Archive for the 'Software' Category

One of the better Crash Report Screens

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

I had to force restart my MacBook (yea it does happen from time-to-time) and when I rebooted, CodeKit displayed the attached Crash Report screen. It made me smile. Congrats on your creativity Bryan.

PS: I should mention that it was not CodeKit that caused my MacBook to lock up!

 

New Samsung Anti-iPhone Ad – Don’t Be Fooled

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

It's a clever ad Samsung is about to run in newspapers. A little misleading in the fact that it lists Galaxy S III specific features, but doesn't do the same for the iPhone. But of greater significance – I think this ad highlights what Samsung just does not get, or at least what they don't want you to get.

Steve Jobs always said "it is not about the hardware, it is about the software".

Sure Apples hardware is a thing of beauty, but it is how the software integrates with the hardware, and how intuitive it is, that makes it both a pleasure to use and a pleasure to develop for. It's not about how much RAM the device has – its about the experience the user has when using the device. The software dictates how efficiently the memory is used. That is why the iPhone packaging and marketing never lists how much RAM an iPhone has – it's not important.

In the past Apple's decision to limit their software to only running on their own hardware cost them big time. It was the single biggest factor leading to Microsoft winning the OS war. But that same decision is now at the heart of Apple's success. It is a company focussing on experience, in an experience-based economy. Users want, and expect, the overall experience of using a device to be intuitive, fast, and slick. That is where Apple is seriously doing well – it is what their branding is all about after all, and they are delivering. And that is also why developers are flocking to the iOS platform and are developing slick, intuitive, user-experience focussed apps that take the overall iPhone and iPad experience to yet another level.

And that is why Samsung's ad is so clever – it swings all the attention back to the hardware.

Don't be fooled.

PhpStorm 5 :: PHP Coding At Its Finest

Friday, September 14th, 2012


Every PHP developer hunts for the ideal IDE – and in the past there was no clear winners. I personally used Zend Studio for many years which had fantastic code awareness and auto-completion, which I view as essential when working on large PHP projects. But the reality was that Zend Studio was always far too expensive. So every 6 months I would re-evaluate the PHP IDE space hunting for alternatives. I tried Komodo, I tried NetBeans.

Then I discovered PhpStorm.

PhpStorm is not free – but it is a LOT cheaper than Zend Studio – and in my opinion a much better IDE. It is fast and the code awareness and auto-completion works flawlessly. It is also a fanstistic editor for HTML / CSS / JavaScript development. It has a lot of features under the hood that I am constantly discovering. It has quickly become my IDE of choice, and my fellow developers who have tried it have all switched.

The latest version, PhpStorm 5.0, was just released with some fantastic new features. If you have been looking for a great PHP IDE then your hunt is over. And now is a great time to get on board with the Single Developer license currently half-price.

See on www.jetbrains.com

The Tools and Tech Behind Trello

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Have you used Trello? It is a fantastic, easy-to-use, but deceptively powerful, task management tool – and it is free.

Trello also sports a user-interface and backend architecture that is using a number of very modern tools and technologies – which the Trello Dev team have shared with us. If you are a developer it is interesting to compare notes with this list from Trello – how many of these tools and technologies do you personally use? Are you at least familiar with them?

I decided to go through this process myself:

  • Trello – yup, use this for managing internal task lists and the roadmap of my apps
  • Kiln – familiar with it, but I use GitHub
  • Node.js – don't use it on the server, but use it along with npm on my desktop
  • MongoDB – familiar with it, but use CouchDB instead
  • CoffeeScript – familiar with it, decided to steer clear
  • Redis – yup, for data persistance and caching on several projects
  • Backbone.js – use it to underpin my JavaScript libraries
  • Underscore.js – use it to underpin my JavaScript libraries
  • jQuery.js – of course, an essential library for any web-page/app that needs JavaScript
  • LESS – love it, using it to underpin all CSS work
  • AmazonS3 – not yet
  • Vim – not for development but of course for server ops
  • Sublime Text – my favorite text editor
  • Chrome Developer Tools – for sure
  • Xcode – as a developer of iOS apps I can't avoid this one
  • IntelliJ – I use it's baby sister PhpStorm for all PHP, CSS and JavaScript development. My favorite IDE.
  • Charles Web Debugging Proxy – not yet
  • FogBugz – have used in the past, but use a combination of Zendesk and Trello instead
  • Google Docs – of course

So how did I do? I seem to be actively using most of this stack, or an equivalent, on an almost daily basis.

