Posts From September 2010

To celebrate the 25th anniversary, AMC is showing Back to the Future on the big screen for two showings at the end of October. Buy your tickets now; I did. (Via Justin Blanton.)

New iPhone app for the indispensable file-sharing, URL-shortening, and-so-much-more service, Droplr. The iPhone app is very well designed and works just swell. It not only gives you access to all the Droplr uploads you created on your Mac, it allows you to upload, shorten, and share links and files from your iPhone as well.

If you use Droplr on your Mac, the iPhone app is a few bucks well spent. The iPhone app will work without its Mac counterpart, but if you don’t using that then perhaps this review from Chris Bowler will give you reason.

As if design nerds needed more ways to spend money. (Via Cameron Moll.)

I cannot say enough great things about Instapaper. And apparently neither can anyone else who uses it. All this this from a project Marco has developed in his spare time over the past few years? I can’t wait to see what’s in store now.

Ever notice how with an iPhone looking up a phone number (even from the favorites list) is about as distracting as texting? I should use voice dialing more often.

Good insight mixed with dry humor is a winning combination any day.

He dictated the whole article. (Though it’s not as cute as the video review he did for Dragon 11 for Windows.)

(dv)

I’ve been hosting with Media Temple for three years, and this past weekend I finally upgraded from the (gs) Grid Server to a (dv) Dedicated Virtual server.

The (gs) gets a lot of flack, but in my experience it has been a good service. It’s inexpensive, easy to set up, and will keep your site ticking through moments of extreme traffic. In the three years I’ve been on the Grid my site never had a problem being Fireballed or other similar link-tos.

I have been wanting to upgrade to the (dv) for a while. For one, a (dv) is actually cheaper than my (gs) hosting because of some memory upgrades I added on to my Grid’s database. Secondly, the (dv) is just a better hosting environment than the (gs).

In spite of the fact I should have migrated I kept putting it off. Why? Because I am not a developer — working with databases, ssh commands, and nameservers makes my palms sweaty. However, as of a few months ago the traffic on this site has outgrown what the (gs) is meant for. So I had to migrate.

All in all the migration was not as difficult as I had feared, and chances are most visitors to the site never even noticed. There were only a few hiccups I encountered. The biggest was that the /etc/hosts file needed editing to work properly with wp_cron.php and the Super Cache plugin (so far as I can tell this is a very common edit that most WordPress installs have to make to work properly on a default (dv) server from Media Temple). Also I encountered an error when importing my Mint database and after troubleshooting ended up losing about 36 hours worth of incoming traffic data.

Some articles and references I used:

Now that things are settled I am so glad I upgraded and only wish I had migrated sooner. I’ve quickly learned my way around Plesk (the hosting control panel for the (dv)). I’ve always liked Media Temple’s account center dashboard for the (gs) — it’s nice and simple — but there is significantly more power and flexibility with the (dv) and Plesk than I ever had on the (gs).

And the speed. It is instantly noticeable when navigating this site. The (dv) is loading uncached pages at least 3 times as fast as the (gs) did, and in some cases it’s 14 times faster (these are unofficial benchmarks based on statistics from the WP Super Cache Plugin).

Finally, I cannot say enough good things about Media Temple’s customer support. I exchanged emails or spoke on the phone with TJ, Ryan, Jason, Paul, and Chris. They were all extremely friendly and brilliantly helpful.

If you’re looking for hosting, I recommend Media Temple. I don’t have a partnership with them, but if you set up your new service using this link I will get a small kickback.

What a craft. Bob Kramer, who used to be a clown for Ringling Brothers, now forges about 5 handmade knives a week and is one of only 114 master bladesmiths in the world.

Brett Kelly’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

My name is Brett Kelly and I’ve got a pretty full hat rack. By day, I’m the Technical Communications Manager for Evernote Corporation where I split my time pretty evenly between doing web development and writing user documentation. The rest of my time is spent doing freelance web development and writing for my blog. My current claim to fame is being the author an ebook called Evernote Essentials, which people seem to like. I live in southern California with my first wife and our two kids. You can also find me oversharing and making awful jokes on Twitter as @inkedmn.

