3 Simply Elegant Tools: redux

A year ago I wrote about a few tools I was then using to make blogging simpler. I’ve updated the original post 3 Simple Elegant Tools because in that year I’ve added a few more clever apps to my digital toolbox and tossed others. It’s probably also not a bad idea to revisit and revise posts from time to time. I’ve left the original post rather than deleting it, since I like to leave posts like this as a marker of where my adventures had led me at the time.

Report Card

I wrote recently about good design and some of the aesthetic principles from the philosophy of Zen which inform my personal design preferences and work flow. I wanted to recommend a couple of small tools which fit the bill in terms of ease of use and elegance. I find myself calling on them constantly for their convenience and reliability. They save time, and they just plain work. What’s more they are fine time savers with a purpose.

A couple of dozen years ago, I recall reading a discussion on the freedom word-processing provided writers. There would now be more time to be creative and there would be less time spent rewriting from scratch, and fixing mistakes in various laborious ways … erasers, liquid-paper, Typpex and variations on ripping paper from the typewriter, balling it and tossing across a room. Of course good writing insists on constant editing … I’ve just cut, pasted and rewritten several of the sentences above, but writing, editing and rewriting are now a synchronous activity thanks to the tools under your fingers. There are hundreds of applications and digital tools lurking in menu bars or hovering as invisible plug-ins on blogs. They exist simply to make your job a little easier, and to give you more time to be creative … or just more time.

With changes to WordPress versions or the arrival of newer plug-ins and add-ons (FireFox tools) it’s inevitable that a slicker, more efficient, more elegant … simply better tool will come along. The speed with which new apps are created, modified, used for a while and replaced by others is quite breathtaking. We’re fickle with a purpose on the web. I’ve kept my deactivated plugins on my WordPress backend. There are now quite a few. The newer arrivals will keep their activated status until I find something better, or they stop working. Plugins sometimes don’t play nicely with one another; this is another reason for tossing one and substituting it with a more amenable workmate.

A year ago I was using Linkify a script bookmarklet, and Photo Dropper a WordPress plug-in because I like adding ‘value’ to a blog post via hotlinks to other sites.  Part of the value of a blog entry lies in its potential to lead readers to pursue the post’s theme beyond the confines of my comments.  Now Linkify did it with ease, but I’m sad to say it broke somewhere along the way, and then along came Zemanta … more of that in a minute.

I pretty much always use images in a post to prod the imagination – you know, a picture is worth a thousand words etc. Images also help the aesthetics of the page design. A year on, rather than PhotoDropper and Linkify I’m using Zemanta which is free.  Based on keywords from my post Zemanta not only searches my own and other relevant Creative Commons licensed Flickr images for material, it also suggests relevant and recent links and other posts elsewhere on the web from which, once again, you get to choose. One click on each word or article’s link and they appear as hotlinks in the post or links to those other articles after your own post.  There’s a video tutorial here on how it works.

For a while I had PicApp, a WP plugin installed. If you’re interested here’s a useful Vimeo video tutorial on how PicApp works. I have to say I don’t use it because I don’t like the Google ads that pop up with the image. If you don’t mind ads as the price for a huge collection of searchable images, then go for it. Wherever I can, I use my own images which sit on my Flickr homepage. These are ‘grabbed’ by Zemanta and flow in along with its other choices in the right sidebar from where I can click and insert wherever I choose into the post.

I still love the other non-blog tool which continues making my life so much easier- the data-detector in Mail OS-X Leopard. Hover your mouse over any date or time, even a relative date like ‘tomorrow’ in a Mail message and a drop-down menu appears. Click to add to iCal. That’s it. What this essential interconnectedness does is to get appointments from Mail into my iPhone with a click. It does the same for any phone number in a Mail message. How’s that for elegant simplicity! Yes, I am showing my Apple fangirl status here, but that’s one of the reasons I use Apple products – for their elegance, simplicity and utility.

PS I also use iStock for images when Zemanta doesn’t fit the bill; iStock is not cheap, but the quality of its images and the searchable database of its collection make it a pleasure to use – another time saver.

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