Remember Everything with I Want Sandy

I Want Sandy is a new web service that helps you keep track of all the details of your life. The software takes on the pesona of an administrative assistant that you contact by email. This makes the service really easy to work with.

For example, lets say you want to remember to get a card for your mom’s birthday. You would write Sandy an email with the message “Remind me to buy a card for Mom on 4/23.” A minute or two later, you’ll get a response from Sandy confirming what you just sent. Then, on April 23rd, she will send you an email reminding you to get the card.

The feature I most use is reminders: it’s really easy to write “remind me to call my insurance guy next monday at 2:00 PM,” as opposed to the fairly clunky process of adding a task with a reminder to my Blackberry. And with Sandy, I don’t see that reminder again until Monday at 2 PM, which means a less cluttered to do list. In GTD terms, I use Sandy as my electronic tickler file.

Plus, I can contact Sandy through direct messages on Twitter. This is best combined with the Twitterbar Firefox extension. Instead of opening up my email, I just type “d s remind me to pay my credit card 12/1 @monthly —post” into my location bar in Firefox. When I type the last “t” in “post,” TwitterBar sends a direct message to Sandy. This way, I don’t even have to open my email to save a reminder.

You can even call Sandy through the Jott speech recognition service. After you get it set up, you call the Jott hotline, ask for Sandy, and then say what you want to remember. Jott will convert it to text and send it to Sandy. It’s really easy.

Sandy’s recognition engine is fairly robust too; there’s a handy cheat sheet that lists most of her vocabulary. You can say abstract things like “r my appointment next monday afternoon” or have repeated items like “r go running @bidaily.”

There are a lot of great features I haven’t even touched on yet, like tagging, list and contact management, and shared reminders with friends. It’s easy to use and it’s free. Check it out at http://iwantsandy.com/.

Windows Live Writer

I’ve just downloaded the shiny new Windows Live Writer Beta 3, which I found on Download Squad.

Windows Live Writer Screenshot

I had originally shied away from Live Writer (considering Microsoft’s track record with web publishing, especially FrontPage), but since Download Squad gave them a fairly magnanimous review, I decided to give it a try.

So far, it seems really good. You’ll find a full review in the extended entry.

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Google Reader Preview Enhanced

I discovered a neat Greasemonkey script that greatly enhances my favorite RSS reader, Google Reader. The Google Reader Preview Enhanced script lets you see blog entries in their original context–including site design and comments. Here’s a demonstration. This is a recent post from my blog in Google Reader.

No Preview

If you click the little preview button in the bottom right corner of a post…

Preview

You can read the comments from the post and see it as the web designer intended for you to see it. And you can do it without opening up a new tab.

It requires the Greasemonkey Firefox extension, but all the software involved is free and easy to use.

Fantastic New Text Editor: E

For quite some time I have envied Mac users because of a single program: TextMate. TextMate is known as The Best Text Editor in the World. It’s easy to use but also filled with useful features, like the project pane and an powerful plugin structure. (These plugins are called “Bundles.”) Until recently, there was nothing at all like it on the Windows platform.

Now there is.

E is essentially TextMate for windows. It has the project pane, and it even supports many of TextMate’s bundles. To give you an idea of the kinds of things these bundles can do, I’m writing this post inside e right now. When I’m done, I can hit the Post to Blog keyboard shortcut, and it will connect to my blog and publish this thing. (It might even convert the Markdown into HTML for me in one step; if it doesn’t, there’s another keyboard shortcut to do that.)

There are all kinds of bundles. Some provide easy keyboard shortcuts for many major programming languages, HTML, CSS, Textile, Markdown, and other formats. So, for example, if you’re editing a CSS file and you type “font” and hit tab, it will pop up a menu of seven different presets that you can choose.

CSS Font Menu

Other things bundles can do: Automatically validate your CSS/HTML, do math, compare two different text files, run python scripts in the Cygwin terminal, sort a list of items while removing the blank lines, or run a todo list. Frankly, this sort of plugin structure is what keeps me coming back to Firefox, and I expect it’s what will keep me using e for a long, long time.

The only caveat is that e is still in Beta. It’s rapidly being developed, with new versions coming out every few days, but it can be a touch buggy. Hopefully that will stabilize over time, but even with the bugs, I think it’s totally worth the $35 asking price. The price will go up once the product comes out of beta, so I’d go ahead and pick it up now.

Software Review: SftpDrive

One of the first obstacles to running a website is getting files from your computer to your web host. In the past, I used a program called FileZilla, a free and open source FTP client.

FileZilla

FTP Clients work like this: You connect to your web site, navigate to a folder on your computer in the left pane, navigate to the folder on the web host in the right pane, and then drag files pane to pane.

While this is simple enough, when you’re working on a file that needs to be changed a lot, this can be a pain. When you want to save your changes you have to save the version on your computer, switch to the FTP client, drag the file from one side to the other, and wait for it to upload. It’s a slow process.

