hyndman/tech

Technology Advice You Can Trust

Hi, I'm Dave Hyndman. I am a senior IT consultant providing CIO-level advice to small & medium businesses, non-profits and government departments and agencies.​

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Time for a switch

Just ordered myself one of the new 15" MacBook Pros that were announced this morning. Santa Rosa chipset, LED backlit display and all sorts of other geek candy. 15″ MacBook Pro

I'm really looking forward to switching my main work over to Mac. Windows has been driving me crazier than usual and Vista is making the problem worse, not better. I wish it was a full switch, but we still have the workhorse PC at home that manages all of our photos and music. One of these days that thing will get replaced with an iMac or Mac Pro. I'll also have to maintain a Windows environment for work. I'm hoping I can accomplish this in Parallels or Boot Camp.

Seems I'm in good company.

Great Geek Quote

Saw this a few days back and it's stuck in my head. Apologies to the author as I don't remember where I saw it:

XML is like violence: if it doesn't solve your problem, you aren't using enough of it.

Weblogs in education

Via Scripting News, I see a post by Michael Feldman of Dowbrigade wishing for a stronger uptake of weblogging in the classroom. Michael's a professor at Harvard and/or Boston University (I couldn't quite figure it out) and has one class showing some enthusiasm for weblogging. I wonder if Michael's seen the work that Mark Hemphill's done at UPEI. Last year Mark's students used TypePad weblogs in class (here and here). This year, Mark is heading up a much more ambitious project: in BEAT he's put together an inter-institutional, inter-disciplinary group to work on cool, useable, web-application development projects for credit. They've already started a weblogging platform for all of UPEI and Holland College ... similar to the Harvard Weblogs project.

Check out the UPEI Weblogs site. They even have The Cadre, the student newspaper, blogging.

My take on Apple's iPod mini

There seems to be a near consensus panning of Apple's iPod mini. And I disagree. I posted the following as a comment in one of my own posts from a couple of days ago (and I want to repost it here so I can point to it in 6 months when I'm proven right): "Regarding the iPod-mini, your observation about the $50/11GB delta is being echoed across the web this morning but I'm not so sure. I have a 30GB iPod and a 45GB music collection so I have to make choices about what lives on the iPod at any given time. I think for a lot of people 4GB/1000 songs should do it, especially if the tools and interface (FireWire/USB 2) allow you to update quickly and easily. The major upsides to the mini are size and possibly battery life. Finally, while it may or may not "compete" with real iPods, it will surely kick the crap out of anything from the likes of Rio, Creative, et al. I've used this stuff for years (e.g. original Creative Jukebox) and it still amazes me just how bad the products (including software) from these companies can be and still make it to market." Sure there will be some cannibalization of iPod sales, but look down, not up. That is, for an extra $50 look at what you get with an iPod mini vs. the $200 competition. I see a bunch of 256MB flash players from the likes of Rio and Creative. I think there are reasons (size, battery, affordability for people at the margin) to buy an iPod mini over a normal iPod. I don't think there are any reasons to buy any $199 MP3 player over an iPod mini.

Jobs spoke of the 30% of the MP3 player market that is "high-end flash players." Apple will own this market in 6-12 months.

John Gruber over at Daring Fireball seems to share my take on this.

GarageBand ... rocks !!

Lots of buzz today about Apple's iPod-mini, but for my money the highlight from yesterday was GarageBand. Great product and a great demo from Jobs and John Mayer (who I'm only luke warm on but he gave the demo some legitimacy). This is the kind of app that makes people shift platforms. I'm a mediocre-to-bad acoustic guitar player, but I'd still love to tool around with GarageBand. The other MacWorld item that looked good, though overdue, was the update to iPhoto that apparently allows it to overcome it's 600-or-so photos/library limitation. Apple is saying it handles 25,000 with speed. When I switched for a while last year, iPhoto's basic shortcomings in this regard were a significant source of disappointment with OS X.

