Location Recommendations

While I still use the app, I haven’t visited the Foursquare site recently. They’ve made some changes and one that works well is the logged-in view of the home page which shows you locations near you that friends have visited and recommended.

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Trying out ifttt (if this then that), a web service that lets you create your own automated tasks, triggers and actions from various social media and digital channels (email, sms, instagram, twitter, dropbox, etc). For example, you can create a task to save every new photo you take in instagram to dropbox. Love the idea.

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Mac App Store Launches

Apple launches the Mac App Store. The store comes as part of the OSX update to 10.6.6.  I’m on vacation for a few days and the OS update took a crazy 3 hours over hotel wifi, but I suspect at home in SF, it would’ve only taken about 20 minutes.  The app store is another standalone app like iTunes for your desktop. iTunes is already bloated, so I don’t necessarily want the app store to be part of it, but it does feel extraneous to have another OSX app just for this store.  At launch, there are over 1000 apps, but we’ll have to wait a bit until more software makers switch over and make their products available in the App store for it to truly become the place for Mac software. The store itself operates much like the iOS store, but it’s a major switch from the current state of Mac software, where we’re used to downloading the DMG and install the application locally. Once you buy/install the app from the new store, the download and install takes place seamlessly. Once done, the app icon animates out of the Mac App store and pops its way into your dock and you’re ready to use it.  For now, I’ve downloaded the free Twitter for Mac (new version of Tweetie for Mac) and yes, I caved and bought Angry Birds to see it big screen ($4.99)!

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Loving Instagram

I didn’t think I needed another iPhone photo app, but turns out I did. Instagr.am mimics other mobile photo-sharing apps, but it’s captured the appeal that comes from extreme minimalism. While you can use it to cross-post to other sites (Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare), the web-side is pared down to just the photo page. There isn’t a link to a user profile, no view to more photos by the user, etc. The world of Instagram happens on the iPhone and because of it, it’s a little, pocket-size world of streaming images from those you follow. I’m seeing friends that rarely post photos to Flickr or Facebook suddenly posting 30 photos a day on Instagram. It’s addictive for both production and consumption.

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WordPress 2.6 for iOS

There’s a new version of the WordPress iOS apps announced today. Download 2.6 for iPhone or iPad (iTunes link) or just upgrade through the store.

Lots of new developments, including:

  • Record video within the app and upload it to your blog
  • Local drafts to save posts locally before they’re published or saved online
  • Autosaves
  • New setup process
  • Media library enhancements (additional information about media items such as dimensions and file size, as well as the ability to insert media items into a post above or below your content.)

You can reach the team on Twitter at @WordPressiOS or on the WordPress for iOS Forums.

via Introducing Version 2.6

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ThinkUp: Social Media Insights Engine

Since Feb 2007, I’ve been playing with different methods of importing my social network activity and data into my own database and site. I first used a plugin to import data into my then Expression Engine blog. Later when I switched to WordPress, I used variations of the Lifestream plugin and then eventually the Twitter Tools plugin to import my tweets into a separate archive. But still, there wasn’t one solution that allowed me easy access to viewing, archiving, searching through my data, and certainly no solution gave me a comprehensive view of replies or stats. That’s why I’m particularly excited to try ThinkUp.

ThinkUp captures your posts, replies, retweets, friends, followers, and links on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. We’ll be adding more networks in the future. ThinkUp stores your social data in a database you control, and makes it easy to search, sort, filter, export, and visualize in useful ways.

ThinkUp is an open source software project licensed under the GNU GPL, founded by Gina Trapani, sponsored by Expert Labs, used to help the White House, and built by an enthusiastic community of contributors like you.

The list of features is quite comprehensive and growing each day:

  • Archive all of your social data for your Twitter and Facebook accounts in your own database and make it easy to search, sort and filter.
  • Export some or all of your data including tweets and status updates into a simple format you can open in any spreadsheet.
  • View all of your friends’ replies to your messages, in a simple searchable list or displayed on a Google Map.
  • Check out insightful charts of key stats like your number of followers, posting behaviors, and more.
  • Get a stream of all photos or links your friends have posted, all in one place. ThinkUp even automatically expands shortened URLs!
  • Sort replies to your tweets or Facebook status updates by the location of your friends who respond.
  • Find out insights about your followers and friends, like who’s most popular or who updates least often.
  • Publish a complete list of replies to one of your questions, including integration with blogging tools like WordPress.

