Category Archives: Software Spotlight

Dealing With Information Overload Using Read It Later and Paperdroid Pro

Dealing with Information Overload Using Read it Later and Paperdroid Pro

Sometimes it is difficult for one to live in the modern world with the myriad distractions and the constant barrage of information from every electronic device and online service. While some of this information is clearly superfluous to our occupations and the well-greased machine of our life, other nuggets of thought-provoking brain candy can enrich even the most mundane knowledge worker’s daily routine.

I do not mean to sound like a technological apologist, but the fact remains that in order to get through my daily work, I need to rely not only on my own bag of tricks, but also the Pandora’s box of the World Wide Web.

So, how am I dealing with this constant flood of nigh-impossible-to-organize knowledge distractions? Not very well up to this point, but the tide has been changing for the better in the recent weeks.

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Software Spotlight: RadicalCodex

RadicalCodex 1.0

RadicalCodex 1.0

There has been a lot of controversy lately about the viability of commercial, closed source applications running on Linux as a platform. The purists believe that all closed source applications are inherently evil, and should not be allowed to run on Linux, as it spoils the world of freedom. The other side of the coin are the people thinking about the future of Linux as a viable platform for even our grandparents to use.

I subscribe to the latter point of view. I’d like to point out one amazingly awesome piece of closed source commercial software for Linux.

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Software Spotlight: The Search for Writing Software – Part 2

Expanding on the article I wrote for Part 1, I am on the hunt for a web-based set of applications for helping writers collect and organize their writing materials.

After reading the NSLog(); blog post about a similar search for writing software, I took a look at the “Book” module for the Drupal Content Management System.

While this system does provide an easy way to track versions and enable collaboration with multiple authors, I find that it lacks any functionality for creating outlines and generally collecting all of the support materials that I need to use to create the stories on which I am working. The idea of setting it up on my own server is a plus, as I won’t have to rely on a third party to host my materials, but the tools don’t quite fit.

Drupal does have certain functionality that I am looking for, but it has far more than I need in some areas, but lacks in the areas that are most important to me.

One of the first things I am realizing while I am searching for a perfect-fit software solution is that it is hard to find such a solution using any common-sense set of Google search criteria. This leads to the secondary mission of these blog posts, which is to setup an easy way for writers in a similar position to easily find what they are looking for.

A set of traditional applications for writing and collecting information for a project that I have come across in the past is Liquid Story Binder XE by Black Obelisk Software. I have used this product in the past, and found that it truly is a great package for collecting and writing things for a project. There are three problems from where I’m sitting with it:

  1. Price – This software costs $45.95!
  2. Portability – This is a Windows-only software, and is run on a traditional desktop. (Apparently, though, it can run from a thumb drive)
  3. No WINE Compatibility – I would really need this to run on Linux, since it is my primary platform for writing.

Basically, the ideal application for me would be web-based, but have all of the features that Liquid Story Binder XE has. Does anyone know of any similar web-based applications out there?

Software Spotlight: The Search for Writing Software – Part 1

As stated in yesterday’s blog post about Dimenxia and the Overneath Project, I am on the hunt for a good software research and collection tool for organizing all of my data in one neat and tidy location.

Up to this point, I’ve been using various tools to get the job done:

Though these tools do get the job done, I want a one-stop-shop where I can house all of my information, create new stuff, and easily keep everything organized.

The market for writing software is flooded with all kinds of expensive, probably terrible software. Admittedly, my adventures have only taken me as far as a Google search for these software products.

I’d like to lay out a few key observations for me in this ongoing search to find the one tool to rule them all.

  1. Cross Platform – I absolutely need to be able to use the software on whatever computer I am sitting at, regardless if it is a Mac, Windows PC or Linux box.
  2. Price – Free is always best.
  3. Web-based Storage – I need to have access to all of my data wherever I might go that has an internet connection.
  4. Full Featured – I need the product to be able to handle timelines, storyboards, outlines and chapter snippets.

Let’s talk about these requirements for a minute.

Cross Platform
On a daily basis, I use all three major platforms for various reasons. While I am at school, I am limited to Windows. While at home, I use Mac laptops, and my desk has an Ubuntu box and a Mac Mini that I use in tandem.

It is extremely important, therefore, that the tool that I decide upon have no ties to a specific platform.

Price
A professional writer would not have to worry about the price of the tools they use, as long as they get the job done. Being just a student with a very small income, though, this limits the amount I am able to spend on such a product.

In my experience, price is not always an indication of quality. Sure, you pay a bit more for a Mac, and you get great quality and stability, but you pay almost as much for a PC with Windows, and what do you get with that? Whereas, you buy a PC and put Linux on it, and not only do you get a host of free software options, but they are generally of great quality, and are updated on a constant basis by the community.

