October 14, 2014
Over the weekend I made some time to catch up on some reading I’ve been looking forward to. I’m a few issues behind in my Offscreen magazine subscription, and I just recently received the first issue of Lagom magazine.
These magazines are just fantastic. Offscreen has always focused primarily on the people behind the pixels. It’s mostly comprised of interviews, profiles, a-day-in-the-life-ofs, original essays, and more. All featuring the folks who many of us know from online.
Magazine seems an unfair category. For one, the quality of paper and printing is superb — it feels more like an extended, special edition comic book than something you’d find on the shelf at Barns & Noble. The advertising is classy and simple — never breaking up an article. And the content itself is meant to endure just as the quality of the paper speaks to the non-disposable nature of Offscreen.
I’ve been reading Offscreen since issue 1 (I was a contributor to issue 2), and the quality has so clearly increased.
This past weekend I made time to read through most of issues 7 and 8 of Offscreen and thoroughly enjoyed them. Issue 7 especially, it had an underlying focus on business and time management — two topics which are at the top of my mind lately.
What’s cool about Offscreen is that it’s filled with the sorts of articles and interviews that you’d almost certainly be filling your Instapaper queue with, except it’s expertly laid out on a printed page with full-color photographs. For a nerd like me who enjoys this type of content anyway, I love the different and experience of reading it in print. Moreover, when I’m done, I can pass off the magazine to a friend and let them borrow it for a while.
And speaking of magazines, the inaugural issue of Lagom is now out and wow. I’ve long been a fan of Elliot Jay Stocks’ work. I bought every issue of 8 Faces, I have a copy of Insites: The Book, I bought the first (and last) edition of Digest, and now I’m a subscriber to Lagom.
Note: you can get the digital versions of Insites and Digest for free on the Viewport Industries home page.
Over the years, Elliot has clearly become a master at editing together a printed work and doing the design and layout. If you like Offscreen, you’ll also like Lagom. It, too, has a focus on the people of our creative industry, but with its own unique voice and style.
Elliot’s past work — especially Digest — served as a great point of inspiration for our recent re-launch of the Tools & Toys website.
As a physical object, Lagom is commanding. The book is large and thick, printed on hearty stock with a foil-embossed logo on the cover. Lagom is equal parts entertainment, information, and inspiration. I honestly don’t know what’s better — the content, the design and typography, or the photography.
In today’s installment of “the more you know”, Sarah Laskow writes for Slate about the history of snowboarding and how it got its name.
Sherman Poppen — the man who invented the first type of snowboard — called it the Snurfer. But when Jake Burton Carpenter invented his own brand of board, he called it a Burton Snurfboard. But Poppen had “Snurf” trademarked, and so Burton changed the name to snowboard and the rest is history. Fascinating.
Monday, October 13
TextExpander touch from Smile saves you time and effort by expanding short abbreviations into frequently-used text.
Whether it’s a simple email signature or several paragraphs of a standard response, you’ll love how easy it is to use TextExpander to avoid typing the same thing over and over.
With the new TextExpander touch 3 on iOS 8, there’s a TextExpander custom keyboard so that you can expand abbreviations in all your apps on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
Over 60 apps offer enhanced TextExpander support, including Byword, Day One, Drafts, Fantastical, Launch Center Pro, OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, and more.
See the TextExpander touch custom keyboard in this great video from David Sparks.
TextExpander touch is available on the App Store.
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My thanks to Smile Software for again sponsoring the RSS feed this week, and for being one of the launch partner sponsors at the new Tools & Toys.
Friday, October 10
On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I share about how and why to prioritize quality above all else in the work we do. Sometimes you need a medium that is super simple and hyper focused, and sometimes you need something that is media rich and very versatile. Whatever your foundation and whatever your frequency, always prioritize quality.
But no, seriously. This is solid advice from Mike Monteiro. (Via Zeldman.)
We just published our most-recent app review over on the Sweet Setup and it’s for document scanning apps on the iPhone:
It’s the 21st century, and yet there’s still so much paper flooding into our lives: receipts, office forms, bills, letters home from our children’s school, and on and on. Owning a dedicated document scanner can help, but it’s not always nearby when we need it. Luckily, ever since the iPhone’s camera gained sufficient resolution to capture crisp text, there have been a number of document scanning apps that have put the possibility of going paperless much more in reach. After testing a number of these apps, our pick for the best document scanning app on iOS is Scanbot.
