Posterus – the evolution of online blogging?

28 11 2009

Today I finally got around to looking at Posterus, I even sent it an email copy of a recent blog post. Result, my email is now blogged at Posterus.

If you look at the breadth of social media applications on the interweb you can see how life consuming it would be to post to even half of them on anything like a regular basis. This is why we see an ever increasing number of ‘clients’ and ‘sites’ that offer to take our musings and pass them on, on our behalf, to each and every service they support and we authorise them to. In reverse there are as many sites and services that aggregate posts and present back to us a tailored and filtered view of things we find of interest above the background that is the white noise of social media.

To me Posterus represents a natural evolution, it takes the simple blog concept and makes posting simple. Send it an email, you don’t need to sign up, just send it an email. Traditionalists can sign up and set up their site, but you can just email it something. Go on try it, send an email about what toothpaste you use to, your toothpaste preferences are now blogged.

This in itself isn’t particularly impressive but if I instruct Posterus accordingly it will post to pretty much the rest of the social media world as well, all from my one email. So Posterus can become the central hub of my social media posting world, write once and once only. My random scribblings of totally pointless rubbish can now be made so much easier, email Posterus and let it twitter it, facebook it, and so on. Its like spray painting the underpass with graffiti then having a little army of vandals go and spray paint your message every where else.

Once you’ve posted you can follow the returned email and go claim your blog, set it up, theme it, make it yours. Much like you would do with any other blog really.

At this point I have three thoughts on this

1. This is fantastic and I really like it

2. What happens when my blog is fed to every thing else and then aggregated back, do the aggretators count the content once or many times?

3. How much fun is it going to be to add the address to the emails at work and watch the enhanced carnage of the ‘reply to all’ button


Browsers – one ring to rule them all

27 11 2009

There are plenty of web browsers for us to choose from. The fact that are plenty is a web site designers nightmare because mostly none of them truly follow the defined standards properly, they all add things, they all do it slightly different. Viewing a web site in a browser that doesn’t render the web site correctly can be annoying or downright painful, it may mean the site is unusable.

Web site designers employee as many tricks as they do good design practices to deal with this and still they can be beaten, how many people are still using Internet Explorer 6 and for how much longer?

In my work I spend quite a lot of time using different browsers, so I have Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.5, Google Chrome and Opera all installed on my Windows desktop.

However, I don’t just use Windows, I also use linux. My Ubuntu 9.10 desktop comes with Firefox as the  default. I also have a netbook, which now runs Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10, thats Firefox too. Then there’s my PDA/Cell phone, a Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, this has Windows Mobile 6.1 and comes with both Internet Explorer and Opera Mobile. Then there is my other cell phone, a little Nokia 6210 Navigator, that runs S60.

What I need is some continuity, a browser that, broadly speaking, is the same on all platforms. One that can be my browser of choice, the default, no matter which device I’m using and will, more or less, work the same, render the same (within the confines of the device, of course) and not be an annoyance to use.

You would think that my requirement shouldn’t be that big a deal, right? Well it is.

What if we dropped the pda/cell phones off the requirement? Well it doesn’t really help that much, our choice is pretty much Firefox. Google Chrome could be used but its not officially available on linux yet and besides I don’t want to drop my pda/cell phones from the requirement. I do accept that my requirement may be a minority request though.

So here is the requirement

  • Must be able to download and install easily, no messing about with source, compiling, etc.
  • Must support Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • Must support Ubuntu 9.10 and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10
  • Must support Windows Mobile 6.1 on Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
  • Must support S60 on Nokia 6210 Navigator
  • Must render the sites I use in a usable manner
  • Ideally share a common ‘cloud’ of bookmarks
  • Nice if it handled email
  • It MUST work, browsing should be an easy experience, not a chore.

Who are the candidates? I checked on wikipedia and this list seems to be

  • Internet Explorer
  • Safari
  • Opera
  • Chrome
  • SeaMonkey
  • Camino

Now this is just part of the whole list, trust me (or don’t and go look for yourself) there are a lot of browsers out there.

It doesn’t take long to whittle that lot down to one, in fact the only one that can support my requirement (and more besides). Opera seems to support almost everything out there in one of its forms, everything except the iPhone.

Welcome to Opera.

Opera has been around for quite a while, from their web site

“Opera started in 1994 as a research project inside Norway’s largest telecom company, Telenor. Within a year, it branched out into an independent development company named Opera Software ASA.

Today, Opera Software develops the Opera Web browser, a high-quality, multi-platform product for a wide range of platforms, operating systems and embedded Internet products – including Mac, PC and Linux computers, mobile phones and PDAs, game consoles, and other devices like the Nintendo Wii, DS, Sony Mylo, and more.

