Best Bot Yet

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In its short history, Tapbots has released two incredibly well-designed utilities for the iPhone: Weightbot & Convertbot. Last night they launched their third – and in my opinion, it’s the best bot yet.

Pastebot is the ultimate clipboard manager for the iPhone or iPod touch. I’ve been lucky enough to use this app for a few months. When I first started using it I described it as “an app I didn’t know I needed, but can’t imagine not having it“.

It’s beautifully designed. It’s incredibly easy to use: simply copy an image or text string within any iPhone app, then launch Pastebot and – bickety bam! – it’s stored to Pastebot’s clipboard. Once you’re in the app, you can easily toggle between multiple clips. If you’re a neat freak, you can easily setup a series of folders. If you use Tapbots to store images, you’ll be able to crop and apply color effects to stored images.

I could go on and show you lots of screenshots and walk you through all of the apps features, but I won’t. Instead, I encourage you to visit http://tapbots.com/pastebot/ to learn more, or hop on over to iTunes and grab a copy. (It’s only $1.99 for now. The price will go up to $2.99 after the initial launch.) Oh, and did I mention it’ll sync to your Mac?

Want to win a copy of Pastebot?

In the comments below, tell me what you might use Pastebot for. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow – 12/16/09. Leave a comment before 12/16/09 at 9:00am EST to be included in the drawing.

Why I got an iPhone.

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Two years ago, I wrote a post detailing many of the reasons why I wasn’t going to buy an iPhone. Needless to say, things have changed since then.

First, a little backstory: I had planned to keep my old phone and number with Alltel/Verizon. I had made arrangements with my previous employer to transfer everything into my name. I was trying to avoid getting stuck in a contract. Everything was going smoothly until Verizon got involved. Because I had Alltel hardware, I couldn’t just switch things over to my own account. They insisted that I had to get a Verizon phone, which would have locked me into a 1-2 year contract. Since I was going to get locked into a contract, I decided I’d get the phone I wanted instead of settling elsewhere.

iphoneSo I went with the iPhone 3G. It’s everything my first-gen 8Gb iPod touch was and more. I’m kinda disappointed in that I didn’t go for the 3GS, but I couldn’t pass up the $99 deal – especially since I was buying two iPhones at the time.

  1. It’s a mature platform. Sure, it still has some quirks – many of which are due to AT&T’s “issues”, but it’s very solid in general.
  2. I’m addicted to always on data. Paying the extra every month for an always-on connection was a no-brainer. My wife and I regularly use the GPS features built-in, and I’m as app-addicted as ever.
  3. 8Gb *is* enough. After two years with the iPod touch I quickly learned that I didn’t need to have all of my multimedia with me all of the time. I only listen to a fraction of what’s on my computer, why dump all of it on a mobile device? Sure, more capacity would be nice, but with smart rationing, it’s easy to get a few GBs of music/videos loaded for hours of enjoyment.

Looking back, my resistance to the iPhone was more than a little ridiculous. I justified carrying multiple devices daily, while missing out on the convenience the iPhone now affords me.

Some things I learned while getting the iPhone:

  • If you’re not in a hurry to get an iPhone and want to save a few bucks, order online or over the phone.
  • Having said that: Ordering online or over the phone is absolutely worthless. Go to an AT&T Store (or better yet, an Apple Store). They’ll take care of you. Otherwise, it’ll take 2-3 weeks before you get the phone. And that’s after waiting several days to get an email asking you to accept the terms and conditions of the iPhone – before they’ll ship one to you.
  • If you have an iPod touch and you’ve bought apps through iTunes, they can be installed on other devices you own. I was able to transfer my purchases to both my wife’s iPhone and my own without any issues.
  • Your first bill is going to surprise you. You might see a pro-rated amount + what you expected to pay. You might get double-charged. This is where it’s absolutely important you visit a store and establish a connection with one of the store reps. They can and will help you. My first bill was just shy of $300 for two iPhones (700 shared minutes, 2 data plans, 2 – 200 text messages). After visiting my local rep, my bill was knocked down by half.

 

Is CS4 worth the upgrade?

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Is Adobe Creative Suite 4 worth the upgrade? Having been involved in the Adobe Creative Suite 4 Web Premium beta test for the better part of this year, I’ve had a good bit of experience using the new versions of Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Illustrator.

