Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brian Eno again!

Hmm, it seems that Brian Eno is circling my world injecting little pieces of brilliance. Not for the first time, I might add.

Brian Eno is one of those people who has not only done some brilliant things in his own right but has also worked with and affected other people whose work I appeciate such as David Byrne, David Bowie and Robert Fripp.

He also works in a number of creative areas.

Over the last 12 months I've come across more and more of his work influencing me. First, it was getting a set of "Oblique Strategy" cards then a copy of his "Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now", then he re-released "77 Million Paintings" with better morphing and better layered sound. then there was his new album with David Byrne, someone made "Oblique Strategies" for the iPhone and he worked on the music of "Spore".

Now he has developed a music application for the iPhone called 'Bloom' that is the most superb tool for creating 'generative music.' Given that he could be considered one of the founders of generative music I guess it's not that surprising.

If you 'play' Bloom the software provides a soft, slightly and slowly varying tone and you play notes by tapping the screen. It appears you can have chords of at least four notes. The notes you tap are repeated after a delay and they too will slowly alter. After a few minutes practice it is possible to create some interesting and original music that would be best described as "ambient". It is almost perfect for playing while you do some creative work if you are one of those (like me) who does not like strong melody and catchy lyrics while working. For a small amount of money this is just great software.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ooooh, Bento 2, pretty!!

I have to admit to being a total database geek. I spent a number of years working with various database libraries for C, including a couple of strong SQL ones. I spent a number of years working with FileMaker and I'm a big fan of it. Tha'ts not to say I don't constantly gripe about FileMaker and have a fairly long wish list, just that I think it is one of the best database systems out there for fast development of applications.

I've also seen a lot of users out there build FileMaker apps themselves. They go to the "Corporate Applications" or "Enterprise Applications" team to be told that it will be two years before they get a product so they build something to "get the job done" in FileMaker and three years down the track Exterprise Applications complain that they are using an "unsupported" product.

I did see one large enterprise that had a small FileMaker Pro development team to support sers in this and they could then show Enterprise Applications a working prototype with screens and reports the users liked. Halved the time it took EA to implement

In support one of the things that constantly amazes you is how many people are using huge spreadsheets to handle data. I remember one guy who insisted on downgrading his version of Office because the new Excel would only support 32,760 odd rows and that was smaller than his data set.

These users need a tool that is simpler than FileMaker Pro, easily imports data from Excel and provides real database power. Exactly the market that FileMaker Inc. are targetting with Bento 2.

The first version was a good tool, version two is that much better - particularly at the critical task of importing from spreadsheets.

It even has the facility to view, edit and otherwise use your iCal and Address Book data. Mail integration is there but needs a little more work - at the moment you can only link to messages that have to be opened in Mail.

It looks good, is certainly usable and has some good templates. Recommended for everyone currently using Excel for data. If you are, or otherwise want an easy to use database system go to FileMaker's Bento overview where you can get more details, view some stuff, download a demo or buy it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Triiibes in Macintosh space

Recently I’ve been taking part in a number of discussion about tribes, bought into being around Seth Godin’s new book, “Tribes”.

Now I’m not a marketing guru. In fact I know almost nothing about marketing. So take my words as one who speaks as a layman.

Seth has some great ideas about what constitutes a tribe, how to build a tribe and how to use a tribe in marketing - both as a target and a tool.

This was all good information for me as I am trying to build an online tribe.

In my day to day working environment I find myself fairly well isolated. I’m the sole Macintosh expert in the entire central IT department at a major university. There are some people who know a little more than average about the Mac but I am the only person who spends their entire day devoted to Mac issues. To make matters worse there are a number of staff who are openly hostile to Macs. As a result I realised there are probably a fair number of Mac admins and support staff who are just like me. I looked around for an online home and discovered there really isn’t one. Some Mac sites are are devoted to the “hackers” who play around with their Mac and discover a neat way of turning the Dock orange or some such. There are also sites for people who are working at places that have a thousand or more Macs with a large infrastructure and servers devoted to them who engage in serious discussion about their big problems.

There was no site devoted to guys like me in the middle tier who spend their days slowly improving the way the Macs work in a Windows world and keep on answering the same questions from level 1 support staff.

So I started one - Macintosh Tech People. It’s just a small site at the moment. It has a blog, a forum and a wiki. How do I go about building a tribe? At the moment I’d have to say I’m failing. Sure the site gets some visitors but no one else is adding to the wiki, no one is speaking up in the forums and no comments are being made on my blog posts.

I’ve sent out word to my friends, I’ve tweeted about the site, mentioned it on my Facebook page and even put some lenses up on Squidoo with a link to the page. I’ve also taken part in the forums on other Mac websites with a link to the site in my footer. So what next?

I’m giving value to the people who do visit. I have a number of useful blog posts, some informative and helpful articles in the wiki.

I’m providing a way for people to take part - if they register on the blog they can comment on blog posts, post to the forum and add articles to the wiki. It’s just that no one does.

These are all ideas I’ve gleaned from Seth and the other people at triiibes.com - a website built by Seth for people who pre-ordered his book, or at least the first few thousand. It's a great site, keep your eye on it as he may well open it up to the public once his book launches on October 16.

