Monthly Archives: February 2008

Aggregation using MoonMoon

One of my current side projects / tinkerings is the creation of a site which aggregates a bunch of my online feeds – an aggregated “identity dashboard”.

Jean-Francois made me think about using WordPress to do this. I love WordPress. It’s so ridiculously simple to install… provided you have a PHP + MySQL host, you just unzip, provide the DB login information in the config file, and then it initialises itself and has a nice administration dashboard. I played around with adding some feeds in widgets on the sidebar, and it kind of works. I can edit my own pages and I don’t have to use it as a blog.

Talking to Rob on Friday led me to experiment with Planet. Planet is built in Python, and generates static HTML pages. It is exclusively built for aggregating feeds together, and it works fine, but I have to go hack around in config files, setup a cron job, and so on.

Something I’d never heard about until today is MoonMoon. This is a PHP-based web solution (like WordPress) but it’s a simple feed aggregator rather than a CMS (i.e. similar to Planet). It doesn’t need a database. It’s at a fairly early stage of development, but if you pull down the latest code from Subversion you’ll find that it does have a nice administration page that enables new feeds to be added very quickly without the need to go near any configuration files.

Still at the tinkering / experimentation stage, but this has been an interesting exercise so far.

Make your own Redbook

If you are involved with IBM products you will undoubtedly be aware of Redbooks – deep technical books, usually written to address a particular product or scenario. The Redbooks are written collaboratively through the residency process. As a Redbooks author I have to say that working on one of them was one of the best experiences I’ve had at IBM so far – getting close to the development team, collaborating with folks from four or five different countries, working on hands-on scenarios and building a really strong book out of it.

IBM alphaWorks now has a mashup called My IBM Redbooks where you can go and “build your own book” based on a selection of those available. Essentially you can choose from a list of the books, pick the chapters you want, add a few title pages (name, abstract and preface), and then you are served a PDF version of the aggregated book. The only slight confusing part is that the page numbers and sections from the original book are preserved, so it’s not entirely customisable at this point.

Pretty neat, especially since you don’t always want every chapter and appendix, and some of the books can be several hundred pages long. Worth a look.

YouTube, Viddler or Seesmic?

As regular readers will know, in the last couple of months I’ve been experimenting with video both on my blog, and also with video sites like Seesmic (I’m lucky enough to be one of their pre-alpha testers).

At some stage I’ll write about the capture and editing aspects of this whole adventure, but not today. Today I want to take a brief look at the sites I’ve been using.

How well do video conversations work?

I’ll start off by saying that I still find video an awkward medium for blog or microblog-style conversations, for a number of reasons:

  1. There’s a clear need to get over your initial feeling of self-consciousness. There’s no way I’m videocasting if I look or feel really awful (OK, OK, that’s my default state, har har).
  2. There’s a need to have the time and quiet space to record video messages. I can’t imagine what it would be like if everyone in the office suddenly started using video services all at once. Firstly you’d all loop back to 1 (self-consciousness), then there would be mayhem with the noise. Lately I’ve been in open-plan offices and using these kinds of services is just not appropriate.
  3. Video can be time consuming to create… Seesmic gets away from this by just putting the record button straight in their flash app to enable the video to be captured directly with no post-editing. For other tools like YouTube you need to capture and edit the video before uploading it.
  4. Video and audio require so much more attention than text. I can scan a piece of text in moments… (a History degree will give you the ability to pick the salient points and precis a 500-page textbook in 20 minutes). With video I have to watch, listen, and I can’t easily backtrack to reconsider a point you’ve just made. And for a really conversational service like Seesmic, I have to keep coming back and watching every point made in a thread to get a true understanding of the conversation.

That said, video does work well for showing certain things, like screencasting software features or showing off real items, both of which can be hard to describe with words.

Which service works best?

I have accounts on Viddler, YouTube and Seesmic. They all have their pros and cons.

In terms of conversation, immediacy, and the ease of just posting a blurb, Seesmic rocks. I’ve talked about its significant deficiencies before, and they mostly relate to the lack of social features in the interface like the inability to find and connect with friends. It’s not great for supporting multiple formats, either – you can either upload directly, assuming your camera is accessible from your browser’s Flash plugin; or you can post a .FLV file, which you’re probably going to have fun creating by converting from .MOV, .AVI or some such. No stats or usage data appear to be visible. When I’m able to use it, I generally do like it… but it hits points 1, 2 and 4 in my list above, so I don’t use it much due to lack of time, space, and attention bandwidth.

For searchability and scale, YouTube wins. Everyone has heard of YouTube. It’s accessible directly from AppleTV and a whole range of devices. You can upload in a range of formats. It has a very slight “conversation” aspect as it is possible to post “video responses” to someone else’s videos, but it’s not an ongoing conversation like Seesmic. Handy for embedding into blogs, and there’s some ability to find out how many views your videos have had.

