What’s a “widget”?

That’s a reasonable question, given the silly history of the word:

a small gadget or mechanical device, especially one whose name is unknown or unspecified.

If you just want to know how it applies to your iPhone and Mac, skip the first few paragraphs.

In the software world, the story goes a little like this:

Yahoo bought a company years ago, called Konfabulator, who used the term to refer to a kind of mini-app. These little apps would show or do simple things — like weather, a calculator, a clock and calendar, a stock feed, package trackers — any single-purpose kind of information that you’d want to access or manipulate quickly. 

Konfabulator ran their widgets in a dashboard, an overlay on the rest of the stuff on your computer screen. You could have them floating on top or behind, or pop out from the side of your display, I can’t remember all the possibilities.

So Yahoo got ‘em and changed the name to Yahoo! Widgets, and pretty soon everybody was jumping on board. (“Widget” apparently has become a standardized term in software.) Apple put a Dashboard in OS X (still there but probably going away soon), Microsoft called them gadgets in Windows, you get the picture.

This year, Apple introduced a feature into iOS and the Mac, where you can add widgets to your Notifications screen. They are a very cool way to get quick information, and even to add notes and to-do items.

With my Philips Hue lights and the new Hue widget, I can even change the lighting scheme in my home! I just turned my office lights on and the den lights off, in two swipes and one click, without leaving my chair. 

Here’s how to add widgets in the Today view on your iPhone and on your Mac

Widgets I like:

There are more on the phone at the moment. We are waiting for Mac developers to release some goodies.

Note: I’ve used my App Store and Amazon affiliate links.

Backup Address Book & iCal, and troubleshoot syncing

Just a quick note of instructions for Leopard.
1) Backup Address Book
File > Export > Address Book Archive …
Agree to the default file name, saving it with a date

2) Backup iCal
File > Backup iCal
Agree to the default file name, saving it with a date

3) Quit all applications on the iMac.
Then open iSync in Applications.
iSync menu > Reset Sync Data
Reboot

4) Let syncing happen. If it comes up with conflicts, review them, and choose the item in each conflict most likely to be accurate.

J2 News #4: Preachin’ What We Practice

A Promotion

Before I get to my announcements and tips, I want to tell everyone about some new promotions. We hope you’ll like these new, more affordable ways for you to get Chicken Soup for your Macs.

System Upgrades

At the end of 2008, I said I was going to make some improvements to our service. Today, I’m proud to formally announce our new web site at j2mac.com, a place for you to connect to us, and to get information that we hope you find helpful in your computing life.

First, right away, I’m excited to tell you about our new, incredibly handy Schedule page. There, you’ll find up-to-date calendars for me and Erick.

Whenever you want to schedule some time with J2, please call 210.787.2709, or email us at schedule@j2mac.com. You can pick an available time — a blank spot in one of our calendars — and call or email our new scheduling coordinator, Denise Rangel. When Denise books your appointment, we are able to see it immediately on our iPhones. Denise has freed up a great deal of time for us to concentrate on doing what we do best. Many thanks go to Lynn Gosnell for helping inaugurate this new system.

Jonathan conducting J2 Lab I
For me, the most fun and useful part of j2mac.com is the searchable blog, which lets us post commentary on the tech solutions and answers that we employ. Check it out when you have a chance; there are all kinds of tidbits for Mac and iPhone users, and lots to help any surfer get more out of the internet.

We have also begun to create histories of the work we do for you. We keep the documentation online, viewable to anyone in our organization; we also share your sheet with you (and only you), and you can call it up from a web browser any time. I’ll send you a link when we first create your doc.

I recently discovered another powerful online gizmo that I didn’t even know I had: Check out this Client Information Form that folks can fill out online, giving us basic contact information but lots of other things we need to know, such as your internet service provider, current models of computers, etc. We are also going to send out some polls and surveys — check the sidebar to the right of this page for the latest one!

That’s the stuff that you’ll see — what web site designers call the "front end." Behind the scenes, we are using some fantastic online devices that I’ll describe below. They have saved us time, sped up our process, and helped us kept each other informed and up-to-date.

All of these tools are readily available, and easy to set up. But here’s the amazing part: They are all free. 100% of zero dollars. Beyond what I was already paying for my web site hosting, I haven’t had to spend a dime making our working lives more productive and more efficient.

And now, I wanna tell you how.

