Yahoo Pipes launches, crashes, re-launches, crashes some more...

I know Google. I’m a close personal friend of Google. And Yahoo, you’re no Google.

Yahoo Pipes arrived last night to some geeky fanfare, and promptly got overloaded and crashed. Then they bulked up capacity and it came back up, and then it crashed again.

It’s a strange little program. It lets you take XML feeds from any number of sources and do… thing to them. Like concatenate them, filter them, or pipe the results through something else.

So, for example, you could take the URLs of everyone who commented on your blog, grab the RSS feeds from their blog, and put all the posts together into a single mega RSS feed. Or you could take apartment listings off CraigsList and search for crime reports for those streets, and pipe the search results into, again, an RSS feed.

This is the sort of thing that makes geeks all hot and bothered. The rest of the world can sit back and reap the rewards as a jillion “smart” feeds come out into the world to make everyone’s life easier.

Oh yeah, only geeks care about RSS/XML feeds anyhow… Dang.

Written on February 8, 2007

Nik's Pick: Adium

If you don’t already know about Adium, then you’re missing out.

Adium is an instant messaging client that permits you to use a single program to communicate with people on virtually every instant messaging service in the world. So you don’t have to worry about whether all your friends and colleagues are on MSN, or Yahoo, or AIM, or iChat, or Google Talk, or Skype, or, well, you get the idea.

That, alone, is a neat trick, but it’s hardly unique. There are other programs (such as the excellent Fire) which do the same thing.

Adium raises the bar in how you can communicate over each of these networks.

Not only can you customize the look of the application to the Nth degree, but you can also automate it (send a message to a buddy as soon as they log in, for example), secure it (encrypt your conversations quickly and easily between Adium users), and track it (incredibly comprehensive logging, including log searching).

Additionally, Adium supports a few services that I haven’t found on any other Mac clients, such as Lotus Sametime (which I have to use at work and has no Mac client otherwise – not even from IBM/Lotus).

What it cannot do (and makes no effort to attempt) is video or audio chatting. This is purely for text-based IM’ing. However, nothing prevents you from running Adium and then opening up iChat when you need to video conference.

Great program, and did I mention that it’s 100% free?

Written on February 4, 2007

Another Stikkit Trick: Search for your Stikkits from your Mac

One problem with using a web based snippet keeper like Stikkit is that it isn’t on your Mac. The New Stikkit Package alleviates some of that difficulty, but you still can’t quickly retrieve a “stikkit” without loading the web site.

Or can you?

Stikkit’s search functionality is pretty straightforward, and you can just send a search string straight TO stikkit. By leveraging the ability to add new search engines or shortcuts to certain browsers, LaunchBar and Quicksilver, you make it even more seamless.

The search string is: http://www.stikkit.com/stikkits?query=

To set it up in your browser, launcher, here’s what you do:

Firefox > Make a new bookmark (name it “Stikkit Search” or something like that), and edit the bookmark’s properties. Set the URL to http://www.stikkit.com/stikkits?query=%s and the keyword to whatever you want to type into the address bar. Now you can just type your keyword, followed by a space and your search term, and it will immediately search Stikkit.com for a stikkit with that name!

OmniWeb > Go to Preferences > Shortcuts, and enter a new search term named “Stikkit” with a URL of http://www.stikkit.com/stikkits?query=%@ and a shortcut of whatever you’d like to type in to activate it from the search bar. Now your search bar should include Stikkit as an option, and you can also search using a keyword just like in Firefox.

LaunchBar > Open your LaunchBar configuration window and add a new entry to a “smart searches” group. (Or better yet, create your own smart searches group and add all your custom searches to it.) Create a smart search named “Search Stikkit” or equivalent, with a URL of *http://www.stikkit.com/stikkits?query=** . You can now search Stikkit by just bringing up that search in LaunchBar, hitting space, and typing in your searchterm.

Quicksilver > First, make sure your web browser’s bookmarks are being indexed by Quicksilver. If not, download the appropriate plug-in to do so. Then make a new bookmark with a URL of *http://www.stikkit.com/stikkits?query=**** and a name of “Search Stikkit” (or equivalent). Then rebuild Quicksilver’s catalog. (If you installed a new plug-in, you’ll also have to reboot.) Now bring up Quicksilver, find your search term, tab to the next pane, and enter your search term.

I hope you find this tip helpful. I know I do!

Written on January 22, 2007

Nik's Picks: Stikkit

All right, let’s just get this out of the way. This pick isn’t a Mac application, it’s another web application.

However, it’s a web application that works flawlessly under Safari, but doesn’t work perfectly under IE. Happy now? I thought so!

