Tech

Tech

Delicious vs. Pinterest: Wondering how I should organize my bookmarks and links


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For a number of years, I’ve been using Delicious, the web-based bookmarking service, to store and organize my bookmarks. In fact, it was really more than a bookmarking tool for me. (I saved a lot more than my “favorites.”) I used Delicious to store, as a simple title and URL, anything I came across that was interesting, useful, or that I might want to find in the future; each of these was tagged with a label like “wordpress” or “photography” or “inspiration.” The interface was bare-bones, in a craigslist sort of way, and I loved it.

That’s all over.

Delicious was sold by Yahoo earlier this year, and now it’s morphing and evolving. I still like it, but I feel like it does too much. It’s no longer a simple and streamlined service. It’s a startup in flux.

As ReadWriteWeb has noted, Delicious is starting to look a look a lot like Pinterest, a startup that’s gaining a big following as a way to “organize and share the things you love.”

So I’ve been wondering. Should I jump ship from Delicious and try Pinterest. Seems like a lot of work. Or stick with Delicious and see where it’s new proprietors will take it? For now, I’m opting for the latter, but I’m keeping my options open.

Miscellany, Tech

Maybe it’s not too late to send a holiday card


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Another year, another set of holiday cards. Actually, judging from our mail, lots of people are scaling back on traditional, USPS holiday greetings. (Uh, I guess it could also be we’re just not that popular.) Certainly the zeitgeist argues against going over-the-top with a lavish, expensive card. But here’s the great thing: With e-cards, you can still send out your holiday cards, without a lot of hassle, even if you haven’t given them much thought. And there are other options, too, like creating a quick holiday video to send to friends. I wrote a column last year about alternatives to holiday greetings. It puts the spotlight on Animoto, a really great tool for creating MTV-style videos without spending a whole lot of time on them.

Tech

Yes, I like the Kindle Fire


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Here’s what I had to say about the Fire in the column I wrote about it: “I’m impressed by the Fire, and I think millions will buy it and love it. Apple’s finally got big-time competition for tablet computers.”

Do I prefer the Fire over the iPad? No way. But for $199, it’s really impressive.

That’s because the Fire is exceptionally easy to use, with virtually no learning curve. You take it out of the box, and you can pretty much start using it for just the sort of things you’d expect from a tablet computer — watching TV shows and movies, reading books and playing games. And for $199, the Kindle is a real bargain.

Here’s an article from Web100 with some other views of what the Fire does (and does not) have to offer.

Tech

The column I didn’t write: “What Not to Buy Your Kids for the Holidays”


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Sometimes I have an idea for a column, and then I never get around to writing it. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost interest in the topic, or it seems dated — too many others have written about it — or I’ve realized there’s not enough there to make a column.

Here’s one I planned to write and chose not to: “What Not to Buy Your Kids for the Holidays.”

I thought about timing this for Black Friday. Then I worried it would be too curmudgeonly. And it probably would have been.

The general gist of it: Cross off gadgets from your kids’ holiday lists. (I’m talking about your kids who are 10 years old or under.) Don’t buy your 8-year-old an iPod touch or a Kindle Fire or a DS for the holidays. Kids are immersed in technology, and they’re better off if you delay those devices, especially the ones doubling as advanced communications tools (with email, social networking, phone capabilities, and the like).

I know it’s hard to resist: My daughter wants this stuff.

OK, there it is. I didn’t write it — as a column. But I thought it.

Tech, Writing

1,000+ Microsoft Word docs, plain text, and a file format mess


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Over the past couple of days, I’ve been opening 1,000+ Word documents on my computer, one by one, and converting them from a very, very old Word format (“Microsoft Word 1.x-5.x”) to something I’ll actually be able to read and open on my computer. It’s a laborious process. When Microsoft “upgraded” to Office 2008 for the Mac, the company decided it was necessary to make it super-difficult to work with some older Word file formats.

I’ve actually known about this issue for years — I wrote a column touching on it three years ago — but I only decided to tackle it now, in part because I’m trying to weed out documents in old file formats (old Word, old AppleWorks) before I upgrade to Apple OS X Lion.

It’s not fun.

And I’m guessing plenty of writers — or, really, anyone who’s used a computer for writing (uh, like everyone) — have no idea that they may have many, many orphaned documents on their computers. Poems. Love letters. Journals. Whatever.

The longer you wait to convert those documents, the harder it gets — until it’s nearly impossible to retrieve the text.

I have some documents I trashed: I had no idea how to retrieve the information in them. I’m sure it could be done, somehow, but I couldn’t figure out how.

I was thinking about this when I read an excellent article at MacWorld, “Forget fancy formatting: Why plain text is best.”

Writer David Sparks addresses just this issue:

Looking back through my old files, I’m amazed to see how many word processors I’ve used over the years. I’ve got document files in formats ranging from MacWrite to Pages and everything in between. The problem is, a lot of those old files are useless to me now: None of my current word processors can read them. That’s a shame; some of those old words were pretty good.

His solution? Use plain text.

