Note Taking Nirvana?

notebook collectionLike most, I’ve struggled with note taking and mind dumping solutions. I’m easily caught up in chasing the productivity pr0n, looking for the perfect system (hell, I gues by writing this post, I’m still doing that). At first glance however, with the discovery of my most recent set of tools, I believe I’ve found the most streamlined, cohesive solution yet.

My most recent excursion in a single note taking solution was EverNote. Certainly versatile, perhaps too so, and it never felt like the right fit. It was just too something. I wanted a no frills solution that I could easily access my notes from my desktop, laptop and on the go (currently using an iPhone). Certainly EverNote fits that bill, but again, too cumbersome and too busy.

A little while ago, I stumbled on a Habari plugin, SimplyNoted, which interfaced with an iPhone app SimpleNote. Quite an elegant little app/plugin, I could take notes on my phone and be able to pull them up in a Habari Silo, and turn them into a blog post, etc. Nice, but my iPhone isn’t the only place I take notes or want to do a brain dump. So it’s lingered on the second page of my phone, starring at me, taunting me to use it. Then the other day, the always with a great idea Merlin Mann, resurrecting his invaluable 43folders website, posted a screenshot and short post about his workflow.

Wait, did I just read about something syncing with SimpleNote? Sure enough, Merlin was espousing the virtues of an app he’d been using, and how it now syncs with SimpleNote. Notational Velocity is a no frills, desktop application (is there a mobile, I didn’t look) that snycs with SimpleNote, quietly saving behind the scenes,with plenty of keyboard shortcuts but no fluff. It gets out of the way and makes it easy to just jot notes, brain dump, or I’m sure in the hands of someone like Merlin, far, far more. But for this simple guy, it was the missing link to being able to have an app on my Macs that did all the things that SimpleNote could do.

So far in two days of using it, it’s been more usable than any other system I’ve tried. I was able to bang out some thoughts before bed on my laptop, both gather links for this post as well as some outlined thoughts (yeah, this was actually thought out), as well as some ideas for some work I had to do today. I was able to grab those notes when I hit the desktop this morning without doing anything, add to them, and then pick them back up on the laptop later in the day to finish up the writing I needed to do for my new job. After dinner, I was able to then login to the admin of the blog, start a new post, open the SimplyNoted silo, and bang, all of my links and notes were there to write a post. I can’t count how many events I’ve been to the past year that I took notes at either in EverNote or with TiddlyWiki, but never got around to copying them over to writing a post. I look forward to this being the missing link between thinking about blogging, and blogging. Time will tell.

Speaking of Flickr and iPhone

the birds

I posted this to Twitter yesterday, but was quite pleased with how it turned out, and just wanted to post it up on this here blog. I used the “magazine” option in the iPhone app Camera Bag. It was just before sunset, when this huge flock of crows flew into the neighborhood and lighted in a big oak tree across the street. The neighbor was cleaning out his garage at the time, and every time he took stuff out of the garage and threw it into the garbage can, the tree would explode with cawing birds that would swirl around the trees. I just happened to be sitting on the porch with phone in hand as it was happening and snapped a few shots. I’m occasionally surprised by the quality of pics a mobile phone, and the iPhone in particular can take. I still remember my first digital camera only being 1.3 megapixel and the size of a small refrigerator.

Sharing Flickr Photos on Twitter With an iPhone

tweetie screenshotAs great a mobile device I think the iPhone is, there was one thing I couldn’t do with it that I wanted without fuss – easily upload a photo from the phone and post the picture to Twitter via my Flickr account. Prior to the 2.0 OS, you couldn’t even copy and paste a URL, but even after you could, it just wasn’t as quick and convenient as most tasks are on an iPhone. Sure, you can use one of the 3rd party services like yFrog or TwitPic, which might be fine for a throw away snapshot you don’t really care about, but if it’s something you’d like to reference in the future, or have control over how and where it’s used, they simply don’t seem like a good option. I merely wanted to snap a photo, enter a title, tap a button or two, and the photo upload to a Flickr set and automatically post to Twitter. Enter Flickit.

