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Craig’s Little Buddy is very close to being a killer app. It lets users search multiple cities in CraigsList, a huge time saver if you’re trying to track down an elusive item and want to maximize your chances by adding surrounding areas to your search. I live in Houston, so for hard-to-find items, I’d like to be able to include Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Austin, and San Antonio. Craig’s Little Buddy will allow me to do that.

The interface is slick and very easy to use. Choosing cities is accomplished by checking boxes on a pop-up; Select All and Restore defaults are provided options but they could really benefit from a Deselect All choice here as well.

Search is straight-forward. Choose a CraigsList category and/or use keywords, just as you’d do on CraigsList. One of the things I really like about the search is that it displays a list of the cities you’re searching – very handy, that, if you’re searching multiple cities. Each search result is appended with the city it’s located in, another handy feature.

It’s Craig’s Little Buddy’s handling of images, or rather their lack of handling, that keeps this from being a truly killer app. It would be nice if they’d include the ability to search only ads with images. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard for them to integrate as Craig’s List already provides this functionality. Also, there are very few preview pictures, and what preview pics there are seem to be for dealer ads. I do like how they’ve handled the display of the preview pics, however – integrated right into the search result. Another nice feature to have would be to display the full-size image on rollover, much like the Firefox extension CraigsList Image Previewer. (In CLB’s defense, it is most likely CraigsList’s stingy nature that have prevented them from displaying preview photos.)

For the moment, I’ll stick with my combination of CraigsList and the FF CraigsList Image Previewer extension, however, if I was just using CraigsList, I’d switch over to this option in a heartbeat. If they’re ever able to more fully integrate images into the search results, this will be a hard site to beat.

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I Don’t Hear Voices – the Voices Hear Me!

In other news, I read that experiments to beam voices right into your head have been successful. While the story itself scares the crap out of me, the comments are hysterical! Lots of references to Real Genius (you know you’re a geek if you get it.)

TickSpot.com

When my five dogs heard I was writing a blog on TickSpot.com, they were full of concern – and advice. “Wear long sleeves, Mom.” “Do you want to borrow some of my Frontline?” “Do they even make flea collars in your size?” After I explained to them that TickSpot wasn’t a place for picking up the latest strain of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but rather a great website for tracking time, they quickly lost interest and trotted off to see if they could find the cat. (They said it was for a round table discussion on interspecies relations.)

I tell the folks at work that I only have a job to escape the zoo at home, but the truth is I like to get paid, too. (Okay, the donuts on Friday are a draw, too.) Since I’m a contractor, that means I have to keep track of my hours – and I haven’t been so good about that in the past. Filling out timesheets has always been an ordeal for me as I wrack my brain trying to remember what hours I worked on which days. Since I’ve discovered TickSpot, and more importantly, the TickSpot Yahoo! widget, keeping track of time is much easier.

Now, I’m going to make a confession here – I’m not using TickSpot to its full potential. I am pretty much a one-gig woman. I have but a single client, and although my tasks vary from time to time, most of my billing falls under one category. I’m also limited to 40 hours a week. (I have to write this blog some time!) TickSpot more than adequately meets my needs. Where it really shines, though, is its ability to help teams keep track of time they’ve budgeted for projects. The TickSpot team uses the analogy that time is inventory for service providers; when team members can see how much inventory is left (time budgeted for projects) it enables them to schedule resources much more accurately. Ahead of budget? Throw a couple of extra programmers at the project. Behind? Maybe you should give up on that super-cool extra feature you wanted to throw in and just get back to the basics.

The site itself is incredibly easy to use and the site design is beautiful in its simplicity. The widget, too, is beautifully designed and simple to use. Simply turn the timer on when you start working; when you’re ready to enter your time, click the Enter Time button and choose the Client, Project, Task and enter any notes. (The time is adjustable too. I find that especially handy since I always forget to turn on the timer until about 20 minutes into my task.) Click Enter Time again and voila! The time is submitted to the site. Timesheets can be printed at any time. In addition, reporting features are offered, as well as the ability to export data to CSV.

TickSpot has four flavors of paid plans but ifIf you only have one project (like me) and don’t need SSL, technical support, or Basecamp integration, then the TickSpot free plan will be fine for you. Basecamp integration and tech support (plus up to 3 projects) starts at just $9 a month; SSL is added in the 35 projects, $39 a month plan.