Sensible advice, no doubt, though the mix of tools he uses, for different purposes, seems a bit complex to me. That said, I guess it’s something like my ad-hoc system, using Pages, SimpleNote, Google Docs, and Word (if I must).

And now, as I’m dealing with this mess of old Word files, I’m going to start rethinking how I save documents. Should I use plain text? Or Google Docs? I’m not quite sure.

Tech

Review: “The Book of Audacity”


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A couple of years ago, I was preparing an audio slideshow with the wonderful tool Slideshare. I needed an audio editor for the audio track, and I wasn’t sure where to start. I had very little experience with audio editing, and a colleague directed me to an open-source tool, Audacity. Though it took me a while to get up to speed with it, once I did I saw the potential in Audacity, which is extremely capable and flexible (and is available for free for the Mac, Windows, and Linux).

Well, it turns out I only worked with a miniscule portion of Audacity’s capabilities.

How did I learn about what’s possible with Audacity? Certainly not from roaming around the application and playing with it. Sure, that’s possible, but it’s also ridiculously time-consuming.

Instead, I turned to “The Book of Audacity: Record, Edit, Mix, and Master with the Free Audio Editor,” author Carla Schroder’s comprehensive guide to anything and everything that’s possible with Audacity.

Audacity is an extremely adaptable tool. It’s particularly useful when you’re on a budget, and you’re looking to explore the possibilities of digital audio editing. You might be looking to produce a relatively simple audio track, like I was, or you might be seeking to do something a bit more complex. Either way, Audacity is likely to help you get the job done.

In “The Book of Audacity” (No Starch Press; $34.95), Schroder provides easy-to-follow instructions for the variety of tasks you can tackle with Audacity. That includes the obvious ones, like making a recording for a podcast or inclusion as a voice-over in a movie or slideshow, but it also includes others you might not have considered (or known you could accomplish with a free tool). These include editing and mastering multitrack recordings, digitizing your album collection (and removing pops and hisses), and developing custom ringtones or special effects.

I particularly appreciated the chapter with this title: “Building a Good Digital Sound Studio on the Cheap.” I’ve been getting into producing more and more multimedia, and as anyone who’s done this knows, top-notch sound quality is essential. Even minor glitches in an audio soundtrack can ruin your narration for a presentation or movie. With Audacity, you’re able to clean up your “ums” and other stumbles, and Schroder’s book helps you do that.

Beyond all of this, “The Book of Audacity” serves as a useful and thorough primer for anyone who’s exploring audio recording and editing. It covers a slew of concepts, from audio DVDs to podcasting to multitrack recording, and it does so with style. It’s a handy and helpful book for fans of Audacity (or newcomers to the software), but it’s also a terrific reference for audiophiles.

(In the interest of full disclosure: My book about iPhone photography, “Create Great iPhone Photos,” is also published by No Starch Press.)

Tech

Is Quora unfathomable? Or a cultural phenomenon?


Quora has been the hot startup for a while now, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for my column. I finally did that, and here’s how I opened things: “Maybe it’s a sign of an internet startup’s likelihood of success that its initial attraction is entirely unfathomable — or even unexplainable — to the general population.”

Is Quora’s popularity — popularity, that is, among an elite of techies — unfathomable? Not entirely, but I think the site’s appeal will be lost on many, many people. What is Quora? It’s essentially a website for asking questions and getting answers. That’s simple enough. Sites like that, such as Aardvark, Answers.com and Yahoo! Answers, have been around for a while. But Quora makes the Q&A experience hyper-social, with a Facebook-like layer of following and whatnot.

I’m just not sure this is going to translate into a phenomenon along the lines of YouTube or Twitter or Facebook.

Read my column.

Tech, Writing

Want to publish a Kindle book?


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One of these days I’ll publish a Kindle book (or some sort of e-book). For now, I’ve got a column with tips on how to do this. It’s not all that hard, really. A lot of the challenge, it turns out, is in formatting the book properly for the Kindle (or for any other e-book format). There are tools available to do this now, but they’re still evolving, and not quite as easy to use as I’d like. One of the best, though, is the template available from Apple for publishing at the iBookstore (for viewing the iPhone and iPad). You will need Apple’s Pages program to use that template. In any case, I’m hoping the tools will just keep getting better to make it easier to publish e-books.

Here’s a helpful video about publishing Kindle books:

Tech

I love the way Priority Inbox hides my email


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I’ve been using a recently introduced Gmail feature, Priority Inbox, to help me sort my email, and I’m really into it. Here’s the thing: I get a lot of email, like everyone else, and I’m often distracted by it. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I feel like email’s running me life. Rather than deciding I need to do X, Y, or Z, I check my email, and let my email dictate what I’ve got to do. Of course, deadlines drag me out of my inbox and into the much more enjoyable world of actual writing, but you probably know what I mean: It’s very, very easy to use your email as a sort of shadow to-do list.

And so, the beauty of Priority Inbox: It hides email that’s not important. Now, it’s not a complete solution to being inundated with email (or feeling like you are), but it’s a step in the right direction in the way it makes it easier (at least for me) to ignore some of my email, in a productive way, and do the things I really need or want to do.

Here’s a video with more info: