Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Ditto clipboard manager – get your free bang of productivity NOW

If you copypaste a lot (and if you read this blog, you probably do) – then you won’t regret starting to use a clipboard manager. I use it daily now, several times a day. I’ve used it to write this post. I count on my clipboard now more than ever, and it’s like having a giant, searchable, saved-to-disk, copy of all the ‘copys’ I had in weeks. It remembers images, not only text. It has got shortcuts, for those times you need to paste 3 things in different places. And it’s just been a good friend in the past 3 years I’ve used it. Every time I fire Ditto up (Ctrl+` has actually become a fun key combination ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), and start going through my past ‘copys’ – I feel like I’ve just saved so much valuable time.

A couple of days ago I met a couple of friends that worked with me. They all agreed it was the most useful recommendation I ever gave them. It was such a funny conversation. What tool can make you appreciate it so much??? It’s better than a guitar! They all recommend it to everyone they work with… Hell, we loved it so much at the time, that we even opened a Facebook group for it ๐Ÿ™‚ – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=51343612903.

Funny how things turn up ๐Ÿ™‚

I went the extra mile to write this post, and you read it so far, so do yourself a favor and at least give it a try ๐Ÿ™‚

Free, open-source, fun. I don’t get a dime for this. Just your future self thanking me till the end of time.

http://ditto-cp.sourceforge.net

Might not the best one out there – but the best one I’ve found. And it’s awesome.

Please, do us a favor – backup your stuff

Today’s backup solutions are easier, and friendlier than ever.
It cost some money (not that much), but you get more than what you pay for: Peace of mind.
I personally had these tools save my ass more than once.

Last year I witnessed some heart-breaking loss of data… A friend’s car got stolen with a laptop inside. 2 house burglaries. A drive crash. A disk-on-key virus. A disk-on-key hardware failure. A laptop water-spill. Another friend found out his backup scheme wasn’t really backing up anything…
The year before I had my own laptop’s hard drive crash.
A couple of years ago a cousin’s home got on fire(!).

My friends lost urgent work they had to turn over, priceless photos, unrecoverable hard work they put lots of sweat into.
Please, don’t let it happen to you. I hate getting these phone-calls…

Some hard learnt tips

1) It’s only a matter of time. Accept the fact that data gets lost/corrupted.ย Hoping for the best has nothing to do with it.
2) Without a check – you’re not backing up. I had the “pleasure” of having a false sense of security with my backup scheme, only to find out I was backing up corrupted data on a daily basis. This periodical check saved me from a potential very unpleasant situation.
3) Try using your backed up files. Make sure they actually work. I once found out that I was not backing up some hidden files in one of my code directories. Took me a couple of hours to recover some important configuration I had in these hidden files.
4) Mozy.com saved me when my drive crashed. I owe them this much. Carbonite is also good. I now use JungleDisk (for a bit more advanced users). These tools send your data, encrypted, to “the cloud”. As far as you’re concerned – a tsunami can flood your house, your data will stay safe. ~$5/month for all the storage you need. Less than a hard drive’s cost.
5) Do some “what if” scenarios (play days): can be fun to imagine atomic bombs, faulty scripts, nasty people and key loss. Stay humble, though. Reality finds creative ways to destroy your data.ย Losing your original copy when trying to check if your backup worked is one of my favorites ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

There you go… Had to get this out of my system ๐Ÿ™‚

Whether you Like it or not. Facebook can follow you on the net.

… So, even that I did not press the Like button, I have already sent Facebook my user-name. So that theyโ€™ll show me who of my friends liked this piece… Using this information, Facebook can tell exactly who of their users visited any Like-embedded page…

I checked my browsing history a couple of days ago. More than 90% of the pages I browsed – had Facebook’s Like button in them. I’m pretty sure much of the Internet population feels like this lately.
What I didn’t realize, was the depth of analytics Facebook is gathering nowa days, well beyond anything possible before. Facebook do not share this information with website owners, not to mention the site visitors (= us), and it is gathered in a somewhat obscure way.
Assuming that I’m a website owner (whether I’m Joe Shmoe or Ted Turner), I have access to some very good metrics using simple tools like Google Analytics:
Current analytics give the site owner a good, but limited view of its visitors
Still, even as a site owner, the information I have access to – is quiteย anonymous. IP addresses can give me a hint about the location of my visitors. I can see my visitor’s search queries from Google, and analyze trends to optimize advertising campaigns.
I don’t quite know who exactly my visitors are.