So what do you think? How should I go about building a tribe? I feel somehow that the tribe is out there, I just need to attract them to my space, tell them that it is there and they are welcome. I’d love to know what you’d suggest. How do you think a tribe can be built online? How do you attract people who might like to join the tribe? What do you need to give people to convince them to join and take part? These are all important questions as more and more of our community becomes an online one. Seth has tried hard (and suceeds quite well) in defining and answering these and other questions at triiibes.com and I eagerly await his book for more questions and answers.

Tell me what you think in the comments.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Safari surfing towards some speed

It seems that it was about a fortnight ago that I was saying the real significance of Chrome was that it laid down the gauntlet to the other browsers. Now we have the news that Safari 4.0 is getting 'Squirrelfish Extreme' (SFE), a new JavaScript engine that boasts large speed improvements.

SFE is using similar tactics to Chrome, but in slightly different ways. They are using bytecode optimization, inline caching and a JIT compiler to gain the speed boost. you can get details from the Surfin' Safari blog.

More important than the tech details is the movement. Sure, they probably started working on some of this before Chrome hit the news but telling us about it now, rather than when they are ready to ship lays down their entry in the browser speed contest.

We also know that Mozilla is working to make the JavaScript engine in the next Firefox release much faster. It makes me happy to know that some of the best minds are working on speeding up JavaScript. Now if Firefox and Safari go with the multiple process architecture of Chrome we'll get some real stuff happening in browsers. Already there have been comments from Mozilla about improving plugin stability using similar methods to Chrome.

The guys at Google have also said they will be allowing plugins and scripting similar to Greasemonkey, (is it telling that the original Greasemonkey developer now works at Google.)

Of course I haven't mentioned what MS might be doing with Internet Explorer 8. I've downloaded and attempted to use Beta 2 and it seems to be faster than IE 7 but it is still too unstable to be usable - I tried several times to alter the default search engine but could not get that to work, for example. I'll try again on another machine rather than my Mac under Fusion and see how it goes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Absurdity of The Microsoft Tax

I noticed a piece in The Australian today about the terrible situation schools in South Australia find themselves in.

If you ever wonder what the impact of the Microsoft monopoly is just read this article and realise that our schools are being forced to pay huge license fees to the Satan from Seattle. That's taxpayer money being shipped overseas at a great rate because of vendor lock in, monopoly behaviour and the cowardice of both state and federal governments to tell MS to take a huge hike.

When will someone in government realise that we could be spending that money hiring Aussie programmers to improve Linux so that Australian schools and governments could use it. More than 25% of the federal government grant to schools is being wasted on the license fees for a third-rate bootloader suffering from feature creep.

I'd say I was appalled but I passed appalled years ago. I think we should tell MS that if they want to sell their fourth-rate, bug-ridden, insecure operating system in this country they can grant all schools and universities a free license.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What's This Chrome?

So the big news on the 'net is the release of the Chromium beta from Google. Google have unveiled the long rumoured web browser.

This is an important event on a number of levels, remember Google would be happiest if you lived in the browser using Google products (where they can show you advertising) rather than in a stand alone application. To do that Chrome is a smart move, they need better browsers and throwing real competition into the space can only help.

So I downloaded it. I'm not going to comment on speed or stability for several reasons. First, it's a beta - we'll give them some slack. Second, I'm running it in Fusion on a Mac. Third, my copy of Fusion is the release candidate for v2. Hey, if it runs it's a bonus.

Before We Run

Before we have a look inside the browser itself let's have a look at some of the things Google has done below the UI to make this a better browser.

The most important is that they have split each tab into a separate process. Modern CPUs are perfectly capable of running multiple processes each with multiple threads, until now browsers have ignored that and been single process, single thread. that was all well and good when all we were doing was looking up information on fairly static web sites, but now we run multiple tabs with our word processing, mail and calendar inside the browser and view web pages that include movies.

Shifting each browser tab into its own process offers a wealth of advantages. The most obvious to the user will be that things don't stop in one tab when one is busy. It will also mean that a hung tab will be less likely to take the whole browser down. Then it also has benefits for memory management, where closing a tab will take all the memory requirements with it.

The other important move is to a new architecture for the JavaScript engine. When we all started using JavaScript we had a few lines per web page, now we are loading enormously large libraries for AJAX and user interface. It once made sense to have a JavaScript interpreter, the runtime advantage of compiling in the browser was outweighed by the time it took. Now you can gain a speed boost in your web applications by compiling the JavaScript after you read it and then running much faster.

First Look

When you run Chromium the first thing you will notice is that the top appears upside down. Rather than being under the address bar the tabs are now at the top. You also get a new tab button at the right of the current tabs.

There is also a lot less UI to go around. There is no menubar at all. The top bar of the tab has just two menus at the right. If the web page requires no scrollbars then there are nothing on the edges either. It will be interesting to see how they handle this on the Mac, with its permanent menubar.

Tab handling is nice. You can easily shuffle them, rip one up or down and you can create a new window. You can even shove the new window back in to the old one.

The whole look and feel of Chromium seems to be aiming at minimizing the feel of being in a browser.

What Does It All Mean For Me?

