Nov 102008

I first heard about this a few days ago, but I think I dismissed it as a rumor. I for one am going to miss DHL domestic service. That means that the bulk of my shipments will now be sent via UPS or FEDEX. The FEDEX shipments are always late in the day (unlike DHL), and the drivers have a tendency to leave thousands of dollars worth of merchandise outside, often in the rain, when I’m not home to sign for them. That totally blows!

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Nov 082008

Now that I work on an Apple computer more than a Windows computer, I find that there are literally tons of software applications available for the Mac. When I first considered switching platforms, I was concerned that I would not be able to find software. Boy, was I wrong. So, in no particular order, here is a listing of some of the software I use on a regular basis on my Mac:

Microsoft Office 2008 – Since I run parallels on my Mac to gain access to my business applications, Office 2008 doesn’t get a whole lot of use. However, I use Entourage as my default e-mail program instead of the Mail application, due to its’ Exchange synchronization capability. While Entourage has a nice look and feel, it is definitely not a replacement for Outlook. Beyond function and capability, I believe style and layout play important roles in determining the usability of software. When Outlook is running smoothly, it just feels like a better e-mail client than Entourage. The search features (which I use the most), certainly function better in Outlook.

ecto – There are a number of desktop blogging clients available for OS X. When I was looking for an application that met my requirements (easy to configure, easy to use, and lot’s of features), I narrowed it down to three applications: MacJournal, MarsEdit, and Ecto. MacJournal was difficult to configure for use with My WordPress blogs. MacJournal has a nice clean interface, with lots of proofing and formatting tools. Most impressively, there is a built-in mechanism to record audio and video from within the application. I was most intrigued by these features, as I am interested in adding some video content to my blogs. Alas, I could not get MacJournal to upload video to my blogs. MarsEdit, on the other hand, has excellent support for a wide variety of blog types, but I just didn’t like the interface. Ecto, on the other hand, has a great interface, and works very well with my WordPress blogs. While it has the capability to upload video to blog posts, I couldn’t make it work, either. Presumably, there might be some code in WordPress that returns a 500 server error when these third party applications attempt to post certain media types. For now, I have a temporary work around, and I like ecto’s interface and add-ons.

Fetch – Fetch is an FTP application that I use on a daily basis. When I first looked around for FTP clients for OS X, I believe I looked at several different programs. Fetch has a user interface that I really like, and was reasonably priced at only $25. When I’m not using Fetch to make adjustments to WordPress plugins on my websites, I use it daily to extract voice messages from my iPhone. These voice mail files are then attached to the history records in my ACT! database. Pretty cool!

BBEdit – Now that I’ve begun to dabble in coding again (after taking nearly two decades off), I needed a text editor that was easy to use, and would recognize and properly format and display code for various languages. I’ve only scraped the tip of the iceberg with BBEdit, but I am totally impressed with this software. I would recommend BBEdit to any Mac user that has t make occasional edits to websites. BBEdit displays code, highlighting components of the text, in such a fashion as to make it real easy to find what you’re looking for.

Yojimbo – Broken down to its’ simplest form, Yojimbo is essentially a file cabinet for pdf files. This program is so much more. With options to synchronize content between computers via MobileMe, Yojimbo is my primary storage vault for non-business related data. Yojimbo adds an extension to OS X that allows you to print pdf files directly to Yojimbo. Additionally, you can organize your data into folders and simply drag new content to Yojimbo’s interface for easy retrieval later. This one is definately worth checking out if you have a Mac.

Mark/Space Missing Sync for iPhone – Over the years, I’ve used a variety of smart phones, and have employed different methods to record or archive call log data from them. (I’m obsessed with keeping a record of all my calls in the company ACT! database…) When I saw the iPhone advertised for the first time, I knew I had to have one. I was so excited about having an iPhone, that I didn’t consider the fact that I’d be losing the capability to extract call log data. I had used Mark/Space Missing Sync for Windows Mobile for awhile after switching to a Mac. This software was easy to use, and I received excellent support from the developers whenever I had trouble. Unfortunately, there was about a three month period between the release of the iPhone and the release of Missing Sync for iPhone, but thanks to the efforts of a few motivated programmers on the Internet, I was able to put a few stop gap measures into place. Now I am able to effortlessly extract call log data from the phone simply by syncing with iTunes. The call log application allows me to export the calls to .csv format, which I then transfer to my ACT! database via CRMADDON’s Import for ACT!

(Note: I had previously used Natara Comet with a Palm Treo (Palm OS based) smart phone. This software yields excellent results, and I highly recommend it. I had difficulty finding a software package that was so easy and effective for Windows Mobile based devices, but due to terrible performance from Windows based phones, I only ran them for a short while.)

OmniFocus – As many of you know, time management is one of the biggest challenges I face during the course of my work day. While there is no perfect to-do list program or methodology, David Allen has some great ideas as part of his GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. I used OmniFocus to retrain myself to better use tools that I already had in place. From time to time, I find myself going back to his book, and listening to the audio book when traveling off-Cape. OmniFocus is a great GTD application with real-time sync (via MobileMe) for the iPhone. Highly recommended.

