.

I’ve considered other Apple equipment, such as the iPhone, Apple TV and a Time Capsule, but ended up passing on all of them – the Mac and OS X really are Apple’s finest creations.

I use a regular old Motorola phone right now but when I do eventually upgrade to a smart phone it will most likely be the iPhone, although I had high hopes for the Pre (dismissed because of the superior build quality of the iPhone and the Pre’s questionable iTunes sync method).

6. Do you have any future upgrades planned?

I’d love a 30″ display, but I’m assuming Apple plans to update these eventually.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Apple does with the Macbook Air – with more RAM and slightly better specs it could be tempting enough for my next big purchase.

A small purchase I’m looking forward to is the Wireless Apple keyboard to replace my aging white Pro keyboard.

Not exactly an Apple product, my next upgrade will most likely be a hosting one – my current host, Media Temple, is beta testing Leopard Server hosting, which has me salivating like crazy.

More Sweet Setups

Toby’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

A new $40 desktop email client for Mac and Windows that boasts some tall-order features, such as a Gmail-style conversation view and the ability to search through attachments only.

The Software Sweet Spot

I have always been the most enthusastic of applications that sit in the Software Sweet Spot.

Photoshop, for example, is not such an app. It has a steep learning curve, and if you don’t use it for for the heavy-lifting design for which it was built it feels bulky. Hence Neven Mrgan’s gripe: “My problem with Photoshop is that it was designed for 300 dpi work, but I mostly use it for 72.009 dpi images.”

In my mind I imagine the scalability of an app as being two dimensional — stretching both horizontal and vertical. “Horizontal Scalability” means the app is useful and helpful for basic users and power users alike. It doesn’t matter if you’re a total noob or a total nerd, the app works great for you.

“Vertically Scalability” could mean two things: First, that regardless of if you utilize one feature or all of them the app sustains its ease and joy of use. Meaning, you aren’t missing out if you only use a few features, nor are you held back if you use many. Secondly, it could mean if you use the app all day every day, or only once in a while, you still get a bang for your buck.

Here is a chart with many apps I use, and where I think they land in terms of scalability. Admittedly, it is somewhat flawed from the start, but I still think it accurately communicates the point.

Sweet Spot Chart

There is no good or bad area on this chart — the top right is no better than the bottom left. I am extremely fond of nearly every app on this chart. However, the apps I most frequently recommend are the ones that sit in the Sweet Spot. These apps are great regardless of who uses them and how often they get used.

An interesting side note: the majority of apps seemed to fall into the top right and bottom left areas. Also, it was surprisingly difficult to find an app for the bottom right spot. Coconut Battery was the only app I could think of that is geared for power users and nerds yet isn’t necessarily something you would use on a regular basis.

This Quicksilver interface is, in my opinion, the best Quicksilver interface. It broke on QS version B56a7 for Snow Leopard, but Ben Cochran has updated it. (Via Julius.)

Steven Frank: “The next stop for Coda is 2.0.”

Also, Colin’s input from web developers regarding text editors is right on par with what’s seen in the Mac Setups: by far the most-used editor is TextMate.

And the move to LaunchBar gets easier and easier.

Reader’s Setup: Ryan Gonzalez

Ryan Gonzalez writes about technology, design, or any interesting subject he comes across at his blog. A designer at heart, but a budding young writer from the cultural hub of South Carolina, he’s been in love with the Mac since kindergarten and can be found on Twitter as @rmg7344.

Ryan’s Setup:

1. What does your desk look like?

Ryan Gonzalez's Mac Setup

Ryan Gonzalez's Mac Setup

Ryan Gonzalez's Mac Setup

2. What is your current Mac setup?

I have a 17″ white iMac, circa Fall 2006, running at 2.0 GHz with a Gig of RAM and a very small (160GB) amount of storage. It’s not customized at all, a stock version plucked off the shelves of the (now defunct) local CompUSA.

Connected to the Mac, I have:

Behind all the technology, there’s a cork-board that’s very helpful when organizing my thoughts on everything, particularly for my design sketches.

3. Why are you using this setup?

It’s long-winded-story time: I remember playing with an ancient Apple II back in kindergarten, all the text based and 8-bit games fascinated me for as long as I could use the computer. So, at that point I decided I would get a Mac; unfortunately, until 7th grade I was left with a half-way decent Dell Desktop. By then, I knew it was time to finally get a real computer. Over my first year in middle school, I saved the $1299 to get the iMac; looking back, it seems like money well spent.

I told my parents it was mainly going to be used for schoolwork. That was a lie. So, not surprisingly, I use it more for writing, designing, and general web browsing. So far the computer has run sufficiently enough, though Photoshop does get a hiccup from time to time. Even with these shortcomings, I still love my iMac, my first but certainly not last Mac.

4. What software do you use on a daily basis?

Firefox has been my main browser for a while, though I did flirt with the Safari 4 beta until I learned about its horrid cache of hidden files. I’m not an extension man though, because I have only a couple installed with Firefox: Firebug for development, and Greasemonkey/Stylish for making the web a little better looking. iTunes is for my music, podcasts, and archive of films. Photoshop, obviously, is for my creative exploits. Tweetie is my preferred Twitter app for now, though I like reading on my iPod touch more. I use Ecto for writing and publishing my blog, and Scrivener for long pieces. Google Reader might be my most used app, overall; I have a Fluid instance set up for it.

