Friday, 30 May 2008

An army of links

With all the predictable inevitability of Boris Johnson's first mayoral gaffe, though with rather more cause for joy, it seems Friday is upon us once more. May as well celebrate with a few links then:

Videodrome

American indie types Weezer hand an extra minute of micro-fame to some well known YouTubers with their latest video. If you recognise more than a few, consider your procrastinatory skills well honed.

From old YouTube stars, to ads of the past, among other things.

Is it just me who finds this girl's apparently award winning ukulele bothering antics highly annoying?

Anyway, here's some proper ukulele - even George Formby had nothing on this guy.

General oddness

I'd explain more about this animated head... but I can't. And anyway, its secrets are best discovered for yourself.

Further similarly inexplicable animated oddities here.

In a nice reversal of the usual Hollywood trend, a popular film goes Shakespearean (on your ass): Pulpbard, a wiki project in progress.

The Economist eulogised in rap by teenagers. Follow the link for more info, or download the song here (right-click to download).

Wired recently had an article on websites tracking urban eccentrics - achingly cutting edge place that it is, Radix's hometown has a site too.

Possibly the strangest piece of direct marketing ever. Gives a whole new definition to 'going viral'.

Major wind up

American humo(u)rist Harman Leon doesn't own a dog. So why's he phoning pet psychics?

Private details

Juicy family intrigue in an online archive of wills made in Surrey between 1470 - 1856, with any luck.

Corporal punishment?

Probably not. But still, I can't imagine that even the most hardened coffee drinker would enjoy this brew...

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Apparently, something-distracting.com doesn't exist

Apologies, I seem to have been constantly too busy on one end or the other of the whole work/life see-saw this week to pay much attention to matters of lifehackery. Fortunately, let's face it, I knick most of this stuff from lifehacker anyway and I still have a bunch of stuff saved up in my highly organised (for me, at least) .txt folder of annotated links, so here we go anyway. It might be a day late, but... ooh, look - something distracting!

Random usefulness

Pageonce promises "Your internet, your way." Apparently, what this means is that they're offering what amounts to an online personal assistant - manage your life from just one page on the interweb. Which does rather lead me to wonder exactly how big a monitor you'd need to have... Still, since it looks (from a quick once-over) like it might, at present, be of most use to American users, that question probably remains academic for now.

An excellent idea if you often use computers other than your own might be to carry PortableApps on a USB memory stick. Not only does plugging in the stick and firing up applications like Firefox or OpenOffice from there - rather than the computer itself - give you a little more security when using an internet cafe, for instance, but it also means no faffing around with someone else's unfamiliar programs - anything to avoid Internet Explorer, quite frankly. [More life on a memory stick stuff at lifehacker].

Or, if it's just not having access to your bookmarks when away from your regular machine that you're worried about, while PortableApps kind of has that problem covered too, perhaps an easier solution might be to install the Foxmarks plug-in for Firefox. Foxmarks not only synchronises and organises your bookmarks across however many machines you install it on, but also creates a webpage that you can access from anywhere. Erm, assuming you can remember the address without already having it bookmarked somewhere, obviously...

TechCrunch had news, the other week, that Facebook might actually become almost useful one day soon, or at least slightly less annoying: tabbed profiles, and searchable Facebook mail are almost ready. Long overdue catching up, both of them, if you ask me; but still, they're certainly a step in the right direction.

Firefox Extension of the Day

CacheIt! - if you've ever clicked on an interesting search result only to find that the page is for some reason unavailable, you'll know instantly how useful this little widget could prove. CacheIt! simply takes you to the archived version of the page, letting you see what Google saw. Problem solved.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Web users getting more selfish

Yep, that's right, we're all slowly but surely turning into ginormous electronic bastards. Every single one of us. We'd sooner have our online avatars kick those belonging to everyone else roughly and forcefully about the head than share any of our virtual Second Life candy. In fact, within mere years the internet will have begun - if it hasn't started already - to die a slow agonising festering death, as we all wallow around, ignorantly, in our own hatred fuelled isolation. Just like in the real world*.

Well, you know, maybe.

At least, that was what I assumed when I first saw this headline (the post title above) over at BBC News. Perhaps, just a little alarmistly**, I grant you...

But anyway, at the very least, I expected that participation in Wikipedia might have declined, or something more or less of that order. You know, file-hoarding taking over from file-sharing; more people on help forums posting, "Nyah-nyah! We're not telling you!"; YouTube announcing that it's to become MyTube. You know, something like that. Something, in other words, that might actually warrant the adjective "selfish."