Google have made move into the browser market for one good reason. They want us all using a better browser so we spend more and more time inside it, preferably using Google products so they can show us advertising. Despite giving a lot of money to Mozilla they haven't really started a genuine browser war, the two major contenders are Firefox, used by the smart folks, and the bloated Internet Explorer, used by the default folks and the corporates forced to by their lazy corporate programmers.

So Google had to build their own. They need a more resilient, faster and more secure web browser so that we use it more. The other element that comes into this is that Google don't even need to win the browser war. So long as they start Microsoft, Mozilla and to a lesser extent Apple (remember all those iPhones running Mobile Safari) moving in the same direction towards fast, secure, stable web browsers they win.

Seen in this light we can even start to see the Android project as the exact same move. With more and more of us using our mobile phone as a second computer and browsing the web Google want a good web browser with a good interface and screen in our phones. Certainly Nokia, Motorola and Sony-Ericsson weren't really delivering which gave Apple a wide open market for the iPhone. So Google needs Android to push the competition along, give the iPhone some competition and get the big three actually delivering on their promise of the mobile web.

So, in conclusion, what Chromium means to you and I is a major push in the performance and stability of our web browser. Even if you never run Chromium then you will benefit from the work and money Google is spending (they are giving the source way, after all) in your current favourite browser on both your computer and your phone. The real laugh in all of this is that Microsoft can't not compete in delivering a better browser and as the browser improves we will be less and less concerned with the operating system and more and more with web applications.

Friday, August 29, 2008

New Tutorial at Macintosh Tech People

I’ve posted a new tutorial in the Macintosh Tech People wiki, “Safe, Secure Image Serving with Mac OS X Server.”

It details the method I’ve developed for using NetBoot and NetRestore to allow imaging Macs across a wide campus by a number of different groups while limiting access to the core setup of your Server. Hope you find it useful.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Andy speaks!

Ok, excuse me for a moment while I go a little weak at the knees.

Andy Hertzfeld has been interviewed by James Turner over at O'Reilly. The Mac at 25 discusses some interesting stuff about the Mac. Since Andy doesn't speak too often I'm going to have to read every word three times. It's a great interview. Andy Hertzfeld is up there with Brian Kernighan, Dennis Ritchie and Bill Atkinson in my pantheon. (Yes, I know - Larry Tesler, Bruce Horn, Bill Joy, Aho and others were major influences on my favourite OSes but those four are the rock stars.)

I'd forgotten he was now working a Google. I knew there was a reason I liked Google . Go and read the interview immediately and then buy Andy's book "Revolution in the Valley".

Disclaimer: O'Reilly like me almost as much as I like them.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Oh no, Apple's grabbed my TV

On Friday a colleague returned after lunch with an Apple TV - a local electrical retailer was selling them for half price.

Well considering that it's running OS X under all that GUI goodness it was too hard to resist. I went and bought one for myself with a HDMI cable so I could hook it up to my HD TV.

Oh joy, oh rapture. The quality of the picture and the ease of use are phenomenal. My one complaint is that there is no fast forward or reverse using the Apple remote. I may have to see abou hacking the software to fix that. I've also discovered instructions for replacing the hard drive with a larger one though the current 40GB drive would seem to be fine at the moment - I have a lot of music and photos on there along with a dozen music clips and five movies without even half filling it.

My one problem is that I am quickly running out of HD inputs on the TV. When I get a Blu-Ray player (I'm thinking a Playstation 3 for Xmas if Santa is kind) I'll have to get a switch box I fear.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mac Tech People launches (sort of)

Recently I sent out the following email to a number of people. I thought I'd repost it here. If you're interested in building a first class resource for Macintosh support and tech folk join me.


I've recently been thinking about the gathering places for Mac technical people in the net – what is available and what is missing. So what is missing?

I've wanted a good blog that gives me just the news on tools for administering and supporting Macs.

I've wanted a wiki with well written articles telling me what I need to know to deploy or support Mac systems, particularly in the middle of a Windows centred world, or that I can point desktop support staff to when they need answers. Good answers that link to further information when they need it.

I've wanted a discussion forum to get together with my peers to talk about possible solutions to some of the harder problems.

I want to do this in a place uncluttered by discussion of the best way to replace the Dock or the best application for running "Getting Things Done".

At work we have a wiki that is starting to contain some good quality how-to articles. Problem is you need to be senior IT staff to read it. No junior staff and certainly no one outside the organisation can read it, so what's the point? I'd prefer to contribute to somewhere I can send less skilled support staff.

Where can you find it?

I've been looking for a website that included a technical wiki as well as a forum and news. Most of the sites with forums are pitched at mid level Mac users operating on their own computer or there are a few that cater to the huge organisation looking after hundreds of Macs where infrastructure can be devoted to supporting them. Where are the places for people supporting anything from a dozen to a several hundred Macs, often in the middle of a larger Windows infrastructure? Most of the news sites offer more rumour and gossip than solid news about the tools we use.

I've started the task!

I've come up with a concept for a website designed to fill the void. I've built a site that uses WordPress with SimpleForum integrated with Dokuwiki. I even have single sign on tieing both together. I've also registered a domain name – mactechpeople.com .