There are quit a few excellent apps in this space — PDFpen Scan+ and Scanner Pro, for example — but what I personally like about Scanbot is the whimsy and personality it has. It’s easy and fun to use.
Wednesday, October 8
If one podcast wasn’t enough, good news. I was a guest today on Myke Hurley’s world-famous interview podcast, Inquisitive. Among other things, we talked about the whole history of Tools & Toys, including the how and the why behind yesterday’s re-launch.
I had the privilege of being a guest on Cesar Contreras’ interview podcast, Pencil vs Pixel. Cesar interviewed me about the story of my own journey as an independent online creator. And, as the title suggests, we talked about defining success, finding balance, and more.
Tuesday, October 7
Need is a refined retailer and lifestyle publication for the modern gentleman.
Each month, Need sources and curates a limited selection of items — clothing, literature, furniture, and otherwise — for men.
These products are coupled with beautiful independent photography and independent journalism befitting the time of year.
All products are current season, high-quality, and frequently exclusive to Need, thereby providing a dignified experience that all gentlemen will appreciate.
Need sends only one email per month, sells only limited-quantities, and, generally speaking, works to ensure it stands well-apart from the traditional e-commerce crowd.
My thanks to Need for sponsoring the site this week, and for being one of the sponsoring partners for the Tools & Toys relaunch. Need is run by my friend, Matt Alexander, and he has built it into something amazing. If you like clothes that fit and are fashionable and are made well, look no further than Need.
As you may or may not know, about 8 months ago I upgraded my trusty Olympus E-PL5 and got the new E-M10. I wanted to spend a good amount of time with the new camera before writing about it to make sure that the new bells and whistles were truly something I used over the long term.
And so I began writing this camera review a while back, but then held out on it for the past month or so because I wanted to publish in on the brand-new Tools & Toys site instead of publishing it here. It’s your typical Shawn Blanc-style review — personal, nerdy, and winded. It clocks in at 4,500 words.
At long last, the new Tools & Toys is live:
As fun as it is to geek out over the latest and greatest stuff, at the end of the day, there is much, much more to life. Our self-worth is not tied to how fancy our gear is nor how often we upgrade it.
Cool new stuff is cool and new, but let us also be mindful and intentional of our consumption habits and our lifestyles. Let’s consider what’s most important to the improvement of our lives and workflows, let’s celebrate craftsmanship and well-made products that are built to last, and let’s be content with not upgrading everything we own all the time (even though we want to). Let’s find inspiration in the march of technology, art, and creativity that is always around us. And let us not be primarily confident in the gear we use, but rather in the values we hold which inspire us to make better and do better.
The new site is more than just a fresh design. It’s also a fresh direction for our content. And I couldn’t be happier with both.
Monday, October 6
Kevin Kelly is such a papa to the creative community and he has much wisdom and insight. His talk was the first of the XOXO festival and it was by far and away the one that left me with the most to think about.
He shared about the innovator’s dilemma and how success is often what leads to failure. And the difficulty of knowing when to spend your time optimizing a successful product or business and when to spend your time discovering something new and taking new risks (the same thing that led you to success in the first place).
He also shared about how technology and the Web have empowered so many new ways to succeed. And so thus we must define what success looks like for us. And the more possibilities that are out there for people to succeed in their endeavors, the more likely our own success story will be unique.
Friday, October 3
On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly I talk about making and shipping stuff.
There are four dynamics to a product launch: (1) the original product idea and vision; (2) all the work that goes in to making it; (3) marketing and spreading the word; (4) the positive and negative emotions that surround the work and the launch itself.
In this show I focus mostly on the latter two: marketing and emotions.
Many people shy away from marketing, or market their stuff poorly, because they are either embarrassed or they don’t know how to market. Or both. However, good marketing is vital to the success of our products. We want them to do well so we can sustain the work we’ve done and continue to do great work.