I need to add photoblogs to Movable Type

Help. I need to add photo galleries to my Movable Type blog. I've looked around at some options, but haven't seen anything that fits the bill. Most are just too technical for me, requiring my blog to be served as PHP pages. Anybody have any pointers?

My real hope is that the folks at Six Apart rev MT a few times now that they've officially launched TypePad. They've promised MT updates, including a Pro version that would incorporate many of the new features found in TypePad. Hopefully soon.

Apple's new mouse. STILL only one button?!?!

OK, though I'm a PC user (by need more than choice) I have been a huge Apple/Mac fan since my first MacPlus in 1988. And while I agree with most design choices made by Apple I still do not get their insistence on a one-button mouse. This is one area in which I've never heard it well-explained by either Apple or the Mac community why this is so. When I read a while back that Apple were coming out with a new wireless mouse and keyboard I was certain that they'd finally address this, but the product details unveiled yesterday reveal no such new thinking on Apple's part. Oh well. At least the specs for the updated, now aluminum 15" PowerBook rock.

iPoding

In an incredible act of generosity, Paige & Bill gave us a 30GB iPod as a housewarming gift. This particular item sat at the top of my wishlist but was also one that I could never justify buying, making it the perfect gift. Thanks guys. Rock on!

How to make IE6 always display the status bar

I finally found a fix to glitch in Internet Explorer 6 on Windows XP that drives me crazy. It seemed impossible to have IE6 consistently display the status bar at the bottom of the browser window. I always like having the status bar visible, mostly so I can see where a link is going to take me (by hovering over the link and checking the status bar) before I click-through. To have IE6 always display the status bar, do the following:

  • With (only one) IE window open, click View and select: Status Bar
  • Hold down the Ctrl key and click the close button (red X, upper right corner)
  • Open Windows Explorer (File Explorer), click View and select: Status Bar
  • Click Tools > Folder Options > View tab
  • Click the "Apply to all folders" button

I'd like to give credit for the tip but when I found it, I copied it into an Outlook note without noting the source. Apologies to the author.

News Aggregators ... more

A bit more on yesterday's post on News Aggregators. Seems folks are divided (no surprise) on the issue of 3-pane vs. Radio-style (one-page, reverse chronological aggregators). For Radio-style: myself, Dave Winer, Paolo.

For 3-pane: XL8.

Greg, at NewsGator, says his does both. This isn't entirely accurate. It does give the option (by using different Outlook views and groupings) of viewing by source or in a big reverse chronological list, but it still requires clicking on a headline in one pane and viewing the post in another pane. I still think this is less efficient than a single-page, scrolling display.

NewsGator's an Outlook add-in so it would have some appeal at work where we're a heavy Exchange/Outlook shop. Problem is that it choked and froze doing an initial download of my 134 feeds ... so I uninstalled it. I'll try again later.

News Aggregators

I've had a few friends ask me about using News Aggregators. I'm also in the process of pushing the use of blogs & aggregators at work as a piece of the KM suite. For a primer on aggregators, take a look at Morgan Wilson's overview. Scott Hanselman also has an interesting write-up. My take: I've tried a bunch (NewsGator, AmphetaDesk, FeedReader, NewzCrawler and NetNewsWire on a Mac) but I always come back to Radio Userland. I use Radio to manage my blog but even if I gave it up (and I am actually thinking of giving MovableType a go, or I may wait to see what TypePad has under the hood) I would continue to use Radio as my aggregator. I find the presentation of feeds in a single browser window far more efficient than having to click around three panes (which is how most of the others do it).

I am currently subscribed to 134 news feeds This is a lot, but with Radio I am able to "consume" these sources 2-3 times a day. I could never "consume" new content from 134 websites multiple times each day. This is the power of RSS and Aggregators.

I'll try to post a detailed desription of my aggregator surfing habits, which I think are pretty well optimized, within the next day or so.

