Balsamiq Mockups: a simple and quick way to build mockups

January 27th, 2011

As I run my own technology company (www.zerobluetech.com), when I buy/get software I try to make sure I get the best bang for my buck.

I use a lot of software that was developed by independent development houses, such as DrawIt for drawing vector images or DomainBrain for managing client websites login information from FTP to CMS.  When I needed an application to create mockups, I did a research and I came across Balsamiq Mockups, which is now one of my favorite apps. It is so easy to use that you could sit down any 2-year old in front of it and tell her to make you a web site.

I m not one of those to read manuals. But for some things you have to refer to them. Not BalsamicMockups. You open it up and you can start dragging elements right away; no configuration needed. You don’t even have to draw things on paper beforehand. You can build out your vision by dragging web elements, like drop-down menus, buttons, containers or text. All of this you get from the built-in, searchable UI Library that you can hide for a clutter-free look.

Here is a mockup I created for a client for web to FileMaker connectivity.

Mockups are for sharing, and BalsamiqMockups excels at that. Once you’re done, you can export all your mockup screens at once to a PDF that you can navigate. Of course this requires that your mockup be built with navigation in mind. Configure your buttons (menus, radio buttons, etc.) to take you to another mockup screen. Mockups are a great way to collaborate with the client from the beginning, saving you tons of time and effort. You can have a screen-sharing session and create  your vision together.

The software is very simple, easy to use and it generates a mockup that is very similar to something you’d sketch out by hand, which some people might not be into, but I like it.

The idea phase of development is not to be taken lightheartedly. It’s the time when you grab the mug, put your headset on and tell the dog to go elsewhere: you have to think. Visualizing what you want to build is important and I can’t find an easier tool to use then Balsamiq Mockups.

The price is right, it’ll only cost you $79. It fits in nicely with those other apps you own under a 100 bucks each.

Disclaimer: Balsamiq provided me a free license key to use the software, just because they were nice. So, to return the favor, I wrote the blog post, after I used the software for awhile.

Verizon Wireless Announced Droid X

June 23rd, 2010

As of July 15, you will be able to get your hands on a new Motorola/Google device called the Droid X. If you are an avid follower of Google’s new adventure into the mobile platform, you probably know all this. But in case you missed it, here’s the run-down:

New or interesting features:

  • 4.3″ display, with 480 x 854 (FWVGA) resolution
  • 8 GB on-device storage
  • 16 GB microSD card storage included
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 8 MP camera
  • Swype keyboard (built-in)
  • Email support: Exchange AciveSync 2003 & 2007, IMAP4, POP3
  • 3 microphones (front/back/sound cancellation)
  • Mobile hotspot ability, for up to 5 devices – $20/month on top of your data plan (with 2GB cap)
  • Off the shelf with Android 2.1 (Android Froyo (2.2) & Flash 10.1 to follow sometime over the summer (Froyo is not even released for the Nexus One)
  • Blockbuster video – watch/rent/buy movies straight from device
  • NFL Mobile – watch live soccer via device (too bad the World Cup will be over by then)
  • Offers remote wipe of device (we already had that with SecureWave)

The display and the speed are probably good features to upgrade for already. The camera, though, doesn’t hurt.

All Verizon customers with their contract expiring any time in 2010 are eligible for an upgrade.

Engadget unboxing

Update:

As of 07/29/2010 my Droid X is rooted, so it can freely run Barnacle and provide free wifi.

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Using 1Password on the Android Platform

June 17th, 2010

There is a way to view my passwords on the Droid. Below are the steps you need to take to get this working:

  1. Install Dropbox on the phone
  2. Export an encrypted HTML file from 1Password on your Mac to an easy location to your Dropbox. (If you follow this blog, you know that I have talked about using Dropbox for syncing files between your computers. If you’ve done that, you already have a 1Password folder on your Dropbox.) The export procedure will ask for a password to open this file later.
  3. On your Droid, open Dropbox and open the freshly created file (1Password.html). The Droid will ask you what application to use; choose “DB HTML Viewer”.

That’s it; now you have a 1Password web app on your Droid. At some point, I hope Agile will write a native app.

Reference: http://obront.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/1password-on-android-the-solution/

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Software review: Shelfster

April 26th, 2010

Recently, I was invited to review a new web application: Shelfster that helps you manage notes and clippings on the web, similarly to Evernote, which app I wrote about back in September, 2008 and have been using since. I am an avid fan of Evernote, but Shelfster does deserve some attention.

