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Good Apps: 1Password

1Password is a password manager for OSX that performs smart form completion in your web browser. In the not-quite-a-year since I bought it, I’ve used it, in one way or another, just about every day. To make a long story short, it’s made simple, easy work of everything I do that involves a web password, login, or account information. And in that year, the software has only become more capable, adding increasingly simple syncing and great support for iPod/iPhone.

In a nutshell, here’s what 1Password does: It pays attention to the web forms you fill out — the login at the power company, for example — and, if you give the word, saves the information you enter into that form to a password-protected keychain (it knows when you’re filling out a new form, and prompts you for the okay to save it). Later, when you return to that form, logging in is as simple as a quick tap of a keyboard command: hit cmd-\ and 1Password fills in and submits the form, and boom there you are looking at your power bill, without any looking up your account number or anything.

I’m not using the power bill example for nothing. Paying bills is where, for me, the huge payoff of this app is: By removing all the overhead of looking up logins (finding the last bill for the account number or something), 1Password has massively reduced the overhead of managing my bills. See, it doesn’t just save your logins, it keeps a list that helps you to manage them. From that list it’s two clicks to select and log in to any given form, so checking all my statements, bills, and accounts is a simple matter of scrolling through the list and opening up any accounts that I think I might need to check. To check my credit card, for example, I used to have to pull out the card and type in the number, which inevitably took place on a sunday morning in the wintertime when I’m wearing my slippers and it’s snowing. The mental process was something like, “where’s my wallet? Oh, the briefcase. Wait, it’s still in the car. And the car is in the driveway with six inches of snow on it. I’ll do that later.”

And now? I skim the list in 1Password, click the name and then click the web form login to check my balance, make a payment — for every single bill or account I have. It’s too easy, so I just check in that Verizon bill any time I wonder how I’m doing. And about every three weeks I just run down the list and check all the accounts that involve money. Honestly, it’s awesome.

And of course it handles all those logins for social networking, webmail, my usermin control panel, mailing lists, and so forth. In fact, I let 1Password store just about every single login I have; when it’s so easy to save with the app, why take up any mental space with keeping a login that might be a one-off, after all? And beyond passwords, it keeps all kinds of other information, making it able to smartly fill in things like credit card payment forms. Further, it saves other “wallet” items (like passport numbers) and “smart notes” (ssh passwords).

With the mobile 1Password app for iPhone/iPod Touch, all of this information is accessible on the go. Agile built a web browser that’s highly — but not perfectly — functional for most uses, and it lives inside the app where it accesses your login information directly. Previously, Agile had built a wonky workaround to make that information accessible via a Mobile Safari bookmarklet that synced via Safari bookmarks to the iPod/iPhone. I have to admit that I’m still pretty fond of this approach, and although 1Password doesn’t update the bookmarklet any longer (removed for security reasons?), they can pry that bookmarklet from my cold dead hands. For one thing, Wells Fargo doesn’t like their browser one bit, recommending that I install Safari for Panther instead.

Multiple Macs? 1Password can deal. Just sync your 1Password keychain (either the OSX keychain or the new “Agile Keychain” format) and you’re good to go. For the past ten months, I used Unison to handle this syncing, but just recently switched to Dropbox, and it works like a charm to keep everything updated on both my current machines.

Finally (I know, I know), the single time I’ve needed to contact the folks at Agile for some tech support, they were on the issue promptly and responded personally. Nice.

What doesn’t 1Password do? It’s a short list. Logins for some sites — for my account with ING, and my mortgage account, for example — just elude its ability to detect and autocomplete. So it’s not perfect on that score, but it’s awfully good. Update Oct 25: Thanks to Carl at Agile Web Solutions, I have an answer to at least one of those tricky sites. Thanks, Carl! And I would love if it were capable of filling in items in Terminal, like those ssh passwords, but I think the devs have wisely focused on making it speak smartly to web browsers instead of a longer list of apps.

So. 1Password is really, really good stuff. Check it out.

Good Apps: Instapaper

It only took a few minutes with the free version of Instapaper on the iPod to make it quite clear that this is one app worth paying for.

