31 Days, 31 Products: Hearthstone

Day 16: Hearthstone

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Everyone needs something to destress, something to be a friendly distraction in-between long coding sessions. For me as of late this is a mix of podcast walks and Hearthstone.

Hearthstone is an online card game from Blizzard, designed around the heroes of Warcraft. Warcraft lore is not a requirement but will be enjoyed for those have some background. Leeroy!

The format of the game has you pick a hero class and build a deck of 30 cards (a mix of class specific cards, and general cards). As you play the game you’ll draw cards, spend mana to play cards, use cards to fight other cards and hopefully, overtime, kill your opponent. It sounds more complicated than it really is. The good news is Hearthstone is extremely welcoming to new players. It has some great tutorials to get you started.

Hearthstone is a free to play game. You can earn gold through daily quests (win 2 games as mage, etc.) and other means which let you buy more cards, expansion packs or play special Arena mode games (which itself rewards cards). These things can also be unlocked for cash directly should you start to enjoy the game and want to progress your card collection a little faster.

As it goes, being a free to play game, you’ll have a plenty of opportunity to experience the game to see if you like it without spending any money. If you do like the game, you will probably want to buy some cards to jumpstart your collection. The need for this will also vary with how much you like to experiment with new decks. Sure enough there are players our there who have gotten Legendary rank using pure Free 2 Play accounts.

The game itself is playable on the Mac/Windows, iPhone or iPad. If you every want to throw down, my Battle.net name is zorn711. Good luck.

31 Days, 31 Products: Charles Proxy

Day 15: Charles Proxy

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Setting up an HTTP proxy to observe internet traffic on your machine is incredibly valuable when developing web or mobile applications. My tool of choice for such is Charles Proxy.

It’s been a while since I really evaluated what else is on the market for this kind of need but as the saying goes, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I find Charles Proxy works well, particularly for observing SSL traffic on the iOS simulator which requires a bit of setup to get working right.

Charles Proxy has a free trial available and if you like it a license will cost you $50 from their site directly.

31 Days, 31 Products: OmniFocus

Day 14: OmniFocus

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

OmniFocus, from the OmniGroup, is a task manager that embraces the work style of Getting Things Done.

I’ve been an on again and off again user of GTD / OmniFocus for many years now. I’ve done GTD through index cards, automated scripts over OmniOutliner and then eventually OmniFocus. For the years where I did stop, it was mostly because I was taking time off my side work and frankly didn’t have that much to keep track of. Over the last few months however I’ve been taking on more things and setting up some long term goals. OmniFocus has really helped me stay on track and keep up with my responsibilities.

A bit about my setup. I use the Mac version primarily but also own the iOS version for occasional reference and general OmniGroup UI-fanboy reasons. I have project folders for Personal, Work, CocoaHeads and Clickable Bliss (Relaunch). I also have projects named “Tasks” and “Someday Maybe” for each responsibility which is a great place for one-off things. I’m much better about doing my Reviews since restarting, typically doing them on Mondays. I take the time to not only cleanup my inbox, mark done things which I have yet to check off but to also flag those items for which I want to work on that week. Some of my flags are a little more well-wishing then they should be but I like having the flag context be my ‘sit down at desk, what do I need to do today’ list.

I also use a browser extension for quick recording of URLs. This isn’t the Read Later stuff I send to Instapaper, but more the, hey I’m writing an app in EmberJS and here’s a great article on authentication. Let me add it to the EmberJS research project. Or, heres a great gift idea for my sister, let me add the URL to the Buy Christmas Presents project.

OmniFocus for Mac does have a free trial. When you are ready to buy you can use the Mac App Store or buy from OmniGroup direct. Standard Edition is $40, Pro is $80. The iOS app (App Store) is similarly, $40 for Standard and $60 for Pro.

Dropbox Shuts Down Mailbox

From the Mailbox homepage:

It’s with heavy hearts that we let you know we’ll be shutting down Mailbox on February 26, 2016.

… as we deepened our focus on collaboration, we realized there’s only so much an email app can do to fundamentally fix email. We’ve come to believe that the best way for us to improve people’s productivity going forward is to streamline the workflows that generate so much email in the first place.

I wasn’t a Mailbox user myself but do feel sad for the people who bought into it and are now left on their own.

There is nothing wrong with apps being shutdown. Some companies do it to regain focus, others because the app itself didn’t find its market. However in this case you get the feeling Mailbox itself isn’t being shutdown because the app is a failure on its own, but because it’s not meeting the growth curve required to legitimize a foolish $10 billion evaluation of its owner Dropbox.

That’s what hurts the most I think, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen this. Large VC-funded company X buying up an upcoming app Y or studio Z just to fuel the unrealistic growth forecast of their VC owners. It’s not good for the user and it’s not good for long term innovation/competition.

31 Days, 31 Products: SourceTree

Day 13: SourceTree

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

SourceTree is Mac OS X app that serves as a UI front end for the popular version control system Git. (Upon writing this it seems to also support Mercurial as well, though my comments below are from the perspective of a git user.)