Shelfster

Shelfster

After spending some time with Shelfster that it is meant to serve as a facility for a collection of notes, I conclude that it is meant to be competitor to Evernote. If you don’t have an online storage facility for your notes and web clippings, this might be a good option for you. Shelfster is in private beta as of now, but I have received 10 accounts to give away to my readers. See the end of this post for details on how to get one.

Shelfster is a free web-based application that allows you to collect notes from your computer, as well as the web and has some great sharing options and community building features.

To get you started there is a video on the home page giving you a brief introduction, there is a quick-guide, FAQ page, as well as you can contact them to ask them more questions. I have spent some time with it, created some notes, and wanted to give you a quick overview of the app, therefore I have outlined some pros and cons for you:

Likes

Easy on the eyes, clean interface
The interface is simple and easy to navigate. You even have a “Dashboard” to see latest community items, community tag cloud and add other panels. I found, however, that you cannot add your own latest items.
Large storage
The initial storage you’re getting with the free account is 80 MBs, which is the double the amount Evernote gives you.
Fast and sleek picture upload
This seems to beat a lot of other services out there.
Source URL
It’s important to know where you took that note from, and be able to go back and check for updates.
Image capture
This seemed to work when I selected the whole page on wsj.com, but not when pasting previously copied text.
Tagging/Searching
This is a well-known feature by now, we use tags on blog posts, in databases and they just make it easier to find something quickly or find matching items. You can tag multiple items at once. You can search by tags, filter your search and even save your search for later. You can share a bunch of tagged notes by providing the user and tag in the URL: http://shelfster.com/tag/user/review?user=ariley.
Sharing options
You can share your notes with community members, your friends by email or even  Facebook and Twitter (email sharing is not very sophisticated, Twitter and Facebook connection does not use API, rather you have to be logged in to post). or you can just make your notes private.
Community building features
You can search other people’s notes/tags, share notes with other members and and even follow and be followed so you can get/give the latest updates of your favorite topic automatically. It also allows you to filter tags, so you only get what you really want. You can also comment on other people’s notes.
Desktop tool for Windows only (Mac and iPhone coming)
This allows you to clip notes from applications, and web site and add them automatically to your Shelfster account. The tool does a decent job, however the window cannot be adjusted, which I personally find a drag.)
Messaging feature
Members can contact us within the community.

Dislikes

No desktop application for offline browsing
I don’t think this needs an explanation
No mobile application
No iPhone/iPad or Droid apps
No web capture from browser “add-ons” (Windows users can install desktop tool, which allows clipping)
Evernote does a really good job at this with the integrated clippers both on Windows and Mac. Also, when clipping, it captured a lot of code (you can see that in one of my public notes.)
No image capture from copied document
No document upload
You can only upload images form a web URL or your computer.
Sharing
When sharing a note, it does not create a PDF of your note and include it in the email, rather you get a link that you will have to go to to see the shared item.

All-in-all it is a very nice application that has room for improvement. Then again, it is in private beta and they are inviting people to test and review, so hopefully they will take things to heart.

If you’d like to get an account, follow these steps to be entered into a drawing:

  1. Follow me on twitter
  2. Send out the following tweet: “RT @agir for a chance to win a #shelfster account to collect and organize notes from the web and your computer”

The drawing will be held on May 4th, winners will be announced May 5th.

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The many uses of Dropbox – syncing 1Password and Things data between Macs

April 15th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago a lot of my friends (and acquaintances) got spammed by me on purpose: I sent them an invite for Dropbox. The intention was two-fold: 1. to increase my backup space; 1. to get them using a free backup solution. Several people signed up and I hope they are enjoying Dropbox by now.

Thanks to Dropbox, my two all-time favorite applications (1Password for login and general secret management and Things, a neat to-do list manager) have just gotten better. They both have iPhone and now iPad apps, as well and let me tell you, they are wonderful. One of the issues I had was the lack of proper syncing between my Mac Pro and my MacBook Pro. 1Password actually synced properly through the iPhone, but Things items got duplicated and this actually caused me to stop using Things. Then the iPad came out and Things looked beautiful on it, plus now I can enter last-minute items before falling asleep. About a week or two ago I learned that you can sync 1Password to many Macs using Dropbox. Thanks to Twitter I learned today that, indeed you can do the same for Things. So, here’s how this works.