The web site is stikkit.com. Basically, it’s an online junk drawer/snippet keeper, just like the thousands of similar programs that have been cropping up on the Mac for the last few years. (And yes, even with every word in there as a link to another organizer/outliner/snippet organizer, I didn’t nearly fit all of them.)

Given the wealth of Mac-native applications, why do I want you to check out Stikkit?

Well, because Stikkit has two advantages that are unlike any other application I’ve found on the Mac:

  1. It will interpret what you type in your “stikkits” and determine what kind of information it is, and categorize it for you.

  2. Stikkit is online. If you work in a cross-platform environment, you use multiple computers, you travel a lot, or you just want to share some of your information with other folks, Stikkit will let you do that.

Additionally, as web applications go, Stikkit is one of the smoothest and easiest to use web applications I’ve found. It can be almost entirely keyboard driven, and it is built to appear simple, although there’s some great power under the hood.

So, here’s how Stikkit works:

You have a bunch of “stikkits”, which are analogous to sticky notes or just little text snippets. (That’s right, text, stikkit doesn’t handle files or images, although you can certainly link to either.) They can be searched or viewed in pre-defined categories, including to-dos, calendar events, bookmarks or peeps (contacts). You can also tag them with as many tags as you want and browse them by tag as well.

But the clever part is how they become categorized.

If I type a stikkit of “Call John”, it will just be a stikkit. If I instead put it down as “Call John tomorrow at 3:30PM”, it will become a calendar entry. If I then add another line and add “Remind me”, I’ll get an email or SMS message about ½ hour before I need to call John, reminding me to do it.

Or, I can go further still, and type:

> Remember to call John McGillicuddy at 3:30 pm tomorrow > > remind me > > John McGillicuddy > > home phone: 800-123-4567 > > email: john@mcgillicuddy.com > > tag as “sales lead” work “McGillicuddy and Son Inc.”

Stikkit will read what I wrote and go nuts, creating a to-do instead of an event with a reminder for 3:30 PM tomorrow; it will also create a “peep” stikkit for John McGillicuddy, containing his phone number and email address; and finally, both the peep and the to-do will get tagged and categorized as a sales lead, something work-related, and something to do with the McGillicuddy and Son Inc. company.

Oh yeah, all the stikkits there will be cross-linked to one another, so I can click on John’s stikkit and see all my meetings, to-dos, and whatever else are related to him.

It’s this cross linking and simple input that really get me excited. As a big GTD fan, I really like to be able to just gather information and reminders and only later process them and do something with them.

Stikkit lets me follow this methodology (I can just put “Call John” for a stikkit and later go back and flesh it out), plus it makes it stupid simple for me to turn it into something much more useful, without any futzing around with my mouse or creating folders or categories or anything. I can pretty much put in just what I would have otherwise written in my notebook and trust Stikkit to figure out what I intended this note to be about.

Other cool Stikkit things include:

  • Any individual stikkit can be shared with anybody else. They get a special URL that gives them access. However, they must register for stikkit to share data. (Which is quick and easy)

  • The calendar can be subscribed to in iCal. (Unfortunately, alarms/reminders aren’t published, nor are to-dos without associated dates.)

  • Just about any part of Stikkit can be accessed as an RSS feed. Not terribly secure, but it lets you throw your to-dos or latest thoughts into a Dashboard widget or something.

  • Stikkit has a burgeoning API, which is hinted at and pretty much undocumented, but it already shows promise.

The downsides? There’s a few:

  • Stikkit IS a text-only system, as I explained above. If you want to store your documents and everything else, Stikkit is not the place for that.

  • Stikkit’s intelligence demos well, but it’s actually pretty persnickity about what keywords it looks for. If you say “tag with…” your tags, it will assume you’re trying to invite those tags to a meeting (as opposed to “tag as…” which is the proper syntax). On the other hand, the “magic words” are intuitive and easy to remember and many have abbreviations for quick data entry.

Still, having tried out Backpack and Zoho Planner, and a zillion Mac apps, I have found Stikkit to be the right balance between quick & dirty and full featured. Mostly I use it as a to-do list for work tasks (no Entourage at work boo hoo), and a place to store URLs I want to look at later, or people I meet in odd places (that I ultimately add to Entourage).

Stikkit is free to use (and it seems will remain free for a while, at least), and continues to expand and grow based largely on user suggestions.

And, if you do like Stikkit, you may want to check out some scripts and services I threw together that make it quick and easy to add large and small stikkits without ever visiting the website.

Written on January 19, 2007

FUSE for the Mac (or how to use your Gmail account for file storage)

The FUSE (Filesystem in User SpacE) system has been ported to the Mac by a Google employee or three.

Why do you care?

Well, FUSE lets you mount new filesystems at the user level (not the root level). These are actually virtual filesystems, as the FUSE code permits you to rather abstract what it means to be a filesystem, and thus use, say, your Gmail account as a filesystem. (So you can have multiple Gmail accounts, each granting you 3 gigs of online storage for free.)

