Welcome to the lab.

Bitlyize 1.5

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I’ve been working on multiple “free time” projects for a while, mostly updates to existing projects. The changelogs have gotten long enough that writing them up has been an imposing task. I have a doing update that turns it into a very capable time tracking/reporting tool, a major update to SearchLink that simplifies syntax and makes it even more flexible, big updates for Marked, and more little things than I can remember without consulting my “what was I doing” log. I figured I’d start the ball rolling with a simple one.

Bitlyize is a System Service that converts all links in the selected text to bit.ly links using an authenticated account. I’ve updated it in a few ways for version 1.5.

  • It generates Amazon affiliate links for any detected Amazon links
  • It does a smarter job of creating iTunes affiliate links
  • It functions better as a command line utility
  • It works as a library that can be included in other Ruby scripts
  • If it receives a single url that’s already shortened (with Bitly), it expands it to the original url

I’ll add a project for it soon and include documentation for the library API and command line options. For now, there are two Services available in the zip file below: Bitlyize, and Bitlyize to Clipboard. The former modifies selected text in place, the latter leaves the original text and puts the results in the clipboard (especially handy for quickly shortening a link in a URL field and pasting it into an email).

Some manual configuration is required. You need a bit.ly API key, and if you want automatic affiliate links, you’ll need to include information for iTunes and/or Amazon affiliate accounts. There’s support for custom Bitly domains as well. To edit, open the Service in Automator and look for the variables at the top of the Run Shell Script action. It’s not the most convenient configuration method, but Services don’t offer a lot of options.

I’m exploring Yosemite extensions right now, and I think this would make a decent one once I start creating them. It would make configuration and usage easier, I hope.

The source code is available here, and you can use it as a CLI or include it as a library (for what it’s worth). Documentation coming soon.

Bitlyize Service v1.5

An OS X Service for quickly creating bit.ly short urls

Updated Sat Oct 25 2014.

More info…

BitTorrent Sync vs. The Cloud

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BitTorrent has released the details of a comprehensive speed test they conducted to compare Sync to cloud-based services (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive). The results are impressive.

Using a 1.36GB video file, they tested the time to sync between two MacBook Pros on the same network. Sync performed up to 16x faster than the cloud, transferring the video file in 41 seconds between the machines.

There are plenty of caveats to note (see the full post from BitTorrent), but the test is replicable and well-planned. If you use the cloud for syncing between machines, Sync is clearly the winner. If you’re using cloud services for sharing files and remote storage, there are more factors to consider. Sync is a peer-to-peer platform, optimized for direct connections between machines without the need to upload to the cloud, then download to the other machine. Even considering Dropbox’s LAN sync, though, Sync trumped it with 16x the speed.

Personally, I use Sync between my two local Mac minis, my MacBook Air, and my colocated Mac mini. The remote mini serves as a “cloud” that I own, and functions as a backup. With Sync’s archive support, it’s a Dropbox replacement for most of my needs. I still use Dropbox, primarily for its broad compatibility with the iOS apps I use, but Sync is definitely the fastest way for me to keep identical data on multiple machines, including an iOS app for access on the go.

I also use Transporter, and have experimented with ownCloud. With Transporter’s recently-added support for versioning, it’s a strong contender, especially if you want cloud functionality without trusting your data to a third party. When it comes to transfer speed, though, Sync is still the winner.

For more information on the test, head to the BitTorrent blog, and if you haven’t tried Sync yet, check it out.

App Review Tuesdays

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Here’s a thought, albeit a slightly cheesy one: let’s institute App Review Tuesdays. It’s like Casual Friday, but it will make the App Stores better places instead of just revealing your poor understanding of Business Casual.

App Store reviews matter to App developers, especially those who have apps priced over $2.99. An honest review is helpful to other potential buyers, and a few (valid) good reviews can make a big difference.

The problem I see most often is that people use reviews as a customer support forum, leaving bad reviews based on bugs that could have been easily addressed by going straight to the developer. By leaving a one-star review on an app you’re otherwise satisfied with, you’re affecting the developers rankings while simultaneously preventing them from contacting you to help you out. It’s a lose-lose.

On the flip side, if you attempt to contact a developer and don’t receive a response, or get a response that only makes things worse, a review stating such can be helpful. I’ve never met a good developer or company that would let that happen, so negative reviews help weed out the truly bad or scammy devs.

The best way to help your favorite developers out in the App Store is to leave positive reviews wherever they’re deserved. A rating is great, and a thoughtful review is even better. When it comes to $20+ apps, interested customers are going to read a few reviews and make a decision pretty quickly. Give them something worthwhile to read.