But no. What has actually happened is, that we've all become just a little bit better at 'finding stuff'; a heinous act for which, according to Jakob Nielsen (the website usability bod quoted in the story), we should all be considered not just selfish but - for good measure - "ruthless" too.

Our crime?

Fewer of us now shilly-shally around on pages that we don't need to read; Google simply takes us to the page that contains the information we asked it for, and then we leave. Wow. I, for one, am thoroughly ashamed of myself - bad me, and bad Google.

Obviously, all Nielsen's really trying to say, as indeed he's been saying for ages, is that web users aren't impressed by pointless bells and whistles (we only like the pointy kind); and the word "selfish" was probably just taken out of context by the BBC reporter, for the sake of a more sensational, if - even in the actual story itself - utterly unsupported headline.

But whatever context Nielsen uttered the word in, I still fail to see how exactly searching for something, reading it, then failing to hang around to do something other than what you actually went there to do in the first place constitutes being selfish?

I mean, by that logic, and assuming that I don't want to be considered selfish, the next time I pick up the dictionary I should read every word in the whole thunking great tome, just because someone's gone to the bother of putting them there. And furthermore, the next time you feel like doing something altruistic, maybe, don't do something sensible, like taking stuff to a charity shop, why not read some online adverts, or something?

I exaggerate, of course, but a) that's more fun, and b) you get the point: the World Wide Web holds countless quick and easy ways to sully your morals, but simply using it competently isn't one of them. And if you disagree: perhaps you're right, but the next time you type something into Google be sure to have fun following that endless chain of hyperlinks. Chances are, you'll not be doing very much else, for quite some time...


*if the Daily Mail's to be believed.
**possibly not a real word.

Friday, 23 May 2008

That linking feeling...

The hour of procrastination is upon us, so without further ado:

A bumper YouTube section

Dollary Clinton, Barack Odollar, and John McCoin take their wearisome YouTube battle over to eBay. Incidentally, can't someone just toss a coin and get this interminable nonsense over with?

Isabella Rossellini's oddest film role since Blue Velvet.

The deeply strange Northern-accented world of David Firth.

Everybody needs somebody. Obviously. Otherwise our heads would just float around.

You'll have seen it already, but what the Hell: Microsoft Chief Eggsecutive (sorry) Steve Ballmer dodging eggs in Hungary.

Sex & The City

Pretend you're one of the Sex & The City girls (if you must) with some New York City bar and restaurant interior design porn.

The bright lights of NYC, again, but this time from afar. More cities here.

Or perhaps you'd prefer something a little more 'street' level?

Some other arty things (this time, happily, unthemed)

Kind of post-apocalyptic scenes that look more realistic than they are, photographed by Lori Nix.

Usually pencils aren't responsible for fully 3-dimensional art...

The world (well, just Australia, so far) in glorious Google Maps tagged panoramas.

Music

Exclusive live bits and pieces from people you will and won't have heard of. The site's mostly in French.

Listen for free to the Radio Soulwax mixes of 2ManyDJs.

More mixing, but of the old C90 cassette kind.

And finally...

No games today, but this is way more fun :) Seriously. I mean, how often do you get to make a pipecleaner Cossack dance to Staying Alive?

Really?

Weirdo.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

This week's lifehacking links

Random lifehackery

Lately, I've been listing unwanted books and CDs on Amazon. So far, it's been quite successful, but, God, I'm getting sick of typing "CD pristine, slight wear to jewel case. Orders dispatched next business day." Thank goodness, then, for this handy little free download from Lifehacker: Texter.

It doesn't automate the listing process, sadly, but leave it running and, whatever program you're using, Texter will correct your typing (if you set it up that way), fill in forms, type common phrases etc., all at the touch of whatever keys you happen to assign things to. You'll never type 'the' when you meant 'the' ever again. I said 'the'. Look, why won't you... Oh.

Well, perhaps it has at least one drawback.

There's an altogether more complicated looking option too, which seems to have its uses.

More of it


An extremely easy hack to make Google display a small drop-down box to filter results by recency, i.e. past 24 hours, past week, and so on: simply search for something normally, then add [&as_qdr=d] (without the square brackets) to the end of the resulting URL and hit enter. If that didn't make sense, try going here.