What is your current setup?

Brett Kelly's Setup

Brett Kelly's Setup

I work exclusively from home, so my setup is a mixture of my professional and personal equipment. My employer-issued computer is a 15″ unibody Macbook Pro and my personal computer is a very new quad-core 27″ iMac. When I’m doing day job work, the iMac pulls duty as a secondary display for the Macbook Pro. The third display on my desk is a 22″ Acer LCD that serves as a secondary to my iMac when I’m doing “evening” work. Up until very recently, the Macbook Pro sat atop a couple of large hardcover books to elevate it to something resembling eye-level, but a few days ago I purchased a laptop stand which hoists the laptop nice and high next to the iMac.

I use a standard Apple keyboard, but have been flirting with the smaller Bluetooth model for the last couple of weeks and may switch to that. When I got the iMac recently, it came with a Magic Mouse that I’ve come to like and will probably adopt as my permanent mouse, but before that was my old Microsoft two-button mouse which has served me reliably for going on six years now.

You’ll also find a smattering of backup drives littered around my desk, as well as a Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanner, which I absolutely adore (and that works with Evernote). Music is a pretty important part of my working effectively, so my gobs of music is output steadily through a set of humble-yet-reliable Altec Lansing desktop speakers that I bought at Staples about a million years ago or my trusty Sennheiser HD 202 headphones (for when my kids are sleeping or my wife just isn’t in the “speed metal mood”).

I have an iPad (the WiFi-only model) that I use around the house for reading things and maintaining my task lists. I’ve done some light writing (read: typing) on it, but it hasn’t really found any sort of imperative place in my workflow. My kids like to play games on it, so that’s cool.

Why this rig?

I’m a complete glutton for screen real estate. Both my work and personal configurations offer me ample space to do just about anything I need, and I always have sufficient room to tile different windows according to the task at hand. I’ve also found it quite awesome that I’m able to incorporate some of my personal equipment into my daytime work, which allows me to avoid having two discrete working configurations and, thus, an obscenely full desk.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

I spend the most time writing either code or prose, so the application you’ll find me staring at the most is my text editor of choice, Vim (the MacVim build, specifically). It’s insanely powerful and is absolutely great for writing just about anything. Bonus nerd points because Vim is almost 20 years old and it’s still the finest text editor available (unless, of course, you’re talking to an Emacs user). It’s infinitely configurable and scriptable, has an active and vibrant community and is lighting fast. I’ve been using it almost exclusively for about 7 years now and I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what it can do.

As you probably could have guessed, I also spend a good deal of time in Evernote. It serves as my filing cabinet, digital notebook, idea log, photo album, temporary clipboard — all sorts of things.

Everything else:

I’m also a big fan of Keyboard Maestro, Concentrate, Skitch, Dropbox, TextExpander, Path Finder, iStat Menus and MarsEdit.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

The combination of lots of display space and powerful hardware that can (most of the time) keep up with me make it easy to dig into the current endeavor. When I can comfortably view 4-6 source code files on the iMac and have my browser open on the second display, it requires me to do a lot less remembering. I don’t have to switch away from the current buffer to look up the correct parameter order for such-and-such function, I can just open it right next to where I’m working and see both side-by-side.

I liken my working style to the way my children play with toys: they don’t put away each toy as they finish playing with it (as much as I wish they would), so we have a great big cleanup party each evening where everything is organized and stowed in its right place. When I’m ready to wrap up the current day’s work, I’ll spend at least 3-4 minutes closing a dozen Safari windows, Firefox Downloads windows, Evernote notes and such. I like that I have the canvas and the horsepower to work that way without it getting bogged down or looking cluttered.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I’m pretty happy with what I use, but I would change a few small things, particularly with respect to my current quiver of input devices.

First, I’ve grown to actively dislike the use of a mouse over the years, so I’d love to foster my own fu with tools like Keyboard Maestro to the point that I’d have to take my hands from the keyboard only occasionally, if at all. I’ve written about this in the past and I’ll admit that I’m a little militant in my position regarding “the rodent”, but the problem lies more with my ability to sharpen the metaphorical knife than with the knife itself. Mac OS X is incredibly friendly to keyboard lovers, I just need to quit whining about it and learn more.