This site is definitely a must-see and I’d love to tell you more about it, however, I’m running late for work, and you know, time is money!

Internet Productivity

Lately I’ve been trying to simplify my life, and where I can’t simplify, then automate. My most recent adventure in home automation was to purchase an automatic litter box. Although ultimately I decided on the ScoopFree system with a permanent replacement tray from Forever Litter Trays,it required a lot of research. There were a lot of visits to Amazon.com and LitterBoxCentral.com. (Yes, it’s a real site. No, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.)

In the early days of my job, I could have done my research at work – I had plenty of downtime. But now that we’re so busy, I had to (gasp!) rely on my personal time. (And this is why I’m trying to simplify – because I have no personal time. See how we made a full circle there?) Apparently, though, there are people out there that are not as slammed at work. According to a recent Salary.com poll, about sixty percent of respondents admitted to wasting an average of two hours a day on the Internet. That adds up to a lot of cat litter!

If you’re one of those people (and you know who you are) you probably want to be productive at work but it’s just so easy to lose track of time once you start surfing! The good people at 8aWeek have developed a Firefox toolbar that will help you reclaim your lost time. The toolbar works by presenting your browsing habits in graphs so that you can analyze where you’re spending the most time (see pic at left). If you find that LitterBoxCentral is taking up a good chunk of the day, you can add it to a restricted site list. Let the toolbar know the maxium allowable time you can spend at restricted sites per day and it will count down the time for you. When time’s up, you get reminded.

If something a bit more hard-core is needed, switch to block mode. (It’s okay – you get periodic cheat times thoughout the day so that you don’t have to go cold-turkey. Cheat times can be set up in the preferences.)

The toolbar also lets users save interesting sites to a list that you can be visited at a later time (presumably when the user is not at work.)

Although 8aWeek features privacy functions (logging can be done locally, on the 8aWeek server for additional functionality, or completely turned off.), I am curious as to what is done with the data that is collected – since they offer the toolbar for free, they have to be doing something to make money, right? Their privacy policy takes great pains to point out that logging can be disabled at any time and that user information won’t be disclosed without “express permission” but a little farther down in the “Information Usage” section it says:

“8aweek may use information collected through our website or toolbar for research regarding the effectiveness of the website and the marketing, advertising and sales efforts of 8aweek and its trusted affiliates.”

Hmmm… In any case, if you’re okay with your data possibly being shared, this is probably the thing for you. Personally, I’m hoping that the time I save by not having to clean the litter box can be spent online – at home.

I Dig Dibsby!

I am so, so glad to be back after a long absence. So many cool sites and new technologies have launched since I took what I thought would be a brief hiatus to find a house. After viewing more than 200 houses over a period of nine months, I am greatly relieved that we are finally moved in. We’re still living out of boxes, but we have Internet and our laptops are unpacked; what more do you need?

Since my last post over a year ago, I’ve discovered some great sites, software, and tech toys; today I’m going to post about some of my favorite, and most frequently used, discoveries. First up is the new IM client, Digsby. Digsby acts as my all-in-one communication hub. Not only does it combine all of my buddy lists from AIM, Google, MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, and Jabber, it updates me when I receive new email, and when my MySpace and Facebook accounts are updated.

IM conversations are tabbed for easier navigation (I HATE having twenty little boxes all over the screen) and logging can be enabled for those of us that need to refer back to conversations. (I use IM heavily at work and this beats taking notes. ) One of my favorite features (it’s the little things that count, y’all) is that buddies can be renamed with an alias. So if you have a friend whose entire internet pedigree is displayed, i.e. i.am.a.friend.who.needs.to.get.a.shorter.email@msn.com, you can rename it to something shorter, like “Friend.”

I have 7 new emails! Someone loves me!The feature I use the most, though – besides the IM of course, are the email notifications. In preferences, I chose to have an icon displayed in the system tray that lets me know how many new emails I have. (You can choose notifications for your Facebook and MySpace accounts, too.) Clicking the icon pops up a list of emails with choices to Mark as Read, Delete, Open, Archive, or Report as Spam. Incredibly easy and convenient! Digsby also displays update in unobtrusive pop-ups at the bottom of the screen. Bye-bye Gmail notifier!