Facebook changes the game, and they were not quite clear about this (ahm).

As a surfer – I did not opt-in for this, and to “opt-out” – I have to log-out from Facebook all the time.
As a website owner – I get from Facebook only limited analytics about the people who Liked my pages. And I did not realize how much information I gave Facebook by embedding that Like button…
Facebook – can now get a Very detailed view about the visitors of any “Like-embedded” page – whether those visitors “Liked” that page or not.

Facebook is “doing us a service”

They show us who of our friends already liked this page that we’re currently looking at.
To do this, they obviously have to know who we are, right?
So, even that I did not press the Like button, I have already sent Facebook my user-name. So that they’ll show me who of my friends liked this piece…
Using this information, Facebook can tell exactly who of their users visited any Like-embedded page:

How Facebook can look at pages. Visitors don't have to "Like" the page, to get logged...

We do not even have to be logged in to Facebook. We may have last logged in to Facebook more than a week ago. Theoretically, we may have even logged out(!).
I know this was already discussed here. (Thanks Assaf Sela). But I think that the full implications of this are not clear yet.
I also know that in a similar way Google can do this with their various products, and so can many other ads and services for website owners.
Facebook’s access to our network of connections and personal information is the thing that is new and somewhat troubling here…

What can be done?

1) Like this page – to let your friends know about this… Hehe, I love the irony of this ๐Ÿ™‚
2) Re-Share this page… Sharing is stronger than “Liking” with regard to spreading the word out…
3) I’m looking for Firefox and Chrome add-ons that will block this information from Facebook… Maybe something similar to the Google Alarm offered here: http://fffff.at/google-alarm/
4) (Update:) AdBlock can be used to remove the Like altogether on Firefox, as mentioned here: http://superuser.com/questions/144973/blocking-facebooks-like-button-in-firefox



Bookmark and Share

Kindle 2, in Israel

Update: Kindle can now get purchased in Israel, shipped to Israel, with an Israeli credit card, and the Israeli 3G network.

There’s something I didn’t anticipate before I actually started to heavily use the Kindle. Although it seems obvious at first, the implications of books on demand are quite amazing. The thing is, it actually takes less than 5 minutes between the time you decide that you want to buy a book – to the time you can start reading it. Without an e-reader, you are dependent on your local store’s stock, or have to wait for 2 weeks for your book to arrive by mail (at least here, to Israel). But, once we don’t need to move atoms in order to read books – suddenly the access to knowledge drastically improves. I’ve noticed that in the past I’ve compromised about the books I read. It now feels like in any given moment – I’m reading the exact book that I want to read the most in the whole world. This is a very empowering feeling, that I didn’t hear people talk about when discussing e-readers.

Getting the Kindle to work in Israel

I’ve received so many good recommendations about the Kindle, that I couldn’t resist it. When Tal told me he’ll be in NY, after some deliberation over the Sony eReader – I decided to go for it with Amazon’s Kindle 2.
Buying it was easy. Payed with my Israeli Visa, got it shipped to Tal’s place in NY, and a week later less $330 in the bank – I got to grab this weird piece of new technology. All in all – it certainly delivers. I already had a great time reading from it a couple of books at once, and even finishing some of them.
Eran told me that I can’t just buy Any book as a first one. So buying “Free” by Chris Anderson seemed like a fun way to start :). Little did I know.

To test the buying process, I first tried to “buy” a free classic by Oscar Wilde.

We are sorry...
 We could not process your order because of geographical restrictions on the product which you were attempting to purchase. Please refer to the terms of use for this product to determine the geographical restrictions.
 We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

What???
Ok. No problem. Probably a DRM thingy, I’ll just run a machine from the US (on Amazon’s servers :P) – and bypass this stupid IP filter.
Nope. Same result.
Tried to buy 5 other books. None of them agreed to get purchased. Even those that cost moer than $0.00.
A phone call to the customer support pointed me to item 12 in the FAQ:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200316870&#intl
They say that you shouldn’t buy a Kindle if you live outside the US…

Hmmmm…

At this point I practically had a brick in my hand. It can display its own user’s manual, and show book covers, but I have nothing to do with it…
Luckily I have some relatives with bank accounts in the US that agreed to help. So, an hour and a half later, and after 2 more phone-calls to support, and a refund for a book I mistakenly bought – I found out how I can pay for books. My relatives’ credit card had to be linked to the “Click Once” button. And I now buy myself gift cards from my Israeli credit card in order to pay for my books without charging my relatives.

