WorldCat library search bookmarklet

For users of WorldCat or Melvyl (their branded search for the UC Berkeley library), the following bookmarklets should come in handy. They do one thing and one thing only: search WorldCat for the selected text.

To install: drag one of the following bookmarks to your bookmarks bar. (You may want to rename it.)

Search on WorldCatSearch on Melvyl

To use: Select some text on a web page, then activate the bookmark to search. That’s it.

Today and Tomorrow (OmniFocus scripts)

11 July 2011: as described here, I’ve switched to a Start-based workflow and updated my scripts to reflect this change. By default, these scripts now set the start dates of selected items, not due dates—though you can still switch to “Due mode”. This post has been updated to reflect these changes.

I’ve added two more scripts to my OmniFocus repertoire: Today and Tomorrow.

As one might expect, Today sets the “Action Date” of selected item(s) to the current date, and Tomorrow sets the action date to the next date. (By default, the Action date is the Start date, but you can switch to use the Due date if you prefer.)

Why might you need this? A few days of ignoring OmniFocus is enough to make any date-sorted view overwhelming. My Defer script is one method to deal with these items: defer them by a day, a week, etc. But sometimes you just need to set these items to today. Or tomorrow.

As with Defer, these scripts work with any number of selected tasks.

If you use the default “Start” mode:

  • The Start date of each selected item is set to the current day
    • If an item has a previously assigned Start date, its original time is maintained. Otherwise, the start time is set to 6am (configurable in the script)

If you use “Due” mode:

  • The Due date of each selected item is set to the current day
    • If an item has a previously assigned Due date, its original due time is maintained. Otherwise, the due time is set to 5pm (configurable in the script)
  • If an item has a Start date, it is moved forward by the same number of days as the due date has to move (in order to respect parameters of repeating actions)

Putting it all together

I’ve set my keyboard shortcuts for Defer, Snooze, Today, Tomorrow, and This Weekend to ctrl-d, ctrl-z, ctrl-t, ctrl-y, and ctrl-w, respectively (using FastScripts), so shuffling tasks couldn’t be easier. Use cases:

Catching up after holiday: Select all overdue tasks, hit ctrl-t to bring them current. Then snooze or defer the ones you won’t get to today.

Planning today’s tasks: Select your tasks and ctrl-t them into the day’s queue. Planning tomorrow? Use ctrl-y instead.

Download them here

 

 


Thanks to Seth Landsman for his role in inspiring my Today script. His version is very similar but doesn’t quite match the defer logic I need.

Usage note: some items inherit due dates from their parent task or project, but don’t actually have due dates themselves. This script ignores those items.

The University of South Carolina Celebrates the Card Catalog

The University of South Carolina’s library is launching a “year-long series of events honoring the card catalog, its use in the transformation of knowledge, and the people who created and used it”. Events include:

  • a catalog card boat race
  • a catalog card design contest

Perhaps the coolest bit is the widget celebrating different cards:

 

More here.

OmniFocus snooze script

Last Updated: 2010-06-15

Here’s an AppleScript that “snoozes” selected OmniFocus items by setting their start date to a future* value. These items will then be unavailable (and out of sight in views showing “available” items) until the snoozed start date.

Usage:

  1. Run the script with one or more items selected in OmniFocus

  2. Choose how long you would like to snooze the items (in # of days)

The script will then set the start date of selected items to the current date + the number of days selected in step 2. For example, snoozing with the default value of 1 day will set the tasks to begin at 12:00 AM tomorrow.

Finally, if you have Growl installed, the script will display a Growl confirmation.

I highly recommend initiating the script from a third-party launcher such as FastScripts or Quicksilver. This will prevent delays within the OmniFocus application due to Growl bugs.)

Download it here.


* This doesn’t have to be a future value. Choosing 0 as the snooze value will set the start date to midnight today; choosing -1 will set the start date to midnight yesterday.