What am I offering you? I'm offering you the opportunity to help shape the final concept and design of the site – how to break up the forums into topics, how to break up the wiki into topics, what sort of membership we might want to invite or attract.

You will also gain a place on the net to share your technical knowledge with the right people and get the right answers to our shared problems.

Come help build it!

In return I'd like your assistance in populating the wiki with some good reference material. I'd like your help in fashioning a good discussion forum.

I will provide the place for you to do it. You don't even have to be a great writer – since this is a wiki we can all help each other improve the quality – personally I have more than a decade's experience writing and editing documentation and magazines. If you provide the information I can help with writing skills.

At the moment I'm limiting this offer to a small number of people who will become moderators of the site. Get in on the ground floor and create something useful for yourself and others.

Register now

At the moment I'm keeping the site quiet so go to http://www.mactechpeople.com and register. You will then receive an email from me telling you of your acceptance into the beta program once I upgrade you to moderator. You can have a look at the design, see some of my articles in the wiki and post your thoughts in the forum.

While you're waiting for that email you might think of one or two people you know who'd also benefit from joining the beta program, perhaps you feel you can't contribute. Feel free to pass this offer along to – just make sure you've registered first. You wouldn't want them to take the last spot offered ahead of you.


Tony Williams

Monday, August 4, 2008

Looking for Mac sysadmins and support people for new project

I've been working away on a new project that will give something back to the Macntosh community. I'm currently looking fo other Mac sysadmins and support people who would like to be involved.

I'm excited about the idea and the few people I have shared my idea with share my enthusiasm. I don't want to say too much until we are ready to launch on the world but it is a way of sharing information and expertise that I believe is unique in the field.

If you are currently supporting Macs then this is a project I believe you will want to be a part of.

I'm also looking for someone who has more expertise than me in web design and CSS. I don't have that much expertise so if you have a little and want a project to expand your knowledge then this might be the one for you.

I hope you want to take part. If you do the drop me a line or add a comment to this post and you can be part of the team. You can reach me at tonyw at honestpuck dot com

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Knol isn't Wikipedia, it's Squidoo

Google, who also own and run Blogger that hosts this blog, launched their entry into the information collection market. Knol (the name comes from Google's invention of the 'knol' as a unit of knowledge).

This is the same space occupied by such people as Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia and Seth Godin's Squidoo. All collections of information with various ways of creating, linking and editing.

After the announcement there have been a large number of people comparing Knol to Wikipedia. Frankly, I wonder why. My first thought when I read about and visited Knol was that it appeared to be a less laid back version of Squidoo.

Knol is going to be a collection of pages devoted to a single topic authored by one person (though the can choose 'collaborators'). Authors can choose to get a share of ad income or not show ads. Squidoo is a collection of pages devoted to a single topic authored by one person. Authors can choose to get a share of ad income or not show ads. Hmmm, seem to quite similar.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, is a collection of pages where anyone can edit the page and nobody owns it. A totally different concept.

I'm not saying that Knol should not be welcomed into the market. I'm just saying that it shouldn't be compared to Wikipedia alone. It's not a totally original idea either, Squidoo have been doing something similar for quite a while.

There are always big questions with projects like this. First, what will the feel of the collection be. Squidoo, for example, is laid back and full of a lot of self-promotion and marketing. Squidoo encourages authors by promoting the possibility of making some money off your contributions. Wikipedia has a more factual feel and relies on public interest since it is all anonymous.

I'll be watching with interest to see where knol goes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Website hosting

I just read a post on another blog (I'm not mentioning names) which was a thoroughly confused and misleading post about types of web hosting. Having personally used many types and advised a fair number of friends and clients I think I can do a better job.

The first thing to remember is that if you just want a nice little vanity web log like this one with some customization of appearance and a few ads to earn a couple of dollars then you don't need web hosting. Blogger, TypePad and WordPress are more than happy to host your blog and share some of the ad revenue with you. With the assistance of other free services such as image and file hosting you can even use these services to host quite good small web sites.

If you want more control over the software you run and to tie in other things such as a wiki or forums for your blog then you need to go to real hosting. You'll also need your own domain name.

At the bottom level of hosting is shared hosting. For a couple of dollars a month (and often purchased cheaply at the same time as your domain name) you get an account on a computer that allows you to upload web applications and do some configuration of the web server.

Most of these hosting services offer a "control panel" that allows you to change some of the configuration, manage files and even install a fair range of software easily. My web host offers Wordpress, Joomla, MediaWiki, phpBB, a guest book, picture gallery, Ruby on Rails and a site engine all installed easily and quickly, often with just one click and a single web form.

You may find it difficult to install some software as you cannot change such things as the Apache or Perl modules installed as you are only one account on a computer. You also are at risk of another account on the computer tieing up the system - a web application hitting a race condition in Apache, for example.

For just a little more some web hosts offer a virtual server. This uses virtualization software on a computer to offer a virtual computer that you control yourself. This is the best system for almost everyone to start with. You have almost total control including all the Apache, Perl and PHP configuration. Most still install some sort of control panel for you to use. The underlying virtualization software significantly reduces the risk of your "server" being over run by one of the other virtual servers. In fact they do such a good job that even large server farms will run multiple boxes running multiple virtual servers.

