Tag Archives: productivity

An Informal Chat with Second Life Creator Philip Rosedale

The first Forbes MEET Conference was a blast. The panels were great and the people attending were even better. The conference is more than worth the price of admission for the networking opportunities alone.

On day one I had the good fortune of sharing a lunch table with Chad Hurley and Chris Maxcy of YouTube, Neil Kleinman, Dean of the College of Media and Communication at UArts, Janet De Vries (Director of the President’s Office at UArts) and Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life.

Neil is doing some wonderful stuff over at UArts, including getting the College of Media Communications online and the students interested in all that the new media technologies have to offer. It would be great to see art students presenting their creations in a Second Life exhibit or theatre majors opening their shows on Second Life‘s version of Broadway.

Second Life, for those unfamiliar with it, is -to quote their website- “a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents.” You travel to Second Life’s world by downloading a small program from their website and registering your “avatar” or virtual representation. Once inside the game, you decide whether you want to be male, female or something entirely different, like a bug. Choose your clothing, change your looks… anything you want. You can also buy land to build a house on (or a cabin, high-rise or space station). Set-up a clothing store and sell your shirts to other Second Life residents. Anything is possible here…

Many companies (Sun, Pontiac) have set-up shop inside Second Life, several residents are making good money buying and selling stuff (houses, cars, condos), and even Reuters has sent one of its reporters full time into Second Life – which I find mind-boglingly wonderful.

I don’t really have all that free time at the moment, even if I could build a lucrative business inside Second Life. So I asked Phil when will I be able to send my Second Life avatar to do work for me and report back at the end of the day. Phil laughed… this simply isn’t possible, yet. But, wouldn’t that be great? I guess that, eventually, avatars will be programmable to follow certain scripts and maybe even interact on their own with other avatars. Maybe then I could create for-hire armies (ok, or gophers) inside Second Life and rent their services out for a nice sum.

On a more serious note, Phil did mention that great things are coming to Second Life’s audio/video functions, including 3-D audio, which would allow you to determine where a sound is coming from (much like you do in games like Counter-Strike).

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Where are the Editors?

Fellow blogger John Allsopp (dog or higher) writes about the future of blog reading, and how we’ll go from reading blogs to reading single posts.

In my personal experience, that’s exactly how it goes. Although I subscribe to several blogs, I find myself not checking them very often, instead relying on Google, Digg or Del.icio.us to point me in the right direction. Of course there are still some industry blogs I check on a daily basis (GigaOM, TechCrunch, Mashable), but the rest of my reading (such as Allsopp’s article) is simply per-post.

Bloggers have many and varied interests and more than likely, not all of their posts will be of interest to me. Though you may read my blog because you’re interested in Digital Media strategies, that is no guarantee that you share my interest in Privacy, Security and Usability.

Which brings us to a new problem (or more accurately, a new version of an old problem): in a world of endless content, how do we quickly find the good bits?

Finding Content

While television has had programming experts choosing what and when to show (in addition to hundreds of specialty channels with even more specialized programmers) and newspapers have editors, in the online world we’ve had to rely on automatic digital aggregators (usually based on tags or keywords) or other users (most of whom we know nothing about) to choose the most relevant content.

Other services, such as Findory, look at your reading patterns in order to show you relevant information (as long as you read it through their interface). And though I’ve used Findory before, I haven’t yet been able to integrate it into my daily workflow (and I always get the feeling I’m missing out on some relevant item – I’m not quite sure why that is).

The problem with digital aggregators is that not everyone tags their content, there’s no tagging standard, and not all tagged content is good or even relevant. I’ve subscribed to Google Alerts and Technorati tags, but must compromise between general tags -and lots of false positives or irrelevant content- or very specific search terms -and thus missing out on some possibly relevant articles. 

On services like Digg it’s very easy for a group of users to control the system and get their content on the front page. Get a bunch of your friends to digg each other’s articles and you’ve instantly got a leg up on everyone else.

And though I mostly use Del.icio.us to search for my own bookmarked information, I’ve noticed its search results are usually quite relevant. I believe this has to do with users tagging content for their own future use -as opposed to tagging for the community- and do a better job with it.

Choosing Content

What we need is the online equivalent of editors. A trusted and accountable system to separate the good from the ugly. But, do we want them? Have we moved away from traditional media (from newspapers towards blogs) only to come back to a traditional model? Or is this a new, evolved model, where power remains in the reader’s hands?

The answer probably lies in a mixed system, borrowing the best of both worlds, much like TiVo has done. TiVos (or Digital Video Recorders) allow you to record your favorite shows and watch them at a later time. You’re no longer tied to a particular station’s offerings or timeslots. In a sense, you’re a programmer: you decide what is on and at what time. But, and this is important, you only get to choose from a pre-established pool of content. Yes, it may be great to watch Lost, Heroes and 24 back to back, even though they may be on competing timeslots or different days on broadcast TV, but you’re still picking your shows from what the network programmers think are the best of the best.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Apple‘s iTV comes out, or when Google finally decides to offer a Universal Video Recorder and you can choose your content from broadcast (chosen by programmers) and the Internet (chosen by you or some search / tagging / voting / aggregator service).

