The journal of Paul M. Watson.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Delivery

R269

The cost to send 5 A4 pieces of paper and two passport photographs to Ireland by DHL from South Africa.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Radio Gaga

For awhile I thought I was going mad. Sitting before my laptop, reading an email or doing some work, the wireless headphones nestled on their cradle and my music player off I'd begin to hear a faint song. The first time it was a fast dance track that I had just been listening to. I put it down to some strange memory loop or my ears still vibrating from the pounding rhythm. A few days later I heard it again, this time a song I had not played in years. Then again, a song I had never heard before.

I began to worry.

It couldn't be a neighbour; they were all out at work. I checked my house-mates Hi-Fi; completely off. I checked their radio-alarm clock; not even plugged in. I leant close to the speakers of my laptop but nothing came from them. I briefly wondered if fillings in my teeth were picking up radio waves but then remembered I have no fillings.

The songs continued and I came to accept my growing insanity.

Like the voices of the damned I was to be haunted by Milly Vanilly or Hit Me Baby One More Time at inopportune moments. While replying to a distant ex-lover's email on came a Barry Manilow track. How appropriate I thought, maybe the singing voices were benevolent or even helpful. Then came a Maryln Manson track while talking to my mother on the phone; there went the benevolence.

And then just now as I finished listening to some Green Day, properly on my headphones, the phone resting on my shoulders I heard a well known local DJ begin his intro speel. I raised one 'phone to my right ear and there it was, distant, interference galore but quite clearly, the source of my madness.

Those damned wireless headphones.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Google Talk #1

Google Talk

Google Talk is out in the wild and in usual Google fashion it is quick and simple.

Sign-up is through your GMail account (I heard rumours that GMail was opening up but right now you still need to be invited) which is good and bad. Good because it integrates with your GMail account preloading your contacts and showing GMail email notifications. Bad because it is one more sign-in to keep track of and I would rather be able to use my Google Account which is attached to my domain name.

GTalk runs off a Google hosted Jabber server which means at this point no integration with the MSN Messenger, AIM, Yahoo etc. IM networks. iChat users on Mac though should be happy as they should have an influx of available contacts now. Even though it does not connect to my main IM network, MSN, I do like that it uses Jabber. It bodes well for the future as it may be an incentive for the big players to cooperate. Also if your IM client is Jabber capable then you can easily talk to GTalk users.

GTalk comes with VOIP but I have yet to test it. No connection to non-IP phones yet though as Skype does with Skype Out.

The best thing about GTalk is its speed. It is a very lightweight app, loading in an instant and responding very quickly. No sluggish MSN Messenger here. Chatting with friends is also quick.

Part of that speed though comes from a lack of features. MSN Messenger is loaded with rubbish but it does have a few features GTalk could do with and probably will get in the future. There is no file transfer in GTalk. It records your recent chat history (displaying it in the chat windows) but does not store permanent logs. There is no grouping or sorting of contacts e.g. Business, Friends, Family. There is no group chat which is useful for business contacts. Emoticons are also limited; ;), :-D, :) etc. are simply highlighted in blue. That is not a major problem though. No MSN Winks, thank god.

The contact grouping issue is in part negated by a search box. Yes, Google put a contacts search in. This filters your contacts list down to what you searched on. This is nice but not great for doing a quick scan of which business, friend or family contacts are online/offline.

Good features are: You can rename your contacts. You can set a custom status which is saved in a list for quick selection. Conversations windows are stacked smartly and can be dragged around together. No adverts, alert tabs or useless features (winks, nudges, backgrounds etc.) The interface is nice and clean, colours are bright and easy to read for online/offline. I do wish the Google Talk app logo though was not so large.

And I have to say it again; It is so damned fast. I have become used to the lethargy that is our bloated friend MSN Messenger.

I look forward to Google adding in those key missing features and hopefully for more interoperability between Jabber and the major IM networks.

Butterflies

Butterflies by slight clutter
Butterflies
Originally uploaded by slight clutter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Desktop widgets

Google Desktop #1 by Paul Watson

With the release of Google Desktop Google is entering the desktop widget market already populated by Konfabulator (now Yahoo! Widgets), Mac's own Dashboard and Desktop Sidebar.

