Posts tagged reviews

Review of AirMe for iPhone and iPod Touch

05/04/2009

Upon reading a few positive reviews, I decided to try the new AirMe iPhone application yesterday. I’ve been having lots of fun with it! AirMe is a free (cool!) iPhone and iPod Touch application that lets you upload screenshots and photos you’ve either taken with the built in camera or already have on your device to photo sharing sites such as Flickr and Photobucket.

One really useful feature it has include being able to scale images down before transmitting which would be really useful if you’re on a crappy 2G phone network or slow WiFi connection. You can also set it to only transfer images if you’re on WiFi.

The buttons along the bottom of the screen could use some labels in my opinion to make them easier to figure out for first time users, but aside from that I think it’s a fantastic application. And it’s free!

In this post are the two shots I’ve uploaded directly to my Flickr account from my iPhone as of yesterday. The first that you can see above is a horribly out of focus shot of a pretty cup of coffee from the Boatdeck Cafe where I was sitting at the time. The second below is a screenshot of the iTunes application downloading an episode of Cranky Geeks which appears to be taking a while!

This might take a while!!!


Was ALMOST ready to overuse Clipmarks!

An automatically posted Clipmarks blog entry failing validation…
An automatically posted Clipmarks blog entry failing validation

Having now used the Clipmarks service for a day now, I have to say I’m impressed. The interface for their Firefox plugin could use a bit of polishing but other than that it’s fast and easy to use, and the blog export feature after I’ve saved a block of text is insanely convenient… almost!

ASIDE: I’ve largely tried to avoid sites like this because I’m paranoid about having my own data locked away somewhere that if I chose to move to another platform or service I’d be stuck, but the fact Clipmarks lets me export all my items to my own blog makes me feel much better.

There are just three small problems preventing me going crazy and using this service to tag and subsequently share everything I come across with you all here:

  1. Their white colour scheme doesn’t match other posts on this site at all.

  2. It doesn’t automagically create grilled cheese sandwiches after it’s automatically posted entries to my blog after I’ve bookmarked something

  3. The resulting automatically generated posts aren’t XHTML 1.0 Strict or even valid HTML 4.01, even if the quoted material was. They also generate a gigantic amount of HTML code for just showing what I’ve quoted plus a few links.

So close, and yet so far!
So close, and yet so far!

I can solve these problems by modifying the source HTML for each Clipmarks generated blog post after they’re published, but that negates any benefit of using an automated service in the first place!

I might contact the people running Clipmarks asking about whether future versions will have custom colours and XHTML validation options. If they ever implemented these features, this service might become more addictive than coffee! If they’re strapped for cash and time, I’d gladly pay a few bucks to unlock "advanced features".


Playing around with Clipmarks

Clipmarks

If you’ve noticed the two latest posts (New Clipmarks account test post, Clipmarks test post with a photo), I’ve been playing around with the Clipmarks service I found out about from G’day World. From the welcome email:

Welcome to Clipmarks, rubenerd!

Here’s a link to your personal page on Clipmarks.com: http://clipmarks.com/clipper/rubenerd/

On Clipmarks.com you can save clips of text, images or videos you find on the web, and see what other people are clipping.

Clips you save publicly will be included in the feed of Newest Clips by everyone. If other users like a clip you post, they will "pop" it over to the latest pops page for others to see. If you consistently post clips that other users find interesting, they may add you as a Guide to easily keep up with all your clips.

The idea is you install the Clipmarks plugin which places a small paperclip on your Firefox toolbar. When you reach a page with a block of text you want to keep and share, you click the bookmark then click and/or drag your mouse over those areas then click the Click Here When Done Clipping button that appears above the page. A new window then appears which asks you for a title as well as an optional description and categories. When you’re done, these clips appear on your profile page, in my case its here.

Clipmarks
Popup that appears when you’ve selected the parts of the page you want to clip and share. You can choose to keep clips private too.