It wasn’t evident when I first starting using the app how to accomplish this. Even after I explored the app and found in the default metadata settings an option to post to Twitter or your blog, I didn’t see how to actually enter my Twitter credentials within the app. I then thought perhaps it was a Flickr setting, and looked into the settings for Flickr for the ability to connect to Twitter. Again, I didn’t see any obvious option.

Finally, I emailed the developer to inquire how exactly to accomplish this. Maybe it was just me, but the solution certainly didn’t seem intuitive, which isn’t usually the norm with Flickr. You have to go to your account->extending flickr->your blogs->edit. From the dropdown, you can then select Twitter as the type of weblog you have. Then within Flickit, in the aforementioned settings->default metadata, you can choose to autopost to Twitter, in addition to setting defaults for title, tags, description, sets and groups. You do have the choice within Flickit to not post to Twitter on individual uploads by altering the setting for that image, so you are not locked into tweeting every upload.

Now, you can easily snap a photo, even from within the app, quickly upload it to Flickr, and it will post the title and URL of the photo’s Flickr page to Twitter. Still not the same as a Twitter client harnessing the Flickr API and allowing you to write a full tweet, upload the image, and embed the URL like they do with the other 3rd party apps, but it sure beats using 3 apps and cutting and pasting a link, or compromising in choice of image hosting. Oh, and did I mention Flickit is free?

iPhone Apps on the Cheap

I’m always on the prowl for cheap (read FREE) iPhone apps, and finding a simple source for such is no easy task, at least in my searches. Unfortunately, all the sites I’ve found that cover this type of information are so full of ads and poorly designed, it’s impossible to actually find anything useful. I have however recently discovered at dealmac.com a RSS feed specifically for discounted iPhone/iPod Touch apps.. I can’t say that I’ve actually found any great deals yet through it, (I haven’t had a chance to play the recent “Let’s Golf!” game posted today), but it’s a start. And don’t get me wrong, I have no problem paying for a quality app, and do so with perhaps too regular of frequency, but still like finding a deal when I can, especially on games, which I know I’ll only play a few times, or very rarely.

Do you have any sites or feeds that you’d care to share? Tips on finding apps on sale?

Dark Nova: Space Trader for the iPhone

I spent countless hours playing Space Trader on my Handspring Visor, and don’t ask me why, but it was one of the first games I looked for when I visited the App Store. At the time, there wasn’t a single option, though I had run across a blog post somewhere saying that a port was coming. For one reason or another, I started poking around the App Store last night, and did a “power search” for Space Trader. Lo and behold, there it was. However, after a glance at the reviews, the $1.99 app got nothing but panned for not being a true port of the original. (The original game is licensed GPL, source code available on Pieter’s site.)

However, in the search results, Dark Nova showed up. Currently a free download, I grabbed a copy and damned if it isn’t exactly what an iPhone port of Space Trader should be. Even the author of the original Palm version was “truly impressed”.

For those not familiar with Space Trader, it’s quite a complex game with the goal of amassing enough money to buy a moon and retire. In addition to trading commodities (including running guns and drugs), players have the option of going rogue and playing the role of space pirate. However, running illegal cargo and pirating will bring about the wrath of the space police.

Now excuse me, I’ve got some trading to do…

Oh, and I’d love to see a screenshot of a Palm Pre running the original with the PalmOS emulator! That would be a hoot.

WhatTheFont for iPhone

””/Perhaps not perfect, but certainly works (I tested it by taking a pic of my latest AT&T bill, it recognized the logo and returned Humanist 777 Bold Condensed). I’ve often seen an advertisement while out and and about and wondered what the font face was, now I’ve got a fighting chance to find out. Currently free and a .1 release, one can only imagine it will improve.

The app basically allows you to take a pic, use your finger to crop the image to just highlight the text, and then it uploads the font to their server. It then does what the web app does, compares the image with some kind of OCR and has you confirm that the corresponding characters are correct. Once you approve the recognition, it returns the font(s).

Pretty nifty little app if you ask me.