If you are not familiar with any of the items on the list I encourage you to do some reading – even to just be aware.

You can read more about each of these items and get links to them from the Trello blog post: http://www.bestvendor.com/lists/building-and-maintaining-trello-a-modern-single-page-web-app

EverClip for Evernote – goodbye Pocket and Instapaper

Friday, September 7th, 2012

EverClip for Evernote

What a fantastic app! If you use Evernote and have an iOS device then this app is possibly a must-have. As you are reading emails, web-pages, rss feeds etc, simply copy content including images, and in the background the content is added to EverClip. Then when you are ready, switch into the EverClip app and approve each clipping to send to EverNote. And of course you could even send it to a Shared notebook in Evernote.

The workflow here is fantastic – just copy to the clipboard, and carry on reading. And this is from inside any app on your device – as opposed to tools like Pocket and Instapaper which require integration with an app to work. As a long-time Evernote user this will be replacing Pocket and Instapaper for me.

Also interesting is that this app is the first commercial app built with RubyMotion, a toolchain for iOS development using the Ruby programming language.

EverClip:
http://clip.ignition.hk

Evernote:
http://evernote.com

RubyMotion:
http://www.rubymotion.com

Apple ignores NFC technology and focusses on the new iOS 6 “Passport”

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Apple is likely avoiding Near Field Communications (NFC) – too many security implications. The new "Passport" feature in iOS 6 offers similar functionality without the need for special hardware. Passport is not an App – it is a framework, with the potential to enable developers to create tools for ticketing, payment/POS, loyalty cards and coupon systems.

The potential growth of iOS Apps in the retail sector is all good news for Apple. Whether other platforms can adopt a similar approach, or whether Passport might be handicapped by being iOS only, remains to be seen.

See on www.appleinsider.com

IFTTT / Put the internet to work for you.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Harness the power of IFTTT – If This Then That. This tool combines 50 different "channels" together and allows you to create rules to make them work together.

For example – if I am tagged in a photo in Facebook, then save that photo to Dropbox. Or if the weather status changes to Rain then send me an SMS. Or if I get a new follower on Twitter then say thanks

The options are endless, as can be seen by a quick glance down the lair of community shared recipes: https://ifttt.com/recipes

This tool has a lot of potential – definitely worth filing away for the day you need to make these services work together.

See on ifttt.com

moneyStrands – Another Free Budgeting Tool

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

moneyStrandsI just recently wrote a detailed review of online budgeting software targeted at New Zealanders. And this morning I discovered moneyStrands.

I have not had a chance to play with this much in detail as yet but I have been impressed with every single part of my exposure to this tool so far. The website is fantastic, the software looks intuitive, and the features look very impressive. Comprehensive budgeting, alerts, and reports. Compare your budgets and spending behaviour to the wider community. Budgeting and spending recommendations targeted to you based on your activity history. So new things in here not found in any of the software I have reviewed in the past.

And yes it does offer automatic bank feeds for ANZ, Westpac, ASB, TSB – and maybe others.

Oh wait – and there is a native iPhone app for moneyStrands that at first glance is one of the nicest looking iPhone apps I have seen.

Looks like Mint.com for New Zealand may have arrived. In fact one reviewer said:

When put head to head with its competitor, mint.com, we believe that moneyStrands is a more complete personal finance app and much more user-friendly.

