Making eMail excellent: A long-overdue rethink and a much anticipated application

Email client applications are all much of a muchness; some do more than others with tagging, highlighting and rules, but in the main they ultimately allow you to read email.

From a ‘Getting Things Done‘ (GTD) perspective, email has been the one ‘inbox’ (in the sense of GTD) that has been incongruous to the rest in my system; I’ve found it really difficult to smoothly integrate emails in my inbox into my GTD workflow.

Excellent customer support: Alfred

Just wanted to run off a quick post to sing the praises of the people behind Alfred. I’ve been using the OS X add-in for quite a while now (can’t remember how long – years?) as a way to speed up my interface with the computer and the web. I won’t go into all the stuff it does, as that’s more than adequately covered by their website, and suffice it to say that I think it’s fantastic; I’ve got a custom search set up for greplin and others and find myself using the calculator far more than I ought to. I bought the ‘Power Pack’ upgrade more because I thought the guys deserved the money than to make use of the extra features (although I do use them now I have them, of course); the free version is powerful enough to suit most people’s needs.

Not only is the application good, but I’ve just had some of the best customer support that I’ve ever received. I rolled off a tweet, and within a couple of minutes was in a conversation with them trying out some stuff to see where the problem lay. It looks like the problem may be with Apple’s APIs but I’m more than happy with the response and outcome from the team at Alfred.

If you are a Mac user and have not had the opportunity to try Alfred, I heartily recommend that you do – it certainly fits in the ‘excellence in the everyday’ theme of my blog.

Ady

(I am not affiliated in any way to Alfred or the people behind it.)

RockMelt browser – initial thoughts

I’m not sure where I heard of the RockMelt browser (almost certainly on Twitter), but I signed up for early access and, today, got around to grabbing the ZIP file and installing it (Mac version).

I’m not going to repeat all the features here, which are readily viewable in their blog post.

So far I’ve found it to be fast and bug free, which is good. Here’s a quick list of (very personal) pros and cons so far:

Pros:

  • Personalised, cloud-based browser – history is universal and accessible from any RockMelt browser I log into. (Not tried this yet, though.)
  • ‘Click-through’ search results – use keyboard to traverse the search results in a side bar whilst the main page changes to show the result you are on.
  • Facebook & twitter share in-browser.

Cons:

  • It uses it’s own “me.lt” URL shortener. I want to use my own, please. (If you want to know why, see my post earlier this year.)
  • The help page shows a number of twitter accounts in the right-hand side panel, but I can’t see how to add more than one. Probably me, but I’ve already spent too long searching. (Sorry, can’t link you to their help, as it’s built into the browser.)
  • And whilst we’re on the subject, what about twitter searches / lists?
  • It’s build on the Chrome browser. It is, indeed, fast, but I really don’t like the UI.

There’s more experimentation to be done: obviously it doesn’t replace other Social Media desktop applications, like TweetDeck and Seismic, and I don’t think it’s built to compete with them; nor is it a simple ‘share this website’-based browser – it’s got more functionality and complexity. Rather, it’s somewhere in between the two, and I personally think that this is to its disadvantage.

Thanks for reading this far,
Ady

iPad Experience – part 2

In a previous post, I recounted my initial thoughts on the iPad and said that I’d be trying it out on my little boy as a time waster / amusement.

I’m back from holiday and the iPad was a godsend, I have to say. I pre-loaded “Monsters, Inc.” and “A Bug’s Life” for Finn to watch on the plane journeys and, although he didn’t watch much on the journey out , he made full use of it whilst in the hotel room and on the journey home. He very quickly mastered the UI for the video player app – he’s had a lot of iPhone experience – and was jumping around between films and selecting his favourite chapters to repeat from the get-go. He also quickly found how to switch to the TV programme tab and spent a lot of time watching “Rex the Runt” cartoons (until his mum heard one of the characters say “bastard” and put paid to that – I guess it’s slightly inappropriate for a 3-year-old).

I, myself, did very little with it while on holiday. Didn’t get much of a look-in, TBH, plus wary of data roaming costs in a land where ‘free wi-fi’ is virtually unheard of.

Ady

iPad Experience

So, a couple of weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and bought an iPad. I was feeling flush and so went for the top-of-the-range 64G 3G one.

Trepidation

I was cautious about buying an iPad – unusual for me, as I am a complete Apple fanboi. I really couldn’t see the point or need for one in my life. I manage to come up with a couple of possibilities:

  1. It would make a good coffee table browser. OK, but if the family are going to share it I want multiple user facilities so we can all get at our own email accounts without the embarrassment of having to read each others’.
  2. I could use it for work. Here there’s a better fit, as most of my work is around documents and numbers, resourcing and scheduling. (In fact, Pages and Numbers, if we’re talking applications.) However, it doesn’t meet all requirements, as I sometimes code (PHP, SASS) and a lot of our core work involves video – so iPad’s lock down on video formats excludes a lot of things it would be nice to have the iPad do for me.

So, like Natalie Inbruglia, I was torn. My Apple lust made me want one and my practical side couldn’t justify it.