  1. Create a Dropbox account, if you haven’t yet.
  2. Get 1Password, if you haven’t yet (Click on the banner on my site)
  3. Get Things, if you haven’t yet.
  4. Move your Things Library to Dropbox:
    1. Make sure Things is not running
    2. Move ~/Library/Application Support/Cultured Code folder to your Dropbox.
    3. Hold down the OPTION key while starting up Things then point to the Database.xml file at the newly created location.
  5. Move your 1Password keychain to Dropbox:
    1. In 1Password go to /Preferences/General click MOVE
    2. Choose Dropbox as the destination

That’s all. This is how simple it is to have your Things and 1Password libraries stored online in a safe place and have the ability to use them from several Macs. One caveat, however is that you CANNOT have Things or 1Password run on two different computers at the same time, because you’d be reading from/writing to the same data source, which, all my developer friends wold tell you it’s a BIG no-no.

* If you click on the Dropbox links on this page, you WILL generate me extra space. If you are against it, simply go to www.dropbox.com and bypass me.
** I am an affiliate partner for 1Password.
*** CulturedCode I am not affiliated with by any means.

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Quick and Dirty iPad Review

April 5th, 2010

I wasn’t the first in line to get an iPad, but I did drive to Staten Island to avoid lines, and got one as soon as it was released. It is a pleasure to have it. I have demoed it to fellow former Apple coworkers over the weekend and they were unilaterally amazed and they all want one. There is no such thing as a perfect product, but the iPad surely comes very near.

Here’s a little breakdown of my first findings of the iPad:

  • Speed: It is super-fast. I mean unbelievably responsive. I open up Mail and instantly it loads my 13 unread items that weren’t there a nanosecond ago. I click on an email, it loads instantly, then I click on link in it and takes me to Safari in nanoseconds. Every app is responsive and it’s not something I expected after owning an iPhone and iPod Touch for awhile. The iPad is much-much faster.
  • Weight: it seems light at first lift up, but it really is 1.5 pounds, so reading on your back is not very comfortable. Holding it in your lap, though is.
  • Form factor: It is large. It’s mean to be large, so you can read your magazines with glasses in bed, but it fits in my Tumi handbag, which is quite small. It is beautiful in every way. The screen is incredible, the back is aluminum (hasn’t gotten hot yet, but I heard it might), the speaker is mono, but the sound comes out deep and rich.
  • Keyboard: Fairly comfortable to write on it in both portrait and landscape modes. The only problem I’ve been having so far is tapping to the beginning or a middle of any word; it will just simply not happen. I can however tap to the end of a word. Selecting full words happens sometimes. I have not been able to have the CAPS lock on; maybe it cannot do it (yet).*
  • Browser: Safari can display PDFs beautifully, on top of bringing your websites to you. Have experienced some issues while trying to view some Hungarian websites, which partially loaded in a frame but most of the screen remained empty. Viewing a website and clicking on an article or zooming in on something is all done in nanoseconds. I’m not joking, sites load faster than in my Mac Pro with it’s 10,000 RPM HD.
  • Apps: there are a lot of good apps out there already such as WordPress that I’m using at the moment to type up this review. I have downloaded and can recommend most of the following apps:
    1. TweetDeck: Comfortable Twitter client with columns. I use it on my Desktop, so it was an obvious choice for the iPad.cannot display Facebook feeds, nor can you open a link that’s in the tweet. I’m assuming updates will fix it.
    2. GoodReader: A full-featured PDF editor. You can send PDFs over WIFi or download them from a link within the app. You can view the PDFs in their original form or view them as text. If you choose to view them as text you can choose the background and text colors, both in day and night modes.
    3. NYT Editor’s Choice: Not a full paper or a full web site, but certainly enough articles to read. It does crash fairly frequently, though, but that’s nothing new after using their app on the iPhone.
    4. WeatherBug Elite: A very nice weather app. Haven’t figured out how to change to Celsius, but I’m assuming most of you won’t consider this an issue. **
    5. gogoDocs: Google Docs reader, exactly as it sounds. Supposedly, there will be an update, where it’ll introduce editing capabilities.
    6. Netflix: Need I say more? It works. Not as intuitive as the web interface, but still very nice.
    7. ABC Player: Plays ABC TV shows just like the web site.
    8. Wikipanion:Fast, logical and you can even create bookmarks.
    9. 1Password: A beautiful application to keep track of your passwords, web site log-ins and other secrets. If you don’t have it for your Mac, I’d highly recommend getting it, since you can sync your data wirelessly to your iPod/iPhone/iPad.
    10. Things: A very simple yet pretty task management app I started using on my Mac, then iPhone, now iPad. Awaiting automatic syncing through a server, but I know the developer are working hard to bring that to us.
    11. Scrabble: Have not used it, but I’m assuming it’s similar to the iPhone version, which I loved.
    12. WordPress: I started writing this blog on it, but since I cannot tap into words properly, plus this app is buggy, I switched to my Mac. I closed the app without saving and it saved and recevered my post. Next time I saved the draft, closed the app, restarted and half of my post was gone. So use this one with caution.