What do you think? Will we be letting editors choose our content? Or will we keep searching on our own for the best content? Where’s the middle ground? Leave a comment and let the world know what you think.

5 Reasons I Hate iTunes

Just bought an 80GB Video iPod! Awesome gadget and a nice way to get into the whole podcast/vidcast mindset. Unfortunately, I have to deal with Apple’s iTunes software to manage it.

I’m currently on an IBM T42p laptop (waiting for Apple to wake up and upgrade the MacBook Pros to Core 2 Duo), so this applies to the Windows version of iTunes.

1. Photos? What Photos?

I downloaded iTunes (yes, it’s not included in the package), installed it and plugged in my new iPod. iTunes began looking for media on my computer and converting it to Apple’s format. A dialog box appeared telling me iTunes was “optimizing my photos,” whatever that means. Meanwhile, iTunes becomes unusable, locked by the weird dialog. And to make matters worse, although iTunes tells me it transferred a couple thousand photos to my iPod, I can’t see them or find them anywhere.

UPDATE: I went to the local Apple Store and requested help with this at the Genius Bar. Though very polite, the dudes at the Genius Bar were unable to solve my problem, claiming to be unfamiliar with the Windows version of iTunes and having never heard of a similar problem. They suggested I call Apple Support. I decided to reinstall iTunes from scratch, but the problem was still there. The Apple Support website shows no mention of this particular problem, even though a simple Google search shows this has been around since at least February of 2006, if not earlier. Further troubleshooting with my system yielded the following answer:

There was apparently a photo file that was giving iTunes/iPod trouble, so I looked at how many photos were transferring to the iPod and manually selected folders until the total shown was higher than the number of photos on the iPod. I then deselected that last folder (which turned out to be my Picasa Exported Pictures folder) and the problem went away. I’ll eventually look through that folder to see which picture in particular was causing the error, but for the time being I’m fine.

2. Movies? What Movies?

I downloaded some video podcasts from Revision3 which turned out to be in a format too large for the iPod too handle. iTunes shows the movies in the Movie section but fails to inform you that they will not play on the iPod. You can take a guess and right-click on a movie and select “Convert Selection for iPod” if you want (the option will show for both iPod compatible and non-compatible videos). While you’re converting a video (takes ages), you can’t click on another video and add it to the conversion queue.

UPDATE: Even some video podcasts downloaded directly from iTunes appear to be incompatible with my iPod.

3. Artwork? What Artwork?

iTunes is supposedly capable of downloading album covers to display while a song is playing. Good Luck. iTunes was unable to find any artwork for most of my records, even though they are available in the iTunes store. Microsoft’s Windows Media Player lets you select the album you’re looking for and also let’s you cut-and-paste artwork.

UPDATE: I found a hack for this: Go to Amazon.com, search for your album, right-click and copy the album artwork image, go back to iTunes, select all the album files, right-click and Get Info, click on the Artwork box and paste the image.

4. Library? What Library?

iTunes will not monitor a folder for newly added files. Instead, they must be added manually via Add Folder or Import. iTunes also can’t tell when it has already added a song, resulting in multiple copies of each file. Attempting to ctrl-click these files to select and delete them caused iTunes to become unresponsive around the third ctrl-click.

5. Speed? What Speed?

iTunes feels mostly sluggish (so does Windows Media Player) and everything takes a few more milliseconds that it should. It just feels like it’s on slow motion.

So, what do you think? Does iTunes run better on a Mac? Do you have any suggestions? Let me know via the comments.

Flowing with Productivity

Michael Buffington wrote a very inspiring post about getting into flow and what techniques help him become and remain productive throughout the day.

In this age of multitasking, Digg, YouTube, del.icio.us and so many other sources of information to keep us distracted throughout the day, it’s imperative that we find ways to concentrate on the real important tasks at hand. And judging from the comments on said article, as well as several other blogs, this is a real problem among the internet savvy population.

Discipline plays a big role in entering this flow state, since checking emails as they come in, examining the latest Digg articles, and hopping over to check out the funny YouTube video our colleagues sent, all conspire against achieving the concentration necessary to flow. Of course much of that information we check throughout the day is what keeps us on our technological toes – on the cutting edge of knowledge, so to speak.

But do we really need ALL THAT information? One thing is staying as up-to-date as possible, but it’s an entirely different thing to become practically useless because of our constant need to be “informed.”

In the end, we need to remind ourselves that all those successful people behind the websites we feel the need to check every five minutes are, more than likely, zoned in, worrying about their own gigs. And their success should tell us something.

The Paris Hilton School of Blogging

So there I was, wide awake in my bed, wondering if the Crestor was keeping me from catching some much needed Zzzzs, when I decided to scramble over to my HP Media Center PC and check what was new on Digg. Over on my number two display, a trusty old 17″ BenQ FP731, my RSS aggregator, KlipFolio, diligently scrolled the latest Digg news. One headline caught my eye:

“How Paris Hilton Can Help Your Web Development (seriously)”

I clicked and waited mere milliseconds for Digg to pop-up on my primary monitor, an awesome Gateway HD FPD2185W. I read the comments on Digg and quickly had Firefox whisking me away to chartreuse’s Beta blog. As the post came up, I decided a late-nite snack was necessary to accompany this mix of marketing savvy and Paris Hilton photos.