Here are just a few of the things that have stood out so far:

  • Better UI. I hated it when I first saw it, and I know that others are going to have that same reaction. But the new unified interface is consistent from app to app and is more customizable than ever before. You can quickly toggle between several default workspaces without having to restart the applications. (This was one of my peeves with Dreamweaver CS3. It supported “workspaces” to an extent, but changing it required restarting the program.)
  • Tabbed windows. I tend to work with multiple documents open at a time. The new tabbed windows allow you to see all the documents you’ve got open, easily switch from window to window, and easily sort them. Want to see all of documents you’ve got open and match their zoom level in Photoshop? It’s super easy now.
  • Speed. I tested CS4 out on two machines: a Dell Inspiron 1720 laptop running Windows Vista Ultimate with a 1.6Ghz Core 2 Duo and 3Gb RAM, and a Dell Dimension E510 running Windows XP Professional SP2 with a 3Ghz Pentium 4 HT and 3Gb RAM. I was able to keep several apps open at once on both machines and they were all quick and responsive.
  • Stability. Even in the prerelease versions I tested, CS4 was very stable.
  • Installation. ¬†One of my biggest problems with CS3 was the installation process. CS4 installer has been GREATLY improved. What was once a 2-3 hour ordeal*, only took 35-40 minutes on the two machines I tested on.

This just scratches the surface. CS4 is a major upgrade, and it’s well worth the money in my opinion. In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the new tools and features available in CS4.

Piclens: Photo Browsing Enhanced

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PicLens

PicLens is an add-on for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari that will change the way you interact with a lot of websites. The add-on is currently compatible with Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums, DeviantArt, Smugmug, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Google Images, Yahoo Images, Ask Images, Live Images, and AOL Images.

These screen captures really don’t do PicLens justice. You really have to see it to believe it. (Here’s a brief walkthrough on how PicLens works in Firefox.)

Browsing PicLens

piclens_browsingBrowsing is initiated by clicking on a little “play” button that will appear upon hover over images in the various supported services. Clicking this button will launch PicLens full-screen where you can start browsing through your images in a 3D environments. Thumbnails appeared very quickly, even on my Dell Inspiron 6000 (1.6GHz Pentium M, 1.5Gb RAM). In the example to the left, I was only previewing a small set of photos in my Flickr stream, but it worked well when I used it to browse through my entire photo collection.

Getting in Closer

piclens_closeup_browsing Selecting an image will create a slightly larger, higher quality thumbnail of the photo you’d like to look at. This is why PicLens is so responsive. It pulls in very low-resolution previews at first, but streams in higher quality thumbnails as you use the add-on, as well.

A Better Slideshow

piclens_detail The PicLens photo detail interface is pretty similar to Flickr’s built-in slideshow capabilities, except PicLens runs full-screen natively. Images stream in pretty quickly (depending on connection speed) and you can browse through images pretty quickly using back and forward buttons… or hit play and let it go on its own.

The Verdict

Overall, I’m really digging this plugin. It’s unobtrusive and doesn’t effect using your sites regularly… if you don’t want to use PicLens, you simply don’t click on the buttons to activate it. It adds enough additional functionality to enhance Flickr, the rest is just gravy. Check out PicLens for your browser.

Canon PowerShot S5 IS

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Clone Troopers

A few months ago, I picked up a Canon PowerShot S5 IS from Amazon.com. It’s the nicest digital camera I’ve owned so far.

I chose this camera for a few reasons:

  • I wanted something more than 6.0 Megapixels;
  • I wanted something with at least 8x optical zoom;
  • I wanted something that could use lens accessories;
  • I didn’t want to spend more than $400.

The last point was most important. I would have rather invested the money in picking up a Canon Digital Rebel XTi or something comparable, but it would’ve meant spending far more money for something that would’ve had an even greater learning curve for me. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS is a full-featured 8.0-megapixel digital camera with 12x optical zoom, and it’s ended up being a perfect match for me.

My only beef with the S5 so far is the amount of noise in photos taken in lower light situations.

Live

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For the past week I’ve been testing out several Beta applications associated with Windows Live. I initially learned about them while upgrading to the latest Windows Live Writer Beta. What I’ve seen so far has been exceptional. The unified interfaces, ease of use, and quick responsiveness have earned these apps a place in my daily workflow. In this article, I’ll cover some of the things I love and hate about Windows Live Writer Beta, Windows Live Mail Beta, and Windows Live Photo Gallery and how I’m using them now.

Continue reading

Buzzword

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Buzzword: Get an early look at it.Buzzword is abso-friggin-lutely gorgeous. Seriously. I learned about Buzzword when I heard that Adobe bought the company developing it: Virtual Ubiquity. After spending a good bit of time using Buzzword, I may never use Microsoft Word or Google Docs again. (Check out these screenshots.)

Adobe was smart to pick this company up. It’s a fantastic use of Flash technology and could prove to be an incredible asset to Adobe’s burgeoning line of online applications (Photoshop Express, Premiere Express). Microsoft has already announced that they would be offering an online, ad-supported version of Word soon; and Google has been offering Google Docs – which includes a word processor, spreadsheets and presentations. Not having used Word Online (or whatever Microsoft will call it), I can’t comment on how it will look, but I can say that Buzzword is light-years beyond Google Docs word-processor.