This finally resolved itself when I said to myself, “We could really do with an iPad for work. You know, for testing and that.”, which was the excuse I was waiting to come up with, and so I went out and bought one.

Two weeks later

After the (well attended) official unpacking ceremony at work, the iPad spend the first few days if its new life in  a bag doing nothing. I was still finding it hard to see what to do with it. Having spent the money, though, I did some research, got some apps and now it’s become a staple of my day.

I use it almost exclusively for work related activities; it’s great to take to meetings and I will be trying it out at a conference for the first time this week. (“Building Perfect Council websites ’10” – see you there!)

Although not exhaustive, here’s the list of applications I’m currently using:

Things
I use Things on all my Macs. The iPad experience is great, making good use of the larger screen that makes using it on the iPhone a bit frustrating. (That’s not Things’ fault, mind.)
Evernote
Again, Evernote is a staple application in my environment. I use it for knowledge management, mainly. Again, it’s been re-purposed for the iPad and is a really good experience.
Dropbox
I do all my work off Dropbox. Available on all my computers, and also viewable on iPhone and iPad. This makes my life so much easier, as I synchronise my iDevices with my personal laptop, so having my files available in this way means I can sync them across from my Personal iTunes, into the iWork apps on the iPad (see next).
Pages & Numbers
The user experience of having to synchronise via iTunes is not good, but tolerable. The iPad versions of these applications are lovely. Although not feature-full (which causes problems when you want to edit files) they are well worth using for document creation.
iThoughtsHD
On my Macs, I use Mindjet’s Mindmanager, but on the iPad I’ve discovered iThoughtsHD. It’s compatible with most mind map file formats and has the added advantage of being able to load and save maps to and from DropBox directly. I’ve used it a little and so far, so good.

The future

I’m off on holiday very soon, so I’ll be grabbing some childrens’ books and videos and putting them on the iPad; I think it’s going to be an excellent way to keep my 3-year-old occupied on the plane journey.

After that, who knows? If you have any great apps, I’d love to hear about them.

Ady

How To: Migrate Mac Mail RSS Feeds

I’m in the process of moving all my work from a MacBookPro onto an iMac. For various reasons I couldn’t do a transfer of all data (in fact, just didn’t want to as there’s lots of other stuff on the MBP that I don’t want on the iMac) and so have been doing it piece-by-piece, which has been long-winded, but relatively easy.

One of the final things I needed to do was transfer the RSS feeds that I have in Apple’s Mail application. Again, I could have simply copied the whole of the Mail settings across (as described in this article) but, well, I’d got this far and decided I’d carry on. Plus I couldn’t find anything definitive on the ‘net about it so figured it would be a good exercise.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Copied ~/Libraries/Mail/RSS folder and contents across (using Dropbox). (~ = your home directory; /Users/YourLoginID.)
  2. Started Apple Mail on the target computer. ‘RSS’ should now appear in the left hand list, if it wasn’t there already, and the feeds should appear in there when you expand the ‘RSS’ item.
  3. At this point the RSS feeds don’t (appear to) work. So I selected each (or all, using multiple selection) of the feeds in the left hand list and selected ‘Mailbox -> Rebuild’ from Mail’s menu, and they all repopulate.
  4. At this point I ended up with loads of unread messages, so I again selected all the feeds, right (control) clicked and selected ‘Mark all Messages as Read’.

I hope this is of use to someone out there. If you have found a better way, then please share it, as I couldn’t find anything else.

Cheers,
Ady

My Sync’s Blocked

Blocked sink

Credit: Kevin Dean (www.betaart.com)

So, I’ve got a Mac Mini at home, a Mac Mini at work and a MacBook Pro that I carry around with me for both. Oh, and an iPhone for personal use and a Nokia 5800 for work. I’m on Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn and MobileMe, and at work most colleagues have google calendars (as do I, for my work appointments) and use Yammer.

The question is “How do I sync all my contacts and appointments efficiently and effectively?“.

At the moment, everything’s screwed: my iPhone has duplicate (and even triplicate) contact entries; my work appointments are being duplicated on my laptop (but not anywhere else); the list goes on. (I won’t bore you with it.)

The reason for all the mess is this: I’ve made a stupid mistake.

I don’t have a consistent ‘master’ copy of the data – different machines are syncing in both directions and everything’s getting confused.

I’ve decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and start from scratch. So far:

  • I’ve stopped all my syncs on all my machines; nothing is talking to anything anymore.
  • I’ve stripped my laptop back and installed BusyCal (which is fab, BTW).
  • I’ve logged into MobileMe and ‘refactored’ all my contacts (which basically meant deleting a lot of duplicates created by my sync setup and redundant crap that Daylight had created – sorry MarketCircle, but I gave up on it).
  • I’ve forced my contacts down on to my laptop from MobileMe, and switched on syncing of these.

To do:

  • Similar to above on my other computers
  • Then iPhone
  • Then turn on Plaxo syncing (but on which computer? Need to determine which will be the ‘master’ – the changes should then just trickle through MobileMe to the others).
  • Then start thinking about the Calendars(!)

Watch this space.