Sunday, August 26, 2007

Las Vegas 1.0: Where's the free wireless access???

I am getting ready to leave for Las Vegas on Monday and I realized that the hotel where we are staying does not have free wireless access. In fact, it is rather expensive, especially since I am used to being able to go almost anywhere and get free wireless access. Fort Wayne is an amazingly progressive town and has had many free wireless access points for a very long time, as a matter of fact, it was nationally recognized as one of America's most "wired and inspired" cities (according to Mayor Graham Richards) and has many, many wi-fi hot-spots. Some of the more interesting hotspot areas include:

  • Headwaters Park
  • Freimann Square
  • Lawton Park
  • Several downtown restaurants
  • Allen County Courthouse courtyard
  • The main Allen County Public Library and all 13 branches
  • The Fort Wayne International Airport
  • and of course all the other common ones like MacDonalds, House of Pancakes, coffee houses, bars, restaurants, hotels, etc.

So I just assumed that I would have no problem finding a free wireless hotspot in Las Vegas (specifically, the strip). Buzzzz. Wrong. As near as I can tell, there are maybe 5 free hotspots on the strip and the strip is a couple miles long. The closest to where we will be staying is the Apple Store in the Fashion Show Mall which is across the street and down a "Las Vegas Block" from us. If you've been to Las Vegas, you know what a Las Vegas block is. It is about a half a mile.

There is also one at the Las Vegas Hilton (and in the Las Vegas Hilton Monorail station - why couldn't they have put it in some other monorail station?). Again, if you know Las Vegas, you know that *nothing* is close to the Las Vegas Hilton. So I could pay $5 each way to ride the monorail there, but that would be $20 for the two of us, just to get wireless access (although I do enjoy Star Trek - The Experience). There is supposed to be one at the Planet Hollywood/Aladdin hotel, which is a little farther than the Fashion Show Mall, but in the other direction. And someone thinks there is one by the hallway between Luxor and Excalibur which is at the far end of the strip. Oh yes, there should be one at the Wynn too which the same distance as the Fashion Show Mall, but on our side of the road. The Wynn is new since I was last at Vegas and I forget about it. But that really is about it! And in a town that is wall to wall hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars, I find that unbelievable.

And I really don't want to be lugging my laptop all over creation in 100+ temps, just to get to the internet. I don't want to, but I will. I can't imagine going for 4 days without logging in.

But I plan to make it as little as possible, which means I won't be posting much, if any, in the next week. And I have things I want to post! And I wanted to post about our trip.

I love Las Vegas, but it needs to get its 2.0 on.

~Susan Mellott

Las Vegas 1.0: Where's the free wireless access???

I am getting ready to leave for Las Vegas on Monday and I realized that the hotel where we are staying does not have free wireless access. In fact, it is rather expensive, especially since I am used to being able to go almost anywhere and get free wireless access. Fort Wayne is an amazingly progressive town and has had many free wireless access points for a very long time, as a matter of fact, it was nationally recognized as one of America's most "wired and inspired" cities (according to Mayor Graham Richards) and has many, many wi-fi hot-spots. Some of the more interesting hotspot areas include:

  • Headwaters Park
  • Freimann Square
  • Lawton Park
  • Several downtown restaurants
  • Allen County Courthouse courtyard
  • The main Allen County Public Library and all 13 branches
  • The Fort Wayne International Airport
  • and of course all the other common ones like MacDonalds, House of Pancakes, coffee houses, bars, restaurants, hotels, etc.

So I just assumed that I would have no problem finding a free wireless hotspot in Las Vegas (specifically, the strip). Buzzzz. Wrong. As near as I can tell, there are maybe 5 free hotspots on the strip and the strip is a couple miles long. The closest to where we will be staying is the Apple Store in the Fashion Show Mall which is across the street and down a "Las Vegas Block" from us. If you've been to Las Vegas, you know what a Las Vegas block is. It is about a half a mile.

There is also one at the Las Vegas Hilton (and in the Las Vegas Hilton Monorail station - why couldn't they have put it in some other monorail station?). Again, if you know Las Vegas, you know that *nothing* is close to the Las Vegas Hilton. So I could pay $5 each way to ride the monorail there, but that would be $20 for the two of us, just to get wireless access (although I do enjoy Star Trek - The Experience). There is supposed to be one at the Planet Hollywood/Aladdin hotel, which is a little farther than the Fashion Show Mall, but in the other direction. And someone thinks there is one by the hallway between Luxor and Excalibur which is at the far end of the strip. Oh yes, there should be one at the Wynn too which the same distance as the Fashion Show Mall, but on our side of the road. The Wynn is new since I was last at Vegas and I forget about it. But that really is about it! And in a town that is wall to wall hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars, I find that unbelievable.

And I really don't want to be lugging my laptop all over creation in 100+ temps, just to get to the internet. I don't want to, but I will. I can't imagine going for 4 days without logging in.

But I plan to make it as little as possible, which means I won't be posting much, if any, in the next week. And I have things I want to post! And I wanted to post about our trip.

I love Las Vegas, but it needs to get its 2.0 on.

~Susan Mellott

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Google Blogger vs. WordPress, Blog Wars Part 2: The Results

So as you know from my first post on this "Google Blogger vs. WordPress, Blog Wars Part 1: The Test", I am reviewing and evaluating several different blog engines, with an emphasis on Google Blogger and WordPress (.com and .org). You can see my previous post to see the different blogs in action. And I'm sure this is going to be a large post, just reviewing the Blogger and WordPress blogs, so I will have a "Google Blogger vs. WordPress, Blog Wars: The Other Options" post following this one where I'll talk about the other blogs I looked at. But for all intents and purposes, it came down to Blogger and WordPress (2 ways).

I wanted to decide which type of blog would work best for my needs and which one I would recommend to others. It turned out to not be quite that simple. Each of the 3 main blog engines (Blogger, wordpress.com hosted Wordpress and self-hosted Wordpress) had some serious advantages and some serious drawbacks. So as it turns out, rather than recommending one above all others, I will give an overview of each, what is good and bad about them and why and for whom I would recommend each particular one.