Second, I’d really like to get my mitts on another Kinesis Advantage keyboard (which I used for several years but sold because of an obvious mental deficiency). It’s one of those absurdly ergonomic keyboards that looks like a pair of soup bowls lined with keys, but man is it nice once you get used to it. The downside is that you’re basically all thumbs whenever you sit down at a “regular” keyboard, as most of the meta keys that are normally struck using your little finger (Ctrl, Alt, Cmd) are positioned under your thumbs. That, and people seem to be unable to resist commenting on how the Starship Enterprise seems to be missing a keyboard. Oh, and they cost like $300.

More Sweet Setups

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

Spoiler: flip the word upside down.

And this reminds me of a similar trick I learned a while back for proofreading a bit of text against spelling and grammar: read each sentence in reverse.

(Via Cameron Moll.)

So here’s an extremely clever, free, and useful service. Sending an email to someone that requires a response? You can CC or BCC an-amount-of-time@followupthen.com and you or both of you will get a reminder about the email. Very smart, and apparently very easy to use.

I often use Things to keep track of my follow-up needed email conversations, but FollowUpThen looks like a much more streamlined way to handle those. (Via swissmiss.)

A beautiful new iPad app from Oliver Reichenstein and Information Architects and designed with the sole purpose of being a top-notch writing environment:

Many professional writers use SimpleText or Textedit because these are the only writing programs that are totally distraction free. But text editors are not perfect. That’s why we made Writer.

Additional cleverness involves a monospace font optimized for the iPad, Nitti Light, and syncing with Dropbox.

Susan Orlean’s advice for aspiring writers which is now no longer relevant. So I guess you should start a blog or something.

Perhaps. But not today. Case in point? This Etch A Sketch iPad Case.

Tim Civan gets some stunning, vintage-looking images of modern-day New York. (Via Jim Ray.)

Khoi Vinh:

The old equation for news used to be: journalism (the reporting and editing) + presentation (laying out the news or preparing it for broadcast) + distribution (delivering newspapers or broadcasting news over the air).

Now the equation for news is: journalism + presentation + user experience + distribution. Hence, the reason attention and trust are so much more valuable now whereas they used to be somewhat inconsequential as it related to distribution.

Khoi’s 30-minute presentation, which is the basis for his above blog post, can be seen on swissmiss. A lot of great gems of wisdom in his presentation — especially if you’re involved with any sort of content distribution.

How I Write an Article

To start most articles I just brain dump into Notational Velocity or Simplenote. My location makes no difference (which is why I love Simplenote and Notational Velocity so).

I often times start an article by writing what I assume will be the introduction (though it’s likely to get changed dramatically before all is written and done with). This introduction is, to me, the heart of what I want to actually say.

Then I just start pecking away. I write in Markdown and in short, incomplete sentences. This first-draft writing stage is when I love my article the most. It’s full of bullet points, convictions, trains of thought, and, most importantly, delusions of grandeur.

If by chance the keyboard and I get into a flow I may write the whole piece all at once, but that is rarely the case. A lot of times I have a substantial amount of research and/or thinking to do in order to get a well rounded article. And so I start with my basic ideas and assumptions and then answer more questions to fill in the gaps with juicy details and desirous how-tos.

This is especially true of my reviews. I start typing and end up with a whole lot of very ugly text. Just lots and lots of chunks of text. It’s during that first draft that I try to write until I’m absolutely spent and have nothing left to type. It would be better to write 5,000 words and edit them down into a 2,000-word article than to write 500 words and force more in an attempt to build it up.

But that is not to imply that when writing a software review I write about every single feature. In fact it is the opposite; I make a point not to address every feature. I am not writing a laundry list, I’m telling a story. So instead of feature listing, I do my best to highlight what it is about the application which has most impacted me and why I enjoy it so much. Then I try to talk in detail about those features — sharing emotion, musings, and information about them.

