Great Productivity Tools – Todoist

todoist_logoEveryone has their own set of tools to help them in their working day.

I have always struggled to find a to do list program/app that helps me in my day. I have tried a number of them, tempted by their features and claims of increasing productivity.

But I have found many of them actually slow me down.

Take Evernote for example; a brilliant application that does so much stuff. But for my needs it seemed too much, all of the fantastic features just seemed to get in the way, I needed something simpler, so simple and easy to use, it encouraged me to use it.

So I stumbled on Todoist on one of those “10 Apps to Increase Your Productivity” kind of articles. I wasn’t actually looking for it, but found it after I had stumbled on another quirky productivity app called Coffitivity (more on that in another post).

On first glances Todoist looked simple and clean, just what I was looking for. Gone were the other features that gets you away from the core function – making lists.

It was as easy as typing a list item and hitting enter, nothing else was needed. So far so good.

But there are options to categorise and add other information to your list items, but they are not required and this was the key for me. I could just type out a list of items and not worry about the other information, I could go back and do that later if I needed to.

Suddenly I had a list of items and as things came in, whether it be by phone, email or talking to someone in person, I could quickly add it to a list.

I have a tendency to try and keep things in my head, to which I am mostly successful, this has been a great way to get those lists in my brain down in a more permanent form.

Todoist Screen (with spelling mistakes 🙂

So now I have these items on my lists, I can work on them and tick them off. What’s better, is that Todoist records your completed tasks and lets you know how many you have done per day and per week. You can set your own goals and it will keep track for you, this is a great way to incentivise the completing of tasks and improving your productivity.

There is an accompanying app for most devices and also integrations with popular mail programs too.

As with many of these things, there is a Free version and a Paid version, I ran the free version for quite a while and it was great. In the end I upgraded to the premium version, because you can create shared lists that are great for collaborating in teams. Each user costs USD29 / year, but it is a small price for enhancing your productivity.

So, in a nutshell, Todoist is an awesome app for me: simple, quick and I can quickly see the improvements it has made for me

Instructions for Adding an Email Account

I get lots of requests for setting up an email account in different email programs, so I thought I would provide a list of the best instructions I have found that I pass on to my clients.

All thanks to those that have provided these resources, it seems silly to replicate these over and over on the web.

If you know of a better one than what I have listed, let me know in the comments and I can look at them and add them in.

I am only listing one set of instructions for each Mail program version that I think is the easiest to follow.

Remember, these instructions will need to be supplemented with your own specific settings such as login / password and mail server settings. Contact your hosting provider for these things.

Mac OS


So if you have other clients, other operating systems, let me know and I’ll add them to the list.


Shopify and Payment Express

shopify-logoI have been doing some work for a client in Shopify. First time I have worked with it and so far it’s not too bad.

However, some things have had me scratching my head.

One in particular was trying to test the payment gateway to DPS’s Payment Express. (PxPay)

After choosing the right one (There is PaymentExpress and Payment Express???) I kept receiving the error message:

“error – failed to get token – message was MerchantReference too long”

The problem lay in this instance with the Shop name.

dps_logoThe client had a shop name that was 42 characters long, I reduced it to just 15 characters and this worked.

Given the Reference limit is 64, there is obviously other information added to the end of it, what this is I am not sure yet it may appear on the clients statement, but may include product name or a unique code.

Unfortunately, DPS did not write the code and so they are not able to provide any help with any issues connecting to their product via Shopify. I haven’t tried the Shopify support, but I am not sure if anyone in their employ wrote the code either.

WordPress 3.2 Now Released

WordPress has released it’s next semi-major release with version 3.2.

You can read the official announcement here

Significant in this release is the breaking away of support for old technologies including older versions of MySQL, PHP and even old IE6.

This part has me really excited (especially the IE6 part) as backwards compatibility has its drawbacks. The ability to embrace new technologies is limited while trying to keep people using older technologies happy.

IE6 is incredibly old in technology terms (It has it’s 10th birthday on the 27th of August) and the sooner developers stop catering for this the quicker things will move forward.

The new look of 3.2 is smart, more clinical (professional?) but initial thoughts are good.

But the best thing about it? The upgrade went flawlessly.

The upgrade process in WordPress is one of the best out there for stability and reliability.

I’ll keep using it for a while and post back an update later.

Tips for Choosing a Content Management System (CMS)

I frequently get asked by my clients (and prospective ones) about wanting to update their website.

I had a rant about this a while back, where a journalist accused web designers of ripping their clients off if they didn’t provide the ability to update the site themselves.

I stand by my comments that for some clients, a content management system is not wanted, nor is it in the best interests of that client.