NetNewsWire script: Subscribe to full-text feed of current subscription

Update Dec 2010: it looks like FullTextRSS is down. I’ll leave this up, but be forewarned: it probably won’t work. FiveFilters and WizardRSS provide similar services, so you may want to look there.

Here’s a script that attempts to subscribe to a full-text feed of the current subscription in NetNewsWire. It does this using EchoDittoLabs’ excellent FullTextRSS service.

To use, select a headline or subscription title in NetNewsWire and run the script. The full-text feed will appear in your top-level items.

Thanks to harvey.nu for the URL encoding routine. The script worked without the routine but it seemed safer to include it.

[Updated 2/22 with change suggested by Pascal.]

(*
Fulltextrss.scpt v 0.1b

Attempts to subscribe to the current subscription via
EchoDittoLabs’ FullTextRSS service (echodittolabs.org/fulltextrss)

Contains no error checking; use at your own risk

Dan Byler dbyler@gmail.com
*)


property fulltextpre : "http://labs.echoditto.com/projects/fulltextrss/?url="

tell application "NetNewsWire"
        if exists selectedHeadline then
                set this_headline to selectedHeadline
                set stdfeed to RSS URL of subscription of selectedHeadline
        else if exists selectedSubscription then
                set stdfeed to RSS URL of selectedSubscription
        end if
        try
                set theTextEnc to my urlencode(stdfeed)
                set fulltextfeed to fulltextpre & theTextEnc
                set theresult to subscribe to fulltextfeed
        on error
                display dialog "Oops—something went wrong."
                return
        end try
end tell

— urlencode routine taken from http://harvey.nu/applescript_url_encode_routine.html
on urlencode(stdfeed)
        set theTextEnc to ""
        repeat with eachChar in characters of stdfeed
                set useChar to eachChar
                set eachCharNum to ASCII number of eachChar
                if eachCharNum = 32 then
                        set useChar to "+"
                else if (eachCharNum ≠ 42) and (eachCharNum ≠ 95) and (eachCharNum < 45 or eachCharNum > 46) and (eachCharNum < 48 or eachCharNum > 57) and (eachCharNum < 65 or eachCharNum > 90) and (eachCharNum < 97 or eachCharNum > 122) then
                        set firstDig to round (eachCharNum / 16) rounding down
                        set secondDig to eachCharNum mod 16
                        if firstDig > 9 then
                                set aNum to firstDig + 55
                                set firstDig to ASCII character aNum
                        end if
                        if secondDig > 9 then
                                set aNum to secondDig + 55
                                set secondDig to ASCII character aNum
                        end if
                        set numHex to ("%" & (firstDig as string) & (secondDig as string)) as string
                        set useChar to numHex
                end if
                set theTextEnc to theTextEnc & useChar as string
        end repeat
        return theTextEnc
end urlencode

Download a copy here.

Give before you ask: lessons from the Twine DM snafu

No matter what service you provide, even the most well-intentioned invitation can be seen as a demand for time, effort, and attention. Given the lack of established protocols for interacting online, I submit a single cardinal rule-of-thumb for interacting with people, online or off:

Give before you ask.

The following story is not ultimately about Twine, or about Twitter. It’s an illustration of what happens when asking comes first in an increasingly crowded information ecosystem. It’s about relationships, requests, and demands—the subtle dance that characterizes the interplay between “social” and “information”. (Full disclosure: I have a close relative who works at Twine, and I’m an avid Twitter user, so I want both companies to succeed.)

Here’s the 30-second recap:

  1. Twine implemented a feature to let its users connect with their Twitter followers. It did so by inviting them via direct message (DM); however, to Twine users it wasn’t 100% clear that DMs would be the mechanism.

  2. People started receiving impersonal-sounding DMs from loose Twitter acquaintances inviting them to join Twine. This seemed like a spammy auto-DM campaign and incensed some high-profile Twitterers. When Chris Brogan blogged about it, the Twitter ecosystem lit up with largely negative reactions.