And to make a long story short, I recommend Blogger for people who want someone else to host their blog, don't want to pay for a web hosting service and/or who want a quick and easy blog that takes hardly any maintenance or technical know-how.

For people who want the all-around best solution, who have their own web host and like to get 'techie' (and know how to do installs, use unix and ftp, etc), it's definitely WordPress from wordpress.org. This is the most flexible, you have the most control over it and your data and it will do almost anything you want if you find the right plug-ins or code. But you have to have the know-how and desire to use it and it is only as good as you make it. And you have to have somewhere to install it like a web hosting service.

Google Blogger: I personally give Google Blogger the edge over WordPress.com hosted WordPress for anyone who doesn't have their own web host and/or wants an easy and quick blog. I think it is good for:

  1. Anyone who doesn't have a lot of programming, moving files, installs, bits and bolts of how things work experience
  2. Anyone who wants an easy setup with the most features for a blog hosted by the blog provider and the most options for adding plugins and html code easily.
  3. Anyone who wants to have their own domain name, but use a blog hosted by the blog provider. In other words, who wants to buy a domain name like say, www.allaboutme.com (costs about $10/yr) but doesn't want to have their own web hosting service where they can put and maintain their own data and blogs (costs about $10/month). Redirecting is free in Blogger, it costs $10? (10 credits) in Wordpress.com
  4. You might want to have commercial usage on your blog. WordPress.com's term of service prohibits 'commercial usage' (although its unclear to mean exactly what they mean). It appears OK on a Google Blog (see this post from the Blogger Help group).

Google Blogger has the most features, the most choices and the ability to add html code easily including that using javascript. That means that when you find something you like (like say Odiogo, which is the text-to-speech widget you see at the top of my posts on my google and personally hosted wordpress blog), you can add it to your blog posts very easily. You cannot add Odiogo to a Wordpress.com hosted blog because it doesn't allow javascript. I've run into several widgets that I wanted to add to my blogs, but could not easily do it in Wordpress.com. You can easily redirect it to your own domain name so when they type either your original blog name or your domain name, both will go to your blogger blog. It is an easy, attractive and flexible blog engine. It doesn't have as nice a built-in statistics page as wordpress, but you can use Google Analytics (which is nice, but isn't real time) or any other stats tools like ActiveMeter or Sitemeter or ShinyStat (or I'm sure there are others) to keep track of it.

The one thing that seems to keep a lot of people from recommending Google Blogger is that it does not allow you to back up your posts. Therefore, if anything happened to Blogger, you could lose your data. Also, you can't move the data to another google blog if you wanted to. And looking at the hacks to backup your data, there really isn't a good way to do it. Except...

What you can do is to create a WordPress.com blog and import your blogger data into your wordpress blog. It is very easy in WordPress.com to import posts and comments from other blog engines, basically just point and click. Then you can export the data from your wordpress blog into a file of your own. You can't reload that file back into Google Blogger, but you have all your data and can recreate it in wordpress easily. Which is better than losing it all. And if you use a redirect to your own domain name in Blogger, if something happened, you could change the redirect to point to your Wordpress blog (for $10/credits per year, I believe). It's a work-around, but I tried it and it works just fine.

There is some concern about losing your rank if you move (which I don't totally understand about rank and all yet) but here is a post that explains things you can do to help with that, called "Moving from Blogger to Wordpress without Losing Traffic and Page Rank" (Actually, when I qit blogging on all my blogs and switch to one (clear.bluedei.com), I may have to figure out what all this means.) Also, as I understand, Blogger (as would be expected) integrates very well with Google Adsense, which I gather is a way to make money from your website, with advertising, I guess.

Also, if you start with Blogger, you can choose later to go to WordPress. You can't go the other way because Blogger doesn't have an import or export function. For the life of me, I don't know why.

WordPress on wordpress.com: This is the most middle-of-the-road bet. It doesn't really do anything as well as any of the others (except for import/export) but it doesn't have anything really wrong with it either. Many people would recommend it over Blogger. But it seems that it is mostly because Blogger doesn't provide a way to back it up and my work-around takes care of that, in my opinion. One thing that I really like about wordpress.com is that they provide an easy to use stats page that tells you how many page views you've had each day, which pages were viewed, how people got to your site and what they clicked while there. The one thing it doesn't tell you is who actually viewed your site. You have to use another stats package like sitemeter or ActiveStats to see that. And Google Analytics will not give you as much information using wordpress.com as it would if you were using Blogger because it requires some code to be added that you cannot add to Wordpress.com blogs.

This appeals to all the people that Blogger and would be a better choice if:

  1. You really want to be able to export your data and import it back into Wordpress easily, or want to be able to import posts/comments from other blog engines.
  2. You plan to go to a WordPress blog that you host yourself and you just want to get started now with WordPress.com and then import your posts and comments into your own hosted WordPress blog.
  3. AND you don't plan to have to have commercial usage on your blog. wordpress.com's term of service prohibits 'commercial usage' and you are supposed to use wordpress.org (your own hosted site) if you do...
  4. UNLESS you are a big business and want wordpress to host your blog using their VIP Hosting Service that costs $600 to setup and $300/month hosting fee. If you have that kind of money, you can decide if that is worth it. Briefly looking at it, I would think not. For that kind of money, you have many, many options. But if you have that kind of money for a blog, I doubt that you are reading my post :)

As I said before, Wordpress.com has some drawbacks. It is not as flexible as Blogger. There are things you want to add that you can't (but you can in Blogger). You can't use javascript and you cannot have any commercial usage or you run the risk of being shut down. You also have to pay to redirect your blog to your own domain name (this is something you very well may want to do at some point) and for many other things too, like more upload storage space or the ability to customize your css or unlimited users.

