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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some great ideas

Do your bit

I'm currently working on a community service website that I hope will be up in a month or so. Working on the site has had my mind buzzing about other useful community site ideas, one was a site to link people with charities or organizations that would help them get involved. It turns out it's such a good idea, it's already been done :)

ForGood is a local site that does just that. They offer suggestions and resources for concerned locals that may be looking for a good cause that could use their skills. These causes are not only related to environmental issues, but to community security, health and education issues as well. Pay them a visit, sign up, and find somewhere to apply your skills and make a difference!

Upgrading already

I'm a self confessed geek, I love gadgets and I'm always wishing for some upgrade or other. Of course now that I don't use my PC for gaming, opting for console gaming instead, I really don't need to upgrade nearly as often (or at all if I'm to be really honest with myself). Many of us could quite easily forgo those unnecessary PC and laptop upgrades if we just applied some common sense and put the effort in to get our existing hardware back to it's peak. LoveThe1YoureWith is a website that preaches exactly that method, and offers some advice on how you can get your PC up to scratch again without replacing the whole damned thing (and adding to the scary amounts of e-waste rapidly being added to our landfills). They carry a (pretty corny) video to get the idea across:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No Impact Man asks for reader support before talking to bigwigs

The awesomely inspirational Colin Beavin (AKA No Impact Man) has a meeting scheduled on Friday with Jerrold Nadler, Congressional representative of New York's Eight District to chat about climate changes and request his support on the issue by introducing a new resolution to the House of Representatives, support a green job creation policy project and pass a letter on his behalf to the house speaker and assistant whip.
He is asking for readers to support this effort by emailing letters to him by Thursday. While this may seem to only affect the Americans, policy makers in developing countries such as our own do look to the developed nations for policy examples, so any decisions there have the potential of influencing change here as well. Head on over to Colin's blog and follow the instructions to send in a mail. Note the following suggestion for international contributions:

Meanwhile, those of you who aren't American citizens, please put "From a world citizen to whom American policy makes a huge difference" in the subject, so that I can deliver them but keep them separate.
And before you shrug this off thinking you don't have anything to offer, remember we really CAN make a difference!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

CoolPlayer and a PortableApps update

Music on the go

I am a big fan of the current generation Winamp, I love it's excellent library tools (especially the query language) and portable support. Of course that's all good and well at home when I want to easily copy a fresh collection of music onto my portable drive, but when I'm working all I want is a simple player with half decent playlist support that doesn't hog resources. Winamp has been ok in that role, but it's a bit resource heavy and it's lack of support for the media keys on my keyboard is a touch irritating.

Well as of yesterday there's a new player on my Seagate Freeagent called CoolPlayer. It's an open source audio application that the awesome guys at have repackaged in portable format (and renamed CoolPlayer+ Portable). It's a simple player that has a playlist editor, equalizer, and skin support. The included PortableApps skin has a minibar mode which is nice, but more importantly it natively supports my media keys, which means I don't need any kind of visual interface at all. I set it to remember it's playlist info and play on startup, and it's a simple case of launching from the media key and just getting on with work.

Resource wise, while playing (with a pretty large play list) CoolPlayer and it's portable wrapper combined don't even register as far as CPU usage, and their memory footprint is consistently at 115k. I've only been using it for about a day, but in that time I haven't seen a single sign of instability, which is another plus. This is definitely one to add to your portable toolkit.


PortableApps updates to 1.1

Keeping with the portable stuff, the PortableApps launcher and backup apps have been given an 'official' update to 1.1. The new features in the released have been tested through a few beta versions so it should be pretty stable. Now being referred to as the PortableApps 'platform', three installation flavours are available:

  • The "Platform" installer (1Mb) has just the launcher and backup app
  • The "Suite Lite" installer (35Mb) adds portable versions of Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, ClamWin, Pidgin, Sumatra PDF, KeePass, Sudoku, Mines, Coolplayer and AbiWord.
  • Finally the "Suite" installer (113Mb) includes all of the above except AbiWord is replaced by the full version of OpenOffice.

The full suite in particular is an impressive showcase of the technology. Fully installed it takes up a measly 350Mb and provides fully functional web, office, media and security apps and throws in a couple of games for good measure!

The full new feature list includes multilingual support, wallpaper swapping, a movable menu, support for higher resolutions, a tray right click menu, personal picture, eject button, and other goodies. The global shortcut is an awesome addition!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Who says we can't make a difference?

