Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Sync Calendar with Facebook Events

Facebook does not run my life. As much as it may want to, I keep track of my schedule on crumpled pieces of paper and in iCal. Like anyone else in college, it does have a bearing on a lot of social interactions, so for some parties, I’ll get the invitation on Facebook. But Facebook doesn’t ring an alarm to remind me of events, so I’ll sometimes forget all about upcoming events.

Facebook lets you export events to your calendar, but it doesn’t let you subscribe to an XML calendar of your events that can be updated automatically. This would save me a lot of time manually entering events into iCal, and would ensure that I don’t forget about staff meetings or a friend’s birthday party.

The ability to export your current list of events is available, and while it’s helpful, it still means you need to constantly go back to Facebook and manually export your events. I assume Facebook hasn’t included the auto-sync feature simply because founder Mark Zuckerberg would rather you spend more time on the site. I suppose Facebook could internally revenue the problem by offering its own user-editable calendar, but until that time, why not accommodate the users?

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Improving Computer Password Delays

For many computer applications and web sites, if you incorrectly enter your password during login, it will force a delay of a few seconds. Some login systems, like the one for Mac OS X, exponentially increase the delay time for each incorrect entry. This measure was initially put into place to deter password-cracking software, which would repeatedly attempt to enter thousands or millions of word combinations from a dictionary in an attempt to access an account.

The problem with this system is that the software engineer seems to forget that the interface is designed to be used by people, not machines. And people make mistakes. Brand Templeton suggests a better method: implement the delay after four failed attempts. By the fourth, it becomes obvious that the user has either forgotten his password entirely (and needs assistance) or is behind a malicious access attempt.

I’ve seen Templeton’s idea implemented on one banking site I frequent, where after five failed attempts, it locks me out for 24 hours. I seem to always find myself fumbling through my brain trying to remember which login-password combination I used for what banking site. I like the concept of the forgiving password delay, but please, whoever decides to implement this, don’t make the lockout time so absurdly long. It’s a very thin line a developer must walk between security and user-friendliness.

Why I Prefer Software to Web Apps

It’s no secret on this blog that I like iCal (see: exhibits A, B and C). Google Calendar is by far the closest application, client- or server-side, to iCal’s elegant interface. One might even argue that Google’s is better, offering anywhere-access to your daily planner. And with tasks (to-do) for Google Calendar on the way, why not make Google your default time management software?

I don’t want to entrust all my information to someone else’s computer. Web sites go down. Sometimes Internet access isn’t available in certain areas. I need to know that I can gain access to my information whenever I have my computer (or iPod, thanks to iTunes data syncing).

Sure, hard drives crash, and data can get corrupted. But at least then I’ll recognize that it was my own fault for not backing up my data. And at the end of the week, I shouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.

iCal Dropbox in New Mac OS X Version

The 10.5 Leopard version of the Mac operating system has been confirmed for release next Friday, Oct. 26. Among its list of 300+ new features is a much improved version of iCal. Aside from the new interface, CalDAV sync support and the correctly predicted iPhone notes syncing is one feature I suggested last month in “A Better To-do List.”

Apple’s feature list details a new option called Event Dropbox. “Share the information you need for a successful meeting,” reads the iCal Leopard feature list. “Simply drag photos, video, or any kind of document into an event. Send email invitations to attendees and your attachments go along for the ride.”

My idea was for iCal to include “the ability to drag files and emails onto a to-do entry and have them linked. I could then easily access any related materials through the to-do entry.”

Apple’s description doesn’t specify whether this applies to to-do entries as well as events, but I think we have a good chance. Finally iCal is on its way to becoming a fully featured project center.

A Better To-do List

Of all the great uses for a computer, the calendar is probably the most significant to my life. Business execs get secretaries and the rest of us get iCal.

I can’t stress how important the calendar and to-do lists are for making sure I don’t forget everything. But there’s just something missing in terms of combining all my work in other applications with the calendar.

