Tools

This blog is currently hosted on Blogger:  the price is right (free), it's convenient, and easy to use.  An eventual switch to WordPress is possible, but the issue doesn't seem pressing at the moment.  My feeds (including my blog feed to Twitter) are handled through Feedburner.

The feed to my Facebook account is currently handled by dlvr.it.  I initially tried running that feed through a setting in Notes in my Facebook Profile.  This setting is absurdly difficult to find, and then it turns out not to work very well.  There was often a delay of as much as 12 hours before a new post on my blog would appear as a status update on Facebook.  This wasn't acceptable.

There are many sites that provide hints, tricks, and tips for Blogger blogs. I've been using Blog Know How, which has told me everything I've wanted to know so far, with easy step-by-step instructions. I also got very quick help troubleshooting a problem with Comment posting at the Blogger Help Forum.  For help with the more obscure corners of HTML, I've found HTML Code Tutorial very helpful.

I'm currently testing the Firefox add-on ScribeFire for composing certain blog posts (such as the Daily Digests or Readings which accumulate throughout the day).  There's much to like about it, but the current version (3.5.3) also has, on my hardware and software, an irritating screen refresh bug during scrolling that may eventually be a deal breaker (I've reported the bug).  As an all-purpose blog post editor it leaves quite a bit to be desired, but I haven't found a better free alternative; and it's convenient for many of the posts I write to have the editor function as a browser plug-in, as ScribeFire does.

I've been using the add-on Zotero on Firefox for several months, and it's become part of my daily working set up.  Zotero is hard to classify: it's a bibliography program that runs as a browser plug in, designed by scholars for scholars, with note-taking functions.  Very useful, so far, and recommended, although I've unfortunately already outstripped my free allotment of server space for syncing my bibliography on their server (100 MB).  I experimented for a while with the highlighting and "stickies" note-taking functions that can be used on the "snapshots" of web pages that Zotero allows you to create and store.  Potentially quite useful when dealing with long texts on line that one wants to mark up...but in its current incarnation, it's not reliable:  several times, I've laboriously marked up an article, only to lose the mark-ups, apparently irretrievably.  I've yet to discover where Zotero saves the "snapshots," and the user apparently has no control over when and where they are saved.  For serious markup, I've had to go back to Preview or Skim.  I'd love to have a reliable way to mark up pages directly in the browser.

My usual browser is Firefox 3.6, with the essential add-on Flashblock.

My hardware is a refurbished return MacBook Pro 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of RAM, purchased this past December from Small Dog Electronics (thanks Dad!).  I recommend them highly: great price, quick service, pristine condition.  I've been delighted.

I'm running OS X, 10.5.8.  I also sometimes run Ubuntu in Virtual Box, which is very cool if you haven't tried it.  A free, open-source program that would also (if I wanted to) run Windows as a virtual machine inside OS X.  Created by Sun.  Let's hope Oracle doesn't screw it up or "monetize" it.

For composing longer posts, I'm currently trying out a new word processor, Pagehand, which I'm a bit in love with right now. The interface elements have been rethought from the ground up (thus no Inspectors, for example).  It has a very small footprint, allows opening files in tabs (a big plus when I'm working incrementally on multiple blog posts), and styles are blessedly easy to use. It saves natively to pdf, but can export to HTML and other formats.  I like Pagehand so much that I actually paid for it—which hardly ever happens.

I'm using the HTML editor KompoZer for any HTML in blog posts beyond the basics (tables, for example). So far, so good.

I also use Google Docs for keeping notes and to-do lists for the blog, but am becoming (at the moment) increasingly irritated by various weird formatting issues.  Love Google Calendar, though, and find Google Spreadsheets much preferable to Excel for many small-scale daily spreadsheet tasks.

If you read a lot online and haven't tried Readability, you should try it right now.  Readability will, at the click of a button in the bookmark bar in your browser, extract the text that you're reading and format it in a large and readable font (customizable) in the same window, minus all of the insistent clutter that mars so many websites.  Fast, efficient, clean, and extremely simple.  Does exactly what you expect and want about 99.9% of the time.  I use it for virtually everything I read on the web that is longer than a single screenful.  Still beats the new "Reader" button in Safari 5.0.

Another essential add-on, that I use everyday (and which solved my "tab overflow" problem) is Instapaper.  Like Readability, Instapaper works through a button in the bookmark bar, in this case a "Read Later" button.  I use Instapaper basically as an online bookmark service, but it's very good at that.  It has other features (conversion to ePub and Kindle formats, for example) that I haven't tried.

pubcrawler allows you to set customized and regularly scheduled searches of the PubMed database, and it alerts you via e-mail when new articles appear that match your criteria. No bells and whistles here, but very useful.  There may be a slicker way to do this, but this works well for me.

Finally, I use Google Reader for following the blogs to which I'm subscribed (currently over 125).  Free and easy to use.  No complaints.
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