Monthly Archives: May 2007

Attacking social networking

A couple of fellow bloggers have noticed the BBC’s apparent attack on social networking tools. Dennis and Euan both highlight reports such as yesterday’s one about bloggers getting sacked for their postings. When I read that, I did think to myself that it was scaremongering… clearly people need to be aware about what they write, but I have a fair amount of faith in the common sense of individuals, and besides, responsible companies have blogging guidelines to enable people to navigate this scary new world of the editable web…

Then, of course, we have Stephanie Booth’s appearance on News 24 this week, answering typical alarmist questions about the “dangers” of the Internet (and a good job she did of replying to them, too).

As I drove in to work this morning, I heard a very silly story on the Today programme on Radio 4. Their journalist, Rory Cellan-Jones, was investigating whether Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter were any use. His conclusion appeared to be that he was too old for them, since he didn’t end up with any friends once he’d signed up (apart from the ubiquitous Tom on MySpace, and the founders of Bebo, once he’d pleaded with them to be his friend!). He also derided Twitter, commenting that people seemed to talk too much about mowing the lawn – ironically I do have one friend who talked about his lawn this week, but I typically find Twitter far more useful than that. He could have mentioned the status broadcast, IM, location awareness and microblogging features, but presumably those would have been too advanced for the Today audience to cope with. It was a very bad item. I was shouting at the radio by the end of it.

The one good thing about the story was that the Bebo folks did make the point that the age profile is getting older as users grow up. I had a similar conversation with a local authority who came in to IBM Hursley today – I was presenting on Virtual Worlds and talking about the fact that youngsters are driving the technology change and bringing social networking tools, and ultimately “games technology” and virtual worlds, into the enterprise.

Of course the week began with alarmist reporting about the dangers of wireless networks. Suw twittered and bsag wrote a commentary on that programme, so I won’t go into it myself.

So, in essence, we’ve now had a week of “the BBC beats up on social networking and the Internet”. A concerted effort? I do have to wonder. And to what end? The BBC already makes a big deal about its own blogs and talks a lot about Web 2.0, and then lays into the tools that are out there. Weird.

Partly as a reaction to today’s news story, I finally signed up for Facebook. Within a couple of hours of Twittering my presence there, I have a bunch (well, 10) friends – and those are only a few of my contacts from other networks. I really need to go and explore some of the groups and look up old friends and contacts from elsewhere – I’ll do that once I get some time.

(annoyingly, is not currently accepting my new identity – hope they get that fixed soon!)

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Spam and marketing hit Twitter

I was not particularly delighted to receive an email informing me that I was the latest Twitter friend of this person (warning, potentially NSFW)… not after I’d seen what they were peddling, anyway. Far from adding them back, I blocked them. At least the new friend email was the most harm they can do (beyond littering the public timeline).

A new phenomenon – Twitter spam… Twam? Sadly I’m not coining this term (I thought I was being terribly clever there, you know). There’s actually a whole blog devoted to this, and more reading available.

More interestingly, it looks like some music artists are starting Twitter pages to go along with their MySpace and other sites, presumably for marketing reasons. It will be interesting to see whether any of them use Twitter themselves, or let their record companies do it for them…

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Hostnames and MQ Explorer

I haven’t blogged about my day job for a while, but an interesting technical issue came up today.

A customer was trying to add a new queue manager to MQ Explorer. However, they could not enter the hostname into the relevant field in the GUI.

It turned out that the hostname had_an_underscore character in it. The entry field in MQ Explorer prevents the user from entering this character.

This restriction makes sense. As per several RFCs (RFC952, RFC1035, RFC1178) and the Wikipedia entry on hostnames, underscores_are_not_valid characters in hostnames.

… hostname labels can only be made up of the ASCII letters ‘a’ through ‘z’ (case-insensitive), the digits ‘0’ through ‘9’, and the hyphen. Labels can not start nor end with a hyphen. Special characters other than the hyphen (and the dot between labels) are not allowed, although they are sometimes used anyway. Underscore characters are commonly used by Windows systems but according to RFC 952 they are not allowed…

So, now you know.

A solution could be to reference the IP address of the queue manager in question, or possibly to alias the hostname in the hosts file so that it does not contain underscores. Note that I have not tested the latter solution, but it should work.

