New Shiny Toys

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of adding and updating to my computer program choices, so I thought I’d update my blog with all the new shiny things I’ve found, so all the other people who love shiny new toys can play with them, too.

Blog Workflow:

nvALT

nvALT
nvALT

This program is a fork of Notational Velocity, which I had used before. It’s a little bit hard to explain until you’ve used it, but it makes creating new notes and finding old notes very fast. One central text box serves as both the search and add note box. As you type into it, it searches all your notes. When you press Enter or Tab, it either moves to the top search result or creates a new note, and moves the focus to the note itself, where you can write away to your heart’s content. Press Cmd-L and you’re back in the search / file creation bar. nvALT adds several features, but the big one is Markdown support. If you’re not familiar with Markdown at this point, it’s basically a set of simple, human-readable plaintext formatting rules which can be converted to HTML. So for example, a bulleted list is done like this: * A bulleted item, and headers are done like this: #Header1#, ##Header2##, etc.

I have long been aware of the benefits of going with only plaintext, and now that I have the tools to implement basic formatting, one barrier that was keeping me away has been removed. However, nvALT has one feature which really is a trial for me. It has no way to organize your text files into any folder system. There’s no reason you’d need to: the search function is instantaneous, even with thousands of documents. But my OCD self objects strongly to the idea of going without organization. If I am to scrap the folder system, I have to have some alternate method of putting my world in order. It turns out that there is one, used by many many nerds like myself! In short, the system includes the following [a prefix] + “ – ” + [three to five key words] + “ – ” + [creation date in format MM-dd-yy]. The prefix simply gives a broad category, not anything too specific. As an example, the title of this blog post in nvALT is: “Blogx – New Program Choices – 04–04–13.txt”.

This system makes it easy to search in a way to view all my blog files, or all the quotes I like (Quotex), and so forth. Why “Blogx” and “Quotex”, not just “Blog” and “Quote”? Simple: if I search for “Blog,” I’ll find not only all the files having to do with my blog, but also every file that has the word “blog” in the text of it, and it’s not unlikely that I’ll have at least a couple of other files with the word blog in them. By appending the letter ‘x’ to the category name, I avoided the issue. The same goes for all my other categories: Refx (reference materials), Quotex (Quotes I like, with the person’s name in the keywords), Thoughtx (Interesting thoughts I want to save), Ideax (Ideas that I can do something with), and Runx (running lists of any sort).

The principle problem with this system of file-naming is the sheer amount of typing it takes. Typing out the prefix, key words, and date is an awful lot to type every time I want to create a new file! That’s where the next program on my list comes in.

aText

aText
All the articles I was reading about plaintext and this system of file naming recommended a program called Text Expander, which would replace short abbreviations, or triggers, with a longer block of text, system-wide. A quick search online revealed that Text Expander runs at a high premium of $20?, which is a bit outside my budget. Continuing my search, though, I found a Lifehacker article which rated aText, a $5 program from the Mac App Store, as a superior text expander program. I splurged, and soon I had text expander snippets for all the file naming I could ever care to do. Typing “bX” expands to “Blogx – – 04–07–13”, automatically filled with the current date, with the cursor placed in the middle. Similarly, “rX” expands to “Runx,” “rfX” to “Refx – – 04–07–13”, and so forth. This is the bulk of what I’m using aText for at this point, but really it can be useful for replacing anything which you have to type often. For example, I have my phone number set up to be replaced when I type “#me”, our home number when I type “#home”, and so on and so forth.

