Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ category

Forget me not, Web2.0 edition

2009/05/23

I stumbled upon this pretty nice little application or service – depends how you see it. It is called reQall (obviously would have been recall, but recall.com as every good domain is taken.

What it does is that allows you to set a reminder in the future to do something – at given time and date: buy X, call Y, do Z. Nothing to earth-shattering about that.

What is neat is the way how you do it. Actually, many ways:

1) old fashioned: use web site, enter reminder. Just type text and reQall will extract both activity (buy / call etc) as well as date and place it in appropriate category. And when time comes you will be notified: either via email, or via SMS or even by some of the IM services. Currently supported are Yahoo, Google Talk, Jabber and AIM.

2) modern: use iPhone app to type in reminder. Same goodies as wit web, only – unlike Web – you have the phone with you available quickly at the moment when you actually need to remember something.

3) modern AND cool: use the same iPhone app, and speak up to 30 second message. It will be converted to text and then analyzed same way as typed text. I am not sure whether it is automated translation or some poor fellas in third world country and listening and typing it in. The understanding is VERY good. It even handles non-native speakers of English with strong accents (like myself) with surprising success rate. I had occasionally some question marks indicating that Person’s name or local place was not understood. For this occasion, you can always listen to your own audio 😉

You can also subscribe to daily jots that sums up your upcoming events.

Best of all: it is a free service. There is a pro version for $2.99 a month which adds some nice features. I am seriously considering to go for Pro just to make sure they can survive – as long as I find that I use  it more than 1-2 times a week, I am in.

Give it a try, it may be worth one small chai latte a month.

Calendar synchronization between iPhone, Google calendars and iCal

2008/09/09

Here is my situation: I am using three different Macs (Macbook Pro and two iMacs – one at home and occasionally second one at work) and need to keep the contacts and calendars synchronized at least between two of them (MBP and home iMac). I use iPhone which also has calendar and contacts. And in the cloud, there is Google calendar. Actually, more than one: my own calendar and company shared calendar of my colleagues from Thinknostic. Quite a challenge to keep it all in sync.

Here is the setup that works for me:

To synchronize iCals between different Macs as well as between Mac and iPhone, the most seamless and completely painless way seems to be using Mobile Me. I registered for Mobile Me back when it started – just to grab the name (miro at me dot com), and have not used it much at first. Thanks the 30+60 day extension, I have still until mid November ti decide whether I will keep it or no. The sync feature alone seems to be worth at least half of the subscription price. The other half is push email and really easy way how to synchronize files between Macs … Also to have online access to your contacts when you are not on a Mac can be useful sometimes. But back to the workflow:

Theoretically, both iCal and address book gets synchronized every time you sync the iPhone with Mac. This is not really as useful as it may sound, because I do the sync about once a week to download images from camera and upload new podcasts. And to update the apps, of course. I would not do that more often, for simple reason: the synchronization takes forever. Ten minutes at least. With Mobile me, you can sync as often as you want (every minute if you really want) – and also access the information online via browser.

To synchronize Google calendar used to require some helper applications, like GCalDaemon (free, opensource) or Spanning Sync. Not any more. Since Google opened up the API this summer, it can be done out of the box: read more on here

This solution is almost perfect, the only relatively minor problem is that sync between iCal and Google does not include iPhone: the calendars that you have added to iCal and are coming from GCal are left out – Mobile Me synchronization does not include calendars not created or owned by iCal application. This is not such a big deal as it may seem because from iPhone, you can always access the Google calendar by using the very good mobile Web UI.

Easy way how to transfer really big files

2008/04/29

What does really big mean ? In my case few hundred megabytes, up to 1 GB. Clearly, too much for email attachments – most providers caps them at around 5-15 MB.

Since we started doing screencasts, I need quite often to transfer  work in progress – screen recordings, rendered MOV files between me and my co-host of the screencasts. I tried to upload the file to the company servers using VPN, but the speed of the secure uploads is nowhere close to being practical.

What works much better is free service called TransferBigFiles.com. There is no registration required, you just enter the recipient email and start upload. After uploading, the system sends you an email with link and the files stays up for few days, then is deleted. More than enough for the other party to download. With self-destruction, it is also less worries for you to  remember clean-up.

The site also offers client for Windows, which I did not try (for obvious reasons) and shows ads selling software. These ads made me (strangely enough) more comfortable, as the intention of the creators is clear: attract traffic by free service and monetize on software sales / ads.

The other possible explanation is of course collecting of email adresses for not-so-noble purposes. I have no knowledge of this being the fact – since about a week and half of using the service, there was no spike in amount of spam. No spike meaning nothing beyond usual 300+ offers of 10 dollar Rolex, body enlargements, natural weight loss programs and help requests to transfer money from Nigeria and similars …

All my emails are consolidated on Gmail, which does terrific job of weeding out 99.99% of these – so I do not really care so much if one more spammer gets my email. But if you are really worried, you can always get the 10 minute email, use it for receiving notifications and then email the link manually. The down side is that you must keep the 10 minute email alive until upload finishes – this may take few refreshes.