Self-hosted Wordpress from wordpress.org: This is, in my opinion, the very best option for:

  1. anyone who is 'techie' (understands files, uploading, ftp, unix, etc) and
  2. who likes dealing with the bits and bolts, likes installing, maintaining and customizing their own blog and templates and all and
  3. who has a host server to put their install on.
  4. who wants to be able to do pretty much anything they want to their blog, wants to add all sorts of plug-ins and who wants to really 'pimp their ride'.

Self-host Wordpress offers the most options and is the most flexible of any of the choices. Really, it is about the only option I've found for being able to have total control of your own blog, outside a CMS (content management system) like Drupal, which is extremely more powerful than just a blog engine and requires a lot more knowledge and programming know-how.

Some drawbacks of it are that you have to have a host to install it on (either your own, or from a web service that costs about $10/month) and you have to install and maintain and customize it yourself so you have to have some experience with these things and you have to want to do it or it will just be a hassle and frustrating. And your blog will only be as good and functional as you make it. It comes as basically vanilla and you have to add everything to it.
You also have to be sure your host is stable and has good backups in case something happens. The other blog engines are as stable and well-backed up as google.com and wordpress.com can make them so it doesn't vary so much. But your own host system can be very good or very bad, depending on who you are going with.

Also, I tried exporting from my wordpress.org blog to import into my wordpress.com blog (as if I had a problem with my web host and had to move) and it didn't move my extra pages (like about me and books I am reading). Nor of course, any of my plug-ins or customization. So it is important to save your plug-ins and files. Since they are just files on a server, you can back-up any or all of it any time you want.

Here is an article that talks about the differences between Google Blogger and self-hosted Wordpress from wordpress.org that has some good information. It is part one, but for the life of me, I can't find part two. It still has good info.

So to me, it comes down to Google Blogger for flexibility and ease of use vs. self-hosted wordpress for control and customization. And that is a choice that depends on what you are looking for and how much you want to do.

I will post my reviews of the other, less well-known blog engines in my next post on this subject.

-Susan Mellott


Comment posted by Ayush
at 9/6/2007 5:37:00 AM
Wordpress has numerous plugins to use compared to google blogger.I have been looking around on plugins for wordpress and have realised it will take months for me to know all of them. I installed this one from GoStats, it worked great I realise how easy and simple life has become now.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Doing the JibJab Disco

Star in Your Own JibJab! It's Free!

Is this cool or what? It's a bit of a waste of time, but a lot of fun. It will be better when they add more movies and things. I can see some possibilities, but for now it is just a fun thing to try.

Also, this link should take you to our video on JibJab. BTW, you can create a post/link directly from JibJab to Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, Typepad and several other Web 2.0 tools. And it generates html to add it elsewhere.

Thanks to Libraryman, from whom I shamelessly stole, even down to starring in the same movie. What can I say, it was the best one :)

~Susan Mellott

Doing the JibJab Disco

Star in Your Own JibJab! It's Free!

Is this cool or what? It's a bit of a waste of time, but a lot of fun. It will be better when they add more movies and things. I can see some possibilities, but for now it is just a fun thing to try.

Also, this link should take you to our video on JibJab. BTW, you can create a post/link directly from JibJab to Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, Typepad and several other Web 2.0 tools. And it generates html to add it elsewhere.

Thanks to Libraryman, from whom I shamelessly stole, even down to starring in the same movie. What can I say, it was the best one :)

~Susan Mellott

Beyond Skype: Keeping up with the Web 2.0 World

Well I'm sure you all are getting as sick of the repeated speculations as to what really happened with Skype. So am I.

In many ways, it is unfortunate that so much has been written about the Skype outage, to the point that now that people are looking at it from a broader perspective, such as why did their communication fail, or how companies need to review their backup plans for situations such as these, either no one wants to read about it or it gets buried in the overwhelming amount of Skype related posts.

But the bigger picture is not about what happened to Skype as much as it is about how Skype tried outdated, 1.0 communcation techniques that failed miserably in the current 2.0 environment. Even in their 'clarification' post today on the situation, seems to sort of recognize they have a communications problem, but clearly doesn't recognize why.

And forget this is about Skype. Think of it as about any company, in a situation that affects their users and how they communicate and handle the situation.

I wish I had written this post, but it says everything I would want to and so rather than repeat it, just go read P.R. 2.0's post called "Crisis Communication 2.0 - The Skype is Falling". Or if you prefer, here is the post on a white background (I don't care as much for black background with white lettering if I'm trying to read something).

And I hope this doesn't get buried in the continuing rehash of the Skype problem

~Susan Mellott

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Automobile 2.0: The smart car is coming!


I just have to say that I really, really, really want one of these cars! You can see them at the Smart Car website. They cost under $12,000 for the basic model, up to under $17,000 for the Smart fortwo Passion Cabrio which is a tricked-out convertible model. I like the middle of the road model, the smart fortwo passion, for under $14,000.

smartcar.jpg

I've seen this car overseas and admired it and now it is coming to the U.S. The vehicle is designed to achieve 40 plus mpg under normal driving conditions and current standards. The top speed is 90 mph, which is plenty for me. Here is a link to the FAQ page on the smart car.

You can reserve a smart car for $99 which is applicable to your purchase of a smart car and is refundable any time.

We bought a new Scion XB a couple years ago, which I also love (its name is Squeezle :). We are lucky we got one when we did because they discontinued the original XB and made a new one that is not nearly as cool. And we have a big Dodge Ram truck since we live in the country and get firewood and all.

So we just don't need another car and certainly can't going buying everything we want. But I have some serious hots for this car!

~Susan Mellott

Automobile 2.0: The smart car is coming!


I just have to say that I really, really, really want one of these cars! You can see them at the Smart Car website. They cost under $12,000 for the basic model, up to under $17,000 for the Smart fortwo Passion Cabrio which is a tricked-out convertible model. I like the middle of the road model, the smart fortwo passion, for under $14,000.

smartcar.jpg

I've seen this car overseas and admired it and now it is coming to the U.S. The vehicle is designed to achieve 40 plus mpg under normal driving conditions and current standards. The top speed is 90 mph, which is plenty for me. Here is a link to the FAQ page on the smart car.

