3 simple elegant tools

I wrote recently about good design and some of the aesthetic principles from the philosophy of Zen, and which inform my personal preferences. 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. And that brings me to two current favourites: Linkify a script bookmarklet, and Photo Dropper a new WordPress plug-in.

I’ve been using Linkify for ages now. Once you’ve downloaded it, you will need to write in code not visual mode. It’s a matter then of simply linking a word or phrase in your post, hit Linkify which can sit neatly in your menu bar, and a separate window will emerge to the right with suggestions (searched via Google) for an appropriate link. Find what you want, hit ‘make a link’ in Linkify’s window, and there you go. You might need to refine your searching in the little Google search pane which also appears, but the strike rate for a relevant link first up is excellent.

Photo Dropper is for WordPress users. After you have downloaded, added and activated the plug-in, a Photo Dropper pane will appear on your post-writing page. Enter a key-word appropriate to the image you’re searching for, and it will return a selection of Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr. Choose the one you want in small, medium or large size, and Photo Dropper will then upload the image for your use complete with the correct CC attribution. You can see the result in this and the last post. For this post, I used the keyword ‘simplicity’ to search. Fewer keystrokes than ever! Economy of effort and a great result. Do ensure you understand yours and the image owner’s rights by checking out Creative Commons. Rest assured, it’s easy.

The other non-blog tool which is making my life so much easier has come with the genius of a data-detector in Mail (in 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!


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