Also note that apps you might have reviewed before may deserve updates. The App Stores separate review counts by versions, so as updates and fixes come out, you might want to revise your ratings and reviews.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Set a repeating reminder in your favorite task management app or in your calendar to spend 5 minutes on Tuesdays dropping in a review for your latest favorite app (or apps). For me, this should probably happen weekly, given the rate at which I accumulate and test out apps. It might be bi-monthly or monthly for “normal” people.

If App Review day rolls around and you’re not sure what to drop a rating on, just open up a Spotlight search in Finder (⌘⌥-Space), type in “kind:app” and arrange by “Last Opened.” See what you’ve been using for the last week and take your pick. Then go make a developers day!

Marked 2 and Yosemite

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Marked 2 has been fixed up for Yosemite. The working version is available immediately for non-Mac App Store customers through download and automatic update. MAS users will have to wait for the App Store stamp of approval to be granted, and based on recent turnaround times that may be a week or more. It’s coming, though.

There are a few other tweaks, improvements and minor features. The next project is adding full RTF support with element conversion, which will mean being able to open converted files in Word and other applications and apply styles and themes. That’s nearly done!

Don’t forget, Marked 2 is 30% off for the rest of October. Use the coupon GOGONANOWRIMO at checkout, or get it on the Mac App Store. All the info you need is at marked2app.com!

Web Excursions for October 20, 2014

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Drafts 4 Keyboard Scripts
A great overview of the new Drafts 4 keyboard extension capabilities.
Keyboardio
While I want an Ergodox, I don’t think I have the energy (or steady hands) to make it worthwhile. This looks like something I might be able to sink my teeth into. Or at least tap on contentedly.
Extensibility and Automation Changes in OS X Yosemite
Great overview of new possibilities in Yosemite.
sudo gem install geektool_kit — robKitson.net
A new toolkit for GeekTool users who want to script in Ruby.
Evernote - Packages - Package Control
A Sublime Text package for Evernote users, complete with Markdown capabilities.

Drafts 4 Keyboard Extensions

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Drafts 4 is out as a Universal app. I’ll leave it to the experts to offer the full review, and just mention that there’s a very cool new feature in it: JavaScript-based text modification actions.

You can use JavaScript to modify text selections and entire documents, and encapsulate them in modules that you can add to the custom keyboard row. Check out the existing Keyboard Extensions for ideas.

I’m excited about this because it’s going to be relatively easy to port the tricks I built for my old WordPress plugin, Markdown QuickTags. I’m working on a few right now, and will publish them as I finish them.

Check out the Agile Tortoise site for more info, and grab Drafts 4 for iPhone and iPad in the App Store for $4.99 US.

On creation without consumption

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I do two podcasts on 5by5 (Systematic and Overtired), but I’ve admitted many times that I rarely listen to podcasts. I’m often asked why (and how) that is, and I’d like to share the results of some self-examination.

In short, my brain isn’t wired for consumption. I’m happiest creating. It’s difficult for me to concentrate on what others are saying once I begin to have ideas of my own. You could say my mind wanders, but I don’t think that’s an accurate word to use. It’s not a meandering path, but a determined course of exploration.

My entire life I’ve been “bad” at school. I can’t sit through lectures, and I can’t concentrate on reading assignments. I can read, and I can comprehend, but it takes great effort to focus on what is being said and to block out my own thought patterns. I learn by doing, and I only learn things that are of interest or immediately applicable to me.

In my elementary years I was placed in a school that catered to this. It was based on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas, and followed Henry David Thoreau’s methods. I was encouraged to develop the curriculum and answer my own questions. I returned to public schools in 5th grade, and never really made the transition. For the same reasons I’d been “excused” from standardized education for a few years, coming back to it was a horrible experience for me.

Despite this, I maintained a B average all through secondary and higher education. I rarely did homework, and I never did reading assignments. I managed to absorb enough contextual information in any given course to make intelligent deductions on exams.

I scored quite well on my ACT test in my Junior year of high school. Well enough to spend most of that year and my senior year in PSEO (Post Secondary Education Option). That meant that I was attending classes at the local college instead of at the high school. I did much better in an environment that rewarded creative thought, but there were still a lot of concepts my mind was unwilling to learn. I only passed microeconomics because the curve was skewed.

Computers and programming have always been of interest to me, but only on the creation side. I can’t play video games for lack of interest. I read about 10% of what comes through my RSS feeds, and then usually just skim articles. I’d rather be writing than reading. I could never even play D&D with my nerd friends because I got bored with other people’s stories.

