Software: Permute Review

Hey everyone, sorry this blog has gone a little dormant in the last two months. Truth is, I’ve been busy with work 1. For the first time in a while though, I had a down day and felt like writing, so I thought I’d whip up quick review on an app you may find useful! Just a heads up though, the app is Mac-only. Good? Good.

Being a freelance web developer that wears a lot of different hats when it comes to client work, I’ve found over the years that I’ve come to rely quite a bit on file converters. Whether it’s changing a .wmv file to an .mp4 or .jpg’s into .png’s, I am always amazed at how much time I spend converting files that clients hand to me into something more web-friendly – or just more useful to the rest of the world.

If you search for file conversion apps on the web, you’ll find there are hundreds out there and they all predominantly do the same thing: change your existing files into a different file format. I’ve tried more converters than I care to remember 2 but the one I’ve settled on is Fuel Collective’s app, Permute.

Permute does two things extremely well – media file conversion, and getting out of your way.

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Media File Conversion

Any good file converter should be able to handle a variety of file formats and Permute handles most, if not all. From AAC to XVID, Permute will handle 99.9% of anything you need to throw at it. Conversion processes occur lightening fast and, yes, it does batch conversion as well, handling multiple simultaneous conversion processes with the utmost ease. Have a folder of images that you need to change along with a couple of video files? Just drag them into Permute, set your file format, and hit the "Start" button.

That’s it!

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Getting Out of Your Way.

A lot of the file conversion apps I’ve tried in the past had convoluted workflows, making me click a variety of buttons and toggles before I can even start the conversion process. Those wasteful tasks are gone with Permute.

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When you fire up Permute, you are presented with a very spartan grey box instructing you to drag and drop your files into it. Once you do that, you only have to choose the file format that you want to convert to and then click start. It’s so simple and straightforward that it got me wondering why this UI/UX hadn’t been adopted by other more popular conversion utilities years ago.

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It also has builtin support for OS X’s notification center, so that when it’s done with each file conversion, it will let you know with a modal window floating in from the top right of your screen.

What It Doesn’t Do (that you may need).

What Permute doesn’t do, and this by design, is allow you to tweak its existing presets on a micro level. Yes, you can change a few standard settings that you’ll find in any "Save As" process, but if you are looking for access to a HUGE toolset of changes before the conversion process begins, than Permute is not for you. It is meant for the "set it and forget it" crowd – those folks who prefer streamlined ease over sweating the details of filters, audio track separation/modification, color changes, or other high-end production editing.

It also only focuses on media files. Images, audio files, and videos. At the time, that’s all it will convert.

But if that’s all you need than I can’t recommend Permute enough. It’s lightening fast, incredibly easy to use, and I’ve yet to have a botched file conversion.

Rock solid and absolutely worth your hard-earned cash if you are in the market for a new media converter.

Links:

PLEASE NOTE: All images were created by the fine peeps at fuelcollective.com. I did not create these.


  1. not complaining one bit though, it’s a great problem to have

  2. or admit

Software: Sip Review.

If you are a web developer/designer you know that there is no shortage of color pickers out there. I’ve toyed with dozens of them over the years and I recently ran into on the I found to be exceptional. That color picker is “Sip” by the Ola Brothers.

I am pretty picky when it comes to selecting development tools and color pickers are no exception. When I need to capture a color value, I don’t want to click my way through a series of menu systems to grab what I need. I just want to enable the tool, hone in on the color I need, click it and have the color value automatically copied to the clipboard for me to paste into my CSS.

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Sip does all of this (and a good bit more) exceptionally well. Whenever I need it, I use Alfred to open it (or you can have it open on start up), I click the Sip icon in the menu bar, and I then click the target in the upper-left corner of the drop-down menu. After that, a loupe appears and I hover over the color I want (which can literally be any where on your screen) and click it. The preset color definition is then copied to my clipboard and I proceed to paste the value anywhere I need it.

You can also choose a color manually buy clicking the Sip icon in the menu bar and choosing the color wheel in the upper right corner of the drop down.

