Recipe Puppy takes the “what” and “how” out of dinner

I enjoy cooking. I really do. What I have trouble with is figuring out what to make, whether I’m grocery shopping (staring blankly at the shelves) or standing in the kitchen (staring blankly into the open fridge). In fact, the only time inspiration really hits me is when I’m starving, which we all know is the worst time to head out to the grocery store.

There are countless free recipe sites online, and a whole bunch of recipe search engines as well — but in my experience, none of them seem to get the job done as simply and quickly as Recipe Puppy.

OK, I’ve got peanut butter, and I’ve got olives…

The Recipe Puppy homepage gets you up and running right away without any visual or UI distracting content. Big text at the top of the page  invites you to “Search by Ingredients.” Easy enough. Plugging in a couple of pantry staples like pasta and canned tomatoes brings up almost 80,000 recipes across hundreds of websites, each conveniently tagged with the major ingredients they require. See a tagged ingredient that you want to include or exclude from your search? Just mouse-over it to get search-refining options. Within four or five clicks, you’re easily building a varied list of dishes you know you can make with what you have.

With advanced search options, a dedicated iPhone-formatted page, and Twitter integration, powerhouse food search engine Recipe Puppy gets you that much closer to a full belly without any headaches.

Bonus: I want tuna casserole and NOTHING else will do!

Luckily the Recipe Puppy developers have also got the opposite situation covered: when you know exactly what you want to eat, but have no idea how to go about making it. Sure, there are other search engines that take care of this as well, but CookThing works on the backbone of Recipe Puppy, meaning the easy same access to hundreds of sites. More importantly, the “Similar recipes” link under individual recipes seem to draw on CookThing keyword search results (for those “Aha! I want THAT and only that!” moments). So whether you head straight to the CookThing page, or are clicking around Recipe Puppy fantasizing about the perfect Asian noodle dish, CookThing has got the decisive chef in you covered.

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One Minute WIN: Aardvark

There are times when the internet’s vast expanses of information fail us. You know the routine: a question comes up (or a debate starts), nobody has the answer on hand — what to do? Ask the Googles, of course. Stuff that’s super specific or that requires expert opinion, however, can be tough to nail down via search. Happily, you have alternate resources at your fingertips. While Hunch and AskMeFi are both incredibly useful in their own ways, Aardvark ’s social Q & A network has been my go-to for quick answers to almost any question since its launch late last year. Two big factors here: ease of use and real answers from actual people. Aardvark gives you four ways to submit a question: on their website , through the new iPhone app, or via email or IM (Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger). The IM integration is one of Aarvark’s genius features, because you’re likely to have it open anyhow. Type out your question, give it a subject tag, and Aarvark’s question triage system goes to work for you in the background, asking people on your behalf based on the subjects they’ve indicated in their profile. Any response is immediately sent back to you through Aardvark, with additional opportunities for follow-up questions if needed. I could go on about the quality and simplicity of the user experience, the high level of engagement within the Aardvark community, or the quality of the iPhone app — but these are some things I urge you to discover on your own. Check out Aarvark and experience a much more human, immediate side of the internet.

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One Minute WIN: Caffeine

(Posts here at SUPERnewb have been a bit on the long side so far, but I’ll also be doing some really quick ones that offer a useful tip in about a minute of reading time - I’m calling these posts One Minute WIN, and this is the first of ‘em.)
Screen savers and the energy-saving auto-sleep features in modern operating systems are useful, especially for those of us who work on laptops most of the time, but sometimes they can be a pain. Running a presentation? Watching a movie? You really don’t want to be interrupted by a screen take-over at a key moment.

Luckily there’s a handy little single-purpose app called Caffeine that  lets you easily ensure your content will stay up on the screen. Running silently in your menu bar (or system tray for you Windows types), Caffeine temporarily disables any screen saver or auto-sleep features when toggled on. And it’s a lot easier than digging into your system settings every time you need to ensure your screen stays on.
Caffeine for Mac OS X
Caffeine for Windows
Caffeine for Linux

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Be the master of your musical domain

Given how we all used to access music even 15 years ago, it’s sort of hard to fathom the fact that we now have almost instant access to any music we want, at any time we want. The recording industry has been losing its collective mind trying to get a grasp on all the technological developments that deliver unto us the tunes… Are you an iTunes downloader or an evil torrenter? Do you use YouTube for instant listening satisfaction or are you into new services like Grooveshark and SoundCloud? And the big one: Where/how in god’s name will you get introduced to your new favourite earworm?
Big factor here: a lot of this depends on what kind of a music consumer you are. Radio people, your passivity means you’re eternally at the whim of chance and the industry — but at least you can get Sirius and maybe check out Pandora if you’re feeling wacky. For active listeners, you’re obviously trying to take control of the situation. Often obsessively.