You can reserve a smart car for $99 which is applicable to your purchase of a smart car and is refundable any time.

We bought a new Scion XB a couple years ago, which I also love (its name is Squeezle :). We are lucky we got one when we did because they discontinued the original XB and made a new one that is not nearly as cool. And we have a big Dodge Ram truck since we live in the country and get firewood and all.

So we just don't need another car and certainly can't going buying everything we want. But I have some serious hots for this car!

~Susan Mellott

Friday, August 17, 2007

Skype - It's not the Problem, it's how They Handled It

Skype appears to be starting to become available. I have been able to access it consistently for several hours. But it is hard to find out how many people are still without Skype and if you cannot get Skype yet, please send me a comment so we can keep track of what the real picture is.

Skype has not been forthcoming at all with what the problem is and there is much speculation that it was caused either by the planned maintenance that took place right before Skype went down, or by a hacker attack or both, through an opening while performing the system maintenance. Here is a good article by PCWorld on why people feel it could have been an attack and it says:

"eBay attributes the outage to a problem in a Skype networking algorithm, but code has been posted to a Russian security discussion forum that could supposedly be used to knock the service offline in a DOS (denial of service) attack.

The code, which was published anonymously, appears to be capable of forcing Skype’s servers to freeze up, said the discussion forum site’s editor, Valery Marchuk, in a posting to the Full Disclosure security discussion list. “Reportedly, it must have caused Skype massive disconnections,” he wrote."

Even though Skype/ebay denies either of these and is blaming it on a "software problem" (could they be any more vague?), they are both not unreasonable scenarios. Skype is only going to quell any rumors if it gives a good and specific reason as to what happened. They can, and obviously would, say whatever they felt was the safest and less likely to frighten customers away. And that is not unusual, that is what any company would do.

Look at 365 Main when the big outage hit San Francisco a couple weeks ago. Rather than saying they didn't have proper power backup systems (UPS), a company representative said "Someone came in sh*tfaced drunk, got angry, went berserk, and f**ked up a lot of stuff. There's an outage on 40 or so racks at minimum." ValleyWag had a good article on this with lots of interesting links.

While Skype is not updating us on the situation, you can go to the original post on the Skype blog about Skype login problems and read the comments to see what is going on with people in different areas. And here is the latest update at midnight GMT August 18 on the heartbeat.skype.com official Skype site. Basically, it says "We are pleased to announce that the situation continues to improve. The sign-on problems have been resolved. Skype presence and chat may still take a few more hours to be fully operational." I wonder if all the sign-on problems are now resolved. There are about 4 million users online at this moment. That is less than usual, but some may not have tried to get back on so it is hard to tell.

Skype has been really reliable and this is a rare occuraence, but I think that Skype did a very poor job of keeping people updated. Many people didn't even know there was a general Skype problem and spent a lot of time trying to figure out why their Skype was not working.

Skype has everyone's email address that uses Skype and they could have easily sent out emails to everyone stating the situation and giving regular updates (and specifics on what they are finding wrong and what they are doing to correct it).

People say "Skype is free so who are you to complain?". Well, many, many people actually pay for Skype, believe it or not, and use it for their businesses, their help desks, their contacts and their phone system. I am a paying customer of Skype. At the very least, they owe it to the people who pay for their service to provide a better communication than just a couple posts on their heartbeat website saying nothing more than Skype is having problems and they are working on it.

According to GigaOm's post on Skype Groans and SIPhone Gains: "The company saw a 400% increase in traffic this morning, with 4 times increase in sales, calls and downloads of its Gizmo Project software. “It is interesting to see that voice callers are transitory,” Michael Robertson, founder, SIPphone wrote in an email."

Yes, voice callers ARE transitory. And people who change to Gizmo Project, or use Jajah or any of the other ways to make calls, very well may not go back. And while you can say that these may not be the paying customers, people who use Skype for free today, are the paying customers of tomorrow. I used it for free until I decided it was good and I wanted to expand what I could do. And I recommend it to other people who do business in other countries.

I am going to wait and see how this plays out before I recommend Skype again. I have always said that you can tell more about a company by the way they handle problems, than by how well they do when there are no problems. Every company has occasional problems, its how they are handled when they happen that makes the difference.

~Susan Mellott

No Skype yet (Infoworld article to the contrary)

Well I got up this morning and despite my hopes that Skype would be up, especially since it was partly up last night, no such luck. I did see it briefly flicker on this morning (for about 15 seconds), but essentially it is completely unavailable for me.

Interestingly enough, in my Skype Yahoo News feed, there is a big headline from Infoword that says Outage of Skype's VoIP Service appears to be Over. Uh, I don't think so. Upon reading the article, it goes on to say: "At 3:53 a.m. GMT, Skype seemed to be operating normally, with users in Asia able to log in, view their contact lists, place calls, and send messages." OK, I gues they should have said the outage seems to be over in Asia, because it sure isn't over in the U.S.

Skype has been posting short updates on its Skype Heartbeat blog. The latest was at 11am GMT. They are really not giving a lot of information at all in their posts. They certainly are not giving any indications what the problem is, although they are quick to say what the problems aren't, as in this from the latest post: "Finally, we’d like to dispel a couple of theories that we are still hearing. Neither Wednesday’s planned maintenance of our web-based payment services nor any form of attack was related to the current sign-on issues in any way"

I'm sorry, but when you make a big deal about Skype being down for planned maintenance the night of the 15th and on the 16th everything is broke, I'd tend to look a what was done during the maintenance because as any programmer or computer person knows, if something goes wrong, you try to figure out what was changed and that is a good place to start. Skype did mention on one of its updates that there was a deficiency in an algorithm (whatever that means).

