Figuring Stuff Out


Posted by Mike on June 3, 2007

I came across this link at John Battelle’s Search Blog and there’s some pretty interesting shots of daily life to be found on Google Map’s new street view feature.  No commentary here, just give it a look see.


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Posted by Mike on May 25, 2007

This past semester I took part in a professional practicum placement as part of my information studies program. My role was to analyze the knowledge sharing practises at the organization and to figure out ways that they could make better use of the IT apps they were using, and perhaps suggest some other apps that might help as well. One of the things I noticed while I doing the research was that collaboration on projects was a major feature of the work that the organization did and it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile for them to look into an online office suite.

Zoho is just such a suite and it offers a fantastic range of products that pretty well replace every single application you can think of in a typical office scenario. They have stripped away some features, as compared to desktop products, but most of those features are seldom used in a typical scenario. On top of those apps Zoho offers some web products, like a Wiki, that can integrate things (for a more complete description of Zoho see here).

In an effort to demonstrate the potential of this approach to the organization I was working for I decided that I would write my report in Zoho writer and then integrate it, along with a number of demonstrations, into a Zoho Wiki. The experience with the word processor portion of Zoho (Writer) was very pleasant, it laid things out very well, and that’s really all you want from a word processor. The only gripe I had with Writer was that when spell checking its periodic auto-save feature would wipe out all of the underlined words so it was a race against the clock until I had to restart the spell checker (eventually I just downloaded it to Word and spell-checked it there, which is definite stroke against). To be fair though, Zoho seems to know about the problem and have indicated on their boards that they are fixing it. Where I really ran into troubles though, was with Zoho’s Wiki.

I’ve fooled around with hosted Wiki software before and I realize that if you are going to set it up yourself you need to have a minimal level of understanding of HTML (even in a WYSIWYG environment). Luckily I am not entirely clueless when it comes to computers, and I even know a little bit about coding – although a hacker I am not. Still, working with the Zoho Wiki software was a huge pain.

First off, the GUI is not at all intuitive. I can recognize most of the buttons on a word processor toolbar and I can even figure out most of the buttons on a web-publisWhere’s the rest?hing toolbar but a little bit of help would be appreciated, perhaps a test explanation when you hover your mouse over the button (or even a screen-shot with an explanatioSite Mapn in the help section). For the most part I wasn’t really set back by this issue, I can tell that a button with ‘<>’ is going to allow me to view code but it seems like as this program is geared towards non-experts some explanation would be a good idea.

Second, there are some strange default settings. As a library student, and fan of taxonomy construction, my first inclination was to set up a home page and then a series of sub-pages dealing with various subjects or divisions in the organization. I used the GUI tool to do this (add sub-page) and continued to do so for all subsequent pages. If you look at the right pane on the screen-shot to the right, you will notice that the middle bubble holds a link to main page, but that’s it. If you look at the screen shot to the left, you will see the site map shows that all of the pages are related to each other (I used the add sub-page feature).  I’m sure there is a fix for this issue, worst case I could go into the HTML for that section and fix it, but this should be basic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very impressed with Zoho on the whole. It’s great software and they’ve got a huge range of apps that are designed to work well together, but these little things that make it tough for non-technical people to get the full experience are a big issue.

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Weather Wimps

Posted by Mike on May 12, 2007

My Firefox plugin for the weather forecast isn’t working today so I went to the Weather Network. The temperatures listed and such are all fine, but if you’ll direct your attention to the screencap below you’ll understand the title of this short post. Are they seriously suggesting mitts, snow-boots, and a parka for 6 Celsius? I kind of want to see the suggestion for a cold winter’s day now, is it a space suit?


Posted in semi-structured thoughts | 1 Comment »


Posted by Mike on May 4, 2007

It’s been awhile since last I posted, this stems largely from the fact that I’ve not been working on any projects (other than a supremely frustrating one involving Samba, I’m not super hot at networking it seems).  I came across this admittedly minor mistake today but it’s always fun to me when American’s screw up on Canadian stories (to be fair they did things properly in the article, but the title is a little misleading).  Anyway, it seems that the Ontario Liberals have decided to block Facebook and Youtube on their worker’s computers.  The article makes the valid point that there is actually a lot of useful information to be had on these two sites (although the time wasting temptation is pretty hard to deny).  Anyway, I’ll report back with a little more when I next get through a project, or perhaps I’ll go back to trying to explain the steps of installing Linux.