Additionally, putting our work out there for the world to see is intimidating and frightening. It’s also exciting. I know many people, myself included, who will feel depressed on a product launch day. And so how do we find emotional health in the midst of shipping our work? How can we be emotionally strong in order to stay on track and develop a life-long history of making and shipping our best work year after year?
Proudly sponsored by:
Thursday, October 2
But that idea of what smartwatches are for, making it more convenient to deal with the flood of notifications and information our phones provide us, is unimaginative. I think what the smartwatch can do is make the phone unnecessary for many purposes, create new purposes altogether, and allow us to benefit from a wrist-sized screen’s limitations.
“…allow us to benefit from a wrist-sized screen’s limitations.”
How long can you work on making a routine task more efficient before you’re spending more time than you save? (across five years)
It took me a few minutes to understand this chart. If you can find a way to shave off 5 minutes from a task that you do ever day, it’s worth spending 6 days to figure out how.
(Via Álvaro Serrano.)
Great update to the best iPhone Twitter app. The design now optimized for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (hooray!). And Tweetbot also includes some very nice iOS 8 stuff such as interactive notifications, and, my favorite, in-app iOS 8 extensions. Which means that when your on a website inside Tweetbot’s in-app browser, you can act on that URL in all sorts of ways, not the least of which include the ability to send it to Instapaper, Pinboard, OmniFocus, etc. I’ve been dying for simultaneous support of Instapaper and Pinboard for quite a while.
October 1, 2014
Let’s talk about tools, services, and apps that can help you reduce cognitive friction during your day.
Computers are great at doing the boring, automated stuff we don’t like to do. So why not automate common tasks (like performing backups of your computer), pre-make decisions for your computer to carry out on your behalf (such as auto-filing certain email newsletters), and generally just find ways to make yourself more efficient?
I think the biggest reason we don’t do these things is because we don’t care. Seriously. In the moment, it seems easier to just continue suffering through our broken and inefficient workflows that it does to take a step back and consider if there’s a better way.
You could spend an extra 5 minutes every day for the rest of your life sorting through the spam and newsletters in your email inbox, or you could take 15 minutes today and tell your computer to do it for you.
I think another reason we don’t set stuff like this up is because we don’t even know what options are available to us. And so that’s why I’ve put together this brief list of all the apps, tools, and services I use to help me do things better when I’m at my Mac.
Email Rules: In an ideal world, the only emails that would show up in your inbox are the ones you want to read. Email is not the enemy, but it sure can get unwieldy in a hurry.
Step one is, of course, to unsubscribe from all the incoming email newsletters you don’t want to get. I am subscribed to some email newsletters because I like what they have to say; some of these emails I keep out of my inbox and auto-file them into my “Bacon” folder. I also have rules set up to flag certain emails that contain the word “sponsorship” or “typo”. And I use VIP sparingly — my accountant and my wife send me an email, it will set off a push notification on my iPhone.
Keyboard Maestro: This is a utility app for bending your Mac to your will. It’s hard to explain what KM does because it can do just about anything. I use it to launch certain apps with just a keyboard shortcut; I use it to streamline the exporting of my podcast audio out of Garage Band; I use it for doing bottom-posting email replies when appropriate; I use it to automatically launch the Doxie importing software and to import all my document scans as soon as I’ve plugged my Doxie Go into my Mac; and more. Basically, what Keyboard Maestro is good at is automating certain certain tasks for you
Hazel: Hazel is like the cousin to Keyboard Maestro. While also great at automating tasks, it works under slightly differently contexts. Hazel works with the files on your computer, and mostly runs under the hood. You can have it do things like automatically clean up all the files on your Desktop at the end of the day and move them into a “Desktop Cleanup” folder. Hazel will notice if you delete and app and then ask if you also want to clean up all the system files related to that app. Hazel can automatically take any new images you’ve added to Lightroom to your NAS drive and copy them onto your NAS drive for backup and archival purposes. And more.
LaunchBar: The whole point of an application launcher is to quickly get to the files and apps you frequently access on your computer. You bring up LaunchBar with a keyboard shortcut, type in the first few letters of an app, bookmark, or file that you want and LaunchBar presents a list of the best results sorted by most-likely-what-you-want.