All of these three levels offer advantages such as high availability and automatic backups. Both shared and virtual server hosting offer excellent customer support at exceptionally low prices.

This level of hosting will be perfectly acceptable for almost all small to medum businesses. You can even have quite large online stores and popular sites using large amounts of bandwidth on a virtual server. I've known sites that have mutiple virtual servers, one for the web site, one for the store and another for the database back end.

Oh, one final note. My favourite web hosting company is WestHost, good service, good prices. If you click on the link and order I'll even earn a dollar or two.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I'm not buying an iPhone (yet)

So I'm going out on a limb and saying for an Australian outside Sydney and Melbourne now is certainly not the time to buy an iPhone.

Now picking up a second hand iPod Touch, that's another matter. I have a Touch, putting the 2.0 software on it has improved the base software, added the ability to connect to the 802.1x based wireless net at work and opened up Apple's App store. I expect within the next few days that I'll be able to unlock it and then all the neat applications developed outside the Apple wall will be available as well.

The list of applications available from Apple's store is growing fast. There are already a few I'm finding essential - an Evernote client and Zenbe lists just to mention two. All the useful applications seem to be pushing out updates at a fair pace as well.

So why not buy an iPhone? Well, it comes down to two things - the iPhone 3G only covering two of the three frequencies used on our 3G networks and the terrible state of competition in the Australian mobile phone market. If you live in the one of the big cities then you might be well served by Optus or Vodafone (who use one pair of frequencies, only one of which is used by the iPhone) while Telstra (may they rot in hell) who use both the iPhone frequencies have the worst range of plans with the worst data charges.

I'm expecting that as the iPhone's share of the 3G phone market climbs more people will want better plans at the same time as the stock shortages disappear then we will see some competition between the carriers and rates improve dramatically - particularly for people like me who make few phone calls and will mainly use an iPhone for SMS and web browsing. So don't buy now. January might be the time, wait and see what the Steve says at Macworld and make a buying decision then.

The second large reason is that the software Apple is shipping with the iPhone still has large holes. The quality of information syncing between your computer and th iPhone is still far from ideal. The Bluetooth functionality leaves a lot to be desired - it doesn't support stereo headsets, has poor support for sending, receiving and archiving SMS messages from the computer. I thought the lack of MMS was a shortcoming but after discussions with several teenagers feel they only need the ability to send and receive pictures via Bluetooth.

So wait and see what the next move from the carriers and Apple will be.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Deke blasts out PhotoShop Tips

While you're waiting for some more stuff from me check out “101 Photoshop Tips in 5 Minutes” from the great Deke McLelland, O'Reilly' PhotoShop and Digital camera maven.

He manages to giv you 101 tips in 5 minutes in a music video. Great stuff!! Training as it should be done.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another Squidoo lens

So I've spent a couple of days documenting how I go about creating an image for deployment here at work. Shoved it up on Squidoo as a lens - it's a bit big to go here. Check out "Building an image for a Macintosh lab"

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why I've given up on MySpace

OK, I've been trying hard. I've joined some groups, looked at lots of profiles and waded through a ton of useless emails and spam.

Frankly, I've come to the conclusion that for actually meeting people interested in the same topics as me, sharing information and helping each other MySpace is a waste of time.

It comes down to two things. I've aready mentioned the problem of spam and fake profiles. This is an epidemic on MySpace and only a small problem on FaceBook.

The other problem is one of philosophy. MySpace is a playground, it's where you present who you might want to be, who you fantasize about being, where you play with pretty pictures and fancy graphics.

Facebook, on the other hand, is more about who you are. On Facebook people seem to show their real side. If you try and show yourself as something more (or less) than you are then your friends will post comments and jokes to your Wall and other spots.

Facebook's Mini-Feed and Newsfeed also show others what you are really doing across the site. The clean, clear interface allows people to quickly find information about who you are and what you are up to. MySpace allows for profiles that are cluttered and difficult to navigate.

So I see the two sites competing in different marketplaces. MySpace seems perfect for high school students and those who want a fantasy life. When you want to grow up and join the real world, actually connect with people across the world, share your interests with others then you'll graduate to Facebook.

I also think the two different markets make for different opportunities. MySpace might be perfect for marketing music, movies and TV but I doubt people will be able to charge money for applications or virtual currency in applications. That's where Facebook will be a better place.

Add up all those things and I don't think MySpace is the place for me.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Working on Squidoo

I've started building some Squidoo lenses. Not all are publically accessible yet, a few are drafts.

The first one I published was Putting the best face on Facebook, basically a republishing of a post here on cleaning out your Mini-Feed. The other is Macintosh Terminal tips, a republishing of the stuff I put on Google Sites. I'll be interested to see if the Sites version or the lens gets more traffic.

Check them both out, you'll see that using a lens gives you some good formatting tools.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

MySpace is spammer's heaven

So I've been actively exploring MySpace for a week or two now and I'm sick and tired of the spam.

On Facebook there are a lot of complaints from people (mainly marketers) that it is too easy to fall foul of the (unstated) rules and get yourself warned or booted off. Frankly, I've done some fairly hard core friend chasing and group inviting and never had a problem. I also appreciate the flip side - I rarely get anything approaching spam.