  3. Nova Spivack, Twine’s CEO, responded. He engaged Chris Brogan immediately. He was personal, listened, and took responsibility. In my view, his response was spot-on. (Here’s their conversation—click “Show conversation” to see the whole thing.) Net result: the DM feature was disabled. (1)

Although Twine’s fumble was largely technical (the DMs were supposed to point to a more personal landing page, for instance), its approach to Twitter was misguided as well. Why? Because users felt pitched, not informed. Put another way, Twine didn’t give before it asked.

What would it look like for Twine to “give” first? One simple way would be to make it easier for Twine users to share what they’re doing on Twitter. Add a “Tweet” button so users can share what they’re reading with their followers, all without leaving Twine. It doesn’t sound like much, but it would reverse the dynamic between Twine and Twitter. Here’s what would happen:

  • On the surface, Twine tweets would change from friend requests to “actual information”
  • Visitors’ first impressions of Twine would improve. Instead of seeing a sign-up page on arrival, users would see Twine as in its real capacity, a source of information and discussion
  • Some users would stay at Twine longer if they could tweet without breaking their flow
  • Traffic would feel organic, not forced
  • Traffic may grow more slowly, but pageviews would be more valuable
  • Bottom line: users (of both Twine and Twitter) would feel respected, because the tweets they send or receive would be interesting, rather than asking them for a favor

All this from giving before asking.

In addition—but as a secondary option—it would be nice to see which of your Twitter connections are on Twine and connect with them there. (Twitter contacts who are already on Twine are more likely to reciprocate; those who are not members are likely to see the invitation as spam. The former should be encouraged, and the latter treated with care.)

I think Nova nails it with this comment: “Integrating external services with Twitter is a more subtle art than expected.” He’s right: the details are subtle. But the gross concept stands: give before you ask.


(1) Spivack blogged about the experience—you can read his thoughts here. And the Twine team officially responded here.

OmniFocus defer script updated

Updated 6/15/10: minor edit to improve efficiency

The updated Defer script for OmniFocus is ready. Changes include:

  • Bug fixes to make the script more reliable, particularly when deferring multiple items.

    • For most of these I’m indebted to Curt Clifton, who made the most critical bug fixes on the OmniFocus forum. (If you use OmniFocus, his scripts and tools are invaluable; be sure visit his site.)
  • The default action now defers both start and due dates.

  • Notifications code has been rewritten to make the script friendly for machines without Growl installed.

    • While testing, I discovered that GrowlHelperApp crashes on nearly 10% of notification calls. To work around this, the script now checks to see if GrowlHelperApp is running; if not, the script launches it. If Growl is not installed or can’t launch, the script displays a generic notification of the defer results.

If you experience delays with the script, it’s almost certainly an issue with Growl, not OmniFocus. This is much less of an issue if you launch the script via a third-party utility like FastScripts, because any Growl-related delays will be absorbed by the script launcher, not OmniFocus. If you primarily invoke the Defer script from your OmniFocus toolbar, you can always disable alerts to speed things up. To do this, simply open the script in Script Editor and change property showAlert to false.

Download it here.

WMATA vs. the people

WMATA, the D.C.-area public transit authority, has so far declined to provide schedule information for use by third-party providers, including Google Transit. For now, this means WMATA’s own website is the only online source of schedule information.

This is troubling on two accounts:

a) WMATA is largely government-funded, so route information should be treated as an open, public good; and

b) It appears WMATA refuses to open the data for fear of lost advertising revenues from their website, not out of any alleged benefit to riders. (source)

From their FAQ:

We believe that if we are to partner with an outside entity that we should look at what the cost-benefit is to that third party…

During the past year Metro has invested significant money to upgrade its Web site… The site includes Google maps in the neighborhoods in which our rail stations are located.

Interpretation: WMATA finds it acceptable to freely use the high-quality, extensible maps provided by Google but is unwilling to reciprocate by sharing data. Why? Because they’re worried Google will make money from WMATA data and they won’t get a piece of it. (Rumor has it that WMATA is holding out for a revenue-sharing agreement.)