A free software product to organize all of my thoughts and writings is almost the top priority in my search.

Web-based Storage
This is yet another deal breaker. I need to be able to not only use the tool on every computer I use, but I need to access my materials anywhere I choose to work with the least amount of hassle.

Sure, I could tote around a flash drive with me, or setup my development server to keep all of my materials in one place, but that’s more work than I think should go into it.

Full Featured
I have been using a variety of tools up until this point, and I want to have all of the features that I’ve been using in one solid product that fits all of these criteria.

These criteria combined seem to point the way to a web-based application. I am far from completing my search, but it seems to me that there should be a Web-2.0 class application to fill all of these needs. I hope that I can do enough research on this subject so that I can shorten the search for other people, and point them to a great product.

Software Spotlight: GTDAgenda

Today I’d like to talk about a Getting Things Done application from GTDAgenda.com.

Thought I had been using the free Notebook service from Google for my GTD lists, I came across this pay application, and have truly fell in love with its organization and functionality.

GTDAgenda gives you all of the functionality you would expect with the most expensive GTD applications, for a very reasonable price.

The ability to create task lists, then change the tasks to Next Actions is the most important feature that I use multiple times every day. It’s very easy to me to plan out quite a few steps ahead for each of the Projects that I am working, so being able to complete the current Next Action, then move the next step to a Next Action is very important to the system that I’ve come to love.

Goal tracking is something new to me, but using it has kept my goals within my site. I can assign a Project, Task or Next Action to a goal, so that I can feel like I am taking steps toward reaching that goal.

When you complete a task, GTDAgenda keeps track of the task, so that it doesn’t completely disappear. This way, if you are working toward a goal, you can look back and see that you have completed x number of tasks in order to reach that goal. Though I had never thought I would need this kind of functionality, it has become a part of my every day life at this point.

Along with tagging Tasks as Next Actions and assigning them to a project, you can also assign them a context.

Say you need to call your boss. You put that on your Tasks list, and set the context to @Phone. Then, the next time you have a bit of free time, and you are sitting next to your phone, you can come back and view all the tasks that you have entered in the context of @Phone. This allows you to use the small bits of free time to your advantage.

The newest feature, which I am just getting started using, is the ability to email tasks to your list. Each user is given an email address for adding tasks to your list on the fly. This allows you to be anywhere, and send an email, which will put the subject as the task name, and the body text as the comment for the task. This sounds like a great idea, and I hope to be able to use it more over the coming year.

The only feature that is lacking from my point of view is that, currently, there is no functionality for attaching reference materials to your system. I have been assured by the developer of GTDAgenda that this functionality is on its way, with support for Links, Notes and Files.

I have been using this software since October 7th, and I have grown really fond of it. I have been moving my “stuff” from Google Notebook into the GTDAgenda system. This has allowed me to take a new perspective on my Someday/Maybe and Projects lists, so that I can better streamline my system. It looks like I actually completed some of the Projects, but never got around to removing them from my system.

If you are looking for an excellent GTD application, I would tell you to look no further than GTDAgenda.com.

Software Spotlight: GMail

While not as traditional a piece of software, GMail is a piece of web-based software which I use probably more than any other service or software that comes across my plate.

Before there was GMail in my life, I was using Hotmail as my main email account. If you’ve ever used Hotmail, you probably won’t have to stretch your mind too far to see why I made the switch to the speed, ease of use and giant storage capacity that GMail offers.

When GMail was on an invite-only basis during its early beta phase, I was lucky enough to find an online friend who extended me an invite. In those days, GMail had a storage capacity of 1Gb, which was outrageous, as Hotmail only offered a few hundred Mb.

When I began using GMail, I had no idea how far it would become ingrained in my everyday life. I currently use 12 email addresses (hosted sites, professional addresses, etc.) and GMail takes care of receiving and sending from each of those addresses with ease. Not only is GMail a service for a new email address, but it is also a fully featured email client, offering support for remote email addresses through IMAP, POP3 and forwarding.

The best thing that I’ve found about email, aside from the near-perfect spam filtering, is that I never have to delete anything. I have email ranging all the way back from my initial creation of my account, and I am still only using 5% of the 7.2Gb of available storage.

Along with never having to delete anything, there is instant search. As fast as you can type in a keyword and hit “Search Mail” you have results from the thousands of emails right at your fingertips. This makes finding that one email with the login information for that obscure site you signed up for 6 months ago and forgot the password to as easy as possible.

With features like labels, which apply a folder-like structure to emails according to criteria which you set (both past and future emails), you can use this for every piece of your online life.

I truly could not get anything done without my GMail accounts. If you have never made the leap to using GMail, I invite you now to give it a go. Signing up for a GMail account gives you access to all of Google’s wonderful web-based software suites, such as Notebook, Calendar, Docs, and so much more.