I can watch movies, and I can listen to music, but I do it from an analytic point of view. I’ve studied filmmaking, and I’ve been playing music my entire life. When I watch a movie, I find myself studying shots and considering why I appreciate them or how I would have done them differently. It’s the same when I listen to music.

One thing that the collegiate environment provided me with was dialectic conversation. In classes I could debate, and I could inject my own questions and thoughts into the dialogue. I found friends who would stay up late with me and feverishly discuss concepts and ideas. It was brainstorming versus learning. Discovery versus study.

Basically, I think too much to be of any use as a consumer of content. I think so much that I spent eight years of my life doing everything I could to stop it. Out of school, though, I’ve started learning to cope with it. I’ve accepted that I’m incapable of absorbing all but the details most pertinent to my current endeavors. I consider it a disability, and a frustrating one, but I’ve found that I can succeed in spite of it.

I can’t create output without input, though. I can’t start from scratch. All of my best work has been the result of seeing what someone else is doing and letting it spark ideas for me. I find myself scouring GitHub late at night. It’s an ideal learning platform for me because I can find things that interest me and immediately determine how they work. In the process, I find pieces that I can build on to create something new. I compile a toolbox that lets me turn ideas into realities.

Whether I’m evolving existing work or doing something contrary, I’m lost without other people’s ideas. I believe that all of human discovery works this way, not just me. If you live in a bubble, you don’t learn, you don’t change, and you don’t invent. For all of my inability to focus and study, I’m always able to get excited about ideas and discoveries.

None of the technology and knowledge we have would be possible without what came before it. It’s a skyscraper of innovation that we’ve built since the first art on cave walls, the first inventions, the beginning of problem solving. I only survive in this world because I love learning how things came to be. If it weren’t for this, my inabilities would leave me living on the street, wondering how other people manage to be productive members of society.

Despite the many things I’m incapable of doing, I’m always able to be interested in learning the chain of concepts that led to an amazing idea, and to put them to use in solving my own problems and pursuing my own creative endeavors. My intelligence, however you quantify it, gets me in a lot of trouble if I don’t have creative outlets for it. I would destroy myself quickly if it weren’t for the ability to convert ideas into tools.

When Dan Benjamin contacted me a couple of years ago to ask if I wanted to do a podcast, I said “sure.” I started doing what I thought a podcast was supposed to be, and learned as I went. Not knowing what a “normal” podcast was like served me well in the beginning. I did some things slightly outside of the norm, and found that there were people that it appealed to. I’ve gotten to a point, though, where growth is stunted because there’s no influx of new ideas. I need to listen to other people, and I think I can do it because I’m hungry for ideas. This is when my mind latches on and I can focus.

I’m starting to listen to some of the podcasts done by people I respect and admire. Even if it’s in the background while I do other things, eavesdropping is allowing me to generate new ideas. I look forward to seeing where things go with my own podcasts in light of new input.

The AeroPress Timer 2 winners

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Congratulations to the AeroPress 2 Timer giveaway winners!

  • Jerry
  • Michael Xander
  • Jonathan Deamer
  • Erin Johnson
  • Scott Cave

If you like your AeroPress and haven’t tried out AeroPress Timer 2 on your iPhone, get the basic program for free on the App Store!

Stuff I do when I’m not here

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I haven’t been announcing my podcasts and appearances the way I used to. I really should, there have been a lot of fun things happening. First, I was on Philip Mozolak and Christopher Radliff’s podcast Preservation State along with Jason Snell. It was a fun conversation. I don’t even remember how I met Philip now, but he’s a great guy and I enjoy our conversations. And our Super Stickman Golf 2 games.

Next, I chatted with Ryan Irelan from Mijingo for his CMS Chronicles series. We talked, of course, about Jekyll and some of the crazy things I do with it. You can find the episode here.

Systematic has been a blast lately. Following the first three parts of the John Roderick saga (which will be continuing next week), I’ve had some great guests. Director, actor, and writer David Wain came back and we got a chance to talk more about his career story. I think the storytelling episodes are appealing enough to me that the Systematic format may be moving in that direction. I’m open to input on that.

I also had a great time talking once again with Dr. Pam Peeke about technology addiction, Mike Rohde about Sketchnoting, and online dating coach Virginia Roberts about relationships in the digital world.

Overtired, the show I do with Christina Warren, is growing and developing. It’s very random, and that’s why I’m enjoying it. I’m not sure where it’s headed yet, but it’s a fun ride if you haven’t already checked it out.

I also owe everybody a post on my thoughts about creating podcasts while not listening to podcasts. I talk about it a little bit on the most recent Overtired, which should be up today. I’m still figuring it out myself, but have made a resolution to start listening to more of the smart people doing smart things out there.