Worse, FTP is an insecure process. The data that you are sending back and forth are not encrypted in any way, which could lead to your server username and password being stolen and granting an attacker full access to your website.


SftpDrive Logo

SftpDrive solves both of these problems. SftpDrive lets you connect to a web server and mount it as a hard drive. Then you just treat it like any other hard drive. Upload files with Windows Explorer; edit them by opening them as if they were on your own computer. There’s no more drag and drop.

SftpDrive Screenshot

It’s also secure, since it uses the encrypted SFTP protocol. You give it the location and port number of your web host’s SSH server (instead of the FTP server), and it sends and receives files over that secure channel.

Navigating between folders is a little on the slow side, and it does make saving your files take a little longer (since it has to save and upload the file to the server). But it takes all the work out of the uploading process, so you don’t have to think about it any more.

It comes with a six week free trial. If you like it as much as I do, you can buy it from sftpdrive.com for $39.

(I have no affiliation with SftpDrive and am not being paid for this review; I just love the product.)

New Version of Flock

Well, I’m trying out Flock again. Flock is a new browser that’s based on Firefox, but which has a lot of other neat features as well. Its biggest selling point is that it integrates with online services like del.icio.us, Flickr, YouTube, and most blogging services.

I had tried Flock in the past, but found certain elements of it to be sort of a pain. For example, it only supported bookmarking to del.icio.us, rather than allowing for local private bookmarks as well. (There was a workaround, but it was unpleasant and hard to find.) They’ve fixed that–along with a lot of their other interface issues–in this new version .9 of the browser.

Flock does make it really easy to publish and discuss media from around the internet. One of its key features is the Media Bar where you can look at your Flickr photostream or your YouTube uploads. So, if I want to publish a photo of my dog, all I have to do is open the media bar, locate the picture in the photostream, and drag it into the blog editor.

You can even right-click on the photo and click “Copy HTML for Large Photo,” then paste that into any other blog editor that you might prefer.

So far, I’m finding Flock to be quick and stable. Now to see if it publishes to my blog properly!

Blogged with Flock

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Safari for Windows

I had just written a post about Apple releasing Safari for Windows into the world. (Safari is the Apple equivalent of Internet Explorer.) Naturally, I did this from Safari, which I had just been trying out. When I clicked Publish, the post title went onto my blog, without the several paragraphs I had just written.

Which was too bad, because those paragraphs were mostly favorable. Safari is fast, but right now, it’s buggy. (It is just the beta, after all.) And it doesn’t have extensions or an integrated spell checker.

I want to like Safari, but it needs a couple of rounds of bug testing first.

Awesome Word 2007 Feature for Students

Citations are the bane of students. College-level teachers tremendously overvalue the worth of putting every period exactly in the right place in the Works Cited/Bibliography page. In English 102 at BJU, a single error costs you a third of a letter grade, as I recall.

That’s why this feature of Word 2007 is so awesome: Let’s say you have a quote you want to add to cite. Click in the text just after the quote, then click the References tab.

cited1tb.png

Then click “Insert Citation” and select “Add New Source.”

cited2.png

Fill out the citations form with all the basic information, like the title of the book and the author’s name.

cited3tb.png

When you click OK, it will automatically add the parenthetical reference. Then, go to the end of the paper and add a page break. Then click Bibliography and select either a Works Cited page or a Bibliography page.

cited4.png

When you click on Bibliography, it automatically puts it together for you in whatever format you need: MLA, APA, or whatever.

cited5tb.png

I’ve been really impressed with my demo of Office 2007 so far. This would have been a huge help in my university classes. I’m finding myself grudgingly realizing that I’m about to spend over $300 on the upgrade.

Texter: TextExpander for Windows

There’s a new free tool available for Windows users called “Texter.” Made by the great folks at Lifehacker, Texter replaces your own customized abbreviations with longer passages of text. So, for example, you could have it replace “addr” with you home address, or “eml” with your email address, saving you typing time.

The thing that really makes it cool is that you can have it put any text on the clipboard into the expanded text. You can also have it move the cursor to any point in the expanded text. When you put these things together, you can make it really easy to automate some common HTML tasks, like making a link. So now, when I want to link to something in my blog, I copy the link into my clipboard, then type “hre” and hit tab. It replaces the “hre” with <a href=”link URL”></a> and places the cursor in between the two tags so that I can type the link text.

There are some videos on the site that explain how to set it all up. It’s easy to use, and it looks like a real time saver.

Explorer Breadcrumbs on Windows XP

Lifehacker linked to a neat program today called Explorer Breadcrumbs. After you install this program, a new Breadcrumb Bar sits at the top of the explorer window and gives you an easy way to navigate quickly throughout your file system. The bar lists all of the folders above the one you’re looking at in the file system, so you can jump back to any point you were at before.

This is actually a feature of Windows Vista, but this program allows Windows XP users to enjoy it as well.

I’ve recorded a quick video to demonstrate how it works.

YouTube Preview Image

(Higher-res WMV version of the above video)

Find Explorer Breadcrumbs at minimalist.com.