Right Plaze, Right People, Right Time

Plazeslogo-New Plazes is getting a major update, and I’m amongst the lucky few to have been invited to play with the preview version…

I’ve been a Plazes user for well over a year now, and I’ve got a small group of friends there. I’ve never understood why the service hasn’t developed more of a critical mass. For those who have not come across Plazes before, it is a location-awareness service that allows you to publish your physical location. The original version did this via some quite clever technology which ran as a small application on your desktop (the “Plazer”) and used your network ID to work out where you were located. Over time, that has changed, and although today you can still run a desktop app, you can also run the Plazer on your mobile, use SMS, or just update your location on a Google Maps interface.

The new version is pretty nice. Rather than just saying where you are now, you can also say where you were, and where you will be – treading into Dopplr territory here. Not only that, you can say what you are (or will be) doing there – rather like Twitter. They also now have a groups feature, which enables places and people to be grouped together – handy for conferences, or for businesses or organisations.

New Plazes

This is an early release that a few of us have been allowed to get a look at, so some things don’t work fully yet… for example, there is no Plazer application (it isn’t needed any more, but I understand that there will be a new version), and I can’t seem to edit the details of a future Plaze yet. I’m sure all of these things will come. I also can’t see where my “karma” for Plazes discovery and usage is, now… I was doing fairly well on the old scale!

The fact that you no longer have to rely on the Plazer is a big deal… it might persuade people like Dale to take another look 🙂

I guess for me, the biggest question is how easy this will be to mashup with other web applications. I don’t really want to type my status / what I’m doing into both Plazes and Twitter (or Jaiku, if I ever move off there). I can see a lot of power and value in Plazes, but it would be nice if all of the web apps I use regularly worked together, instead of building their own empires. No information on the new API as yet.

If you are interested in location-awareness or geolocation applications, remember that this Friday’s Minibar unconference in London is a themed around location – hope to see you there.


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More on handy Mac apps

Yesterday I did a little playing with various applications on the Mac to see if they were going to be helpful…

I have been using using Vienna as a feedreader, and it works fairly nicely. I was reading that Maria Langer uses endo (from the same stable as ecto, which I use for writing my blog entries on the Mac), and since there’s a trial available I thought I’d give it a go. I’m not entirely convinced by the layout… the subscription groups are in a bar across the top, and I would rather have them running down the side, but that’s a comfort thing. There are a couple of nice features, though… it supports microformats like hCard, so if I’m viewing Upcoming events, endo will offer to put them into iCal for me. The setup wizard offered to set up a number of personalised feeds for me, for example the comments that people had left on my Flickr photos, and Technorati links to my blogs – a nice touch.

So far, I’ve been through TextEdit, Smultron and TextWrangler as editors on OS X. Last night Al was telling me about TextMate, and that also has a free trial, so I’m giving it a go. TextMate appears to be a bit of a hardcore programmer’s editor… and since my choice of editor on Windows tends to be gVim, I think this might work for me. There’s a lot to learn, though. I’ll see how I get on.

I’ve heard lots of people say that Keynote is far better than PowerPoint, and then I realised that I have a trial version of iWork on my MacBook Pro, so I can give it a go before choosing to upgrade to the full version. So far it seems nice… I have a number of presentations to give in the next few months and I’d like to see how I get on with Keynote. The animated slide transitions are particularly lovely, and I read that the visual quality of the slides is better than on Windows… it is certainly very easy to use.

Twittervision screensaver
The latest version of the Visionary screensaver runs either FlickrVision or Twittervision (real-time Flickr and Twitter postings popping up on a Google Map), or the 3D version of Twittervision. It’s just a bit of fun, but pretty cool.

And now, a few via Lifehacker

Really simple – Ejector is a menubar app that provides a drop-down menu to eject any device, including disk images. The default Apple version only lets you eject CDs.

People had previously recommended AppZapper to completely remove applications from the machine – AppDelete is essentially the same thing but freeware.

Whenever I plug a camera into my Mac, it launches the Canon CameraWindow software. I spent quite a lot of time trying to stop it from doing this. The RCDefaultApp preferences pane lets you adjust the default behaviour when devices are plugged in, or the default app used to launch various file types. Handy.

So i discovered yesterday (via some Twitterings) that you can hold down ctrl and use the scroll button on the mouse, or the two-finger scroll movement on the trackpad, to zoom the screen. Very cool.

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