SourceTree

While I think it’s important for all git users to be comfortable with the command line interface I can’t help but personally prefer to interact with my repos more visually on a day-to-day basis. The SourceTree UI isn’t going to win any Apple Design Awards since it leaks the command line git to the user, but that’s fine with me. I’m not looking for visual-only version control for non-geeks — I just want a solid UI for my git interactions.

My favorite features include, spell checking my commit messages, diff-ing branches, easily stashing and de-stashing code snippets and the open in terminal window (for when I need it). I also enjoy having a visual UI for when I’m reviewing the commit stage and want to make sure no frivolous xib changes are going to be committed via accidental saves in Xcode.

SourceTree is a free download available from the Atlassian website though you may need to register for an unlock license.

31 Days, 31 Products: Instapaper

Day 12: Instapaper

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Instapaper is an app that let’s you mark articles to be “read later” and then presents them to you in a very clean, ad-free environment. I’ve been a long time Instapaper fan (before similar services like Pocket or Safari’s own reading list were even available); it’s an app that really shines on the iPad for long couch sessions. It’s also pretty good about storing the content for offline reading in case you are on a plane with a no connection.

I highly recommend Instapaper. The ability to collect up all your readings is particularly efficient. Additionally, you may find that when your time is being blocked off you might be a little more choosy about which article you want to give your time. Do not put pressure on yourself to empty your list. Treat it as an basket of possibilities.

Instapaper has clients for iOS, Android and the desktop web. The apps and the service are free, but there is a premium option for $29/year to help symbolize your support and get a few more features.

31 Days, 31 Products: TextExpander

Day 11: TextExpander

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

TextExpander is an app that expands text. :)

Seriously though, TextExpander is a great system wide tool for Mac OS X that helps you type out a single word or string and then it will expand it into the full message you wanted. Some examples of my own use:

  • mike@cb.com into mike@clickablebliss.com
  • cphone into 215-555-5555
  • hphone into 215-555-4444
  • ac- into Acceptance Criteria:
  • git- into (a long gitignore useful for Xcode Projects)
  • ddate into (current date)
  • ttime into (current time)

For me TextExpander really shined while I was doing customer support for my products. I would be able to break down most email responses with answers and other messaging really quickly, while at the same time mixing in the personal side of the response and not sound like a robot. I also love that I can store my TextExpander dictionary on Dropbox and share it on all my devices. Makes every machine feel like home.

TextExpander has a free trial available. A license will cost you $44.95 and can be bought from the Smile online store.

31 Days, 31 Products: Byword

Day 10: Byword

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Today is kind of a two-for-one in that I’d like promote both Markdown and my favorite Markdown editor, Byword.

Markdown is a plain text format originally designed by John Gruber that let’s you style up text for later transformation into HTML. The big idea with Markdown is that the plain text itself should still be readable and convey the intent, even in plain text.

Byword is a Markdown and Plain Text editor for Mac OS X that offers a simple interface that let’s you focus on the content instead of the tools. While Byword is also available on iOS I primarily use it on Mac OS X.

Byword for Mac

I’ve been using Markdown as far back am I can remember having the option. I also remember back in the day there was a lot of competition with another format called Textile, which had a lot of support from 37signals. Markdown seems to have won the day. In particular I really like GitHub’s flavor. I do sometimes wish for something more. One feature I’d like it to be able to highlight lines or chunks of code for tutorial purposes. I’d also like to see more open source Markdown into ebook options.

I’ve been a pretty regular Byword user since its introduction. I love the content-focused UI. I like the little features, like using my h1 as the file name for a new document. I also enjoy the HTML preview window quite a bit. There are various forms on Meetup.com and some want HTML, others want rich text. Using Byword I can generate both really quickly.

Byword for Mac is available exclusively through the Mac App Store for $11.99 with a $4.99 in-app purchase to add blog publishing features.

31 Days, 31 Products: Today

Day 09: Today

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Weather apps are probably one of the biggest category of apps out there. Everyone has a favorite, and Today is mine.

Today Hero

For me the view I like the most is the visual seven day, showing the highs and the lows, using colors to express heat.

Visual Seven Day

Not sure what else to say, it’s a simple app for a simple problem with a clean design and a unique take.

Today costs $1.99 and is available on the App Store.

31 Days, 31 Products: SimPholders

Day 08: SimPholders

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

SimPholders is a great example of identifying a small but troublesome issue and building a simple solution for it. SimPholders is a menu bar extension that helps you quickly get at the most recent Xcode simulator builds in the Finder as well as a handful of other useful features.

I’ve been using SimPholders for a while and it’s really handy. I find myself often needing to sneak into a app’s documents folder to inspect a Core Data database, or fidget with some other resource and SimPholders makes it super easy. This despite all of the latest complexities of Xcode and the growth in simulator devices / platforms.

SimPholders has a free trial and when it’s up you can buy a license for $11 from their website.