As you use it, LaunchBar learns your most common searches and provides weighted results. There’s a lot you can do with LaunchBar, custom searches, zipping and emailing files, and more. I wrote a whole review about the latest version here.
TextExpander: Surely everyone reading this knows about this utility app which runs in the background on your Mac to expand snippets of text into sentences, words, dates, and whatever else you can imagine. It makes a great tool for quickly punching out common things you type on a regular basis (such as common email replies, email signatures, misspelt words, etc.) For example, I use the snippet
;email to automatically insert my email address, and I use the snippet
;home to automatically insert my home mailing address. (A tip about using the semicolon before the word: that helps guarantee that the snippet isn’t something I would type in any normal situation.)
1Password: Another app I hope you’re familiar with. Yes, 1Password is great for storing all the various logins and other sensitive bits of information. But it’s also a very efficient tool. When I need to log into something, insert my Credit Card info, or whatever, a quick keystroke to bring up the 1Password quick entry window and I’m off to the races.
Fantastical: Fantastical is an awesome calendar app. And one of the things I like most about it is how quickly accessible it is (since it lives in the Menu Bar, a keyboard shortcut brings up the app instantly and I can see the list of my agenda). But I also like the natural language parsing. When it comes to events and appointments, we all just naturally speak in sentences. And so, having a calendar app that interprets that language so well makes it much easier to enter in new events (and reminders).
Time Machine: I can’t stress how important it is to have regular backups of my computer. And Time Machine takes all the thought out of it by automatically backing up my computer to an external hard drive several times per day.
SuperDuper: I also like to have a bootable backup of my computer. And I use SuperDuper to do this every night. And there’s an option in SuperDuper that will automatically launch the app and begin a smart update backup as soon as I plug in my USB drive. So that means, when my computer’s apps are all closed out and I’m ready to do the nightly backup, all I do is plug in the USB drive.
Maximum internal storage: One thing I’ve learned about computers is that there is never enough internal storage space. I would rather spend my time taking photos and listening to music than shuffling files around. And so I always get as much internal storage as I can so hopefully I don’t have to keep fighting that ceiling.
BreakTime: A simple app that reminds me to move around every 45 minutes.
Timing: A utility app that tracks how I spend my time when on my computer. Hindsight is 20/20 you know?
iBank 5: This financial management app has auto-import rules that properly re-name and assign transactions when I’m importing them from my bank. It also has income/expense reports, budgeting, and more. I know that any banking software worth its salt will have this, but I use iBank because I think it’s the best. I do all my own bookkeeping, and having as much of the busywork automated by my software helps me so I only need to spend less than 5 hours per month doing my books. (iBank also becomes extremely handy come tax season.)
Tweetbot: I use lists when I need a quieter timeline and I use some muting rules so I don’t see certain tweets that I’m not interested in (such as those “whatever daily is out!” announcement tweets).
Things I need to improve at
For the sake of transparency, I want to be clear that I am not Mac Zen Master. My desk isn’t always free of clutter (it’s usually not), and there are many areas of work that I know I can improve on.
Such as my podcasting workflow. I record a podcast almost every single day, and it takes me time every day to save, export, master, and publish it. The routine is almost the same every day, but I haven’t found a way to speed up that process now that I use Auphonic for mastering the audio after I’ve exported out of Garage Band.
I also recognize that one of the greatest ways to work smarter isn’t by using a “hack”, but by simply getting better at focusing and seeing a task through to the end.
I know there are places I can get better at focusing and at improving my own habits. Such as not checking Twitter as often as I do. Or improving my habits for processing incoming emails. Even my task management habits need help. (Don’t tell anyone, but I often find myself playing the “due date game” with my tasks instead of properly assigning due dates based on actual urgency and then reviewing all my projects on a regular basis.)
It can be easy to get hyper nerdy about this stuff, and to spend forever and a day tinkering and fiddling and “optimizing”. I listed out the above things not to say that you should be utilizing them as well, but instead to give you an idea of perhaps one or two ways that you could work smarter.
It just boils down to being mindful about the work we are doing. When we notice that there’s something we do repeatedly, step back for a moment to see if there’s a way to automate that task. And if there is something we do that annoys us, step back for a moment and question if that task is truly necessary — or if it can be delegated to someone or something.
