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Maybe the Pufferfish Ate It [The Internet Is Down] July 17, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, Technology.
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Twitter has a fail whale. Meanwhile, URL-shortening service Bit.ly has…a pufferfish to blame when one of their links goes a little bit haywire.

“Maybe one of the pufferfish ate it.”  Well, he does look a little hungry…

[Confused about The Internet is Down? Then read my post on the whale.]

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Prezi June 26, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Odds and Ends, Presentations, Reviews, Technology.
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Any number of presentation software are commercially available today. Of course, Keynote (my preference) and Powerpoint are mainstays, as are cloud-based lookalikes such as Google Documents and Zoho.

And then there’s Prezi.

For all intents and purposes, Prezi is actually internet-based mind-mapping software that makes it easy to present relationships between concepts (interestingly, a presentation made using Prezi is also called a Prezi). Indeed, it seems particularly suited for conveying context, such as how minute details fit into the big picture, allowing one to zoom in and zoom out from disparate thoughts at a click of the mouse. After all, it is dubbed as the “zooming presentation editor.”

In this sense it is a welcome break from the presentation-as-slide-deck paradigm, taking us back to “thinking on paper” where individuals are free to explore diagrams in any order or, if so required, in the order a presenter intends. Prezi allows that: one can approach preparing a Prezi like writing on a clean bond paper or a whiteboard for users to wade through as they see fit, or prompt it to go through points on that sheet in a pre-arranged fashion. Regardless of which approach one chooses, using Prezi requires a somewhat different planning and design sensibility as one would employ using slideware, which I learned by struggling to make a Prezi of my own (see link below).

Offhand, I can see how Prezi can be used as a tool for organizing discussion in a classroom or business setting. Based on some sample Prezis available on the site, I can also appreciate how it can be used to put together some stunning presentations. But there are limitations. While the service is free to use and try — especially for students and educators! — unless one invests in a premium account you will be limited to creating your Prezis online (thus, an internet connection is required) and downloading viewable (non-editable) versions for your computer (both PC and Mac are supported). These offline-viewable Prezis are very good, but I’ve experienced two problems with them thus far. One is that there are instances where graphics don’t display properly in the downloaded version, a problem that may have something to do with my internet connection speed (to load my Prezi online and thereafter download it) as well as the size and format of the images I used. In their place were “circles” where they were supposed to be, clearly not having been downloaded.

The second problem is the viewing consistency of the online Prezi and its offline version. For the one Prezi I’ve prepared so far, regardless of the fact that it presents precisely as I want it to on my browser, the downloaded version has more often than not showed much more than I desired it to for given frames. To me this is crucial, as I intended for some concepts and imageries to be captured and displayed in a precise manner. My guess is that the culprit is a difference in screen/projector resolution, though I honestly haven’t had much time as yet to experiment and find out more. Fortunately, this is only a problem for those in desperate need of such precision, if not those too steeped in slideware to think a little bit differently.

Prezi is free to sign up for and use. I’d recommend it. Just for posterity, here’s the Prezi I put together for the launch of WIWAG Business Weeks under Bato Balani Foundation. I’ll have more to say about that (maybe) in a another post. Note that this isn’t the most effective use of Prezi, but good enough for me to sample what it can do:

[Link: BBFI by the Numbers on Prezi]

Blame the Computer [The Internet is Down] May 12, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, Technology.
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Quirky! Love the Bobblehead. And yes, blame the computer whydontcha?

This one from Vanity Fair online comes courtesy of supergirlhero13, whose birthday also happens to be today! Happy Birthday!

[Confused about The Internet is Down? Then check out the whale.]

Ready for the Next Eruption! April 24, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, Technology, Up and Away.
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To ease the suffering of passengers stranded across Europe by the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, the good folks at the Lonely Planet decided to offer some of the iPhone editions for their European city guidebooks free for a limited time. A savvy if appreciated display of enlightened self-interest on their part, if I do say so myself.

Of course, I downloaded them all. Even if I’m nowhere near Europe right now. Because I’m a sucker for free stuff.

