Some thoughts about making choices about the software and systems you use, they may have hidden positives or negatives.

Featured image, iPhone screenshot, edited in snapseed

For historical reasons and to give myself some sort of illusion of control I tend to write blog posts in html. I use TextMate and its blogging bundle which does all sorts of nice things to simplify the process: for example dragging an image onto TextMate’s window, uploads the image to the blog and inserts the html code to put it in the post. What is even nicer is that you can drag images from ImageWell after a quick resize or edit without saving it.

I also use SafariStand which added copy html tag to the contextual menu when right clicking on a link and to Safari’s toolbar:

Copyhtmltag

I also save the TextMate files to my dropbox so that I can edit the posts on different boxes.

On the iPad

I am not hoping for the power of TextMate for editing html but wanted to do some blogging from an iPad. I’ve managed ok using the Notes app, and using dragon dictation to ‘write text’ but hadn’t found a solution to some other features. After a bit of testing I’ve now got a fairly useful toolkit.

Dropbox integration, html editing: Textastic allows you to open and save to dropbox, does syntax highlighting and to easily type various characters that are normally buried in the iOS keyboard.

Textastickeys

Images, there is not a way to upload images to the blog that fits in with html editing, but it is easy to upload images with the flickr app to flickr. Unfortunately neither the Flickr App or the mobile version of Flickr do not provide the html code. however toy can switch to the full site which works fine on the ipad. This can be pasted into Textastic. That makes posting images simple if a little long winded: Screenshot, edit in an app, save to camera roll. Open flickr app and upload, open Safari and grab html code, switch to Texttastic and paste.

Getting links, was the last piece of the jigsaw, as well as grabbing html link tags from Safari Stand or CoLT in FireFox, in TextMate you can select some text and press command-control-shift-L and TextMate will use google to provide a link, not always the right one but very useful. Getting links on the iPad was a bit tedious, switching between Safari and Textastic and typing the code, pasting in the url. I did a bit of a google and came up with nothing. I’ve now come up with a simple, if crude, system. I’ve created a bookmarklet that adds a bit onto the top of a webpage with a text box in it, the textbox contains the html tag to link to the page:

Linkhtml

The bookmarklet link has the following code:

javascript: (function(){document.body.appendChild(document.createElement('script') ).src='http://www.littlefishsw.co.uk/link.js';})();

I added the bookmarklet to Safari on my desktop which syncs with my iPad. The bookmarklet uses this JavaScript File, if you care about JavaScript I would not look at it;-) I just kept changing things till it worked for me. I can now add a link to Textastic by switching to safari, loading the page and clicking the linkHTML link on Safari’s toolbar. The switch back to Textastic and paste. As I mention the code is not exactly slick, I couldn’t get mobile Safari to pre select the link (it works in a desktop browser) which would save a couple of clicks but it does work well enough to use if I want to blog but only have an iPad.

This is a ‘mac’ post not really aimed at education except in so far as a lot of educationalists seem to be using Dropbox. Dropbox is of course a cloud storage & synchronisation application. Basically dropbox sets up a dropbox folder on your computer and syncs it with one online. You can set up dropbox on several computers and they are all kept in sync. This is extremely useful if you use different computers in different locations. I have my home mac, desktop at work, work laptop, iPhone and the iPad I am typing this part of the post on, all with the same files seamlessly synced. What makes drop box different is that on a computer it’s just another folder you do not need to do anything special to keep it in sync.

If you want to get a dropbox account & give me more storage on dropbox Get Dropbox.

I’ve been using drop box as a working directory for sometime now, as week as a way to view files on my phone and the iPad as well as being able to work on files at home and at work without worrying about taking them back and forward. Recently I’ve started using in a couple of slightly more sophisticated ways.

FastScripts

Dropbox Fastscripts

One of my favourite utilities is FastScripts, this is a menubar application that allows you quickly run AppleScripts (it also does shell and other scripts) these can be given keyboard shortcuts and are sorted into application specific lists.

Fox example I often use tiny url to shorten urls so have a script that takes the current URL from safari and puts a URL onto the clipboard. This script has a shortcut of Apple-ALT-control-U.