The critical fallacy of this is that falsely treating information as a scarce good in a zero-sum economy harms both the content creator (WMATA) and the target audience (Metro riders).

On the contrary, when public data are opened for actual public use, everyone wins. Riders win by gaining easier access to route information. Google wins by gaining yet another data source. WMATA wins by increasing ridership.

I sent an email to WMATA’s chief administrative officer, Emeka Moneme, to tease out this last point. Excerpt:

If a traveler is planning to walk or drive to her destination, she will never even think to visit the WMATA website. However, there is a very strong chance she will use Google Maps. I assure you, there is no easier way to learn of a mass transit option than to pull up a route on maps.google.com and see “Also available: Public Transit”. Try it yourself on Google maps here: http://bit.ly/5khV

Each and every individual who discovers a WMATA route through such means is a potential new rider. He or she may use that Metro route for years to come. The value of a single new rider vastly outweighs that of a few pageviews on wmata.com.

Surely we can agree that there’s no zero-sum game in that. With open access to information, everyone wins.


(p.s. From the post title: I am not conflating Google with “the people”. Taxpayer-funded data should be open to any entity. In this case, however, providing data to Google is clearly in the people’s interest.)

On Evernote

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

I am, of course, referring to Evernote, a tool that’s designed to remember everything you throw at it – then provide access to your information from virtually anywhere.

If you’re unfamiliar with the tool, this video will give you a quick picture of what it does:

Despite the obvious awesomeness of its sync/access capabilities, earlier iterations of Evernote failed my acquired-information management criteria on numerous counts:

  • It couldn’t accept basic documents like PDFs (flexibility fail)
  • It wasn’t scriptable (extensibility fail)
  • You couldn’t import/export data en mass (openness fail)

But the Evernote team have been hard at work, and with the recent addition of scriptability and an API, it’s worth a serious second look.

Accessibility: 9/10

Accessibility is undoubtedly where Evernote shines: you can access your data on the web client, your Mac or PC, or your iPhone or Windows Mobile device – and it all stays synchronized. Ergo, you still have your data when the network goes down. (The mobile Evernote clients act more as search/input portals into your Evernote data, though the latest iPhone version now stores your “favorites” locally so you can access critical notes offline. Also, if you prefer to keep some data private, you can selectively opt out of synchronization.)

Besides being Evernote’s killer feature, accessibility is also the cornerstone of the product’s business model: Evernote itself is free, but if you need more than 40MB/month you’ll need to upgrade to the premium version ($5/month or $45/year). The most exciting Evernote use cases will probably be mashups that use its API, which means increased bandwidth needs – and, therefore, subscriptions. (N.B.: Evernote’s API documentation describes the bandwidth elements as the “accounting structure”.)

Flexiblity: 4/10

Evernote accepts text/RTF files, images, web clippings, PDFs, and audio notes. To get files in, you can drag-and drop files onto the desktop client, email them to a special Evernote email address, or use the bookmarklet to clip content directly from any web browser. Handily, if you have part of a web page selected, the bookmarklet just saves the selection. Read: Evernote is most in its element when used for web clippings.

In addition, images can be snapped from your webcam or iPhone camera. More on this later.

Unfortunately, Evernote can’t handle many common document types, including Word documents (though RTF documents work passably). Most other filetypes (mind maps, outliner documents, etc) are out of the picture as well.

In the Mac client, the built-in content editor is little more than a glorified text editor. Text formatting is limited to font/size, bold/italic/underline, and alignment, though you can also attach images. (Not to mention the insulting font selection, which includes Arial but not Helvetica – shame!) The Windows client also provides some drawing tools (useful with a tablet PC), a broader font selection, and outlining functions. Update 11/10/08: Version 1.1.6 for Mac introduces orderd/unordered lists and tables.

Scalability: 6/10 (est.)

I haven’t thrown a tremendous amount of data at Evernote yet, so it’s unclear how performance is affected by a large data set. (I was hoping to put it to the test via the Delicious bookmark import, but Evernote just imported the bookmarks as links, rather than scraping the bookmarks’ targets.)