I’ve been looking for something to help me remember individual quotes instead of pasting text into files or just bookmarking an entire page on Delicious for assignments and personal use for quirky, funny and/or interesting individual quotes and media I find. I reckon this might be a great way to do this.

What I’m really interested in though is being able to take quotes from pages and post them on my blog in a similar way to sharing items on Google Reader. So far the only problem I’m running into is the automatically posted quotes here really do not match the colour scheme I’m using here, and all the extra formatting seems a bit excessive, plus they don’t validate as XHTML 1.0 Strict either. I wonder if there’s a way to automagically export raw text and images instead of having all the formatting? Guess it’d be pretty easy to write a script to clean the posts up.

Anyway getting a bit ahead of myself here, I’m still playing around with it for now. I’ll post a longer review once I’ve learned more. Anyone else use Clipmarks and have opinions? I know from Jim Kloss that the links are working for him, we’re off to a good start!


It started as a post comparing Reader and Bloglines

Nagato Yuki reading a book
People like my mum or Nagato Yuki would probably tell me books don’t have these problems. They’d be right!

Despite what some might consider my obsessive coverage of Google Reader over the last few months, I still have my Bloglines account and I continue to use it. I still much prefer the Bloglines interface to Google Reader; it does require a little JavaScript to work (a consideration for us NoScript users) but it’s behaviour is much more predictable owing to the fact it doesn’t use as much Ajax. After Google Reader’s latest interface upgrade, reading the feeds in my Bloglines account is even more of a relief.

ASIDE: Bloglines also has a beta interface which uses Ajax to the same extent as Google Reader. To say it smokes Google Reader might be a bit of an exaggeration, but they really have done an incredible job. If you don’t have people using one service over the other, I would really recommend it. I’ll be reviewing it in more detail in an up and coming post, when I have less homework!

As with most internet software though, often it comes down to the social aspect over something like the interface! All of my friends who share items are on Google Reader, so I use that for more general feeds with items I’m more likely to share. If I was really smart I’d merge their subscriptions and use one over the other… "if" being the operative word.

Google reader and Bloglines

Or for example I’d subscribe to anime feeds (a topic I’m sure the WWR crew and Dave Wares on Reader would be bored to tears to read my shared items of!) in Bloglines, and things like sustainable living in Reader.

ASIDE: To Google Reader’s credit, they do publish people’s shared items in Atom feeds, which means I could still keep track of my friend’s shared items in Bloglines, it just means I wouldn’t be able to comment back. Unless they then subscribed to my Bloglines shared items instead, then they could see my comments and replies… hey that’d be cool, I might look into that.

On that train of thought, I’m thinking I might use the fact they’re separate services to my advantage. I might use Bloglines for economic news and for university related feeds for assignments and so forth, and use Google Reader for my downtime reading. That probably makes even more sense, even if that does mean Kelli and Atuu see perplexing posts about Nagato Yuki and unfortunate Code Geass silos full of tomatoes.

Icon from the Tango Desktop projectI have a post in the pipeline which I’ve been working on for weeks which talks about my problems with blog aggregators, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

Reading back this post I can’t discern what the point of it was. It started as a post comparing Google Reader and Bloglines, but then turned into something else. Hey, that would make a good post heading.

Perhaps I should do some more of that so called "thinking" stuff before I start penning such an aimless rambling of thoughts that is far too long for anyone to probably read in full. Come to think of it, "Rubenerd Rambling" sounds much catchier than the "Rubenerd Blog". It would certainly be a more accurate title. Hmm…


Followup to my Simple Spam Filter review

TanTanNoodles Simple Spam Filter showing the number of blocked spam messages
That's a lot of filtered spam!

You may recall I recently gave a glowing review of TanTanNoodles Simple Spam Filter plugin for WordPress. Now that a few weeks have past I thought I'd give an update on how it's working out in real world usage.

