Sunday, February 26, 2006
Del.icio.us has a search feature, which is a great way to find something when you know exactly what you're looking for. But when you don't know exactly what you want to find, tags are a great way to browse through your (or someone else's) links.
But have you ever tried to browse through 500 tags? It's pretty inefficient. Del.icio.us does try to help with tag bundles and increasing font sizes of more active tags, but the best way to keep things organized is to tag properly and not to overdo it.
To that end I've put together some guidelines on how to tag effectively.
Generalize as much as possible
If you're tagging a recipe for lasagne, just tag it 'recipes' or 'food.' There's no point in tagging it 'lasagne' unless your master's thesis is on lasagne and you're tagging a lot of lasagne stuff all the time.
Popular tags can be your friend or your enemy
Not sure how to tag something? Del shows you popular tags that others have applied to that link. Sometimes it's useful if you're stuck, but you don't always have to follow them. Crowds may be wise, but they're made up of individuals making individual decisions. Your tags are first and foremost for you, not for anyone else. To that end...
Pick one word and stick to it
Should the Hipster PDA be tagged "lifehack"? How about "productivity"? How about "organization"? All three probably apply. But if I use "lifehack" to describe the PDA, and "organization" to describe the pocket mod, then these things will be in different places when I'm browsing my tags, even though they should probably be grouped together. Tag bundles are great for this, but it takes time to organize them later.
Don't tag to be cool
I understand there's some ego involved in being the first to tag, and showing that you're cooler than someone because you tagged it first, but come on. If you read an interesting article, but you don't need it anymore, why are you tagging it?
Now, I should note that these guidelines are mainly for people who want to use del.icio.us the way I do: as a kind of toolbox. I put useful things in there and want to find them quickly. If that's how you use it, these guidelines will be helpful to you. If you use it for some other purpose, that's great, I'd love to know about it, but these guidelines probably aren't for you.
Friday, February 24, 2006
This is the most simple game I've ever played, but also more fun than any of the latest generation video games I've played too. Okay, maybe it's not as fun and immersive as GTA, but it still goes to show, you can have a fun game without photo-realitstic graphics.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
For those of you who don't read pixelated text very well, it says:
"You can make a lovely hat out of previously-used tin foil."
This is a joke I see on Slashdot a lot. Basically, if you want to accuse someone of being too paranoid about the government or big brother reading their emails or monitoring their cell phone conversations or whatever, you'd say that they should get a tinfoil hat. This implies that they they are akin to a crazy person wearing a tinfoil hat so the CIA can't read their brain waves.
I thought it was pretty funny that Gmail put this in there, especially considering all the controversy they stirred up when it was announced, either over scanning their email for advertising purposes or something in their FAQ about not being able to guarantee that their e-mail will be permanently deleted.
Is Google making a subtle dig at people who delete all their email, despite Gmail's suggestions not to?
Monday, February 13, 2006
So the other day I was thinking, Why do I need the gadgets? Why do they all have to look sleek, like my iPod? The answer: James Bond. A lot of guys want to be James Bond, for varying reasons: be it the girls, the cars, the style, the stunts, or the gadgets. Cars are okay, and I'm a little too uncoordinated for stunts, and my style is entirely courtesy of the Gap, and, hey, I'm getting married in a few months, so there goes my chance with Pussy Galore. So all that's left is the gadgets. (I'll save my rants about cars for another post.)
But it's not just that Bond has the gadgets, it's that he always seems to have the right one at the right. That locked door getting in the way? Good thing Q hooked you up with that laser-beam watch. Need a good distraction? Oh, right... Q just happened to install that remote-control device for the Roadster. This is what I think gadgets will do for me. Right Gadget, right time.
"Can I meet you next week? Let me just check on my handy Treo 650, which is synced to my Outlook at work."
That's the hope anyway. The reality is more like:
"Hey, when's Flag Day again?"
Of course, everyone wants to be James Bond, but as the above scenario makes pretty clear, it's pretty tough. Even if you have all the gadgets you'll ever want, there's the problem of carrying them all, and making sure they actually work the way you want them to when you want them to. And most of the time you're going to looking for uses for your shiny new gadgets when a more low-tech solution might really be the answer.
