Figuring Stuff Out

Archive for the ‘application’ Category


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.


Posted in application, troubleshooting | Leave a Comment »

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 »

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 »


Posted by Mike on February 26, 2007


Still working on a post about my Linux server project but I thought I would fill the time by describing a neat little app for windows that some of you may like, Launchy. (download it here) It’s an open source app (meaning you can get it and run it for free, and fool around with the code if you feel so inclined) that allows you to access all kinds of functionality on your (windows) computer with a few key strokes.

After you install Launchy it scans your start menu (and any other drives or folders you would like it to) and creates an index that allows you to quickly open up applications simply by pressing the ‘alt’ and ‘space’ keys at the same time and typing in what you want. I’m putting together a quick demo movie that will go up soonish. What’s really cool is that it learns what you want the more you use it, so now all I have to do is type the letter ‘f’ and I can open up firefox. If you are reasonably familiar with, and have a somewhat organized, file structure you can also quickly work your way into the target folder that you would otherwise have to click through lots of intervening screens in Explorer to get to. It even lets you do calculations or launch searches in various web directories amongst other things.

launchy in action

For each individual task this really doesn’t represent a super big savings in time, and if you don’t want to take the time to learn how to use it it’s really not a big deal. But I must say that I like being able to get to nearly anything on my computer without having to take my hands off the key board (that mouse is just soooooo far away, seriously, I’m looking at it right now off about a foot to my right and dreading the idea of having to reach over there to press publish in a few minutes ). It’s actually vaguely like a return to the command line, although you are still accessing it through a pretty GUI.

Oh well, back to work I suppose…

Update – If you want to try a similar piece of software for the Mac that looks even slicker (and is also free), Quicksilver seems to be the way to go.

Posted in application, command line, Mac, Operating Systems, Windows | 1 Comment »