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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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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Yes, I can make calls over the Intraweb really cheap. Yes, I get free long distance on my cell phone, and many of those people on the same network so I don’t even get charged for minutes. However, I still like having a traditional land line at the house for various reasons, and I like being able to make long distance calls from it (especially since the Cingular/AT&T merger made my cell phone number a toll call from my house…)

Anyways, a while I go I chose to switch from a fairly expensive AT&T long distance plan to Pioneer Telecom (as reviewed by PhoneDog.com). Signup was easy and over the web.

Service and quality so far has been great, billing is automatic and only online, and last month my bill was $0.57, total (no fees, no minimums, no taxes, etc). Compare this to my old AT&T bill that ran $12 to $18/month (we had a special deal for international rates, not that special).

So check out PhoneDog, see what they may recommend for you, and I highly recommend Pioneer.

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Compare-Mb-White Compare-Mb-Black Compare-Mbpro15

A friend at work asked me for a laptop recommendation, so I figured I would simply post that here so that the peanut gallery could add their comments as well. At a high level I suggest the following. My reasoning is below, feel free to disagree with me in the comments:

  • The mid-range MacBook (the one with the SuperDrive for burning DVDs)
  • Upgrade to 2GB
  • Plan on getting an external USB hard drive for backups

My standard recommendation for all personal computers these days is “buy a Mac”. I’ve been firmly in that camp since switching (from Linux) about four years ago, and I’m even firmer in that camp since their switch to Intel chips. Essentially I believe that Macs are better at and easier to use for the majority of common tasks that people really want to do (digital life, Internet, managing personal data). There’s often an adjustment period for people coming from Windows, but in the end a Mac can do everything and more, and often make the workflow more efficient. For power users, there’s no question that the combination of a great GUI and a core BSD operating system is the killer combination that has most technical conferences completely dominated by Apple hardware these days.

Some people may have reasons that they want a desktop machine (and Apple has plenty of good options there), but I also generally recommend that people tend towards laptops these days, they are just so good and so flexible. The current laptops are amazingly capable:

  • All of them include an integrated video camera – iChat A/V is really cool!
  • Support for the Apple Remote Control – It seems trivial but its really nice for showing slideshows on a big TV
  • And of course beautiful screens, good battery life, built-in wifi and bluetooth, and a nice touches like indicator lights on the charger and batteries

So for a laptop, my basic recommendation is to go for the mid-range MacBook (not the Pro…more later). There’s not a huge difference between the regular and the Pro, and most normal users won’t notice them:

  • Slightly more screen pixels (well, many more on the 17″, but that thing is just too damn big)
  • Better graphics card, and the out-of-the-box ability on the Pros to support separate displays on the internal screen and an external monitor (this is nice for the ability to instantly increase your screen real estate, but I’ve heard the regular MacBook can do this as well through a software hack)
  • Backlit keyboard (OK I’ll admit that this looks frickin’ cool, but the place its most useful is on a plane…where I’m usually trying to conserve battery power…)
  • An ExpressCard slot for peripherals, but most of these can be attached through USB or Bluetooth

Of course the MacBook Pro can get you more power (faster CPU, space for more RAM, and a better graphics card), but unless you’re going to be editing a professional movie or rendering massive images, my feeling is that the MacBook is a great fit for almost everyone, and up to $1000 cheaper. In fact, I actually prefer the slightly smaller MacBook form factor.

So my standard recommendation is for the mid-range 13-inch MacBook. I think that the upgrade to the SuperDrive (for DVD burning) is well worth it. I also highly recommend filling it with 2GB of RAM. RAM is about the most important thing you can do for Mac performance. It can be cheaper to buy from an online retailer like crucial.com, but sometimes that requires throwing away the RAM that shipped with the box, so its good that Apple has lowered the overall cost on RAM so its easiest to just upgrade when you order.

I gotta say, I do think that the matte black MacBook looks really damn cool, but I’m not sure its worth the style tax of $200 (with 40GB more disk space).

If anyone strongly disagrees (or supports), please feel free to comment below!

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Paparazzi!

Takes a full-size screenshot of a web page using WebKit (no more scrolling in FireFox and sticking things together)

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Self-Publishing

A couple of sites to investigate for printing your own books/photo books:

Blurb – Makes it easy to do semi-custom books with more text than iPhoto

Lulu – Self-print any sized book from a PDF file

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