You can download ThinkUp here. You’ll need a web server running PHP 5.2 and MySQL 5. See the full list of system requirements.

I’ll do a follow up once I’ve installed it and tried it out. Let me know in the comments if you do as well!

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Minimal Folio for iPad

Minimal Folio is a simple iPad app that lets you present images and video to clients or other audiences. You add images and video from the photo album area on your iPad or by transferring through iTunes. You can then rearrange or group related items into columns and of course, move between images by swiping with your finger. Find it here in iTunes app store and available for a minimal fee of $2.99.

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Twitter for iPad

Just downloaded the first version of Twitter for iPad (iTunes link) and trying it out. On first glance, love the clean, properly-sized UI. Try pinch/zoom on a tweet to see more info. Pinch again to close. Swipe down with two fingers to see a thread. The “write a tweet” view overlaps a bit much for my preference, but otherwise, really liking it so far. If you’ve had the iPhone version, delete it from your iPad, then reinstall from the App store.

UPDATE 9/2: After playing more with the app, I find the sliding panels helpful, but feel like there’s too much horizontal stacking/sliding. It also seems impossible to permanently get rid of a panel detail once it’s open? You can flick it to the right but it still lingers there.

In terms of functionality, there are a few things missing from this version, although I suspect they’ll be coming in the next:

  • ability to save searches
  • delete DMs (and mark all as read). Actually I’d just like to see this synced across all Twitter apps so if I’ve read a DM before, it doesn’t show up on the desktop client or iPad as unread.
  • geo-location for tweets
  • see local trends, not just global trends
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Urban Forest Map

I was still curious after taking this photo of the trees on 24th Street at Bryant earlier today. How could I identify these trees?  I did several searches on variations of “trees on 24th street mission san francisco” which brought up some great local links, including SFTrees and a good list of trees in the Mission district but without photos, making it hard to decipher. I did some Google image searches on species listed but that only ruled out most of them. I did see a mention of a Chinese Banyan which looked like it could be but the many of the photos returned in Google showed bansai versions. After some more search, I ended up at the site of the San Francisco nonprofit group, Friends of the Urban Forest and saw a link to a collaborative project called the Urban Forest Map.

The Urban Forest Map is a collaboration of government, nonprofits, businesses and you to map every tree in San Francisco. Along the way we’ll calculate the environmental benefits the trees are providing — how many gallons of stormwater they are helping to filter, how many pounds of air pollutants they are capturing, how many kilowatt-hours of energy they are conserving, and how many tons of carbon dioxide they are removing from the atmosphere. The information we gather will help urban foresters and city planners to better manage trees in specific areas, track and combat tree pests and diseases, and plan future tree plantings. Climatologists can use it to better understand the effects of urban forests on climates, and students and citizen scientists can use it to learn about the role trees play in the urban ecosystem.

What a fantastic idea. I did a location search on the site for 24th Street at Bryant, zoomed in on the map, checked the map points for trees on that block and sure enough, located the Chinese Banyan trees that line both sides of the street. I signed up and added my photo to the page. Each tree page includes user contributed content such as scientific name, trunk diameter, height, as well as site-provided data like estimates of yearly energy conserved, air pollutants removed, carbon dioxide reduction, and more. There are also two Google maps, one showing a satellite view of the location and another of the street view. The project is also open source and if you’re a developer or want to make a mashup, you can download the map data (links to “export options” above the map).

I’m enamored with the idea and purpose of this site. I’ve been fascinated by the trees in the city and the West coast in general since moving here from the East coast. Excited to be able to learn more about the more than 200 species of trees in the city alone. As equally excited about contributing photos to tree pages. Going to start with my hood in SoMA and places I frequent.