FastScripts list scripts stored in the Scripts folder in either the mac’s or user’s Library. Inside that folder it organises the different applications scripts inside an Application folder folders:

Fastscript libs

In this case you can see that the Applications folder is an alias. What I did was to move the applications folder to my dropbox folder, I then dragged it back, but with the command and alt keys held down. This left the folder in my dropbox but creates an alias in the Scripts folder, FastScripts sees the files in my dropbox. I can then create the alias in my other macs Scripts folder replaces the one already there. Now when I make a new script on any of the macs it is shared with the other ones and available through FastScripts.

TextMate, Droptext

I find that I use plain text files more and more, I write blogs posts, todo list, web pages and first drafts in TextMate. TextMate has some amazing features that are way above my head but I find it a must have application. Some of the files I use often I keep in a folder _notes in dropbox. Also in dropbox is a textMate project. A textMate project is just a easy way to see all of the files inside the _notes folder and its subfolder (power users can do a lot more with projects).

Textmate Project

What is great is I can access and edit these files from any of the computers I use and view them through the dropbox app on an iPhone or iPad. I can also use a 59p app droptext to edit these files on the iPad.

I have never really been one for productivity systems, I’ve always like 43 Folders but mainly as a distraction. However, I do like automating repetitive tasks and things that work automagically Dropbox, FastScripts & TextMate fit that bill.

Yesterday I was at the Apple Store Glasgow opening. Fun was had by a lot of smiling people. As I mentioned I was interviewed by Mark‘s ex -piecast team The MacCast. I would guess I’ll end up on the cutting-room floor as I mumbled and probably blushed, but the questions made me think a bit. They asked about my favourite apple applications, this got me started, my favourite applications are not apple ones. Of course I use the iLife tools and would not be without them, I’ve just started using pages and keynote and like them. But some of the ones I like most come from elsewhere. Here is a wee bit about 3 of them, why I like them and what they do. A sort of 3 favourite applications after I’ve skipped past iLife, iWork, email, browsing and Web 2.0 etc.

SC Icon

SuperCard is cousin of the old mac essential HyperCard a simple but powerful tool for building applications and scripting on a mac. SuperCard has a simple english type scripting language and can tap into the power of appleScript and unix shell calls. I use it everyday. In the past I have created fairly useful teacher and teaching tools but now I mostly use if for avoiding repetitious task. Eg. most of the gallerys on Sandaig Classes such as this one are run up with a SC project. I blog about Supercard at Bad Poet and have some resources for teachers and others on the site.

Comic Life is not an application that I use everyday, but it is a great tool for children and epitomises a type of good mac application. The way it fits in with the iLife suite, making creating comics a simple task, drag and drop. By tapping into core mac ‘stuff’ the graphics, gradients and shadows are beautiful. I believe there is a windows version in the works, I’ll be interested to see if it is as slick as the mac one.
 

TextMate is an amazing text editor for macs. I probably only use a tiny fraction of textmate’s facilities. Aimed mostly at programmers TextMate is still useful to folk like me who write a bit of html, css and occasional snippet of php, it has a ton of keyboard shortcuts to do all sorts of thing. for example if you are writing on a html document and select a bit of text and hit command-control-shift-L textmate looks up the selection on google and creates a link in your document. textMate is extensible via bundles, there are bundles for all sorts of things, different programming languages etc. I am blogging this with the blogging bundle, I can preview and post this to the blog without leaving textmate. I drag an image onto the Textmate document and it is uploaded to my blog and the html snippet inserted. you can define your own snippets, I type seb and hit tab and a link to ScotEduBlogs is created (like that). Drag a swf onto the document and the code for inserting the flash file is created. It would take months to explain everything textMate can do.

I’ve just realised there is another wee application that I am beginning to depend on almost everyday ImageWell which is wonderful for quickly doing what you want with images, annotating, dropping a shadow, resizing and uploading. I just used it to create and upload all of the images in this post, in no time: command-shift-4 in the finder to get a screenshot (hold the)

So those are my 3-4 left field must have applications I would be interested in yours?

Blogged from tm