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MacHeist 3

The MacHeist 3 bundle is only available through April 7th, so if you’ve thought about it and haven’t made up your mind — or are just now hearing about it for the first time — well it’s time to decide.

This year’s MacHeist currently includes, for the low-low-edge-of-your-seat price of $39, OS X applications like Acorn (lightweight complement to PhotoShop, scriptable with Python, cool) and World of Goo. Total bundle value according to MacHeist is over $600.

So amble on over and check it out.

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.

Photography: Hitchhiker's Guide to Lightroom

I spend a lot of time in Lightroom 2 these days. I’m nobody’s pro, but I shoot a lot of photos, and after having used Lightroom (and now Lightroom 2) for a while now, I think I have a pretty good, simple, enthusiast-style workflow sorted out. I’ll summarize the workflow itself (importing through working up images) in follow-up post. Here are a few general tips that seem to work well for me:

Essentials, or Stuff I use constantly: I use Picks and keywords extensively. Reviewing newly-imported photos, I mark anything that I like right off the bat as a Pick by simply hitting shift-P as I scan through the gallery (and shift-X to immediately mark others as rejects; the shift modifier will mark the current photo and move on to the next shot). As I revisit a set of shots later, I find myself repeating this process; while those subsequent passes primarily identify further Rejects, I do occasionally find more Picks after starting to work up other photos. After each pass through a gallery, I use cmd-DELETE to remove (and delete) all the Rejects.

This has been a nice insight for my process: It means that I am fairly conservative when it comes to Rejects. That is, I don’t mark as Rejected 1) unless a photo is obviously bad (bad focus, blur, composition I really dislike, etc.) OR 2) until I’ve spent some time on photos in a set that I do like right from the get-go. This frequently helps give me a sense for appealing qualities of photos that I might not have noticed or thought of initially.

With a gallery through at least a first pass of identifying Picks and Rejects, I apply keywords. As with many aspects of processing photos, Lightroom has lots of ways to do this. There’s a jobber called Keyword Painting that I don’t use, because it’s always been much faster to simply select sets of photos and then apply keywords to the selection. In Lightroom 2, cmd-K focuses on the keyword entry box, which will auto-complete as you type. Lightroom 2 also has “recommended keywords” functionality, so that as keywords are assigned to a photo or set of photos, a new set of co-occurring keywords is identified and displayed for easy additional assignment.

Although I like to use a large-ish image preview (hit = to increase the size of preview images in the gallery grid) for screening for Picks and Rejects, for keywords I like to shrink the grid size (keyboard shortcut -). This fits more images into the grid and allows me to select larger sets for group assignment of keywords.

Lightroom allows for keywords to be nested, and there’s a great shortcut for accomplishing this: When entering keywords, separate child from parent keywords with a > sign: flickers > birds, for example, or burgers > food.

Simplifying, or Things I don’t use in Lightroom: Beyond keywording, Lightroom has at least a trio of way to identify and categorize photos: You can flag photos as Picks, label them with colors, and rate them with zero through five stars. I don’t use colors or stars at all. They may be highly useful for some situations, but they just clutter the cognitive space where I think about my photos: “Is this a three-star green photo, or a four-star blue one?” So except in the rarest circumstances, I haven’t yet found a use for ratings and color labels.

Indispensable keyboard shortcuts: There are grundles of these, but the shortcuts I use all the time are:

  • G, E, D: Gallery, Editor, and Develop modes
  • P: Mark as Pick (modify with shift)
  • X: Mark as Reject (modify with shift)
  • cmd-delete: Remove Rejects (optionally delete from disk)
  • cmd-K: Assign keywords
  • W: Jump to White Balance selector in Develop mode
  • R: Crop tool in Develop mode
  • J: Show clipped darks and highlights (Developer only; in gallery, changes display of thumbnails)
  • L: Cycle the lights (view on black)
  • tab/shift-tab: reveal/hide menu panels

Next time: The library filter, file organization, workflow, and Lightroom+Flickr?

TextMate GTD

2010 update: Ever ready to tinker with organization schemes, I’ve done some adaptation of the Journal and Tasks bundles for TextMate to produce another, very very lightweight way to implement a Getting Things Done routine in Textmate. Check out the JournalTasks bundle if you’re so inclined.

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Haris Skiadas, who has made massive contributions to writing in LaTeX with TextMate (see for example his screencasts of good use of the LaTeX bundle), has put together a super TextMate GTD bundle. Haris has been hacking on it nearly-continously for several days — I confess to having harassed him significantly throughout development so far — and the bundle is a fully-capable GTD system: You can work with a single document, or as many as you want, can easily move projects around, add tasks, and add and modify contexts. The bundle has a number of commands to generate Next Actions lists, and it will archive completed tasks/projects to a separate log file.

Up until now, I’ve been using the Kinkless GTD system. Lately, however, that software began to feel a little cumbersome, a little too cognitively heavy and opaque. Since it lives in TextMate, Haris’s GTD bundle works with pure text, making highly extensible, and it works great (it even knows how to convert your Kinkless document to its own format). Today Haris capped it off with a script that filters an inbox (fed via Quicksilver) into your GTD documents. Seriously cool. I highly recommend giving it a try if you’re using either TextMate or GTD (or need an excuse to give either one a test drive).


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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