Once I have nothing left to type I step away from the whole thing (usually by opening a separate text editor, such as TextEdit or TextMate) and write an outline for how I actually want the article to flow. This basic outline helps to bring some semblance of structure and organization to the article.

Then I copy and paste each sentence, one by one, from the original brain dump into the outline. This places the random chunks of text into their new home of organization, and is an exercise which helps me get out of the nitty-gritty details and look at the overall scope and flow of the article. Because once that has been defined it is much easier to see what needs addition and what needs subtraction.

Often at this stage I find fresh inspiration to write more. So I do.

After that secondary writing phase I am usually done with all that needs to be written. So now I start editing. Then re-writing. Re-editing. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

By now I’m sick and tired of the whole thing. I put it into MarsEdit ask my wife to read it via MarsEdit’s perfect preview. Or I just walk away from it for a day or seven.

I then edit one more time before finally just publishing and hoping for the best.

You would think that after writing this website for over three years I’d be able to sit down and just crank something out quickly and easily. But I can’t. And maybe I never will. But that’s okay, writing is a process and I dearly enjoy it.

And thank you, dear reader, for reading. It takes a lot of time to write here, and I appreciate that you show up to read it every now and then.

Here’s a handy and free application for text cleanup. It does much of the no-brainer editing and formatting for you. For example, CleanHaven will fix your wrong or missing capitalizations, repair a paragraph that’s full of erroneous line breaks, and even correct words that are are written twice in a row.

(Via Patrick Rhone.)

A visual look at the changes in each United States County’s unemployment rate over the past 2.5 years. The national average has grown from 4.6% in January 2007 to 9.7% as of August 2010. (Via Noah Stokes.)

Recipe for Banana Wonderful

a.k.a. Peanut butter and coconut Banana Boat

Banana Wonderful

Ingredients

  • One ripe banana
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Squares from a Hershey’s chocolate bar (Feel free to use any brand of chocolate — milk or dark — depending on how much of a chocolate snob you are)
  • Coconut shavings
  • Marshmallows (regular or mini)

Preparation

  1. Peel the banana, and with a very sharp knife slice it down the long middle from top to bottom.
  2. Lay the two halves, with flat side facing up, onto a sheet of tin foil.
  3. Spread a generous layer of peanut butter across the top of both banana halves.
  4. Place the chocolate squares evenly along the banana, on top of the peanut butter.
  5. Liberally sprinkle coconut shavings on top of the chocolate squares.
  6. Finally, place marshmallows on top of the squares.

Cooking

You can cook your Banana Wonderful indoors or outdoors. At home, simply place the tinfoil holding your banana onto a cookie sheet and broil it in the oven for just a few minutes until your marshmallows are slightly browned on top and the chocolate is soft and melted.

If camping or grilling outdoors, fold the sides of your tinfoil sheet over the top of your Banana Wonderful and place near your campfire until the marshmallows are gooey.

Eating

Your Banana Wonderful is best enjoyed with a fork, along with a warm drink and some good company.

Mike Rundle’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

I’m Mike Rundle, a designer & developer living in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been designing for the web since before people used CSS and am currently a User Interface Architect for a marketing software company in Durham, NC. For the past 2 years I’ve been working on Mac and iPhone apps in my spare time and am the designer & developer of Digital Post, a news app for the iPad.

What is your current setup?

Mike Rundle's Mac Setup

Mike Rundle's Mac Setup

I have a 24″ aluminum iMac (bought it right when they came out), a 15″ 2.53Ghz MacBook Pro, an iPad, a first-gen iPhone and an iPhone 4. On my desk at work is a 27″ Core 2 Duo iMac which is the best computer I’ve ever owned. I’ve got a Logitech MX Revolution mouse which is fantastic, and under that is an XTracPads HAMMER mousepad which is gigantic and totally awesome. I highly recommend it. I also own a Rain Design mStand laptop stand which is built as if Apple made it. It’s the best laptop stand out there, hands down.

Why this rig?