Byword

title
nvALT is a very functional editor, but it’s not very pleasing to the eyes, nor does it make it easy to see what the Markdown formatting will do. Another short markdown lesson: *italics* is made by surrounding the text with asterisks. **bold** is made by surround the text by two asterisks. Easy, right? Not as easy as it can be. Byword is a very nice editor for Markdown. First of all, it’s beautifully designed, making writing in it a real pleasure (similar to the way writing in OmmWriter is a pleasure). Second, it has excellent “syntax highlighting.” I hesitate to call it that, actually, because really, it’s real-time syntax application. Text that is surrounded by double asterisks immediately appears bold, with the asterisks faded to light gray. Titles (# Title #) appear bold and large. It basically allows you to test out and see in real time how Markdown works. I will admit, this one will set you back $10 from the Mac App Store, but it sure is a pleasure to use. Another note on using it: in the preferences of nvALT, set Byword as the external editor, then open the current note in Byword using Cmd-Shift-E.

BlogEasy

BlogEasy
Now that I’ve created all these brilliant pieces of writing (we hope), how do I put them on my blog? It just so happens that WordPress, unlike Blogger, supports uploading entries via an external program, as well as supports Markdown. I liked the idea of not being tied to waiting for the webpages to load when I’m on slow internet, so I went in search of free software for posting on WordPress blogs. BlogEasy feels very poorly designed compared to all the other wonderful apps I’ve been using, but it’s a free download from the author’s site (although if you go through the Mac App Store it’ll cost you $10). It works though, and in the final analysis, that’s what counts.

I’ve reached the end of all the applications I can string together, so at this point, I’m just left with

Miscellaneous Applications:

ClipMenu

ClipMenu
I didn’t know I needed this. It’s a clipboard history manager, and while I could live without the menu which the name refers to, I definitely appreciate the Shift-Cmd-V shortcut, which brings up a menu with submenus for my previous clipboard contents (1–10, 11–20, 21–30, etc). Simple application, very useful.

SlimBatteryMonitor

SlimBatteryMonitor
I was using Battery Time Remaining, but I’m converted. This application also allows you to see how much time your battery has remaining, along with allowing a greater level of customization. As the name implies, it’s skinnier than the standard battery monitor.

If you’ve ever wanted to keep tabs on your CPU load, network traffic, disk usage, or RAM usage without keeping Activity Monitor open, this is the app for you. It doesn’t have quite as many features as iStat Pro, but it works very well, even integrating into the menu bar just like the native menubar items (i.e. you can CMD-drag it around).

IPMenulet

This is a very simple little application which displays your computer’s exernal IP address. Why would you want this? Not all WiFi networks you connect to will have internet access. This application shows at a glance whether your computer is online: if you have an IP, you’re online.

F.lux

This isn’t a new application to me, but I include it because it’s so incredibly important. If you ever use your computer when it’s not daylight outside, you need this app, which seamlessly changes your computer’s color temperature warmer at night. Why would you want this? Our eyes serve two purposes: seeing, and regulating sleep hormones. By exposing ourselves to the blue light which LCD screens give off, when our body ought to be winding down in the evenings, we inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that allows us to sleep. Seriously, stop reading this and go get it here if you don’t have it already. It’s available for Windows and Mac computers.

Awareness

I found this app even more recently than the others I’ve posted about. It’s probably the simplest app in this entire list. It displays a count of how long you’ve been working non-stop at your computer in the menu bar. Every hour (or whatever other period you choose), it plays the sound of a singing bowl; it’s pleasant enough to not be jarring like an alarm would be, but loud enough to get your attention, making you aware (hence the name) that you’ve been working nonstop for a long time, and it’s time to take a break. If you choose to keep working, it’ll play the sound again at the end of the next hour. When you take a break, it automatically notices when you’ve been gone for 5 minutes, and resets the timer to start counting again when you get back.

Bartender

With all the apps I have, my menu bar is really crowded. This app is just what I need, and I’ve known about it for a while. However, I haven’t bought a license, because it costs $15, and I’m cheap. It’s still a fantastic app though, and I’m enjoying it for as long as the trial version lasts.

Reeder

Reeder
With Google’s decision to shut down Google Reader coming up in June, Reeder has become completely free until their version 2 comes out, which will support other feed reading platforms. Since I “bought” it on the app store (for free), I’m hoping it will automatically update to the new version, even after it’s a paid app.