So, all-in all: I love it and it’s only day 3. I cannot wait for my 3G version so I can use it anywhere. This one already has a new mommy.

* Go to Settings/General/Keyboard and enable Caps Lock

** Go to Settings/WeatherBug to change units

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iPad Quiz Results in a FileMaker Chart (with demo file)

March 31st, 2010

All of you who have taken my iPad Quiz probably wondered where the results went. Well, I’ve been busy and most of you probably pre-ordered an iPad by now, but her are the results anyway. I am also including a demo FileMaker file to see how the results were charted. The data comes from the same source table, hence the anomalies on the charts.

Download demo file.

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Exporting Container Field Contents To Folders From FileMaker

March 29th, 2010

Someone asked me today to help export container field contents. The additional requirement was to store the images in unique folders (because the container field contents might not have unique file names). I have created a short video to share the process with people:

I highly recommend replacing your old method of storing images in container fields with a new method: SuperContainer from 360 Works. It has a lot of advantages, one of them is reducing the file size tremendously. I use SuperContainer in almost every solution I build.

Download demo file

Special Thanks:

I’d like to thank the following people for their help in getting me on the right track here:

Steven Blackwell
Lee Hoong
Bruce Robertson

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Adding shortcuts to FileMaker on Mac OS X

March 29th, 2010

I have a seen a lot of complaints on mailing lists about shortcuts – that developers are used to – that are now missing from FileMaker 11. I may not be able to help restore those shortcuts, but I would like to show you how you can add shortcuts to menu items that do not have one.

Click on the image below to see the video:

In addition, you can invoke the “Inspector” by hitting Command + “I”, and you can switch between the tabs by hitting Command + “1” for Position, Command + “2” for Appearance and Command + “3” for Data.

Tethering the Motrola Droid with PDANet

January 23rd, 2010

My Airport card started acting up the night before my presentation. For some reason I didn’t think too much of it until I couldn’t connect the the wireless network at the hotel the next morning either. I only started panicking when I had about two hours left and I had yet to test my demo solution. I ran out to Verizon Wireless and after learning I cannot tether my Droid, nor can I rent a MiFi I had purchased one. MiFI is great if you’re traveling a lot and need fast mobile Internet or if you want to share that Internet connection up to 5 individuals in a room. The MiFi costs $99 with a one-time purchase fee, as well as a $59 per month subscription fee. You can return the equipment within 3o days for a full refund.

Then I learned from a fellow FileMaker developer that, indeed, you can tether the Droid via PDANet. So, this morning I have finally had the time to test it out, and as I’m writing this post from my new wireless access, it is verified. You have to download the PDANet desktop, as well as the Android app. Works both on Mac or Windows. You can connect via Bluetooth Dial Up (DUN) or USB. I recommend the USB if you have a Micro USB cable because the connection is not bottlenecked. The free version has one limitation: will not connect to sites that start with “https”. For a mere $30, you can eliminate this restriction. When you connect it might give you an error message “mismatch detected”. I ignored that and it works just like a charm. When connecting, start the PDANet app on your phone and connect, then connect from your computer. When disconnecting disconnect from your computer then turn off PDANet on your phone so it won’t drain your battery.  As customary with Verizon, you cannot make phone calls while using the data connection. The data connection will stay, it will just not pull up websites while you’re on the phone. As soon as you hang up, you’re back in business.

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