However, for those that do want to update their site, we need to provide a solution that is both easy to use and delivers the complexity required for their needs.

These two facets, ease of use and complexity can be seen to be at loggerheads with each other, and in some circumstances that can be the case. But I will propose two solutions that cater for both ends of the spectrum.

In the past, due to the lack of affordable and easy to use CMS’ we have provided Adobe Contribute (Formerly Macromedia) as a way to allow our clients to edit their sites.

The reason for choosing Contribute was it’s simplicity. In tandem with Dreamweaver (which we use to develop with) it allows for areas of the site, such as menus, header, footer and overall structure, to be protected from the end user.

This allows for editing to be done, knowing that catastropic mistakes can’t be made.

The interface is simple and allows for most functions to be performed including editing of text, images, links and if allowed HTML snippets for things like Youtube videos or Paypal buttons.

The biggest downside is that it costs around $400 NZD for a retail copy. This is also a per license price, so if you want to edit from multiple places, you need additional licenses.

For the schools that we have done sites for this was an issue. Some paid for additonal license to get the software into key locations, but for others it was restricted to the office.

This is where web based content management systems have a significant edge.

Especially open source software, that is free from licensing costs, makes this a much easier proposition.

We currently propose two different CMS’ for our clients depending on their needs:

WordPress – The easiest to use, easiest to modify, my choice for brochure style sites.

Joomla – More complex, but manages user management much better

Overall I like WordPress better. Around a year ago, WordPress became a system that you could leave with a user and they would be able to manage their site with little input from their designer. Before that, upgrade and installation required a level of tech knowledge that was no suitable for all users.

That and the well presented plugins system, mean that a user can improve their site and feel in control of their site, without a reliance on an IT person.

There are plenty of complex sites designed with WordPress as their base system, but there are some things that Joomla does much better straight out of the box.

Joomla seems to be able to manage a multitude of types of data much easily. Especially when their are user logins involved.

Extensions like Community Builder allow for a mature user system to be maintained on a site. Plus add-ons for payment and subscriptions mean you can monetize your user base easily.

So depending on the functionality you are wanting for your site, you can find a system that will make the development of a website easier to develop and easier to use.

There are plenty of other systems out there, I have heard good things about Drupal (though I found it less rich than Joomla, it’s direct competitor) and have seen some great implementations of Expression Engine (a paid CMS, so check out prices)

But for my money, choose WordPress for a simple business website, or Joomla if you need to manage a community of users.


Firefox is an Abomination – Unfortunately

Well I suppose it had to happen.

It was all going so well, good memory management, it was fast and had great addons. It was a no brainer to use Firefox as my default browser.

Version 3 was better than Version 2, this is how software evolution was supposed to be.

And the only reason I still had Internet Explorer on my machine was that I needed  it to test my websites.

Chrome was good and fast, but Firefox had all those great addons: FootieFox for my Football scores, WHOIS tools, ScribeFire for writing my blog posts and the best of the lot FireBug.

Alas, since 3.6.8 was released my Firefox utopia has been shattered.

It has gotten to the point that I have had to shift to Chrome. Had to, not wanted to.

The memory leaks were so bad, that after coming back from being away from my desk for half a day, Firefox was consuming over 1gb of memory, for only 4 tabs!

It got to the point where I was rebooting 3 times a day to maintain any speed.

Luckily, since I have moved to Chrome, my work experience is much better, the speed is back and I found that there was an extension for Chrome called Firebug Lite, I am Saved!

If Mozilla sort out the memory problems, I may go back. But the major problems need some serious tweaks.

Have you found your favourite Browser or other software made by non monoply (Microsoft, Adobe) etc has succumbed to bloat and decreasing performance?

Have they gotten lazy as market share has risen?

Avast Antivirus – Wow!

I have used a number of Antivirus programs over the years. I was a big fan of Mcafee back in the DOS days, moved onto Nortons when it came with my PC (Threw it away when it got too bloated). Tried a number of others and then settled on AVG.

AVG was great. It was free, wasn’t bloated like Norton was (I have been assured that the 2009 and 2010 versions are much better) and seemed to do everything, except custom scheduled scans, you needed to pay for that.

Over the last few years it has worked great for me and I have been through a number of versions, till the recent v8.

However, I noticed it too was getting a bit bloated, using memory and system resources that seemed a bit big while idle.

I thought I would try Avast.

It too is a free anti virus program, for non commercial use and has all of the current drop of shields including Instant Messaging, Web,Mail, Network and more.

Resource wise it was better, not to much between them, but it definitely used less memory than AVG. This was ideal for my laptop that only has 256mb of RAM.