… or Vimeo, or Utterz, or…?

There are other similar services around. If you want to upload video to a tumblelog on Tumblr, they recommend something called Vimeo (although you can point to another online video on another service). There’s also Utterz, which I also haven’t used but which appears to be more like Seesmic in terms of the community features and immediate conversation. To be fair I’m in no position to comment on either of these, but it’s obvious that online video is hot just from the proliferation of services.

Viddler wins

So you may have guessed, based on the fact that I’ve left it until last – my personal favourite is Viddler.

Viddler is just so easy to use. It accepts a whole range of common video formats and will transcode them for you. You can tag your videos – and even better than that, you can add comments and tags at particular points in the video. I can embed the videos on my blog (which is not possible with Seesmic). It’s easy to find and connect with friends. There are groups. There are excellent stats which show where hits on your videos are coming from, including when a video is played through an embed on your site or another one… for example, I know that as I type this my Matter video has been played 2964 times and the viewed 4154 times, the majority of hits coming from a different site entirely (full URL lists are available, which is great).

Viddler does not offer a “video conversation” service like Seesmic… but for sharing, embedding and tracking online video, screencasts, or whatever, I just think it’s the best of the current crop.

Update: my friend Maria Langer has just started a series on using Viddler with WordPress on her blog – you’d almost think we were conspiring together 🙂

Time Machine and Airport Disks, redux

Update: treat the contents below with caution!

It looks like I could have been mistaken… see the end of the post…

Wireless Time Machine?

OS X 10.5.2 dropped yesterday and after the frenzied upgrading, I’ve been exploring the changes. I can’t say that Apple’s release notes are particularly detailed… for instance, they don’t mention the fact that Time Machine now ‘sees’ disks attached to an Airport Extreme base station as valid backup targets.

I’ve been wanting this for a long time (with “long time” being relative in the tech world!). Over-the-air backups seem like an obvious idea… when I get home with my MacBook Pro I just want it to sync against the network storage. Why shouldn’t that work? Apple seems to agree, given that they’ve now released a product which enables just that.

I attached the USB disk I have been using for Time Machine to the Airport and mounted it. Sure enough, Time Machine can now see it… but when I set it to use that disk for backups, they fail. Time Machine also can’t see the existing backups on the drive. I’ve also tried moving the Backups folder into the Andy folder (my Airport Extreme is set to use User security), but that doesn’t work either. I’m thinking it might be related to the security setting on the Airport… should I be using User, Disk or Base Station password for the disk? Who knows?

Here’s a quick look at what I’m seeing:

Apple haven’t updated their support article yet, so maybe this isn’t really supposed to work, still. Any advice appreciated.

In other news

The other fixes in 10.5.2 seem fair… I’m not going to switch off transparency in my menubar, but the Stacks changes make sense, and Finder seems more reliable at seeing my network. I’ve had Mail freeze on me once, though 😦

Update! Maybe I was wrong?

Back when Leopard first came out I was casting around for solutions to this and came across the hack that suggested setting a hidden option to get Time Machine to show unsupported network disks. The last time I tried it, it didn’t work… but I don’t remember whether I “unset” the option afterwards. Today, Maria Langer reminded me about that tip, and on a hunch I checked to see whether that option was still enabled. It was, so I unset it… and now Time Machine cannot see the Airport Disks.

So – can anyone tell me whether 10.5.2 is “supposed” to backup wirelessly with Time Machine? I saw some leaked screenshots prior to yesterday’s release, which made me think they’d added the feature back… now I’m just confused! That’ll learn me… Can anyone tell me how Time Machine behaves for them, please?

Update: I was wrong

According to the Apple Support Forums, that is.

SOA in Vegas, Lotus in London

SOA / WebSphere at IMPACT

IBM’s customer SOA conference, IMPACT, is taking place in Las Vegas at the beginning of April. IMPACT is the evolution of the annual WebSphere events… actually my first trip to Vegas was back in 2001 when I was an IBM customer, attending the WebSphere conference.

There’s a blog listing some of the details, and you can find out more about the event and register on the IBM site. The event is also on Facebook.

Sadly I’m not expecting to be there myself, but it looks like the B-52s are performing and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is speaking, so I’d love to get along.

LotusSphere comes to you

Like me, you may have missed out on LotusSphere in Florida last month (are we spotting a pattern?). The “roadshow” version of the event is being held in London and Manchester at around the same time as IMPACT at the start of April. Check out the information on the IBM site. Worth going along if you want to learn more about IBM’s social software tools like Lotus Connections.