Opera’s vision is to deliver the best Internet experience on any device. Opera’s key business objective is to earn global leadership in the market for PC/desktops and embedded products. Opera’s main business strategy is to provide a browser that operates across devices, platforms and operating systems, and can deliver a faster, more stable and flexible Internet experience than its competitors.” –

I’ve been using it now for the last 12 months or so and I am impressed, hell its even the browser on the Kid’s Nintendo Wii. In every day use I’ve had no real problems but I do come across the odd site that doesn’t want to render quite right, this is more to do with the site than the browser, however that means a switch to one of the others. Typically this is so rare that its not an issue, in fact its just as likely to occur with any of the browsers. Sometimes its more an issue of linux not supporting all of the rich web media as well as it could in most cases.

Opera also has Opera Link, this is a portal system that allows you to, among many other things, synchronize your bookmarks to a single account and share that account on each device. This means if I update a bookmark or a start page on my linux desktop when I come to log in on my Windows desktop the same change is there. This feature alone makes life so much easier, if it ever extends to the mobile version as well it will be fantastic.

Update : Opera Mobile 10 Beta 2 adds Opera link to the mobile version, providing synchronized bookmarks and more between Windows, Linux and Mobile (S60 and Windows Mobile)

Would I stop and use something else? Of course, if something else comes along and is better I will use it. This is about getting what I need from the browser, my requirement is what is important, not the tool used to deliver it.

Use your PuTTY SSH Key on linux or Mac

26 11 2009

I look after an ever growing number of linux servers as part of my job, almost all of this I do remotely and with the help of our data centre.

All remote access is by secure keys NOT passwords. I use PuTTY SSH terminal on windows so I wanted to use the same key on my linux desktop with, as it happens, Gnome Terminal. I could have just generated a new key pair on linux but that seemed silly.

First export your PuTTY key using PuTTYGen Conversions option and Export as OpenSSH key. Save the file with a sensible name. This is your PRIVATE key, this is the part you DO NOT give out. If this ever does get out in the wild you need to remove the public key from all servers and build a new key pair. If you don’t have a password/pass-phrase on your key you should add one.

Now copy the exported private key to your linux (or Mac, its exactly the same process) home folder, or where ever.

OK, you now have your private key on your linux desktop (or Mac), you need to set the right file permissions on it, ‘chmod 700 private_key_filename’, if you don’t do this it wont work (and the number of times I’ve missed this part…)

Now you should be able to SSH into your server

ssh -p port -i private_key_filename username@hostname_or_ip_address

-p port — on my servers I run the SSH daemon on a different port to 22, if you use 22 you can omit that part

-i private_key_filename — is your key that you just copied

username — is the username on the server you are connecting to, if its the same as the username on your linux (or Mac) desktop then you can omit it

hostname_or_ip_address — obvious

Mamma don’t take my Kodachrome away

25 11 2009

I’ve been a keen photographer since I was a child. I remember acquiring my dads 35mm SLR, a Yashica TL Electro with a 50mm f1.8 lens, and snapping away on Kodachrome and then Kodacolor. It was with some sadness that, inevitably, Kodachrome passed away in June this year.

It used to be a art in itself to get anything on slide or print that bore a passing resemblance to the subject you took a photograph of.

Never being just content with taking the picture I also developed and printed my own. The smell of photo chemicals washing over film and paper and the sheer magic of watching the image appear is an experience now almost completely lost and I think something that will, and should, be missed.

Now, as with all things, technology marches on and its never been better for the photographer. The digital age has provided easy to use, accessible tools to capture, manipulate and print our pictures.

But its important to remember why you have a camera. Its not because its the latest technological masterpiece, its because you want to take great pictures. I’ve been through a stream of different cameras over the years, taking in

  1. Yashica TL
  2. Canon A1
  3. Canon T90
  4. Minolta Dynax 700
  5. Minolta Dynax 800
  6. Canon EOS3
  7. Minolta Dimage7 (hateful thing)
  8. Canon EOS40D

I’m often asked by friends and relatives ‘what camera should I buy?’ or more often, “what do you think of abc, is it any good?”, the question seeming begging for an answer that will guarantee any and all future photographs are worthy of Magnum.

In truth I think today you would be hard pushed to buy a ‘bad’ camera. Interestingly though hardly ever do they ask, “what is the lens like on abc?”, or , “which bounce head flash gun should I buy with abc?”, two questions that just through asking show a path to much better pictures than “it has 15 megapixels, is that enough?”.

The modern digital compact is a marvel of performance and price. The D-SLR though is where things can get quite complex, but don’t let them. In over 30 years of taking photographs I would say the thing that will make you keep taking them is using a camera that you enjoy using. That may sound simple, and it is, but its also true.

