Joe’s Goals

I’ve been trying out the Lifehacker-recommended Joe’s Goals for about a week now, and I’ve found it to be most useful.

Joe’s Goals Demo

It works like this: You give it a list of daily goals, which are listed on the side. Each day that you accomplish that goal, you click in the box, and it puts a neat little checkbox there.

You can also add logbooks, which are little tiny squares of text, rather than checkboxes.

The site also keeps stats, like the longest chain of days that you accomplished your goal and a point score at the bottom of each day. You can weight each of your goals a different amount, and you even track negative goals that deduct points.

So, for example, you can say that taking a picture once a day is worth 1 point, while working out for an hour each day is worth 5, and eating more than one snack a day is worth -2.

Overall, Joe’s Goals is a simple tool that I’d recommend to anyone trying to track their New Year’s resolutions.

The Amazon MP3 Music Store Is Amazing

Until now, iTunes has been the only decent online music store. It made getting music as simple as possible, and their extensive library ensured that, unless you were looking for something really obscure, you could be sure to find the music you wanted. And since Apple made both iTunes and the popular iPod, they worked very well together.

Other stores have tried to compete, but they were dismal failures by comparison. On the one hand, you had stores like eMusic, which required a monthly subscription fee to download 50 MP3’s a month from their catalog of mostly independent musicians. On the other hand, you had stores like URGE or the Zune music store, which had extensive collections of popular music, but which crippled their music with DRM (software that locks music to a few particular players to prevent piracy), which made them incompatible with the iPod.

Finally, yesterday, Amazon combined the best of both worlds. They have an extensive collection of popular music, with everyone from Eminem to Luciano Pavarotti, from major labels like Universal Music, available as MP3 files without DRM. They can work on any MP3 player, including the iPod.

The other major advantage that iTunes had over its competitors was ease-of-use. In iTunes, all you have to do to get a song into your library is push the “purchase” button. It’s exactly the same for the Amazon MP3 store.

When you first start using the Amazon MP3 store, you have to install a tiny little client that will download your music and then put it into iTunes or Windows Media Player (whichever you prefer). After that, it’s just as easy as push the One-Click button next to a song or album. Amazon does have one extra step, where you confirm which credit card to charge with your purchase, but other than that, it’s just as seamless as using the iTunes store.

In fact, I’m willing to say that Amazon is better than iTunes in a lot of ways. First, you’re getting the songs in MP3 format, which means that you aren’t locked into using the iPod like you are with iTunes.

Second, you can browse for your music in your browser, rather than being forced to use the iTunes client. I’ve found that there are times when I want to go look through iTunes, but it’s ridiculously slow or plagued with network timeouts. I’ve never had that problem with Amazon’s website.

Third, Amazon tracks are often cheaper than iTunes tracks. Many songs in Amazon are only $.89, including popular songs on the top of their charts. iTunes tracks are always $.99, regardless of song popularity, and $1.29 for songs without DRM.

Overall, I’d have to say that Amazon is the first online music store that gives Apple a run for its money. I know that I’m planning to check Amazon before I check iTunes for my future music purchases.

Finally! A *Good* Interface for Amazon!

I’ve just discovered uncluttr, a clean and simple user interface for Amazon.com.

So lets say you want to buy a book about Ruby on Rails. Start by entering the term in the search field:

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If you see something you’re interested in, just click on it.

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You can also get reviews…

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… and related items.

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If you like it, just drag it over to your cart.

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When you’re done, click “Checkout” and it will redirect you to Amazon proper.

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I’ve always thought that Amazon has one of the ugliest interfaces in the industry, so this website is a breath of fresh air.

Good Words, Right Order

The Seanachai, by Patrick McClean, was one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, and it’s still one of the best. (It’s only flaw is that it isn’t updated nearly often enough, hint, hint. I miss my stories, Pat.) I’ve always admired Patrick’s writing; he finds clever ways to say interesting things.

So I was delighted to see that Patrick has a new blog/video podcast called Good Words, Right Order where he teaches writing. I’ve already watched all four of the videos on the site, where he takes some badly written glob of text and turns it into a clear, concise sentence.

It’s not a grammar site; it’s about how to communicate clearly in writing. It actually reminds me a lot of my expository writing class in college, except without the homework and the endless lecture. That class was one of the hardest classes I took, but it made me a much better writer–when I actually take the time to consider what I’m writing.

