Technology

Beta Forever?

emailI experienced a frustrating issue with Google Chat in Gmail today. It wouldn't log me in, telling me my system administrator had blocked me. I knew that wasn't true, so I started trouble shooting on my own.

It turns out I had enabled a feature in Google Labs, where Google tests things out before unleashing the enhancement upon the masses. I was enjoying Google Calendar in Gmail, but this apparently broke Google Chat today. Disabling the feature in Labs fixed things.

That's when I realized, Gmail is still beta. It's been 4.5 years since Gmail launched and it's still in beta.

Will Gmail be in beta forever and why exactly is that?


I Live In A Digital Ghetto

digitalJesse Brown has an interesting entry on his Search Engine blog for CBC Radio. He laments about the growing list of backwards policies in Canada that he believes is creating a sense of digital isolation.

1. Last week the CRTC sided with Bell against a group of small Internet Service Providers who want to offer their customers unthrottled connections where what they download is their own business and not subject to interference.

2. In last week’s throne speech the Conservative government renewed their intention to “modernize” Canadian copyright law. Their effort to do so last session was Bill C-61, a woefully unbalanced and retrograde piece of legislation that led to the greatest citizen backlash to any proposed bill in recent memory. Yet there has been no indication from new Industry Minister Tony Clement that a much-needed public consultation will take place. The best he has offered is the possibility of a “slightly different” version of the bill.

3. Twitter has just announced that they are killing outbound SMS messaging in Canada due to exorbitant and constant rate hikes from Canadian cell providers (former Industry Minister Jim Prentice vowed to get tough on SMS price gouging, then backpeddled). Cell phone rates in Canada are among the highest in the world, and the result is that mobile penetration is pathetically low and that emerging new cultural platforms like Twitter are being hobbled.

The Internet's where I live and how I earn my income. My home is turning into a ghetto.


The Floppy Disk Save Icon Deserves to Stay

MouseWhen was the last time you saved a file to a floppy disk? It's been a while for me. In fact, I doubt I've saved to a floppy disk any time this century. Since the floppy we've advanced to CD, DVD and USB.

Now that saving to floppy disk has gone the way of the rotary phone, isn't it strange that the floppy disk remains the unofficial "save" icon? Whether saving to a hard drive or a web app, we click a little picture of a floppy disk. Heck, my son clicks a floppy disk to save his documents yet he's never actually laid eyes on a floppy disk let alone used one.

The floppy disk save icon survives in spite of progress, and I think it deserves to stay. It's sort of funny, this throw back medium persevering, like a cockroach post-apocalypse. Long live the floppy disk save icon!

flopy


New Google Search Doesn't Make Me Smile

googleThe joke at work is that I'm a Google bigot. I'm the only one who found a way to kick Outlook to the curb so I could live in Gmail. I prefer to Gtalk over MSNing. I won't tell you how much money I spend with Google Adwords, but it's a small fortune. Google gets it, from their maps to their docs and spreadsheets, I'm a fan.

Today I saw Google unveiled a new search for those of us logged in with a Google account. You can leave comments on results, promote results, remove results and whole bunch of stuff. As a test, I Googled toronto blog and promoted my own site, organically ranked #3 overall. This was my first mistake.

Here's the new result when I'm logged into Google, something that's true 100% of the time I'm surfing the web.

logged in google

And here's the results for the same search when I'm not logged into Google - I actually switched to Google's Chrome browser to take this screen cap.

organic google

I hate not seeing the organic results. I hate the new clutter in my search results. I miss the old Google, the one I used earlier this week.

The new Gmail themes made me smile. This new search doesn't. I just wish there was a button I could press to return to classic Google, the one we all know and love.


Twitter as an RSS Feed - A Social Experiment

twitterWhen Twitter first took off, I was sceptical. I didn't think it would make it, but I kept my good eye on it to see if it would fizzle out or reach the mainstream. I think it's now safe to say that Twitter has gone mainstream.

I don't have an interest in Twitter as a status tool, although I see the allure, I'm more interested in Twitter as an RSS feed alternative. Not in terms of reading RSS feeds, but in terms of publishing. Would people follow a Twitter feed as a means of following a blog like this one?

I found twitterfeed which promises to feed your blog to Twitter. You create an account, enter your Twitter account info and the RSS feed of your blog. The RSS feed for this blog is http://feeds2.feedburner.com/TorontoMike and my new Twitter account can be found at http://twitter.com/torontomike.

And so begins my little social experiment. Will people follow a blog with Twitter? If you'd like to be a guinea pig, start following http://twitter.com/torontomike and tell me how it goes...