My eldest son (Eos40D, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, 78mm (iso400)

My eldest son (Eos40D, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, 78mm (iso400)

My first foray into the digital world, at the time I had been using an EOS3 for a few years, was a Minolta Dimage 7. Now this thing at the time along with the Nikon of more or less the same spec and price was supposedly the dogs dangly bits. I hated it. Almost from the minute the novelty of ‘going digital’ had worn off, the cracks started to appear. Now at this time a D-SLR was something that required a second mortgage, the Dimage was a new breed, sort of compact SLR. The Fuji was the popular choice but I had loved the two previous Minolta SLR’s I had owned (in fact I would say the Minolta Dynax 800 was one of the best handling cameras Ive ever used) so I went for the Minolta, an IBM 1GB microdrive (at the time this cost about £200, 1Gb Flash CF is 20 quid these days, if that!) and a few sets of high power rechargeable batteries.

Well, this thing sucked down batteries like nothing I had ever seen, the images were great, fantastic quality, but using it, well it was an ergonomic wreck, I couldn’t find a comfortable way to handle it and more often than not it came out, snapped few pics then went away. Hardly the camera that was going to capture the great shots when it spent most of its life in the camera bag. I found myself using my EOS3 and more and more Velvia, rather than embracing the digital age I was going retro.

When the thing finally broke, and it wasn’t actually that long, I was almost relieved. I went back and stuck to film for quite a while. Then the EOS20D arrived on the scene, at this point my interest in a D-SLR was awakened. The EOS30D arrived and I would have jumped in at this point save for the rumors of the next model, I waited and then plunged in with the EOS40D. My existing lens all fitted (albeit with the 1.6x multiplier as the sensor is not full frame), flash, all the bits I used with my EOS3. I added the additional battery grip to give me a vertical hold shutter release and to be honest I felt like I had the modern equivalent of my Minolta 800 back, it all just felt… right. Because it felt right it gets used and its a pleasure to use, I pay attention to my subject not my camera.

So my advice about which camera to buy..set your budget then go to your local store and play with them, if it feels right in your hands you will use it and you will get results, if it feels wrong, try another. Budget for a few memory cards, a bounce head flash gun (trust me on camera direct flash will be a huge disappointment) and the right lens. Now take photographs, lots of them, don’t take one snap of your kids, take a hundred, then take some more.

Windows, linux or Google?

25 11 2009

It doesn’t take a tech genius to realise how much of a player Google’s ChromeOS could become in the netbook arena. Ignore all the talk for now, its just an open source preview and their desperation to show something is coming. It doesn’t make sense until they get closer to launch and (or) the first leaked hardware is shown.

But here is the pitch; you’re in PC World, well you’re not because you never would be, but Mr and Mrs Wewantanetbookforlittlejohnny are in PC World. They walk admiringly past rows of shiny Macs and start poking at the Acer’s and the Asus’, the Samsung’s and the HP’s, the netbooks.

As we have no known hardware differentiators at this point lets skip that part and come back to it in 6 months time.

They look at the Windows netbook. Its going to be either still running XP or maybe by now its got Windows 7. Its recognisable, somewhat familiar and they don’t take too long to find the web browsers, see the Google search page and their gmail account, they can even find Flickr and this new fangled twitter thing that littlejohnny keeps raving about. Yep, Windows netbook seems to have it all and all is good with the world.

Next they see the linux based netbook. Now the eye is caught by the price tag, its cheaper than the windows netbook, possibly by some margin. Then they start to prod it and look at each other, “what is this?”, “where is the start thingy?”, the conversation doesn’t really go very much further. Its not familiar, in fact it can seem downright alien. They look lovingly back to the windows netbook and start to look for a salesman to do the deal.

Now then, this we all know. Netbooks arrived with linux, various distros, mostly horrid, all perfectly useful and workable. Then XP arrived and linux disappeared like the dinosaurs.

Enter stage left, Google.

Mr and Mrs Wewantanetbookforlittlejohnny switch it on and oh, its on, that was fast!

Oh there is the Google search page and gmail, that all looks familiar. Pretty quickly they are at home with it. The price tag is good and the sales sheet talks about; no messy software updates, all safely backed up online, easy to use, all your web applications. Sold!

linux is trying to build a UI that can work and provide an experience that allows users to ‘use’ the netbook and not have to fight the OS. Moblin, Ubuntu UNR, these are valiant efforts. But they are not there yet, not for a mass market. I use UNR on my netbook every day, everything works perfectly, I love it. I use linux on one of my desktops, windows on another, windows 7 on a laptop. I am not a typical user, Mr and Mrs Wewantanetbookforlittlejohnny are!