For creative types, LifeDev.net has a list of 17 obscure websites to spark the imagination. Or more likely, to spark hours of procrastination. Then again, doesn't procrastination often turn out to be the incubator of creativity?

Or maybe you're not devoid of inspiration, just a bit distracted? Perhaps, by background noise and chatter? God knows whether ChatterBlocker might help, but at least you can try out a free demo. Apparently it plays "pink noise" (no, not YMCA) to neutralise office sounds - and probably annoy everyone else within earshot.

Firefox Extension of the Day

DownThemAll! - Not only a much faster substitute for Firefox's own download option, but also allows you to quickly and easily hoover up whatever you want from individual web pages (assuming it's downloadable). Browsing MP3 blogs, for one, has never been quicker.

Instructions for advanced (and not so advanced) use over at Lifehacker.

In related news: the full release of the much faster and less crashy version 3.0 of Firefox is still set for late June, but by many accounts it may already be good to go...

Might be worth waiting until all your most used extensions have been updated too, though.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Procrastination Friday

Yep, it's that time once again, which can mean only one thing: that's right, my watch battery's gone flat again. Great.

Anyway, before wandering off to the shops, I believe I usually post some links here, around about now:

You Tube

An online sitcom about the beginnings of a Christian pop band.

Yet more Jesus people here. The Christianised version of Baby Got Back, anyone?

Google and ye shall receive :) In other words, it wasn't just a dodgy pun I came up with, after all: there really is a JewTube.

Games

Ever wanted to put some poor spider type creature through what appears to be a version of Hell? I was going to say that Triachnid might not be for arachnophobes, but then again...

After that slightly agonising experience, a little zen gardening might be in order, I feel - a little plant care to restore the virtual karmic balance.

An interactive animation movie, you'll have to download R├╝ckblende before you can play it, but it looks like being worth the bother. Preview videos here.

Bookish stuff

Smashwords: a new community aiming to bring together adventurous readers with digitally self-publishing independent authors. Well, something like that, anyway.

Another one for the Games heading, or perhaps another way of writing affecting fiction? Either way, I came across some really interesting blog blurbs about Photopia, earlier. I gather it's interactive fiction, kind of... except not rubbish.

Gadgety things

If I was anywhere close to being a musician I would want this Yamaha notebook (the paper kind). I'm not, of course, but dammit I'd still love one anyway.

A design for a plasma laser-beam-walled pedestrian crossing. Erm, aren't people just going to want to drive through something like that?

Something to consider when the price of oil gets even higher, perhaps?

Random bits and pieces

Lots of new tracks from Indie/nu-folk/whatever musician Joseph Arthur on his Tumbleblog.

Abstract art - a la Mondrian - as a programming language. No idea if it works, though.

Steampunk jewellery. Erm, yep. That pretty much sums it up.

And a not-so-little something for any Star Wars fans who still have more money than merchandise.

And finally...

Have you ever wondered what to believe? Or even what to think, or feel, or wish for? Perhaps you don't even know who to love. In today's unstable, changeable world, it's so hard to be certain about any of these things anymore, isn't it? Well, thank goodness for this, then.

Is there nothing Twitter can't do?



Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Some musings on Adblock Plus

Last week, I linked to both the Firefox add-on Adblock Plus, and Nicholas Carr's Guardian article discussing its potential impact on the Web's prevailing economic model - i.e. giving stuff away for free while making your money from advertising. His main point was, that if Adblock becomes popular, why would anyone advertise on the Web? Huge companies, like Google or Yahoo, that rely on their advertising revenues, could go belly-up. Or perhaps more likely, we'd all have to start paying for everything. Either way, by using Adblock might we be shooting ourselves in the foot?

A correction

Having now spent a few days playing with the thing, I'm in a little better position to comment on his article. My first observation is that, erm, that article wasn't actually the one I meant to link to, this one was. In that one, Andrew Brown considers much the same thing, but more in the form of a personal moral dilemma - to block or not to block? to publicise Adblock or not to publicise Adblock?

Writing on this blog, rather than for The Guardian, I somehow doubt I might contribute to Adblock going viral, so the latter dilemma's fairly easily squared for me, at least. But, on a wider level, it's still an interesting point: shouldn't Adblock, perhaps, remain something that's not widely known about?

That said, of course, if Adblock doesn't entirely work, or it proves to be more fiddle and faff than the average net-user can be bothered with, that question still might be entirely academic; but let's see, shall we?