.NET Saves Boy Down Well

I was durned skeptical at first, but them folks in Washington told me that this .NET 'enables an unprecedented level of software integration through the use of XML Web services: small, discrete, building-block applications that connect to each other--as well as to other, larger applications--via the Internet.' Well, I said to my deputy, if that ain't gonna save little Erwin, nothing will.

Digital vs. Film

Robert Scoble does some math comparing digital to film photography. He describes a number of advantages that digital photography has over film, but he misses one the most important ones: You take better pictures with digital ... because you take more of them. There's no marginal cost to taking additional photos with a digital camera so shoot away. When I am taking photos of the kids (or anything else for that matter) I usually shoot 5-10 of virtually the same thing. Not to take away from all of the skills possessed by professional photographers, but I believe this is the first key to their ability to take great pics. With people shots it allows you to capture a selection of facial expressions, one or two of which may actually be good ones. With all shots it allows you to adjust composition, exposure, flash, etc.

One thing this aspect of digital photography has done is made me want a better camera. I have a 2 megapixel Olympus C-2020Z. It's a great camera that we've had for 2.5 years and with which we've taken 4,668 pictures so far (actually, those are how many we've kept; we've also deleted thousands; that's the point). While more pixels would be nice what I'm really after is a faster camera. I miss a lot of shots of the kids in motion because the camera is going through all sorts of machinations between shots. Make this a key criteria when buying a digital camera. I think I read that there's no agreed upon standard for measuring and reporting shutter lag time (I think that's what this is referred to), so you'll have to play around some. As a slide aside, this is an oft-overlooked (or at least underplayed) aspect of digital camera reviews.

Finally, I disagree strongly with comments that equate 2 megapixel pics with a maximum acceptable output of 5x7". I regularly get prints from Ofoto at 8x10" and to my reasonably discerning eye they are every bit as good as shots from my old Pentax SLR.

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Mac

OK, I've got a serious Mac jones going. I started using computers in 1989 with a Mac Plus. I was obsessed with the thing ... read The Mac Bible from cover to cover and generally became a card-carrying power user. I stayed in the Mac camp for about four years. I finally switched to a Wintel machine when a few of my main apps had newer versions released on Windows first: Quicken and Dynodex, I think. And now I am ready to switch back. Some combination of OS X, great hardware (TiBooks, iBooks, iMacs, iPods and whatever's coming next), great software (including Radio Userland, OmniOutline, BBEdit) and a growing frustration with Microsoft and Windows from both technological and business/customer relations standpoints. I'm also currently on my own and am no longer restricted by corporate hardware and software standards.

I'll make this a continuing thread here as I go through the switch (which I'm not making yet ... I still need some $$$ to take the plunge).

Learning Roadmap

Further to my post on envying Todd Dominey's What Do I Know, I now wish to "get there." That is, I want to be able to do what he has done. I have no delusions about being that good (design is a profession and an art, not an ability to wield technical tools) but I do want to learn, to some level, the technology behind it and apply it to my own site. To that end, I need a little learning roadmap. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to send them along. The primary goal is to learn enough about hand-coding HTML, XHTML and CSS to be able to apply it with some proficiency to my weblog/website and those of my clients (where appropriate). As a starting point I am reading Elizabeth Castro's HTML 4 for the World Wide Web, Fourth Edition: Visual QuickStart Guide. It seems as good as anything I've seen as a starting point for HTML (I already know a fair bit but I've never properly learned the language) and has a decent intro to CSS, as well.

Weblog design envy

I love the look of Todd Dominey's What Do I Know. Todd is a web designer and by all indications a very good one. On top of the great look I also envy the technology. Todd has built the site using XHTML and table-less CSS. These are things that I am just beginning to learn about but the ideas appeal to me greatly: well structured content (XHTML) separated from presentation (CSS). Other great looking weblogs: Textism, dollarshort.org and Sew Wrong (the last two by Mena Trott, co-creator of Movable Type).