Google will steal this market from linux by being linux but calling it Google. Canonical know it thats why they are working with Google.

The choice could be a Windows 7 netbook or a Google netbook, the decision will be made based on price and Google is banking on delivering a hardware device that can be cheaper than the one needed for Windows.

JoliCloud and EeePC901

23 11 2009

I don’t quite remember how I came to be invited to take a look at JoliCloud, its based on Ubuntu Netbook Remix and offers a different UI theme (not that different) and the ‘JoliCloud’.

The JoliCloud is a sort of online portal for updates, applications tracking and contact. It offers applications that are not normally part of a typical linux application vault, for example Spotify is in there. What’s interesting about that is that Spotify does not have a native linux client (come on Spotify, why NOT?) so this is the windows client and Wine.

That makes it a more interesting prospect, the JoliCloud is trying to take the hassle out of installing the apps you had on your windows desktop but cant get out of the box on your linux desktop. Want to run Google Chrome as your browser? No problem, just install it from JoliCloud. Now some of these ‘apps’ are little more than the normal web pages, served in a full screen view, but even so, its making it easier.

So does JoliCloud offer the best linux mix for a netbook? A light weight linux distro based on UNR (Ubuntu) and a pretty well desinged app store that means you need never see a .deb package or have to chant “./configure, make, make install” (though you will be missing out)

In the week where Google announced it was taking over the world… oh sorry, thats next week, announced Google OS and made its starting play in the netbook game what does it all mean for JoliCloud? Well I suspect like many nice projects it will either be absorbed in part of whole by other bigger or more ambitious projects or maybe it will just disappear.

Its all going to come down to the niche’s for the netbook, corporate adoption and how well we all take to really trying to live in the cloud. JoliCloud is an evolutionary step in my opinion, it takes the well established update/app store model that Ubuntu uses and adds more to it. Perhaps its the closest thing to an open app store yet?

Google OS

23 11 2009

This week Google gave a preview of its upcoming operating system, ChromeOS. It also open sourced the project as ChromiumOS and the Chromium Browser (Google Chrome). Now then, apart from confusing the hell out of everyone with its naming (including me, so if my understanding is wrong, what did you expect?), this has been talked about as either the Microsoft Windows killer or a waste of time. Personally I think its neither.

I downloaded the source code and built it. I then installed it on my netbook. I thought I would spend a few hours playing with it but after 30 minutes there wasn’t anything left to play with. If you have been wondering why there seems to be a lack of screenshots on the interweb its because there is precious little to take a screenshot of.

Basically, Google’s OS is a completely stripped down linux variant (they are working with Canonical of Ubuntu fame), it boots very quickly (I got mine booting in something like 10 seconds) but thats because it doesn’t boot anything other than the bare minimum needed to run a very limited list of hardware and the Google browser, Chromium. Once running everything is in the ‘cloud’, its all on line, apps, data, the lot, its all on the net. No local storage.

The browser has matured into a ‘full’ front end to everything you want to do with your netbook, to be honest I don’t see anything really new here, in fact I’m not sure Google OS gives so much as it takes away, less is more, more or less.

I think the UI concept has some limitations, but these are offset by the netbook, you wont run 10 apps at the same time because your netbook doesn’t do that, its really 1 or 2 things at a time and the UI (not just Google’s but the others too) handles this quite well. In fact you could give Google an extra point here for having applets inside the bigger frame, such as Google Talk or a notepad.

Its all online, it will be interesting to see how well unreliable connections are handled, writing your presentation on your netbook on the train to work sounds great. Its something we have all done. But today when the train goes through a tunnel I don’t lose the connection to my hard drive, tomorrow with Google’s OS I would lose my connection to the cloud, without some clever caching and recovery at best I will have to wait for the connection to return, at worst, well lets see.

You can read more everywhere about it. I think its good, it shows what you can do if you focus on your purpose and nothing else. Is it going to kill Windows? No! Its not going to even raise more than a ‘oh yeah we have heard of it’ from the boys at Microsoft and why should it?

But, in a years time when they launch it with the hardware as well, remember that all they have let out in the wild is the open source project, well then I think it will be time to sit up and take notice. A proper light weight OS, no frills, on hardware built for the task. Think of the applications. Google’s web browser tablet, news reader, media player, cell phone, video phone… this is just the first showing of the first building block of Google’s OS. Only a fool would write it off based on this, lets see what Google does next.

So is Microsoft going to be looking at the next 12 months and wondering what the landscape for discrete devices might look like if Google makes its play? Yeah, I think so.

I read today that, shock and surprise, its likely that Google OS and Android (Google’s OS for cell phones and mobile devices – you can see the overlap) will converge, read here