The VoIP Guides blog says "The Real issue was because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user’s own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network. We at VOIP Guide feel, the issue was related to authentication algorithm used on their P2P network which uses a very speculative "supernodes" technology. If anyone of you have read our very interesting article on "skype supernodes and vulnerability", you would probably know how insecure skype could be."

They go on to explain more about this. Unfortunately, their link to the article on skype supernodes and vulnerability does not work. I did find this article of their about the issues with supernodes.

They have a pretty decent site with a lot of information (if you can get past all the advertisements). They also mentioned Jajah software as an alternative to Skype and I have heard of Jajah as well as Gizmo Project. From the sound of it, Jajah may be easier and quicker to use, especially for a quick, short term solution.

If this keeps up (Skype stays down) then I will have to check these out and I will post my results then.

And it seems that Infoworld retracted its previous statement and has released an article saying that Skype problems may continue throughout the day.

~Susan Mellott

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Skype is down - Are there Alternatives? Yes!

Well, there has been an overwhelming interest in my last post about Skype being down. So I thought I would do a little research for people into what alternatives there were. Gizmo seems to be the big competitor and is highly regarded. Here is a great article by ZDNet on Skype vs. Gizmo and the comments are equally interesting. Here is a list of some popular voip providers with a little bit about each one. And here is a much more in-depth comparison of Skype to Gizmo called Crowning the King of Free Talk-Skype vs Gizmo. And here is a list from C/Net Download.com of bunch of net phones, sorted by user rating (although it is confusing because the rating and number of users don't seem to match when you go to detail of each - maybe best to sort by editor rating?).

And of course, let's not forget the wikipedia entries for Gizmo Project and Skype and a very comprehensive entry on Comparison of Voip Software (I'd only check out the ones with links, there are a million of them on here).

That is a lot of information, but for even more, you can search on "free internet skype gizmo reviews" and get a ton of information about Skype, Gizmo Project and other VOIP software.

If you are here because Skype is down, I'd check out Gizmo Project. It sounds easy and good and of course, free. And if you are just trying to figure out what to use, these reviews and information should help. At one time I would have said Skype, hands down. I still really like Skype, but I can't say I feel it is the only game in town anymore.

Here is a link to the original post from Skype. And again, you can go here for updates from Skype on the situation. This is their latest communication:

"Hello everyone,

Apologies for the delay, but we can now update you on the Skype sign-on issue. As we continue to work hard at resolving the problem, we wanted to dispel some of the concerns that you may have. The Skype system has not crashed or been victim of a cyber attack. We love our customers too much to let that happen. This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user’s own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network.

Rest assured that everyone at Skype is working around the clock — from Tallinn to Luxembourg to San Jose — to resume normal service as quickly as possible.

(Updated at 10pm GMT)"

~Susan Mellott

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Las Vegas, baby!

I haven't been posting as much because I'm trying to get my new WordPress installation configured and plug-ins added, etc. But I've been working my butt off! Since my birthday is coming up, I was trying to come up with something to do.

Then Vi told Sean about a deal that Allegiant Air is having where if you book one fly/hotel package, the 2nd person flies free. I never quite trust that sort of promotion because I have checked it before and it has come out about the same, or cheaper if I look for hotel deals myself. But this actually ended up being a good deal!

If we each got regular airfare ($158+tax pp) then the hotel ends up being like $29 a night total. I think it was approximately $450 total for the 2 of us to fly from Fort Wayne to Las Vegas and stay 3 nights at the Imperial Palace. I picked the Imperial Palace because it is cheap and very centrally located. This is where we usually stay since it's right in the middle of everything and you can't beat the price! I know there are snobs who say the Imperial Palace is tacky and old and they would never stay there, but we've stayed there many times and been very happy with it. Its cost/benefit ratio is the best, IMO.

And we were very lucky that the kennel could take our dogs since it would be so near Labor Day. The dog's room costs almost as much as ours.

And while looking for what shows we might want to go see, I found a promotion through Ticketmaster where you can get seats to the Cirque de Soleil shows for half price! They are the less desirable seats, but in the specially designed Cirque de Soleil theaters it is hard to find a really bad seat. When we went to see Mystere' we got the nosebleed seats in the middle because they are actually some of the best seats because so much happens in the air that you can see it all without having to twist your neck trying to see straight up. I found that tip on the internet before we went and it was a very good one. The seats are about $50 less than the "good" ones and they are arguably, as good or better. Again, high cost/benefit ratio.

Some people might call me obsessive about deals but since I'm obsessive about everything, it comes in handy here. I'm all about good value for your money!

~Susan Mellott

Monday, August 13, 2007

Web 2.0 - Odiogo on WordPress (self-hosted)

Late last week, I had found out about Odiogo which changes your blog text to speech (see my post on 8/11/2007) and had tried adding it to my blogs. At the time, I had a Google Blogger blog and a WordPress blog hosted on WordPress.com.

It worked just fine adding it to my Google Blogger blog, but it turns out there is no way to add it to a WordPress.com hosted blog. This was a big black mark against WordPress.com blogs in my opinion.

Since then, we have set up our own domain and I created a subdomain of my own (clear.bluedei.com) and set up my own WordPress blog on there and supposedly, it was possible to use Odiogo on a self-hosted WordPress blog so I created my feed and submitted my request to Odiogo and waited impatiently for my confirmation email to arrive from them.

It came this afternoon, so I then tried setting up Odiogo on my new blog. It was amazingly easy! I just downloaded the plugin from the link in the confirmation email, ftp'ed it to my wp-content/plugins subdirectory on my subdomain and set it up on my blog. Now I have an odiogo feed button on my sidebar so people can subscribe to my audio feed and each time I create a post, the odiogo 'listen now' button is automatically added to my post.

Here are the actual instructions that were very clear and easy to follow.