The 24″ iMac replaced my aging PowerMac G5. The iMac is a great computer, but I just don’t use it anymore now that I have the MacBook Pro. When I work on my iPhone apps at night I’m usually on the couch so the MacBook Pro is just more versatile. I’m currently planning to sell the iMac that I don’t use and buy a new 27″ Apple LED Cinema Display for when I need extra space that a laptop can’t provide. I’m also planning to buy a new Apple Magic Trackpad to replace a mouse at home but I want to try one first.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

I have Adobe CS4 at home and CS3 at work; I actually prefer Photoshop CS3 due to how it handles windows and its speed on Snow Leopard. For web coding my tool of choice is TextMate, the finest text editor on the Mac right now. For Cocoa development I use Xcode 3 but have recently been playing with Xcode 4 since it’s the new kid on the block. The new interface is really nice but there are still some quirks that I’ll have to get used to. I use Bjango iStat Menus 3 for putting interactive graphs into my menubar and CloudApp for sharing screenshots and shortening links to post to Twitter. For email I’m a Gmail guy and have been a Mailplane user for awhile, also I use Safari 5 for web browsing.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

TextMate is really the key part of my workflow when working on the web. I have dozens of macros that help me write HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP faster. I actually do something quirky with TextMate: I wrote a macro that maps the 7 key to the Escape key so I can access code completion faster without moving my hands from the main part of the keyboard. I also mapped Ctrl-7 to output the normal 7 key in case I actually have to use it. Crazy, but it’s great!

How would your ideal setup look and function?

My ideal setup would still involve my MacBook Pro but it’d have 2 fast SSD drives in a RAID-0 configuration plus maxed-out RAM. I don’t have a terribly ergonomic office chair so an Aeron would be a must. I have typography and design posters all over my walls so I’d probably just buy more and more till there’s no more paint showing.

More Sweet Setups

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

A concise reminder (or overview) of what’s what from The Internet Grammar of English. (Via Ian Broome.)

Inbox Zero

“It’s not about email.”

While eating an apple galette and announcing his forthcoming book, Merlin lets the cat out of the bag regarding Inbox Zero: it’s not about email. It’s about managing your inbox and using it as a tool to help you make good decisions, build good relationships, and produce good work.

Lately it has clicked for me that my compulsive tendency to constantly check my email does not help me do my job any better. And what’s worse, that compulsion has bled over into some other, non-email inboxes.

For a long time Inbox Zero was my system for processing email so I wasn’t constantly swimming in messages all day. And if I did the system well I won the Inbox Zero badge. Shawn: 1 Inbox: 0

Now I love an empty inbox as much as anyone. But Inbox Zero is more about how I approach my inbox than how I process what’s in it. And it’s not just the email anymore. There’s the Twitter, Ping, my blog stats, my RSS subscriptions, my Flickr contacts, my Instapaper queue, and who knows what else. These are all inboxes and they all need Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero means I care more about the outbox than the inbox. It means I choose to focus my time, energy, and attention on creating something worthwhile instead of feeding some unhealthy addiction to constantly check my inboxes. Pressing the Get New Mail button or refreshing my Twitter stream is like pulling the crank on a slot machine. Did I win? No. Did I win? No.

Inbox Zero means I care more about this moment than I do about my narcissistic tendencies of knowing who’s talking to me on Twitter. It means I care more about doing my best creative work than about keeping up with the real-time web and being instantly accessible via email.

To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson: Inboxes are good enough in their own right, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for work.

Inbox Zero is all about the outbox.

Another link to another great article by Scott Berkun. Required reading for anyone who leads and manages a team, especially if it’s a creative team.

I had the honor of being interviewed by Federico Viticci for one of the premier articles of his major redesign and re-launch of the prestigious Mac Stories website. I just now read through the whole interview for the first time, and it turned out great. It’s a good, long read about all sorts of Mac nerdery.

This article by Marissa Bracke is what inspired Scott’s aforelinked piece. There is some great insight and advice in here:

It took me a while to realize that there’s a big difference between someone who feels busy and someone who has a lot going on in their business. [...]

Skeptical? Try this for three days straight: don’t use the word busy. At all.

You want to email this article to everyone in your office who always talks about how busy they are, don’t you? Yeah, me too.