Taking Notes With nvAlt And Epistle

I’ve blogged before about productivity tools. GQueues worked for me for a bit but my interest in it eventually faded. I tried running my own wiki with a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor bolted on but that solution wound up being too clunky. But now I’m using a simple text editor for the Mac called nvAlt .

nvALT is a dead-simple application. Just pick a folder to save your notes to and start typing the title of your first note in the Search or Create field at the top. There is no toolbar or buttons or any of the other distractions typically found in a basic word processor. It supports markdown for basic formatting such as creating headlines or lists. The neat thing about markdown is it is easy to read in any editor but when viewing it in editors that understand markdown it can be rendered as valid HTML. nvALT has a rendered preview window if you ever need your notes in HTML or to print them out or just to copy and paste them into an email.

Markdown is just as easy to write as it is to read. To make an unordered list just but an * and a space before the sentence. New lines are translated into new list items. Different level headings are expressed by the number of # symbols in front of the word; one # symbol = heading level 1, 6 # symbols = heading level 6. A lot of the markdown syntax was inspired by simple formatting in plain-text emails. You can read through the complete reference of markdown’s syntax for even more examples.

So nvALT is a great little tool for organizing text notes but what else makes it so special? Well, when you save your notes to your Dropbox folder, your notes can go with you wherever you go. Epistle is an awesome free Android app that complements nvALT. It syncs with Dropbox, lets you search through all of your notes the same way nvALT does and it too supports markdown. Now I can make a shopping list on my computer and reference it when I’m at the store. And then I can delete items from the list after I buy them and have the changes sync to my computer automagically.

Previously I would have to email copies of my notes to myself without an easy way to update or make changes to them.

I keep different files for all kinds of different thing: random ideas, WordPress snippets, links and brain dumps for different projects I’m working on, to-do lists, and even rough drafts of blog entries. One time I was at a meet-up and someone was talking to me about a WordPress problem they were having. I thought a plugin I had just read about would come in handy for them and thanks to my notes synced to my phone I pulled up the link and sent it to him.

Since nvALT and Epistle are tied to my Dropbox account one could do really geeky things. It would be so neat if I had an analytics note and every night a script would update it with stats from Google analytics showing me how many unique visitors read my blog yesterday. Or if it aggregated a bunch of simple information that I check often into one place that I could glance at on my way to work.  Using a service like if this then that (ifttt) would be neat for making some simple actions to automatically update notes with new information. Then that information could be in one place no matter where I am.

I’m so happy I found an open-ended system that gives me the flexibility for all kinds of different things while being simple to use without getting in my way.  What do you use for keeping track of to-dos and ideas?

DiggBar Brings Digg Features To Any Page

A screenshot of DiggBar in action.

Finally, a toolbar I might actually use. Digg unveiled their new toolbar/URL shortner today, though it’s not a toolbar in the traditional sense. Instead of downloading an add-on all you have to do is add digg.com/ to the front of the URL you’re currently viewing. How clever is that? The service will take you to a shortened URL, suitable for sharing on Twitter, as well as bringing all the goodness of Digg into a subtle, compact toolbar above the page. From there you can digg or submit a story, view comments from other diggers, bury the story, see related stories or peruse random stories that have already made the front page of Digg.com. Your Facebook and Twitter friends don’t have to be out of the loop since share buttons for the two services are also included. Check out the video below for a demo:

I really like this new feature which aims to take on Stumbleupon and tinyURL at the same time. To make it even easier to use I wrote a bookmarklet that you can use to add digg.com/ to the front of any URL with the click of a button. Just like a real toolbar! To use it drag the link below to your bookmark toolbar.
Update: Nevermind, you’re probably better off using the official DiggBar bookmarklet.

Digg Toolbar

Fuelfrog Lets You Track Gas Mileage Through Twitter

There are many web services and tools that can be used with Twitter. Such oddball web service/Twitter mashups include TrackThis which sends you a twitter message every time the status of a package you are tracking changes, and Timer which helps act like an alarm for things you need a reminder about. But I just stumbled across Fuelfrog which is one of the more useful collaborations.

Fuelfrog provides a simple service allowing you to track your cars mileage per gallon as well as the average price you pay at the pump. Using their website you enter 3 things: the miles you traveled since your last fill up, the price you paid per gallon, and the total number of gallons you bought. Fuelfrog will then tally your findings and provide you with some handy specifics over time. I only started using the tool today but the site will tell you the frequency you are filling up, the average MPG your car gets and the average price per gallon you are paying. In the future they hope to let you compare your performance to other vehicles to see how you are doing.

Fuelfrog.com helps you track your cars average MPG as well as what you pay at the pump.

This simple tool comes in handy for tracking the performance of your car. My parents used to do this manually by writing down the mileage from the trip odometer onto the gas receipt and do the number crunching later at home. But thanks to Twitter integration I can ditch the pen and paper and simply tweet my gas stats straight to Fuelfrog. After providing my twitter username (kingkool68) I can now send a tweet from my phone to @fuelfrog with the miles, price per gallon, and total purchase amount in that order. A handy nemonic is MPG – Miles, Price, Gallons. There is also a Windows Mobile app if you want to be lazy about it.

I’m going to be using this over the next couple of weeks to see if I notice any patterns about my fueling habits. At the very least I can look back and remember when gas used to only be $3.71 a gallon!

(via DownloadSquad)

CoinCalc.com Guesstimates Spare Change

CoinCalc.com is a simple and straight forward site aiming to estimate how much moola you have stashed away in your change jar. All you need to do is weigh your jar of coins, grab a handful as a sample and enter the quantity of each coin you pulled out into the CoinCalc form. The site does a little math and guesses how much money is in the jar based on your sample.

Coin Cup

I just happened to have a jar full of coins that needed to be tallied and wrapped up so I though I would give CoinCalc.com a run for it’s money (pun intended). I took 5 samples of various sizes from the same cup of coins. After counting the number of coins I would put them all back in the cup and shake them around to keep it as fair of a test as possible. I happen to have a small postal scale at hand so calculating the weight of the coins was a snap. My first weighing included the weight of the cup which came to a total of 3.375 pounds. After running all of the numbers through CoinCalc.com, I realized the weight of the cup was inflating the estimate. I weighed the empty cup and subtracted that weight from the previous weight resulting in 2.8625 pounds of pure coinage. The results are summarized in the table below:

Sample Pennies Nickels Dimes Quarters Estimated Total Estimated Total
w/o Cup
1 36 0 10 20 $43.07 $36.53
2 23 4 3 9 $33.71 $28.59
3 16 3 5 7 $36.96 $31.35
4 31 3 14 11 $37.82 $32.07
5 13 2 6 11 $46.26 $39.23

The total value of my coin-collection was $28.91 which came out to the following:

Coin Quantity Value
Pennies 211 $2.11
Nickels 33 $1.65
Dimes 59 $5.90
Quarters 77 $19.25
Total 380 $28.91

CoinCalc.com came within $10 at most of the actual value after correcting for the weight of the cup. CoinCalc’s estimation was more accurate than I thought it would be. The site gives you a good ballpark range of the value of your coins without having to dump them all over the floor and count them out one by one or paying a fee to have Coinstar count them for you.

Speaking of counting, I like to wrap my own coins and I use this little device from MMF Industries pictured below to tally them up before wrapping.

Plastic Coin Counter

You simply dump your sorted coins into their respective slot and the plastic container will keep them stacked until they reach the top. At that point there is a slit where surplus coins fall out leaving you with the exact quantity for the roll. I think I got this from my parents a couple of Christmas’ ago.

(via BoingBoing)