Article on the origins of using “x” to close – “X to Close”

Aug14

This is an interesting article on the origins of using an [X] to close windows and items in the GUI of most operating systems today. X to Close. The origins of the use of [x] in UI design by Lauren Archer at Medium.com

X’s are everywhere in user interface (UI) design. A powerful symbol, [x] is capable of closing windows and popups, toolbars and tabs and anything else that might otherwise be cluttering up your screen.

Clicking on [x] to close a feature has become an instinctual part of using a computer and a standard in web and software design. Although it may seem like the ubiquitous [x] has always been a part of Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), a quick jaunt through the history of GUIs reveals that this actually isn’t the case.

So where and when did the [x] first enter into the UI lexicon?

Brighten your podcast day with Overcast

Aug14

Overcast is, at least for my purposes, the best podcast listening client for the iPhone. Created by Marco Arment, original author of Instapaper and The Magazine, Overcast is opinionated software. The application reflects Marco’s ideal as to what constitutes a perfect listening tool rather than trying to be all things to all people. Fortunately for me, Marco’s opinions (on this topic) largely coincide with my own.

The Overcast interface is clean and simple

Overcast allows you to create smart playlists—a feature common to many podcasting clients—and to reorder episodes within those lists at any time. Unique to Overcast is the ability to define priority podcasts within the playlist. So MacBreak Weekly and John Gruber’s The Talk Show rise to the top of my all unplayed list whenever new episodes are released.

Favorite shows get the VIP treatment and are sent to the head of the queue

Marco developed his own audio engine for Overcast, enabling two special features, Voice Boost and Smart Speed. Voice Boost normalizes the level of voices—makes them all the same volume—allowing you to more easily hear less-than-perfectly engineered podcasts under less-than-ideal listening conditions. Earlier this week I was listening to a show in which one of the hosts was talking from across the room, well away from the microphone. Driving down 494 with the windows down and the sunroof open, I had no problem following the conversational flow, and I didn’t have to crank the volume up on the car stereo.

Smart Speed intelligently reduces the natural pauses in speech, compressing the length of a podcast in a way that sounds very natural. This is Apple’s playback at 1.5x speed feature done right, and after only a week or two, I can’t imagine going back to listening to podcasts in real time.

You can set preferences for Smart Speed and Voice Boost on a show-by-show basis

One of the downsides of not using Apple’s audio engine is losing access to the built-in streaming tools. Overcast is currently download only. It also won’t work with video podcasts; this is a listening tool.

Overcast uses its own web-service sync engine, so you will need to register for a free account before using it. Although the app is currently iPhone only, it can be used on an iPad, or you can access your podcasts on the iPad or Mac using a web app.

The web app looks a lot like the iPhone App

Overcast is free to download, but there is a single-in app purchase to enable unlimited playlists and remove a time limit on Smart Speed and Voice Boost. Many will find the free version useful, but if you try to listen to a lot of podcasts regularly, Smart Speed alone is well worth the upgrade cost.

If you’re interested in the backstory, Marco has written extensively about his development vision and process on his blog at marco.org. He has also spoken at length about it on episodes of Debug, The Talk Show (Part two of that discussion is here), and in several episodes of The Accidental Tech Podcast that he co-hosts with John Siracusa and Casey Liss. Of course, the best way to listen to Marco’s musings is using Overcast.

 

Images in the Bank

Aug12

This post is the second in a series. The first post is On the road with the new digital hub

While waiting for the iPad release (oh, the sweet anticipation!) I remember dreaming of using it as a remote photo bank—replacing a smart hard disk/camera reader for storage and archive of digital photos on the road. I try to take the words of Pixel Corps Alex Linday to heart, a file doesn’t really exist until it exists in three places. For photo trips this used to necessitate carrying a laptop and one or more external hard drives or photo bank devices.

Fortunately, a 128GB iPad provides lots of room for backing up camera cards, using the Lightning to USB Camera Adaptor. This is part of my nightly routine. As soon as I’ve settled into the room, I connect the camera kit, and import all of my images from that day. I carry enough camera cards so I don’t have to reformat any until I know the images are safely archived.

Apple’s Photostream adds value and convenience to my backup process. In fact, it was the release of Photostream along with iOS 6 that convinced me to replace my original iPad with an iPad 3 just prior to my last big photo trip.