Hopefully, this idea will spread to other cities, with the cooperation and passion of local citizens, the government, scientists and environmentalists to make our urban ecosystems flourish.

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Photoshop Content-Aware Fill Sneak Peek

Check out this video of a new content-aware fill feature by the Photoshop team.


As anyone who’s had to retouch photos knows, this type of correcting and filling by hand is extremely time-consuming, or in some cases, almost impossible (eg. the last example in the video of “filling” the sky). Not sure that this feature will be part of the new Adobe CS5 to be unveiled April 12 and released a month later, but whenever it is, this feature will be worth it.

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Helveticize Your Web

It’s been fun to see new scripts and themes developed to “Helveticize” the web, starting with Google Reader, then Google Calendar, Gmail, and now Twitter.  If you’re a Helvetica lover, you’re in luck.  Get rid of multiple fonts and cluttered interfaces and give your apps a minimalist makeover.  It is just a visual makeover, though, since the UX of the sites won’t change or improve.

Helvetwitter by Josef Richter

If you like Jon Hicks’ Helvetireader and Ad Taylor’s Helvetical, this is another attempt to build upon these designs.

Twitter success is based on the simplicity of the service. However, the website, as well as various standalone Twitter clients are becoming more and more cluttered with useless features and other junk. Therefore, I stripped it to the basics and now it’s the first twitter client I am happy with.

The ideal way is to use Fluid to build a simple standalone Helvetwitter client.

Helvetireader by Jon Hicks

Helvetireader is a userscript that pares down Google Reader to what I consider to be the essentials. In particular, it’s made for looking at just unread feeds in the expanded view, using Keyboard Shortcuts instead of on-screen buttons. It’s not going to suit how everyone uses Google Reader, so you can take the CSS and personalise to your hearts content!

All you need is a browser that supports userscripts (see below) and, of course, Helvetica.

Helvetical by Ad Taylor

Helvetical extends the work done by Jon Hicks on Helvetireader, turning the mayhem of the Google interface into something that doesn’t offend. It was created for use with Fluid.app but I’m sure you can hack the CSS to work for your needs.

Helvetimail by Josef Richter

A minimalist Gmail skin. (Thanks to Johannes Kleske for reminding me about this one!)
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iTunes 9.0 App Management

Finally! The new iTunes 9.0 has an app manager. It’s fairly easy to use but as Steve Rhodes pointed out on my Flickr page, “it is a pain if you want to move several apps from one of the first pages to one of the last pages, but it is much better than doing it on the phone.”  We’ve all been speculating on how the app management might work in iTunes, including this video by svdomer09 from last year. I like the overall redesign of the UI for iTunes 9.0, but the app manager feels a bit constrained, compared to the full screen iTunes store view, for example.  More thoughts after I get a chance to play around this week.  Let me know what you think in the comments (or @emilychang) if you’ve already cruised through it.

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Hitchcock: Mobile Storyboarding for iPhone


I posted Hitchcock to eHub last night and it’s been on my mind today.

Hitchcock is the world’s first mobile story boarding application. With Hitchcock you can have your first story board up and running in a matter of minutes. Hitchcock streamlines the process of storyboarding by allowing you to compose storyboards using photos rather than the tedious hand drawing process. This allows professionals and students to portray their vision to others in a easily controllable and transportable format.

By using photos rather than hand-drawing scenes, you can work faster and more spontaneously, making changes and edits while creating.  Import a series of photos from the library or just take them with the camera. They’ll be placed into the panels you would have in a storyboard.  You can then rearrange panels, record audio, add characters (silhouettes), set the duration, add directional arrows and text, pan and zoom key frames.

This is a great example of taking a complex process and making it simpler with the appropriate technology.  Ideas can come from anywhere and you always have your phone when you’re out.

While I’m not a filmmaker, I’ve been thinking of ways to use this in my work/life as a designer. I see design as story-telling at its best. The design process itself can be seen as a storyboard. I’ll let you know what I discover. If you’re using it for filmmaking or in your creative process, let me know!

Hitchcock is available for $20 in iTunes.

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