1. Download the plugin

2. Upload directory odiogo_listen_button to your /wp-content/plugins/ directory via FTP

3. Login to your WordPress admin account and activate the Odiogo Listen Button plugin through the Plugins menu

4. Click Menu Options > Odiogo Listen Button

5. Enter your Odiogo Feed ID and click Save
Your Odiogo Feed ID is xxxxx.

6. Click menu Presentation > Widgets (or Sidebar Widgets depending on your WP version)

7. Drag and drop Odiogo Subscribe Button from Available Widgets to Sidebar

8. Click Save Changes

Here is a link to the Odiogo FAQ page. I noticed that people have been trying to find out why their feeds were being cut off before they were done. You can find the answer on this FAQ page by looking under "How do I activate RSS full text option on..." and they have one for Typepad, WordPress and Blogger.

It is really a neat and useful tool and I'm very glad I can add it to my new blog.

~Susan Mellott

Picking a Web Hosting Company for our Site and Blogs

We had decided that we wanted to go with a web hosting company so we could set up our own site. I did some research and here is what we decided.

We went with Inmotion Hosting. I did some research and they looked like they had very good uptime and support and the features we wanted, at a reasonable price. We pay $9.95 a month and got a free domain (with the 12-month package). If you get the 24 month package, it is $8.95 a month. I picked it especially because it is supposed to have very good customer service and it had a decent package (Power Business class - the middle business class plan) for a decent price.

Another company I considered was Host Gator. It was also supposed to be good. It was about the same price for similar features. And LunarPages got excellent reviews but had less plans. Actually, I might have gone with Blue Host instead, had I found it earlier. When I went to WordPress.org to set up WordPress on my site, they recommended it and it looks good and is cheaper. What I particularly liked about it was that they had an active developers forum where members helped each other.

CPanel is really a nice tool to manage your site and Fantastico is an easy way to install things (like WordPress). Subdomains are where you can add something to the front of your domain name, like I created clear.bluedei.com for my blog and Sean is thinking about deep.bluedei.com for his. You could also set up say support.bluedei.com or store.bluedei.com. Ours allows 50 mySQL databases. Some have less and some have unlimited. It appears that when something is installed through fantastico, it takes a database so it is good to have plenty (or at least more than you think you need).

Also, the web hosting companies have different servers that they can put you on and if you plan to do development or leading edge stuff, be sure to ask for one with the latest versions installed (like php or mySQL) since not all of them do.

You can do a search on: web hosting reviews, to get sites with ratings, reviews and overviews of the different web hosting companies. And here is a link to a blog post on MySitesAdvisor called Review of 3 Reliable Web Hosts that looks at 3 web hosts that they like. Blue Host was also on their list. They also have a post on 5 Keys to Choosing a Better Web Host that has a lot of good information in general on what to look for in a Web Hosting service.

We are in the process of setting up our own site at bluedei.com. We haven't done the front web page yet, but I have set up a subdomain clear.bluedei.com and installed WordPress there and copied my posts over and am working on getting it set up. You can take a look if you want, but it is still a work in progress as I figure out themes and plug-ins and whatnot. I will do another post about the difference between WordPress hosted by them at wordpress.com and WordPress that you host on your own domain.

But this is the first step to having our own site.

~Susan Mellott

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Web 2.0 - Convert your post texts to speech with Odiogo!

I was looking at a Blog called Just Giblets and I noticed a widget at the top of each of their posts that said "listen now". So I clicked on it and it read the entire post by converting the text to speech! I tried other posts and it did the same for every post. And as I was going down their posts, I found one called "Do you notice anything different?" that explained more about Odiogo.

So I went to the Odiogo website and started looking at how I could add it my own posts. As it turned out, I ran into yet another limitation of Wordpress (hosted on wordpress.com). It does not allow you to use this feature since it restricts some of the things Odiogo needs to use.

So I re-signed up with Odiogo for my Google Blogger blog instead. After I got the confirmation email (it takes about a day), I followed the instructions, which required me to do nothing more than click a couple of links and buttons and voila! Each of my blogger posts had a "listen now" button. I didn't even have to add it to each post, it is automatically added for me. On the some the earliest posts, when you click the listen now button, it says "Sorry, this article is not available yet.", but most all of them are available now. Here is how it looked when I clicked on the listen now button. It is in the process of reading the post.
odiogo posts

As you can see, there are other formats you can also listen and download the post as. Odiogo also creates an audio feed stream that you can access from the blog using this button:

odigo feed

This takes you to this page where you can sign up for the audio feed of the posts using various feed readers, or can just listen to them from the page.

We are in the process of converting over to our own hosted site and I will transfer my WordPress blog there, which should allow me to add this to that blog (although not as easily as you can add it to a Blogger blog).

They also market it as a way to create podcasts easily by just writing your text and then converting it to audio. That is interesting but I'm not sure how much easier it is than just reading and recording it and that way you also have a human voice rather than a digital voice. But I didn't really look into that much from their site and I'm sure they have a lot of other good uses for it. You can go here to learn more about their mainstream media, or here to learn more about adding it to blogs.

It is free to add to your blog and for some people, may generate revenue. I'm not sure what they are referring to by "ad income", I have not really noticed any ads except for saying it is from odiogo. But in any case, it is free. This is what the site says "Not only is Odiogo free, it may be able to generate advertising revenues. Once your listenership reaches a significant level, you may qualify for a share of ad income! More technical details about the solution can be found here and in our FAQ. So what are you waiting for? Give your blog voice, and legs, now! "

I have friends and family with low vision and this seems like a wonderful addition to a blog to make it more accessible. And I believe that this is something that needs to be considered as Web 2.0 apps are being developed. Part of the concept of Web 2.0 is inclusiveness and being accessible and this shows how easily you can enhance your blogs to make them easier to access for everyone.

I hope this sparks your interest and helps people think about creating and looking for Web 2.0 applications that help make it accessible by everyone.

~Susan Mellott

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Harry Potter in the Hood...

What can I say? Enjoy!



Thanks to just giblets for posting about this gem.

~Susan Mellott

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Learning 2.0 - Library Genius 2.0 T-shirts!