So many flavors to choose from!

sipcolorsAlmost all color pickers out there give the option of RGBA or Hex, but Sip gives you WAY more options than that. So if you need anything other than the standards, Sip’s got you more than covered. To access the presets just click the Sip icon in the menu bar again and then click the side-loading menu directly below the bullseye and color wheel up top. From there you’ll find the selections afforded you and I’d be shocked if what you needed wasn’t included.

We’ve got history.

siphistorySip also keeps a history of colors that you’ve chosen in the past. Which is awful handy when you need to revisit older colors and don’t want to repeat the color picking process or remember what value it was. There is even the option of sharing colors or deleting them from the history if you no longer need them. The default history is initially limited to 5 colors but you can up that value (or reduce it) in the settings which you’ll find under the gear icon in the Sip dropdown menu.

In the preferences you can also tweak code and color formats as well enable and see the keyboard shortcuts given to you in Sip. Keyboard shortcuts are pretty key to my development workflow, so having them integrated even in something as simple as a color picker is a prerequisite for me.

Taking It to the Next Level: Leveraging Sip on the Go.

SIP Mobile and Export
Sip also has an immensely handy iOS app that leverages your iPhone’s camera to dynamically capture full color palettes from whatever is in the view finder. You can even do the same from pictures you’ve already taken! It’s quite a sight to behold honestly, and it’s a great way to grab color palettes from clients photos or anything that is aesthetically pleasing to look at in your day-to-day life. From the app, you can save and label the palette for future reference or you can also share palettes by swiping left to right on the palette, tapping the share icon that appears. The colors in the palette then show up individually pre-formatted in an email that you can send anywhere.

Going Pro!

With an in app purchase of $9.99, you can upgrade your Sip installation to a Pro version which affords you even more powerful ways to wrangle colors on your Mac. It brings the color palettes to Mac version of Sip and it also allows you to sync palettes via a cloud service from your phone to the Mac so that you don’t have email them manually to yourself any more.

The Pro upgrade also allows you to pick more than one color at a time. Which helps streamline the process a bit more. Particularly if you already see a palette developing in a scene in front of you on your screen. Without the Pro version, you’d have keep enabling the loupe after you click each individual color.

It also allows you to edit and fine tune the colors you’ve chosen, allowing you to tweak existing Sip color formats or even create your own custom formats!

Going Pro??

While the Pro account is very appealing to someone in my profession, I don’t necessarily see it as a “must-buy” for everyone else. You get so much from Sip’s basic offerings that I could absolutely see many people getting everything they need and more from the what Sip offer’s out of the box.

Which is great, because Sip out of the box can be had for the ultra-cheap price of free.

Since incorporating it into my workflow, I can’t imagine designing and developing for the web without it. And with a non-existent barrier to entry, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t at least want to try it for yourself.

Download:

Writing and Tips: Creating a Custom Project Template in Scrivener

One of the most requested posts I’ve seen in the comments section of this site has been for me to do a write-up on how to create a custom project template in Scrivener. It’s something I honestly had never thought of doing until I started blogging in Scrivener using Markdown and MultiMarkdown. After using that system for a bit, I realized quickly that I’d want the exact same setup for the next year (and the year after that). Without a template, I’d have to recreate everything in that project layout from scratch.

It was the first time I’d encountered a situation in Scrivener where I needed the initial layout of a project (folders, metadata, doc templates, etc…), to be a repeatable affair. Sure it’s easy enough to start a new project and recreate everything (easy, yet time-consuming), but wouldn’t it be great if I had a boilerplate starting point that did it all for me?

Luckily, as always, Scrivener makes creating such a setup quite easy.

One and done.

At first, I thought I’d use a previous project that was ideal for my needs and create a template from that. Good idea right? But then I realized that when you create project template in Scrivener, it takes literally everything in that project and adds it to the template.

In short, I’d get the bits I needed, but I’d spend even more time deleting the stuff I didn’t.

So, to avoid that situation, you need to to start a new project with zero content in it (I used Scrivener’s blank template). From here, you need to recreate only the skeletal structure of the elements that you are going to reuse moving forward. In the case of my blogging system, I only wanted the basic structural elements that I knew I’d need year after year. So that meant the folders for the months, useful, but generic meta-data, a doc template with pre-filled Markdown in it that I use in every post, and anything else that I’d recreate next year.