So the next time you’re looking to travel to Europe but worried about what to do if another volcanic eruption occurs, keep me in mind!

In the meantime, I’ve got to find a way to explain to the wife that just because these things are on my phone doesn’t mean I’ve made travel plans in the near future that she doesn’t know about…

WWGD? April 21, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews, Technology.
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What Would Google Do?It’s an interesting exercise: can you write a book about Google without actually writing about Google? Jeff Jarvis has demonstrated that this may very well be possible with his finely authored book What Would Google Do (WWGD)?

Notwithstanding the title, WWGD? isn’t an in-depth look at the corporate and business strategy emanating from Mountain View. Neither is it a compendium of interviews with the key personalities at the helm of Google, nor is it a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on inside the famed Googleplex.

Instead, Jarvis’ book is an examination of all that Google implies for businesses and society. Hence, it attempts to offer perspective on what technologies in the age of Google have helped make possible — the democratization of information, the ease with which search can be conducted, and the shift of control from companies and brands to consumers an end-users. In this sense, “Google” becomes shorthand for much of what has become recognized as Web 2.0; yet it is a well-justified choice given that few other companies have shaped the way we approach the Internet like Google has.

At the same time, the book inevitably touches on some core components of Google’s philosophy and corporate culture known to the public: its penchant for keeping products in beta, its policy of allowing employees to devote twenty percent of their time to personal projects, and (of course) its audacious commitment not to be evil. In so doing, Jarvis cogently makes the case that better approaches to how things are usually done can very well begin by asking a very simple question: “What would Google do?”

The book is arguably split evenly along both lines. It begins with a discussion on how the world has changed in the Google age (that waxes philosophical at times) and ends with an application of Jarvis’ core question to a variety of settings/industries/business models. Overall, WWGD? is both timely and important, equally appropriate reading for today’s netizen technophiles as it is suited to corporate retreats (highly recommended). More fundamentally, it offers a very compelling framework and worldview to work with. Who would have thought that a company that set out to organize the world’s information would also end up providing us with myriad ways to do things differently and better?

What would Google do, indeed.

Something is Technically Wrong [The Internet is Down] April 6, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, Technology.
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Once again, something I came across on Twitter.

Pretty cute. Maybe even cute enough to make me forget that something shouldn’t be wrong in the first place — which, I suppose, is the point.

Instapaper December 19, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Odds and Ends, Reviews, Technology.
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When I got my iPhone, the first order of business was to turn it into a portable news delivery medium. An easy enough task, given that NetNewsWire (my desktop RSS aggregator) had an iPhone version. In the process, however, I discovered an altogether better solution that doesn’t even need an iPhone to enjoy.

It’s called Instapaper, a service developed by Marco Arment that allows you to save online articles for subsequent reading. All it takes is an Instapaper account (which is free), a shortcut you add to your browser (which is easy enough to do), and you’re all set to go. If, say, while browsing the Internet you come across an interesting article that you don’t have time to read, you can simply “send it to Instapaper” (using the shortcut) and read it later on by logging on to Instapaper. Think of it like “bookmarking plus,” except that rather than create a bookmark you actually save the entire text content of a webpage for later reading.

Taken together, Instapaper and an RSS feed reader make for a potent combination. An Instapaper account can serve as a temporary archive of articles you’ve found interesting and would like to revisit, like a one-stop-shop for your web-sourced reading that eliminates the hassle of visiting multiple sites. It even allows you to syndicate your archived articles like an RSS reading list. But taken mobile — it has a Kindle version and is already optimized for the iPhone — Instapaper becomes a killer app, allowing you to take your internet reading with you on the go.

The free-to-try version of Instapaper for the iPhone/iPod Touch caps the amount of articles you can take with you at ten (i.e. your Instapaper account may have more, but your device will only download the ten most recent articles you’ve sent to Instapaper). The “pro” version, which only costs $5, allows you to take 250 articles with you and comes with a host of other features — tilt scrolling, text resizing, night mode — well worth the cost.

