My Everyday Toolkit

I remember the days when I couldn’t satisfy my software hunger. Have you had that? That you can’t wait to get your hands on the next piece of software coolness, the next cool feature, the upgraded and better version? Beta programs were my home and when we couldn’t get a legit beta someone in the beta program was always willing to share the latest build. Nothing was more fun than installing an alpha version of the latest Windows again because your blue screens had started to produce blue screens…

However joyous those days were, as you realize, they are over and have made way for a more conservative or frugal “let’s get a toolset in place and stick with it” attitude. On top of that I try as much as possible to see if software I have and know can be used for whatever goal it is that I was eyeing another tool…

This way I’ve grown a set of tools I’m intimately familiar and utterly comfortable with. Those two characteristics in turn mean no lost productivity while learning yet another tool, porting your key data yet again.

Evernote

Back in 2004-ish Microsoft had OneNote. A cool app to store and work with notes. Not long after Evernote came out. While it had some traits of OneNote it had a bit more emphasis on storing notes long term. Notes in Evernote are out of sight so you can easily keep a couple of thousand; note volume in OneNote is visible through all the note tabs representing a note entry.

I switched to Evernote and never looked back. Before the company passed into other hands and started to focus on becoming your outboard brain, Evernote had turned into Google for my life. Whenever possible I make sure I don’t search for information twice. Once I catch myself wishing I had noted something somewhere (say, like that thing you always kept on that shelf but then decided to move to … god knows where now!), I add that information or type of information to Evernote. When did we move to this house? Where is the filter for the vacuum cleaner? What’s the login for this site?

An article on how Target can figure out your teenage daughter is pregnant before you do? Into Evernote. What is Google Caffeine really? A PHP Dropbox client? How to select weekdays and weekends in a MySQL query? What is planning fallacy and how do you avoid it? Where did Matt Cutts say that pages blocked by robots.txt can still gain PageRank?

All those things — and more — go into my Evernote and are in my Evernote.

Besides those clipped articles and factlets, my Evernote contains project references in project specific notebooks. Notebooks with reference material for posts I’m working on or thinking about. Lists of headlines and post ideas in my swipe file. Recipes. Journal entries. Eve-ry-thing.

Over time Evernote has become the first application I install after installing Windows. I can safely handle a fire which would totally destroy my home because virtually everything that matters is in Evernote.

Evernote is free. You can upgrade to premium to get some more features and sync allowance or simply to support the company.

UltraEdit

If there’s one thing about this text/code editor that makes me doubt it would be that its bigger brother UltraEdit Studio has autocomplete and I keep wondering if I should upgrade to it.

Besides that: UltraEdit is the text editor. Multiple tabs. HTML validation. Regex, both common and UE specific. Open from and save to FTP. Save as UTF8 with or without BOM (you have no idea how many weird character situations I’ve solved with that one!). Syntax coloring. Tab collapsing which means that you can use a +/- sign to collapse and expand everything between an open and closing tag: among other things an awesome way to find unclosed tag pairs.

I often open a file in UE to clean it up: I run a little JavaScript that removes uncommon characters; a macro to shorten certain lines; a regex to remove double line spacing. Hop, hop, hop, and it’s done.

In short, this is where I live when I code, whether it’s HTML or PHP.

Windows Live Writer

..is the best piece of (free!) software Microsoft has ever made and is simply the best blogging editor out there, free or paid.

As the editor for Search Engine People I use Windows Live Writer virtually every day and to me it’s the software equivalent of coffee; warm, comforting, energizing, irreplaceable.

If you want to get a quick idea of what Windows Live Writer is and can do for your blogging, picture a pleasant, light-weight, user friendly version of Microsoft Word for blogging. Everything is WYSIWYG with the option of going into code view. Unlike Microsoft usual total and complete destruction of HTML by software, Windows Live Writer creates excellent code that works perfectly together with WordPress.

Image uploading is so much easier with Windows Live Writer; you’re unaware you are uploading. Insert an image, either via the insert menu or by copy and paste, and you’re done. Saves tremendous amounts of time, seriously.

I use the image insertion together with the Windows 7 version of the (free) image resize power toy. Although most images I use are already at the 640px width we use on the Search Engine People blog, running it through that resizer resaves the images with a lower JPG compression rate. It’s not rare to see an image go from a fat 300kb to a slim 50kb.

The more you blog the more essential Windows Live Writer becomes. Without it, adding and scheduling the 10-15 posts per week on Search Engine People would take at least twice as long.

AutoHotkey

AutoHotkey is a scripted text expander — and more.

With it you can do something like type wlw [space] [space] and what appears on screen in the text I’m typing is Windows Live Writer.

Or I can type CM and my browser opens at Gmail to compose a new email message.

Or I can copy a URL and paste it so it strips out all the Google Analytics cruft that gets added so often nowadays.

Referring back to my routine with Windows Live Writer’s image insertion after resizing; I never do that manually. AutoHotkey is setup so that when I hit [CTRL] [Insert] on the keyboard, it opens the file dialogue, resizes and resaves the selected image, inserts it and adds the link back that’s on the clipboard. That’s resizing, inserting, and linking an image in less than 10 seconds vs roughly 45-60 seconds. Multiply it over multiple images, multiple posts and you’re talking valuable time saved.

AutoHotkey can automate virtually any repetitive keyboard/mouse task. On my computer it adds auto capitalization just like on your iPhone. With a stroke of a key it copies something, switches to Excel, pastes it there, and switches back.

It helps if you’re a bit familiar with scripting but there are many examples out there and the forums contain tons and tons of useful snippets.

Definitely recommended.

NTI Shadow & Dropbox

I’ve had it happen once that a big report I was working on got trashed when my hard rive suddenly died.

Never again.

The files I currently work on or with are saved in my Dropbox folder so they — and all their revisions up to 30 days old — are available from other computers virtually instantly. With Dropbox accessible from the web it has to be a very weird situation would you not be able to locate a computer to access and continue with your work.

Locally I have NTI Shadow running. It’s a one-on-one backup or sync solution. It can monitor files and folders to make instant backups or can do so at set intervals ranging from minutes to ours or days.

I have mine set to copy my key folders and files every 4 hours. NTI Shadow simply copies the files which means that unlike many other backup solutions you don’t need anything special to access your stuff.

I’ve also set it to keep a number of revisions and to not propagate deletions.

Between this, Dropbox, and my regular backups, losing files has become rare. This works very relaxed. It’s not uncommon during winter here for the power to suddenly go out. I worry not; even if the file I was working on has become corrupted, I have recent copies and and can carry on virtually from where I left.

Ruud Hein works at the Toronto SEO company Search Engine People. Follow @ruudhein or connect on Google+

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