They all share the idea of providing a system whereby widget makers, you and me, can produce little apps that are hosted inside the main app. These are either displayed spread across your desktop or as a bar on the side of your screen. Widgets generally bring in external information such as weather, news, stock prices, time-info and feeds, displaying it all in a small UI. Other widgets are more interactive such as todo lists, calendars, email notifiers and post-it notes.

They are mini apps; quick loading and often needed just for a few seconds to perform a certain task.

Frankly though none of these systems has survived more than a week on my desktop. They seem useful but ultimately fail to become part of my daily routines.

Take the weather for example. I have never understood the need for displaying on your desktop the weather outside your window. Even 5 day forecasts are rather odd to want floating about your desktop all day. Just who needs to know second by second what the weather is doing? If you need to know what the weather will be doing this Saturday then hit your local news website just once at the end of your day or switch on the telly. The appeal I think lies in that the weather widgets are pretty; Clouds, suns, rain drops and cute forked lighting. Ooooh, the weather is changing right this very second, better go rotate my crops.

Feed (RSS) widgets are also incomprehensible unless you have vital systems to monitor which spit out RSS. Reading more than one feed in a feed widget is crazy. We struggle with full featured apps like Bloglines or FeedDemon. Monitoring the news is barely a reason to have a feed widget.

Email widgets only work if they augment your email notification system. Having a list of emails in your sidebar is a bit pointless.

Calculators too. The Windows calculator loads in under a second, why bother with a bevelled, 3Ded, number-spitting monster that sits on your desktop all the time?

Power guages? Your laptop OS better already have that. Clocks that take up three quarters of your screen and actually tick? No comment. CPU and memory performance trackers? Come on, what are you, a sysadmin? If you are, you aren't going to rely on Konfabulator to monitor your big-iron. Photo panels? Use your desktop wallpaper or visit Flickr every 20 minutes or you will never get any work done watching the lovely cat shots slide by all day.

Right now the three panels I have in my Google Sidebar are Todo, Scratch Pad and Email. The email one is minimised because all I want is the notification gadget. Scratch Pad I have typed "Tet 123" in just to test. I may one day use it. The Todo list panel is quite handy, except it doesn't sync with Ta-da List so my Todo list is bound to my desktop and not available elsewhere.

The way this is going I'll be running Google Sidebar just to have the nice email notification widget.

Widgets I would use are; A todo list that syncs with Ta-da List. A calendar that syncs with Trumba (or iCal format). A feed-specific feed panel e.g. for BaseCamp project lists. A modified Quickview panel like Google Sidebar has, but better.

Of the two models, spread across your desktop (e.g. Yahoo! Widgets) and a sidebar (e.g. Google Desktop), I find the latter to be the best. I am not keen on the pretty but resource-intensive themed, styled and candy-coloured sidebars of Desktop Sidebar though. Yes, I could get a simple theme for it but Google Sidebar just doesn't support it and that means less to download, run, maintain and worry about. Also Google Sidebar gets the minimise option very right. It is not hidden in a context-menu, it doesn't leave anything behind on the side of your screen and when minimised (to your taskbar) a simple maximise/restore button puts it back on the side without any hassle.

I like the Google Sidebar system the best of all of them. But the widgets so far leave a lot to be desired. It is early days though. I am sure we will see a rash of pretty clocks, green power guages, complicated feed panels and thousands upon thousands of weather panels but I am hoping some genuinely useful widgets are also created. Alas the Google Sidebar widgets are not simple JavaScript and XML like Konfabulator; instead they use COM/ActiveX and require compiling with something like Visual Studio. Not terribly simple for anyone.

Desktop widget systems have a lot of potential and I welcome them. Right now though they are cluttered with "because we can" widgets rather than "because we need it" widgets.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Judged by cover

some might want to more closely tie their identity with a particular product. Because our identities are often tied up with the products we buy, music we listen to, books we read, it makes sense that some may just want to add a piece of themselves to an official page for a particular product. It's a bit like leaving an offering at a shrine for a particular deity.