  • THE GREAT
    • Simple, streamlined interface.
    • Easy-to-use.
    • Beautiful fonts – Adobe Garamond Pro, Courier Std, Cronos Pro, Minion Pro, Myriad Pro, News Gothic Std, and Tekton Pro. (Thanks, Adobe!)
  • THE GOOD
    • You can easily save your file for offline use. Current formats supported include Word (.doc), XML and Rich-Text (.rtf).
    • Everything is web-based, so you can access your documents from anywhere.
    • You can share any documents you create with other people and you can control whether they can be a co-author, reviewer or a reader. (Unfortunately, other people need to have a Buzzword account.)
  • THE BAD
    • Requires Adobe Flash. But seriously, who doesn’t have Flash at this point?
    • Still in Beta. You have to have an account in order to do anything with the service.
    • Can’t save files as PDFs (which seems like a no-brainer…) (Though, if you have Acrobat installed as a printer, you can always print the documents as a PDF.)
    • No style support. (Thanks Will!)
    • Other minor issues:
      • No HTML export. (Admittedly, this might be a good thing.)
      • No support for Open Document Format (ODF).

In short, even though there’s still some work to be done, Buzzword is the best web-based word processor I’ve ever used. If you’ve never heard of it before, you’ve heard of it now. Head on over to Buzzword.com to sign up for the chance to get a beta invite.

P.S. In case you’re interested, I typed up this review in Buzzword and printed it to PDF to show you how the output looks: Buzzword Review PDF

An alternative to Nike+

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Since this post gets a good bit of traffic, I think it’s worth noting that you ought to check out RunKeeper if you happen to own an iPhone 3G/3GS. Not only does it not require a dongle, it’s more accurate and doesn’t require the latest hardware (3GS) to run.

Well, I am nearly two weeks into my walking challenge and so far so good. I’ve walked a total of 7 times since August 17th, for a total of 8.59 miles and 3,291 calories burned. Considering my lack of activity prior to the 17th, I’d say I’m off to a pretty good start. Walking with the Nike+ sensor and being able to track my progress has made walking fun for me. It’s exercise meets video game in a way…

My only beef with Nike+ so far is the website. The all-Flash interface is certainly nice on the eyes, but it doesn’t offer the functionality I’ve come to expect from sites that offer “social” features. It should be easy to direct people to your profile page, but it isn’t. You should be able to see how your friends are doing, but you can’t.

  1. If you want to share your progress, you have to do it via Nike-provided Flash widgets. You cannot link directly to your profile on the Nike+ website.
  2. The only way you can keep track of friends is through challenges (or via widgets – IF they happen to display them somewhere). Then and only then can you click on your friends’ name … and see their last run, and total run time and distance.

Neither of these are deal-breakers for me, but they’re annoying. That’s why I am excited about RunnerPlus.com. It’s everything that Nike+ isn’t. It has profile pages. It has friends. It has better visualizations of run/walk data. And it works with or with Nike+. (You can set up your profile to sync up with your Nike+ account if you like. Otherwise, they offer a software solution that allows you to sync your runs/walks without having to bother with iTunes or NikePlus.com.)

RunnerPlus has:

  • Better, more accurate visualizations.
  • Calendar-view … so you can see which days you walked and how far.
  • Profile pages with easy to remember URLs! Here’s mine: http://cdharrison.runnerplus.com/
  • Friends! You can see how they are doing and they can see how you’re doing.

In short, it has more to offer than the official NikePlus website, and that’s a good thing. If you’re using Nike+, do yourself a favor and check our RunnerPlus.com. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for sharing this site with me, Patrick!

In Sync

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syncmycal_logo A while back, I wrote about how I was able to sync Google Calendar events with my iPod using Outlook 2007. Because of various problems I had with Outlook 2007, including data corruption issues caused in part by subscribing to Internet Calendars, I uninstalled the program and reinstalled Outlook 2003 on my system.

I’ve tried the open-source add-in for Outlook, RemoteCalendars, but installation and configuration of it requires .Net Framework 2.20 and Visual Studio Tools for Office to be installed.

I had all but given up on finding a suitable replacement, when on a whim, I did a Google search for “Google Calendar Outlook“. One of the sponsored links was to SyncMyCal. (What initially drew my eye to the ad was the Google Checkout icon.) Being curious, I clicked through to the site. I’m glad I did.

SyncMyCal made the process of syncing Google Calendar with Outlook 2003 incredibly easy. It’s available in a free and a pay version. The main limitations of the free version are that you have to manually sync your calendars and you can only sync up to 7 days at a time. (For most people, this limitation isn’t going to be a huge deal.)

With SyncMyCal you can:

  • Upload events from Outlook to Google Calendar
  • Download events from Google Calendar into Outlook
  • Synchronize Multiple Calendars
  • Synchronize Multiple Events

It even supports Google Apps! (This was a big deal for me, as I’ve been using Google Apps for cdharrison.com for quite some time.)

SyncMyCal works with Microsoft Outlook XP/2003/2007. SyncMyCal is available in a Free or Pro ($25) Edition. Also available is SyncMyCal Mobile and SyncMyCal 30Boxes.