After several weeks of adding keywords from incoming spam messages every other day, TanTanNoodle's Simple Spam Filter is now taking care of virtually all my spam messages. By virtually I mean it's taking care of thousands, while Akismet is taking care of a couple. This is a staggering ratio that I never dreamed a filter could reach, and a real sign that a simple, clean, no frills plugin can outperform a much bigger, collaborative commercial plugin such as Akismet.

Below is a quick table I drew up that shows the number of spam messages Akismet and the Simple Spam Filter blocked. While Akismet can be reset, the Simple Spam Filter simply shows the cumulative number of blocked messages, so I simply subtracted the previous weeks total from the one reported at the date shown.

Date Akismet Simple Spam Filter Unfiltered
2009.01.20 4291 n/a 29
2009.02.01 2499 1913 12
2009.02.06 44 2070 (=3983-1913) 1
2009.02.10 12 1767 (=5750-3983) 0
2009.02.24 2 6014 (=11764-5750) 0

Now of course there are several caveats to this table: I didn't bother doing checks at predetermined intervals, and given spam is an unpredictable, living beast the fact one filter did a better job than the over when compared just on one day doesn't give an accurate picture. Still, the overall trend is clear: with some adaptation over a period of weeks to the kinds of messages I receive, Simple Spam Filter is now more effective than Akismet, while using a fraction of it's resources.

To appreciate these numbers, you also have to keep in mind how Akismet and the Simple Spam Filters differ in function. Akismet allows all comments into your blog's database then filters what it thinks is spam into a spam folder. The Simple Spam Filter rejects blatant spam messages outright: these messages NEVER alter your database. What this means in practise is the Simple Spam Filter puts much less load on your systems and keeps your database much cleaner.


Spam instead of baked beans?! So you want spam, spam, spam, spam, spam…

Of course we must also remember that no spam filtering system is perfect and that there are bound to be false positives. Again Simple Spam Filter works great for this because it only filters spam messages with obvious strings of keywords; as you can see in the table this takes care of the bulk of the spam. This means the more intelligent but heavier Akismet is left to deal with the rest of the comments that are harder to discern, and any messages it does flag as spam I can more easily skim through for false positive because there are only a few messages a day instead of a few thousand!

If you are using WordPress on your website, you absolutely want to download and install this, right now! I mean it!


Please use Sumatra PDF instead of Adobe Reader!

Software bloat personified from an Apple Get A Mac advertisement

One of the things that dismays me about most computer software is how incrementally newer versions are heavier and larger than the number of new features and useful functions they contain could explain. "Feature creep" is a term that describes the inevitable phenomena of increased sizes as a result of new features, but we start referring to software as "bloatware" when the increased sizes really can’t be justified anymore!

Case in point, this afternoon my dad’s corporate computer died and as a result he needed to use his backup home laptop which I hastily installed his work software onto (that’s an adventure for another post!). One of the design applications he uses requires a PDF reader so it can show documents internally. I thought "easy!" and proceeded to download the Sumatra PDF Viewer, an extremely lightweight (less than 1.3MiB) and lightening fast free and open source application that I’ve been recommending over Adobe [Acrobat] Reader and FoxIt Reader for my friends on Windows for a few months now.

ASIDE: I placed the Acrobat brand in square braces because Adobe pulled a Microsoft, only instead of changing a brand by adding superfluous information (such as Windows Internet Explorer) they dropped the Acrobat name from the reader, but kept it in their professional paid products. I wish I understood why people decide to do such things.

No such luck, this particular application requires Adobe Reader, despite Sumatra PDF’s ability to read and search PDF documents. I figured the application used some APIs in the Adobe Reader which the Sumatra PDF reader doesn’t provide, so I figured I’d bite the bullet and download Adobe Reader after all.

Adobe Download Manager
You know you’re in for a big download when the vendor provides you with a… download manager!

