Another Google summer

I heart Google
Need I say more?

I love Google.  They’re not perfect, but they’re one of the best companies out there.  And, I’d note, though they pay careful attention to what people say about them and their products, it seems that their primary source of direction and innovation is their own expertise.  This may fly in the face of some basic tenets of design, but it’s working for Google.  Indeed, this summer looks to be another fascinating googletime.

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Best. Wiki. Ever.

foswiki logo
Foswiki: one fine wiki.

Late in 2010, foswiki released the latest version of its wiki server system. I only recently got around to try it out. As far as I’m concerned, while it’s not perfect, it’s the best wiki available.

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Calvetica: weird name – sweeeet calendar

the calvetica logo
calvetica: simplicity and style in spades.

Rarely do I find software that is so wonderfully balanced between form and function that it becomes an instant favorite of mine. Recently, I’ve found three. Dropbox, which I’ve already written about, was first.  The second was Burstn.  Calvetica, an iPhone calendar, is the third such app.  If you use an iPhone and you’re looking for an amazing calendar, I think you’re search ends with calvetica.

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Burstn: a cool photo-stream app

burstn photo-sharing service
burstn helps you see the world as others do.

Not that I’m the most social person in the world, but once in a while even I am impressed by social networking apps.  Burstn, a twitteresque photo-sharing service, is such an app.

Burstn runs on iOS (and, soon, on Android).  When you start the app, you’re presented with a camera app.  Once you take a picture, or pull one from your device’s album, you’re offered the chance to add a caption and some #tags. You’re also offered a set of popular #tags that you can just choose, which is nice because it’s rather hard to get to the # sign on the iPhone keyboard.

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Why Google Wave failed

Wave goodbye to Wave

Google has reported that they will no longer continue to develop its highly innovative Wave product, and that it will likely take the system down within a year.  Touted as a revolution in web-based software, Wave just never caught on.  There’s no shortage of opinions on the reasons for Wave’s demise, but none of them (that I’ve seen) looked at it from a designerly point of view.  Hence this post.

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FocusTodo: AutoFocus for the iPhone

FocusTodoIcon
FocusTodo is for those who dislike GTD.

AutoFocus is a minimalist time management system by Mark Forster.  It certainly has its merits, especially if you find that time management systems like Getting Things Done (GTD) are too complicated.  While there’s all kinds of GTD apps for the iPhone, only recently have apps based on AutoFocus started to appear.  A very interesting AutoFocus app is FocusTodo (n.b. the website seems nearly entirely in Japanese) by Syncreticworks.

I’m going to do a short review of FocusTodo and suggest some possible improvements.  It’s a pretty cool app anyways, and I think that AutoFocus purists in particular will really appreciate it.

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Decision making on the iPhone

iDecide+ Logo
iDecide how to decide

Sometimes it’s hard to make decisions. In my experience, a hard decision is one that involves multiple criteria the relative importance of which aren’t particularly clear. There exist methods to help you make such decisions. One of them has been implemented in an iPhone app called iDecide+. So I thought I would write about decision making, and briefly review the app, at the same time.

Consider a simple example: taking a vacation. You would probably want to spend as little money while having as much fun (however you define “fun”) as possible. But there’s more to it. You might want to go somewhere you’ve never been. You might prefer to distinguish between the costs of travel versus the costs of activities (beer, sightseeing, souvenirs, nightclubs, whatever). You might want to go somewhere with a particular climate. These are some of the criteria that would help you decide which vacation is probably the best for you.  And these are just some of the possibilities; there are many others.

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My Favourite iPhone Apps (so far)

The iPhone rulez!
I love my iPhone

For a little end of the year fun (yeah, I said “fun.” So?), I thought I’d quickly summarize my favourite iPhone apps.

Writing

NoteMaster is my favourite writing app.  You can write notes with embedded images, organize everything in folders, and sync your notes with Google Docs.  It supports landscape mode for those who prefer it.  It’s clean and simple and does its job. It’s not as fancy as, say, EverNote, and not as clumsy to use either.

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A New Wiki on the Scene

Foswiki
Foswiki is good!

One year after it’s inception, foswiki is setting itself up as a great wiki engine.

A wiki is a software platform that facilitates collaborative web content development. Invented in 1995 by Ward Cunningham, this approach to content development was brought to serious public attention by Wikipedia, an attempt to create a collaborative encyclopedia of knowledge. While Wikipedia may have its problems as an encyclopedia, the software that makes it work, a wiki engine called MediaWiki, has become one of the gold standards of open source software.

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Concept maps and visualizing things

CmapTools map
Concept maps are cool & useful

I’ve been advocating for the use of concept maps for years. I’ve even written papers about it. But I’ve also spent most of my time writing plain, linear text. Scholarly papers, courseware, grant applications – these are all the basics of academic communication, and they’re all just strings of words. So it’s been hard to practise what I preach.

Recently, though, something happened that really opened my eyes to the very significant benefits of diagrams in general and concept maps in particular. So significant was this experience, that I want to share it in the hope that I can help others who are also struggling with the confines of linear text.

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