On MySpace I get one or two unknown women a day with very sparse profiles who say they are from the US but have exceptionally poor English skills who want to be my friend and have me add their yahoo email address to my IM. Yes, Susan, I believe you are from Boston and just looking for friends - Not! Just go away.

Then there are the people called "Make Money Now" or "Internet Marketing Secrets" who want to be my friend since I'm researching internet marketing and join groups dedicated to it. You can go away, too.

Of course, among all this are some sincere and friendly people. Just that the spammers are having a field day on MySpace, not so Facebook.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Terminal Power

A friend recently asked me for some tips on using the command line on the Mac and so I put together some notes. I've expanded them and posted them to my Google Site.

I give some tips on using the Terminal application, a couple of good ways to improve your bash sessions, a couple of handy ways of opening a man page and point towards a bunch of useful commands to have a look at.

I will be having a lok at some of my own scripts and seeing what I use most and explaining a few of those commands in a followup soon.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Imaging a Macintosh for dual boot

I've been spending a lot of time working on ways of imaging a Mac so it has both OS X and Windows XP installed and ready to boot. Yes, I know there are easy ways, but I wanted a good one that left all the hard work to other people and software.

Let me define the problem a little better. I have labs containing Macs that have to end up as dual boot. The Mac OS X image is no real problem, it installs using NetBoot and NetRestore.

On the Windows side I want to use exactly the same image as the Windows PCs in the labs. This is stored on an Altiris server and deployed to the Dell PCs using PXE. I also didn't want to have to do anything to that image every time it changed. I wanted it straight off the same server as the PCs.

I've written some notes on how I did it and shoved them in my new Google Site. Google Sites isn't as pretty as Blogger but is much more handy for long articles and a complex site architecture. I'll be putting more things on it soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Exploring MySpace

I'm just starting to explore the possibilities of MySpace but already I have come up with some info and thoughts that are worth sharing.

The first is that you have to be careful how you "pimp" your MySpace page. One of the most attractive things about Facebook is the clean interface and sparse look. It is much too easy to ruin a MySpaqce page so that it is hard to read and hard to find real information about the person so keep those flashing, sparkling objects and background pictures to a minimum.

The second is that MySpace is full of spam and bogus users so as much as I hate to recommend it, make sure you set comments, friend requests and the other options under spam to use CAPTCHA. This will weed out a lot of spam messages.

Finally, there are not as many good applications for MySpace as Facebook so keep the ones you install to an absolute minimum.

More news from my explorations soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Leveraging Twitter

If you are using twitter to keep your friends in the know on what you are up to and keeping track of them then you might like to know what else you can do with twitter.

Since twitter is a stream of short text messages and it allows you to send directly to another account then it is fairly easy for software to monitor a twitter account and take an action according to the message and optionally send you some information as a reply.

Connecting web applications from Twitter

Since I'm a Google fan the first way I started using this was to update my Google Calendar. Twittercal allows me to send a direct message and have an appointment added to my calendar. It uses the same syntax as the "Quick Add" feature. "d gcal appointment with doctor at 6pm Thursday" would add the required appointment. The "d gcal" means "send a message directly t the account 'gcal' and not to my twitter feed."

I use a nice little to-do system called Remember The Milk. This to-do system ties well into Google Mail and Google Calendar as well as twitter. Not only can you add to-do items you can retrieve them based on the date due, which of your lists it is in or even according to tag, all from twitter.

If you're after an even more advanced reminder system then the one that I'm currently testing, IwantSandy, seems to be a winner. You can add reminders, appointments, to-dos and things you just want to remember right from twitter and then even ask a question. You can tag items and even specify how you want to be reminded, twitter, email or mobile. This may be the killer reminder system given that it ties in to your email system and twitter so well.

If, on the other hand, you want something simple then Twitternotes just stores notes in a simple database with optional tagging.

If you send and receive a lot of freight then you might like track this. Once you follow it you send it a direct message "d 123456978321 New camera" and every time it changes location you get a tweet.

If you have to track a large number of leads and want something to pick one at random and remind you then Salestwit can do that. Feed in your contact list and it feeds you one at random every day, week or a configurable delay.

If you are organising an event or a group going to an event then @eventrack uses a tagging system to collect information from a large number of places, including twitter. This is a great tool for collecting video, pictures, web posts and tweets about an event all in one spot.

These are my favourite online applications that connect to twitter. You can find more at the Twitter Fan Wiki.

Finding more followers

The best way to get more people to follow you on Twitter is to follow them. If you are putting useful information in your twitter feed and blog then find others who are interested in the same areas as you and follow them.

To find people talking about my areas of interest I use TwitterTroll - an excellent search engine. The advantage of this is that I also get great information from others as well as people I'd like to connect with.

Updating twitter

If you're going to be following a lot of people and making a lot of twitter updates yourself you're going to need a good Twitter client. On my Mac I use both Twitterific and a Dashboard widget, I suggest you spend some time going through the various options till you find one that suits you. Check them out at the Twitter downloads page and on the fan wiki.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Building A Useful Mini-Feed - FriendFeed

If you followed the advice in my previous article then your Mini-Feed might be looking a little empty, it appears not much is happening. Now we will start to get a good flow of information into the feed using another online tool - FriendFeed.

