Entries categorized "Web/Tech"

Getting the iMac All Gussied Up!

(Or, "Hey Look! Cool Retro-ish Mac Wallpapers... Er, Desktop Pics!")

Because when I sat down this morning at the desk I share with my wife, and tapped the space bar to knock the iMac out of dreamland, my dock stayed solid white for several seconds before flashing back to its usual transparency. In a fit of nostalgia, I did a quick Bing search to find out how I could make it stay that way. The Unofficial Apple Weblog's (RIP) article, "How to Make Yosemite look like System 7", got my dock to a nice, solid, light grey, and the task bar a solid white; which was, I suppose, close enough.

But then I needed wallpaper. Abstract 5 didn't come in 2560 x 1440. Nor did Tangerine Melt, Grape Mission, Quantum Foam, or Heavy Petal 4. 1024 x 768 was the big resolution way back when, and anything that size stretched to fit the 27-inch display on a contemporary iMac is going to look like utter crap. 

The solution isn't replication, but approximation; finding desktop pictures with the resolution to fit my current iMac, but with an aesthetic to fit the one I had back in 2001.

Enter Deviant Art. A quick search for "2560" under Customization > Wallpaper > Mac & PC OS led me to a few great pics that really do fit the bill:

Screen Shot of Livory Wallpaper by JayElKay

This screenshot of my desktop features "Livory" by JayElKay: a big, jaunty, embossed Apple logo on a medium-dark blue background. It doesn't get much more classic than that.

Screen Shot of Watermerlon Wallpaper by Phantom-Diamond

Above is a screen shot of my iMac wearing Phantom-Diamond's "Watermelon", which hearkens back to Apple's own "Abstract" series of desktop pictures, but with crisper, more aggressive lines.

Screen Shot of Pink Flower Wallpaper by kocoma

And last is kocoma's "Pink Flower", which combines natural beauty with a feel reminiscent of Strawberry Parabola. How lickable is that?

And, yes, folks, this is pretty much all I'm good for today. Not iZipping around town or making bank on Mechanical Turk. Not Zazzling or lifting or putting away the dishes. 

When days start off as wrong as this one did, you stick to the simple things. You Tweet, you customize your virtual environment, and you blog about one of those two things. 

Then you take a much-deserved nap!

A Week With Linux Mint

Or maybe not a week. It's been a long time since I was good at distinguishing one day from another. But "About a Week, Maybe..." makes for a horrible post title. The point is that I've spent several days on this new-to-me computer (courtesy one nail-spitting rat bastard), and I haven't learned a whole helluva lot. That's because Mint is (mostly) user-friendly. There hasn't been a steep learning curve -- it's more like a learning flatline -- for basic use.

That said, there are a few things I've found that I like quite a bit, and a few things that I still don't understand. I'm still not sure how to install software through any means other than the software manager. I still don't know what, exactly, the package manager does. I still have some trepidation regarding the terminal. But I know enough to make a couple of recommendations.

And my strongest recommendation for Mint software is Gnome + Do. It's quite smoothly taken the place that Launchy held for me under Windows, and made my OS transition an easy change.

My second recommendation is MyPaint. This does not, unfortunately, replace Paint.NET. I haven't found anything that does. But it does replace Corel Painter Eseentials 4, and to some degree, LiveBrush. For how I draw, it may actually be better-suited than either of those apps. And that's a very good thing, indeed! The only down side is that I can't get it to save to anything other than scrap. I can't choose filenames when saving to scrap. I can't change where files are saved, even though all of those options are supposed to be available in the software. (But it's still an improvement on using Xara Xtreme, which won't save or export, at all.)

Inkscape and The GIMP should be part of any artist's Mint repetoire, as they should be on Windows, if one can't afford Adobe.

One of the main pleasantries about switching to Mint has been that I can use Chrome again. Or, in this case, Chromium. That's something I haven't been able to do since upgrading Windows XP from SP2 to SP3! 'Least not without constant BSODs!

And the thing that I miss the most? Gmail Notifier. Sure, there's a Linux alternative, but it doesn't include alert sounds. I need alert sounds! Under Windows XP, I was able to hear email alert sounds from anywhere in the house. Now? Sorry kids, but it may be a while before I reply to you, because I have no audible signal that you've emailed me!

And here's a bonus quick tip: Go into keyboard shortcuts and disable Alt + Space. I can't tell you how many times I've lost my window menus by accidentally hitting that combo when I was aiming for Super + Space!

But the best thing? The absolute best thing about switching to Linux Mint? I plugged in my Wacom Bamboo Fun, and it worked. I didn't have to install a damned thing. The same applies to my Creative Zen mp3 player, and my Canon PowerShot SD1000 digital camera. 