Oh well.

Some experiences

1) Although it is “wireless”, Amazon chose to use Sprint’s cellular network instead of WiFi. So the Kindle is dumbed down in Israel. Nu shoin.
2) The reading experience is awesome. The print looks so good, that it feels like touching the future.
3) Now that I turned off the inactive wireless connection, it seems that I won’t need to charge it in the coming weeks ๐Ÿ˜›
4) The internal dictionary is very powerful. I can now read classics written in 200 years old English.
5) I want Headup on my Kindle. When I read about Seattle, I want its pictures. My business-connections to Microsoft, right where it is mentioned. And an interview with Jeff Bezos – right on the screen. Is it too much to ask for?
6) I also want to share a paragraph every now and then with a friend. This paragraph could be exactly what he needs, when he needs it, and having the ability to discuss it with him – right from my Kindle – could be soooo neat.
7) Amazon’s library contains about 350,000 titles for Kindle. So far, I’ve found there every book I wanted to read.
8) No more waiting for books! Hurray! No shipping, no delivery burdens, fun fun fun!!! The ability to think of “The Singularity is Near” – and start reading it less than 5 minutes later – is game changing.

A note about books vs. the web

For a reason I still can’t explain, reading books is a totally different experience from reading a text online. The concentration and focus are much deeper with a book. Your thoughts merge with the book instead if wondering “what else am I missing while I’m reading this paragraph”. I know you’re thinking about other things if and while you read these words ๐Ÿ™‚
So, the ability to get access to great thinkers. And not a superficial access as you get on the net – but a focused and immersive access as you get from books or good movies – all of this instantly, within minutes – is the biggest benefit of this device.

Kudos to Amazon, and this very neat technology.

I’m terribly sorry, but…

I'm so sorry about this...

I wonder if http://www.imterriblysorrybut.com can become viral… If you have any suggestion on how to increase the chances of people sharing this – please let me know at the comments.

On any case, the idea for this site crossed my mind a couple of days ago, so I just HAD to try it out… ๐Ÿ™‚

Watch a YouTube channel offline with your iPhone/iPod

iPhone now supports YouTube
Image by Quang Minh (YILKA) via Flickr

YouTube channels are a wonderful way to keep up-to-date.
The White-House, TED, or some nice music players (i.e. Playing for change) – all use YouTube channels to stream some great content.
Watching this content offline – could be a great use of your time in some situations…
The problem is, that YouTube doesn’t offer an easy way to get this channel on your MP4 player.

Lucky for me – iTunes together with RSSHandler – offer a solution just for that.

Simply copy-paste the channel’s URL:
i.e. http://www.youtube.com/user/whitehouse
Into the RSSHandler: http://www.rsshandler.com/converter

And put the resulting url:

http://www.rsshandler.com/flvrss.rss?feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Frss%2Fuser%2Fwhitehouse%2Fvideos.rss&format=18
Into iTunes as a new PodCast.
Start downloading the different videos of the channel (iTunes handle this for you).
And sync your iPhone with these videos (again, iTunes did a wonderful job).

Voila.

Obama video addresses are now offline-copied to my train rides…

Fun ๐Ÿ™‚

ClickTale – An eye opener

ClickTale

Just finished watching a recording of how people surf my blog. I must admit it’s been an amazing eye opener. I can actually see how people interact with my site, what parts they read, where exactly do they try to click and exactly how my message is communicated.

It makes me want to stop that person, and tell him: “Hey, stop using my site like this! Can’t you see that I meant you to click that Red Big Button on the top left, instead of reading that yada yada legal stuff on the bottom right???”.

The future of getting-your-message-through??