Hat tip to Inman

iPhone and Google Syncing

It’s been well documented on the web already, but I figured since I had a few posts on iphone and Nokia syncing, I figured it was worth re-posting that Google announced yesterday that they now supported mobile syncing with iPhones, among other platforms. I haven’t switched from my previous set up yet, but all indications are that it is the same procedure, simply skipping the 3rd party, which is always a plus.

3rd party web services come and go; there’s little doubt in my mind Google isn’t going anywhere. It uses the same Exchange server technology, so the same caveat that the previous solution had still exists. You are only allowed one Exchange server connection, so if for some reason you are using it with say, Exchange, you won’t be able to sync your Google calendar or contacts.

Free LED Football for iPhone

mattel_footballI must have worn out at least 3 of Mattel’s little hand held football games when I was a kid. Probably had another 2 confiscated from teachers for playing it during class.

So it’s no surprise that I’m stoked to see that there is a game for the iPhone heavily influenced by said handheld, and it’s free this weekend to boot. TouchGrove is offering their version based on the game, (oh yeah, there was a sequel that was kick butt) until February 2. Normally only $0.99, this seems like a great marketing plan, as they offer several other games based on similar hand held devices. For instance I wouldn’t have known that they are working on a baseball game based on a similar handheld which I totally will buy!

Download LED football from the App Store.

hat tip MacAppers

iBlogger iPhone App

Prior to my discovery that you can post to a Habari blog with Safari on the iPhone, I purchased iBlogger for the iPhone. It’s from the same developers of ecto, a desktop blogging client. It’s currently only priced at $0.99, which for me is a price I’m willing to pay to test an app. It supports all of the popular blogging platforms, as well as the generic metaweblog API, for which Habari has a plugin available.

Connecting the app to my Habari install was very easy, if I recall it even auto discovered the endpoint (example.com/xmlrpc).

As far as functionality, I do not know if because the generic metaweblog API is being used, and sites using engines like Moveable Type or WordPress, but the options are currently pretty sparse (as of v 1.0.7). Habari’s plugin doesn’t support posting images, so the only options really are:

  • adding your location – the app inserts a link which opens to a Google map
  • adding links – an easy UI for adding a hyperlink.
  • tagging – this “feature” seems very weak. It doesn’t pull the existing tags from the site, a common feature in desktop blogging clients, and in my testing, keeps the previous post’s tags on subsequent posts. Might be handy if you expect to tag all of your on-the-go posts the same thing, but I don’t see it that way.

iBlogger does support multiple blogs, otherwise, I have not found any additional elements. For $0.99, I suppose one can’t complain. Since all of my personal sites are on Habari, I haven’t had cause to look at any of the other iPhone blogging clients. I understand the WordPress app is free and open-sourced, I’m sure at some point, most likely out of boredom, I will look at it. Ultimately, as many people have pointed out, typing on the iPhone doesn’t lend itself to the phone being a real blogging device.

However to get that in the moment feel, having a stable option with with a decent feature set would be nice to have. Thank goodness with Habari and in iPhone, you don’t need a secondary app.

Posting With iPhone

screenshotSo I was looking at mobile blogging apps, assuming I couldn’t post directly from Safari on the iPhone, but alas, it seems I can!

Holy cow, I can even post from the Flickr silo!

This kinds blows my mind. Certainly not a primary mode of blogging, but to be able to take a photo with the camera, upload to Flickr, then write a blog post is kinda amazing.

Edit (not via iPhone) To be clear, my amazement isn’t in the iPhone, rather, in the quality of design and code of Habari that it just works, even in the mobile Safari browser.

iPhone and Video Recording

While attending the Tampa Tweetup, I bumped into Sarah, and she pitched me on the virtues of why I should jailbreak my iPhone.

The main selling point: recording video.

All of the other stuff she pointed out, Google Reader syncing, tethering, custom themes, simply didn’t appeal to me. However, recording video sounded fun, all the while perplexing as to why Apple wouldn’t have a native app by now. Anyway, I followed the links in the aforementioned ReadWriteWeb article she posted, and (with a bit of trepidation and guilt mind you), jail broke my phone for the sake of science – see, that sounds better and helps me sleep at night :-P.