After some toing and froing between versions, the newest version of Avast has been released, so installed this on the resource challenged laptop.

Well some of the initial tests have been quite stunning.

While the proof will be in the protection it provides (The previous versions seem to be good in that regard), the resource usage of this new system is quite staggering.

With AVG installed, the laptop idled once fully loaded at around 260mb (remember this only has 256mb of RAM)

With Avast this reduced to 195mb, around 65mb less. On such a tight resource budget this is huge. Updates and scans obviously take more cpu and RAM, but that is to be expected. Why waste resources when they are not needed.

Well done to Avast, they have made a good product even better, enough to get a WOW out of me!

You can download it here

IE6, What Do We Do About It?

Kick it to the Kerb?

That would be nice, as most web designers have come unstuck when a nice design fails spectacularly in IE6.

But unfortunately, there are still lots of people (over 30% in most cases) that are still using it, that is too large a number to upset with messages about compatibility and the like.

Some new designs from template makers will not work properly in Internet Explorer 6 and they provide warnings and encourage users to upgrade.

If you target corporate users, this is not a wise choice as some will still use IE6 across their organisation and IT are not keen to roll out IE7 or 8.

I have even recently visited a primary school that is still using IE6 in all of it’s classrooms.

For designers, testing in multiple browser brands involves installing the different browsers and testing as you go, however, my suite of browsers include:

  • IE8
  • Firefox 3
  • Firefox 2
  • Google Chrome
  • Opera 9
  • Opera 10

Notice that some browsers allow multiple versions to be installed simultaneously. This is a great thing for testing.

However, you can only install one version of IE, (there is a hacked version that allows older ones as well, but that seems a bit scary)

Recently, I found out about BrowserLab from Adobe, (Thanks @kalena) it is a great tool that lets you test browsers online without having to install them on your machine.

You enter the address of the site you want to test and the browsers you want to test on, and let it do it’s magic, you get presented with an image of what the result is for each browser.

Here is a list of all browsers:

  • Firefox 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5 under XP
  • Internet Explorer 6.0, 7.0 and 8.0 under XP
  • Chrome 3.0 under XP
  • Safari 3.0 and 4.0 under OSX
  • Firefox 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5 under OSX

Having Safari and Firefox under OSX is great too. No Opera yet, but I assume they will appear in time.

Good to see a useful resource hitting the web.

Do you have any web resources that you “must have”, let me know in the comments.

IBM taking on Gmail

In my last corporate job we had Lotus Notes as our email / group-ware platform.

It was good for some things but was very poor at things that Outlook express did very well. It was really the group-ware and the integration with work-flow systems that really saved it’s bacon.

This was a few years ago now, I haven’t seen the latest versions, but the news that IBM are now pitching iNotes, their online email client, to people disgruntled with the GMail service.

One of the issues pointed out as why IBM are choosing now to make their move is due to outages of the Gmail service.

For those people paying for Gmail as a corporate service, they have more reason to complain (unlike those of us who use it as a free service)

But this quote from an article made me think…hang on a bit

Last month millions of business users could not access email for almost two hours.

Wow, an outage of 2 hours in a month, that’s about 2% of the working month, or in IT terms, an uptime of about 98%

With promised up-times quoted as over 99.5% for many online service this is obviously completely unacceptable! (Tongue firmly in cheek)

No one has mentioned whether this is a normal incident or a one off.

But come on, most computer networks have outages, I know that in that same corporate job, using IBM’s notyes platform we had some very lengthy outages, some even more than 2 hours!

So what did we do? We did something else and waited for the network people to sort it out, which they always did.

Far too much jerking of knees I think.

Adobe Contribute at risk from Business Catalyst Purchase?

We provide Adobe Contribute to quite a number of our clients. (From the Macromedia days too)

With the semi announcement (only semi, since Adobe haven’t released anything yet) it posed a question about where is Business Catalyst going to fit within the product offerings of Adobe.

Looking at what there currently is, the only thing I see is the relationship between Dreamweaver and Contribute. That developer / publisher relationship is what CMS is all about infrastructure-wise, the snippets of information released by Business Catalyst, show that GoodBarry, blogged about here, will cease to exists as a retail offering and the more “serious” Business Catalyst will be the sole offering.

This is not going to be an issue for a while, current users of Contribute won’t be disadvantaged for a few years at least if there is a discontinuation of Contribute.

I am wondering if Adobe is seeing “Software as a Service” being a new stream of revenue.

I liked their subscription service for their products, and with GoodBarry they were charging $47 (AUD I suppose) per month.

Possibly a way of generating additional revenue from a product like Contribute is to move to a web based system.

Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how Adobe will get behind the product.