To steal a line from my days on Mac OS 9, "It just works."

Thoora Re-launched: A Competitor to Google Reader?

I think it might be. I was invited to the new, improved version of Thoora on the 16th of last month, but only recently dove in to actually using it. It's very different from the Thoora that I (only vaguely) remember. And it has a lot going for it.

Thoora - My Topics

The central focus on the new Thoora is topics. You can follow streams that other people have set up for different topics, or you can create your own topics. The image above is a screen capture of my My Topics page on Thoora. As you can see, I've created topics for frogs, social media, food trucks, sharks, Halloween, and the Bureau of Land Management.

But what if I wanted to follow news and blog posts on a different topic? Maybe Xena, for example:

Thoora - Creating a topic

Creating a new topic on Thoora is easy. You click on "Create a Topic", and the topic creation screen pops up. Name your topic, add a keyword (or several), maybe an RSS feed or two, and you're ready to go.

This is what the news feed for your topic will look like:

Thoora - News Stream

Note that all articles are presented as excerpts, and that there are no images in this feed. (Images are served in a separate stream.) This makes buzzing through a stream of news a quick and easy endeavor. News can be sorted by relevance, timeliness, or popularity, and each article excerpt includes buttons for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can save articles to your Favorites, toss them in the trash, or ignore them entirely.

The new Thoora is slick, and, as someone engaged in social media, it's also damned handy.

I haven't quite replaced Google Reader with Thoora, just yet, but I'm considering migrating some of the feeds I subscribe to. If you're a newsie, or even just like to keep abreast of what's happening in certain areas of interest, you should give the new Thoora a try, too.

Just Got My First Klout Perk! And One of You Can Get it, Too!

I didn't expect to get any Klout perks, this soon! I'm really not very klout-y. But I surfed over to my Klout account a few minutes ago, clicked over to the Perks page, and there it was: My chance to get a free ebook copy of Stephen King's new short story "Mile 81"!

As free (or not-so-free) things go, this is definitely in my wheelhouse!

I'm too excited, right now, to write much else, but I did want to include this little bit:

If you're the first one to click this link, you can get a free copy, too!

Self-hosted WordPress? Scan Your Site!

Or manually check your code, if you know how. Regardless of what method you use, check to see if your site has been compromised! Here's why:

I was trying to visit a site, last night. It's a site I've visited on several occasions, with no problems, at all. But last night, my first attempt to visit resulted in this:

Google Firefox Warning

I assure you, the domain listed in that warning is not the site I was attempting to visit! I contacted the site owner, who seemed to think that the site was in working order, so I switched from Firefox to Opera, and started a scan of my own system.

Attempting to visit the site in Opera sent me directly to the URL listed in the warning that Firefox had coughed up.

While waiting for Avast to finish confirming that my PC was, indeed, clean, I did a bit of searching. What I found was this:

What this code does it very simple. It connects to http://googlesafebrowsing.com/remoted.cc.txt and extracts a domain to be used to hide a malicious iframe in attempt to infect everyone visiting the site:

via blog.sucuri.net: TimThumb.php attacks: Now using googlesafebrowsing dot com

'Cept that, in that article, all of the domains being pulled were .us domains, and the one that showed up in my Firefox warning was .ru.

In the end it didn't matter, because I ran Sucuri's SiteCheck for the domain I had been trying to visit, and this was the result:

Sucuri Scan

SiteCheck confirmed the suspicious redirect.

I contacted the site's owner, who then contacted the site's webmaster, and hopefully, the site will be all fixed up soon.

In the meantime, though, malicious redirects can have all sorts of bad consequences, from spoiling the reputation of your web site to infecting the PCs of people trying to visit your site. Self-hosted WordPress seems to have the occasional vulnerability pop up, and honestly, the popularity and touted "easiness" of using the platform means it ends up being used by a lot of people who don't know how to secure it, and don't bother enough with keeping it updated. (This is one of the reasons that I'm more comfortable blogging from a hosted platform: problems with updates and security are handled by people more capable than I am.)

So, other than switching platforms (which will still leave you dealing with updates and security issues, if you're self-hosted) and staying off the Internet, what can you do? If you have a self-hosted site, scan it. Keep your publishing software updated, and pay attention to vulnerabilities as they pop up. Check your .HTACCESS file. Check your site. A lot.

And for everyone who surfs: Don't let JavaScript run willy-nilly. In Firefox, use NoScript. In Opera, use NotScripts. Use whatever script control Chrome is offering these days, even if it's just the built-in control. Or try to stumble through Internet Explorer's security settings. Regardless of what browser you use, you should be in control of what scripts are executed on your computer.