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Feeding the beast

Posted by Mike on April 17, 2007

Hello all. I’ll get back to posting about my adventures with Linux again soonish but for now I thought I would play into the hands of the Internet marketers and talk about two applications that I’ve been fooling around with recently: Joost and Particls. Joost is an attempt to create a viable Internet TV service that depends on short targeted adsJoost GUI (you can read a better description here). It’s in closed beta and I applied to get in a few months ago and recently got an invitation. I’ve played with it a bit and things look pretty reasonable at the moment. The video does occasionally stall (I imagine this is because the user base is not that big yet, it depends on p2p) and the content is a little weird, they have a lot of weak ‘game show’ format stuff from Much Music but also some pretty cool sports movies and indie films. The interface is pretty intuitive to me, which is good because there aren’t a lot of instructions, and it sure is pretty.

The other App I’ve been messing with is called Particls (not a misspelling). It’s a new approach to monitoring your various streams of information on the web. The idea is that it after giving it terms that interest you, along with the RSS feeds that you follow, and letting it look at your browser history it is able to find items that are of interest to you and bring them to your attention, while having the general feeds scroll unobtrusively along the screen (or not it’s all very customizable). It to is in private beta, but again I signed up a few months ago and recently got an invitation. I’ve had a little bit of trouble with this one, it doesn’t seem to actually be displaying most of the info it finds which is a bit frustrating. I’ve found that their support staff is very helpful and quick to respond (although we haven’t figured out what’s gone wrong yet).

On the whole, I’m a little bit more excited about Joost. If they can get some more content and smooth out the hiccups in video delivery it would be really cool (I’d love to come up with a means of cutting my TV cable, so get the CBC to sign up Hockey Night in Canada and I’m there). Particls is a neat idea, but I’ll reserve judgement until I get it up and truly running.

One last interesting discovery I’ve made while participating in these private betas is that they give us invitations that we can pass on to others. I like getting comments on this thing and they seem like a good way to bribe a few of you to do so. With that in mind I’ll give one invite, of the person’s choice, from one or the other to anyone who comments on a different post on this blog (so make sure to leave your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you). I’m not going to announce when I run out of invites, cause I want people to keep commenting (and I might get more), so it’s probably worth a shot.

See you in the comments…

Update: Seems that I have Particls working now (there was something hinky going on with my Firewall, I hate it when tech problems are my fault).  I’ve got a constant stream of information scrolling across my desktop now, although at the moment it seems to all be coming from a few of my feeds (So not that much discovery yet, but that will probably take time).  It seems kind of neat, although I think I will have to turn it off whenever I want to be truly productive, but that is probably mostly the result of my fascination with moving pictures….

Posted in application, semi-structured thoughts | 5 Comments »

Distracted, but back

Posted by Mike on April 17, 2007


 Well, the Mono is nearly gone and I’m getting primed to start posting again (soon after I finish the last few papers so I can graduate).Desktop Tower Defense  Standing in the way of my ability to post, complete papers, or eat is this crazy little flash game called, Desktop Tower Defense.  It’s super simple but it appeals to the strategy gamer geek in me and you can kind of set it up and let it run (at least on the easier settings).  I figure that if I’m not getting any work done I should at least try to pull you all down with me so have fun.

Posted in semi-structured thoughts | 2 Comments »

Cough Cough

Posted by Mike on March 26, 2007

No posts for the next little while, I’m sick with something mono, can you believe that?!?  Well, I’m going back to bed perhaps I’ll post in a day or two.