Better, stronger, faster, and way cheaper

This is a promising time on the internet. As recently as 6 months ago, many of the wishes I have been expressing for years — for easy, affordable services that would let us get to our files and other stuff from any ‘net connection on earth — remained unanswered.

When the second iPhone came out, and Apple promised wireless syncing via the MobileMe service, I hoped that Mac users finally had an alternative to Microsoft’s expensive and complicated Exchange service, with its "push" email, and collaborative address book and calendars.

Email itself has always had drawbacks. It’s inefficient for quick dialogue, and it doesn’t let you involve a whole bunch of people in a town hall-like forum. But instant messaging, through AIM or iChat or what-have-you, feels invasive and annoying to many people.

Oddly, I think we have given up on easy collaboration and sharing of documents. I used to work for a newspaper, and it amazed me how unwieldy the process of editing an article was: getting a document attached to an email, saving it on a server, printing it out so others could read it, emailing the writer back an attachment… That was seven years ago, and most production environments are still doing things that way.

Well, I hate to be maudlin and melodramatic about this, but I’ve gotten my answer, and it is Google Apps.

With Google Apps, the members of my organization can see each other’s calendars, and schedule each other. The appointments show up immediately on our phones. We can email each other address book cards, or look up client contact information online. We can keep client histories as Google Docs, publish them for the appropriate client’s eyes only, and reference them on our phones when the need arises. We can publish spreadsheets so people can calculate, for example, the cost of setting up a small network in their home or office. And those forms I mentioned earlier? Incredibly easy to create in Google Docs, and when someone submits their reply, it automatically sends their answers to a spreadsheet that holds everyone else’s responses as well!

We can even video chat with each other, in a plain ol’ flippin’ web browser!

Google’s new service is either totally free — that’s the flavor we have chosen — or if you need the beefier version of it, with 24/7 tech support and greater storage per user, it costs an extremely reasonable $50/year. Their cost comparison with Microsoft Exchange is enlightening.

In addition, we are taking advantage of a more new-fangled service called Yammer, which enables the three of us to message each other in a running narrative that we can all see. Yammer is based on the idea of Twitter; both are geared toward short messages, and rely heavily on text messaging for posting and receiving updates. This is, for me, an important substitute for email, which is too cumbersome for quick updates while on the go. Yammer’s cost? You know it: $0.

I almost hesitate to mention the phone-number service I am using, because it’s now no longer accepting new sign-ups. I hope that Google re-opens GrandCentral to the public soon.

The new website itself is powered by WordPress, possibly the most accessible and versatile blogging and web publishing system available today. One can publish a WordPress blog for free, or as in our case, it’s a plug-in included with my $4/month GoDaddy web hosting package that I’ve had since the beginning. It took a few days to massage the design into a form I mostly liked, and I took a few months to sit on it, tweak it, and work out the kinks — and I finally feel like it’s a functional extension of this business.

I cannot overstate my gratitude to the guys at Swirl for helping me put a new face on our business — Carlos Zapata gave us a hip new logo, and Jason Risner’s photography makes us look way better than we deserve.

I have posted more information on these services and the way we use them on the blog, here and here. Again, this whole on-the-go, location-agnostic way of working was not possible two or three years ago, certainly not with the minimal effort and expenditure we have spent.
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A little learning, a lot of savings

This last year has taught me so much about how to use these new services to communicate with my team, manage my tasks and priorities, stay in touch with my personal and professional relations, and save money in the process.

I know that so many of our clients are paying more than they need to for email and web site solutions that don’t even give them what they need. And I know that many people feel that they aren’t using the technlogy that they’ve invested in to its full advantage.

Let J2 help you, your business, and your household get more for less. Please call us at 210.787.2709 to schedule a consultation.

 

With gratitude and respect,

Jonathan

What email service should I use?

I have an earthlink.net email address, which comes with webmail and 10MB storage. But I’m thinking about changing my internet service provider? And sometimes I run out of storage at earthlink. I just don’t know if it’s worth it to me to convert to a new email address.

May I suggest Google Apps to host your email? It’s free, has a frigton of storage (7.5GB), and has all the bounteous benefit of the Gmail interface, or you can access it from Apple Mail or your email client of choice. There are few comparable alternatives out right now, and none of those are free.

This is important: You can KEEP your current email addresses. In the case of your earthlink.net address, we just start forwarding it to Gmail — either a general @gmail.com address or to your @yourdomain.com. Your correspondents may never have to know that you changed addresses. And for you@ (or whatevertheheckyouwant@) yourdomain.com, Google simply becomes your email host.