5. What other mac gear do you own?

Before even my iMac, I had the 3rd-Gen iPod, the first one with the click-wheel. It’s still in use, though it is somewhat messed up (skipping songs, etc.) My Dad has a video iPod that was mine for a couple years; he also has a 2nd-Gen iPod Nano. My mother has a 2007 MacBook that my little sister plays with constantly. Last, but certainly not least, I have an original iPod touch. It’s the most important gadget that I carry around, even more so than my (ancient) cellphone.

6. Do you have any future upgrades planned?

Actually, I’m in the process of a making a major transition technology-wise and with life in general. In a few months, I’ll be moving to a public boarding school that’s set up like a college. Living there for two years means that I’ll need something portable, powerful, and sufficient enough to replace my iMac (it’s staying home.) The $1699 15″ MacBook Pro fits that perfectly; hopefully I’ll have it within the next month or so.

Like I mentioned earlier, my cellphone is ancient — it’s pre-Treo, let alone pre-iPhone. Though it pains me to say, I’ll be moving to AT&T from Verizon just to get the iPhone 3GS. If only there was a Verizon iPhone…

More Sweet Setups

Ryan’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

A very likable short film based on the story of the Lumiere Brothers and the invention of the cinema as we know it.

Also worth watching (if not even more so than La Premiere), is The Butterfly Circus.

Relocating and Resizing the LaunchBar Bar

The LaunchBar community is a lot bigger than I imagined. I was shocked at how many emails I got in response to my post on Monday about switching from Quicksilver to LaunchBar — mostly with tips in response to my dislike of the default location of LaunchBar.

Previously unbeknownst to me you can easily move the LaunchBar bar with a click and drag of the mouse — pulling it away from the Menu Bar and and putting it wherever you like. Also, you can adjust the width of the bar by placing your mouse near the edge until you see the resize cursor.

But, if like me, you want LaunchBar to show up in a down-to-the-exact-pixel spot, reader Chip Warden’s surprisingly simple tip for editing the preferences file is for you.

Open the file ~/Library/Preferences/at.obdev.LaunchBar.plist in a text editor, and find this bit of code:


The three, editable variables in there are pretty self explanatory.

  • The LaunchBarHorizontalPosition value moves LaunchBar left and right. A value of "1" pushes it all the way to the right side; a value of "0" pushes it all the way to the left. I've left this value at the default "0.5".

  • The LaunchBarVerticalPosition value moves LaunchBar up and down. A value of "1" (the default) pushes the bar to the top of your screen, directly underneath the menu bar; a value of "0" pushes it all the way to the bottom. I have mine set to "0.667" in honor of the rule of thirds.

  • The LaunchBarWindowWidth value adjusts the width of the bar in pixels. Mine is set to "430".

Don't forget to make a backup of the preferences file, and you'll want to quit LaunchBar before editing or your changes won't stick.

A Better One-on-One Form

If you are a manager you need 1:1s with your team. My Tuesday afternoon is pre-booked with my direct reports. I meet with them all, one at a time, and it’s worth every minute.

Since I don’t have the world’s most amazing memory, I use a form to jot down the things I want to talk about during our 30 minutes and to keep record of what they have to say. Also, since it’s not uncommon to end up talking about things we need to do, there needs to be a spot for action items.

At first I used a generic form I found on the Internet. But I kept getting frustrated by its horrendous layout and lack of flexibility. So I designed my own. And then re-designed it. And re-designed it again. I’ve gone through many different 1:1 forms over past Tuesdays, and I’ve finally found a minimal and flexible design that woks.

1-on-1 Tracking Form

The font is Gotham Bold, each text box has a quarter-inch grid, the headings are written in very plain and inviting terminology, and the color is 1/0 so a lot of these can be printed for dirt cheap.

I keep used and empty forms in a binder near my desk. It helps me not think about Tuesday afternoon until it’s Tuesday afternoon, when I just pull out last week’s forms and jot down any left-over items onto this week’s. If something comes up in-between Tuesdays I just pull out the binder. Or if I’m not at my desk, there’s a text file on my Mac that I throw things into.

If you’d like to use the form, redesign it and make it better, or anything else, feel free to go nuts:

The long-awaited, somewhat-doubted update to Yojimbo. It’s $20 to upgrade, unless you bought version 1.5 in the past 9 months.

Yojimbo 2.0 comes with a polished UI, a new icon, and a slew of well thought-out usability additions related to how info goes in and how it comes out. You can read the release notes here where you’ll see there are no flashy new features, and no mention of an iPhone app.

What the Bare Bones team decided to add, and what they decided to leave out, says a lot. Version 2, as I see it, isn’t trying to win people over from Evernote. (If it was, there would have been an awkward iPhone app.) This is an update for current Yojimbo users, and for people who’s lives don’t hinge on having an info management app that syncs to their iPhone. Your milage may vary, but from where I’m sitting, almost every addition in version 2 meets an actual need in my day-to-day usage of Yojimbo.

The reason it’s not a 1.6 update is because of the fundamental concept behind Yojimbo: minimalism; ease of use; “low friction data collecting”. Bare Bones didn’t lay new tracks, they greased the skids even more. And that is precisely what makes or breaks an app like Yojimbo.