Quick online diagramming tool

2008/04/28

I am using OmniGraffle for most of my diagrams. OmniGraffle is an OS-X platform replacement for Visio – only easier to use and better looking (in my opinion). On rare occasions I do not work on my notebook, it is quite useful to have free alternative that allows to create a diagram that does not look too awful, without going through the hoops of downloading and installing software. The bubl.us is exactly that tool.

Using bubl.us you can very quickly create visual representation of simple structure with basic relations (parent/child) and links. You can define the text and links between elements and save the result as XML, HTML or JPG/PNG image. The result can look e.g. like this:

No a bad result, considering that its creation took less than 60 seconds.

If you need more control – like different shapes and stencils, look at Gliffy, which is much closer to actual desktop diagramming tool. It is free tool with paid enhanced version, available here.

Face(book) time

2008/01/01

It is a tradition to do crazy and wild things on New Year’s Eve. Some people play with fireworks and other noise making devices, other tend to celebrate the end of year by partying and drinking. I am not big fan of explosives and to sacrifice too many neurons to honor randomly chosen point on Sun’s orbit sounds like a pretty silly idea. But still, I wanted to do something out-of-line on December 31st.

So I joined Facebook.

It has been nagging me for some time – the curiosity about the API’s and “Facebook applications” and “new platforms” etc. The only way how to find out more and explore was to join. You can find me at firstname dot lastname at gmail dot com – if you have an account.

The reluctance was caused by the Facebook’s demographics and motivation. Unlike some other quite geeky social networks and groups, Facebook is wide audience and general public network. It is definitely platform of the “internet generation” – I found there my son and many of his friends. This was very nice discovery because now I know somebody whom I can ask stupid questions without public embarrassment :-).

People use Facebook to get new friends and meet new people and also expose their lives for the others. I have mixed feelings about both – I see the value of networking but …. However great it is to meet new people, if you do not have enough time for those people you already know, meeting new people makes situation only worse. And frankly – most people’s life is pretty uninteresting for the others and maybe keeping private things private would be better for all.

So far, I am in discovery mode and try to find out what is that Facebook thing all about. I have added few friends – if you are one of them, you may be exposed to unexpected results of my experiments :-). You have been warned …

Free eBook and audiobook on media business and distribution control

2007/10/09

Gerd Leonhard, co-author of the Future of Music book is making an experiment with his new book – The End of Control. He is publishing the chapters of the book as they appear in PDF format as well as MP3’s on his website. First two chapters – “Attention is the new currency” and “Copyright in the Age of Uncontrolled distribution” are currently available for download / reading / listening.

The books tries to address very important questions on how will the new media business function in environment with little control over the distribution channel. Attempts to enforce control with technical tools were not very successful – just recall the Sony rootkit fiasco’s, hacking the HD-DVD and others. Currently, there is strong movement away from DRM and towards non-crippledrestricted content.

The other line how the content owners try to enforce compliance is using legal muscles. The heavily publicized trial by jury to pay over $200’200 in damages for offering 24 songs on P2P network was presented in media mostly as big victory for the RIAA, but – as The Register points out – it may be easily Pyrrhic victory and may in the end backfire against the RIAA.

Many people see labels and RIAA as a cross of dinosaur who forgot to die out and a leech sucking the money from the channel between the content creators and consumers. What are the new ways of distribution assuring the incentives for the authors without causing too much annoyance for the consumers, what are the business and legal implications of the new model are the themes into which the book will (hopefully) provide some insights. So far, looks very promissing.

Recommended.

Adding week numbers to Google Calendar

2007/09/26

If you live on week cycles, it is quite nice to see the week number in your calendar. It is not (yet) provided as standard feature in the user settings for my calendar solution of choice.

An obvious solution is to run user script in the browser that will decorate the calendar page – using the fabulous Grease Monkey. The user script to install (after installing the plugin) is here.

It works, but … However I admire the power and possibilities of the user-scripts, it is fairly heavy tool for such simple thing. My Firefox install is pretty large thanks to variety of developer-oriented plugins, and I do not want to slow it down even more. Another issue with scripts is potential security implication – recently (as you will see on the script site) a malicious user started to upload scripts stealing cookies. What this means for slightly paranoid security-aware person like me, is to read and understand the source – and that is way too much trouble.

Fortunately, there is better solution using Google API’s – you just subscribe to a calendar that has the information :-). Simple, elegant and as secure as the calendar itself 🙂 – all you have to do is to click on this link (for weeks starting on Sunday).

The page for the non-greasy solution is http://recover89.googlepages.com/googlecalendarweeknumbers – it contains link for Monday based weeks as well.

Web based task manager with offline mode – finally !

2007/07/29

Yes, such nice tool really exists and it’s name is Remember the Milk.