Easily, Instapaper is a vital tool for those who get their fix of news and information on the Internet, and a must-have app for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Brevity November 21, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings, Technology.
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Something I came across in a book I was reading:

  • Pythagorean Theorem: 24 words
  • The Lord’s Prayer: 66 words
  • Archimedes’ Principle: 67 words
  • The Ten Commandments: 179 words
  • The Gettysburg Address: 286 words
  • The Declaration of Independence: 1,300 words
  • The US government regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words

Now, I won’t bother citing the aforementioned book since its author was upfront about the fact that this little gem has probably been making the rounds on the internet for some time, not mention may very well be printed on any variety of t-shirts by now.

Which is true! I haven’t found any such t-shirt and I apparently missed the email (because I do live under a rock), but it turns out that this “cabbage memo” does have quite a bit of history.

Anyway, it got me thinking: wouldn’t it be neat if legislators around the world could devise laws befitting the age of the tweet? Sure, it’ll be nigh impossible to craft a bill around 140 characters (for most laws, the title alone can run for much longer), but it would be cool if legal eagles were to draft laws whose articles/relevant sections did fit in that word limit, and were indeed short overall.

Then promulgate said laws by tweeting them 140 characters at a time.

Wouldn’t that be something?

FB and WP Offline [The Internet is Down] November 11, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, Technology.
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Stephen sent me an email a few days back with the header “Your wish is my command” and an attached screenshot of Facebook. I was clueless at first (because I’m an idiot) until it dawned on me that I did ask for it when I wrote about the “whale“. (See? I am an idiot!)

Thus, prepare to be amazed (or not) by what Facebook looks like when it isn’t working:

The error message reads: “Account Temporarily Unavailable. Your account is currently unavailable due to a site issue. Please try again in a few minutes.”

Pretty underwhelming stuff, to be sure. Because it’s practically pro forma, it comes across as rather cold, if patently dull. Certainly, the Twitter outage notice is much more appealing.

In contrast, check out how something even less polished might be more effective. Here’s the message I came across when WordPress.com suffered a temporary outage:

Sure, it’s even more barebones, but it communicates a couple of things, intentionally or otherwise. Based on the look of the page and the curt message — “Writes to the service have been disabled, we will be bringing everything back online ASAP” — one gets the sense that downtime for the site doesn’t happen very often; if it did, they’d probably have a more polished error message. Second, and more importantly, the tone of the notice gives conveys the notion that the site’s administrators are working feverishly to resolve the issue. Heck, the message itself almost seems hastily composed, as if to say “Can’t chat right now; we’re working here!”

Or I could just be reading too much into these things.

Got a screenshot of what happens when things go wrong on the Internet? Send them over! We might just be able to turn it into a meme.

Where’s Bing? November 4, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Show and Tell, Technology.
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Bing is the new kid on the search block, albeit from an old hand in the tech industry. As I’ve noted previously, it’s got potential, even if it does some things rather oddly.

If you happen to like Bing and are also an iPhone user, though, it doesn’t look like you can set it up as your default search engine (at least, not yet):

And while some might pooh-pooh this with the obvious “It’s an Apple product; of course it won’t play nice with Microsoft!”, I should point out that things between Apple and Google haven’t been entirely coming up roses of late either (and Google has its own iPhone app, besides).

Granted, a lot of this owes to the advantage of the incumbent. The iPhone’s only been around some two-odd years now, while Bing only went live in June 2009. Hence it will take some time for Bing to make its way into the iPhone OS’ search engine options. In the meantime, it’s good to see that Bing is already equipped with a mobile version to suit handheld devices:

But until Bing legitimately makes its way onto the iPhone’s settings, there will always be that disconnect of seeing the Bing search page on screen with a Google (or Yahoo) search box on the toolbar, just because the latter can be set as default while Bing can’t. Assuming this means anyone bothers to use Bing on an iPhone at all.

Meanwhile, on the plus side there are a growing number of Apps for the iPhone dedicated to downloading the ever-changing wallpaper featured on Bing. Novelty aside, I suspect this might be more useful than most folks realize.