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This is so cool

Posted by Mike on March 21, 2007

OK I saw this and am now actually a little bit jealous of Mac owners.  It seems that there is a nifty little OS X app called proximity.  Proximity is a free download for your Mac that can sense when a designated bluetooth device (assuming you have bluetooth in your computer) comes into ‘proximity’ of the computer.  The more inventive of you have already started dreaming up cool things that this application could be used to do.  Unfortunately, for the less tech savvy of you out there, you need to be able to write apple scripts to be able to set up the cool proximity based actions that your computer can do.  Luckily my favorite blog has linked to a smart generous fellow who created a few cool scripts for you to plug into the app.  Some examples:

(quoted from
When the Bluetooth Device enters range:

  • Deactivate the Screen Saver Password.
  • Deactivate the Screen Saver.
  • Reconnect the phone to the OS X Address Book
  • Sync the phone using iSync

When the Bluetooth Device leaves range:

  • Activate the Screen Saver Password.
  • Activate the Screen Saver.

There are clearly all kinds of other worthwhile things those of you with scripting skills might be able to come up with, if you do (or if I come across and others)  feel free to toss a description and a link in the comments so that others can benefit.

Posted in application, Mac, Operating Systems | Leave a Comment »

What’s an ISO?

Posted by Mike on March 18, 2007

If you’ve been looking at the distro’s that I mentioned, and have gotten to the download page, you might be asking yourself this very question. You see installing an operating system is not the same as installing an application, there’s a little more to it. This might seem daunting, and figuring out what to do with an ISO might not seem worth the bother, but persevere and you’ll find that it’s really not that tough.

An .iso is a file type that contains all the information to burn an installation CD. Once you’ve jumped through the hoops of getting it properly burned it will be the equivalent of a disk that would come in a box from a store, so that all you have to do is drop it in the tray and get going (almost). Sadly there are a couple steps that you need to take first, they aren’t tough but I’ll try to save you a little time and walk you through it.

First off you’re going to need to get the file. To do this go to the download page of the distro you want (I’ll use Ubuntu for now but the process is pretty similar for every distro) and select the version number that you want and that will work with your computer. There’s an importantChoosing the nearest Download site one point, Linux is not designed to be limited to just one type of cpu. So if you are running something other than a PC you aren’t out of luck. Long-time Mac users can get versions for power pc chips and newer Mac users just use thchoosing the specific archecturee same version as a PC person. If you are using PC bought in the last five years or a Mac with Intel inside you are going to want the generic 386 version. To get this you will want to click on the download link from the country that you want to download in (see screenshot to the left), and than download the desktop i-386 .iso link (see the other screenshot to the right). At this point you can decide to do a normal file download or use bittorrent. If you have a program for downloading torrents take that option, it will be faster for you, easier on the server of the host organization, and finally allow you to use bittorrent for a legitimate purpose (who knew?).

The above is one of those stages where you will need to take a little responsibility for yourself. If you try to install an improper version of the operating system on your computer things might get a little ugly (most likely nothing at all will happen, but you never know). I’m not going to go into details about that, but if you are a windows user you can head into you control panel and then to the system icon and it will tell you the basics about your computer.

Once you have the .iso on your computer the next step is to get it burned onto a disk. Sadly you can’t just slap it straight on to the disk and going, the iso has to be burned as a disk image. Some burning suites do this out of the box but if you don’t have the ability to “burn a disk image” you’ll need to get yourself app to do so.   If you are running windows, this is a free iso burner and instructions on how to use it, if you work in OS X it seems you can just use the included disk utility (perhaps Mac users can suggest some freeware/dedicated alternatives).  Once you have your ISO burned you’re technically ready to get up and going in installing your shiny new OS.

I’ll talk about partitioning and booting your computer from a disk in my next message.  For now I would suggest that you concentrate on backing up everything that you don’t want to lost should things go wrong (as they definitely can) and thinking about how you want to use your computer going forward (ie. do you want to give up on your current OS or do you want to use Linux alongside it).

Posted in Linux, Mac, open source, Operating Systems, Windows | Leave a Comment »

Hey Artsy Folks

Posted by Mike on March 15, 2007

In my trolling of the blogosphere I came across this profile for a website that has kind of a nifty approach to custom designed t-shirts.  Basically they have a gallery of images and you drag and drop them wherever you want on the T-shirt you’re designing.   Where the appeal to artsy folk comes in is that they will let you upload your own designs (that do get vetted it seems) and when someone uses it to put together a t-shirt you get a, small cut.  I know that some of you have artistic abilities, and I think it would be cool if I could mix and match your stuff on a new t-shirt (my current collection is developing some pretty scandalous holes..)

That is all.

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