Will it catch on? Adblock in use

First things first, as Brown points out, the average net-user isn't a Firefox user. Not yet, anyway. But with Firefox 3.0 imminent, and more and more low cost PCs coming pre-installed with Linux (and other Open Source software) rather than Windows, who knows, that could change; perhaps at least enough that the existence of Adblock Plus might remain problematic. But beyond that?

Well, I think the Net as we know it might be safe, for now.

Don't get me wrong, Adblock seems to work. In fact, I've been having quite a lot of fun figuring out how to zap problem ads from the sites I use - it's almost like a puzzle game. The thing is, I'm damned if I actually know exactly what I'm doing.

True, it's rare that I'm bothered by an advert on Wired anymore, say, or MySpace, or any of the other sites whose annoying ads I seem to have managed to nuke, so I must be doing something right, but as far as I'm able to understand any of it I've just been replacing bits of URL type things with asterisks; it's almost entirely trial and error. You open up the 'blockable items' menu, pick the likely suspects, and replace bits of them with asterisks (or other things, if you understand what you're doing) so as to make a generic blocking rule - put an asterisk in the wrong place and you'll only block the specific ad that's appearing at that time, rather than any that will ever try to appear in that frame. Actually, that does seem to be the key, by the way, blocking frames rather than the bits of script that feed ads into them. Keeps the page neater too.

Simpler use

I've actually been making it difficult for myself, though; for an easier life, you could just add one of the subscriptions (packages of blocking rules other people have created) that Adblock offers you after installation. These (I assume) block every ad on every site, or perhaps just every popular site. Except, well, there are a number of subscriptions: some seemed to be specific to French Web users, say, or users who might encounter things in the Cyrillic alphabet, but other than that I failed to really work out what the differences might be.

However they might work, though, there's just one other thing that puts me off: I don't actually want to block all ads.

The problem with Adblock

You see, I don't know about you, but I tend to think that properly targeted ads can actually be pretty handy - they can be informative, or sometimes even entertaining. When I go to Pitchfork, for instance, I really do want to be told that so-and-so has a new album out - chances are that they might have been a bit quiet for a couple of years so I've stopped checking regularly for myself. Simple text ads that don't slow your browser down I don't exactly mind, either.

So what's my point? Well, as Adblock Plus stands at the moment, the easy option (subscriptions) will be too catch-all for some users, and the harder option (configuring blocking rules for specific sites) will probably have too steep a learning curve for the casual user. Hence my suggestion that the Web is safe, for now. Note the words 'for now', though.

Implications for the future

As Andrew Brown points out, the majority of people can't be bothered to tinker with their browsers, or even change browser. But what if the benefits of doing so eventually became sufficient to outweigh the odd short-term minor hassle? What if Adblock became a whole lot easier to use? And in the form of the little tabs reading 'Block' that you'll notice Adblock appending to some (though not yet all) ads on a page, perhaps there's a hint that greater ease of use might not be too far around the corner? Indeed, isn't ease of use, perhaps, all that's really stopping Adblock from going viral?

If so, maybe Web enterprises should at least be preparing for that eventuality. Most will probably just work out ways to block Adblock, I suppose... Or am I just being pessimistic. After all, there's a rather brighter alternative scenario: one day websites might feature only unobtrusive ads that will actually be of use to their users; ones that won't crash their bloody browsers.

Or perhaps not. But sometimes it's nice to dream, isn't it?

UPDATE: I hadn't properly noticed the option to disable Adblock on specific websites, earlier. So perhaps the subscription option doesn't have to be as catch-all as I thought. Even more reason, then, for websites to keep their advertising interesting and relevant.


In other news: This life hacking stuff might well have permanently moved to Tuesdays, I think. Well, it does sort of make more sense for it to feature on a Monday (as a balance to the Friday links), but for one reason or another, Monday just doesn't seem to have been a good day lately.

Oh well.

Links

It's a few months old now, of course, but lifehacker's 2007 rundown of the best free software and Web applications, is still well worth a look.

Another Firefox add-on: PDF Download. If you've ever clicked on a document, not realising that it was a PDF and then had your browser lock up until the thing's finally loaded, you'll love this. It alerts you to what's about to happen and lets you just download the thing instead. Wonderful.

If you're having real problems with procrastination, perhaps a psychologist might be able to get to the root of it all? Looks like MindMentor might be, essentially, ELIZA with a PhD, but still, at least a session only costs 4.95 EUR and there's no NHS waiting list.