Paul talks about this in his Amazon Reviewers post.

It is something we want to achieve with Colib. That sense of "Hello World, I am a White Stripes listening, Ian McEwan reading, Robert Rodriguez watching person" all through looking at their music, book and video collection. It is not by any means the whole of the person but it is an important part of them. It is not simple consumerist fault either. What you read is a good indication of a person. Is it Dan Brown or Ian McEwan, J.K. Rowling or Tolkien, FHM or Science? Same with the movies you watch and the music you listen too.

They don't define you, they are choices made because of who you are.

the bug

the bug by awfulsara
the bug
Originally uploaded by awfulsara.

Tulips

Tulips by Mountain Mike
Tulips
Originally uploaded by Mountain Mike.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Where it's at

Where it's at by shadowbox
Where it's at
Originally uploaded by shadowbox.

Flickr-group-itis

I have stopped saying No Thanks to Group invites on Flickr. The latest cause has been the Flickritis group whose sole aim is to be the biggest group on Flickr. Hey, it is a free country and thanks for thinking of me but I am not interested. Every day I get ten invites for the group, most with apologies for re-inviting (then don't.)

For awhile I thought it was better and polite to hit the No Thanks button. Now I know just to leave it alone and I'll not get bothered by invites to a certain group again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Silly Software #1: Norton AntiVirus 2005

Norton AntiVirus 2005 is a good anti-virus application. However it does have at least one annoying design feature: You cannot move the Norton AntiVirus Start Menu location. If you do you will get the following error everytime Norton AntiVirus 2005 starts:
Norton AntiVirus 2005 does not support the repair feature. Please uninstall and reinstall.

Firstly, that is a very unhelpful error message. So unhelpful that I followed its advice, to reinstall, with no change to the problem. Only then did I got onto the internet to find out what the error message really meant.

Secondly, I like to keep a clean Start Menu. I have everything arranged just as I like it and never keep the default locations of Start Menu items. So now to accomodate Norton AntiVirus 2005's strange setup I have to sully my beautiful Start Menu with its shortcuts and folders.

Not terribly serious I concede but an annoying feature all the same.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Colib

Colib by Paul Watson

And now Colib.com is on the horizon too.

Harry's Cat

flailing a ragged paw at reasoned thinking like a fat, rancid cat that just won't die.

from JK's failed to work her magic on me by Brian Henningan.

Little lies

Little lies by av_producer
Little lies
Originally uploaded by av_producer.

Waiting

Waiting by slight clutter
Waiting
Originally uploaded by slight clutter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On buttons

Two items of clothing I recently bought highlight an interesting design difference.

The one, a pair of shorts, came with the spare button in a nice little plastic bag separate to the shorts themselves. I promptly lost it.

The other, a wonderful shirt Carine bought me, came with the spare button sewn into the label attached to the shirt. I can hardly lose it.

Microsoft Attention Deficit Disorder

User: Hey, I can't log into our company ADD.
SysAdmin: Try and concentrate for longer than 5 seconds, OK?

The joke only works if you are a techy and know that Microsoft has something called Active Directory.

(n) interpator

(n) interpator
1. Someone who interprets from one patois to another

A Southern friend of mine was explaining some Cajun slash Southern slash Louisanna differences to me and spelt interpreter as interpator. At first I thought what terrible spelling. Then I looked at it again and had to laugh as while it was still horribly wrong it was a pretty good word for what we were talking about.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

beluga

beluga by tamura
beluga
Originally uploaded by tamura.

Driven to text

Well everything seems to be sorted now. PaulMWatson.com, check. Colib.com, check. WebTwoZero.com, check. Email for all, check. DNS and MX records all pointing at TextDrive, check.

I have migrated over to TextDrive for all my hosting and email. Hostway did a decent job but it was costing me more than I wanted (every alias cost me an extra wad of cash for instance) and didn't support Ruby or Ruby on Rails. Also the control and configuration options were thin on the ground. I had heard that TextDrive was good, had Ruby on Rails setup as well as MySQL and a bunch more.