Stay tuned for a more detailed review in the future – I am off to have a play…

UPDATE: I have now spent some time in moneyStrands. It is a nice start, but a few key features are missing such as recurring budget items, being able to see upcoming bill payments, and any type of forecasting. It is basically a ASB "Track My Spending" on steroids. If you want to be able to categorise your spending and compare your budget to a wider community then moneyStrands is for you. If you need more functionality (as I do) then you should be looking at tools such as Buxfer, PocketSmith and others that I reviewed in my last post.

Online Budgeting Software for New Zealand

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Recently a good friend asked me if I had heard of "Mint.com" – which turned out to be a free online budgeting tool. I hadn't heard of it, and further investigation into the topic of personal finance management software opened a whole new world to me. I had no idea that there were so many online tools out there to help us with personal finance, and many of them are free.

In the wake of the recession, and acknowledging that most New Zealanders are not the best at managing their personal finances, I frankly cannot believe how little attention these tools have received.

And so I thought I would share some of my findings – with my primary focus on tools that are relevant to New Zealanders.

There are six tools that I will highlight:

  1. PocketSmith
  2. Xero Personal
  3. ANZ MoneyManager
  4. Buxfer
  5. ASB Track My Spending
  6. Kiwibank heaps!

Why is Mint.com (mentioned at the outset) not on this list? Mint is probably the most widely known and popular tool in this area, but not in New Zealand. Mint requires automatic feeds of transaction data from banks before you can use their software – and they have not enabled support for any New Zealand banks yet for various reasons. With their recent takeover by Intuit (who make Quicken) who knows how long it will be before they look at supporting New Zealand.

I should also mention at this stage that each of the tools I am reviewing support transaction files from New Zealand banks. Some via manual import. Some via additional tools like a Firefox plugin to automate the process of exporting and importing data from your Internet Banking website. And yes, some do offer automatic transaction feeds from the bank.

Automatic transaction feeds are of course the ideal world, but traditionally online budgeting tools have not integrated with New Zealand bank feeds. But that is changing. You will find that one or more of the tools I review offer automatic transaction feeds for ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Kiwibank, Westpac, National Bank and TSB. I would recommend however that you do not limit your personal review of these tools to only those that offer automatic data feeds for your bank. Each of these tools are quite different in how they approach the problem of budgeting and personal finance. The basic concepts are of course the same, but I suggest you look at each one to see which interface and approach seems most logical and appealing to you.

So, on with the reviews…

PocketSmith

Price: Basic: Free, Premium: NZ$8/month, Super: NZ$19/month

NZ Bank Feeds: None

Based in Dunedin, New Zealand, PocketSmith was launched in 2008 and is very popular. The secret to PocketSmith is its focus on budgeting events around your calendar, a familiar and intuitive interface to most users. By entering in your current, future and recurring financial events, PocketSmith can start to forecast and predict your spending and financial position at any point in time.

PocketSmith supports manual imports of OFX, QIF, or CSV files from your bank. It can then match your planned spending against your actual spend – allowing you to closely monitor your spending behaviour and learn from it.

One feature I really like about PocketSmith is ability to set goals – for example "Save $1000″ or "New Suit $500″. PocketSmith will tell you how long until it will be until you can afford the suit, or until you achieve your goal based on scheduled spending.

PocketSmith also offers optimised interfaces for the iPhone and any device that supports the Opera Mini browser.

PocketSmith Website: www.pocketsmith.com

Xero Personal (Coming early 2010)

Price: Unknown, estimates are less than NZ$5 per month

NZ Bank Feeds: BNZ initially, other banks to follow

Put your hand up if you have not heard of Xero? Xero was launched in 2006 and is one of the fastest growing online companies in New Zealand. Their primary focus has been on online accounting software for small businesses, and they have been very successful in this area. The good news is that Xero is currently building a new package, "Xero Personal", that is to be released "early 2010″. You can read the press release here.

What will Xero Personal offer in terms of functionality? Let Xero answer:

"In terms of what the software does, we wanted to go past the initial hit of just classifying transactions and seeing the depressing reality of what you spend your money on. We want to create a new service that people use each week to set their goals and track progress. We want to change how people save and how they act with their money. All of us were blown away when our interaction team walked us through the early designs several months ago. We think we’ve built a tool that people will enjoy using again and again."

