Articles & Tools

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Classics: My Favorite iPhone App

There's no shortage of poetic waxing out there about iPhones, e-readers and the future of the book industry. I've downloaded an e-book or two in my day, and I'm known to occasionally curl up with a paper book. But today, I'm a convert. The iPhone Classics app has turned me into a reader.

Just as the iPhone dramatically changed my music and camera habits, Classics has changed the way I read. Before the iPhone, I never carried my iPod or a camera, but wrapping it all into one piece of hardware that's always in my pocket means I'm taking more pictures and buying a lot more music on iTunes. Likewise, I rarely set aside time in my day to read -- but now that the iPhone puts it at my fingertips, I can conveniently fill my downtime with a book.

There are lots of iPhone books out there, and the library is rapidly expanding. Classics, though, takes a unique and brilliant approach -- the app packages 20+ classic, public-domain books in a single app that costs just 99 cents $2.99 (they've raised the price since I bought it). For less than a buck, I've read Dickens, Verne, Kipling, H.G. Wells, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Hound of the Baskervilles, and I've got lots more in my future.

Here's the key: the value of Classics isn't that it's digital; it's that it's always a tap away. The dedicated e-reader (or paper book) is like my dedicated camera and iPod -- if I'm going on a long trip, I'll bring them along, but they're not part of my everyday life. Books on the iPhone allow me to read as effortlessly as I check the the time (the cell phone replaced my watch long ago). My high school English teachers would be proud.

Check out the Classics app, and head over to Project Gutenberg for tons more public-domain books.

Beautiful galleries without learning a lick of Flash: SlideShowPro

I'll admit it -- I'm not much of a Flash developer. I've never gotten into it, and always had great partners and friends to fall back on when I needed heavy Flash lifting for a project. But that doesn't stop me from rolling out Flash slideshows in no time -- and with no Flash knowledge -- thanks to SlideShowPro.

Price: $39.95 for a single-user license (that you can use on unlimited sites)
Verdict: Easy, attractive Flash slideshows without learning any Flash

SlideShowPro allows you to make all your changes to colors, design, functionality and source images via two XML files, which you can edit as static files on your server or hook in to your content management system to allow your client to make updates via the control panel. (More on that in a later post.) It also allows you to navigate between multiple galleries, play Flash video, and do just about everything else under the sun. You can boot up Flash and make your own changes, too, but I love the simplicity of an XML-based configuration that allows me to deliver an awesome product in a matter of minutes.

Check out some diverse examples, all using the same SWF file with different XML parameters: my portfolio slideshow at Howard DC, a photo gallery for The Porches Inn, another slider for Maynard Consulting, and, of course, the SlideShowPro gallery on their official site. An awesome, sleek and easy-to-use tool.

ZipCar’s awesome demographic: 30% of members have an iPhone

ZipCar just released an awesome (and long overdue) iPhone app, allowing members to not only search for cars nearby and make reservations, but also to unlock their cars (awesome!) and even beep the horn when you're lost in the parking lot. But the coolest tidbit dropped by ZipCar's CTO?

Thirty percent of ZipCar members have an iPhone. Talk about owning a tech-savvy, young, affluent, kick-ass market. Here's the full vid from USA Today.

And, of course, ZipCar is an awesome tool for city-dwelling entrepreneurs. If you're ever in need of wheels, check it out -- and even if you're not a member, download the iPhone app just so you can beep the digital horn.

Why we’re in demand…

Back in the day, I used Guru and Elance to get my first web design firm started -- we scored some good projects, even though (or perhaps because) those marketplaces are swarming with jokers and chop shops. I recently checked back in to the world of Guru and found this, posted as part of Guru's project description form by a well-meaning client:

Programming Language:
Yes, I do require a specific programming language.

Desired Programming Language:
English

Whoops! It's one of the big challenges of being a web developer, but also one of the reasons we're in such great demand: a lot of people -- including some potential clients -- still have no idea what we do.

Electronic Signatures with EchoSign

One of my big projects lately is reducing my administrative overhead -- all the time I spend writing contracts, creating PDFs and waiting for a signature to come back by fax, e-mail or snail mail makes each project more expensive and distracts me from doing real, valuable work for my clients. I've never been satisfied with my contract workflow, but I think I've finally found the solution: digital contracts and electronic signatures with EchoSign.

Price: $20/month ($15/month paid annually)
Competitors: DocuSign, ContractPal, AgreementExpress
Verdict: Takes the pain out of contracts and gets projects started quickly and professionally.

My contract creation and execution process has always been cumbersome -- I'd edit my template in Office, save it as a PDF, e-mail it to the client, and eventually get back a copy of the signature page by mail or (if I'm lucky) as a scanned and e-mailed image. It took way too long for me to create the contract PDF each time (and back in the day, I had to crack open InDesign too). It was a pain for the client to print it out and scan or mail it -- and don't even get me started on faxes. The signature lag time delayed the start of my project, particularly with new clients, and I was never comfortable getting only the sig page of a 5-page document, which is what clients sent me 90% of the time.

With EchoSign, that whole process goes online and can be completed in a matter of minutes. The signatures are legal and enforceable (perhaps even moreso than my sig-page-only responses), and I never have to create a PDF again. EchoSign allows me to create a contract template with some fill-in-the-blank fields (like Client and Project), then attach a statement of work to the end that's unique for each client -- and I can even import the SOW directly from Google Docs. The world of contract law just got a lot more convenient.

EchoSign's interface is generally very friendly, and it's certainly leaps and bounds beyond its competitors. That said, it took me five or six tries to get a document properly formatted (I uploaded a PDF and placed signature fields through the Flash interface, though you could do the same thing with text tags in your document). That meant by the end of my testing I had more than used up my five free-trial signatures, but once I had conquered the learning curve I had an awesome, fast and easy-to-use contract that I could shoot off to any client in a matter of seconds.

So, if you're in the market for a faster and easier project kick-off, check out EchoSign. It's the last part of my paperwork that I've taken fully digital, and it's already making my life easier and more efficient. Enjoy!

  • EchoSign -- Painless, paperless contracts