Check out these Library Genius 2.0 T-shirts for the Allen County Public Library Learning 2.0 program, found on this post from the ACPL's Innovation Through Technology Blog. Kay Gregg designed these shirts and all the icons associated with each Learning 2.0 course completed! They will be used to kick-off the ACPL Digital Collaborative's Learning 2.0 presentation. Here is Kay modeling one of the new t-shirts:

Look at this post from ACPL's IT blog on Library 2.0 Bling for a closeup of each icon. and here is a picture of the Learning Video 2.0 button.

For more information on the ACPL's Learning 2.0, check out these posts from the ACPL Innovation Through Technology blog. And for what ACPL's Digital Collaborative is creating for Learning 2.0, check out the ACPL DC Wiki's "21 Things". Click on the links to see what each person has created. This wiki is a working wiki for the Digital Collaborative and is constantly being updated.

I want to be a Library Genius 2.0!

~Susan Mellott

Harry Potter 2.0: Sims Snape Teaches Dance

I was looking for episodes on the internet of some TV shows for my sister and was having a hard time finding "So You Think You Can Dance" (which apparently Fox does not put on their website). But I looked for anything on YouTube and found Snape teaches Slytherins to dance. It is excellent and was created using the game Sims 2.



And fourth-rose has also written a story that goes with the video, in which Professor Snape, in order to make sure Slytherin doesn't make fools of themselves at the upcoming Yule Ball, teaches them to dance. It is absolutely hilarious and well worth the read.

Looking around, I found that people were writing additional Harry Potter stories using Sims to illustrate them. Here is a page of Sims outtakes from a chapter of one of those stories by CloudlessNights. You can find her work by checking out her tags and links, like Harry Potter starring The Sims: Book 1 - The Philosophers Stone and Book 2 - Chamber of Secrets.

She also has a great series called the Timeturner Incident written by the Sims. As she says in episode 1: "Please bear in mind that visiting sims can't be controlled, so whatever they did, they did it all on their own accord. I was only watching in shock, awe and amusement, and taking a lot of pictures ;-)"

And check out the Harry Potter Sim Videos on YouTube. The assortment of creative ideas is outstanding. And there is an outstanding series of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with voice actors and everything. Here is chapter 1 (he has disabled embedding the video). These were created starting in October of 2005. It is interesting to compare to the movie.

And of course, if you just search on Sims, you end up with a ton of fun videos. Who would have thought people could be so creative with this new medium?

Enjoy.

~Susan Mellott

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Politics 2.0 - Who is Web 2.0?

Thank you to Anonymous for writing me about this very interesting post: Dimensions of a Potentially Postponed GOP CNN/YouTube Debate .

This post was written by Alex Hammer so I looked up Alex Hammer's bio and found: "Alex Hammer was a 2006 Independent candidate for Governor of Maine. He is the owner of Media 2.0, including Politics 2.0 (www.hammer2006.blogspot.com). Politics 2.0 focuses on "What's now and what's next" in Presidential politics and politics generally. Alex is a columnist for The Magic City Morning Star (www.magic-city-news.com) and a regular guest columnist for The Moderate Voice (www.themoderatevoice.com). Previously, for a decade, Alex was owner of HSC Media, a five-division NYC area based online media company."

His blog on Politics 2.0 has the most amazing blogroll list of politician's online sites like their myspace, twitter, facebook, etc. You might want to go check out who all is doing what Web 2.0 applications.

Here is just a sampling of links from his list:

Joe Biden Blog
Joe Biden MySpace Site
Joe Biden Senate Website
Joe Biden Twitter
Joe Biden Website
Joe Biden Wikipedia
Joe Biden YouTube Videos
John Edwards MySpace Site
John Edwards Twitter
John Edwards Website
John Edwards Wikipedia Bio
John Edwards YouTube Videos
John McCain MySpace Site

~Susan Mellott

Politics 2.0 - Are Republicans Afraid of Us?

The CNN/YouTube Democratic Presidential Debates took place on Monday, July 23, 2007. It was a first for that type of debate format and was quite popular, especially among the younger viewers who are perhaps more drawn to this more unconventional approach. CNN says it got a boost in the 18-34 demographic - the most ever for a cable news debate. And those are real-time numbers, not including younger viewers (or any viewers) who may have watched a stream or a Tivo'ed show or even the post-event sound-biteable nuggets on YouTube itself.

Here is a great recap of the debates provided by YouTube. I love the format, it briefly states the question they were asked and then shows their response. You can also watch the videos of each question. There are also the questions that were submitted but not used and video responses to the debates.It is really 'by the people', people like you and me and it is real questions from real people. There were difficult questions asked and real feedback given. You can also view the questions that were submitted but not used.

I watched several of the unused questions (there were almost 3000 entries) and was impressed at the thoughtfulness and interest expressed by so many people. Sure, there were some that were just people goofing around, but that doesn't negate the large amount of people who had real concerns and real questions and who clearly are interested in trying to make the correct decision with their vote.

Mitt Romney (Republican candidate who has refused to participate in the CNN/YouTube debate format) said "[The debates] ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman.” (referring to a question about global warming that was presented on the video as a snowman sock puppet). Well all I can say is lighten up! What, your dignity and stature doesn't allow you to interact with people who don't care about all that? It reminds me of people who read a very thought provoking post and all they can do is nitpick about the spelling or grammar. I guess that is safer (and easier) than actually stating an opinion. And it makes a point that you feel you are better in some way than they are (without actually having to do anything that might disprove it).

I think that the Republicans (I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't know who they are) are a bunch of control-freaks that can't handle anything that they have not orchestrated to the nth degree. I think they feel they know better than we do and that we are all a bunch of ignoramuses (ignorami) that need their fatherly protection so we don't run with a stick and poke someone's eye out. Shame on the Republican candidates for thinking they are too good to have a voter ask a question directly. Format be dammed, a voter’s question is a voter’s question and deserves an answer.

And there are plenty of Republican party youtube videos put out by the candidates or their people. But of course this is the format they like best, they talk about what they want to say and you listen. No input allowed.