Not very specific, but looking over the main Xero software certainly gives us an idea of what they can achieve. I am looking forward to seeing what Xero Personal will offer when it is released – but the reality is that I bank with ANZ, so the lack of automatic transaction feeds from ANZ will be a show-stopper for me in the short-term.

You can get notified when Xero Personal is released by registering your interest: http://www.xero.com/personal/

ANZ MoneyManager

Price: Free

NZ Bank Feeds: ANZ, ASB, Westpac, TSB, National Bank

ANZ MoneyManager was launched in Beta in October 2008, and went live in February 2009.  OK so this one blew me away when I found it. I could not believe the functionality offered, the fact that it was free, and that it automatically pulled transaction data down from five mainstream NZ banks. Since I am an ANZ customer I was initially incredulous that I had not heard of it before.

So what's the catch? Unfortunately there is one. ANZ MoneyManager has been targeting the Australian market, and so all transactions and dollar amounts are shown in AUD – even for New Zealand bank accounts. Fortunately this limitation is about to be fixed. I received an email from the Support Team at ANZ MoneyManager just today:

We are currently investigating having the option to change the base currency – and we endeavour to have this available early in the new year.

So – moving past the current AUD issue, what does this software offer in terms of functionality? Well the key features I like are:

  • Categorise and colour-code your transactions to see where you are spending your money
  • Set budget goals and category spending limits
  • Receive automated Budget Alerts when you have an upcoming bill, when you are close to your budget limits or have spent over budget
  • View a multitude of reports to analyse spending, expenses, planned vs actual spending

I like the fact that ANZ MoneyManager integrates with so many different New Zealand banks, not just ANZ. In reality many households use more than one bank and there is a definite advantage in being able to pull all accounts together into one system to get a combined view and manage them centrally.

Unlike PocketSmith however ANZ MoneyManager does not have a strong focus on forecasting and setting financial goals. Perhaps we will see this in the future.

ANZ MoneyManager Website: www.anzmoneymanager.com

Buxfer

Price: Basic: Free, Plus: US$2.79/month, Pro: US$3.79/month

NZ Bank Feeds: ANZ, Firefox plugin for other banks

Moving outside of New Zealand and Australian development efforts, there is a plethora of online budgeting tools. I found at least 20 very quickly. However it does not take long to narrow down the list based on features required and user feedback.

One tool that I zoomed in on is the very popular "Buxfer" – a name derived from the amalgamation of "bucks" and "transfer".

What attracted me to Buxfer?

  • Security – Buxfer offers a lot of flexibility around how it handles your login credentials and how it stores your transaction data. You can have Buxfer encrypt and store your details on their servers, which is what most tools offer by default. Or you can optionally use Google Gears to store your bank account details and transaction data on your local computer, with nothing stored on Buxfer's servers. You can also optionally login to Buxfer using your existing Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Windows Live, AOL, or OpenID – your login is entirely processed by the corresponding service, and your password for that account is not stored by Buxfer.
  • Automatic Transaction Feeds – Yes, Buxfer offers automatic data feeds for ANZ bank accounts. These are incredibly simple to set up inside Buxfer, which will then pull down the transactions each night. But what if you are not with ANZ? Buxfer also offers a Firefox Plugin called "Firebux" that can automatically pull down transaction data from any bank account. And it securely stores the sync details on your local computer – not on the Buxfer servers. And of course it allows manual import of data files from your bank as well.
  • Simple Transaction Tagging – Buxfer shines at the simple way that it allows "tags" to be added to any transaction. And it remembers which tags were used for different transactions – so the next time you purchase food at McDonald's it will automatically tag it with "Food" or "Takeaways" or whatever you choose. It is quick and easy.
  • Budgeting – You can create weekly, monthly and yearly budgets in Buxfer. Set per-category spending limits and Buxfer will help you stay within those limits by monitoring your expenses and sending real-time alerts on your mobile device. You can also receive a weekly Budget Report which gives a quick breakdown of your budgeted vs actual spending for the week.
  • Bill Reminders – It is incredibly handy to be able to see a list of when your next bill is due, or to look at your Calendar to view bill payments for the month or week. Buxfer also optionally sends out email reminders when your bills are due.
  • Forecasting (Pro version only) – You can pick any point in time, say 5 months away, and Buxfer will show you your forecast financial position based on today's balance, projected income, pending transactions, and scheduled bills.
  • Reporting – Any budgeting tool needs solid reports, and Buxfer has all the basics covered and more. The ones I use on a daily basis include the Budget Progress, Income Breakdown, Expense Breakdown, Trend Report (Income vs Expenditure) and the Projections report. I also enjoy zooming in on the transaction categories and sub-categories to see where my money is going.
  • Interfaces – You can interact with Buxfer in a multitude of ways – from any mobile, iPhone, Blackberry to using Twitter, Facebook, or SMS. There is a Google Gadget that can be integrated with your personalised iGoogle Home Page and other tools. There is even an API for developers to work with.

