Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Find me on FriendFeed

FriendFeed is a cool new site that aggregates you and your friend’s recent activity on numerous social networking sites (and even things not strictly considered social networks). Its nice because its a newsfeed that integrates all those minor pings your friends post and lets you keep up with them in an easy-to-read chronological way.

Do it now before I have to turn you into an imaginary friend.

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Air Envy

Please review My Next Wish From Apple
3 pounds, check.
13″ screen, check.
LED backlight and option flash drive, check.

Damn, I guess I wasn’t specific enough in my wish list.

Hopefully Apple will see the tsunami of customer feedback on this and add a removable power pack.

They should work on making their head removable from their ass over things like this while they are at it.

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OmniFocus Convert

I’ve been playing with OmniFocus.

It infuriated me at first, and I switched off after it crashed a couple of times.

A week later I was gagging to get back on it though, and now I’m completely hooked.

Nice work (again), Omni.

Twitter style has invaded my blog. 😛

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Great Mac Games

Before my recent trip to India I wanted to pick up some entertainment for the plane. So in addition to four laptop batteries and a Magsafe adapter for the plane I picked up a few games. I don’t play a ton of computer games, but can definitely be engrossed under the right circumstances. Being stuck in transit for 36 hours is one of those circumstances. Oh yeah, I’m on a Mac, so gaming selections can be somewhat limited.

I ordered a copy of Homeworld 2, knowing that Homeworld was considered one of the best games of the decade by friends of mine (the original was not available on OSX). Unfortunately, something went wrong on the installation during my flight so I couldn’t get it to work. Maybe I’ll return this one…

The really good find was a few titles from Ambrosia Software. They make/port small titles for the Mac, and focus on “medium-sized” games. By medium-size I generally mean something that’s more involved than a simple shoot-em-up but that I can still learn and play a couple of rounds on on a plane flight. In particular, I found DEFCON and SketchFighter to be a blast.

DEFCON is great if you grew up in the 80s and love “War Games”. A strategic role playing game where essentially, “Everyone Dies”. The graphics in particular are fantastic and is sure to draw strange looks from your neighbors on any plane.

SketchFighter is on the smaller arcade-style for a game, but the concept and the graphics are great so its just simply fun to play.

Two other games they had that looked fun included EV Nova (sci-fi role playing I imagine to be like Homeworld…but I guess I can’t compare), and Darwinia (which I really couldn’t figure out).

If you’re looking for some quick entertainment for your Mac check out Ambrosia, its always good to support smaller publishers.

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Second Life Redux

One of my best friends works for Linden Labs, the company behind Q107’s media darling Second Life. For those of you who haven’t heard, Second Life is essentially the Metaverse as visualized by Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash, a completely virtual world where people can create a live whatever they want. Always a neat idea for hackers, but like most technology, the initial usages revolved around geeks and porn.

I’m excited to see this start changing though, as I knew it would when they added voice capabilities. Now the world would go from being IRC with avatars to a real virtual world where people could interact more naturally.

I was particularly happy to see this post on the every-influential TechCrunch talking about the greater utility of the virtual world, and reversing their previous stance “that this year Second Life has provided a range of tabloid fodder that we’ve seen fit to print”.

Go Linden, here’s hoping you figure out a business model that will at least let you stay alive, if not make the extremely passionate people who have built this amazing technology at least somewhat rich.

Update 10/14/07: Someone pointed out that it was Neal Stephenson, not William Gibson who wrote Snow Crash…do’oh!

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The Mail Log Email Archive

Even though life is completely insane right now and I’m juggling 100 hour weeks with work, school, and baby, I still manage to get my email inboxes down to zero messages most days of the week. When I see co-workers that have hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of messages in their inbox it just boggles my mind. I ask, “How do you know what you have to act on?” and usually get some mumbled response combining unread status, flags, luck, and “some things get missed.” Inevitably when I ask why they operate this way the response is the same, “I don’t know when I might need to refer back to something.”

People, your inbox is just that, an inbox. Its a waypoint for new items that need to be processed, not a storage file.

A long time ago I would read through my email and for every message that might in some way be relevant I manually copied it to a read-mail folder. That way I kept my inbox clean and still maintained a history of messages in case I needed to search backwards.

Mail volumes continue to increase though, and the few seconds per message it took me to manually copy was a waste of time. As disk space has gotten cheaper and search capabilities faster I’ve moved to a new model, the complete “Mail Log”.

Basically, I’ve added a server-side mail rule that automatically copies every single message that is delivered to me into a separate “Mail Log” folder (and all outgoing mail into a “Sent Mail” folder). This all happens automatically behind the scenes, I don’t have to worry about it. Now when I’m done with a message in my Inbox I delete, no worries. If I ever need to refer to it again I open up the Mail Log and search for it. Easy peasy.