So, let’s talk about the benefits of tracking our music.
Last.fm has been around for ages. It’s simple enough, really: install their software, listen to your music normally, and it does this automagical thing called ‘scrobbling’ (worst verb ever) in the background. Then on your profile page, you get all sorts of personal listening stats, suggestions for related music you might like, and radio stations that let you discover new and relevant music. Cool. With Last.fm, though, it’s the not-so-obvious benefits that really bump the service up to kick-ass levels. These guys have been tracking community music activity since 2002, and now claim a user base of 30 million — that’s a lot of fine-tuning. With such a broad user base, the radio function has grown in scope as well, and now offers stations based on artists or keywords of your choice, your musical ‘neigborhood’ (comprised of users with similar tastes to yours), and even your own library. Last.fm also has one of the best gig tracking and planning applications in existence integrated into the service. But — and this is a BIG ‘but’ — you can only track listens on your local media player and some MP3 devices (and, if you’re curious enough to dig around for a while on the site, you can activate Hype Machine scrobbling). That’s not exactly comprehensive in terms of current listening platforms.

So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I read about Twones early last year, seeing as these guys let me track my listens on all sorts of off- and online services as well. 21 possible listening services are currently listed, including iTunes, YouTube, LaLa, iMeem and even Last.fm itself. And pushes out listening info pretty seamlessly to Twitter, if you’re into that sort of thing. Hot damn! Twones tracks all this through the Twones Tracker, which runs in either Internet Explorer (up to version 7 only?!) and Firefox — other browsers are out of luck. Not so hot damn. Seeing as Twones is still in ‘pre-beta’ (and invite-only), the integrated options and community are a little narrow, as you’d expect. Radio is currently limited to popular tracks from across the community, your own previous listens, and what’s currently being listened to by users. The Twones team has promised a blog widget that will display your most recent listens, but it has yet to appear. Despite the fact that it’s still in internet infancy, Twones does some very cool things — for a pretty narrow niche of listeners.
OK, then, which to choose? If you’re going with only one, Last.fm is clearly the more well-rounded, better choice. Unless you routinely DJ house parties with your bookmarked YouTube videos, that is — despite some shortcomings, Twones is perfectly suited to the kind of people who think an actual music collection is a thing of the past.

The obvious outcome here is for Last.fm to buy Twones and absorb its features. You hear me, CBS?

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When it comes to writing apps, less is usually more

(This post was inspired by my own recent writing efforts, including blog content for SUPERnewb. I’ve personally used both the tools mentioned here with great success.)
Whether or not you consider yourself a ‘writer,’ everyone has to actually sit down and write sometimes. Lists, résumés, blog posts, emails, essays, applications, letters… We’re all writers in some sense. The thing is, writing is extra super tough in the 21st century for two big reasons: 1) everything is trying to distract you all the time, and 2) you’re probably not always in the same place when you get a chance to pound out some wordage. As I’ve recently fallen in love with a couple of possible antidotes to this problem, it’s sharing time.

Penzu
There’s something special about good old college-rule lined paper. So inviting, so friendly, and not at all intimidating — probably because so many of us spend so much of our youths scrawling class notes, band logos and crush’s names in our three-rings. Penzu gives you that classic lined sheet of paper, full of possibility, packaged in a sexy — and free! — little webapp. 
Positioned as a free online journal (the ‘anti-blog,’ if you will), the service offers military-grade security, a clean and uncluttered interface, and key extras like full text search across all saved entries. Going Pro ($19/yr) gets you additional features like tagging, rich text formatting and even beefier security. 

What really stands out here is the advantage of having your content liberated from the constrictions of local storage, the guarantee of data privacy, and the strategic restraint of the design. The Penzu team have clearly made specific decisions to keep it simple yet smart, and the result is a really useful and appealing way to get those important thoughts down on paper - without the paper. And without the chance of leaving your notebook at home! Bonus: Penzu works pretty nicely in Mobile Safari as well. Here’s hoping for a standalone iPhone app in the future…
WriteRoom
There is, on the other hand, the need to escape the browser from time to time. Sure, we all have MS Word, but the words will flow more smoothly if you ditch the cluttered interface in favour of something something simple and focused. WriteRoom for OS X* ($24.95) has been around for quite a while, but the philosophy is as sound as it’s ever been: write in plain text in a full-screen window that blocks out everything else, and you’ll get more done. It’s about as close as you can get to going back to a typewriter - without all the annoying stuff like changing ribbons and living in the past.

So what’s new with WriteRoom that really steps up its game? Well, there’s a brand new WriteRoom iPhone app. Built on the same principles as the desktop version, the app includes a few intriguing extras that make it a great choice for on-the-go types. 
Firstly, a tap of a button from the Documents screen enables wi-fi document sharing via Bonjour - this means super easy document sharing between your iDevice and your computer.

Second, Hog Bay Software has created an online writing environment that syncs with the WriteRoom app, meaning a single tap of a different button gives you a completely-updated online version of your document that you can access from any computer. The online service at simpletext.ws is, even as a standalone tool, also a testament to simplicity - and a design homage to Mac System 1.0.
Despite the fact that the desktop version of WriteRoom has not yet been updated to sync with simpletext.ws as well, these cross-platform sharing options mean more chances to get your writing done, distraction-free. 

* Non-Mac alternatives: DarkRoom (Windows), Writer (online). Neither boast the same integration options as WriteRoom, sadly.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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