I am using Buxfer as my personal finance manager for the above reasons, so forgive me if I went into more detail on Buxfer than I have some of the other tools I am reviewing. The only feature I really miss from Buxfer is the ability to set goals such as a purchase, or savings goals – a bit like PocketSmith offers. The Projections/Forecasting functionality partially fills this gap in the meantime.

Buxfer Website: www.buxfer.com

ASB Track My Spending

Price: Free to ASB Customers

NZ Bank Feeds: ASB

In August 2009 ASB released the new "Track My Spending" functionality to their existing customers. The functionality offered by Track My Spending is very simple:

  1. Code items via your online bank statements into Categories
  2. View graphs that show exactly where your money goes (by Category)
  3. See whether you are getting ahead each month or spending more than you receive via the "Money-In vs Money-Out" report

I have wondered for a long time why this type of functionality is not offered by default on Internet Banking websites – they are after all supposed to be helping us with personal finance, so it seems a logical fit. So congratulations to ASB on being the first New Zealand bank to get this under way.

You can read the press release here: https://www.asb.co.nz/story18179.aspx

Kiwibank heaps!

Price: Free to Kiwibank Customers

NZ Bank Feeds: Kiwibank

heaps! was launched on 26 November 2009, and is available to Kiwibank customers who are being progressively invited to participate. It is being developed Kiwibank in partnership with Social Capital.

heaps! has all your Kiwibank account and transactional information from internet banking, and it helps you to organise your spending into categories. You can then set and easily manage a budget, and also create and track your progress on goals.

Again, it is fantastic to see a bank offering this service to their clients.

heaps! Website: www.heaps.co.nz

——

It is very exciting to see this type of software becoming available, and at a price-point that there is no excuse for people not to budget and manage their finances better. Please spread the word!

Are there any other tools out there that I have missed? If so, please leave a comment and let me know.

Ext.air – Blurring the line between Adobe AIR and Ext JS

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

By now you should be very aware of Adobe AIR which allows Web Developers to use their existing skill-set to develop desktop applications for Windows, OS X and Linux. This means that anybody who knows HTML, JavaScript and CSS can easily start developing desktop applications. And if you add Ext JS to the equation then you get an impressive JavaScript library and whole set of interface widgets that work tightly with Adobe AIR out of the box. Ext JS and Adobe AIR are made for other, and it is good news to hear that Adobe and Ext are officially working together to take things to the next level.

As a result of collaberation between Ext JS and Adobe, several impressive enhancements to the Ext.air package were just released. These enhancements allow even better control of AIR and the desktop via easy to use JavaScript calls.

For example to play a music file:

var mp = new Ext.air.MusicPlayer();
mp.adjustVolume(0.5);
mp.play(url);

Or to tell your application to launch on system startup:

Ext.air.App.launchOnStartup(true);

Additional enhancements allow you to easily control desktop windowing, video, system notifications and alerts and even the clipboard.

You can learn more about Ext JS here.
You can learn more about Adobe AIR here.