Sublime Text 2

Sublime Text 2
Quite simply the best programming text editor out there. It’s not a full-blown IDE, but with a few plugins, you might not know it. This online course was what really convinced me, so if you don’t believe me, go there and check it out.

Alfred 2

Alfred
Alfred 2 is an application launcher. It’s simple: hit ⌥-Space, or whatever else you set for its shortcut (I replaced the default spotlight ⌘-Space), and begin typing the name of the application you want. It’s pretty much instantaneous, unlike Spotlight, so I have it set to replace my Spotlight. “But what about files?” I can hear you asking. Never fear, just use the “find” keyword: find blogx will show me all the files having the word blogx in them. And it’s more keyboard-friendly than Spotlight, too. Whereas in Spotlight, if you don’t want the current item you have to scroll up and down with the arrow keys, in Alfred you just hit ⌘-1⌘-9 to launch the lower results. If it’s not in the top 10 results, keep typing to narrow down the selection.

A way to make Alfred play well with nvALT is this: add a custom web search with the URL nvalt://find/{query}, then enter the keyword as “nv”. Now, all you have to do to launch a nvALT search is type nv blogx or whatever other thing you want to find. The best part about this is, if you can’t think of what you want to search for and want to go to the program first, just type ‘nv’ and hit Enter; this will automatically launch the program (which is practically instantaneous), letting you search from there.

Alfred’s business model is to give you enough features for free that you really enjoy using it, then charge you for the “Powerpack,” which lets you do all the really nerdy, techy stuff, like installing additional plugins, running shell scripts, navigating the file system with the keyboard right in Alfred, and clipboard history (that’s right, it’d replace ClipMenu), along with some normal-person coolness like controlling iTunes, viewing and emailing contacts from Alfred, and more. I’m trying to convice myself that I don’t need to spend the £15 to buy the pack, and I’ve set myself a reminder to decide in three weeks if I really want to spend the money.

Colloquy

IRC has really sorta passed me by — up until I started helping with development on NINJA-IDE (an open-source Python IDE). Then I wanted to contact some people on the development team with questions. Granted, I could have simply used the freenode IRC web-interface, but I wanted some sort of native Mac application. Colloquy works quite satisfactorily, and looks decent, if not great.

Now a quick introduction for those of you who have no idea what IRC is. IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat, and it is the primary place “internet chat rooms” happen, so if you’ve ever heard of “chat rooms” on the internet, it’s probably through IRC. The way it works: you choose a server and a room (in my case, chat.freenode.net was the server, #ninja-ide was the room), and you’re connected to a text chat with whoever else happens to be in the “room.” IRC predates the days of the Internet as we know it today; it was alive and well long before there were such things as websites, and it’s still around today, though relegated to a small corner of the internet.

Hyperswitch

Hyperswitch
The beauty (curse?) of the internet is that you can find all sorts of things you never knew you needed (perhaps you’re experiencing that now?). Though perhaps the experience of discovering new things you’ve never heard of but now desperately need is not unique to the internet, the internet does make it uniquely easy to try new things. Hyperswitch is an enhancement to the standard Mac ⌘-Tab switcher which brings some of the innovation from Windows 7 to the Mac. Ordinarily, the ⌘-Tab switcher only switches between applications, and not between windows of that application. Hyperswitch shows a dropdown under the currently selected application that holds previews of the currently running windows of that application, allowing you to navigate directly to the specific window you want. Not a huge change, but a little and very helpful tweak.

References

Additional Reading

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About

Many people have told me that I’m well-rounded, but I refuse to believe it. My nature is to dash madly from one hobby to another, so over time I’ve covered enough topics to begin to approach round.

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Posted in Technology
2 comments on “New Shiny Toys
  1. floft says:

    Your F.lux “here” link is blank. I’ll have to try that out, looks interesting. They have a command-line version. =)

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