Productivity Tools: Launchy

chromeI started to use simple productivity tools while reading The Productive Programmer by Neal Ford. Although there were a lot of tools for all kinds of things mentioned in this book, I decided to go slow and pick just a very limited selection and see whether they made any sense for my way of working.

I picked Launchy for my Windows PC and naturally Quicksilver for my Mac. Though Quicksilver is a lot more interesting and powerful, I didn’t really get around to play with it as much as I’d like, mostly because I use my Windows PC a lot more than my MacBook.

Launchy in comparison offers mostly basic launching functionality. It’s running in the background and can be brought forward by holding alt and hitting the space bar. You can probably change the keyboard shortcuts, but the default combination is pretty comfortable and easy to use, so I just left it as it was.

You then start typing the name of the application or file you want and Launchy scans its catalog (we’ll get to that in a minute) for it. It will offer the most likely choice, which you can then open directly by hitting enter. You’ll also get a list of other matching results that you can access using the up and down keys or click with your mouse.

As for the catalog, you need to set up the catalog by telling Launchy which file types in which folders should be part of the searchable catalog and then scanning your machine accordingly. At the moment I included all applications and folders and .doc and .pdf files from selected folders.

Launchy proved to be a perfect tool for people like me who keep their desktop very, very clean and usually access files and applications by using quick launch or navigating directly to the respective folder. I like to have sensible folder structures to put my files where they belong from an organizational point of view. On the downside that means that I have files all over the place and need to change folders very often. Launchy makes it very easy to access a file or folder and saves me from having to click through folder after folder and search through a long list of file names to get to the stuff I want.

I wouldn’t have expected that radical a change, and from the outside it probably only looks like a small thing, but I honestly wouldn’t want to go without Launchy now that I’ve gotten used to it. The only disadvantage I noticed so far is that you have to rescan your catalog every once in a while to make sure that new files and applications are added to the catalog. I’d also like Launchy to get a few extra features, bringing it a bit closer to the power of Quicksilver (an application I wouldn’t even dare writing about, because I feel like I’ve used to less than five percent of its capability so far) than it is now.

However, I can only strongly recommend that you try it out for yourself. You can download Launchy at Plus, it comes with a cute icon. Just saying.


iPod Icon Mystery – A Design Experiment

I was a bit puzzled when I first noticed the new icons that are displayed just below the time slider thingy for podcasts. It was actually when I was on my way to the supermarket, so I didn’t really date to find it out, because I already was trying not to run into things and listening to a podcast at the same time and didn’t want to add a third task to the list.

iPod Podcast Icons

When I wrote my article about the new upgrade I started to muse aloud (if you can apply this to writing as well) about these icons and when I reached the third paragraph I thought I’d just leave it out completely and write in detail about it later. I think it makes a good example for usability and design. So here goes:

The first thing I’d like to say is that yes, I know it’s hard to find an icon that conveys exactly what the button does without any risks of misinterpretation. Still, I couldn’t really say what any of these icons wanted to tell me. I had vague ideas, yes, but I needed to actually try each of them out to see what they actually did – and confirm my suspicions.

Let’s start with the first one. What does the envelope do? Something with mail? Mail updates? Send a mail? Anything to do with RSS? Who knows. The second one could actually have to do something with reverse… like what? Go back 30 seconds? The 1x is as puzzling as the envelope. One time WHAT? Can I change that to two? Anything else? Oh wait, let’s try that.

[Imagine me pressing the 1x button here.]

Oh look, it changes to 2x. What happens if I press it again? 1/2x. Interesting. The answer of course (and I guessed it, too) is that this button changes the speed of the podcast. It also adjusts the pitch, so you don’t get the Mickey Mouse effect when listening to a podcast running at twice the speed.

I don’t know if I’ll use that feature. When I tried it on one of my favorite podcasts, I had trouble following the content. Basically, twice the speed was too fast. I think that 1,5x might be an interesting adjustment. A bit faster, but not actually to the point where you can’t follow what’s being said.

But enough of that, now comes the icon with the 30 and the arrow. That one seemed very obvious to me once I tested it and realized what it does. Want to guess? Exactly. It goes back 30 seconds. While this is nice, I would actually suggest being able to forward 30 seconds, too. When it comes to long podcasts, using the time slider can be tricky and I can currently think of more use cases for forwarding than for reversing. But maybe that’s just me.

Now for the last one and – as it turns out – the least useful one in my personal opinion. And yes, it does send out a mail with a fancy default text along the lines of „Hey, check out that podcast“ and the link to the podcast.