Tuesday, September 30
It was over a weekend in August that I sat down and started Tools & Toys. It had been six months since I quit my job and began writing this website full-time, and just six weeks after finding out my wife and I were pregnant with Noah.
That was three years ago.
Primarily, I built Tools & Toys because I wanted an outlet for me to link to and write about cool things. Now, the scope of what I write about and link to here on shawnblanc.net is technically not limited, but I do try and stay on the topics of design, diligence, and Apple nerdery. However, my personal interests extend far beyond those topics. And so I built Tools & Toys as a place where I could link to and write about things beyond the scope of what I write about here. Tools & Toys was — and is — a playground of interesting things; a collection of fine paraphernalia.
Secondly, I wanted to build and design a WordPress site from the ground up.
You know how it is when you get the unquenchable need to make something. You can envision a project, picture the end result, and suddenly its all you can do to pull yourself away from working on it at 3 in the morning to get a few hours of sleep before your motivation wakes you up again. Well, that’s how it felt with Tools & Toys. I knew what I wanted, I knew how I wanted it to work, I knew the site itself had potential to be great, and I wanted the challenge of building it from scratch. And so I did.
I also did it for the money. The business model of Tools & Toys was an obvious one: find cool stuff on the internet, and when possible use affiliate links.
I have always subscribed to the principle that quality and honesty breed trust and attention. And what I want more than anything when it comes to the T&T readership is to have people who trust that we’re not here to rob them of their time.
On Tools & Toys we’ve never fed the pageview machine (we put the full content of each post on the home page and in the RSS feed), and we’ve never linked to something without reason. Sure, there have been some oddball items we’ve put up, but sometimes that’s the point — hey, look at this wacky item.
And so, now, three years later, it’s time for Tools & Toys to evolve just a little bit.
Starting next week, we’ll begin publishing several new types of original content. This will be in the form of photo essays, editorials, gear guides, reviews, and interviews. This will all be in addition to the daily posts we’ve always been publishing; we will continue linking to new and cool things that are out there.
The site is also getting a complete design overhaul, including a brand new logo. My friend, Pat Dryburgh, has done an amazing job re-imagining the site’s design. I cannot wait to pull back the curtain on it next week.
So, click through to check out the new logo. Also, we’re giving stuff away all through the month of October. If you join the new T&T newsletter then you’ll be entered to win something, plus you’ll get notified as soon as the site goes live next week.
Matt Reich, writing for us over at The Sweet Setup:
There’s no shortage of Markdown editors to choose from, and many of them are fantastic. We think Byword is the best of the bunch because it hits the sweet spot between simplicity and functionality. Byword offers a calm writing environment, yet has just enough features under the hood enough to make you a happy and more productive writer.
Byword really is a wonderful app. I do all my long-form writing in it, which includes all the articles I write here and for other sites as well as the book I’m working on right now.
Monday, September 29
Creative VIP is the exclusive membership club for creative professionals, writers, and designers. Here’s what membership includes:
- Over $2,500 in discounts from world-class companies like Media Temple, Fontdeck, Virb, Creative Market, and dozens of others.
- Exclusive savings on apps you’ll love, like TextExpander, LaunchBar, Ember, and Backblaze.
- Access to a growing library of 600+ graphics, vectors, icons and web elements.
Here’s what Shawn had to say: “Creative VIP is a no-nonsense service run by classy folks. The generous discounts on the world-class apps and web services are worth the price of entry alone.“
We couldn’t have put it better. This week only, you can save 50% on membership, and join for under $25. We’d love to welcome you as a member, so come and take a look around!
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My thanks to Creative VIP for again sponsoring the site this week. Like they’ve mentioned above, a membership hooks you up with discounts on a slew of amazing apps and services — many of which I personally use (such as Media Temple, Backblaze, LaunchBar, and TextExpander).
Gosh. So it’s been two years now since I started doing the paperless thing at my home office. And I haven’t lost the faith.
Two years in and I will heartily vouch for the simple workflow of having a nice scanner, a scheduled time to scan stuff in, and then a set of Hazel rules for automatically naming and filing my incoming document scans is a good system. I’ve been through two tax returns (personal and business) and my wife and I started a non-profit charity all while doing things “paperless” and it’s been just fine.