To say TextDrive is for geeks is putting it mildly. CGI, FCGI, SSH, SFTP, Apache, VirtualMin, LightPD and more *nix acronyms than I have seen in one place. Now I am a geek but I am a Windows geek so all this *nix data is a bit overwhelming. It took me quite a few frustrating hours just to get a simple Rails app working. I thought I had tried everything including the common Rails errors on TextDrive but it turns out I had Windows line-endings in my dispatch.cgi.

Come again?

So yes, definitely for geeks and nerds.

But the power is awesome. I now have three separate websites complete with email and FTP running off TextDrive. The TextDrive interface is a whole bunch of rough text HTML pages which is offputting at first but after a few hours you realise it lets you do pretty much anything to Apache or email or whatever service, process etc. you need on the server. You can even run CRON jobs. Now I just have to find out what a CRON job is.

Also 50% of my TextDrive fees go towards supporting Ruby on Rails. You can chooes your project to contribute too when you sign up.

The guys over at TextDrive are a wired bunch too. Nerds, hackers and geeks the lot of them. One server is named Gilford, that made me laugh. I am on the Davie server. They are very open about their hosting too. The status blog details all server problems and what they are doing to fix them. No dry corporate guff from Jan, Justin and the others.

So if you want decent hosting with a lot of power then try out TextDrive.

This marks another step away from Windows for me. First Ruby on Rails, now Linux hosting and someday a nice Apple Mac running OSX (which is Unix).

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Primi Service

Primi Service by Paul Watson

Primi Piatti is a top-class local restaurant chain. They serve up a fine selection of pasta, pizza and Italian foods. The portions are large and very good quality, the price not so dear. What sets them apart though is their service. It is not just good service, it is service with a difference. You do have a waiter assigned to your table but in one sitting you will be served on and checked on by a handful. Every waiter is a real live wire too, not obnoxious but simply really happy to serve you. The manager has no problem clearing the table for you should he see an empty plate. They wear bright orange workers overalls with "Work is love made visible" or "Work is to become not to acquire" emblazoned on the back.

This evening Carine treated me to a Primi dinner and near the end we ordered chocolate brownies for dessert. A table across from us also ordered them a little before us. About half-way through eating what looked like the mom of the table called over the manager and complained that the brownies were too dry. Now these were good chocolate brownies. Dry, cocoa rich baked goodness with a pool of thick chocolate cream surrounding them. They are meant to be dry and then you drizzle chocolate on them which soaks in and sends shivers through your tongue. Naturally though the manager genuflect, has to agree and whisks them away with a refund. Standard restaurant practice. Carine though calls the manager over and tells him the other customer is a crack pot and that the brownies are bloody brilliant.

This is were the Primi difference comes in. Most managers and waiters I know would have rolled their eyes, sighed heavily and agreed with Carine. They more than likely would have pitched in with extra bitching about the other customer.

The Primi manager though smiled, nodded and said "Well, we might have left her one in the oven a bit longer or some such. You win some, you loose some." No dirtying the difficult customer's image, no bitching, just a ton of respect and deceny that you don't get many places.

Well done Primi, you guys rock.

Friday, August 05, 2005

iProust

I put all the books in my iPod. I have one iPod that has the complete works of Proust, and I take that with me—when I’m depressed, I listen to it.

Frank Gehry on what he is reading.

Adtastic

As you can see I now have Google ads displayed up top thanks to the magic of Adsense. They have definitely relaxed the rules as last time I tried to apply for Adsense on a personal site such as this they refused. This time my application was granted the morning after I made it.

The ad box needs some serious restyling but will do for now. Internally the system is quite slick. Plenty of options, styles and functions along with useful reports and a lot of tips on how to get the most out of Adsense (good for me, good for Google.)

You can naturally totally ignore the ad box if you wish. I wanted to use this more as a test for future websites.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Allure of Freedom

The Allure of Freedom by bdmckeown
The Allure of Freedom
Originally uploaded by bdmckeown.