Once you have all of that set up, it’s time to create your template!

File > Save As Template… not File > Save As…

I remember striking out initially, while looking for this option under the “Save As…” and “Export” sub-menus under “File”. But I quickly saw the magical “Save As Template…” option and all was well.

Save As Template

Once you have your template structure in order. Head up to “File” and then look four options up from the bottom to find “Save As Template…”. Go ahead and click that.

This brings up a “Template Information” window where you can name your template, give it a description, assign an existing Scrivener category to it and even give it fancy custom icon so that it stands out the next time you create a new project.

Choosing A Custom Icon

Once that’s all sorted, click the “Ok” button and you’re done. Easy peasy.

Now you can either save the boilerplate project to add to it later or, if you feel confident that you nailed it on the first try, you can delete it. Don’t worry. You won’t lose your work. The template is safe and sound in Scrivener’s “Application Support” folder on your hard drive.

Let’s Take It For a Spin!

New Template

Now all you have to do to use your new template is start a new project in Scrivener. Select the category you assigned to it and choose your custom template. Once the new project comes up, you’ll see all of that beautiful time you just saved!

Prefilled Layout

Now go have a tall libation. You’ve earned it! :)

Interesting Ideas: “Knock to Unlock” software…

I’ve been using this for a little over a week now and while it does have some issues with the LE Bluetooth connection to my phone (iPhone5), periodically causing me to quit and relaunch both apps (on the Mac and iPhone)… I gotta admit, it’s pretty awesome when it works.

There is about a 10 second lag from when I open up my rMBP in sleep mode to when I am able to knock on my phone (yes, I timed it), but it actually seems much shorter than that. I imagine this would be quite handy for folks out there with iMacs that are always on, locked, with a screen saver. When my computer is sitting there, locked and at the ready? It works like a charm with no wait whatsoever.

Other things I noticed:

  1. People out there flipping out about knocking on an iPhone clearly don’t own one. You’d think they were hitting it with a damn baseball bat instead of the knuckles on your hand! Please calm down. You don’t have to knock that hard at all for it to work.
  2. The initial setup is a breeze once your computer recognizes and pairs with your phone.
  3. True to their site description, your phone’s battery life doesn’t take a hit at all. It is one of the first interesting (and awesome) uses of Bluetooth LE that I’ve seen to date.
  4. Check out their site: knocktounlock.com, there’s some fun stuff going on in there.
  5. Before you buy, make sure your computer and phone are compatible!
  6. If, for whatever reason, your computer doesn’t find your phone via BT, don’t worry, you can still type your password in. Though that admittedly will make you snicker and doubt your purchase.
  7. If this app doesn’t make you hunger for the day that NFC (near field communication) proliferates our lives and devices a bit more, I don’t know what will.

I really hope they continue development for this fun idea! As I said, when it works it’s a lot of fun to watch (not to mention it’s a legit time-saver)!

Sold!! Where do I get it?

  • For your Mac, it’s free here.
  • For iOS, you can find it here, for $3.99 USD.

Writing: Scrivener as a complete Blogging System

About a month after I used Scrivener to finally finish a novel I started years ago, I got the idea of trying to use it as not only a staging area for posts here on my blog, but also as an infrastructure and archive of it as well. My system is admittedly quite basic, but I thought I would share it as it’s become critical and amazingly helpful since I’ve set it up. I figured the more basic it is now, the easier it would be for you all to adopt; modifying it to fit your needs.

Here goes…

Each Project is a Year

Project Year

Start a new project in Scrivener (File > New Project or shift-command-N on the Mac), choose a project template (whatever you are used to), and change the title to the year you are writing in. I originally thought I would call it “Posts” but, for me anyways, it quickly became too unwieldy and chaotic. I wanted this system to be simple yet powerful, not muddied with years of content.

Each Month is a Folder

Folder Month

I chose to break my posts into months but it would be just as easy to make each folder a site topic or category. I personally like months because I can generally remember about when chronologically I wrote a post. Also, if I search my blog and find it, it makes the post that much easier to find in my Scrivener project.