From a user interface perspective, scalability may be a problem. Items are accessed by browsing (by tags and metadata) as well as search. Aside from the ability to use multiple “notebooks”, there is no standard hierarchical organization. Users with a large number of tags or documents might become frustrated by this.

Searchability: 8/10

Basic search functions are solid, though generally unremarkable (no regular expressions, no advanced operators). You can combine search terms with tag filters.

In addition, Evernote has a couple search tricks up its sleeve:

  • Images pass through Evernote’s OCR engine when synchronized, turning image text into searchable data. This even works, to a large extent, on handwriting – slick!

  • Evernote metadata includes standard text tags as well as optional location data, so you should be able to search by location as well as content

Extensibility 7/10

The Mac client now includes a basic AppleScript dictionary, which allows for integration with other apps. No content-level scripting, but the most important feature – note creation – is available.

One example of extensibility in action: Justin adapted my NetNewsWire » DEVONthink batch archiving script to work with Evernote, including tagging and notebook selection. Check it out here.

In addition, the Evernote API provides full access to Evernote data. I’m not aware of any Evernote-based applications yet, though Pelotonics is planning some level of integration. If useful integration emerges, this is will be a big win for users.

Openness 4/10

Disappointingly, despite claiming export options as a feature, Evernote maintains a tight grip on your data. Need to send a file to your colleague? Forget drag-and-drop: you’ll need to go through Evernote’s export or email functions.

On the Mac side, the only export option produces a proprietary Evernote-formatted XML file with document contents embedded. The Windows client can also export in HTML, web archive, and text formats.

When emailing files, Evernote wraps most notes in an ad-encrusted PDF document before sending. (Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. Look for the “Plain text note” here. That PDF is what you get when you try to email a text file.) Mercifully, you can email PDFs in their original form – though whether this is by design or oversight is unclear. What is clear is that Evernote doesn’t make it easy for you to use your data as you wish.*

A third option is to share your documents in a public notebook (like this one). This of course not the same as export, but it does provide a refreshing level of social openness uncommon in tools of this nature.

Final thoughts

Evernote deftly handles web clippings and snapshots, and ubiquitous access makes it a viable tool for web research and data management.

Perhaps paradoxically, Evernote’s impressive accessibility also limits how I use it. Synchronizing data through Evernote’s server means I won’t use it for sensitive data. So although it’s hard to imagine a situation in which I won’t have access to my iPhone, Mac, or a web browser, it’s also hard to imagine a situation in which said access is truly critical. So I typically use Evernote for less important (but nonetheless useful) tasks:

  • Clipping captioned images and business cards for OCR
  • Jotting beer-tasting notes
  • Snapping photos of the same
  • Misc. data capture when I’m away from my computer

Bottom line: despite its limitations, Evernote is a great tool. At the free price point, you’re unlikely to find a more robust tool… so give the elephant a whirl.


*Comparisons could be drawn to DRM-laden music purchased from iTunes: it’s quite likely that you’ll never want to use it outside the iTunes/iPod ecosystem. But if (or when) that day comes, you won’t want to deal with their restrictions on your data. Same principle.

1Password for iPhone » no more login bookmarklets

Update: 1Password bookmarklets are back, so please disregard this post.

The 1Password iPhone application is now available for download from iTunes (link here). The benefits of the iPhone app are clear: true data synchronization; intuitive interface with multiple levels of security; robust enough to handle thousands of passwords.

But there’s a catch: the updated 1Password desktop app will no longer export to the login bookmarklet. iPhone users: the 1Password app doesn’t integrate with Mobile Safari, so using the iPhone app will box you into its integrated browser. Firefox users: you’ll need to use the less convenient web page export.

Fortunately, Agile Web Solutions makes old versions available for download, so you can always revert to version 2.7.2, the latest version to support bookmarklets. At present, you can switch back and forth between versions (though I can’t say this won’t cause issues) to get the best of both worlds.