I can see (a really close future) when I’ll be able to edit a website (i.e. my Facebook page? My online-product-landing-page?) in real-time (using dream-weaver?) while I see how real people (from google-adwords?) ย interact with it (using clicktale?). This can become a transformation of site-building and online-marketing – just like the first terminals transformed the way people started to program. Malcolm Gladwel explained in Outliers: using terminals dramatically shortened the feedback loop of programmers, who before that had to feed their programs into card-reading machines. This transformed programmers from being anal-code-verifiers into the powerful hackers they’ve become today. Using ClickTale can shorten an on-line marketer’s feedback loop – and help him focus his surfer’s attention on the core message. This can transform our online-marketers, design and usability people from being statistics-diggers into real-time-attention-hackers. Wouldn’t that be neat?

ClickTale walk their talk

The usability of the serivce is that of a “Next, Next, Next” wizard. I can feel how minimal is the attention that is required by my side, and how short is the learning curve to get things up and running. I can imagine how the ClickTale team streamlined their own product experience using their own tools, and this must have been very gratifying because I’m sure this have raised their bottom line figures with very short feedback loops.

I highly recommend every site owner to try out this service. Even my very short experience with this service has opened my eyes to some severe usability issues I wasn’t aware of.

ClickTale

Disclaimer: Me and Arik (ClickTale’s cofounder) became friends a coupe of years ago. He’s been urging me for 2 years to try out his service. The first beta versions were a bit shaky, but when I came back to it yesterday – it’s evident they did a terrific job. Way to go!

BTW: Smile, you might be recorded as we speak ๐Ÿ™‚

Disclaimer 2: Although you are being recorded, I don’t gather any personal information about you – so I don’t have any idea who you are when I watch your recording… Unless you leave a comment on my blog… Hmmm… I wonder if there’s a way to exclude text from ClickTale’s recordings… I’m interested in not to know how anyone I know interacted with my site…

How BlueTooth helped me turn my Nokia into a nifty spying machine


Having your Blue Tooth turned on is like walking down the street yelling your Social Security Number Having your BlueTooth turned on is like walking down the street yelling your Social Security Number

A year and a half ago I was playing around with my (then new) Nokia 6120 Bluetooth, 3G and python capabilities, when I figured out that I could create a pretty nifty spying machine, with some very little effort.

It began with a simple Bluetooth scan. Every 60 seconds my script wrote into a text file a simple line for each Bluetooth device it encountered around it – something along the lines of:

TIMESTAMP, BT-MAC-ADDRESS, PROFILE-NAME, …

It took me about 4 hours to find a proper Bluetooth programming library, and figure out how to python on S60. Then, scripting was simple. Happy about my new creation, I started the program and cheerfuly went home. When I arrived my home-computer and looked at the text file – I was in a bit of a shock. Apparently in a 10 minutes walk down Rothchild street in Tel-Aviv – I harvested more than 30 MAC addresses of people who had their Bluetooth on. Many of them had their full name now in my text file. Not bad. And this was 1.5 years ago.

Then the fun began.

For each line that I wanted, I added Tags.

When my script started, it now read all the lines – and for those with tags – it saved the MAC addresses in a lookup table. Now, whenever a new MAC was found – it was looked up in the lookup tabe, and if tags were there – the phone started to sound a special beep, and wrote on the screen the tags that I added to this MAC address.

So, all the people from the Rothchild strolling were tagged “Rothchild”. All the people from a Pub I went to that day – were tagged “Mish Mish”, and all the MACs from the supermarket were tagged “Suppermarket”.

Whenever I bumped into one of these people again (and the script was on) – I got a nifty alert: “There’s someone around you with the tags “Supermarket” and “Mish Mish””. I could also know when was the last time I tagged them.

But this is not the end of the story.

I later added some 3G capabilities. I tagged people at work with some special tags. Back then, I tried out Grubb.net as an online todo list. So, whenver I encountered one of the people from work that I wanted to do something with – my phone handed me the specific todo items – appropriate for the context I was in. Not bad.

"Celeb me" could be used also as a productivity tool...

"Celeb me" could be used also as a productivity tool...

I still don’t have a GPS on my phone, but I figured out that tagging could be really fun with a GPS. I can mark areas on Google Maps, and whenever people were encountered in one of the marked areas – their MAC addresses could be automatically tagged. So the people from the Amado building in my university could automatically get tagged as a high probability of being engineers of some sort. And whenever I encountered that girl from the psychology building, my phone could alert me with a proper pickup line – something like “Didn’t I see you 9 months ago in the such and such” building? ๐Ÿ™‚

So far – everything is legal. Now, for some illegal ideas that I had in mind. (Not that I would ever implement any of them).