I’m not sure how other people think about that, but I have never ever in my life felt the need or desire to send out a mail with a link to a podcast. I just… well… I don’t do that. And if I did, I’d probably send the link to the website of the podcast. Maybe there is a big target group out there, but I just don’t see myself using this button at all. It makes me wonder whether the guys at Apple just tried to come up with a third button, because groups of three a) look nicer and b) would be consistent with the number of icons displayed for songs.

In the end all the buttons did more or less what you might have guessed from the icons. I still needed to try each of them, because it wasn’t completely clear. And then, I was slightly underwhelmed by the functionality they provided. The 30 seconds reverse might come in handy at times, and changing the speed could be interesting. Who knows, maybe I will actually use that from time to time. The mail option does nothing for me.

Now the next thing to try out is how to use that scrubbing thing I heard about. I think I have a pretty good idea about how that works, but once again, I’ll have to thoroughly test it to be sure.

Pimp My iPod

photoYes, I too paid my 8 Euro to upgrade my iPod to the latest software. So far I’d say it was worth it.

More than that, the upgrade finally made me go and buy some iPod equipment that I’d been planning to get for some time now, but could never actually come around to actually buying it. But since today I am the proud owner of a Belkin iPod pouch, new Philips earphones and an itty-bitty microphone.

Generally I use my iPod mainly for audio and video. I still think audio trumps video here, but ever since I realized that the quality is sufficient to watch TV shows on my iPod, I’m not completely sure whether that statement is true any more.

I also use it for mail and the web, and of course I have a bunch of applications for all sorts of stuff that I use whenever it makes sense and/or I’m bored.

What really sold the upgrade for me was the search and the copy-and-paste. I also like any kind of Bluetooth feature, although I don’t think this one will actually help me any time soon. Still, glad to know it’s there.

Shake to shuffle also sounds like a wonderful feature, especially since I’ve been using shuffle on my complete library lately.

Now with the new upgrade and the addition of the fancy new iPod equipment (especially the microphone) I might take the iPod experience to a slightly different level. Who knows. I already registered for AudioBoo, but it might be some time before I find a valid reason to actually publish something.

Oh wait, I don’t need a valid reason. I can just do it for fun. But I’d probably like to be less tired for my first and therefore very important AudioBoo publication. So be patient.

I’d also like to tell you a bit more about what I do with my iPod and why. I just need some time away from it to actually write about it, at least until Squarespace finally releases the iPod app they are already marketing to me. Hurry up!

(As for the earphones, they’re Philips and in-ear earphones. The in-ear part was the only requirement I had when I went to the electronics department. The Philips ones came with a little pouch and a volume control, which was the ultimate selling point compared to the slightly cheaper Sony ones that had neither. I really came to like things that come with their own pouches, because it makes handling all the electronic equipment I tend to carry around a lot easier and neater. I also liked the look of the Philips ones better.

Taking all that into account, plus the budget I had in mind for it, I’m glad to report that it didn’t take me too long to decide. It also helped that the sales guy said that in that price range there wasn’t really a significant difference in quality between one company or the other. So. Yep. Pouch and volume control it was. And less glittery design.)

Moving a Blog

Anne Manga

It kind of is and then again, it’s really not. But let’s start at the beginning.

Welcome to Here Be Subtlety at its new home at Squarespace. It took some time for it to move, but we finally made it and now I need to unpack. And this is where the trouble starts.

I’ve wrecked my brain about how to start this and I think I finally got the answer. I will start from scratch here and not export my old posts from WordPress. A lot of brain power went into the process of making this decision and there are pros and cons to it still. Apart from the fact that the export from WordPress gives me an HTTP 500 every single time, that’s not the only reason why I will leave the old stuff where it is (and yes, keep the WordPress blog alive) and put the new stuff up here.

The other reason is that I’m trying a new thing here, guys. The thing will be making this blog a bit more content-driven with all things IT, tech, pop-culture and whatnot related and using Tumblr and Twitter for the link dumps and personal wittinesses.

Question rightfully asked: Will that work?

Answer honestly given: I have no frakking idea.

This is an experiment once again. The thing I have learned about all my creativity outlets and outbursts on the web is, some of them will live and some of them will die and some of them will turn into something else. I’m only doing this for fun. Just as you should only be doing this for fun as well.

So this is where we’re at. Being more content-driven probably means less but longer posts, so bear with me. I might bring some of the better posts from the old blog over here if I feel they belong here, but not yet. I also don’t know if there’s a good way to deal with the RSS feed. You might just want to add a new one to your feedreader. This is work in progress and there shall be more things to come (other than new posts) in the near future.

So. Hi. This is Here Be Subtlety. I’m Anne and this is my blog.