Now you must understand that given I’m a Mac OS X and FreeBSD desktop guy I’ve long since been used to having PDF reading functionality in my OS and desktop software so I haven’t needed to grab the Adobe Reader in a while. I had forgotten what a pain it really was! The condensed saga in three points:

  1. I visited the download page on the Adobe website in Mozilla Firefox on my dad’s laptop, but the page refused to load. I turned off NoScript and part of the page loaded, but then got stuck in an infinite loop and refused to finish. No amount of page reloads or waiting solved the problem. Giving up, I launched Internet Explorer (sorry, Windows Internet Explorer) and the page loaded fine. Crappy JavaScript, crappy page or both? Not sure.

  2. Once I clicked the download it became apparent this reader I was replacing Sumatra PDF with was almost 30 times the file size! I know it can do more, but 30MiB versus 1.3MiB?

  3. It seemed though that Adobe recognised the large size of this file, so they implemented their own download manager which downloads and decompresses the file as it goes on. It’s also designed in such a way that if you close the browser window containing the page where you started the download, the download manager closes too. Brilliant!

Icon from the Tango Desktop ProjectI’ve never really liked Adobe or their software, in fact I’d probably use Windows Vista or Windows 7 loaded up with Microsoft Office and Windows Internet Explorer before I touched a breathtakingly overpriced and bloated Adobe application. And believe me I have plenty more stories!

As for my dad’s laptop, he now has a functional replacement system which is slower than his work laptop was when it worked, but let’s just say it runs rings around it now that it’s not functional at all. Oh come on, you try and be funny when you’ve been traumatised by software! Reckon Bill Kurtis could still pull it off.


Protect yourself against MD5 certificates

SSL Blacklist showing that Gmail doesn't use the vulnerable MD5 algorithm.
SSL Blacklist showing that Gmail doesn't use the vulnerable MD5 algorithm, and that it's certificate issuer isn't on their black list.

I'm typing this post this evening on my beautiful 2002-vintage iBook with Mac OS X Tiger. Still going strong, definitely the most reliable and dependable system I've ever owned.

To be serious now though: it's official folks, there is now awareness of weaknesses of the MD5 algorithm used to sign secure certificates online. Sites that use the more secure SHA1 algorithm are safer, and RapidSSL is now offering it in place of MD5. Still, some are still using MD5, meaning if you connect to them you're not really using a secured connection.

From CodeFromThe70s.org:

An attack has been demonstrated yesterday that highlights the practicality of the well-publicized weaknesses of the MD5 algorithm. Essentially, any certificate signed with the MD5 algorithm may be counterfeit.

There is […] a large number of CAs out there, and it is certain that some of them will continue to use MD5 for one reason or another.

Therefore it may be prudent to avoid, or, at the very least, not place much trust in websites that authenticate themselves with the help of MD5. After all, there is no way to automatically distinguish between a chain with a genuine MD5-based certificate signature and a chain with a counterfeit certificate.

A solution to this is a Mozilla Firefox plugin called SSL Blacklist which places a small certificate notice in the bottom right hand side of your browser that indicates whether a page is secured with SHA1 or not secure with MD5. This allows you to make informed decisions when using secured sites, and to let existing web hosts know that they should upgrade.

Even before this vulnerability was demonstrated this plugin was a useful addition to the security conscious internet user's toolkit, but this lastest release makes it indispensable. If you don't have it in other words, grab it now! This is an order!

UPDATE: Steve Gibson also goes into great detail about the exploit and the plugin to protect yourself in Security Now 177.


Google Reader takes a turn for the bland

Google Reader's new bland interface
Google Reader's new interface

So I was casually paroosing my unread Google Reader items this evening. Upon eagerly clicking my much beloved rationality folder, the screen refreshed and the interface changed to an entirely new style, as you can see above.

With a few frantic mouse clicks I was over at my subscription to the official Google Reader team's blog to see if this change had been announced. According to their latest post, square is the new round:

On the Reader team, we know that the old adage “change is good” isn’t always true. Sometimes, change is just change. In this case, we hope that these decisions both improve your Reader experience today, and pave the way for additional improvements down the line.