Things – Things is another great GTD application, similar to OmniFocus. There is an iPhone version of Things as well as a desktop version. Things seems to be a little less structured in the way that data is handled. Because OmniFocus was available first, I have used it more than Things (there is no way to export/import data from one to the other). The last version of Things I looked at seemed to indicate that recurring schedules would be available for individual tasks. In either case, the main weakness that I see is the inability for either application to schedule recurring tasks that occur on workdays (weekdays) only.

Nov 022008

HelpDesk Pilot 4 – If you’ve used the ticket system on my website, then you’ve used HelpDesk Pilot. When I was looking for a method to improve my productivity by implementing a mechanism whereby clients could submit and track work requests, I looked at a number of free and commercial software applications. As I become more proficient in working with OS X and to a limited degree Linux, I am finding myself drawn to web based or open source platforms for several reasons. First, these platforms tend to be more cost effective for a small business like mine. Second, most software of this type can be easily modified or adapted to an existing website. Last, I have found that porting data in and out of web based applications using MySQL is easily done, even if you don’t have any programming knowledge. Sourceforge is an excellent place to start looking for new software. With regard to HelpDesk Pilot, I found the cost of the source code to be very reasonable, given the features offered. Additional, my requests for custom modifications and feature suggestions were warmly received and well implemented. I’d like to see the developer implement a better billing module for the software which would enable the user to better track billable hours, but I am sure they will come up with something soon.

Sillaj – Here is a great example of excellent software available for free on Sourceforge. I had a little difficult implementing this and had to modify the code slightly in a few places to get all the features working, but it was a great experience! This software is designed as a project management tool. I used it for several months to track time for billing purposes when providing consulting services to clients. I had wanted to use some sort of paperless work order system since I downsized my company. Since I’m terrible at paperwork, but very good at organizing and maintaining data on a computer, this was a great way for me to track billable hours from any computer. It worked from my iPhone, too! Thanks to some great iPhone software developers, I now have an even better solution to my daily job tracking, but Sillaj will undoubtedly prove to be useful in the future.

WordPress – When a client of mine convinced me that blogs are great earlier this year, it didn’t take too long to find WordPress. I had used blogger for a very brief period a few years ago, and had been aware of a few other blogging systems around the net, but WordPress is simply outstanding. Thanks to WordPress users with far more programing experience and knowledge than I have, I was able to create a WordPress theme that integrates the blog seamlessly (as I can get it) into my existing website. If you’ve ever considered blogging, look no further than WordPress.

ACT! Premium for Web 2009 – I had looked at the web version of ACT! a few years ago. At the time, the interface needed a lot of tweaking, and it was difficult to deploy and had a few too many bugs for me. Recently, Sage presented me with an offer I couldn’t refuse in the form of a fantastic upgrade price to the latest version. I had previously decided that I was not going to upgrade from the 2008 version to the 2009 version of ACT! Premium for Workgroups. The trouble is that I often have to purchase upgrade licenses for all other 3rd party add-on software, which didn’t make financial sense this year. Getting back on point, I am happy that I can actually access my ACT! data from an Apple computer running the Safari web browser. Unfortunately, Firefox is not supported, and the interface is very slow. I would still recommend and deploy this as a solution for a small business that was implementing an out of office sales force. This would allow the small business to very easily protect their client data in the event that the employee is terminated.

Google Applications/Google Calendar – I’ve only scratched the tip of the iceburg with regard to the potential of Google Applications. Google Calendar made it very simple for me to display my scheduling availability in a secure manner on my website. I had previously used a combination of iCal and phpiCal synchronization to display a more complex calendar that did not fit quite so nice into the body of my website.

AWSTATS – In addition to Google Analytics, I use this web based application to review traffic to my website. Mike at Design Principles introduced me to this software awhile back. Thanks to this post, I had no trouble getting it configured to run on my 1&1 hosted website. AWSTATS displays more specific data about visits to the site than Google Analytics, but is a bit more involved to setup. I like to look at both to see that nobody’s reading this!

phpBB – When I had first envisioned the content I wanted for my website, I initially wanted a bulletin board system. I did put one up here, though I no longer have a link to it from my website, as it doesn’t serve any practical application. In the beginning, I thought clients might use it to exchange information on computer problems, but in a moment of clarity, I realized that it’s a lot easier for them to simply call me for support. I don’t change my own oil, either. I just bring the truck over to Walter’s Tune & Lube. Great service and much easier than doing it myself.

Nov 012008

Recently I was working at a client’s office moving some equipment around. When I went to test the printer, I noticed that the power and ready lights were blinking off and on in unison. I figured there was most likely a problem with the ink cartridges, so I removed them. Upon reinstalling the ink cartridges, I had some difficulty getting the yellow ink to fit. Then I noticed something: half of the four ink cartridges were the wrong ones for this printer. After confirming with staff that the printer had previously been working, I proceeded to force the cartridge into the carriage. Viola! We got a successful Windows test page, thought the utility can’t seem to identify the wrong cartridges:


It had never occurred to me to try this before. I wouldn’t recommend this, but if you have an Epson Stylus printer, you may be able to pull it off.