I could store the MAC addresses together with the tags, on a designated website. 3G internet traffic is pretty cheap, so it’s Very much possible to query the DB for each new MAC I encounter. This allows me to share tags with my friends. Now, without ever meeting somebody – I can get the tags that my friends has given to this guy. “This MAC with a profile name “David Nokia6120″ was tagged by Tal at Eran’s school 3 months ago”. I’d never do such a thing, but you have to know that this capability should take me about 8 hours to implement. And I’m not a proficient python programmer.

Next – matching up people’s MAC addresses with their Facebook profiles. Imagine you could browse their Facebook profile just because any of your friends had matched this MAC address with that specific Facebook ID.

Another idea was a service called “Celeb Me”. Imagine that anytime you walked down the counter of any Starbucks – they’d know the type of coffee you always drink and how much sugar you drink in it. Wouldn’t that be neat?

Some drawbacks of this script:

  • I don’t know exactly who is it around me who has got that BT MAC address I’m looking at. Using RSSI data is somewhat problematic.
  • This script uses the BT, 3G, and could also use a GPS. All of these capabilities drain the battery really fast.

The technicalities:

  • The script is run using Python S60 version 1.4
  • I used a library called lightblue. The latest release didn’t work back then, I had to use the one before that.
  • I connected to the Python using the Bluetooth console and hyperterminal.
  • Copying the files in and out of the phone took me quite an effort back then… Nokia decided to make life not easy for people who aren’t paying them for their libraries.
  • As you can see, the script is quite short… Could be even more efficient and better written if I wasn’t such a novice in Python ๐Ÿ™‚
  • The link to my crude-but-working script:

Celeb Me source screen shot

And some final thoughts:

  1. People who walk around with their BT open – should know that they are actually YELLING a unique ID. This means that they can easily get followed by any Joe Shmoe with very little effort.
  2. This thing totally rocks! It is so much fun, especially showing it off in geek parties ๐Ÿ™‚
  3. I have some funny little stories from playing around with this script, but I’ll leave them for another post.

A shift to control your own data

Control the access to your own data...

Control the access to your own data...

Some incidents that happened lately led us to think quite much about the control of our data:

  • In the past couple of months, Facebook had decided to disable the accounts of a couple of friends of ours.
  • In 1999, some very important files of mine were hosted on a “Free 50MB storage” service. A year later I found out that my files were taken hostage, and in order to bail them out of that company I had to pay $10.
  • Censorship is another concern. I’ve given YouTube and Flickr the liberty to censor my movies and photos. Sometime in the future, they might decide to shutdown their service, clean up their servers, go bankrupt, become a racist totalitarian, or who knows what.
  • Some very important accounts of mine are authenticated against my GMail. If someone somehow breaks into it โ€“ I can lose control over some Very important accounts of mine.

These are a couple scenarios that happen when we give the control over our own data, to some 3rd parties who might someday betray our trust.

Very annoying.

Very disturbing, when I came to think of it.

Giving the control over my data to some company, suddenly sounds insane. Why should I trust Facebook, Yahoo!, Amazon, Microsoft and Google – with access to my personal data? Why are we forced to trust these companies, when another, very elegant solution is now possible?

Tal Muskal has urged me to think about cloud computing in the past couple of months now. Amazon, Microsoft and Google – all started to offer some cloud storage and computing solutions. These resources are quite cheap, and always available. Together with some open-source development, these solutions can be turned into something very neat.

Imagine that you pay for some storage and CPU time in the cloud. You have full control over the data, and the APIs needed to access this data. All the code is open-source, and the data is encrypted so that you are the only one who controls who gets to see what.

With this scheme, I can control exactly who is permitted to access my pictures. I can allow my Facebook-friends access to my future events, without allowing Facebook-the company access to my list of favorite songs. I can store some audio-clips, and pay $0.17/GB/Month, without the concern that a service will sometime decide to take it down.

This approach is much healthier than the current state we’re in. It removes the need to trust 3rd parties with some very important data. I believe that the ability to have full control over his own data is something that every heavy Internet user should strive for…