I also think they don't want anyone telling them what to do and will go out of their way to not do something just to prove it. And they feel no need to explain why they do what they do. At the NAACP GOP Presidential Candidate forum on July 12, one lone republican candidate showed up, Tan Tancredo. The NAACP invited all the Republican candidates to the forum, put out 9 podiums, but only one Republican showed up. All the Democratic Presidential hopefuls showed up for their forum. The excuses given by the Republican campaigns mostly had to do with scheduling conflicts--just too busy to make it.

Here is a telling photograph of the nine podiums and the one candidate. And here is the post that led me to this picture and from which I found out about the NAACP debacle.

There are a group of republicans who are asking their candidates to debate in this format and their website is called Save the Debate. I applaud their progressive attitude and their acumen in recognizing that they stand to lose a lot more by not attending than by having to answer a tough question or two. You can also sign a petition on that website, requesting that the candidates attend. Personally, I doubt that their opinions and requests matter that much to the republican candidates. But if enough people stand behind it, maybe they will get the clue.

~Susan Mellott

Monday, August 6, 2007

Coverpop - Mashups you won't believe!

I ran across these and they blew my mind! It is called coverpop and it is a website created by Jim Bumgardner, of KrazyDad.com, to house his experimental coverpop project. Per his FAQ page: "
A coverpop can be a unique work of art, a software toy, or a fun way to shop for stuff.

Each coverpop is an interactive mosaic, made of tiny images, such as magazine covers. These are called "micro thumbnails". As you drag the mouse over each micro thumbnail, it pops up to a full-sized thumbnail image, and provides some information about the item. For some coverpops, you can click again to produce either a full-sized image, or to go to another website to learn more information about the item.

Some coverpops arrange the images by time, by price, or color. Other coverpops arrange the images into a photomosaic."

If you go to main coverpop site , you will see a random choice of oneof his coverpop mosaics. You can choose from the list on the right side to see specific ones. He creates mashups using flickr, youtube, amazon and other web 2.0 apps to create really amazing mosaics that you can spend endless time browsing and playing with.

He has a set of youtube video mosaics too. And just plain mosaics that are really interesting. Here is a description of how it works and here is a brief description from that page:

"Data for each coverpop is prepared using Perl and the ImageMagick library. Space-filling is implemented (with visual feedback) using Processing (p5). The interface itself is presented in Flash/Actionscript within a PHP webpage.

I download information about all the covers using various means. I use Amazon Web Services for the Amazon-powered coverpops, and I screen-scrape websites, such as the Visco archive for the Science Fiction coverpop. This is done using a Perl program. Then I download all the thumbnails (again with Perl), and analyse them for color, using ImageMagick to reduce each image to 1x1 and recording the color of the remaining pixel."

You can also generate banners to put on your website with various mosaics like Harry Potter on Amazon or Time's Top 100 Novels. These are linked to amazon and you receive credit when someone buys through your site except he receives the credit every 6 times or so. I created one just to try it out (you can generate the code from his site) and put it on the bottom of my Goggle Blogger blog Along the Path to 2.0. It is at the botton of the blog. Unfortunately I can't put it on my Wordpress blog yet since it is hosted by Wordpress.com. I hope to correct that soon!

To learn about new coverpop or just to find out more, you can go to his blog. He has a lot more interesting things on there.

He has also co-authored a book called Flickr Hacks - Tips and Tools for Sharing Photos Online that talks about the flickr .APIs and how to do some of these things and sounds VERY interesting.

Check it out! But don't do it until you have some time to spend because you definitely will.

~Susan Mellott

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Television 2.0 - what you want when you want it

A few months ago I discovered an app called Joost that is TV on demand through your PC. At the time it was in testing by invitation only (I finagled one). Now it appears as though you can just sign up for it. Here is what it's website says:

"Joost™ provides a new way of watching TV that combines the best of full-screen television entertainment with the interactive and community benefits of the Internet to bring broadcast-quality video to viewers anytime, anywhere. Based on a state-of-the-art, secure, peer-to-peer streaming technology, Joost can be accessed with a broadband Internet connection and offers video programming to viewers for free. Joost features more than 150 channels with programming across all genres, including: cartoons and animation; entertainment and film; sports; comedy; lifestyle and documentaries; and sci-fi. Channels and programs available on Joost vary by geographic region, based on copyright ownership."

There are a lot of good things about Joost. It has a very good picture and a ton of programming from many, many different television stations. And I believe they have even added some movies. There is a lot to watch! The bad things were that I found it complicated to use as far as changing channels or watching another program. It is not intuitive (to me anyway) at all. I would have loved to just see a taskbar that looked like your basic remote. Why not? Everyone knows how to use one and it would have been much more intuitive. Also, there were some things that I really never have figured out, one being how to exit the app. It sounds strange but I just have not found how to do it without going to my Windows taskbar and closing the app. Now that seems like a problem. If I can't do it, I'm sure I'm not the only one.

The other perhaps unfortunate thing for Joost (but great for us!) is that more and more, the different television stations are providing full episodes of their programs online. Just within the last 2 days I have watched episodes of a martial arts show called Human Weapon that was being talked about on aikido-l and episodes of CBS' Pirate Master, which for some reason our local CBS station has quit carrying (after we got hooked on it and couldn't figure out where it went).

And my sister is a traveling surgical tech and watches most of her TV through her PC because the picture quality is so much better than her TV, especially since she doesn't have cable in her apartment. But she doesn't need it. She can go home after work, whenever that may be and watch her soaps and other shows whenever she wants. She really only needs her laptop and a wireless connection and she has all the great TV she wants.

Good quality TV when you want it. For free. Without a TV. It doesn't get much better than that.

~Susan Mellott


Comment posted by Anonymous
at 8/16/2007 6:51:00 PM
It also uses a ton of memory and causes my laptop fans to come on high speed. And, after you close it (I don't know how either), all memory is not recovered. Imporvements need to be made.
David
delawrence@gorge.net