Making Klout Sing

I'd like to start this post off by saying "Everyone is using Klout!" But that's not true. The grand majority of the people I interact with on Twitter are not using Klout, 'though some of them should be.

At first side-long glance,  Klout seems more like another social media ego stroke than anything actually useful, and there is some truth to that first impression. But it's not the whole truth. Klout is fun, if for no other reason than some of the things it suggests users are influential about. It has listed me as being influential about moms--which I get--but also about pizza. And, really, the only influence I have in that realm is that I can make it disappear rather quickly.

Klout Profile

My areas of influence listed in this screenshot from my Klout profile aren't exactly accurate, either. I like Glee, sure, but I'm not exactly family-friendly, and when it comes to writing, I'm really just bitchy about the bad stuff.

Even more fun is checking out what realms of influence your friends hold. (See the search bar in the screen shot? You can use that to pull up profiles for other Twitterers, whether they've signed on for Klout, or not.) One of mine--not signed up for Klout--would probably be thrilled to know that Walmart is amongst her areas of expertise.

But Klout doesn't end with goofing on yourself and your friends, or even on their algorithms. They also have a little thing called "Perks":

Klout Perks

Perks are exactly what they sound like: Perks! Rewards and opportunitied afforded Klout users based upon their influence. For example, Perks listed at present include $10 to spend at TheClymb, Red Bull MOBILE handsets, $25 credit to ScoreBig, and more. (Most of which are full. Most of which I probably wouldn't qualify for, anyway, but you might!)

As inconsequential as a bit of social media fun with benefits might seem, Klout has become genuinely important. According to Thoughts from an 8pm warrior:

Klout is an example of a Web 3.0 technology. It is being used by computers and people to decide if you are newsworthy, important enough to get a free upgrade in Vegas, or skilled enough to get a job interview. There are many ways to use it.

Yep. Job interviews. Klout is being used to determine is people get them or not. Further:

Last month, Klout had more than two billion (2,000,000,000) requests for information from all of their partner development organizations. That’s an incredible amount of information!

So, what in Tartarus does all of this have to do with singing?

Nothing. But it does have to do with Opera. And with my love of stupid puns.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Opera browser--and, I wish it weren't the case, but I know some of my readers have never heard of Opera--it has a built-in, and oft-copied (by extension writers for other browsers) feature called Speed Dial:

Klout Extension in Speed Dial

Speed Dial traditionally only served as easy, visual access to whatever pages you chose to add to it. But then Opera became extensible. And Speed Dial became extensible, too. And, now, there's Klout Speed Dial,  an extension which not only allows easy, visual access to your Klout profile, but also shows changes in your Klout directly from your Speed Dial page.

Klout Extension

Klout Speed Dial is an easy way to keep up with your social media influence as determined by Klout. It's a time-saver, too, since your scores are right in front of you every time you open Speed Dial.

And that's the reason for this entire, long-winded post. If you're an Opera user and a Klout user, you need to know about Klout Speed Dial. If you browse the web, you need to know about Opera ('though my primary recommendation would still be Firefox for some and Chrome for others). And if you're engaged in social media, you need to know about Klout.

Why Tumblr-style Blogging is Bad for the Blogosphere

I'm hoping that the title of this post, alone, won't be enough to ire two different sets of 'netizens: people who hate the word "blogosphere", and people who love Tumblr. The first group is out of luck, since I happen to like the word, and since it's the best term for specifying exactly what I mean. For the second group, however, I'd like to clarify:

My beef isn't just with Tumblr blogs, or with all/only Tumblr users, but Tumblr just happens to be where I can most-easily see the degradation of the notion of original content and of respect for the work of others. For many Tumblr blogs -- some of which I read, subscribe to, and enjoy -- "blog" seems to mean "internet scrapbook". The blogger sees something on the internet, and shares it on his or her Tumblr. Which is all good and well, except that a) nothing is added to that original content, and b) the original source isn't credited. If you "reblog" something from another Tumblr blog to your Tumblr blog, however, that gets credited. So, instead of citing real sources, citations end up as a series of links between Tumblr blogs based on who likes the content well enough to share it; i.e., an incestuous, plagiaristic circle jerk. (And, yes, I'm still talking about blogs that I like.)

But the original content creator? Screw that guy. Who needs him?

Is this Tumblr's fault? No. (Even though they do make it easy.) Again, this goes well-beyond Tumblr. My TypePad dashboard is now full of posts consisting of pictures people have found somewhere else, sometimes credited, and sometimes not. And while Tumblr was designed, from day one, as a surf-and-post type of blogging tool, TypePad, originally, was not. It's just what a portion of it has recently become. I wouldn't suggest that any blogging service is free from this particular style of blogging. I've given in a time or two myself, reblogging something with very little input of my own (but always, always, always with a credit to the source), because -- let's face it -- it's easy.