Digsby is still in private beta and is still a bit rough around the edges, but this is an app to watch. The developers are uber-responsive to requests in their online forums; since I joined Digsby two days ago there have been three updates. (Updates are done automatically – everything about this app is easy.) Hopefully they’ll respond to my reqeust for Lotus Sametime support, and then this will be the perfect app. Digsby’s so good though, that I’ve kicked Trillian and Pidgin to the curb and just run Sametime seperately.

Other thoughts:

  • Amazon’s Kindle: Are you serious? It has a monochrome display, DRM out the wazoo, and it’s $399! Use your cell phone and sites like EReader.com and Fictionwise.com for an experience that’s just as satisfying and much cheaper.
  • Yahoo! Widgets: I have recently discovered Yahoo! Widgets and I can’t stop playing with them. They add so much usefulness to my desktop. So far, I’ve installed the SoftCode Analog Clock, TV Navigator, CallWave Visual Voicemail and Text Messaging, Yahoo! Maps, Daily Planner Calendar, Flickr, Generic Countdown Timer, Google Calendar, Informer, MicroPlayer, Mind Like a Sieve (a Remember the Milk plugin), Vonageer (interfaces with my Vonage account and makes call logs and voicemail easily accessible), a Twitter client, a thesaurus/dictionary, Zonal Clock (world time), and of course, Yahoo! Weather. Somebody stop me, please!
  • Yahoo! Go 2.0 – Yahoo! has a winner here. This is simply the best all-in-one mobile app out there. It’s fast and responsive – unlike Microsoft’s offerings (I had to uninstall MSN Direct from my T-mobile Shadow because it kept hanging), the maps are far more accurate and easier to understand than Google’s, and the interface is slick and just plain pretty!
    Plus, I really love that it syncs with my online Yahoo! account so that my preferences are automatically added to my mobile app.

    • Note: Yahoo! Go 3.0 is out for Blackberry, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson phones and supports mobile widgets!

Hey, It Is Sunday, Isn’t It?

I’ve recently acquired a GPS unit – a Garmin Nuvi 360 – and I’m having a lot of fun mapping things. Even though this unit lacks the ability to act as a GPS receiver for a computer, and therefore makes creating custom maps impossible, I am enjoying not being lost. It’s a nice change.

I have been spending a lot of time on del.icio.us, looking at sites that have been tagged with GPS, Googlemaps, and maps. While perusing the Googlemaps tag, I came across a site that bible_map.orgis sure to appeal to anyone interested in history, religion, or religious history (like me.) Created by the folks over at HeLives.com, BibleMap.org is remarkable in its simplicity. A Google map of Middle East region is overlaid by an unobtrusive pane that contains selected books and chapters from either the King James or English Standard versions of the Bible. Clicking on the hyperlinked place names presents the selected area. Being able to visualize the setting in which these ancient events took place makes them, I find, more tangible. new_testament_social_network

Another site that may be of interest to religious history buffs is the article Mapping New Testament Networks over at the ESV Bible site. The ubergeeks over at ESV compiled data sets of the many figures in the New Testament and mapped their relationships visually using IBM’s data visualization tool Many Eyes. There’s also a link in the article to a (free) ontology of New Testament names that’s worth checking out.

Well, I’m not sure how this post got sidetracked on to religious reference (it was supposed to be about maps) but since we’re here, be sure to check out EBible.com, a competitor to BibleGateway.com that arms the intrepid researcher with an aggregated search of not just Bibles, but biblical commentaries, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. Finally, there’s also BiblePlaces.com, a pictorial library of Bible lands.

That Dog Will Hunt

One of the things that drives me crazy about having to work (aside from the fact that they frown on wearing your pajamas in the office) is that there’s no way I can surreptitiously pop over to MySpace or Ebay on my work computer. Oh, sure, I can use my T-Mobile MDA, but viewing either of those image-heavy sites on a PDA is tedious, and the mobile version of Ebay leaves a lot to be desired. So I’ve suffered my 8-5 withdrawal pains in silence, stoically gritting my teeth until I can get to my home computer at the end of the day.

But now there’s Mdog, a site that optimizes popular online destinations for mobile devices. I can check my Yahoo email, peruse Ebay auctions, read my friend Emma Sometime’s blog (and even update my own), catch up on the news, and my personal favorite, visit Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, all using just my humble PDA. Bathroom breaks will never be the same again!