Life happens in terms of projects. I have to-dos tied to a particular project, using the title format “project name: to-do title.” So for my July blog post about running a successful web start-up, I had “startup: email boyd,” “startup: research boyd’s blog” and “startup” (the all purpose to-do when the whole project is finished). But I’ll have files (documents, music, emails, etc.) tied to the project with no way to centralize them.

A solution would be the ability to drag files and emails onto a to-do entry and have them linked. I could then easily access any related materials through the to-do entry. Most of my life is in iCal. A central project manager is the missing link.

On the Mac end, iCal still has a long way to go, but it’s nice to see Apple Inc. is putting a lot of development into the next version for Leopard. With all the cool features of the new OS, it’s pretty strange that the ones I’m most looking forward to are iCal and the new Mail, which will integrate with iCal’s to-do list.

Sizzling Keys and iTunes: A Good Pair

After my post tearing into Quicksilver yesterday, I realized it packs a few undeniably great features — one being the missing links it provides for Apple iTunes. It allows me to search my iTunes library and queue up songs in Party Shuffle. I can also assign keyboard shortcuts to common tasks, like play/pause and skipping songs.

But I managed to remove Quicksilver from my hard drive and keep that great functionality with a lighter app called Sizzling Keys. Once installed, Keys is out of the way until I need it. Unlike Quicksilver, there’s no hard drive scanning every 10 minutes. Its preference interface is tucked away in System Preferences, where you can assign keyboard shortcuts to iTunes functions.

Apple is addressing the keyboard shortcut issue with new keyboards, which feature dedicated keys for iTunes. But for those who don’t want to shell out the cash for a new keyboard, Keys is a great solution.

The Keys application also offers the ability to search the songs in your library with a simple keystroke. By pressing control-spacebar, a transparent menu comes up, where I can search for a song and then add it to party shuffle or play it immediately. Very handy for people who have their jukebox going just about all the time.

Why Quicksilver for Mac Sucks

Whenever I run across a web site detailing the top applications for Mac, Quicksilver by Blacktree Inc. (or its spiritual predecessor, Objective Development Software’s LaunchBar) always seems to make the list.

These apps are essentially a new way of using your computer. Well, not exactly new, per say. In fact, they use one of the oldest ways of interacting with computers (what’s called the command line), reintroducing it with a dressed up interface.

With a keyboard shortcut like control-spacebar, the user pulls up the Quicksilver window, which looks like a search box, and starts typing, as the app fetches realtime results, similar to Spotlight. You can launch apps and files, add text to a document or do math calculations within the search window. For example, to calculate 2+2, you type “=2+2” in the box.

Mac geeks bill this as the better way to use your computer. But for most people, it’s not.

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Multiple Web Browser Sessions

I’m forced to keep multiple browsers on my system for one reason. It’s not because of rendering — I use Safari 3, and I haven’t yet run into a problem loading a site, even banking web sites. I keep three separate browsers on my system because of cookies.

I have the Safari 3 beta, which I use 90 percent of the time for all of my personal, school and most of my work needs. But I have separate logins for some web sites, like one personal account and one Bigthawt account for Google.

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Month Note for iCal

Millions of people use calendar software to organize their lives. Maybe your assistant schedules your meetings in Microsoft Outlook, or you keep a personal iCal or Google Calendar at home, many of us would be lost without the virtually automatic organization of a PC calendar.

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Web-based Skype client

Nowadays, you can do just about anything in a browser. You used to need an application devoted to email, one for word processing, one for calendars, one for radio stations. With services like Meebo, you can even chat in your browser window.

It’s about time for Skype to catch up and offer a 100 percent Web-based version of the widely popular VoIP application. It would be nice to be able to boot-up Skype in Firefox from any computer and call up any of your contacts (or phone numbers, if you have a SkypeOut account, like I do).

But the big reason is to capture the iPhone market. Imagine anyone being able to make free voice chat calls whenever in range of a wifi spot. This becomes even more attractive for me, being stuck in a Verizon Wireless contract for at least another year. I would definitely buy an iPhone and use the non-AT&T activation method if I could make calls at any Starbucks. (And let’s face it. Starbucks is everywhere.)