Other cool tricks include simply supporting unsupported filesystems (crytoFS), improving support of already supported filesystems ( add read/write to NTFS, improving WebDAV performance) or even supporting different sorts of remote servers (such as FTP or SSH) as filesystems (permitting you to securely access your home computer as a “disk” using nothing more than the included SSH server).

Currently, there are some issues, but anecdotal evidence shows that it works pretty well (but for some funny implementation issues vis a vis the Finder). FUSE filesystem modules need to be compiled by hand right now, but many are tested, and some (GmailFS) are very likely to get tested/approved pretty soon.

This is yet another example of why the super-awesome BSD underpants of MacOS X make it as geektacular as Linux but as easy to use as, well, the Mac.

Written on January 12, 2007

A Disappointing MacWorld Keynote

Ahh, MacWorld Keynote Day! It’s like a second X-Mas, except at this one Santa sends me an invoice for all the toys he left under the tree. Bittersweet, to be sure, but a wonderful and exciting time to see the latest in Mac Goodness.

Except this year, I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone looks fantastic (I was literally quivering with delight as I read Engadget’s play-by-play coverage), and the Apple TV, while not my cup of tea, also looks like a very slick product.

But come on, the whole keynote was spent talking about a product that we already knew existed (and pretty much what it would do – HD and iTunes support was a given, all that was left was a bit of confusion over the connection with the Mac and its support for other formats, as well as the nitty gritty of how it looks/acts), and a product that won’t ship until June.

To add insult to injury, NEITHER of these products are Macintoshes. They’re in the same consumer electronics category as the iPod (which Steve, for the past couple years, has made a point of NOT covering in detail, since it’s MACworld expo, not APPLEworld expo). In fact, both products fully support PCs as well as Macs.

And sure, the MacBooks were recently updated to the Core 2 Duo processors, but the Mini and iMac haven’t seen an update since September, and the Mac Pro hasn’t ever been updated since it was released in August. Where’s my new hardware? I can get a Dell with faster processors than are on any of the Macs (even four more cores on a workstation class dualie). And say what you will about anodized aluminum, but I can’t help but feel a bit bored with Apple’s pro enclosures. Nope, I was waiting the whole time for a “one more thing” revealing an eight-core Mac Pro.

Furthemore, iSights are unavailable, but Apple’s displays don’t have a camera in them. iLife and iWork still say ‘06, which makes them start sounding a bit (dare I say) Microsofty. (Word 2004? That’s so Web-1.0-era!) And don’t even get me started on how badly .Mac needs an update to justify its ludicrous price!

Do I want an iPhone? Yes, desperately. But it’s not a Mac product. Neither is an iTV. Heck, if they’d thrown in a pity demo of Leopard, I’d feel better about it, but as it is, I can’t help but feel that just as Apple Computers became just Apple today, the Mac officially got its keynote hijacked to push Just Apple’s new products.

Written on January 9, 2007

Nik's Picks: Find the perfect color with kuler

Adobe has a free web-based application out called Kuler.

In a nutshell, Kuler is a color picker that helps you design a color scheme of complimentary colors. It lets you start with a base color, and will generate a family of related colors based on some simple rules (whether you want a high contrast or low contrast color scheme, for example). Any of the automatically generated colors can be overridden as well, should you happen to want to.

Where Kuler really shines, however, is in the community around it. You can publish and share and browse other designers’ color schemes. You can rate the schemes you browse, and the best and most popular ones naturally rise to the top.

Color schemes are annotated with RGB, CMYK, LAB, HSV and and HEX/HTML color values, so you can punch ‘em right into your application of choice. You can also export your scheme as swatches compatible with all Adobe Creative Suite applications.

For people like me who have enough design sense to know that we design poorly, but not enough to design well, a good color scheme can mean the difference between an ugly garish design (this site) and wonderful attractive design.

Kuler is 100% free. If you do any design work at all, you owe it to yourself to go check it out.

Written on December 23, 2006

Vote for the best Mac software in the world!

Here at Nik’s Picks, I try to dig up some of the best software out there and share it with you. But I’m just one (lazy) guy, and there’s a lot of smart folks out there.

So, to make everyone have a little something new all the time, I set up Squidoo lens that tracks the top MacOS X software.

Just pop over to the lens, and you can vote on your favorite software, and vote down any software you don’t think is deserving! Should be fun.

You can see the top few results here in the sidebar, or best of all, at the page itself. Get out there and vote! (And, if you like the lens, be sure to give it a nice rating!)

Go vote now! What are you waiting for?!

And, as a disclaimer, I make no money on this. All the ad revenue generated by the lens is automatically gifted to charity.

Written on December 20, 2006