As I expected, none of the other selling points passed muster in my brief exploration, and the initial video recording was minimal, yet still intriguing. I held off on restoring the phone to further test video. Then Monday, I saw a post on TechCrunch about a sanctioned app from Ustream that allegedly would allow “users record and broadcast live video from the device”. Certainly I was skeptical, as why would Ustream get through the Apple App Store police, but not Qik. Maybe quality of code, manner in which the app tapped into the built in functions, it had to be something.

Anyway, there were doubts that Ustream would be released in time for the inauguration, but alas, it was released on Monday at some point. All through this, I wasn’t in any hurry to grab it, as I wasn’t expecting to be anywhere that streaming live video would have any consequence, unless you wanted to see me bring my plants in from the predicted freezing weather here in Tampa. That was until late Tuesday I was reminded Alejandro Escovedo was playing here in town.

I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test live, streaming video from an iPhone, albeit without an audience. I registered with Ustream, downloaded teh app, and headed off to the show. Upon arrival, I immediately realized that the released version I got only supported watching streaming video, not recording, at least I couldn’t find the option.

I hadn’t downloaded Qik, nor registered with the service, so as Alejandro and his band kicked it off, I grabbed the jailbroken app and registered via the phone.

I recorded (and I assume streamed live) several songs during the evening.

In short, the audio quality is horrible, which most likely is the result of being right in front of the amps and the volume being maxed out on the phone, but indeed I recorded some video that went straight to the web. Not wanting to compromise the enjoyment of seeing live music, I didn’t explore all of the options in the iPhone app, I titled, tagged, and described the clips once I got home, not much unlike how I’ve done some of the pics I’ve taken and sent to my Flickr account.

All said and done, considering the fact I’d never logged into or looked at Qik prior to the opening of the show, I’d say that the service has promise, especially if I can follow up on some tips on recording via the phone. Ultimately, I expect Apple to release an app that works directly with iMovie, and then allow 3rd party services to tie into that. Until that time comes, Qik is an intriguing option, and worth the effort to jailbreak the phone, assuming one knows the caveats that go along with doing such.

Protecting the iPhone

Finally made it out of the house after a week of being holed up sick, and stopped off to get a case for the iPhone. First stop was the Apple store, only to be terribly disappointed with the selection. I did however pick up some anti-glare film, which as advertised “provides traction for improved responsiveness”. I was worried about bubbles, but it applied just fine, with only one small bubble, however the anti-glare totally hides it when the phone is on. From there, I hit Best Buy and grabbed an inexpensive, utilitarian silicone case. It’s quite sufficient for now, at least until I get a dock, not sure it would fit in one, though it’s a fairly thin sleeve. I’d highly recommend the anti-glare film to any iPhone user.

Late to the Party—My 99 Dollar iPhone

Though the fact that most who know me consider me to be a “Mac fan boy”, over the years I’ve become quite the hesitant buyer due to the common malady of being always afraid of a new and better version being right around the corner. Add to that my disdain for the requirement of signing a long term contract with cell phone carriers, I have been living with antiquated mobile technology. That is, until AT&T offered $99 refurbished 8 gig 3G iPhones in a post Christmas promotion (the offer was only good through 12/31/08). I figured at that price, no matter what might come around the corner, I wouldn’t feel bitten if a new model came out 3 months after buying. Couple that with the fact that the non-contract plan I had with AT&T was creeping up close to the lowest iPhone plan, I took the plunge. The phone arrived already set up, much to my surprise. I didn’t have to go through any registration to speak of, I plugged it in, named it, updated the software, and it was ready to go. The phone came with the standard headphones, the USB connector, the wall charger attachment, and I would have never known it was a refurbished item aesthetically. The refurbished phone even has the same 1 year warranty that a new iPhone comes with. I haven’t checked on extending the warranty with Apple Care; I’m not even sure if it’s an option.