In other McClean news, he’s participating in NPR’s Public Radio Talent Search, so go and vote for him so that he can be on public radio and get paid to write insightful things instead of ad copy.

After that, go to Good Words, Right Order and learn how to write from one of the best writers I know.

Tumblr

With my blog, I generally want to have my own content, instead of just quoting things. Just quoting other people adds to that “echo chamber” effect that blogs have and means that I’m not contributing much to the conversation. But there’s still interesting stuff out there I’d like to quote with a minimum of commentary some times.

Thats why I’ve started a Tumblog. This is not, in fact, a blog about antacids. Instead, it’s a collection of whatever neat quotes and fun stuff I find around the internet.

Tumblr is great because it’s really, really simple. Just pick what kind of content you want to add–Regular Post, Photo, Quote, Link, Conversation, or Video–then paste or type the information into the form. No categories, comments, trackbacks, or any of the normal stuff you associate with blogging. And it displays the content in a nice big, clean format that’s really easy to read.

Find my tumblog at http://jdharper.tumblr.com/

Twitter

Astute readers will notice that there’s a new badge in my Social Networking sidebar. It’s from a site called “Twitter.” Basically, Twitter is a way to constantly update folks on what I’m doing or thinking about. It’s sort of a nifty “stream-of-consciousness” miniblog. John Edwards has one, as does prominent productivity blogger Merlin Mann. It’s pretty nifty.

It’s also a great source of interesting quotes like these:

  • At Ritual Coffee, the hand-crafted sign by the register now reads, “Please, no blogging in line.”
  • Internet, I’m in labor. Do something.
  • Tshirt I just saw: dolphins are gay sharks.

You can update by text message, instant message (I use google talk, personally), or by the website. It’s just a neat way of logging your life. I haven’t decided if I’ll stick with it or not, but it seems like fun for now.

Great Wordplay

I’ve always loved good metaphors and turns of phrase. I value clever lyrics in my music and have subscribed to blogs just on the basis of a well-written phrase.

I also grow weary of the constant flood of advertising in American culture.

So, I particularly enjoyed the latest post from the Church of the Customer blog. The authors, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba have written books and blog entries and podcasts promoting the idea of companies pursuing personal relationships with customers.

A company that waterboards society and its culture with advertising is an organization that not only lacks imagination and creative skill but is probably incapable of creating or maintaining any kind of meaningful relationship.

Like a sociopath.

Waterboarding society with advertising. That’s exactly what’s it’s like. Do we really need ads over urinals and stamped on eggs?

By the way, the audiobook version of The Church of the Customer, is really well written and well produced, and it makes some great points for anyone aspiring to build their business. They show you how you can build a community of loyal customers who double as “citizen marketers”–people who tell their friends about your products/services. They obviously know what they’re talking about, because I’m marketing their book to you and I’m not being compensated by them in any way.

Incidentally, they haven’t put out a new podcast episode in months. This makes me sad; it’s one of the few business podcasts I still listen to.

Google Reader

The new Google Reader is amazing. It’s an RSS reader, like Bloglines or NewsGator, sites that let you keep track of lots of different blogs and news sites in one convenient location.

Google’s version is really nifty for a couple of reasons. First, by default items are marked as read as you scroll by them. You don’t have to mark anything as read yourself anymore.

Second, there’s a share link at the bottom of each story. This lets you compile a list of interesting stories for your friends to read. In the near future, you can expect to see a “J. D. Harper’s Shared Stories” section in the sidebar of this website.

There are number of other interesting features that I haven’t mentioned. You really ought to give it a try. You can find it at http://www.google.com/reader/.

A great new social news site: reddit.com

I love reddit.com. I’ve been visiting it off and on for a week or so now, and it consistently has interesting content. For example: Today, I found this massive pixel art town, a collection of hidden symbols in logos, and a great list that explains logical fallacies such as “False Dilemma: I’ve found that either you think False Dilemma is the best fallacy, or you’re a terrorist.”

So, I’ve added buttons that let y’all vote for my posts on reddit. If they haven’t already been submitted to reddit, it’ll let you submit it. If it has been added, you can vote for the post without leaving the page. Cool, yes? Yes.