So what's the compromise? I know the compromise I make is to MacGyver it. This option also makes sense if you don't have MI6-type cash floating around to spend. See, MacGyver didn't need that much stuff, except his handy, off-the-shelf Swiss army knife. The rest he just improvised. Heck, even without the knife he could improvise. This is why I like to keep spare electronics floating around. Cables, wires, old remotes or game controllers, all get stored in boxes in the closet for parts. These things always come in handy.
A good compromise between MacGyver and Bond was a few months back, when I wanted to have sound from my stereo system pump into the kitchen for doing boxes. Luckily, my receiver supported A and B speakers, which could be turned on and off separately. Very Bond. But to really be Bond, I'd have to spend some serious money on some wireless speakers. Of course, the lack of cash led me to MacGyver it. I found a great deal on a big pair of no-name speakers from Goodwill, which didn't have proper speaker wire inputs. A little work with some wire-strippers and small bit of speaker wire allowed me to attach proper speaker wire to the back of them, which I painstakingly ran along the side of the trim and under the baseboards into the living room. So now I've got music in the kitchen, and it cost me $5.
Beat that Bond.
If anyone else has some good Bond or MacGyver moments, let me know and I'll throw 'em up on the blog. Or just leave a comment.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Okay, I like Google Desktop. A lot. Finding files fast is obviously its biggest benefit. It will beat Windows Search every single time in terms of speed. And simplicity. By default, Google Desktop searches for file names, folder names, and text inside files - without having to check any boxes.
The other big benefit is, believe it or not, as an application launcher. When I want to launch notepad, I don't have to worry about going to start/program files/accessories/notepad. I just type 'notepad' into the handy little box on my taskbar and it comes up. Huge time-saver.
But there's one thing that really drives me crazy about it. Google Desktop keeps serving me dead search results - on my own desktop! In other words, it points me to files that have been deleted or moved, and tells me that it can't find them when I try to open them.
Why? When you search with GD, you're basically just searching the index of your files that GD has created. The index seems to monitor new files that are created, but doesn't update when you delete a file, or move it to another location. What's worse, even when I click a search result, and it says it can't find it, it still doesn't remove that result for the next time I search! Does that make any sense? This is supposed to be first-class software from a first-class company.
There's a simple solution to this, obviously, and I seriously hope they're working on it for the next version. First off, when you find that a link is dead, remove it from the search index. That seems like really easy and intuitive code right there. Secondly, update the index when I'm not using the computer. GD does this when you first install it - scanning and indexing your hard drive when your computer's inactive. But then it stops, content that it's finished and done a great job. So all it's got to do is go through that index and check it against what's actually on my hard drive, and then index that. Google Web Search does this for the entire Web - why can't it do it for my desktop?
Saturday, February 04, 2006
My girlfriend... er, , and I both have cell phones and share a land line. No one really calls us on our land line that much. Just about everyone (except our parents) call on our cells. So why not ditch the land line? I faced this when I first got my own apartment, figuring I'd just keep the cell phone. The problem? The minutes get eaten big time. I tend to use my cell phone pretty sparsely - it's not so much a conversation device as it is a planning device. "Where are you?" "I'm in the food court." "Be right there." I use land lines mainly for the "how's your life been going" sort of conversations, and those tend to be much longer. My first cell phone bill without a land line was really huge, and made me get a land line very quickly. And don't even get me started about long distance calls on it are especially expensive.
So basically the outgoing line is there for long conversations and long distance conversations. It's $30 through the cable company which is pretty cheap. So obviously there's the VOIP alternative. But a lot of conventional providers are charging, at the bare bones, $20 a month. Not enough savings for me to be able to justify relying on the Internet for my phone.
is a solution that could be much cheaper. It's free for PC-PC calls, and the sound quality is great, but a lot of friends only check their emails about once a week, so you can imagine how hard it would be to convince them to invest in (albeit cheap) headsets and sign up to and be at their computer enough to make it practical.