You can pay Earthlink a few bucks month to keep the address, but that’s a sucky long-term idea.

Also, the Gmail interface is importantly fantastic. I sometimes switch over to it just to get certain things like automatic organization accomplished. And lemme tell ya, the spam filtering is outta sight. I don’t see spam anymore. One message a month or less, and I can always look in the spam folder in Apple Mail just to double-check I haven’t missed a real message.

One last thing: There was once the perception that a @yahoo.com (or the like) implies an inconstant personality. I can say definitively that, especially since Gmail, that is no longer the case. The service is recognized net-wide as legitimate and unique. I practically insist on my clients using Gmail, unless they are already on Yahoo. If they have any address other than Yahoo, including using their own domain, 7 out of 10 times we get them over to Gmail quick as we can, and they never look back.


Scheduling happens!

Welcome 2009, and welcome to Phase 1 of J2v2!

I’m so very pleased to announce a new appointment-making system up here at J2 HQ. As ofthis Tuesday,Lynn Gosnell has assumed the post of scheduling coordinator. It’s pretty cool that, with some of the amazing web services that have come out in the last couple of years, Lynn — a die-hard Mac fan, as well as writer and editor — can do this from pretty much anywhere — or at least from any internet connection.

Lynn has already made it possible to respond to client inquiries much more quickly than I could by myself. And I have enjoyed putting the mechanisms together to make a complete system. They run something like this:

First of all, GrandCentral (note: see Update below) gives us a permanent phone number (210.787.2709 for your scheduling pleasure). When Lynn wants to take point, she just signs into GrandCentral and points the service at her phone number, and then all calls will go to her. You can even point it at multiple phones, and it will ring in both places simultaneously. We can do custom greetings, custom ringing, spam archiving and blocking… the features are phenomenal.

And guess what? GrandCentral is free! They started out a couple of years ago, got some good press from people like David Pogue, and then the dream of every modern web startup came true: Google bought ’em.

Yet, while phone is a crucial piece of this puzzle, I think we would all agree that voice calls can take time — valuable time — to accomplish decisions that can be made much more efficiently. To that end, email has become the de facto preference for many of us, and text messaging (SMS) works well for others.

What if we could combine email, a collaborative calendar, and shared documents? Enter Google Apps. With 7+ GB storage per user, built-in IMAP support (a requisite for email on the iPhone), and super-easy asset sharing within one’s domain (e.g. j2mac.com) — and, yes, it’s free — Google has built a digital oasis where once was a desert. I have been floored with how well Google Apps has integrated into my business and into the organizations of our many clients who now benefit from this service.

In Google Calendar, the three of us can add to our respective calendars with ease. Lynn can manage mine and Erick’s calendars. We can each keep personal calendars whose event details are hidden from the others, though the “free/busy” information is available. And I can embed our layered calendars onto this siteso clients can see our upcoming availability. I like that someone can send us an appointment request such as “Ted Stevens, retrieve deleted emails, Thursday, 1pm-4pm” and we can copy and paste that into Google Calendar’s Quick Add field. How sweet it is!

We’re starting to use Google Docs to keep a history of our work for each client. We can see these docs on our iPhones, and anyone is welcome to ask us for a link to their J2 document.

Finally, a more new-fangled service called Yammer has enabled the three of us to message the others in a running narrative. Yammer is based on the idea of Twitter; both are geared toward short messages, and rely heavily on text messaging for posting and receiving updates. This is, for me, an important substitute for email, which is too cumbersome for quick updates while on the go. Yammer’s cost? You know it: $0.

Again, this whole on-the-go, location-agnostic way of working was not possible two or three years ago, certainly not with the minimal effort and expenditure we have spent this last week.

Phase 2 is a new look, comin’ your way shortly.

Update: Lynn Gosnell has decided to pursue other projects, so we will have a new scheduling coordinator soon. Also, GrandCentral is no longer subscribing new members.


No calendar events on the iPhone

I added my calenders from the iPhone to my iCal and turned off MobileMe calendars on my phone and synched. After waiting 15 minutes for it to sync, I ended up with no calendar events on my phone. What now? Should I restore?

In iTunes > iPhone > Info tab, scroll to the bottom and check on “Calendars” under “Replace information on this phone”. Hit Apply, and let me know what happens.