This works great on Exchange with Entourage as well as on my personal mailbox (powered by procmail on the back end). Gmail does this automatically (brilliant). Sometimes I rotate archives for manageability (quarterly at work, yearly at home), but some day someone will build a mail client that can reliably store and quickly search 10+GB of mail messages so I don’t have to worry about this.

Stop using your inbox as an archive. Get the historical crap out of there and only look at the stuff you really need to worry about!

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My next wish from Apple

Last year I asked Santa for an Apple-built Blackberry/Treo. The iPhone is soon to be and I’m withholding judgement for a while (so they can shake the bugs out and see if there’s a huge developer upswell).

The next thing I want is a super-portable MacBook. The Palm Foleo has been getting a lot of chatter around work, but I know that I need a full laptop when I’m on the road. With flash-based hard drive replacements and LED-backlit or OLED screens it seems we’re close to a major shift in the way laptops are constructed…its now possible to build a laptop with zero moving parts (if they can get the cooling right).

I’m looking for something very solid, quite light, smaller than the 13″ Macbook probably (but not too small), standard built-in features and ports, but likely no DVD drive (external maybe?). Excellent battery life is a must, and I’m not even concerned about raw processing speed if we need to keep things cool. Ideally I could imagine a dock…or better yet a wireless “docking” option.

So a fully-featured Mac sub-notebook, more rugged, better battery life, and ultimately portable. You could definitely demand a premium from business road-warriors, but if you make it rugged enough and cheap enough I could see parents buying these by the boatload for their backpack wearing high school and college students.

Steve, are you listening?

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I signed up on Twitter a while ago (username: randwacker) in order to stalk a good friend who just moved to NYC. Its fun to watch his head explode in near-real-time. However, Twitter utterly lacks any way to discover other friends I may know who are already on the system (I have a policy not to spam people with invites to new social networking services).

This is totally lame, these guys need to realize they are a social network, and their market cap will be a direct multiple of the size of their user base. If they don’t make it easy to find people, they won’t grow as fast as they could.

Facebook (which I’m also on) does an excellent job of this, making it trivial to find other people in their network you might know. Facebook then does an awesome job of adding cool new features on top of that network such as an excellent photo sharing tool, news feeds of interest to you, and even an elegant implementation of Twitter-like functionality.

Facebook needs to do more to market the fact they are no longer exclusive to .edu accounts, and try to market themselves to a wider audience. Of course, if they would combine with LinkedIn and Yelp! then I’d have my ultimate tool!

Oh yeah, so if you’re on Twitter please leave me your ID so I can stalk you. I’m making one last effort to prove its useful before I boycott it forever…

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No, its not.

(From the way-back machine, a topic that has bothered me anew recently)

Its a great application platform, much more full-featured than the old mainframe terminal emulators that its going to replace, but is the browser the interface that I want to use for everything?

Let’s take Google Maps as an example. The basic map application is brilliant, and one of the most enduring example of a major new AJAX application (forget the fact however that Google’s directions are so often wrong). But does Google Maps work well on my Treo? No, that’s why Google wrote a phone-specific application that gave the best possible experience but accessed the same data and back-end servers.

I expect the same thing to happen for other productivity apps as well. I use a Mac because I appreciate the higher level of interface design that goes into the typical desktop application. Switching back to the browser represents a major shift back in the usability of my computer. Not that I don’t want my data accessible from other systems, but I’d much rather use a well-designed Mac app that is accessing that data on the back end.

Email is a great example. On my desktop I have a great rich-UI browser, on my phone I’ve got a mobile-optimized client, and when I’m away from both I can fall back to web-based access. How is this accomplished? A strong set of protocols that separate the data on the backend from the presentation on
the front. We should be designing first with these APIs in mind, and then focusing our energies on the best interfaces for where that data is most often accessed.

And that’s where I’m surprised that we’re not seeing more three-tier, multi-platform applications out there. A back-end network server for data storage and complex computation, a web services data access layer, and multiple rich-interface applications for acces, /including/ a browser-based version.

Yes, I think we should be developing applications by first thinking about the data access and storage, then layering the right interface on top of that. Another example of separating presentation from application, but planned in a way that makes it easy to build the best experience for network-based apps, without being tied into “the browser as a platform”.

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So last week I did something you really only do once because you’re too embarrassed to do it again…I forgot my laptop when I went to work.

I had meetings most of the day, but I was able to keep up with things surprisingly well out of my Treo. I can’t present in webinars or write up extensive documents, but 80 percent of what I do anyways is email, and I could manage about 80 percent of my messages through the handheld. I’ve started spending weekend trips away from the laptop, this entry in fact I’m thumbing in right now.

How truly feasible is this though for anything beyond basic text? I’m not going to make presentations on my mobile, I don’t have my 10 gigs of work reference email, and I’m not going to write even a 4 page position paper.

Advanced phones are great as comprehensive communication devices, but they are not laptop replacements.

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