Primary Hurdle

hurdleAs I’ve blogged about recently, , I have been using Thunderbird 3.0 and the nightly build of Lightning calendar extension, and didn’t want to change that system. The same issues that I had with the Nokia are present with the iPhone. However, goosync wasn’t an option for the iPhone. Something to do with Apple not allowing access to the built in calendar. Some extensive Googling didn’t turn up many options, save using NuevaSync, yet another 3rd party “beta” service. Some of the initial concerns people had with NuevaSync were sharing their Google username and password, however that’s long since been remedied, as they use Google account authentication. Meaning, once you register with Nuevasync, you only provide your Google user name, and Google will authenticate your account with the Nuevasync account, no password is ever passed to Nuevasync. The only downside is if you are already using an Exchange account (for email for instance), you will not be able to also use Nuevasync, as the iPhone only supports one Exchange server synchronization. Set up for Nuevasync is well documented on their site, straight forward and very simple. I did have a bit of trouble actually getting the iPhone calendar to sync with my Google calendar, and quite honestly, I’m not sure what I did to finally get it to sync. Disabling, then re-enabling the account might have been the trick, but as I’ve been suffering a cold, it could have been user error, however, within their documentation, they have several troubleshooting tips and nothing I did was outside their suggestions.. Needless to say, my iPhone calendar is synced to my Google Apps calendar, desktop iCal, and Thunderbird 3.0/Lighting 1.0pre. Unlike with goosync and my Nokia, there is no need to manually sync the calendars. Nuevsnyc also supports sync contacts within your Google account, but I have no need to use that service, as I also believe iSync supports Google contact syncing (something I’ve kvetched about previously in that you have to have an iPhone/iPod to enable that feature).

Moving from calendar, next was email. I had previously used Apple Mail.app with my Google Apps IMAP accounts, so they synced directly to the phone on first sync. I did need to modify some advanced settings regarding mailboxes for things like drafts and sent mail, but that’s common when setting up IMAP accounts and email clients. Google has well documented the settings, so I won’t rehash the obvious. Previously I was using Google’s mobile mail app on the Nokia, and was a bit hesitant about using the native mail client, but so far I’ve been quite pleased with it, and have no qualms.

Syncing my contacts, along with email addresses in my Google Apps account was also a seamless process. It also the catalyst I needed to do a much needed cleaning of my address book. I’ve been a user of the (neglected) Google service Grand Central for some time now, and though it’s a handy one, it’s support for mobile devices leaves more than something to be desired. My only attempt to play a voice message via their mobile site failed to play the .mp3, and from previous use on the Nokia, is all but useless. However, I found a handy iPhone app, Grand Dialer, which allows you to call a contact directly from your address book with your Grand Central number, so for the occasion you need to call a client and do not want to expose your personal cell number, you’re covered. (Google, if you are listening, please, no, make that pretty please give Grand Central some love, even if that means a nominal monthly fee).

LIke any new iPhone user, I spent a fair amount of time perusing the App Store. Again, I won’t rehash the obvious and common popular apps. I didn’t really test any of the alternatives to the mobile versions of the desktop apps I knew I wanted. As I use NetNewsWire on the desktop, it was an obvious choice for the iPhone. My unread feeds are synced with my desktop, so I’m never reading feeds I’ve already read. Also, for Twitter, I simply chose the ad supported version of Twitterific, same as on the desktop.

The Camera

I’d become accustomed to being one of the few people left on the planet to not have a camera on their cell phone, and didn’t think it would be something I’d take much interest in now that I did, but I did explore some of the apps available. Merlin Mann blogged abouttaking pictures with his iphoneright about the time I ordered my phone, so I booked marked the app he mentioned, Camera Bag. It was actually the first app I purchased. My next search for was for an app that would allow me to upload my camera shots to Flickr. Flickr does have the native ability to email photos directly, however the combination of the email client and Flickr (not sure which does it), the images are resized to 640×480. Granted if you get a really good shot and want to post the bigger one, you’ve got the image on the camera, could snyc it to iPhoto, and then upload it, but if an app could save that step, why not give it a shot? So far, the free Klick app seems to fit the bill. Due to the aforementioned cold, I’ve not really explored the Klick too extensively, but I was able to upload a full size image via the 3G network with no problems, though I haven’t figured out if I can add an image to a set via the app. The other app I’ve download is Dark Room (App Store link). This app uses the accelerometer for a “steady cam”. Basically it waits until the camera isn’t moving to snap the pic, which is handy for low light situations. A case I’m curious about is the Griffin Clarifi, which has a built in macro like lens for taking close up shots. Apparently the iPhone lens doesn’t do well at focusing below twelve inches. This would be handy as the technology and apps evolve on snapping UPC codes and doing info/price comparison queries. Also for going paperless, and just snapping business cards, receipts, etc.