Photos are automatically added to my Photostream

Photos imported onto the iPad are added to my Photostream. Any images shot using the iPhone automatically become become part of the Photostream too. They quickly become available for editing on the iPad (assuming its connected to the Internet) and are archived on Apple’s server. Any photos that I do post-processing on are also added to the Photostream when they are saved to the iPad Camera Roll. This applies to images edited on the iPhone as well, I often do quick edits during the day to upload to Instagram on-the-spot.

Before I go to sleep I make sure the iPad is plugged in and “awake” (I’m probably using it as a bedside clock anyway) so that it can keep pumping images upstream. Once the local copy is moved up to an Apple server it is effectively backed up—at least for the moment. Photostream only backs up your 1000 most recent photos so if you’re a prolific shooter, you’ll need to take further precautions.

Back at home my MacBook Pro is running three applications. I shut everything else off while I’m away to avoid potential system conflicts. Aperture automatically imports the photos from my Photostream into my photo library. *SuperDuper!* performs a twice-daily backup to an external hard disk. Crashplan continuously backs up all of my files to their servers, providing offsite backup.

If I’m running low on camera card storage, I can check the status of the files on my Crashplan backup remotely using their iOS app to confirm that it’s safe to reformat a card. I can also check the status of the Aperture library & SuperDuper! by logging into my home computer using Remote. (I now realize that run four applications while I’m away—there’s a helper app for Remote.)

By logginUsing the Crashplan app on the iPad I confirm that this image is in my Aperture library back home and is also safely archived offsite.

Now that my RAW photos are safely backed up, it’s time to work some post production magic. I’ll cover some of my favorite photo apps in my next post, Digital darkroom.

App Store’s Amazing Productivity Apps promotion

Aug08

Apple has started a limited time only promotion for select iOS productivity apps, including several apps that I use and highly recommend, such Notability, Scanner Pro, and PDF Expert 5. The sale takes at least 50% off and some of the apps are down to $0.99. If any of these apps interest you, now is a good time to pick them up.

Apps on sale include:

Clear for $1.99 (down from $4.99)
Notability for $1.99 (down from $4.99)
MindNode for $4.99 (down from $9.99)
Scanner Pro by Readdle for $2.99 (down from $6.99)
Fantastical 2 for iPhone for $4.99 (down from $9.99)
Launch Center Pro for $1.99 (down from $4.99)
Boxer for $4.99 (down from $9.99)
Prizmo for $2.99 (down from $9.99)
Tydlig – Calculator Reimagined for $0.99 (down from $2.99)
iTranslate Voice for $1.99 (down from $4.99)
Writer Pro for $4.99 (down from $19.99)
Grafio for $3.99 (down from $8.99)
PDF Expert 5 for $4.99 (down from $9.99)
PCalc for $4.99 (down from $9.99)
Gneo for $3.99 (down from $9.99)
Due for $1.99 (down from $4.99)
Todo for $1.99 (down from $4.99)
TextGrabber+ for $6.99 (down from $14.99)
MobileFamilyTree for $6.99 (down from $14.99)
Scanbot for $0.99 (down from $1.99)

 

Clear by Realmac Software Sale

Aug07

Clear, a tasks, reminders and to-do list app, is an app that we have talked about at the Mini’app’les meeting on multiple occasions. It is often listed among the best apps in to-do list category. It’s available for OS X and iOS and both are currently on sale. Clear for OS X is usually $10, but is on sale for $5 at the Mac App store. Clear for iOS (and it’s is a universal app) is usually $5, but is on sale for $2. If you are looking for a good task app, this is a good choice.

You can find the OS X version at the Mac App Store and the iOS version at the iTunes App store.

Here is the description for the OS X version:

Clear is the revolutionary to-do and reminders app that makes you more productive. Just start typing to add to-dos, and once you start organizing your life with Clear you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.

  • Simple gestural design that allows you to focus on your to-dos. Designed for the Magic Trackpad, but works great with a mouse too!
  • Full keyboard navigation. Just start typing to create to-dos.
  • Use separate lists to organize every aspect of your life.
  • iCloud sync built-in so you can be productive everywhere.
  • Set reminders so you’ll never forget important tasks.
  • Personalize your Clear lists with themes and make them your own.
  • Syncs with Clear for iOS (available separately on the App Store).

 

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