FriendFeed is a little like twitter, it allows people who want to know what you are doing to 'follow' your FriendFeed. The power it has over twitter is that it can be set up to automatically add items to your feed when you do things on other sites.

Like twitter FriendFeed has a Facebook application and this application adds items to your Mini-Feed. This is where the real power lies. Before you get a FriendFeed account let's make sure we have some things to easily add to the Feed.

If you check on FriendFeed you will discover that you can automatically import items if you add a photo to Flickr or Picasa, post a video to YouTube, add an item to your Amazon wishlist and even when you post to Tumblr, Blogger or another blog. I suggest you play around with all of these and see which suits you best.

Adding to your FriendFeed

The first thing we want is a way to easily add interesting stories we see online. I've found that the easiest way to do this is to read all my websites via RSS using Google Reader. Then underneath each item is a link "Share with note". Click on this and a dialog open allowing you to enter a personal note which will appear with the item you're sharing in Google Reader. Google Reader is a good online RSS reader. Once you have an account you can get a button for your bookmark bar (this is called a 'bookmarklet') that will allow you to go to your favourite blogs and quickly subscribe to them in Google Reader.

For more important things you see you might want to create a more detailed note talking about the webpage. For these I use Tumblr. Tumblr is another micro-blogging system that allows you to quickly add a post to your feed. You can get a bookmarklet for it, too. When you are on a web page you think your readers might like click on the Tumblr bookmarklet and a dialog open alowing you to write a description and tell your readers why they might want to see the item.

Adding links

To add links to web pages to our FriendFeed there are several methods. If you use an online bookmark manager such as del.icio.us then any bookmarks you add can go to your FriendFeed. You can also get a "Share.." bookmarklet for Google Reader that allows you to produce a note with the URL in your Google Reader shared items. I've found that using delicious is best for links as the description you add flows through to your FriendFeed while for Tumblr and Reader posts only the post title goes through. I have to admit to being an avid delicious user due to its tight integration with Firefox (it has an excellent plugin) and the ability to view my bookmarks from any computer.

For long articles the easiest thing to do is get yourself an account at Blogger and have a good quality, free hosted blog. It's quickly set up and you can run advertising, tailor the look and FriendFeed will easily pick up your new posts.

Once you have a good flow of information into your FriendFeed then add the FriendFeed application to your Facebook account and it will keep a steady flow of interesting things to your Mini-Feed. Once people recognise the value of the information in your Mini-Feed they are much more likely to watch your Mini-Feed, FriendFeed or (hopefully) your blog.

Monday, May 12, 2008

News Feeds - RSS and Atom

I was half way through a final edit on another article for the blog when I realised that some people might not understand exactly what was happening "under the hood." with all this information being passed between websites and from websites to a News Reader. The key to this are some formats known as RSS and Atom.

RSS is the earliest of these formats, now it stands for Really Simple Syndication. Atom is a replacement that was pushed to try and get over some confusion and splitting surrounding the RSS format. These formats are designed to allow a standard way to encapsulate and describe bits of information so that one piece of software can publish it and another piece of software can read it. An RSS feed contains not just the text of a blog post but the title and date that it was posted. Instead of the text it might be a video, picture or audio file. A podcast is just an RSS feed that contains audio instead of text.

Why is this important?

As you may be aware, it is easiest to write computer software when what you need to do is predictable and simple. Now go and visit a few web sites - go to the front page of your daily newspaper, two of your favourite web logs and one or two others. Notice how the layout can vary tremendously; different fronts, different places on the page for various information. Underneath the source code for the page can vary even more. This makes it almost impossible to write software that can find the information needed to check if a new story has appeared and extract it from the page. Essentially an RSS feed is another web page, with identical information to the site, just laid out in a predictable, standard way so that it can be easily read by software.

Subscribing to a feed

When you visit a web site, particularly a blog or news site you may see in the right end of the address box a small icon that looks like this :)) - or you may see the icon on a web page. This is the RSS icon that shows a site has a feed that can be used by a reader. Most web sites with a feed also describe it in a standard way in the headers of the web page that we can't see but can be read by reader software.

I use an online news reader from Google called "Google Reader" as I also use several other Google services and only need to log on once. I also find the ability to "share" an interesting item from Google Reader useful. Subscribing is easy, I added a "Subscribe..." bookmarklet to Firefox (Google provide it for you) and when I find a site full of good nformation I just click on the bookmarklet.


The first advantage of using a news reader and subscribing is that it enables you to quickly check a large number of websites, much faster than visiting each site, and you don't need to remember which sites you have visited and when - the feed reader remembers which information you have already read.

The other power of RSS

Finally, RSS is used by other websites to keep an eye on what's happening. There are sites that will gather together the information on what you are posting in various places and show it all in one spot. In my next post I'll be showing you one of these - FriendFeed - and how you can use it to improve your online presence.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Remembering those URLs and typing faster

While waiting for me to finish editing my next "big" post here's a quick tip for you.

Do you use a text shortcut utility? "What's that?" I hear some of you ask.

It's a utility that allows you to automatically enter short pieces of text, either by replacing something you type or with a hot key such as CTRL-ALT-d. On my Mac I use an excellent, inexpensive one called "Text Expander". (If you know of a good one for Windows users then please add a comment below or drop me a note.)