At first sight, RTM is not extremely visually appealing, but very nice and very usable Ajax application. After some time using it, you may better appreciate the “less is more” design. The offline access is thanks to Google Gears magic. Just flip the small green arrow (which will download your data to local cache) and voila – you can go offline, keep editing or adding tasks – your changes will be remembered. Later on, after going online the changes will be synced back.

The RTM has another killer feature – it integrates very well with Google calendar. Your tasks with due dates (which all meaningful task should have) will appear in you calendar without needing to go to RTM site. You can even edit them from there. For details, see the help.

RTM has pretty much everything what most people may need: projects, lists, tagging, locations (with map integration), contacts – with task delegation, and of course, API. Give it a look …

Smugmug "processing image" – follow up

2007/07/10

In the previous article I have mentioned the potential issue with some uploaded images hanging in state “Processing image” for surprisingly long time after upload and expressed hope that there is some background “catch it all” process that would take care of all these. As it turned out, there is. All uploaded images that were haging in the processing stage turned up to be fixed by next day or so (it was about 10-20 images out of about 3-4 thousand).

Here is a simple trick how to make sure it is indeed so. After uploading a gallery, tag every image in processing with some distinctive tag, e.g. “checkme”. Regardless in how many galleries, categories or subcategories your images will be, you will show them all by clicking on the checkme tag in your home page. After verifying that the images are OK, you can use bulk edit to remove the tag from all.

First week with SmugMug

2007/07/07

Week ago, my SmugMug 14 day trial period expired and (as expected) I signed up for the 1 year service. Here are my first impressions after over week of use, with over 3000 uploaded photos and 6.8 GB disc space consumed :-).

Good news is – it really works as advertised and I still like it a lot. I have not really tried many of the features, but what I did try, worked as expected. The uploader (I am using the default, Java applet based drag-and-drop universal uploader) is very friendly – the small status windows shows not only status of the upload, but also the thumbnail of the uploaded image.

Every photo lives in the gallery and the galleries can be assigned into categories with optional subcategories. The system is pretty smart – when you create a gallery inside category (or category / subcategory), these are pre-set as defaults (which you can change, of course). The uploaded file names are parsed and “meaningful” words are automatically assigned as keywords. As long as the words are separated by spaces or underscore. This works best in English – some of my pictures have names in Slovak and the word stemming generated multiple keywords – but that is the price for not using English :-).

Proper tagging of images is a lot of work. Once you do that, though, the search using keywords is pretty effective. You have the classical tag cloud and can select the images by the keyword. SmugMug offers also related keywords and allows to further limit the search.

I have decided to organize the photos chronologically, using categories and subcategories to denote year and months (one or more). This in theory can be achieved using built in time line, but more than 30% of my images are scans and have no EXIF data in JPG. It would be great if somehow there was a possibility to assign date (at least year or year and month) for the set of images – same way as keywords are assigned. However, this is not yet possible.

Within the categories / subcategories, you can have only one level of galleries. At first I thought that this 2 or 3 level fixed hierarchy will be too limiting and inflexible, but in reality, it is not such a big deal. In the occasions where I have nested folders with images – e.g. vacations folder named Europe and subfolders for Italy and Switzerland (where Europe contains all other images) – I simply created galleries named ‘Europe’, ‘Europe / Italy’ and ‘Europe / Switzerland’. The slash indicated the folder structure on the server and sticking with the naming convention will allow to use the API and do automatic synchronization (using Ruby ;-))

Getting images up there is quite time consuming. But after you have them uploaded, the fun begins. The viewing and navigation is where SmugMug really shines. I have seen many Web2-ish sites, but the paging here is one of the bests (if not the best). You can use either “classic” pager links:

classic-pager.png

or dynamic (Javascript):

javascript-pager.png

Loading of the thumbnails and images is very fast and with reasonably fast Internet connection, you can get very good user experience. Even the slideshow – about which I did not have very high expectations – works surprisingly well. Much better that you would expect from a browser based solution. Because the images are intelligently scaled down on server side, doing slideshow in full screen with 3-4 seconds delay is not much different than using default Windows viewer with local LAN (where the images are transferred in full size and scaled to fit the window on client side) – especially when you have 3-4 MB images..

The only minor annoyance is long lasting “Processing image” syndrom. After you upload image, the back-end processes the image and during this time (in 99.9% of images few seconds) the image thumbnail and real image is represented by “Processing image” placeholder.

cropper-capture28.png

and

cropper-capture129.png

As it happened in 2 or three cases during the upload of 3000+ images, the back-end processing never ended and even after few hours that particular image was still hanging in the state of processing. It is possible that this syndrome can be caused by the user (myself) opening the gallery being uploaded in second tab of the browser … I am not sure whether there is some background nightly batch that will catch it – but it is a good idea visually verify the upload after it finishes.

Btw, if you consider going with SmugMug, here is coupon code that will be give you $5 discount from the $39.95 yearly price: ndkpdNg15cgYI