And easy is good. That said, it isn't synonymous with "worth doing". If an image or quote is worth adding to your blog, shouldn't it also be worth writing a couple of sentences that add your own perspective? If not, at least add a link to the original source. Surely, at some point, some teacher, somewhere, taught you to cite your sources. The person who went to the trouble of drawing the drawing, taking the picture, or writing the article you've just copied and pasted at least deserves that little bit of respect.

Your readers deserve that respect, even when the original content creator doesn't demand it.

And your own integrity deserves that respect, too.

Feedly for Chrome: It's a Beautiful Thing

This should've been a part of Keeping Connected with Chrome. If it had been, though, that page would still be loading for some of my dial-up buddies. And I would've been jumping my own gun, since I didn't actually try Feedly for Chrome 'til after that post was published.

I haven't tried in Feedly in any environment other than the Google Chrome browser. I don't intend to, for the time being. And if you want more technical info, you can always drop by the Feedly site; but, for my intents and purposes, nearly everything that needs to be said can be said via screen shots:

Feedly Digest

Feedly Cover

Feedly Friends

Feedly Latest

Organize Feedly

Some small voice in the back of my head is wanting to scream something about privacy, but in this case, that little voice is on its own. And it would appear, dear reader, that so are you. You'll have to research, without me, any privacy issues that may or may not exist with Feedly. My feed-reading has never been this organized, this clean, or this pleasant, at any point in my online life. So, if you do find something amiss in the way Feedly operates, post it somewhere else. Unless you also have a better suggestion for making my feed-reading experience as smooth as Feedly has made it, I really don't want to know.

Get the Chrome extension here.

Keeping Connected with Chrome

A few months ago, I became impressed with Google Chrome's handling of streaming video. Now, on my new machine, which has a helluva lot more memory than my XP box had, I find that I'm using Chrome more often than any other browser. One reason for this switch is that my friends -- who really should know better, because they're painfully aware of my tendency to obsess -- got me hooked on FarmVille. That's right. I spend my days raising cranberries and rice on Facebook, and it's been my experience that Facebook is just less glitchy in Chrome than it is in Firefox. And since I'm spending all that time using Chrome, anyway, I might as well dig the hooks a little deeper, right?

Done. A few extensions later and Chrome is that bad girl who just won't play safe (no script control), lets me do pretty much what I want, and looks good the whole damned time. The extensions I've installed are Chromed Bird, Google Mail Checker Plus, and Google Voice (by Google). The icons for these extensions appear just after Chrome's address/search bar, and they really are kind of pretty:

Google Chrome Extension Icons

Yeah. That's right. I've got 504 unread messages in my Gmail inbox. In fact, as I write this, that count has grown to 507. And it would probably grow exponentially if not for one little thing: The extension I've installed in Chrome lets me delete emails directly from the pop-up panel:

Google Mail Checker Plus
I can also hop straight to an e-mail, archive it, or send it to spam, directly from that pop-up. This thing is a saviour of both time and space, man. But I still keep Google Notifier running, too, so that I can actually hear when a new e-mail arrives.

Next up is Chromed Bird, my new favorite Twitter thingy. Note that it has a pop-up similar to the Gmail checker's:

Chromed bird
It's pretty much a standard Twitter client, but it's the first one I've used that has a column just for my lists. (Yes, that last tab does say "Xena-related".) I'm sure that's an old experience for some of you, but keep in mind that this is my second Windows machine, and that I sometimes learn from my mistakes. I tried out heavy-ass desktop Twitter apps, most of which ran on a heavy-ass platform I also had to install, on my old machine. But the new box won't be subjected to install-a-go-go. Twitter thingies have to be either gadgets, browser extensions/widgets, or Windows-native apps to even get a consideration. 

And the last extension is only rarely useful. I don't call people very often, and most of the people who call me don't use my Google Voice number. You can see by the datestamps that there's just not a lot of urgency in my Voice inbox:

Google Voice Extension Inbox
 What's truly useful about this extension, though, is the ability to make calls from the pop-up:

Make a call
 This is especially handy if, like me, you have a phone in another room, and some of the buttons on that phone are stubborn, but people insist on making calls with the other-roomed, stubborn-buttoned phone, and they want you to do the dialing.

A summary of what we've learned so far:

  1. Google Chrome is pretty, and its extensions are, too.
  2. Some of Chrome's extensions are actually really useful.
  3. Chrome extensions enable folks like me to get roped into being other people's FarmVille neighbor and/or telephone dialer, without it putting major crimps in my online lifestyle.
  4. As enjoyable as Chrome's company is, for security's sake, one should probably stay married to Firefox.
  5. There's a strong chance that your Facebook friends are evil.