Three slices of buttered Holsum whole wheat, crisply toasted in my DeLonghi oven, and a glass of milk would suffice for tonight.

The article is brilliant and shows how Hilton has exploited the attention economy to advance her own career. According to chartreuse, Paris is the queen of links, gratuitously dropping brands, locations and names whenever possible.

Though she hired a publicist to get her on Page 6, she never really talked about herself. She talked about other people. She would mention the designers of her clothes, the club she was going to, who made the sweater for her dog, all without any guarantee of any return. She just threw out links.

It’s gotten to the point where people are using the tactic of rejecting Paris as a marketing tool.

What the article doesn’t go into is how to apply this to your blog (as originally promised in the misleading Digg title). I’m not sure that dropping names on your blog will guarantee you rich marketing campaigns, but everyone knows that cross-linking helps boost where you appear in Google search results. So the best way to do a Paris Hilton on your blog is probably to link to other blogs of interest to your readers or articles and hopefully get some links back in return.

If you pay attention to other bloggers (and your content/banter/mojo is smart), they’ll eventually pay attention to you. Smart comments on popular blogs will also boost your “attentioness” on the Internet. But as usual, the best way is to provide smart, useful content for your readers. Unless you’re Google or Digg or YouTube or Paris and are simply a platform for the sale and promotion of attention.

This article comes to you thanks to WordPress blogs, Dreamhost hosting (use promo code 29OFF for $29 off any hosting plan), the Microsoft Windows XP operating system (at least until I get an Apple MacBook Pro), Sysinternals utilities and the wonderfully elusive CreateShortcut util by Jeff Key.

Apple Stores should embrace XP

It’s a simple idea: every Apple Store should have one computer running Windows XP via Parallels Desktop software.

Why? I believe it would help convince wannabe-switchers to take that final step and purchase a Mac.

When the first MacIntels came out, I began seriously thinking about switching from my all XP set-up. Running the Vista Beta simply made the decision easier (it lasted only two weeks on my laptop before I happily went back to XP SP2).

I depend on XP for part of my work, since I do all my software development on Microsoft’s Visual programming languages. The rest of my work revolves around the internet and Web2.0, for which the MacIntels suit me just fine.

But try finding an Apple Store where you can try out Windows… I haven’t received so many funny looks since the day my sister dyed my hair orange while I slept out in the sun.

I eventually stumbled into Apple’s Lincoln Road store on Miami Beach, where XP was being installed on an iMac (via BootCamp). As weird as it may seem, it’s quite reassuring to see XP boot up on these alien machines.

But there’s still this sense of secrecy around XP in the Apple Stores… Parallels Desktop software was unavailable on the shelves (but they had copies out in the back, they said). The next week, they were on display only to misteriously disappear the next day.

Apple needs to understand that running XP can only boost sales of their computers. Ideally, they should have a computer running XP and several important applications that may or may not be available on the Mac platform.

Now I just need to wait for the Core 2 Duo laptops…

More on the web: see “On Getting Closer to a Mac Tipping Point” for additional views on the subject.

Activating Session Restore in Firefox 2 Beta 1

Firefox 2 Beta 1 includes a new feature that restores your browsing session when the browser crashes. So, if you were looking at twenty different tabs when your browser froze or bit the dust, your tabs won’t go to wherever it is that electronic dust-bunnies end up.

Fire up your trusty browser and up will come all your tabs (along with a dialog box allowing you to stop this from happening, in case it was one of your open tabs that caused the crash in the first place).
But what if you want Firefox to always remember your browsing session? Out of the box, Firefox should restore your browsing session when you restart from the Add-On dialog and, I think, when you suffer a crash. I’m not sure if an installed extensions somehow disabled my copy of Firefox, but mine was unable to restore tabs after a crash or after a normal shutdown.

The fix is quite easy…

Open a new tab (Ctrl-T) in Firefox and type about:config in the address bar. This will take you to the secret place where Firefox stores all your preferences.

In the Filter box type sessions to show only those keys including the word “sessions”. You may or may not see several lines beggining with “browser.sessionstore.”.

You need three entries (or keys) in your configuration. These are:

browser.sessionstore.enabled | Type: boolean | Value: true

browser.sessionstore.interval | Type: integer | Value: 30000 (equals 30 seconds, adjust to taste)

browser.sessionstore.resume_session | Type: boolean | Value: true

My copy of Firefox also has the following key (the previous three I added myself):

browser.sessionstore.resume_session_once | Type: boolean | Value: true

If these keys exist in your Firefox config, then you should be all set to use session restore. If not, then you need to create each one by right-clicking anywhere on the page, selecting New, choosing the Type of key from the flyout menu, and entering the key name and Value when prompted.

Restart Firefox and you may now enjoy the comfort of session restore.

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