A Choice of Simple Tools

My primary requirement for a tool is that it stay out of my way. Ok, so maybe that is requirement number two, right after the requirement of the tool fulfilling its purpose. But honestly, if a tool can perform its required function then the next most important characteristic for me is that it be as non-obtrusive as possible. This applies to simple tools like screwdrivers and hammers as well as more complex tools such as computers and their software.

Simplicity ToolsWhen I pick up a hammer I expect it to be able to drive a nail into a board. I do not need it to have a compass to guide the way or a light to illuminate the path. Such things would only add needless complexity to the device and would thus get in my way. It is the simplicity of the device that makes it both useful and appropriate. The same goes for a screwdriver. Multiple attachments, lights in the body, and fancy sheathing may sound attractive at first, but when I am trying to get a job done those added complexities could actually make the job more difficult. The beauty of simplicity is that it represents just enough. Just enough to accomplish the work – not too little so that you require more time or tools, and not too much so that extra effort is expended.

This simplicity is also how I choose software. I am an Apple fan; there is no doubt about that. But I am an Apple fan for a reason. I will not deny, not in the least, that Windows and Linux may be immensely more configurable than Mac OSX. But that configurability adds a level of complexity that I find in no way necessary. That configurability actually gets in my way. I feel the same way about the Android mobile operating system versus IOS.
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A Look at a Online Word Processors

More and more I find that ideas occur to me and the need to write calls to me when I am on a computer, but not necessarily my main personal machine. What all of the machines I might be sitting at have though is a web browser. From there I can check my main, search the Internet, and most importantly, access a web based word processor. There are quite a few options when it comes to web based writing, and I decided to take a look at the major ones so I could find the one most suited to my needs.

Writing In The CloudsFirst though we need to mention the machine-based Microsoft Word. Yes, I know that the native MS Word is not an online tool, but let’s face it, Word is the standard. I am not going to say it is the best or the brightest, but it is the word processor that almost all people cut their teeth on. Because it is what we learned on, and because it is the industry standard for document submission, and because most people have a copy of it already on the computer, like it or not Word is what we judge everything else from. Sure I would love to turn off 90% of it off for my daily use, but when I need those extra features it is really nice to have them around. So this is what we will be judging against.

Word in Office 365 Online

Since this is a much different product to MS Word that runs directly on the machine, I wanted to test this out and see what is or isn’t available.  I really don’t care too much about all the layout tools because what I am trying to do is write, not do pretty publication.

The product looks very nice, but there are unfortunately a few features missing that are very important to me. I was about to say that word count was missing, but then I found it. It was just hiding down there in the bottom left corner. This is symptomatic of Microsoft – things you need are just too darn hidden. On the other hand, a grammar checker doesn’t exist. Some might not like having a program watch over their grammar for them, but I find it is very useful in catching wild misspellings and also pointing out some blatant wording blunders. I can always ignore it if I like, but I do like having it available. A spelling checker is available, but grammar is not.

There are headers and footers available, as well as page numbers, tables, images, hyperlinks, and all that stuff. However, none of that would I really use in my daily writing. But at least the features are there.

In operation it is actually quite comfortable to write in, and with the push of a button it will open my local copy of Word and I can keep on working.  And since the document is stored in my SkyDrive account that is synced up on my numerous computers, it is backed up and available everywhere. I can even use it on  my iPad. I will also say that to Microsoft’s credit the web-based writing is very fluid. I have not experienced any of the odd freezes or lags that I have seen in other software. Not bad. Not bad at all.

And now on to Google Apps.

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Ordered a Few Tools

I hadn’t realized until very recently, but Amazon.com will actually buy books back or take them in trade. I knew you could sell to other people through Amazon, but I didn’t realize that they themselves would take the books in on trade and give you credit. Very cool! So I did that. I went through their simple process, sent them in a computer book I didn’t need, and the gave me a gift credit of Alvin Professional Self-Healing Cutting Mat Green$27! Can you believe that? A free and clear sum of spending money to buy some new hobby tools.

What I needed most was a nice surface to work on, so I bought an 8.5″x12″ self-healing cutting mat. I also got a pair of Xuron Track Cutters so that I can finally start laying rail. Finally, I needed to refresh my cutter collection, so I ordered a 16 piece hobby knife set. I know the blades on this on will be cheap, but that doesn’t worry me. I will end up replacing them with good quality X-Acto blades. I really needed the handle and such.Xuron Track Cutters Eventually, maybe, I might get a high quality handle. But I wanted to get a feel for them first.

Hobby Knife SetAll of this, because it ended up being over $25, is being shipped free. So in a week or maybe a bit more it should get here. Final total was $27.23, meaning only 23 cents was charged to my debit card.

Woo hoo! Talk about win-win, I got rid of a book I didn’t need that was cluttering up the house, Amazon paid for it to be shipped to them, and I got a nice little group of tools for a grand total of 23 cents. I just wish the rest of life was this easy.

Podcast Tools – The Portable Recorder

When you are not in the office playing webmaster to record a podcast or interview, you will need a good compact portable recorder. These can also be used to record sound effects, make notes to yourself or record important meetings for the sake of documentation.

Olympus WS-600S Digital Voice RecorderThe one I use is the WS-300M 256 MB Digital Voice Recorder by Olympus. It is great, I love it, and it is no longer made. I use it because I have it and it records with great quality while being exceedingly small. At this point, I have no need to replace it because of the fantastic job it does. If I were to recommend one now, it would be the new model in the line, the Olympus WS-500 Digital Voice Recorder.

There are lots of small digital voice records available, but I prefer these because they offer a good balance of quality and price. Additionally, they plug directly into your Mac or PC’s USB port like a thumb-drive so there is no cord to carry around and lose. Either of these devices will run for over 15 hours on a single battery, so it is highly unlikely that you will ever run out of power. The built in stereo microphones work well, but they also have a jack for external microphones. When recording a speech or presentation I hook up an Olympus ME-15. You simply clip the microphone onto your collar or lapel and drop the recorder in your pocket.

You actually could record your entire podcast on one of these if you don’t want to record directly to your computer. Or you could use it to record while driving, out on a walk, or on location doing whatever it is you podcast about. You could, but I normally don’t. The next time I talk about equipment I will show you the microphone I normally use at my desk.

WordPress Version 3.0 Is Released

WordPress 3.0, the thirteenth major release of WordPress is now available for download. Major new features in this release include a great new default theme called Twenty Ten. Theme developers have new APIs that allow them to easily implement custom backgrounds, headers, shortlinks, menus (no more file editing), post types, and taxonomies. Make sure to look at the new default Twenty Ten theme which shows off all of those things. Developers and network admins will appreciate the long-awaited merge of MU and WordPress, creating the new multi-site functionality which makes it possible to run one blog or ten million from the same installation.

And for even more information, check out the official WordPress Development Blog.