Marco Arment sums up the app better than I can:

Instapaper facilitates easy reading of long text content.

We discover web content throughout the day, and sometimes, we donít have time to read long articles right when we find them.

Instapaper allows you to easily save them for later, when you do have time, so you donít just forget about them or skim through them.

Simply and straightforwardly, Instapaper works in conjunction with a simple web interface to download articles or blog posts — or anything else that the handy bookmarklet can save — to your iPhone/iPod Touch, making them available offline for reading whenever the time and mood strikes.

Unlike altogether too many App Store applications, Marco offers a free version of Instapaper along-side the “Pro” version, which means that it’s easy to test out the app without making a commitment. Before a trip to Dallas a few weeks ago, I downloaded the full-featured free version and loaded it up with maybe a dozen long-ish blog posts and some other things I have been meaning to read. This process is about as simple as it gets: Click the “Read Later” bookmarklet to save any article to your Instapaper account, and then sync the Instapaper app to that account. The app will download both web- and text-only versions of the article and save them to the iPod. Later, on the plane or between meetings at that wifi-unfriendly hotel lounge, just open up Instapaper and there you find the articles:

instapaper screenshot

Open one up and read away. (Instapaper Pro even saves your position so you can come and go from long articles easily)

instapaper screenshot

Since it’s a bookmarklet, you can sync Mobile Safari on your Pod/Phone and flag things for later reading while you’re on the go, as well. And since the backend of Instapaper provides a web service, you can also read and manage all those articles from any web browser.

The Pro version does have some nice added features that are worth the $10 purchase price. But what makes Instapaper truly worth the money is that the developer has, in my mind, made precisely the kind of app that’s worth supporting.

Holiday reviews

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks here at SHQ. I’ve been catching up on things that might have been neglected for a while earlier in the month, such as shaving and reading for fun. So here are a few reviews of holiday pastimes.

  • 13-hour drives to see family for Christmas: Mixed. That’s a long time to spend in the car, especially on the way home when that unsettling noise from the engine keeps getting louder.
  • Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman: Favorable. The audiobook version of this, which until a day or so ago was entirely free at iTMS, carried me through a good 6-hour chunk of drive time. It’s read by Hodgman, and is lots of fun, even though it tends to get a little overly cute now and then. It’s sufficiently nerdy for anyone likely to be reading this review, containing both extended histories of the Hobo Wars as well as a section on Noteworthy Rivalries in Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe: Mixed. I’ve read somewhere, perhaps on the back of the book, that this was one of the best fantasy novels Of Our Time. The story strikes me as pretty interesting, and Wolfe has invented a fairly fully-realized world, but every one in a while I find myself rolling my eyes at the language (“He sighed, the kind of wheezing a leather pillow sometimes makes when one sits on it.” Or, “She picked up a leek, and then as if she did not know what else to do with it she dropped it down her throat like a mountebank swallowing a viper.”); I’m also not at all sure that I buy the motivation of the boy-torturer’s imminent treachery (again, it’s on the back cover, and the set-up is made in the first ten pages of the book).
  • Spritz cookies: Favorable. Mmm, cookies.
  • Those damnable meringue cookies: Unfavorable. Who likes these terrible things?
  • Snow: Favorable. Except when it forces me to drive unexpectedly for 13 hours.
  • Deadwood, season 2: Favorable. Good stuff. Season 2 really takes off.
  • Blood Diamond: Favorable. I have a hard time taking Leonardo DiCaprio seriously, but this is a pretty well-made fim, though one that is occasionally needlessly preachy.
  • Jennifer Connelly in Blood Diamond: Favorable, even though the movie doesn’t give her a whole lot to do. If you like John Hodgman’s reference to Noteworthy Rivalries in Dungeons and Dragons, you’ve probably had a crush on her ever since Labyrinth.
  • $50 auto parts machined into $800 auto parts: Unfavorable. Damn you, Subaru.
  • Kale: Favorable. Adds flavor and texture to any winter-time soup.


About, the short version

I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, Pair Networks and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

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