You can make outgoing calls with , for a price, which is actually insanely cheap. It's about 3 cents (Canadian) a minute anywhere in North America or Europe. So... if we were to use it for 500 minutes a month, (more than we ever use) that would be $15 a month - half of what we're paying now. That's definitely enough for me to think about switching. But what about incoming calls? There is, which provides you with a real number that people can call you at. But... there's no Toronto numbers yet, so people would still burn our cell phone minutes when we got incoming calls. (unless we did the 'call you back!' thing which can get annoying.)
Okay, so assuming we could live with the 'call-you-back' option, there's still the problem of being tethered to the PC. Sure, there are phones, but I really don't feel like setting up a wireless network just for that just yet, and it's still too pricey. There is potentially a good solution - why not just hook up a regular phone to the PC? There are fairly inexpensive phone-to-PC bridges, built for , so it lets you use your phone's number pad to dial S numbers.
But I'm really surprised there isn't a simpler solution to this. A phone is just a speaker and a MIC, so why is isn't there a cheap analog adaptor that converts a phone wire into a MIC and a speaker mini-jack? Sure, I'd lose the ability to dial out using my phone dial pad, but I'd be happy enough dialling sitting at the computer, and then using a cordless phone to roam around from there. I asked the guy at Radio Shack (sorry... "The Source") about this and he stared at me in bewilderment. He suggested a headset that I could plug into my cordless phone. Thanks dude.
Okay, so there are still lots of limitations to moving to Internet-only calling, but the costs are definitely worth it. My phone right now costs me $30 a month, which is $360 a year. At 500 minutes a month, Skype rates would just about halve that. And the more people who sign up to Skype, the less everyone would be paying. But I really think though that the comfort and ease factor need to be there for more people to make the transition. Find me an analog phone-to-stereo adaptor and I'll personally buy one and set it up for my friends and family.
Friday, February 03, 2006
The one missing piece has been a good, simple online calendaring app. A lot of what I've tried looks very clunky, and attempts to just copy Outlook for the web. Outlook's great for work, since it's always there and it shares my work calendar easily. But since I'm lazy when I'm not at work, what I really want is something that can get my appointments in as easily as possible. 30 Boxes looks like it's just that. Here's a great snippet from their blog post:
"One of our key features is the ability to enter an event simply, in one line, and have it appear on you calendar. Enough of the overly complicated event entry boxes! What if I just want to put “lunch with mom tomorrow, noon”. Do I really need to pick repeating, or time zone, or url, or description?"
Thank you! I think software should be able to adapt to our needs without requiring us to change our habits too much. I'd love a simple date entering tool like that. If there were mistakes, or tweaks, I could sort those out later, but this would be great in just getting stuff in it.
I was really hoping gmail would add calendar support and do just that. Imagine getting an email from someone who said, "Hey, part at my place this Thursday" and gmail was smart enough to put that on your calendar? Apparently 30 Boxes has something similar, where you can forward an email (say, a flight confirmation) and it will add those dates to your calendar. Hey, why not add the ability to send a text message from your phone to the calendar too? There's a lot of times dates come up where I'm not at my computer.
Another great thing about 30 boxes is sharing. Every other calendaring app makes sharing kind of a chore, and clunky, requiring you to say what's private, and what event you're sharing with whom. This just shares everything, unless you say it's private. I mean really, aside from the ol' prostate test, how many dates are really that private? You then add your friends to it, and you can layer their calendar data over yours, one at a time or all at once. Wouldn't it be great to see a concert your friend was going to that you didn't know about? "What? You're going to see the Shins next week? They're in town???" Okay, so maybe if I was good enough friends with that person, they'd have known I liked the Shins and invited me anyway, but still... I think it's a neat idea.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
But... I have a lot of ranting about stuff to do, which is why I started this blog. I'm going to try to keep it pretty focussed on my rants about technology: what I think is good, and what I think is bad. Not specific products necessarily, but also trends. Like tagging. Tagging is cool. And clutter. Clutter is bad. Kind of ironic I guess.
My hope is that I can write something thoughtful enough actually make a difference, because I'm not a coder, or an engineer in any way. I just want to rant and hope that people like that listen to me and change things.