The push on palm oil consuming companies like the one I mentioned last week targeting Unilever is seeing some serious success. Last week Unilever called for a ban on further deforestation, and this week the Indonesian Palm Oil Association bowed to that pressure and agreed to stop levelling forests and instead make use of already available land (why the hell they didn't already do that is beyond me).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Told you so

Last week in my Effective Internet Lockdown post on using RSS feeds, I suggested Google Reader as an excellent aggregator. It seems I'm not alone in my choice of reader, as a recent poll of's readers revealed Google Reader as one of their six favourite readers. The final poll to narrow the selection down to an overall favourite already has Reader winning by a mile. Go and check it out for a decent list of other readers as well, some web based and some installable.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dove, good for your skin-or is it?

We've all seen the Dove ads on TV, typical soap and cosmetics fare with slow motion views of beautiful woman using Dove on their flawless skin and proclaiming the difference it has made and how much healthier their skin looks and feels.

Well it turns out that's a really short lived effect. Global warming has this pesky habit of drying out your skin, no matter how much dove you apply to it. As it turns out that lovely moisturizing bar is contributing heavily to deforestation (to make space for palm oil plantations) which is in turn releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and removing the means to process it.

GreenPeace, Friends of the Earth, and other organizations are running a campaign to get Unilever, manufacturers of Dove and many other popular consumer brands that utilize palm oil from unsustainable sources, to call for a stop to such deforestation and instead buy from responsible suppliers.

Watch their video on the problem below, and then visit their action page to see how you can help!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Effective Internet Lockdown: RSS feeds

One of the key points in my Effective Internet Lockdown: Good Habits post was to use RSS to control your browsing habits. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is effectively a collection of technologies that allows you to get content from your favourite websites without having to actually visit the site (and get distracted by all the links and ads). A decent RSS feed aggregator (an application or service that brings all your RSS feeds into one place) is an excellent tool for managing your browsing.

When choosing a solution for my needs, my guiding needs were:

  1. Feeds must be easy to manage.
  2. Rich content in feeds must be supported.
  3. The workflow must not interfere with my own work.
  4. As a bonus, access from everywhere would be nice.

I settled on a combination of Google Reader and the excellent AideRSS to meet these needs.

Feeds must be easy to manage

Built in feed support in Firefox means that adding feeds to Google Reader is a simple case of clicking on the feed icon in Firefox's address bar and choosing Google Reader. Management in reader is really intuitive with drag and drop functionality, easy deletion of feeds and nice extras like tagging, starring and sharing.

AideRSS comes in for feeds that I suspect may be a bit post heavy, with loads of unnecessary posts coming through daily (think SlashDot or Digg). It allows you to enter a feed (or choose one already set up by others ) and get a limited feed for only the most popular posts.

Rich content support

Being browser based, Google reader supports anything the host browser does. This includes images, audio and flash based video (such as YouTube).

Non-invasive workflow

Since there is no app installed with automatic notifications, this is a given. Google reader is there when I need it in my browser, gone when I don't need it. I actually tend to use the compact reader gadget for iGoogle more than the main reader interface, so it really fits in well by just being a part of my homepage. The gadget presents a scrollable list of all new feed item headings, and clicking on one opens up a 'speech bubble' with the item contents (also scrollable).

Access from anywhere

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usOnce again Google manages to come up trumps on the mobile side of things too, meeting the bonus requirement. The mobile version of Google reader is as clean and simple as all their other mobile apps, presenting the user with a list of the ten newest items and additional links to see more items, mark items read, view tagged items and star individual items. It's a great way to pass the time while waiting for a dentist appointment.

Tools are not enough

RSS can be just as addictive as normal browsing, and explicitly adding feeds to your aggregator can inadvertently 'commit' you to reading every post. This is a trap a surprising number of people fall into, and with the ease of subscribing to feeds the list of items begging for your attention can grow quickly. It's important to get comfortable with the idea of just marking everything unread and start with a clean slate. Just as you really don't have to read every single article in the newspaper or listen to every single half-hourly news broadcast on the radio, there's nothing wrong with damming the flood of digital information and starting over!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Gone fishing

Well i wasn't exactly off fishing, but we did head down to the coast for a good week long break-hence the lack me posts. We mostly shut out the outside world too-no tv, radio or internet (other than email and facebook-nat is now safely a complete geek!). I'll dump more photos on flickr next week, we disconnected the adsl at home for now and i'm not paying 3g prices to upload all those pics ;)
Treasure hunt
One great new activity we did try out this week was geocaching. It's like a treasure hunt with a gps, and when you track down the 'cache' you log your find and possibly swap an item of your own for one in the cache. I suppose it qualifies as an augmented reality game on a huge scale (essentially a planetary scale, since there are caches hidden all over the world). We found our first 3 caches this holiday and were led to some great spots in the process. Check out for more info.

Posted by ShoZu


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