The Rise and Fall of RealAudio

MusicIt's been 30 years since the Jonestown massacre. That got me interested in learning more about the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project formed by followers of the Reverend Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. That led me to NPR Online where you can listen to a great doc entitled "Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown."

You can stream the audio, but it's in RealAudio. That's right, it's in RealAudio. When I saw that, I had a very webby flashback.

In the mid 90s, lots of audio required the RealPlayer. Most of us downloaded the RealPlayer just so we could listen to .ra files. At a time when WinAmp was my music player of choice, RealPlayer quickly became a necessary evil.

Firstly, they made it near impossible to find the free version. That download page was a serious pain in the ass. Then, there was this terrible interface, even for the mid to late 90s. Then, there were those bloody pop-ups. At one point several years ago, I swore I would never install RealPlayer again.

I've kept that promise, and that means I won't be streaming this Jonestown doc on NPR Online. That's a shame, but at least I enjoyed this webby trip down memory lane.


XMp3 Player With XM Satellite Radio

XMA package arrived for me today with a letter. Here's how that letter started.

You are one of only 25 individuals in Canada who will receive this exclusive XMp3 Kit!

Your XMp3 Experience includes:

  • 1 XMp3 player
  • 1 XMp3 accessory kit (earbuds, remote control, home antenna, home dock, and more)
  • 1 year subscription to XM Satellite Radio
  • 1 bag of XM Swag (water bottle, hat, notebook, pen)

I've been playing with it for the past hour and having fun. I've heard some alt rock on Lithium, some live Neil Young on The Loft, Norm McDonald on Laugh Attack, some pop on Top 20 on 20, some indie on XMU and some cat named Mad Dog talkin' sports. I've tried recording a few tunes to MP3 and now I'm setting up the XM2go Music Manager to run this thing from my laptop.

After I spend more time with my new toy I'll write a review.

PB188332


The Flickr Lady at the Parade

yahooLast year I wrote about the Yahoo! float at the Santa Claus Parade. This year it was back, but there was something extra. A young woman was biking alongside the float taking pictures and sending them to Flickr in real-time.

Here's my pic of the Flickr Lady promoting Yahoo!'s coolest property on Sunday afternoon.

PB168266


PC Salvation

UbuntuOne perk when working for a software company is easy access to hardware deemed insufficient for development purposes. At least this is a perk when you're buds with the IS guy. Older desktops and laptops are taken out of circulation and replaced, usually because the latest version of Windows demands too much under the hood.

When I get my mitts on one of these desktops or laptops, I breathe new life into them with a proven technique that never fails. I get Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is a community developed, Linux-based operating system, and my personal favourite distribution of Linux. Oh yeah, and it's completely free. Here are the steps I follow when salvaging PCs.

  1. I visit http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download and download the latest version of Ubuntu's desktop edition, currently 8.10. This gives me an .iso file that will fit on a blank CD.
  2. Using the free InfraRecorder I follow the super easy steps here to burn the image to CD.
  3. With this newly burned Ubuntu install CD in the CD-ROM drive, I start up the PC and get into the BIOS. Usually that means pressing F10 or F1 or some key combination. Here's a cheat sheet.
  4. Once in the BIOS, set it to boot from your CD-ROM drive. Save changes and exit.
  5. Ubuntu will now guide you the rest of the way. It's super easy, trust me. You don't need to be a geek. The entire installation takes less than 30 minutes.

Almost everything is done in the browser these days, and Ubuntu comes ready to rock with Firefox. Connecting to the internet, either wired or wireless, is easy. It just works. Windows users will adapt quickly.

So if you have a PC that might be a little dated and lacks the horsepower for Windows, give it a new life. Give it Ubuntu. That's what I do.


CSS Design

cssAs it gets easier and easier for regular folk to publish on the web, I find less and less publishers are actually bothering to get their hands dirty with design. Using Blogger? Simply choose a theme from the list. Using Facebook or MySpace? The default settings will do. Using Wordpress or Movable Type? Again, we've got numerous themes to choose from, one is just right for you!

I think it was early in the year 2000 when I stopped marking up my design in the HTML. CSS design made so much sense so I dove in. Every colour, every font size, every border, everything could be moved to an external CSS file.

Here we are, eight years later, and I'm still crazy about CSS when it comes to design. I'm also still creating web sites from scratch, hand coding the CSS files from a blank slate. This entry was inspired by a great article I just read on CSS design, entitled Why Programmers Suck at CSS Design. The author's hope is to show people that feel CSS challenged that you don't need to be an artist, know how to draw or even just pick colours, and certainly you don't need to know how to use Photoshop to be able to come up with a nice, clean, readable and original layout. I concur.

It's an article I wish I had written. If you design for the web, or if you think you might like to learn how, read the article. At the very least it will get your creative juices flowing.



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