This means that instead of having to remember and type http://honestpuck.blogspot.com/ I just type '.b' and Text Expander replaces it with the text. Even better when I type '.g' it gets replaced by that even longer and more difficult http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=26489942856 which (as you all know [grin]) is the URL for my Facebook group "Facebook-Internet Synergy."

It gets even better. I also have text snippets I use for that "personal" message when asking someone to be your friend, when I make an introductory post to someone's wall and a number of other uses. They all have a couple of spots with "****" in them, this is my own way of marking parts of a text snippet I might want to replace with something personal.

On my Mac I don't even need to remember the abbreviations, Text Expander puts a menu in my menu bar.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Clean Your Facebook Mini-Feed and Make It Work

In my last post I told you how to use twitter to update your Facebook status. Twitter is an example of what has been called "micro-blogging" - weblogging with small pieces of information. In this post I'm going to show you how to control your Mini-Feed so that it contains only things your network will find useful, encouraging them to follow the "micro-blog" on your FB profile page.

We will need to do some clean-up. A lot of fairly boring or silly things get posted into our mini-feed and news feed if we're not careful. The mini-feed only shows ten items on your profile page so you want to tightly control what gets in there. First, on any Facebook page click on "Privacy" in the top right corner of the page and then click on "News Feed and Mini-Feed". This is where we control what Facebook itself places in our feeds. Since we only want significant. positive things in our feeds deselect "Remove Profile info", "Remove my Relationship Status", "Leave a Group" and "Leave a Network". Since we are all adding a lot of friends I'd also deselect "Add a Friend". Once you've deselected thse click on "Save Changes" at the bottom of the list.

Now all those fun and silly applications we all enjoy adding can also add things into our Mini-Feed. So on the right of the page you will see a paragraph that explains this with a link titled "Edit Applications". Click on this and you will have a list of your applications titled "Edit My Applications". You can remove applications here, but more importantly you can see and edit their "settings" which controls, among other things, if they post to your Mini-Feed. For all the "fun" applications click on "Edit Settings" next to their name and deselect "Publish stories about this in my News Feed" and "Publish stories about this in my Mini-Feed" then "Save Changes". Be ruthless, personally I only allow applications such as "Cities I've Visited" and "Books" to write to my Mini-Feed.

Once you've done this you're ready to start adding good information from elsewhere. I'll tell you how to do that using "FriendFeed" and some other sites in my next post.

Speaking of cleaning, if you are getting a number of friend requests and people confirming your friend requests (as all of us expanding our network should be) then your email box is getting flooded by Facebook. At the bottom of one of the emails you will see a line "Want to control which emails you receive from Facebook? Go to:" - click on it and it will take you to a page where you can turn off emails from Facebook under various circumstances and below that for the Facebook applications you have installed. Once again be ruthless - you will get Notifications from Facebook regardless of the setting here so if you visit your FB Home page regularly you don't need the emails.

My Facebook profile : http://profile.to/tonywilliams/
My twitter feed: http://twitter.com/honestpuck

Sunday, May 4, 2008

How to twitter for Facebook networkers

A few people have shown some confusion about how to set everything up to get the best from twitter as a Facebook social networker. Since I am a self-confessed nerd I thought I'd explain.

First, you'll need a twitter account. Go to twitter and sign up for an account. Now you can find your friends and sign up to "follow" them. This means that when they send a twitter message, sometimes called a "tweet", you will see it on your twitter page. If they follow you they will get your tweets.

Next we need a way to update our Facebook status when we send a tweet. The twitter people have written an application to do this but every time it updates your FB status it puts "is twittering" before te tweet. The application twittersync does not do this so I prefer to use it instead. Add this application and give it some details and it will read your twitter feed and update your FB status within a minute or two.

Advanced Twitter Setup

Next we'll return to the twitter page and set up some advanced things. Go back to twitter and click on "Settings" in the top right of the window. You will be on the "Account" pane of Settings so fill in the information about where you live and your time zone etc.

Now click on the "Picture" tab and upload a small picture of yourself. The one you use on Facebook would be perfect. Next click on "Devices" where we will set up twitter via SMS. This pane has two sections, one about Instant Messaging which we can ignore and the other devoted to your mobile phone. You enter your mobile number and you will be asked to send an SMS with a code to twitter to confirm your number. Send off the SMS and quickly a reply will come back to say you're number is confirmed. Save the phone number in the address book of your phone - now when you send an SMS to this number it will send a tweet and automatically update your FB status.

Viewing Your Twitter Page

When you start following a number of people you will need an easy way to get the information. If you also follow a number of websites and read newspapers online you will be spending too much of your time going from site to site checking. The way to get over this is to use an RSS reader, sometimes called a feed reader or news reader. You can even read your twitter page via RSS, you will find the address to use in your RSS reader down the bottom of your twitter home page labelled "RSS". I'm going to recommend you use Google Reader - an online RSS reader from Google. Get yourself a Google Mail account and start using Google Reader - I'll explain the powerful benefits of using Google Reader in another post.

My Facebook profile : http://profile.to/tonywilliams/
My twitter feed: http://twitter.com/honestpuck