You can click through the link to see the software and hardware I’m using to scan stuff in and auto-file it on my computer. Things haven’t changed for me at all since I wrote that article in 2012.
Though I will add one thing: the value of a great shredder. I bought this $75 Fellowes shredder over a year and a half ago and it’s excellent. It can handle staples and credit cards and it’s a cross-cutter and it has enough bin capacity that I only empty it out about once a month.
Friday, September 26
In case you didn’t notice from all of today’s links, I’ve been spending the day writing about the importance of saying no. And also, the potential danger of saying “maybe”. And this is the topic of this week’s episode of my podcast, The Weekly Briefly.
This episode is proudly sponsored by
For the “no” trifecta, here’s that great quote from Steve Jobs which is always worth revisiting:
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.
Focus is hard because saying no is hard. We say yes so as not to hurt someone’s feelings, or not to shut the door on a who-knows-maybe-it’ll-work-out-one-day opportunity. And so often it’s the person who can juggle so many plates and do so many things whom we admire and give accolades to. But what of the person or the company that focuses on only a few things — if not one thing — in order to make the absolute best and most delightful product out of their very narrow scope?
Another great piece by Liz Danzico:
Just like saying yes, saying no creates your story. It’s what you leave out, not just what you put in, that forms a story, that makes a life. [...]
No matter what it is—be it a business, a person, a piece of art, a career, a song, a family, a way of life, or a pursuit of any kind—it’s easy to say no to all the other choices that will present themselves if you truly love something.
Reminds me of the Robert Louis Stevenson quote: “Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”
Liz Danzico (via Patrick Rhone) on the fringe benefits of saying no:
When I say no (e.g., conference talk invites, “pick my brain” invitations, jury solicitations), I immediately add my regret to the No List. I nurture this growing list of no-things, adding category data like dates events would have happened, themes, and date turned down.
Suddenly, I’m making list of cities not seen, airplanes not embarked, and time saved, rather than time taken away. Several months later, I have a made a substantial something. It’s how I’ve marked time.
There are many instances where deadlines are crucial, where getting things done needs to get done. Sometimes saying yes is just the thing that must happen. But just as importantly, most times it is not.
When we say no, it doesn’t have to be because we are too busy. It can also be because we are intentional and purposeful about what we do with our time and energy.
Lessons 1 and 7 I bet everyone who has ever published something on the internet can relate to. I give a hearty amen to lessons 9 and 13. And lesson 14 is something I’m trying to get better at.
Lesson 10 I’m not sure I agree with. For one, sites and services such as Tumblr and Squarespace have made it extremely easy for just about anyone to set up a website and begin publishing stuff to the Web. And since these sites (Tumblr especially) promote an equal nobility to all the various “post types” — quotes, images, videos, re-blogs, and long-form articles — the friction of not knowing what to publish is even more removed.
However, when I look at the tools I use every day here at shawnblanc.net, things have been remained pretty stagnant when compared to when I first began writing here more than 7 years ago. And yet, I don’t know if that’s a quantifiably negative issue — the tools I am most frequently using (MarsEdit; WordPress) are in no way holding me back. By far the biggest area of stagnation which I feel affected by is the lack of blogging tools on iOS.
Focusing on [my MacBook Air and iPhone 5s] alone has been transformative for me, and their elegant portability has erased so much of the tension from my working environment. I feel light, and movable, and untethered. My burdens are fewer. My mind is clearer.
Thursday, September 25
‹ Previously Recently ›
If you’re an agency owner you already know how hard it can be to manage your team and clients…
Your agency is buzzing with activity. One of your designers just posted an update with some concepts to your client in Basecamp. And you’re reviewing a few Github issues that QA found the other day — while you still need to talk to a lead that you’re about to close…
With all this going on, having to worry about your team filling out their time sheets so that you can invoice is borderline overwhelming. So why keep doing it this way?
We’ve integrated the project management tools you use every day so that your team doesn’t have to constantly remember to fill those timesheets out and they can focus on the work that really matters.
Find out how Dashable can help your agency succeed. Sign-up for a free 14-day trial at Dashable.com.
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My thanks to Dashable for sponsoring the site this week.