The Final Frontier

Like most people, I struggle with being organized and actually productive, and often fall into the trap of perpetually tweaking a system, rather than actually getting things done. I’ve yet to find the right piece of software that just fits, seemingly having tried them all, Actiontastic, Omni Focus, Things, the list goes on. However, I’m leaning towards Remember the Milk, and am testing a combination of using Fluid.app to run RTM on the desktop, and the iPhone app. I’m not sold yet. One iPhone app I found is CheckOff, a relatively simple list app. What is nice about it is something I’ve not really seen in another list type app. You can create templates for often repeated tasks. So each time you want the list, you do not have to recreate it. I’d actually love to have a desktop app that does the same thing. I’m still searching for the set of tools that fit like that favorite pair of jeans, and would sincerely love for any and all suggestions. I’d even entertain scrapping my use of Thunderbird and Lightning if the shoe fit.

Why Even Call it Second Day Air AT&T?

ups scooterSo with AT&T offering $99 refurbished iPhones until the thirty-first, I swallowed my bitterness towards cell phone contracts and ordered a phone Saturday morning. Like 8am on Saturday. They offered free 2nd Day Air, but stupid me didn’t check the method, I just assumed it would be regular US mail. I received an email Sunday saying the item had been shipped, which led me to believe even more so that it had shipped Saturday via US mail. However, yesterday morning, I took a closer look at the email, and saw tracking info. It was being shipped UPS, and the tracking info showed no movement. Today I checked it, and it left Dallas at 8:15pm. So much for 2nd day air.

Aside from now being anxious to start playing with using my iPhone, (I’ll be in a location that doesn’t have any internet to speak of through the weekend), I’ll be leaving for said trip first thing tomorrow morning, so I didn’t want the phone sitting on my porch until Sunday evening. I called UPS thinking that I could simply have them keep the package at the Tampa shipping center, and pick it up before I left. Even if I didn’t have time to activate it, it wouldn’t be sitting there beckoning some noisy teenager to steal it.

UPS’s automated 1-800 number leaves something to be desired to say the least. They must have held a competition for the most annoying voice, because this woman’s voice is disturbing to say the least. I tried the usual “operator” and “help” at the prompts, but each time was met with the recording asking me if I wanted to “trackapackage”. Yes, a new word in the English lexicon, “trackapackage”.

I finally found a human via a local UPS Store, who told me the magic word is “representative”, and to just keep repeating it, ignoring anything the automated prompts tried to use to derail me from talking to a human. This worked, and after a few minutes on hold, I was speaking to a real live person. This woman, Danielle I believe she told me her name was, said that UPS doesn’t “intercept” packages before their first attempted delivery. I grumbled a “thanks AT&T and UPS”, and she said to give her the tracking number, and IF the package were to arrive in Tampa before 6pm, someone might be able to pull it and I could pick it up this evening. However when she saw the timestamp on the origin scan from Dallas, she didn’t sound hopeful that scenario would unfold.

So now I must find a neighbor who can check on the package and hold it for me, which really isn’t a big deal, but had I known that 2nd day Air didn’t really mean 2nd Day air, I would have paid the extra charge to have it overnighted, and avoided the headache altogether.

Fortunately my Nokia has a pretty good 3G connection, and a decent browser, not to mention Google mail/maps, so I won’t be totally disconnected, not that I couldn’t probably stand going dark for a few days, but I’ve got too much work pending to completely go off the grid. Plus, I’m really looking forward to snapping some shots of the last sunset of ‘08 and first sunrise of ‘09 for a New Years day post. The pass on the north end of the island I’ll be on has a great vantage point for taking both, and now that I’m a little more familiar with the little point and shoot camera I’ve got, not to mention sporting a tripod now, I’m really hoping to get some good photos.