Do we like Google Reader's makeover? I can't speak for you guys obviously (if I did it would involve a great stretch and not caring whether or not I was being disingenuous!) but as for myself I'm somewhat underwhelmed, for the same reasons why I was somewhat underwhelmed with Google's Gmail interface upgrade.

I am certainly not an authority on interface design, and I don't know enough about their backend to gauge the technical necessity of such changes (such as del.icio.us having to change their interface after their much publicised transition to PHP), but these refreshed interfaces seem more like change for the sake of change than anything constructive.

I love the new interface, the colours really make the different sections stand out! Oh wait, that’s the old one? Whoa… that’s a regression.

~ My sister Elke

I do welcome the ability to collapse parts of the navigation sidebar, but as with Gmail I feel the removal of their trademark light green and blue colours to delimitate different parts of the interface is a huge step backwards. I thought the use of these colours in the past was a stroke of pure genius: they were low key and unobtrusive, and they separated content from navigation extremely well.

These colours also acted as a consistent cross-application visual branding cue; when you saw those colours you knew you were using a Google service.

Google Reader's new bland interface
The elegant, distinctive old interface and the generic new interface (from the Google Reader team's blog)

I don't know why web companies are all of a sudden so petrified of using colour. As we saw with CNET America's revamping earlier this year, Google seems to think colour is somehow undesirable. In this case, they've replaced their trademark colours dull grey-blue shaded highlights; pale, almost invisible pixel-width lines; and heavy black text culminating in one generic wash of Blazing White™.

Conclusions

Ever since I became a Gmail user back in 2004 when a friend of mine from high school sent me an invitation, I've held Google in the same high regard as Apple and the Xfce folks when it comes to user interfaces. When I hear Google is working on a new web application, I'm always eager to try it out because I know it will be slicker and easier to use than anything else on the market. I'm worried about this latest direction they're taking their interfaces though.

I will keep using Google Reader because it's simply the best feed aggregator out there, but I do hope they allow a skinning feature similar to Gmail… so as I did in Gmail I can revert back to the original interface.


Gordon Haff’s Pervasive Datacentre review

Gordon Haff's Pervasive Datacentre
The best CNET blog you may or may not be reading

Given I've been unabashedly brown nosing and sucking up to tech writers of late, I figure doing it again won't sink me any further. Besides, talking about interesting people in a positive way is such a refreshing thing to do after sadly discussing all the nonsense going on around the world right now. I could get used to doing this!

I am well and truly addicted to a ton of CNET News and ZDNet Australia material; I am subscribed to no less than 12 of their feeds. The real gems aren't in their general homepage feeds though, but rather in the individual feeds of some of their writers, some of which I hope to talk about more in the future.

My favourite CNET writer by far though is Gordon Haff who writes the Pervasive Datacenter blog, buried an unceremonious 32 links down on CNET's News and Tech Blogs page. He discusses enterprise systems as well as free and open source software on the desktop and server, alongside some well thought out opinion pieces and some general how-tos he's picked up (in other words, the exact material I'd be talking about right here on my blog if I stayed focused rather than deviating into an assortment of other topics all the time!).

If you have a feed reader set up and ready to go, you can subscribe to his RSS feed here. He's also provided links for Google Reader and My Yahoo!.

Some of my favourite articles of his in the last few weeks where he's hit the issues right on the head:


Having lots of fun with Wordle

Wordle is a Java web application that intelligently generates gorgeous word clouds from text you provide, sans common English words. It can be an RSS or Atom feed from a website, a generic webpage or even just a slab of text you enter in yourself. It is a brilliant way to visualise what someone has been talking about.

My RSS feed for the Rubenerd Blog is configured to share the last 40 items, so this is a Wordle for these said items:

Wordle for the Rubenerd Blog after 1000 posts

If you have never heard of Wordle before, I must warn you against using it. Not only is it terribly addictive but it will take up your entire afternoon. You'll even start creating Wordles for other people's sites; this Wordle is for my list of artists from my Music to Explore on Whole Wheat Radio:

Artists from my Music to Explore list on Whole Wheat Radio


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