This is also a great opportunity to shift to corkboard view and add notes to each month so that you can either see what you wrote about at a glance, or maybe attach a note about a life event that occurred that effected your writing at the time. It’s up to you (obviously). Sometimes I don’t add anything, but I am glad I have the option when I do.

Believe it or not, this is the core structure of my blog writing system in Scrivener – a project is a year, a month is a folder.  Once this is set up, open the month you are currently in and create a new document.

Each Document is a Post

Document Posts

Here’s where your writing comes in. You can keep it simple and write the entirety of your post, save it, and then copy and paste the text into your blog of choice. Or you also have the opportunity to leverage Scrivener to its fullest! A lot of folks use Scrivener for short and long form writing and they should, there’s nothing out there that is better for that. But one of Scrivener’s secret weapons is its ability to export MultiMarkDown into clean and precise html. Which is perfect for a blog’s built-in text editor.

If you are familiar with markdown syntax, it’s a huge shortcut for exporting your writing easily into perfectly formatted html code (what your browser reads and translates into a web page). If you are interested in learning it, you can find everything you need to know right here. The learning curve is far from steep and it could save you a ton of time going forward.

*UPDATE* 09/27/13 – If you are interested in getting Scrivener setup to export MMD markup, I posted a companion piece to this post walking you through how to do so.  You’ll find it right here.

Markdown Export

Of course if you are not into learning that kind of stuff, that’s cool too. You don’t have to. A lot of blogging platforms handle copy and pasting text from word processors into their WYSIWYG editors quite well now, parsing your pasted text into HTML the best that it can. Still, the clean code that Markdown generates eliminates a lot of guess-work (and potential html clean up when a blog editor translates your text incorrectly) and I am immensely grateful that the kind folks at Literature and Latte had the foresight to see a need for it from their customers.

Ok, enough about my love of markdown! There are other tools you can leverage that cater very nicely to blogging. Many of these I am sure you are already familiar with, but I figured I’d hit them anyways.

Word Targets

Word Target

When I blog I like to set a word count target. Generally in Scrivener this is a goal for you to strive for, but with blogging it’s particularly great to know when you should start wrapping things up or stop completely and jump into edit mode. I like to think of it as the warning track on a baseball field giving you a heads up before your run head-long into a wall, or in the case of blogging, becoming too verbose.

Synopsis and Document Notes

Synopsis Notes

I often like to use the coveted right column in Scrivener to add notes, reference external links/topics, or even other posts that this post is linked to on my blog… just about anything else that is useful to you the author, but not necessary for your readership.

It’s a little extra work for you, but helpful at-a-glance down the road.

Corkboard View For Your Posts

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This is something that, once you use it, you are always giving yourself a high-five in the future for doing so. I can’t tell you how many times this view in Scrivener has saved me from digging into pages and pages of text to find that one post that I wrote about topic “X”.

On each card, I add the date it was posted and a very brief synopsis. Make it part of your workflow, you will not regret it.

ProTip – if you do utilize Scrivener’s right column and fill out the synopsis field, the cork board view uses that text as the content displayed on the card.

Meta-Data

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I may be getting a little too much “in the weeds” on this one but, I thought I’d throw it out there nonetheless. As you add more and more posts, you may want to consider assigning meta-data or “tags” to the content you produce. This will help organize your content a lot more efficiently and make it all infinitely more searchable in the future.

Start with broad topics and then hone in from there.

Many of you won’t need this, but Scrivener does such a bang-up job of its implementation of it, I thought I’d mention it.

What You End Up With

As with my long-form writing, Scrivener provides me with a one-stop-shop writing platform for my blog. If it could actually export to my blog (WordPress), that would be amazing! But don’t let that tiny quibble keep you from trying this idea out. With a little bit of groundwork applied up front, you get all of your writing organized and searchable, post by post, month by month, year by year.

One last perk? Exporting a project and getting an entire year’s worth of posts in pdf or epub format. Flipping through a retrospective of the last 365 days of your creative life is surprisingly satisfying to view on a tablet or even printed out if you want to feel the literal weight of your work.

Sort of like a yearbook for your blog! Only without the awkward interactions of asking for classmates to sign it. ;)